On August 15, Dave Pugh returned to the U.S. after spending three and a half weeks gathering information about the anti-displacement movement in India. Pugh is a member of the Initiative Committee of the International Campaign Against Forced Displacement that was launched on June 19, 2008 at the Third International Assembly of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle held in Hong Kong, and traveled to India on a fact-finding mission for the international campaign.
As a guest of Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA — People’s Movement against Displacement and for Development), Pugh traveled across five states in central and eastern India visiting the sites of proposed industrial and mining projects, Special Economic Zones, and real estate developments. He spoke with hundreds of villagers who are threatened with displacement and with many dedicated activists who are helping to organize the people’s resistance.
On the night of August 12, the car he was traveling in was pulled over by local police for a traffic-related reason. Nevertheless, Pugh, his translator Protima Das, his guide Pradeep, and their driver were taken to a police station for questioning. For the next eight hours, all of them were interrogated, first by the local police superintendent, and then by the chief police official of the state of Orissa in eastern India. The latter was particularly hostile, accusing Pugh of being an “anti-government agitator” and Protima and Pradeep of being part of the Maoist underground in Orissa without any evidence. Pugh was released to his hotel at 4 am. As a result of phone calls and emails sent by civil libertarians and VVJVA supporters and foreign friends, Pugh was able to leave Orissa without further harassment.
Devendar Das, a member of Central Council of VVJVA, was picked up from his house on the same night and shown along with Protima and Pradeep in the same case. Devendar Das was presented to the press by forcing him to sit in the same car in which Protima and Pradeep traveled along with David Pugh. Later Protima and, Devendar Das and Pradeep were charged with serious political crimes that can result in many years behind bars in India’s current repressive climate. This is an outrage. Protima and Pradeep are guilty only of being anti-displacement activists and introducing a foreign friend to the realities of India’s villages and the devastating impact that capitalist “development” will have on tens of millions of people in India in the coming years. Devendar Das is another well-known anti-displacement activist of Orissa.
Moreover, the same night that Pugh, Protima, Devendar Das, and Pradeep were detained by the police, Amin Maharana, another member of the Central Council of the VVJVA and an anti-displacement activist in Orissa, was separately arrested by the police. However, he has not been produced by the Orissa police so far before a court of law. Amin’s life is in great danger. It has become common in Orissa, as in other neighboring states where the Maoist forces are strong, to torture activists during interrogation, and then kill them in the name of an “armed encounter.”
Thus, there is an urgent need for all ILPS member organizations, supporters, and friends and all other democratic and freedom-loving organizations and individuals to demand that the Orissa police immediately produce Amin Maharana, and that the Orissa authorities release him from custody.
The trumped-up cases against Protima, Devendar Das, and Pradeep should be immediately withdrawn and the Orissa Authorities should come up with a public apology for unjustified harassment of anti-displacement activists.
International Campaign against Forced Displacement and Special Economic Zones
(1) Please write and/or call the Indian embassy or consulate in your country or city.
(2) In India, please write and/or call the following addresses and phone numbers in Orissa and New Delhi:
1. National Human Rights Commission
NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg,
New Delhi-110001, India
Fax Nos. 1. 91-11-23384863 (Administration)
+1-11-23386521 (Law Division)
2. Shri Akhil Kumar Jain
Chief Executive Officer of the National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi
Secretary General’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Special Rapporteur
Damodar Sarangi, IPS (Retd) East Zone — 1:
Sikkim, West Bengal, Orissa, Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Plot No.4, Aurobindo Vila, Ananta Vihar, Pokhariput, Bhubaneswar — 751020
4. Chief Secretary of Government of Orissa:
5. ORISSA STATE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
Toshali Plaza Complex (2nd Floor),
Satya Nagar, P.O. Saheed Nagar,
0091+ 0674 2564333/2390563 (Fax)