Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Arundhati Roy, rights activists rally around freed Chhattisgarh filmmaker

New Delhi, August 12: “It's not the first or the last time someone has been arrested in Chhattisgarh,” said human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, setting the tone for a public meeting at the Constitution Club in New Delhi on Tuesday to mark the release of documentary filmmaker and journalist Ajay T G.
On May 5, Ajay was arrested and sent to jail by the Chhattisgarh police on allegations of involvement with Naxals and sedition against the Indian Government. When the police failed to find any evidence to support these charges within the mandatory 90 days period, Ajay was granted statutory bail and released on August 5. Yet despite being unable to file a chargesheet, the police have not closed the case against him.

After spending 93 days in prison, Ajay said, “I still don’t feel free. And I’m not the only one, there are so many more imprisoned like me.” His bail conditions require him to report to the police station every second Monday.

Warned by the police not to travel to Delhi or speak to the press, Ajay and his wife, Shobha, attended Tuesday’s meeting at their own risk.

Although the family lives in fear of retaliation from the state, said Shobha, “we were excited about the opportunity to come to Delhi and speak out”.

Led by the Committee for the Release of Ajay T G, human rights activists, journalists and writer Arundhati Roy were among those who spoke of the wider ramifications of his arrest.

Based on her research in Chhattisgarh, Nandani Sundar, sociology professor at the University of Delhi, spoke of the climate of fear in the state as a result of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security (CSPS) Act, 2006, and on the blackout of the violence perpetrated by the Salwa Judum. Speaking at the event, independent law researcher Usha Ramanathan said: “Critiquing this law, as we are now, is illegal under the CSPS, a clear indication we’re moving away from the rights of people.”

Following the meeting, Ajay T G’s film on the life and work of Dr Binayak Sen, who was also arrested under the CSPS Act, on 14 May 2007, was screened. In a fitting concluding note, Sen’s wife, Ilina, said, “We cannot individualise cases, we have to look beyond this.”

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