In Odisha, 9 Dalit-Adivasi Activists Leading Niyamgiri Protest Booked Under UAPA

Niyamgiri movement activists were booked under UAPA ahead of International Day of the World's Indigenous People.

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On 5 August when Krushna Sikaka and Bari Sikaka, two Dalit-adivasi youth activists in Odisha, associated with the Niyamgiri movement, went to mobilise residents in Kalahandi district's Lanjigarh town for a protest, little did they know that their visit to this thinly populated town — 400 km from Odisha's capital Bhubaneshwar — will trigger a series of events culminating in nine activists being booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

"When Krushna Sikaka and Bari Sikaka, our fellow activists went to mobilise people for a protest which was to be held on 9 August to mark the International Day of the World's Indigenous People, some officials in plain clothes shoved them in a car and took them somewhere. We thought they were picked up by the police. So some adivasis from Lanjigarh went to the police station to demand their release. The police, in turn, booked several of them under UAPA," Lingraj Azad, a Dalit activist from Odisha, popularly known as Azad bhai told The Quint.

Azad, 66, also named in the FIR, has been associated with Niyamgiri movement since early 2000s.

The Niyamgiri movement is a grassroots people's movement against big corporations. It started after the Government of Odisha in 2003, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL) to set up an alumina refinery and a bauxite mining plant in the Niyamgiri mountains. This endangered the livelihood and habitat of the native Dongria Kondh tribe.


What Happened on 6 August? 

The FIR, dated 6 August, was filed at the Rayagada police station under sections 10, 11, and 13 of the UAPA. These sections amount to punishment for being part of an unlawful assembly, dealing with funds of an unlawful association, and assisting activities of an unlawful organisation.

Several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) concerned with rioting, carrying deadly weapons, and bribing officials on public duty were also added to the FIR.

As per the FIR, accessed by The Quint, "At 8 am police officials received information that at least 200 people armed with deadly weapons (lathis and axes) were approaching the K Singhpur police station in Rayagada district to protest police action against Left Wing Extremists (LWE). By 10.15 am, these people reached the police station and swung their axes in air, threatening to kill police officers on duty. They also abused the officers on duty and threatened to set the police station on fire."

This FIR, filed on the basis of a complaint by Sumati Mohanty, Inspector in-charge of the K Singhpur police station, named Lada Sikaka, Drinju Krushka, Samba Huika, Manu Sikaka, Upendra Bag, Lenin Kumar, Lingraj Azad, British Naik, and Gobind Bag as the accused in the case.

"The tribals in the area always keep axes with them. Their intent is never to harm anyone. It is part of the culture. The police is using that against us. In fact, many people named in the FIR, including me, were not even part of the gathering which went to the police station," Azad told The Quint.


'Attempt to Dismantle the Movement'

Madhusudan, an activist associated with the Mulniwasi Samajsevak Sangh (MSS), an organisation working for the rights of Dalit and adivasi groups in Odisha said that the UAPA FIR is an attempt to sabotage the Niyamgiri movement. "The FIR and arrest of activists leading the Niyamgiri movement is an attempt by the government to appease big corporates ahead of elections," he said.

According to Azad, while Bari Sikaka later returned home, Krushna Sikaka is still in police custody in connection with a separate case. "After a writ of habeas corpus was filed in the High Court of Odisha regarding the detention of Krushna and Bari, Bari returned home. Krushna, however, was shown to have been arrested in connection with a rape case filed in 2018," Azad said.

Presently, Upendra Bag remains in custody besides Krushna Sikaka. The other seven activists were let off.

"This is a clear attempt to muffle the voices of the people. Even if they want to keep Krushna in custody in connection with the 2018 case, why have nine other people, all related to the Niyamgiri movement, been booked under UAPA? How is a people's protest organised outside a police station secessionist or harmful to the integrity and sovereignty of the state?" questioned Azad.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Dalit   odisha   Tribals 

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