Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation strongly condemns the arrest of three mine workers Rabi Murmu, Abhimanyu Mohanto and Ramesh Majhi on June 12, 2017 on false and fabricated charges of conspiring to wage a war against the Indian state and inciting violence. We understand this arrest and the imposition of severe charges as an attempt by the ruling BJD and BC Mohanty & Sons, the company operating the mine in Sukinda valley to intimidate and prevent the mine workers from forming a trade union and challenging human rights violations resulting from mass tribal displacement in the region.
Rabi Murmu is the President and Abhimanyu Mohanto is the General Secretary of the Aancholiko Khoni Khadaan Mazdoor Sangh, a union that has been organizing in the pursuit of regularizing the wages of mine workers as well as their registration in the B Register. The union has also been drawing attention to rights violations of persons displaced by the mines, with an eruption in mining licenses over the past few years in Sukinda valley, which is the chromite-rich belt of Odisha in Jajpur district. Odisha has 98% of the total chromite reserve in India, 97% of which is found in the Sukinda valley. Currently, there are 14 chromite mines in the Sukinda valley of which 12 or 13 are in operation.
According to information gathered by us, on the morning of June 12, Rabi Murmu, Abhimanyu Mohanto and Ramesh Majhi had gathered at the gate of the Kamarda Chromite Mines Company to participate in a peaceful protest demonstration and were carrying with them a memorandum of demands on behalf of the workers. Before the protest could begin, police personnel from Kaliapani Police Station led by IC Yuvraj Swain arrived at the spot and threatened to book them under Maoist cases if they did not abide by the will of Pritiranjan Gharai, the local MLA from the ruling party BJD. In the week leading up to the protest demonstration, the workers had been getting threatening calls from local BJD supporters to back down on their demands. The Police executed their threat, and arrested the three mine workers for possessing Maoist literature, and for inciting tribals to join their union to fight for their rights against displacement, under Ss. 25-27, Arms Act; and Ss. 147, 506, 121 (A), 124 (A), 120 (B) and 149 (17), IPC. See Odisha POST dated June 14, 2017: 3 Ultras held in Kaliapani. The said Maoist literature is, in fact, some copies of Nua Duniya, a weekly newsletter of the CPI, and a journal of the Chaasi Mulia Adibaasi Sangh.
On June 19, 2017, Rebabati Murmu and Padmabati Mohanto, wives of Rabi Murmu and Abhimanyu Mohanto, respectively, petitioned the Odisha Human Rights Commission in Bhubaneswar demanding an inquiry into the arrest, and for proceedings to be initiated against the police personnel, in order to determine the complicity of political parties under whose direction the arrests have taken place. The petition further demands that all phone calls of the police personnel be tracked to establish the nexus of police, administration, mining authorities and the ruling BJD MLA.
CDRO unequivocally endorses the rights of workers to form a trade union as a fundamental right, to fight for their interests, engage in collective bargaining for regularization of wages and to improve working conditions. The witch-hunt launched against the workers, and the baseless accusations of being Maoists foisted upon them by the Police, are an assault on workers’ rights, and is directed to prevent people from collectively struggling for their rights. The complicity of state authorities and political parties in such intimidation is a carte blanche to the mining authorities and the district administration to engage in further rights violations of the mine workers and displaced persons through exploitation and unfair labour practices. The Odisha police follows the old strategy of stifling any challenges to the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, displacement of peoples and the pursuit of unfair labour practices by simply labeling activists/dissidents as Maoists.
C. Chandrasekhar (CLC, Andhra Pradesh), Asish Gupta (PUDR, Delhi), Pritpal Singh (AFDR, Punjab), Phulendro Konsam (COHR, Manipur) and Tapas Chakraborty (APDR, West Bengal) (Coordinators of CDRO).
Constituent Organisations: Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR, Punjab), Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR, West Bengal); Asansol Civil Rights Association, West Bengal; Bandi Mukti Committee (West Bengal); Civil Liberties Committee (CLC, Andhra Pradesh); Civil Liberties Committee (CLC, Telangana); Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR, Maharashtra); Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR,Tamil Nadu); Coordination for Human Rights (COHR, Manipur); Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS, Assam); Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR); Peoples’ Committee for Human Rights (PCHR, Jammu and Kashmir); Peoples Democratic Forum (PDF, Karnataka); Jharkhand Council for Democratic Rights (JCDR, Jharkhand); Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR, Delhi); Peoples Union for Civil Rights (PUCR, Haryana), Campaign for Peace & Democracy in Manipur (CPDM), Delhi; Janhastakshep(Delhi).