Shri Amit Kataria,
Bastar District, Chhattisgarh
19 September 2016
I would like to bring to your notice a recent instance which shows how a writer can be targetted in the course of doing her work in Bastar today.
My mobile phone was snatched from me this Saturday in Jagdalpur. If it was just a case of ‘theft’ or ‘loot’ as we generally understand it, it would not matter that much. But if it is a deliberate act, then it is another matter altogether. The details of the case are as follows:
As we know, on 17 September 2016, a highly-advertised event – the ‘Lalkar rally’ was oranised by the newly formed anti-Maoist organisation, AGNI, in Jagdalpur. The event, as much that of the state as of AGNI, had the support of many social and religious organisations and was attended by thousands.
The sabha was to begin mid-day at the Hata ground and end in a rally. When I reached there, the sabha was going on. I wanted to document the event with the intention of writing on it and took photographs and short videos of speeches. I was using my five-months old mobile (Lenovo K3 note) for the purpose.
I could see that I had been noticed by some leaders of AGNI and officials who were on the stage as well as by activists on the ground, and received closer attention from some of them over the half-an-hour or so that I was there (eg, they were distributing small-sized national flags for people to hold and came and pointedly gave one to me; asked me whether I had recognized them; tried to get themselves photographed with me in the frame; as well as shouted slogans standing near me or behind me against maoists/maoist dalals/maoist sympathisers). I responded politely and continued doing what I was doing.
After the sabha got over and the rally began, I moved to a point at the road where I could see a few other journalists. Nearby were two men who were minding order in the rally. I don’t know whether they were already there or had followed me from the sabha ground. I was standing next to them taking photos. They were talking amongst themselves. One of them asked the other who I was. The other maintained a disapproving silence initially. Then referring to the comment made by CPI leader, Manish Kunjam, the previous evening on a whatsapp site (regarding Durga and Mahisasur that had created outrage and led to a FIR being filed against Manish Kunjam by an organisation called ‘Dharm Sena’ the same evening), he blurted out that I was one of them. I thought I should introduce myself fully to both of them, which I did.
But after that I could see that he was uncomfortable when I tried to take a shot, and would hurry the people up so that I could not. When it happened a few times, and I drew his attention to it, he said that I was taking photos with the intention of giving them to the Maoists so that they could take action against those who had participated in the rally. I said that was not the case, reasoned with him for a few minutes, then decided to move on.
As I crossed the road and proceeded towards the Hata ground, I reaslised that he was following me. He is a dark complexioned man of medium height and stocky built. He was wearing a plain dark blue t-shirt that stood out and was noticeable even from the corner of my eye. For the next 20-30 mins he was always behind me. I noticed that he was talking on his phone a few times. I stopped for a cup of tea from a wayside stall and he stopped too. I overheard him speaking to somebody on the phone saying that “madam chai pi rahi hai.”
Being followed is not pleasant, but in the prevailing circumstances in Bastar, especially in the wake of the allegation by the Samajik Ekta Manch on me of being a ‘Naxali dalal’ in March this year (that I had of course refuted), I thought he may have been asked to keep an eye on me. Since I had nothing to hide, I didn’t let all this worry me.
In front of the entrance of the Hata ground, I ran into ASP, Mr. Vijay Pandey, who commented on the large number of people, etc. During that brief chat too, my follower was closeby.
My TVS was parked nearby and I was moving towards it when suddenly I saw somebody bend and snatch the phone from my right hand and run. He was a tall man clad in a blue shirt in faded checks over bluish trousers (could be jeans). A scarf, also in bluish hues, covered his face making only his eyes and forehead visible. I could see that his complexion was on the darker side and his black hair was straight.
I could have caught him if it was not for my follower. I was able to stop a passing scooter within minutes and the driver was willing to go after the guy whom we could still see. But to my amazement, just as I was trying to sit on the scooter, my follower jumped on the seat. I tried to get him to come off it, asking him why he was occuping it, when I had stopped it. At that moment it was clear to me that he was trying to prevent me from catching the guy rather than helping me.
It was not surprising therefore when within another few minutes, after I had stopped a motorcyclist who agreed to help me and we were on our way, that I should see my follower standing near a shop near a turning, a short distance away; the scooter could not be seen. Still on the motorcycle I asked him in which direction the guy had run and he pointed straight towards a crowd. He seemed somewhat relaxed now and looking at him I felt that it was futile to continue with the chase, that it had been “managed.”
I went to where my follower was and confronted him. I asked him whether he had orchestrated what had happened. I asked him why had he been following me? Why had he not followed the guy (if he was innocent) when his action had in effect prevented me from doing so. He had been a close witness to all that had happened, and facts as they were, suggested his involvement.
He got angry. Started with “Mad……..d, you are accusing me?” I asked him why was he abusing mothers? He cooled down a little bit but did not deny following me. He said that if I wanted to go and file an FIR, I should. I could name him as a witness. He informed me about his name: Babu Borai. He said he lived in Dharampura. And added that: “Sirisguda-Karanji mai gai saal jo hua, vah maine kiya tha.” [The reference here was to the destruction of the church in Sirisguda-Karanji (Lohandiguda block) that occurred in 2015]. I have learnt since that he is a named accused in the FIR on that case.
In the conversation that followed, amongst other things, he said that he was aware of my writings. That he knew what I would write.
After this we walked back to the main road. I reported what had happened to the ASP. Babu Borai and one other person were also there. In front of us, they left on a motorcycle. I also informed about the incident to the IG, Mr. SRP Kalluri, and SP, Mr. R.N. Dash, before leaving the Hata ground for the Jagdalpur Kotwali where I submitted an application (enclosed) based on which a FIR was lodged later that evening.
On enquiry, I have learnt that the investigation has started. Until last night, however, Babu Borai had not been interrogated by the police.
I do hope that you will also enquire into the incident so that we can better understand it.