For the past several years, Birsa Magi, 43, has been a regular visitor to Tenugat’s court in Jharkhand. He was charged under the Daain Prevention of Witchcraft Practices Act after a quarrel with his relatives in 2006. But for the same court, Majhi is a fugitive since 2008 in another case. He himself did not know about it until recently
Two weeks ago, Maggie was called to the local police station and informed that “Naxal is wanted for a bounty of 1 lakh rupees”. This revelation shocked the destitute tribesman.
Maggie and his wife Amiens. Their four children, including three girls aged 15, 8 and 4 along with a 20-year-old son, can barely read. The family lives in a small hut in Charpania-Lalgarh village in Jharkhand’s Bokaro district. Maggie and his son Sunil work as workers in the local brick kiln.
Maggie, who was in great distress on his face, told Outlook, “They can arrest or kill me at any time. I’m not a Maoist. I worry about what will happen to my family.”
(Birsa outside his modest home | Photo Courtesy: Jharkhand Janadikar Mahasabha)
However, his concerns do not seem entirely misplaced. The Maoist-dominated insurgency-dominated state often makes headlines with arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and mock confrontations.
In September 2019, an officer from the Central Bank of Iraq in a letter to the Prime Minister accused his senior colleague of being involved in extrajudicial killings.
State appeal rejected In February 2019, the Supreme Court upheld a CBI investigation into a “phased confrontation” between Maoists and security forces in which 12 people were killed in 2015.
In the absence of a steady stream of income, Maggie said of his daily ordeal of suffering, “My family suffers from a lack of food and clothes. Since I don’t have a pair of oxen, the villagers lent me theirs to plow the land.”
Maggie said a one-acre plot of agricultural land was his only asset. He lamented, “The government and the police should take pity and put an end to my harassment.”
About 3-4 years ago, he claimed, all of his family’s meager property was confiscated. “The police only returned the mosquito net after I pleaded with them that I had nothing else to protect my children from mosquitoes,” he added.
Stuck in a legal tangle
Faced with a long-awaited case, Maggie fails to pay his attorneys frequently. Recently, she tried to pay his dues from Karil (Bamboo Buds) but he refused the offer. He was about to refuse my request for more time but relented when I told him, “We don’t have anything to eat in our house.”
He has to appear in court every month, Maggie said.
Laxmikant Prasad, the lawyer representing Magi, said five people were acquitted in the case related to the Witchcraft Practices Act. “Maggie and two other people are still on their way because they were absent in court the day the statements were taken,” he told Outlook.
According to Prasad, the FIR in the second case, related to the militants, did not mention the name of his father or father. “At the investigation stage, there was a possibility that the accused was someone else. Therefore, he was a fugitive for the police and the court, adding that dozens of defendants are facing trial in the case dating back to 2008. The police were submitting indictment papers in parts, he said.
The problem is that he is extremely poor and illiterate. He could not track developments in the case. Usually, in these cases, the police fulfill all the legal procedures on the table and the accused remains completely unaware.”
“Once you associate your name with the Maoists, the police keep harassing you for the rest of your life,” he said, claiming that his client has no criminal history.
The position of the security forces
Kanahiya Ram, SHO Jageshwar Vihar, confirmed that Birsa Magi is a “wanted Naxal with a reward of Rs 1 lakh”. He said Maggie was summoned to the police station on December 15 for questioning. When asked why he was not arrested and asked to come back later, Ram replied, “We don’t want to spoil his life in case he wants to be part of the mainstream. At this point, we’re giving him a chance.”
Although he denied the possibility of a “misidentification”, he said: “We will take all factors into account before initiating legal action against him.”
Maghi said that some policemen advised him at the police station to surrender before the District Court to avoid any unwanted incidents in the future.
Ambika Yadav, activist in Jharkhand Janadikar Mahasabha, a coalition of progressive civil rights organizations, cited the example of a meeting that took place on June 12, 2021, in Piri village, Lithar district. Pramhadev Singh was shot dead by security forces in a search operation in Naxal. But so far the FIR on the complaint made by his wife has not been recorded.”
Singh and some other young men – who were shot during the botched operation – turned out for Sarhul Day, a festival during which tribesmen go to the forest for hunting and festivities.
Earlier, several prominent media outlets reported on June 12 last year that the dead man was an activist who was shot dead in a confrontation between the “Maoists” and the security forces.
(Birsa’s house in Jharkhand | Photo Courtesy: Jharkhand Janadikar Mahasabha)
Unfulfilled poll promises
In the 2019 state assembly elections, Jharkhandis gave a clear mandate to Mahagathbandan against the “anti-people policies” of the previous government, according to Yadav. But there was no change in the repressive attitude of the security forces even two years after the coalition government led by Hemant Soren came to power. And their violence against Adivasis continues under the guise of anti-Naxal operations.”
He added in their election statements, both Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Congress had promised to release trials, especially people from tribal, Dalit and minority communities, who were imprisoned without conviction. There is complete silence on this issue. Hemant Soren’s coalition government has raised its voice against the arrest of Stan Swami on false charges. But he was silent regarding the issues Stan was raising,” Yadav complained.
Stan Swami, the 84-year-old tribal rights activist, has been in prison for more than nine months without trial under the Central Anti-Terrorism Act, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Swami suffered from Parkinson’s disease and other age-related diseases. He passed away on July 5, 2021.
Yadav criticized the state government for its contempt for constitutional bodies. “Its lack of interest is evidenced by the fact that the State Commission for Human Rights, the Women’s Commission, the State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and the State Information Commission are lying,” he said.
Appeal to the government
Meanwhile, its accountant has appealed to the prime minister, Hemant Soren, to instruct the police to “correct their mistake” in the Birsa Maggi case. “There are many other people who are being persecuted for doing nothing wrong. We have sent a written statement to the police chief of Jharkhand. Besides, we have asked the chief minister to order a judicial investigation,” said Siraj Dutta, a Ranchi-based social policy analyst who is associated with the organisations. working in the field of human rights in the state.
Dinesh Murmo, a Jumia-based activist, agreed with Adivasi Mulawasi Adhikar Manch, saying, “These people are very poor and have no way to meet even basic daily needs. The police cases have exacerbated their problems.”