On May 6, Varsha Dongre, a Chhattisgarh police officer posted as deputy jailer at the Raipur Central Jail, was suspended by jail authorities following a post on social media where she alleged that she had seen evidence of third degree torture of Adviasi girls, and spoke against government policies in Bastar. Dongre has taken on the government in the past, fighting and winning a case in Bilaspur High Court on postings in the state public service commission. Excerpts from an interview conducted over emails
Senior officials say that despite being given time, you did not reply to their notice. Do you intend to fight your suspension in court?
For the period of suspension, I have been attached to Ambikapur jail. On May 2, I was given a 32-page notice with two days to reply. Since I was unwell, I informed the Central Jail authorities in Raipur and left for home. I was advised bed rest, stayed home and prepared a 376-page reply which I presented to the jail authorities on May 5 by speed post. We will take action against this suspension order within the constitutional framework.
Senior officials say you were aware of social media guidelines but broke these willingly.
I wrote the post on [Facebook] in all awareness and knowledge, and expressed my views keeping in mind my fundamental right to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. I followed the civil service guidelines as far as possible… I have never divulged confidential items, departmental information or important documents. As civil servants, it is our responsibility to not only do public service, but also protect the constitutional rights of the people. It was not my intention to gain fame… It is being claimed that action has been taken against me under social media guidelines issued by the general administration department of the Chhattisgarh government. My opposition to this is based on the basic right to the freedom of expression issued by the Supreme Court… My post is within the public service conduct rules 1965.
In your post, you said you have seen evidence of young Adivasi girls being tortured, being given electric shocks. Where did you see this?
I saw this during my tenure at the Central Jail in Jagdalpur, when young Adivasi girls had been brought. I found out from those children that after asking all the women policemen to leave the police station, they were given electric shocks on their wrists and breasts while they were naked. These burn marks I have seen myself. I was shaken from inside by these accounts of third-degree torture of these girls… Our Constitution and laws do not give the right to anyone to torture.
You have spoken against state government policies in Bastar. How can violence end in Bastar?
Putting in place a capitalist system forcibly is exacerbating the problem in Bastar, which cannot be solved just through violence. The problem of Bastar is a social, economic and cultural one which needs to be solved on the ground. Under article 244(a) of the constitution, Adivasis should be given ownership rights over jal, jungle and jameen, and the Fifth Schedule should be implemented in all Adivasi areas, by which the attacks on poor tribals for rights over mineral wealth can be brought to an end, and real development brought about.
You are one of those who filed a case against the state’s public service commission in 2006, which you won. That case is being heard in the Supreme Court.
In the high court judgment, at every stage the state government was held responsible for the corruption. To the point that on June 7, 2016, the government and the commission wanted us to close the case by giving us the lure of promotion and posts, which we declined. It is clear therefore that this too can be one of the reasons for being targeted but I think the primary reason is bringing to light the torture against Adivasis, and speaking against the thinking that takes away jal, jungle, jameen from tribals.
Not all officers who have broken social media regulations have had action taken against them, as it has been with you. Why?
I too am surprised that officers that ignored public safety, gave irresponsible comments on social media, with one officer even admitting to burning Adivasi homes… no strong action was taken against them. The government can answer this better. Perhaps my crime is only that I spoke for the security of innocent tribals, and spoke of their constitutional protection.