The Samajik Ekta Manch, a group working out of Bastar’s Jagdalpur that has come under fire for its alleged role in hounding out activists, journalists and lawyers, announced its own “disbanding” with immediate effect Friday.
The Manch organised rallies against Maoists, but drew flak for its close ties with district police and for branding journalist Malini Subramaniam, lawyers Isha Khandelwal and Shalini Gera of Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, activist Bela Bhati and economist Jean Dreze as Maoist sympathisers. These activists have called the Manch a “front for the police” and an attempt to intimidate “any voice critical of police excesses” in the rebel-hit region.
The Manch said in a release, “The residents of Bastar had created the Samajik Ekta Manch to support the central government, state government, district administration and police administration in their fight against Naxals. To this end, we had protested peacefully, and democratically against Naxalism. But it is now being felt that in the guise of the Samajik Ekta Manch, some people are trying to defame government, police and administration. In these circumstances, the members of the Samajik Ekta Manch have unanimously decided to disband the organisation with immediate effect.”
The Manch has been part of several “surrender ceremonies” with top police officials. Last week, the Manch’s offshoot, Mahila Ekta Manch, organised the burning of an effigy of Nandini Sundar, who had hit out at its activities in connection with an ongoing case on Salwa Judum in Supreme Court. Among members of the Manch are former members of the now-banned Salwa Judum.
A senior government official admitted that the move to disband the Manch may not have been voluntary and might have been initiated by the state itself. “The state government was being criticised for what was happening in Bastar and it was felt that something had to be done. One of the points for which the state government drew flak was activities of groups like the Manch,” a he said.
On February 28, The Indian Express had reported about a letter by D M Awasthi, Special DG (Anti-Naxal Ops), to all seven SPs and Bastar IG, which said “anti-social elements were tarnishing the image of the police.”
The move for the Manch to disband itself also comes after a wave of media pressure against its alleged role in “hounding out” activists.
Isha Khandelwal of Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group said, “The fact that this action has been taken shows that the Manch was created to support the illegal activities of police in Bastar. But there are several other groups like this. There is Mahila Ekta Manch, Adivasi Ekta Manch and Naxal Peedit Sangharsh Samiti in Bijapur. The state must stop these groups from harassing people.”