Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Idea of Semantics in Chhattisgarh

The Oxford Dictionary defines “police” as “an organised civil force for maintaining order, preventing and detecting crime, and enforcing the laws”.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “breach of trust” as “violation (either through fraud or negligence) by a trustee of a duty that equity requires of him”.

In Chhattisgarh, the whole idea of “semantics” is redefined. Language is not merely something that can be associated with the dictionary here; it has much to do with survival and death.

Socrates tried to get away from the vicious web of semantics, and hence chose to go deep into the roots of words, and their meanings. However, that depth is missing in the words that pour out from the mouths of intelligent civil services officers in Chhattisgarh. Their words explain the law and order within the state, their words explain how the lack of discipline in the state is hushed up. In this tribal belt of the country, the whole idea of elucidating and evading that vicious web of semantics gets a new meaning.

Throughout the evening of January 3, 2010, I made several attempts to contact Amresh Mishra, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada. But he chose not to answer any calls – I understood that it was a busy day and evening for him, with Sodi Sambo being “captured”.

The next day, on January 4, 2010, I gave him a call the instant I woke up, at 7.45 am. This is what transcribed between us, for 6 minutes. The conversation is a primer to the web of semantics in Chhattisgarh:

Priyanka: I am a journalist and I need to speak to you about Sodi Sambo. Where is she now? Why was she illegal detained last night?

Amresh: She has not been detained or arrested. She was only brought for questioning. We wanted to record and put our case in the Supreme Court also as there was no FIR lodged in the police station.

First of all we never had any authentic information about her encounter. It was only with Himanshu Kumar's statement and other people who were talking about it that we learnt about the incident. There was no FIR; we were searching her for the last 3 months, and we knew that she was captive somewhere. We learnt that she was most probably in the custody of Himanshu Kumar to which we had no access and we are still verifying the facts with her. Whether it was legal or illegal, we don’t know. That we will learn only after we speak to her guardians.

P: Were there any attempts made to get in touch with Himanshu Kumar in the interim period and ask him about her?

A: There were 3 letters sent to him, which were duly signed and returned by him. He was one of the complainants. We told him to kindly co-operate with us and to find her. But he made a mockery out of it on a Youtube video, where he said that, Police nahin bol sakte toh mein kaise bol sakta hoon?” Yesterday we learnt that she’s being taken to Raipur and we tried to get her. She’s not been detained. We have handed her over to her family.

P: Where are the family members right now?

A: They are in Dantewada.

P: Where is Sambo right now?

A: She is in Dantewada.

P: Where in Dantewada sir? It is a big town...

A: That we cannot disclose.

P: But she’s also an eyewitness to the incident that took place in Gompad…

A: She can be an eyewitness to anything. There’s no problem with that. But there was no FIR. We are not defending the police. There should have been an FIR. I needed first-hand information and not some borrowed information.

P: As far as I know about the law, any person who’s been an eyewitness to any incident, the statement from him/ her needs to be taken from the most comfortable location of that person which is usually the home. So why wasn’t the statement taken from her home?

A: More than an eyewitness she’s also a complainant to me that all this has happened to me and please do justice to me. Eyewitness is a separate thing; that issue will come up later on. First of all there’s a complaint against me by her in my name just after the incident so I needed to get that information. We are not recording her statement right now, but have handed her over to her parents, or her mama/mami whatever. I think that is the best confines for her right now and protect her form the clutches of other people.

P: But she needs a surgery on her leg for which she needs to be taken to Delhi. So what about that? Will you be making arrangements for it?

A: We will take care of it. It’s a medico-legal case and nobody except police and Govt doctors have any business into it. She’s also against vilification of evidence and destruction of evidence because she has been shot in her leg. It is a medico-legal case. She should have reported to the police, get the MLC conducted and then government doctors can refer her to any other doctor for treatment. All of that was not done in the last two months, due to the agenda of some people.

P: I would like to give you an example: if there has been attack on me by the police, and if I need to write an FIR, do you think the police would write an FIR against themselves, stating that they have themselves attacked me? Because that I what has happened now. Was there any better way that she could have taken this forward?

A: Our many SPOs are in the jail! But we wanted to be sure first rather that malign good SPOs. If we are sure that this has happened, then we will surely file an FIR.

P: How long will Sambo now be in Dantewada and in your custody?

A: I don’t know. She is now with her parents and she will leave with them in a bus in a few hours. If she needs a surgery we will take her to Raipur or Mumbai or wherever she needs to be taken. We will take care of everything.

P: Is there any likelihood that you will issue a warrant to arrest her?

A: There is no question of arresting her at all. Why should be arrested at all? This is again another concocted story. There will be no arrests. She is only a complainant for me; not an accused for me. She is a complainant who has written that she was shot by a police party. I need to verify that because till today, parties are claiming that there was an encounter.

P: As far as I know it has been a detention of a different kind. This could have been done during the day time too. Why was it done at night?

A: There was no detention at all. We were abiding the law. You can go to the Supreme Court and find out. This was not any detention.

P: But why was it done specifically yesterday? You could have done this earlier too…

A: Before that we had no access to her at all.

P: But there was no FIR also lodged. When she wanted to file one, it was rejected…

A: All of that is under enquiry. That is why we want to enquire with her. Once that is done, we will file the FIR.

P: What about her treatment now? Who will be taking responsibility for it?

A: It will all be taken care of. The state will take care of it.

P: Do you have her medical files with you?

A: Not right now. I will get them; I have to ask her guardians for it.

P: But why were the medical files not taken earlier? You were working on this case since yesterday… besides, since it is a medico-legal case, her guardians may or may not have the files…

A: After all the work yesterday till late night, we all wanted to sleep since we were all tired.

P: Do you have a translator for her, because I believe she cannot speak in Hindi..

A: 99 per cent of our men are Gondi-speaking, which is her dialect.

P: But she doesn’t speak Gondi….

A: 99 per cent of our men know all the languages here. The translation will be managed.

P: But she doesn’t speak Gondi….I know that for sure sir.

A: Does she speak Telugu? Does she speak Koya Mata then?

P: No sir she doesn’t.

A: Then whatever she speaks, we will find that out. And we will have all the information in hand.

P: Sir can I please come and meet you today?

A: I will be out all day today. I will let you know.

P: Can we confirm our meeting at 11 am?

A: I have other meetings. I will call you later than 11 am. Are you leaving today?

P: No I am not, but there are many other matters that I would like to speak to you about.

A: Is this your number? I will call you a few hours after 11 am. Don’t worry, we will meet today.

P: Thanks you for your time sir. Have a nice day.

Battling the system? Or battling the conscience? While Om Puri faced the dilemma in 'Ardh Satya', Amresh Mishra faces it in reality

The same afternoon, I went to meet Mishra, accompanied by few more independent journalists and activists. Of course the focus of the interview was the whereabouts of Sodi Sambo, her arrest, her treatment, her release, her custodians. It was a long interaction that lasted 36 minutes, and here is the four-part video of that interaction. Anyone with a keen eye will notice what needs to be noticed during the conversation and the person being interviewed.

PART 1 - Here Mishra explains about the “suppression” of the medico-legal case of Sodi Sambo; the fact that the entire police set-up is not the accused in this case; the debate about the existence of her “parents” or “guardians”; the emphasis on the need of villagers to go to a police station to file complaint, even if it is about 80 kms away; the need for people “responsible” for her – like NGOs – to approach the police; Sambo not being sent to hospital as “she wanted to relax”; the lack of “medical urgency”; his inability to answer what language she communicates in.

PART 2 - Here Mishra continues to speak about his lack of knowledge about Sodi Sambo residing in Himanshu Kumar's residence; the inaction by Kumar to aid the legal process in Sambo's case;  refusal to acknowledge that Sambo was prevented from boarding the bus on January 3, 2010; his overt refusal to acknowledge that Kumar would soon be slapped with charges of abduction of Sambo; the “body language” of Sambo which proved a couple to be her guardians; the missing case of her medical history; no casualty in the “firing” in Gompad when Sambo was injured; the discovery of explosives after the “firing”; his refusal to acknowledge that she was in police custody; his refusal to acknowledge that Sambo was brought from Kanker police station based on his order.

PART 3 - Here Mishra speaks about Sambo's location based on the “latitude and longitude”; his lack of knowledge about the names of her guardians; his own confusion about the “police protection” upon her; the difference in his statement about not “knowing where she was the previous night” and “not wanting to disclose the information”; the confusion about action not being taken about any police personnel who may be accused of any crime; his confusion about her “parents” and “guardians” and the Sarpanch who aided in ascertaining the guardians; the “complaint” filed by Sambo's family regarding her disappearance;  his lack of knowledge about the chronology of events when Sambo was accosted in Kanker.

PART 4 - Here Mishra says that we are not supposed to know if her record has been taken down honestly since “police is not accountable to citizens”; the judgments of doctor to not send her for medical treatment; his refusal of his earlier statement that Sambo's guardians were identified by her body language; his refusal to acknowledge the language in which Sambo communicates; the fact that no information is available with him at the present moment; his assurance of his duty to provide her protection; his assertion that “Chhattisgarh police is very efficient”.

On January 7, after the high-drama of my illegal detention, I went to meet Mishra again; this time with another set of activists, research scholars, and activists. No cameras were allowed in this time; the hostile air was looming large.

Mishra said that he knew that I had been recording his conversations over the phone.
Mishra said that he knew that I was putting up the conversations on the Internet for all to see.
Mishra said that he knew that my blog had become a tool powerful enough to make it unavailable temporarily.
Mishra said that recording my conversations with him was “a breach of trust”.

Here comes the vicious web of semantics.

Who has shot Sambo on her leg for no reason?
Who has worn the khaki and has misused it?
Who has tried to arrest Sambo for being the sole eyewitness to a massacre?
Who has prevented getting her a proper treatment?
Who has inflicted terror upon the tribals, who care nothing more than their frugal survival?
Who has passed the civil services exams, only to dis-serve the nation?
Who has exploited its own brethren at the behest of politicians and profit-hungry corporates?
Who has replaced a stone for a heart of conscience?
Who has fallen prey to a distraught system?
Who has turned into a persecutor instead of being a protector?
Who has exercised “breach of trust”?