Attacks on social activists in HC glare

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 15.01.10
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Mumbai, Jan. 14: Bombay High Court today noted the rise in murderous attacks on social activists and asked the state police chief to report within a week what the government was doing to protect them.

Yesterday, Right to Information (RTI) activist Satish Shetty, 38, was stabbed to death by two attackers close to his home at Talegaon Dabhade near Pune, where he had exposed a series of land scams.

Last week, two gunmen had fired at the Churchgate home of Nayana Kathpalia, of the NGO Citispace, who had filed a PIL against Slum Redevelopment Authority buildings coming up on open public spaces.

A two-judge bench issued the directive while hearing a land-scam PIL where the petitioner has requested police protection. The bench said it had read about the attacks on Shetty and Kathpalia and was taking the matter up on its own.

“The court directive is a positive development. No arrests have yet been made in either attack. We have for years been demanding that the CBI probe all such cases and police set up a special cell to monitor threats to social activists,” said Sumeira Abdulali of the Movement against Intimidation, Threats, and Revenge against Activists (Mitra).

Shetty, murdered during his morning walk, had complained of threat calls and asked for protection, which the police now claim they were on the verge of providing. The judges today said the force was duty bound to protect people who approached the courts.

Those who fight for social causes have faced constant danger in Maharashtra since Navleen Kumar was murdered in 2002 for standing up to a construction-happy don in Thane’s Vasai-Virar region.

The list of victims is endless: Edwin Britto in Vasai-Virar (June 2005), Suryakant Panchal of Bombay Environmental Action Group (June 2004), Anandini Thakoor and Aftab Siddiqui (July 2005) and Navin Pandya of Agni (last September). “In 2006, H. D’Lima survived a knife attack and James John of Agni suffered three broken ribs. Both named their suspected attackers but no arrests took place,” Abdulali said.

In 2008, then Mumbai police chief Hasan Gafoor had ordered special cells set up in all zones to monitor threats to social activists. The directive has remained largely on paper, Abdulali said.

In Shetty’s murder, Talegaon police have detained four people but would neither reveal their identities nor confirm their arrest. “We feel there is political pressure on the police,” Shetty’s brother Sandeep said.