By Maya Palit
Activist and social researcher Bela Bhatia was attacked in her home in Parpa, near Jagdalpur, in the early hours on Monday, 23rd January. A mob of around 30 goons arrived at her house around 1:30 AM in a large vehicle and motorbikes, and ordered her to leave Chhattisgarh. They threatened to kill her dog and burn down the house, demanded from the landlady that Bhatia be evicted immediately, and barged into her house. She managed to call the local police station, but the arrival of the police wasn’t enough to quell the mob, which eventually forced her to write a letter promising to vacate her house within 24 hours. The latest update from Bhatia, late last night, said that she was at home, and had been provided police protection outside her house.
This comes just days after she was part of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) team that probed allegations of sexual assault and rape against police personnel. Bhatia, who was also instrumental in assisting adivasi women register FIRs incriminating police officers for rape and sexual assault last November, has been previously targeted as well, and her landlord was put under pressure to evict her. The harassment of human rights activists in Bastar continues to be rampant. At the tail end of a year that saw journalist Malini Subramaniam and the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group lawyers being evicted from Bastar, police entered and searched through lawyer Shalini Gera’s premises for 45 minutes without a warrant in December. The regular intimidation, harassment, and attacks on defenders of human rights has covered a whole spectrum, from the burning of their effigies by the Chhatisgarh police, to alleging that Nandini Sundar, the Delhi University professor who demanded the dissolution of the state-backed ‘antiinsurgency’ group Salwa Judum, was involved in the murder of an adivasi man.