An open letter to the Government of India, Members of the Judiciary, and All Citizens,

One of the most disastrous consequences of the strife in the tribal areas of Central India is that thousands of adivasi men and women remain imprisoned as under-trials, often many years after being arrested, accused of ‘Naxalite/ Maoist’ offences.


The facts speak for themselves.


In Chhattisgarh, over two thousand adivasis are currently in jail, charged with ‘Naxalite/Maoist’ offences. Many have been imprisoned for over two years without trial. In Jharkhand, an even larger number of adivasis, possibly in excess of five thousand, remain imprisoned as under-trials. The situation is similar in many others states of central and eastern India currently affected by armed conflict between the government and adivasi-linked militant movements, namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal. The adivasi undertrial population may run into thousands in each of the states. Assessing the true scale of the problem is inherently difficult, given that none of the police or jail administrations are making comprehensive figures public, even after RTI requests have been filed by concerned citizens. This opacity adds to the injustice.


In each of these states, the adivasi under-trials, and particularly those arrested under special security statutes, face grave common handicaps that obstruct their Constitutional right to a fair, speedy trial, to justice.


These include:


One, language barriers. The vast majority of adivasi under-trials speak only adivasi languages, such as Gondi and Halbi. However, few if any courts have official interpreters/translators. This leaves the adivasis unable to communicate directly with the Officers of the Court or otherwise effectively make their case.


Two, the failure, in case after case, for evidentiary material, such as captured arms or explosives, to be promptly submitted in court by the security forces when they first produce the detainees before the Magistrate, as the Magistrate can statutorily direct the security forces to do when they level such serious charges. Typically, the security personnel only make oral statements that are accepted as the truth by the Magistrate concerned. In the absence of prima facie proof, the grave risk of injustice being done to innocent adivasis is self-evident.


Three, procedural barriers relating to ‘Naxalite/Maoist’ and other security offences. Being charged with such offences, the under-trials are not produced in the courts for lengthy periods, on the grounds that there is not “sufficient police guard” to escort them to the court. Owing to this, the trial does not proceed for years together.


Four, other procedural barriers. Since under-trials charged with ‘Naxalite/Maoist’ offences are only held in Central Jails, many of them of them are transferred to jails at a great distance from their homes and families. In Chhattisgarh, for instance, nearly one hundred adivasi under-trials from Bastar have been transferred to Durg or Raipur Central Jails, a distance of over 300 kilometers. The great distance, coupled with the poverty of most adivasis, means that families are unable to regularly visit them or provide them with vital emotional support. Moreover, as their cases continue to be heard in the distant courts where they were arrested and first produced, they are taken to court even less frequently than earlier.


Five, the lack of proper legal defence. Lawyers who visit ‘Naxal/Maoist’ under-trials in Chhattisgarh are photographed by the authorities and their information listed in a separate register, making lawyers reluctant to visit their clients. In any event, many of the adivasi under-trials are dependent on legal-aid lawyers who rarely go to meet the client or seek instructions regarding the case. Often lawyers are careless in their conduct of cases and are amenable to pressures from the police or prosecution.


All of this is a cause of harsh and needless suffering to these under-trials, their families and their communities, worsening their impoverishment and vulnerability.


In addition to the humanitarian imperative, the prolonged failure to provide speedy and impartial justice to these thousands of adivasi under-trials is damaging the prospects for peace in India’s heartland – by leading adivasis to feel that the Indian government does not treat them as full citizens and by intensifying their generalized sense of alienation. It is telling that in the widely publicized “Collector abduction” incidents of Chhatisgarh and Odisha, one of the major demands raised by the insurgents was speedy and fair trial for these thousands of jailed adivasis, accused of being Naxalites/Maoists. Yet, virtually none of the efforts belatedly agreed to by the state governments – such as the ‘High-powered Committee for review of the cases of Adivasi undertrials in Chhattisgarh’, set up in mid-2012 under the aegis of Nirmala Buch, the former top IAS officer – have come to fruition or been acted on to any degree by the concerned governments.


More than anything else, the failure to ensure justice for the adivasis is a grave blot on India’s human rights record. Not only are we as a nation committed to democracy and human rights, but our Constitution provides extensive safeguards and rights to the adivasis that are being violated by not ensuring fair and speedy trials for these thousands of adivasi under-trials. 


On every count – whether humanitarian or strategic – it is imperative that this prolonged failure to assure our country’s adivasis of speedy, impartial justice be set right immediately.


Justice is in everyone’s interest.


Hence, we the undersigned, a large group of concerned Indians – including adivasi leaders, jurists and lawyers, and public intellectuals – urge the Union Government, the concerned State Governments, and the Supreme Court to undertake to appoint a special Commission of eminent jurists to oversee dedicated fast-track courts that hear these cases speedily and impartially.




V.R. Krishna Iyer, former Justice of the Supreme Court of India, and Mahasweta Devi, writer and activist


Swami Agnivesh, activist

Nandita Das, actor and director

Nitin Desai, former UN Under-Secretary General

G.N. Devy, literary critic and adivasi-rights activist

Jean Dreze, economist

Siddharth Dube, writer

Gladson Dungdung, General Secretary, Jharkhand Human Rights Movement

Anand Grover, senior advocate, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health

Ramachandra Guha, historian

Girish Karnad, playwright and director

Manish Kunjam, CPI leader and former MLA from Bastar

Harsh Mander, activist and writer

Vinod Mehta, editorial chairman, Outlook

Arvind Netam, former Union Minister and MP from Bastar

Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court and UN Special Rapporteur

B.D. Sharma, former Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes

Ramesh Sharma, Ekta Parishad

Nandini Sundar, sociologist

Father Stan Swamy, activist

Tarun Tejpal, editor in chief, Tehelka

Mukti Prakash Tirkey, editor in chief, Dalit Adivasi Dunia




Aadiyog, Lucknow.

Pushpa Achanta

Maharukh Adenwalla, lawyer and rights activist

Alok Agrawal, Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Ramesh Agrawal, Jan Chetna Manch

S. Anand, Publisher, Navayana

Ali Asghar

Ramani Atkuri, activist

Seema Azad, Dastak, Lucknow

Lallan Baghel, Chandigarh

Lal Bahadur, artist

Anand Balasubramanyam

Gautam Bandopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha

Moushumi Basu, New Delhi

Amit Bhaduri, professor emeritus, JNU

Madhu Bhaduri, Ambassador of India, retired

Vimal Bhai, NAPM

Ajay Bharadwaj, New Delhi

Sudha Bharadwaj, PUCL Chhattisgarh

Rustom Bharucha, writer

Vinay Bhat, management consultant

Bela Bhatia, TISS

Suresh Bhatt

M. Bharath Bhushan

Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court advocate

Praful Bidwai, Durgabai Deshmukh Chair, Council for Social Development

Nisha Biswas, scientist

Priyanka Borpujari, journalist

Rahul Bose, actor

P.A. Chacko

Shubha Chacko

Indira Chakravarthi, Public Health Researcher

Uma Chakravarti, professor of history

Nirmal Chandra, IIM, Kolkata

Rajyashree Chandra, Visiting Fellow, CSDS.

Uma V Chandru

Indrani Chatterjee, historian

Yug Mohit Chaudhary

Shoma Chaudhury, managing editor, Tehelka

Anuradha Chenoy, JNU

Kamal Chenoy, JNU

Gowru Chinappa, PUCL Bangalore

Arati Chokshi

Chitrangada Choudhury, journalist

Maria Aurora Couto, writer

Dilip D' Souza, writer

Ajay Dandekar, Central University, Gujarat

Lalita Das

Mamata Dash

Tushar Dash, Vasundhara

Siddhartha Deb, writer

Aditi Desai, social anthropologist

Kartik Desai, activist

Sagar Dhara

Arundhati Dhuru

Gabrielle Dietrich, Penmurimai Iyakkam

Bernard D'Mello

Madhumita Dutta

Meher Engineer, independent scientist

Shailesh Gandhi, RTI activist and former Central Information Commissioner

Tanushree Gangopadhyay, journalist

Manan Ganguli, UK

Subhash Gatade, New Socialist Initiative

Goldy George, Dalit Mukti Morcha

Shalini Gera, activist

Ravinder Goel, Delhi University

Shankar Gopalkrishnan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity

Ashish Gupta, CDRO, New Delhi

Ananth Guruswamy, Amnesty International India

Kaveri Indira, Bangalore

Shamsul Islam, Delhi University

Ravikiran Jain, Senior Advocate, Allahabad

Jasveen Jairath, HAMDS, Hyderabad

Vasundhara Jairath

Smarajit Jana, Sonagachi Research and Training Institute

Nityanand Jayaraman, Chennai

Prakash Jha, film director

Rajeev Jhaveri

Chidambaram K, Advocate

Sudhir Kakar, psychoanalyst and scholar

Katharina Poggendorf-Kakar, scholar

Vibha Kamat

Mira Kamdar, author

Pralay Kanungo, JNU

Amar Kanwar, New Delhi.

D.W. Karuna, researcher

Suvir Kaul, A. M. Rosenthal Professor, Department of English, University of Pennsylvania

Poonam Kaushik, advocate

Shashant Kela, writer

Sanober Keshawar, TISS

Lateef Mohammed Khan

Suman Khurana

Suhas Kolhekar, NAPM

Puneet Kohli, Berkeley Law, University of California, Berkeley

Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA

Arun Kumar, economist

Himanshu Kumar, activist

Madhuresh Kumar, NAPM

Sushil Kumar

Vikram Lal, Common Cause

Jinee Lokaneeta

Ania Loomba, Catherine Bryson Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

Madhuri, Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan

Kamayani Bali Mahabal

George Mathew

Madhu Mehra, lawyer

Kalpana Mehta

Ketan Mehta, film director

Nivedita Menon, scholar

Raza Mir, Professor of Management, Cotsakos College of Business, William Paterson University

Saeed Mirza, film director

Pankaj Mishra, writer

Anurag Modi, Shramik Adivasi Sangathan

Shamim Modi

Gautam Mody, NTUI

Sujata Mody

Mrituinjoy Mohanty, IIM Kolkata.

Aunohita Mojumdar, journalist

Roger Moody

Vipul Mudgal, journalist

Madhusree Mukherjeee

Laxmi Murthy

Arundati Nag

Sankara Narayanan

Karthik Navayan

Sharanya Nayak, HUMANE, Koraput

Govind Nihalani, film director

Anjali Noronha, educationist

Felix Padel

Sandeep Pandey

Jonathan Parry

Pujya Pascal

Pravin Patel, Tribal Welfare Society

Shashibhushan Pathak, Jharkhand

Sudhir Pattnaik

Shiraz Bulsara Prabhu, Kashtakari Sanghatana

Jyoti Punwani, journalist

Sharmila Purakayastha

N. Raghuram, Indraprastha University

Prashant Rahi, Committee for Release of Political Prisoners

SS Rajgopalan

Sudha Ramalingam, PUCL, Tamilnadu

K. Babu Rao

Nandini Rao

Ramdas Rao, PUCL, Karnataka

Rosemary, Nagaland University

Ashim Roy, New Trade Union Initiative

Dunu Roy

Kirity Roy, MASUM, West Bengal

Anil Sadgopal, educationist

Rajendra K Sail, former President, Chhattisgarh PUCL

Madhu Sarin

Lt. Col. Deepak Sarkar

Surajit Sarkar

PA Sebastian, advocate

Rakhi Sehgal, trade unionist

Sukla Sen

Sunanda Sen, economist

Geeta Seshu

Meena Saraswathi Seshu, Center for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation

Teesta Setalvaad, human rights campaigner

Piyush Sethia

Kiran Shaheen, journalist

Neelima Sharma, artist

Aruna Shekhar

Snehal Shingavi, assistant professor of English, university of Texas, Austin

Abhay Shukla

SP Shukla, Former Commerce Secretary

Dilip Simeon, historian and activist

Anurag Singh, Janmadhyam

Dayanita Singh, photographer

Jagmohan Singh, AFDR, Punjab

Mahipal Singh, PUCL Delhi

Ramneek Singh

Ujwal Kumar Singh, Delhi University

Satya Sivaraman

Kavita Srivastava, PUCL.


Pyoli Swatija, advocate

Tarun Tahiliani, fashion designer

Anuradha Talwar, Paschim Bang Khet Majdoor Samiti

Ashwini Tambe, Associate Professor, Dept. of Women’s Studies, University of Maryland-College Park

Shivani Taneja, educationist

Dolly Thakore, stage actress

Ulag Thyagarajan

Rajive Tiwari

Nilita Vachani, writer and film-maker

Minnie Vaid

Rahul Varman, IIT Kanpur

Aniruddhan Vasudevan, activist


Kamala Visweswaran, associate professor, University of Texas, Austin 

Major Gen. (Retd.) SG Vombatkere

Brahma Prakash Yadav, advocate



6th May 2013

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