RELEASE HIDME MARKAM IMMEDIATELY
RELEASE HIDME MARKAM IMMEDIATELY
To the President of India
From the Concerned Citizens and Friends of India
We, the undersigned, condemn the arrest of 28-year Adivasi rights defender and environmental activist Hidme Markam and demand her immediate release.
The world celebrated International Women's Day on 8 March 2021. The Chhattisgarh police, too, made a gesture of celebration by organizing a 3-km walk in the state capital Raipur to promote "zero tolerance" for crimes against women. Yet the very next day, the police raided a peaceful gathering of 500 Adivasi women in Sameli village in the conflict-torn region of Bastar. These women had walked long distances to protest against police impunity and to commemorate two women who had lost their lives to alleged police excesses. The meeting was organized by the Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch, a women's rights group, and the Jail Bandi Rihai Manch, which was formed in October 2019 to monitor the Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government's promise to release Adivasis languishing in jail. Chhattisgarh police disrupted the meeting and arrested Hidme Markam without due process.
As the newssite Scroll reported, the police claimed Markam was an absconding Maoist insurgent who faces serious charges in five cases registered between 2016 and 2020. But social activists in Bastar point out that the former government-school cook has been part of virtually every major civil rights movement in Dantewada in recent years. Hidme, a Gond woman from village Burgam, is a convener of Jail Bandi Rehai Committee, which advocates the release of thousand of Adivasis who have been in jail under unproven charges. Hidme has also led peaceful social mobilization under the banner of Nandraj Pahad Bachao Andolan to resist the destructive mining of sacred indigenous Bailadila hills in Dantewada district. These protests are against a government-owned iron ore mine to be run by the Adani group, which has recently been connected with various coal mining operations from India to Australia. A state-sanctioned investigation conducted by Dantewada's district collector, the top most government official in a district, showed that the project violated the statutory requirement of seeking the prior informed consent of the village assemblies.
Scroll also reported 'a major inconsistency in the police rationale for the arrest. The police superintendent cited a booklet containing the names of alleged Maoists as evidence for Hidme Markam's complicity. However, the Scroll's review of the booklet showed that it mentioned another person, Kawasi Hidme, not Hidme Markam, whose identity Scroll verified separately. The method of Hidme's arrest and the apparent case of mistaken identity raises serious questions about the integrity of the rule of law and the impunity with which police authorities feel emboldened to harass Adivasi leaders exercising their right to peaceful protests.
Hidme has been arrested under the oppressive criminal law regime of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA. UAPA allows the government to designate individuals as terrorists and detain them for up to 180 days without charge in cases related to insurgency or terrorism. It has no bail provisions for foreign nationals, and allows courts to deny bail in the case of detained citizens. UAPA presumes the accused to be guilty if the prosecution can produce evidence of the possession of firearms or explosives or the presence of fingerprints at a crime scene, regardless of whether authorities demonstrate criminal intent. As the recent Delhi High Court judgement notes that “The Right to Protest is not outlawed and cannot be termed as a terrorist act under the UAPA”. 
Media reports suggest that the police has prepared a series of charges in addition to the draconian UAPA. These include charges of murder, attempt to murder, and possession of arms or explosives. The police seeks to impose these sequentially to prolong Hidme's pre-trial custody, even if she is granted bail anytime soon.
As concerned citizens and friends of a democratic India, we demand that any charges against Hidme be investigated simultaneously. We demand Hidme's immediate release. This must be coupled with her right to a fair and speedy trial where these charges can be subject to fair and transparent judicial scrutiny, access to justice and investigation into the adherence to procedural safeguards under Chapter V of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1963.
Hidme's arrest is only the most recent episode in the long history of police and paramilitary atrocities against Adivasi women. Hidme’s democratic right to protest has to be respected and these charges should be dropped. The state has particularly penalized Adivasi women leaders who have dared to challenge state forces for grave human rights violations perpetrated in the name of anti-Maoist activism and with the present violations in the state with the setting up of CRPF camps despite opposition from the Adivasi communities.We demand an independent investigation into the apparent violation of human rights, and the abrogation of due process in the manner of Hidme's detention. United Nations has recognized the grave risks that environmental defenders like Hidme face because of their resistance to environmentally destructive and socially regressive projects. As the UN General Assembly Resolution from 2016 on the situation of environmental human rights defenders notes they are constantly at risk of facing violence and violation of their rights, the resolution calls upon states to revisit their laws and policies with the objective of creating a safe space for environmental defenders.According to a survey compiled by Global Witness, India ranked third with 23 environmental defenders killed in the year 2018 alone.
We demand that state governments stop using draconian laws like UAPA to suppress the voice of people of India. The government must also release other civil and political rights activists who are charged under the UAPA - Sudha Bharadwaj, Stan Swamy, Umar Khalid, Anand Teltumbde, and many others – who remain in custody despite the grave risks of COVID19 infections that the incarcerated citizens face.
The laws of natural justice, and international human rights conventions require the immediate release of Hidme and other activists on bail and a lawful, transparent, and fair trial that is the constitutional right of every Indian citizen.
Fridays For Future India
Adivasi Lives Matter
There Is No Earth B
Let India Breathe
Save Dumna Team
United Against Hate
Ambedkarite Students' Association, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
People's Union for Democratic Right
Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Student's Organization, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Meera Sanghamitra, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM)
Chaittanya Kumar, Climate Justice Advocate
Arpitha Kodiveri, European University Institute
Prakash Kashwan, University of Connecticut
Disha A Ravi, Climate and Environmental Justice Activist
Nikita Sud, University of Oxford
Prashant Tambe, Dalit collectives.
Amitav Ghosh, Writer
Meena Kandasamy, Writer
Arundhati Roy, Writer
Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, All India Progressive Women's Association AIPWA
Mitali Saran, Columnist, Delhi
Trisha Shetty, Activist, Founder of SheSays India
T.M. Krishna, Musician and Writer
Ashish Kothari, Pune
Tamanna Sengupta, Environmental Activist and Educator
Deepak Malghan, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore
Sriranjini Raman, University of Waterloo
Sharad Lele, Bengaluru
Shalini Gera, Advocate
Maithili Madhusudanan, Illustrator and Graphic designer
Rajarshi Dasgupta, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Anjali Dalmia, Social & Environmental Activist
Shubham Tigga, Chhattisgarh
Sarita Fernandes, Marine and Coastal Policy Research Scholar
M. Yuvan, Writer, Activist, Educator, The Chennai Climate Action Group
Ramachandra Guha, Historian, Bengaluru
Cara Tejpal, Mumbai
Praneeta Mudaliar, Ithaca College and Pune
Kira Issar, Visual Artist, Delhi
Mitali, Social Justice Organizer
Banojyotsna Lahiri, United Against Hate
Avinash Chanchal, Author and Climate Justice Campaigner
Jahnavee Palsodkar, Climate Justice Activist
Rohan Chakravarty, Cartoonist
Yash Marwah, Writer and Climate Justice Campaigner
Sandhya Balasubramanian, Bengaluru
Sanjana Srikumar, Advocate
Aruna Chandrasekhar, Writer, Mumbai
Kanika Sood, Advocate
Aman, Jindal Global Law School
Apar Gupta, Executive Director, Internet Freedom Foundation.
Vrinda Bhandari, Advocate
Inayat Singh, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan
Shreya Munoth, Advocate
Nitika Khaitan, Advocate
Theresa Rose Sebastian, Climate and Social Justice Activist
Srilata Sircar, King's College