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Stop this inhumane treatment of Foreign Aid Worker Narges K Ashtari

This petition had 149,793 supporters

Honorable Sushma Swaraj, Boris Johnson and Mohammad Javad Zarif,

In 2011, as a 23 year old British/Iranian woman, I left my life in the West to serve the most vulnerable children of India. Having lost both of my parents at a young age, I now devote my life to other orphans and abandoned children in the hope that I can be their family and help give them the chance to have a beautiful future. 

I decided to make Odisha my home and built two children's homes in Rayagada district. These homes, built from the ground up through the generosity of foreign donors, continue to house orphan/abandoned and visually impaired children. Though I am extremely grateful for what has been accomplished these past years in Odisha I have also gone through the most horrific forms of abuse by a group of people with immense power, influence, and protection in Odisha. 

In 2013, after working two years alongside a local NGO called ASSIST, I found out that this group was cheating me. Hiding behind their charity work, they were extorting money from people, who like me, were completely oblivious to it. The first home I built, they took from me through forged documents and false promises. When they tried to take a second - my home for Visually Impaired children, I fought back. I filed a complaint at the police station in Rayagada and the husband and wife behind ASSIST were sent to jail.

Due to international pressure from a petition I circulated in 2013, the couple was denied bail on numerous occasions, but eventually their lawyers persuaded Odisha High Court to grant them bail. From the day they were released from jail, they have made my life a living hell. They returned to Rayagada to the very home they took from me and continued their life without any repercussions. I see them often in Rayagada and not only do they threaten to make my life a misery, but they also threaten the people in Rayagada who help me serve the very children I came here to protect. 

This group constantly tries to tarnish my reputation by making up horrendous stories about me, they have tried to get me sent to jail and have my Indian visa revoked. They have tried every possible way to silence me. They recruit people from SC and ST castes to make allegations against me and no one is willing to get involved as they do not want to risk losing their jobs. Subsequently, many who have helped me in Rayagada have also been targeted. Two of my staff currently face cases against them. 

This is an outright breech of our rights and we desire justice.

Currently, the most venomous of their lies is a manslaughter charge. This is based on an incident that happened on November 3rd of 2014.  A couple who worked at my Visually Impaired home accompanied me and my children for a picnic. This couple brought along with them their own two sons and one of them, his older son, went missing. On the same day the parents filed a Missing Person Report. 33 days after the incident, on December 6th 2014, the parents were approached by ASSIST and in their vulnerable state were coerced into accusing me of throwing their child in a nearby river and murdering him. In the hope that they would receive a hefty compensation from me, they changed their story. An FIR was lodged against me and I was accused of section 304 of the Indian Penal Code.

Weeks passed and once again they changed their story. They then claimed that because I had chosen a 'dangerous area to have a picnic' the 'drowning of their son in the nearby river' was my fault and therefore I should be charged with manslaughter due to negligence. Section 304(a) of the Indian Penal Code

How can they possibly say that I have murdered their son when there has been no body found? How can they possibly say that i was Negligent when this child was not a part of my Foundation and therefore not my responsibility. The parents were parents and should have been responsible for the welfare of their own son!

I believed the police, I believed this would all go away, but it hasn't.

Even the police eventually capitulated, they said they were being pressured by Tribal Rights groups because the missing child's parents were tribals. I was counseled to negotiate out of court with the parents and was also repeatedly harassed by the police to pay bribes. I was told if I paid the bribe they were asking of me, it would be as if this never happened. I refused because I was innocent, I refused because I wanted to do the right thing, and now, still 2 years on, I pay the consequences for my integrity. 

ASSIST is constantly preying on people from the poorest communities, many with financial problems, and convincing them to target me for money. They provide them with top lawyers and guide them on how to approach government officials. Most, if not all of these poor people are illiterate and easily manipulated and I do not personally blame them. It is a calculated attack on me and although the evidence is clear, it does not seem those in charge of this District are willing to do anything to stop it.

I am constantly told to keep quiet and assured nothing will happen but how can I keep quiet when I am facing a manslaughter charge? How can I keep quiet when everyday my children and I are harassed? How can I keep quiet when my Indian visa has only now, after a year of pressure, been renewed? I couldn’t leave the country for over a year and was already made to feel like I was living in prison. I feel like I have been in prison for years and there is absolutely nothing I can do.

Children whom I lived with for years, were no longer allowed to see me, the very home I built for children, I couldn’t visit anymore.

What is happening here in this district is an utter miscarriage of justice. Time and time again I have had to sit through various independent ‘hearings’ by various organisations. Time and time again I have been made to feel like a murderer while those people, have walked free and still till this day live their life with absolutely no consequences. In 2014, after so many years of persistence, I established my own NGO Prishan Foundation in the hopes that I could continue my work in peace, but this has still not happened.

I ask you, as a foreign woman, why would I leave the West to come to live in one of the poorest states in India if my intentions were anything other than to help children? I beg you to consider why I would continue to stay here even after I was cheated if my intentions were anything other than to help children? Out of all of the places I could live in comfort, I chose to live in Rayagada with the children I love. I Chose to live, by myself, in poverty, with these precious children who have had all of my heart, soul and body for the past 6 years.

I have been violated not only emotionally but physically, in the worst forms imaginable.

And so now I wait. In a living hell of fear and corruption I wait. Because of the accusations against me my movements in India are monitored and even though I have now been granted an ‘X’ Visa, I have been told that leaving the country is not as easy as it should be as I am currently on bail. Without no motive, reason or evidence, I am deemed guilty. I have had to face this all purely and clearly out of revenge but since when does speaking the truth allow a district to allow this to happen to a person? 

Daily I wait for someone, anyone, to step forward and champion the cause of truth and justice. 

Two years on and I still do not have a single person in Government willing to hear my story. So now, I appeal to you, for justice. For me yes, and for all Aid Workers around the world, and for all the children in need of their love and support. Show them that justice prevails. Show them good wins and that evil is punished and that the weak need not fear the powerful. Please show them that the rule of law protects the innocent!

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