Sunilam, 51, Multai, Madhya Pradesh
IN INDIA, the system operates in such a way that you are either part of the system or co-opted to become a part of the system,” says activist Sunilam. “If not, you are either killed or cases are fabricated against you.”With 133 cases registered against him and multiple attempts on his life, it’s safe to say he knows what he is talking about.
As founder-president of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (KSS), Sunilam has been actively working with farmers against unjust land acquisition by the Madhya Pradesh government.
For his role in the kisan andolan of 12 January 1998 at Multai, the then Congress government lodged 66 false cases against him. “Under the banner of KSS, we had organised a rally where over 75,000 farmers protested the destruction of their farmland by the state government,” says Sunilam. “As the agitation gathered steam, the state government thought it could crush and discredit the movement by killing the leaders. They believed that the farmers can be taught a lesson.”
The police opened fire on the protesting farmers, killing 24 and injuring 115 persons. Sunilam, who was also injured, was arrested from a hospital. But instead of being produced in front of a magistrate, he was tortured for three days, after which he was imprisoned for three months. “They also tried to kill me. They would say, ‘24 have died you will be the 25th’ but because I was a well-known figure and the people knew I was in police custody, they could not kill me.”
What the former MLA finds shocking is that in violation of the law, no case was filed against the police for the shooting, nor has there been any investigation. Instead, he has been running from one court hearing to the next.
The system seems to be working against the activist, despite being injured in a planned attack, where he broke his arm and received multiple stitches on his head, a police case was filed against him in Chhindwara. More recently, he was charged in a rape case where as the acting MLA, he arrived at the scene of the crime five hours after the event.
With 16 pending cases and a CBI warrant for his arrest, Sunilam has come to one conclusion, “What they have started doing is registering cases against me and not informing me. In spite of having a CBI warrant in my name, I am moving around freely. Everyone knows where I am, but the reason they haven’t arrested me is that they have registered these cases to malign me but at the same time it gives them leverage; they can use them to arrest me when I become too much of an inconvenience.”
Avalok Langer is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.