I asked them why were they here, at this hour? They said, "You will find out soon."
We woke-up to the sound of loud knocking on our door. It took us a few minutes to realize what was happening. It was around 12.00 at night. Ten policemen in uniform and plain clothes were at our door, asking us questions but answering none of ours.
They walked into our guest house in Waidhan, Mahan and arrested our colleagues, friends and activists Akshay Gupta, Vinit Gupta, Bechan Lal Shah and Vijay S. Singh. They were taken away in separate Boleros. I asked Mr Barkhade, the officer in-charge, "Where are you taking them." The answer was, "You will find out soon." This was enough to tell us that things were not good. An argument with them would make things worse.
As soon as they left, Avinash, Hardayal, Virender S, our driver Manoj-ji and I decided to follow the four police vehicles to the Mada police station. On the way our vehicle was followed by a white Bolero no: UP 64Q676. They stopped after following us after a few minutes.
Still on our way, we received information that our activists had been taken to the city office of the Superintendent of Police in Darhan. We decided to go there and submit a petition seeking the release of our friends. Ekta and Ravi, members of Kisan Adivasi Isthapit Ekta Manch, joined us on the way.
An official met us at the SP's office in Darhan. We asked for the SP but the official said that it was too late for us to meet anyone. We then requested him to give our petition to the SP. He said he didn't have the authority to do that.
Dissapointed and worried about the well being of our friends, we went back to our office in Waidhan. We still had no idea about the whereabouts of our colleagues. Back at the guesthouse, we sent emails to the Superintendent of Police, Singrauli, District Magistrate Singrauli, Inspector General, Reva, and the Director General of Police, Bhopal.
Our breakthrough came when we got a call from Vijay Shankar, one of the people arrested, who had managed to sneak in his phone. He told us that they had been taken to the Mada police station.
We were back on the road, this time heading straight to the Mada police station. When we reached the police station, we saw the Bolero that had followed us parked outside the police station. We were now becoming even more suspicious. Later one of the village locals identified the car. He told us it belonged to the village Sarpanch, know to be a friend of the company.
Questions and cases
Avinash, Ravi, Ekta and Hardayal tried to enter the police station, while the rest of us waited in the car. They were not allowed into the police premises. The police official told them it's too late for them to meet anyone. When Avinash and the others informed them about the purpose, they were pushed out and refused any information or help.
We left the police station and took a short halt at Koyal Khunti. At 5.00 am we headed back to Mada. Avinash and others were now joined by Virendra in the attempt to enter the police station.
This time they were let into the premises but not into the main station building. They saw Bechanlal ji and Vijayshankar but couldn't see Akshay and Vineet. Interestingly, Avinash also saw a company person, Arvind Singh inside the police station.
At 7.00 am we are allowed to enter the premises. We found out that all four of them had been charged under four sections: 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servants from doing their duty), 186 (Obstructing a public servant in discharge of public functions), 392 (punishment for robbery) and 180/14 (refusing to sign a confession).
When Avinash tried to get more information, the officials indirectly threatened him with consequences similar to the four activists under arrest. Later we found out that Akshay and Vineet were beaten-up as they refused to sign a document.
Fight for rights continues
We've been at the Mada police station since 5.00am now. More people from the village have joined us. Our friends will appear in court today and tomorrow. They are being punished for protesting peacefully to protect Mahan's forests and the rights of its people. Those who are doing the real harm are being allowed to dictate the law.
None of us, including those who are in jail right now, want the company to prevail over people in Mahan. The stakes are too high for us to give-up now or ever. So we stand together growing stronger everyday, determined to protect forests, people, rights and ultimately this planet.
Vivek Goyal is an activist with Greenpeace India.