12 May 2014
Akshay Gupta with other two activists on May 8.
After spending forty hours in jail and judicial custody, I came out feeling even more motivated and determined to continue this struggle to save forests. Bechanlalji is still in custody and getting him out is our first priority. We can't be at ease till he is safe.
The day after our release I saw even more people had turned up to join the Van Satyagraha. Our arrest didn't discourage anyone from participating in the struggle to save Mahan's forests. We could see the anger in everyone's eyes and the determination to fight for the forests peacefully.
"Abhi to ye angadi hai, aage aur ladai hai (This is just a warm-up for the struggle that lies ahead)."
After my release, I spoke to my family. They were concerned about my well-being and relieved that I was out. They told me that they were very proud of my work and me.
I'm thankful to all the people who left such strong messages of support on the social media and our website. It was really inspiring to see so many people all over the country being concerned about four activists in a remote village. I have a message for all these people and everyone who is concerned about the well being of the forests of Mahan and the rights of its people.
"The time has come to step out of our homes and offices and join hundreds of people who are sitting in forests to protect it from the company's coal mining ambition. If you find out that things are serious in Mahan then come here so that the company can see the real force behind the forests of Mahan."
12 May 2014
Akshay Gupta (on the right) at the Mahua Camp in Mahan.
The events of May 8, 2014
When I started working in Mahan with the Mahan Sangharsh Samiti almost three years ago, I was told that some day I would be charged with false cases and put into jail. Though I was mentally prepared for the situation, I still felt slightly tensed when the police arrested us on May 8, 2014.
I was talking on the phone when I first heard the sound of cars outside the guest house. They climbed onto our terrace and came in through our balcony, as if it was an operation against terrorists.
When we asked them what was the reason behind this siege-like operation, the standard response was, "Abhi batana zaruri hai? (Is it necessary for you to know this now?)"
The police officials who arrested us told the others that we were being taken to Waidhan. On observing their route, I realized that they were taking us to Mada, which is in opposite direction of Waidhan. I knew the others would have trouble finding our exact location.
We were kept at Thana Mada. Early in the morning, Vijayshakarji and Bechanlalji were taken separately and made to put their signatures on a document. Bechanlalji can't read but he can sign and they didn't allow Vijayshankar to read.
When I was asked to do the same, I refused. The document said something about stolen goods being kept at Bechanlalji's shop. This was obviously a fabrication. My refusal to sign wasn't taken well by the police officer. I was beaten-up by officer Mahendra Sharma.
Questions that need answers
Till about 5.00am we were not given the reason behind our arrest. We were not even given the one phone call we are entitled to legally. Throughout our stay, the police officials threatened us with dire consequences. They told us they were under tremendous pressure from 'higher authorities' to take action against us.
I want to know, who are these higher authorities putting pressure on the local police force to take such drastic action against four seemingly insignificant activists like us? Is it the District Magistrate, the Superintendent of Police or the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh?
The officials never answered my questions. They just continued to threaten me and the others. They told us how were obstructing the work of the local administration and inciting people in the village.
When we got out of police custody, our colleagues told us they'd seen two alleged company officials, Arvind Singh and Vijay Yadav inside the police station all night. Why were they at the police station?
In February 2014, members of the Mahan Sangharsh Samiti reported to the police a case of forged signatures in the Gram Sabha resolution allowing the company to get environmental clearance for Mahan. It's not just forged signatures, some of the signatories on the document are dead and some were in prison at the time of the Gram Sabha. The police is yet to take action on this serious violation of law.
However four of us, who participated in the Van Satyagarah with hundreds of other village people, were arrested with 48 hours of stopping the company from demarcating trees on May 6. I was there with 70 villagers and we didn't see any forest officials except forest guards. We talked to one of them who told us he is not authorized to do this work according to Forest Department rules, and that there were no other officials present on site.
We were with the law, not against it as the local police asserts. Yet we were put into jail while those who actually violated the law stand free, openly flouting more laws.
So who is the police working for? People or the company?
Akshay Gupta is a campaigner with Greenpeace India.