Threats and Physical Assault Against Ms. Sunita Devi, a Woman Human Rights Defender from India
16 February 2011 9:00 pm
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) received information on the brutal attack and threats by local money lenders against Ms. Sunita Devi, a Dalit widow and woman human rights defender from Bihar.
FORUM-ASIA received information that Ms. Sunita Devi was threatened and physically assaulted by local money lenders in her community. It is alleged that the attack was prompted because of her involvement in a women’s self-help group (SHG), Durga Parivartan Bachat Samooh.
On 16 January 2011, as the women members of the SHG were arriving for a meeting in front of Ms. Devi’s house, the assailants, Mr. Santlal Sinh and Mr. Surendra Sinh , walked up to Ms. Devi and dragged her by her sari. They started beating hear and snatching her ear ornaments. They also shouted demeaning and abusive language, making caste-based slurs to Ms. Devi. The other women intervened and were able to stop the attackers from inflicting further harm.
Ms. Devi immediately filed a first information report (FIR) at the local police station against her attackers. However, she and her family are still receiving threats. Because of these threats, Ms. Sunita Devi and her family have left their home and are seeking refuge in an undisclosed location.
Ms. Devi also lost her primary means of earning a living because of this case. Before this incident, she used to wash laundry for her neighbors. However, after the attack and her filing a the complaint, people from her community who belong to the same caste as the attackers have stopped sending her their laundry.
Moreover, the family of Ms. Girija Devi, the woman who signed as witness on the complaint, is now facing harassment from other people in the community belonging to the same caste as the attackers. Ms. Girija Devi’s husband owns a tea shop located on a piece of land owned by a person belonging to the same caste as the attackers. After the attack, the land owner asked Ms. Girija Devi’s husband to remove his tea shop from his land.
The SHG has successfully helped Dalit women save money and make them less dependent on money lenders. These money lenders have threatened and attacked women in the past to stop them from participating in the SHG.
Durga Parivartan Bachat Samooh was organised to end the dependency of local women on the usurious system of the money lenders. The SHG groups 19 women who save 20 rupees every month enabling them to make small savings and avail of low-interest credit from the pooled savings.
It is alleged that the money lenders have threatened members of the group in the past, saying that they should stop their SHG activities and leave Durga Parivartan Bachat Samooh. Prior to the attack on Ms. Devi, the local money lenders have beaten up two women because of their involvement in the SHG. These women did not file complaints because they were afraid of reprisals from their assailants, who were also the same persons who attacked Ms. Sunita Devi.
Ms. Devi’s organization, Parivartan Kendra has already taken steps to report this incident to the Indian authorities. The organization has faxed reports to the Director-General (DG) of Police, the Inspector-General (IG), the Bihar State Human Rights Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission for Women, and the National Commission on Scheduled Castes and Tribes, the Superintendant of the Police, the Bihar Maha Dalit Ayog and the Chief Minister of Bihar demanding to take prompt action to arrest the accused and to guarantee the safety of Ms. Sunita Devi. As of this writing, the police and the other Indian authorities have not taken any action.
Ms. Sunita Devi is a woman human rights defender who is being attacked by non-state actors for her work of helping women in her community live a life of dignity, free from debt bondage from money lenders. Through her work, she is helping the women in her community realize their right to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families.
FORUM-ASIA therefore believes that Ms. Sunita Devi, as a woman human rights defender, should be accorded protection by the government of India, as mandated under the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Under Article 9(1) of the Declaration, Ms. Devi has the right to benefit from an effective remedy and to be protected from any form of violation of her rights as a woman human rights defender. Under Article 9(5), the government of India is obliged to “conduct a prompt and impartial investigation or ensure that an inquiry takes place whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms has occurred in any territory under its jurisdiction.”
Please write letters to the following authorities and to express your deep concern for the safety and security of Ms. Sunita Devi and her family. Please include the demand that immediate steps are to be undertaken to guarantee the safety of Ms. Sunita Devi and her family and that an investigation should be made into her case. Moreover, the government of India should take immediate action and address cases of impunity against all human right defenders and women human rights defenders in India.
Please send your letters to:
Chief Minister of Bihar
Shri Nitish Kumar
1, Anne Marg, Patna
Pin 800 001
Tel No. +91 612 2215784, 612 2215886.
Governor of Bihar
Shri Devanand Konwar
B.G.Camp, Patna – 800 022
Tel No. +91 612 2225644, 2221230
Fax No.+ 91 612 2232868
State Human Rights Commission, Bihar
Chairperson Justice Shri S.N. Jha
9, Bailey Road,
Patna -Bihar, India
National Human Rights Commission India
New Delhi – 110001
Tel.No. +91 1123384012
Fax No. +91 1123384863
Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Commission Bihar
Assistant Director: Shri R.K. Mishra
14, New A.G. Co-operative Colony,
Kadru, Ranchi -834002
Tel No. +91 651 2341677
Fax No. +91 651 2340368
Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Commission India
Chairperson Dr.Rameshwar Oraon
6th Floor, ‘B’ Wing, Loknayak Bhawan, Khan Market
Tel No. +91 1124635721
Fax No. +911 1124624628