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April 10, 2020
Mr. Sarbananda Sonowal,
Hon’ble Chief Minister of Assam
Via: Hon’ble Deputy Commissioner, Golaghat District, Assam
Sub: Unconditional release of human rights activists Soneswar Narah and Pranab Doley and food security for all in Assam during COVID-19 pandemic.
We, the undersigned, are writing to you to express our deep concern about the arbitrary arrest of the human rights activists and peasant leaders Pranab Doley and Soneshwar Narah, in Golaghat District of Assam, on April 6, 2020.
The circumstances under which they were arrested, imprisoned without an immediate bail makes the intention behind their arrest extremely suspicious and their arrest itself a violation of basic human rights and an attempt to suppress voices which are raising serious issues in these difficult times brought about by Covid-19.
A day before their arrest, Pranab and Soneshwar sent a letter to the Chief Minister of Assam, asking a high-level probe in a scam related to siphoning off of 800 quintals of rice from the public distribution system (PDS) in Kaziranga Cooperative Society and Golaghat’s Community Cooperative Society. The local assembly representative from Golaghat, Mr. Atul Bora, is the current Minister of Agriculture. Given the day to day struggle that the poor and marginalised communities are facing in accessing basic needs because of Covid-19 related nation-wide lockdown, rice and ration being distributed through the PDS has been critically important for the local people, particularly poor and marginalised. Such corrupt practices in these difficult times could lead to complete social breakdown, due to hunger and possibly numerous deaths. On the day of the arrest Pranab and Soneshwar were called by the Police officials to the Bokakhat police station to submit written statements pertaining to their police complaint against Kaziranga Cooperative Society filed earlier at the same police station. However, without any prior information or warrant they were arrested as soon as they arrived at the police station.
The police claim that these arrests were made under a case pending since 2018. A First Information Report (FIR) in the said case was filed against Pranab and Soneshwar in June 2018 for ‘deterring a police personnel for discharging his duty’. This is indeed surprising that two people raising a serious concern about corruption should be arrested in a 2 year old case in these times when even the Supreme Court of India has asked the states to decongest the prisons to avoid Covid -19 outbreak. Bokakhat Police had numerous opportunities to interact and investigate both Narah and Doley who have been in touch with District law enforcement in the last two years. In view of this prisoners have been released from prisons across the state. It is difficult to believe under these circumstances that Pranab and Soneshwar’s arrest has anything to do with any issue other than the PDS scam.
Both Pranab and Soneshwar are important local indigenous leaders constantly working for the welfare of the local peasants and indigenous communities living on the fringe of Kaziranga National Park in Bokakhat, Golaghat district. During the lockdown they have been working tirelessly to help their people procure essential basic life sustaining necessities. It was in this context that the letter about the scam was written to the CM of the state to bring this important issue to his notice. The local people need their two leaders more than ever in these difficult times. Soneshwar is a father of a young boy and a respected school teacher at Bokakhat, while Pranab is a young activist who graduated from TISS University Mumbai.
We urge the Hon’ble Chief Minister to immediately intervene in this matter where the local police are misusing the law to silence the voice of human rights defenders who are bringing up the issue related to critical food for the most deprivileged in these extremely difficult times. World over when humanity is coming together to help each other we are appalled to hear that even in these times those who are involved in corruption are being protected and those who are helping the poor are being imprisoned and their fundamental rights to expression, dignity and liberty are violated.
Through this letter we also demand that regular PDS rations are to be provided to the affected persons in Golaghat as well as different areas of Assam.
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