Is shady business trying to stifle the voice of civil society activists? Last week, there was outrage among activists in Mumbai at the attempt to murder Nayana Kathpalia, convener of Citispace, a non-governmental organisation (NGO). Citispace is opposing the Slum Rehabilitation Authority’s (SRA) redevelopment scheme.
Underworld links of some builders connected with the redevelopment process are fairly well known in realty circles.
Ms Kathpalia had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court against slum rehabilitation being allowed under the SRA scheme in the city’s open and public spaces. On Friday last week, two assailants entered Ms Kathpalia’s residence located at Churchgate in the early hours and fired a round from a country made revolver. However, no one was hurt in the firing.
The recent attack on Ms Kathpalia is not an isolated case. In a letter written to top police officials in the city, Sumaira Abdulali, who heads the Awaaz Foundation, an anti-noise organisation, has pointed out various similar cases in the past, which are still unsolved.
Ms Abdulali points out that attack on activists seem to be part of a trend of intimidation and the police have not followed up on past attacks. Ms Abdulali herself had been attacked in the past when she stood up against the sand-quarrying mafia that is depleting various beaches. She was attacked by illegal sand miners at Kihim beach near Alibaug in May 2004.
The letter lists out five such unsolved attacks in the past where the activists have identified the attackers, but no adequate police action so far has been taken.
Citispace activist HS D’Lima was assaulted in March 2005. The police have failed to nab the attacker, despite him being indentified by the activist. The attack on Mr Lima is not an isolated case of police inaction. In a similar case, the city police failed to provide adequate protection to AGNI (Action for Good Governance and Networking in India) activist James John who was attacked in March 2006. The status of the case is a first information report (FIR), which was reportedly filed after several hours. In both these cases, the city police failed to take prompt action even after a number of written complaints mentioning constant threats to the life of activists.
Another activist Anandini Thakoor from an NGO named H-WEST Citizens Federation was mobbed three times in July 2005. Again in January 2009, Ms Thakoor and Aftab Siddique were mobbed by political party workers. Both the activists were protesting against illegal political hoardings. While the police refused to file an FIR against the party workers, an FIR was filed against Ms Thakoor. The case against Ms Thakoor is still pending.
In a recent case, Navin Pandya, Coordinator for Malad (north) of AGNI andJanhit Manch, was reportedly attacked by a member of the Samajwadi Party in September 2009. Mr Pandya was protesting against an illegal garage of the alleged attacker. Though an FIR was filed by the police, no further action has since been taken.