Activists in cross-fire as Chhattisgarh battles armed uprising over land
For Shalini Gera, a rights lawyer in India’s Chhattisgarh state, it was the searing testimony of tribal activist Soni Sori that drew her attention to atrocities in the mineral-rich state. Sori, who was arrested in 2011 on charges of aiding Maoist rebels in the state, accused the police of torturing and sexually assaulting her while in prison. The crime? Defending the right of indigenous people to live in an area rich in minerals in what is one of India’s poorest states. Police officials, who have since been moved to other locations, deny any mistreatment. Stirred by Sori’s call for justice, Gera and a couple of other lawyers left Delhi to set up office in the state’s restive Bastar region in 2013. It wasn’t long before they were targets. The lawyers said they were followed, had objects thrown at their home, and accused of helping Maoist rebels. They say they were harassed for defending villagers and indigenous people. They were finally evicted by a fearful landlord last year, and relocated to Bilaspur about 400 km (250 miles) away, where they continued to pursue their cases.