India: minority and environmental rights defender kept in judicial custodyEvent
- Initial Date
- Aug 29, 2023
- Event Description
On 30 August 2023, human rights defender Nitin Varghese was placed in judicial custody following his arrest by the Madhya Pradesh police on 29 August 2023, after which he was remanded in police custody for a day. The human rights defender has been falsely accused of instigating local community members to attack forest officials in March 2023. At the time of writing this appeal, Nitin Varghese was still to be presented in court.
Nitin Varghese is a core member of the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), a collective which has been working for over 20 years to advocate for the rights of Dalit and Indigenous communities in rural areas of Madhya Pradesh. These communities face systemic violations of their right to land, livelihood, access to resources and the right to live with dignity. Nitin Varghese is a vocal advocate on issues such as illegal deforestation, forced eviction of local communities, and the denial of access to land and forests. The human rights defender Nitin Varghese and other defenders associated with the Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan have been repeatedly targeted in reprisal for their peaceful campaigns in support of the land and environmental rights of the Adivasi community in the Burhanpur District, Madhya Pradesh.
On 29 August 2023, human rights defender Nitin Varghese appeared before the Burhanpur District Court and was remanded to police custody at the Khandwa Jail based on a First Information Report (FIR) bearing number 0078/23. He was asked to surrender before the court through a proclamation under Section 82 of India’s Criminal Procedure Code. The case against Nitin Varghese relates to an alleged attack on a Forest Range office in Burhanpur, where the police falsely claim that the human rights defender instigated members of the Adivasi community to attack public officials. In fact, four Adivasi community members were arbitrarily detained at the Forest Range office and the human rights defender Nitin Varghese was requested by community members to secure their release and prevent any harm befalling those in custody. The charges against the human rights defender include serious offences under the Indian Penal Code including rioting, use of criminal force against public servants, trespassing and unlawful assembly.
On 30 June 2023, Nitin Varghese was served a proclamation to surrender before the court.His application for anticipatory bail before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh was rejected on 16 August 2023, leading to his arrest. Police submitted to the court that one of the persons detained following the alleged attack named Nitin Varghese as the instigator of the attack while in custody. The human rights defender has denied all allegations against him and JADS maintains that one of the accused was forced to sign on a blank paper.
The police claim that Nitin Varghese instigated the Adivasi community members to forcibly break their relatives out of the custody in an attack on the Forest Range office. Although the FIR filed in relation to this incident on 2 March 2023 does not mention the human rights defender, in March 2023 the police summoned Nitin Varghese to the Lalbagh police station under the pretext of recording his statement. Despite the human rights defender cooperating fully with the police, they delayed recording his statement on two occasions. Significantly, the persons named in the FIR were released on default bail after two months in detention, as no chargesheet was filed regarding the incident.
Nitin Varghese has been targeted previously due to his human rights work. On 20 April 2023,a FIR was filed against the human rights defenders Nitin Varghese and Madhuri Krishnaswami by a group of local politicians. The report was filed under sections 294 (Obscene acts and songs) and 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code along with offences under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The same group of politicians had attempted to disrupt a meeting on 19 April 2023 between JADS members and opposition party leaders who were visiting the area to inspect allegations of deforestation.
It is alarming that the human rights defender Nitin Varghese is being implicated in a case that makes no mention of him, and in which the police have failed to produce a chargesheet to date. During this time, Nitin Varghese has also been suffering from a viral fever and is being treated for a serious medical condition.
- Impact of Event
- Gender of HRD
- (Arbitrary) Arrest and Detention
- Rights Concerned
- Freedom of expression
- Right to liberty and security
- Freedom of expression
- Community-based HRD
- Environmental rights defender
- Minority rights defender
- Monitoring Status
- Event Location
- Event Location
- Summary for Publications
On 29 August 2023, minority and environmental rights defender Nitin Varghese, was arrested by the police and held in judicial custody in retaliation for his peaceful campaigns in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, India.