We condemn in the strongest possible terms the recent murder of NREGA activist Niyamat Ansari in Kope Gram Panchayat (Latehar District, Jharkhand), as well as a similar attempt — the same day — on the life of his associate Bhukhan Singh.

Briefly, this murder was the culmination of a series of acts of harassment, including at least one earlier attempt on Bhukhan and Niyamat's lives. Bhukhan and Niyamat fearlessly continued to fight for the rights of NREGA workers and to stand up against the nexus of corruption and crime in the area. Niyamat was killed just a few days after he and others exposed a flagrant NREGA scam in Rankikalan Gram Panchayat.

We are dismayed by the insidious allegations that have been made about Niyamat in sections of the mainstream media, attempting to project him as a “criminal” to divert attention from the real issues and culprits. These reports were factually incorrect and the concerned publication carried an apology the following day.

We are most disturbed to learn from reliable sources that the murder was executed by a local Maoist squad. In fact, the South Latehar sub-zonal committee of the CPI (Maoist) itself claimed responsibility for it and attempted to justify the murder by making absurd allegations such as Niyamat and Bhukhan being police informers. Are we to understand from this incident that there is truth in the rumour of a nexus between the local Maoist squad of that area and corrupt contractors involved in the loot of NREGA funds?

We demand immediate arrest of the prime suspects (named in the FIR), compensation for Niyamat's family, protection for Bhukhan Singh, and a CBI enquiry into Niyamat's murder.

We also demand an apology and explanation from the Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist), and a guarantee of safety for Bhukhan Singh who is still “wanted” by the sub-zonal committee. No explanation, however, can justify the brutal murder of a defenceless person, let alone someone who was bravely fighting for people's rights. This is a wholly reprehensible act and all those responsible for it must be punished.

Signatories: Aruna Roy (Mazdoor Kisan Shatki Sangathan); Arundhati Roy (writer); Bela Bhatia (human rights activist); Cedric Prakash (human rights activist); Gautam Navlakha (People's Union for Democratic Rights); Harish Dhawan (People's Union for Democratic Rights); Harsh Mander (Aman Biradari); K.N. Panikkar (historian); Nandita Das (actress), Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People's Right to Information); Jean Drèze (Allahabad University); Kavita Srivastava (People's Union for Civil Liberties); Nandini Sundar (Delhi School of Economics); Rajinder Sachar (People's Union for Civil Liberties); Reetika Khera (IIT, Delhi); Satya Sivaraman (freelance journalist); Shabnam Hashmi (ANHAD); Shashi Bhushan Pathak (People's Union for Civil Liberties); Swami Agnivesh (human rights activist); Vrinda Grover (Supreme Court lawyer).

(For detailed information about this incident and its background (including recent video interviews of Bhukhan and Niyamat), see www.nrega.net.in)

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