In a case similar to that of Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai’s, Ranchi-based Adivasi activist Gladson Dungdung’s passport was seized citing a Look Out Circular at the New Delhi airport on Monday and he was not allowed to board a flight to London.
Mr. Dungdung (36) was to conduct a workshop at the University of Sussex on Environmental Politics and Activism on May 10; this would be part of a larger workshop on Environmental History and Politics of South Asia. He said that two others who would be part of his workshop – anthropologist Felix Padel and researcher Malvika Gupta – had been allowed to make the trip.
Mr. Gladson’s passport had been impounded earlier too. In January 2014, he had to surrender the document after an adverse police report mentioned his activism at Nagri, a village on the outskirts of Ranchi. Adivasis had been agitating against the acquisition of farmland to construct institutes of higher education. The passport was returned six months later after a second police verification. Gladson said he has travelled abroad twice after. “I released by book Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India at the University of Sussex on November 20 last year. I also travelled to Denmark,” he said.
Immigration sources said that Mr. Dungdung had been stopped due to reasons linked to the first instance and not because of his activism. “He had reported his passport lost in 2013. The Regional Passport office reported the matter to us only in January this year by saying that the passport had been cancelled,” said an official. He countered this by saying that he had never lost his passport; two notices dated October 22, 2013 from the RPO had asked him to surrender his passport for verification in the light of the adverse police report.
Mr. Dungdung was to fly from New Delhi to London by Air India’s AI115, due to depart at 5.30 AM. Speaking over the phone from the airport, Mr. Dungdung – preparing to fly back to Ranchi – said, “I was stopped at immigration and asked whether I was a student. When I said I was a human rights activist, they asked me to wait.” Mr. Dungdung said that after a while, an immigration officer informed him that they were retaining his passport. “They said I was in wrongful possession of it,” he said.
“Pax [Person] was LOC [Look Out Circular] subject, allowing impounding of passport. Hence passport seized and sent to concerned authority through FRRO [Foreigner Regional Registration Office] Delhi,” said the seizure memo handed to Mr. Dunddung by an Immigration Clearing Officer. Mr. Dungdung has an academic visa that expires only on November 1. He had both onward and return tickets.
Mr. Dungdung is the author of seven books, five in Hindi and two in English. An Adivasi himself, he came to prominence in 2011 when Jharkhand police and paramilitary forces launched Operation Anaconda within the state’s Saranda forests to flush out CPI(Maoist) members from the headquarters of their Eastern Regional Bureau. Mr. Dungdung was able to document and expose the plight of villagers caught in the crossfire. Later, he was one of the leaders of an agitation in the outskirts of Ranchi: villagers of Nagri opposed the takeover of farmland for multiple educational institutions.
“Defaulters of millions of INR like Mr. Vijay Malaya (sic.) can’t be offloaded but activists like me are bound to be offloaded. However, my fight for the Advasis’ ownership rights over the natural resources, Adivasi identity, human rights, ecology and against unjust development processes will continue till they take away my right to life forever,” Mr.Dungdung said in a Facebook post.
Ms. Pillai said there were similarities between her case and Mr.Dungdung’s. “I also checked in and was stopped at immigration,” she said. However, officials did not take away her passport and instead stamped “Offload” on it; the HC asked that it be removed. “At the time, I was not told of a Look Out Circular – officials said I was on a blacklist, a database of people not allowed to travel. The government accepted the existence of a Look Out Circular only during court proceedings,” she said.