We only assisted tribal people: NGOs

BANGALORE NOV. 13. Members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working for tribal welfare in Tamil Nadu told the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) panel on Wednesday that they only "assisted" the tribal people to get justice for the torture meted out to them.

They did not "tutor" the tribal people to depose against the Special Task Force (STF) personnel of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, as alleged, so that they could get compensation, the members said.

However, they had no answer to a question from the panel why they did not submit around 50 affidavits collected from the alleged victims in jail, either to the NHRC or to any other authority.

When questioned by the panel whether they could submit them now, the members said affidavits were not traceable.

Making his deposition before the A.J. Sadashiva and C.V. Narasimhan panel on Tuesday and Wednesday, the General Secretary of Tamil Nadu Tribal People's Association, V.P.Gunasekaran, said that the association was not an eyewitness to the alleged torture. He said their representations to the NHRC and other authorities were based on the information provided by the alleged victims.

He further stated that he attended the "STF workshop" at Male Mahadeshwara Hills (M.M.Hills) in 1997 and 1998, and could not find any evidence about the place being used for torturing tribal people.

To a question during cross-examination by the Superintendent of Police, STF, Tamil Nadu, M. Ashok Kumar, Mr. Gunasekaran said that the victims did not file any complaint against the STF personnel immediately.

However, non-filing of complaints did not mean that they were not tortured, he maintained.

It was difficult to raise their voice against STF at that time, he said.

In his deposition, the Coordinator of People's Watch and advocate from Madurai, John Vincent, said he was asked by the Director of People's Watch, Henry Tiphagne, to visit Mysore and get details of torture of TADA detainees during 1997. However, the prison authorities did not allow him to meet the detainees, and he met them in the court and got "vakalat" of 10 detainees.

He said Keladi from a Tamil Nadu village had petitioned Arasappan, President of Tamil Sangam, in Hanur, Karnataka, regarding the atrocities.

Later, he visited a number of villages and learnt about the atrocities committed against the tribal people.

Several NGOs decided to launch a joint campaign for release and rehabilitation of TADA detainees in 1997.

To a question during cross-examination by the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Karnataka, M.R. Musale, Mr. Vincent said affidavits need not be sworn before a notary or a gazetted officer in Tamil Nadu, and it was sufficient if they were attested by an advocate.

To a question by the panel as to what was meant by "assistance", Mr. Vincent said it was enlightening them of their rights.

He did not answer a question from the panel on whether the NGOs asked the tribal people to depose against STF personnel before it.

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