On 8 April 2021, I wrote a letter jointly with six other Special Procedures mandate holders to the Government of India about the arrest and detention on terrorism charges of woman human rights defender Hidme Markam, while she participated in an event to mark international women’s day.
Ms. Markam is an Adivasi human rights defender and a convenor for the Jail Bandi Rihai Committee which advocates for the release of Adivasis held in alleged arbitrary pre-trial detention and campaigns against the harmful environmental impact of large scale mining projects in Chhattisgarh State. She is also known for her work drawing attention to violations of women’s rights, including physical and sexual violence against Adivasi women.
According to the information received, Ms. Markam was arrested on 9 March 2021, when 50-60 police officers arrived at an event to mark international women’s day, violently dispersing the gathering. Ms. Markam was arrested without being shown a warrant, however another woman human rights defender present was reportedly told that Ms. Markam was being arrested for alleged past violence with Maoist groups. Ms. Markam was detained incommunicado for three hours before her whereabouts became known.
The event was planned by a number of groups in Sameli village, in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh State. Authorities were notified in advance of the event, which was to include songs, theatre and dance close to the site of a memorial to two young Adivasi women who had been killed after allegedly being subjected to sexual assault while in police custody.
The day previous, on 8 March 2021, members of the Dantewada Police and some specialist units stopped hundreds of Adivasi women from reaching the location. Ms. Markam went to several police checkpoints to request that attendees be allowed through, after which a large number of women were able to reach the site, many of whom stayed until the following day.
Later in the morning of 8 March, three other participants were arrested by Dantewada Police officers as they participated in the gathering near the memorial site.
Ms. Markam faces charges of “rioting”, “unlawful assembly”, “murder”, “attempted murder” and “support of a terrorist organisation”, among other charges. The latter charge falls under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which has been repeatedly used to target human rights defenders and hinder their work.
In the communication we expressed concern over her alleged arbitrary detention, which appeared to be in response to her legitimate human rights work, in particular highlighting instances off sexual violence against women by State security forces. Women from indigenous and minority groups face additional discrimination on the basis of their belonging to these groups, and we expressed further concern that the alleged actions may be linked to the status of Ms. Markam as an Adivasi woman.