On 5 January 2023, well known indigenous-rights campaigner, Hidme Markam, was released from Jagdalpur Central prison. She had been wrongfully incarcerated by the Indian state of Chhattisgarh since March 2021. This followed her wrongful arrest – effectively an abduction – by the Chhattisgarh police. After nearly two years in prison facing five serious charges relating to sedition, she finally had her day in court and was acquitted of four charges and released on bail regarding the final charge. But will she be compensated by the state of Chhattisgarh?
As far as the police and the state government are concerned, the incarceration of Hidme Markam served its purpose. Her crucial work representing indigenous women had been successfully interrupted.
There has been no indication yet from either the police or the Chhattisgarh government whether Hidme will be compensated for her abduction and incarceration. There has not even been an apology.
On 9 March 2021, Hidme had been speaking at a gathering of women for International Women’s Day in the district of Dantewada, educating women about their rights in a region beset by strife between state and Maoist militia groups. One of the causes of the conflict is mining.
One of the controversial local mining projects being opposed by indigenous people is the proposed Bailadila iron-ore mine, of which the Adani Group is the developer. To the tribal inhabitants of the area, a local feature, Nandiram Hill, is a sacred site threatened by the proposed mine. Conflict has arisen over this and other mines, leading to the involvement of the police and other state para-military forces in Chhattisgarh. Such groups have been accused of gross violations of human rights, particularly against women.
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As convenor of the Jail Bandi Rihai Committee (Committee for Release of Prisoners), Hidme has been vocal in the demand for the release of thousands of innocent Adivasis (indigenous tribal people) implicated and incarcerated in false cases. Prior to her wrongful arrest, she was respected by local officials and had had formal meetings with the Governor, Chief Minister, and Superintendent of Police seeking the release of wrongfully detained Adivasis.
According to news reports, Hidme is from the Gond tribe, one of India’s largest indigenous groups. She grew up in the heart of the State-Maoist armed conflict, in a village called Burgum in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh.
Colleagues and family members have said that prior to her work as an activist, Markam was a cook in a government primary school near her village. She then became involved in protests against paramilitary camps in the villages and an iron-ore mine on traditional Adivasi land.
With over 1,300 million tonnes of iron-ore deposits, the Bailadila mountains have been the subject of continued controversy between indigenous people and mining companies, including the Adani Group, which develops and operates mines on behalf of the owners of the mines.