Hailing from Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district, Mahesh Raut is a young prominent activist working for the rights of Adivasi communities in his district. Born in Lakhapur, a small village in Maharashtra, Mahesh completed his schooling from Gadchiroli and moved to Nagpur for graduation. He later went on to pursue higher education from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. On completing his education he worked as Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow (PMRDF) in Gadchiroli. He has tirelessly advocated for laws like The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and Forest Rights Act which protect the democratic rights of indigenous communities against unlawful land grabbing by large corporations. Mahesh has consistently worked to protect and promote the rights of the marginalised within a Constitutional framework. On completion of his fellowship, Mahesh decided to continue working with the Adivasi communities in the State.
Mahesh organised and participated in mass movements to abet the cause of social welfare. He was the co-convenor of Visthapan Vidrohi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA) which fights against the forced displacement of Adivasis and other marginalised people. As a member of VVJVA, Mahesh organised the Tendu leaves workers from Adivasi communities of the region to sell them directly in the market without the involvement of middlemen.
Along with campaigning for the Adivasis of the region, he also joined the Bharat Jan Andolan (BJA), an organisation started by late BD Sharma. Through his work with BJA, Mahesh has been instrumental in organising people for participative decision making in regions affected by mining projects, including the Surajgarh mining project.
His work against the atrocities of Police and several State authorities led to several cases being filed against him. According to a letter drafted by his PMRDF fellows, the State’s crackdown on Mahesh started from 2013 citing his consistent political engagement as one of the reasons for his harassment. His friend and fellow activist Sohini Shoaib, working in Bihar writes about her visit to Gadchiroli, “Mahesh was highly loved and respected in all these villages and one with the people I visited. They treated him as if he were a member of their own house! Some of them even tried to get me to convince him to get married: they thought he worked too hard and did not take care of his health enough. They hoped that finding a partner would help him feel less lonely, help him balance other aspects of life!”
In 2018, Mahesh was picked up by the Pune Police for his alleged involvement in organising the Elgar Parishad and his alleged Maoist links. He was booked under sections of the UAPA and arrested from his residence in Nagpur. Neither was he involved in organising the Elgar Parishad nor did he attend the 31st December events. His arrest is a clear crackdown of the State on Human Rights defenders who are struggling against the State and Corporation’s nexus. His contributions to promote and uphold the Constitutional rights of the marginalised identities have led him to persecution and consequent imprisonment. His incarceration is a standing testament of the State’s repression of Rights’ activists who protect the values of the Constitution which the same State is trampling upon.
The article is written by Bhima Koregaon Defence committee.