Hidme Markam grew up in the heart of the State-Maoist armed conflict, in a village called Burgum in Dantewada. It is home to more than 1,000 people, where there are more women than men, and the female literacy rate was less than 7% (according to the latest census data available, in 2011).
According to her Colleagues and family members, Markam worked as a mid-day meal cook in a government primary school near her village for a few years, before she became a part of local protests against illegal detentions, paramilitary camps in villages and iron-ore mining on traditional Adivasi land.
Life and Activism
Hidme Markam, an advocate for Adivasi prisoners launched a Bastar-based platform called the Jail Bandi Rihai Manch (Committee for Release of Prisoners), which advocates for the release of thousands of Adivasi persons, particularly youths, criminalised and branded as Naxals and held in pre-trial detention, often for many years.
As an anti-mining campaigner, she protested against the projects led by large corporations threatening to destroy sacred Adivasi hills.
She is a member of the Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch, a network of women’s groups in the state. As a woman human rights defender, she criticised the expanding presence of the Military, police, and paramilitary in the State.
On 1 November 2020, in an online conference organised by women’s groups across central India. Hidme Markam narrated the impact of the armed conflict in the region and the inability to go to the forests freely to gather forest produce or farm on their lands.
According to her, no matter which political party is in power, they always back mining corporations and bend laws meant to protect locals, who depend on land and forests for survival, and people who protest get jailed. She lost her faith in the government and yet holds the spirit to continue the fight to save the sacred lands and forests.
Circumstances of Arrest
On the afternoon of 9 March 2021, in Dantewada’s Sameli village, police and paramilitary forces swept in on an open-air meeting. Authorities arrested Hidme Markam, a strong Adivasi Indigenous voice known for criticizing state violence against Adivasi communities and opposing mining projects on an important Adivasi religious site, at a two-day conference to mark International Women’s Day and discuss issues impacting the region’s women.
Before her arrest, Hidme recorded a video message for Survival International – a human rights organisation fighting for tribal people’s rights – in which she describes how Adivasi women are treated in India. How they’re beaten and jailed every day.
Charges and allegations
Police referred to Markam as an “absconding Maoist insurgent” and implicated her in several first information reports (FIR). Markam has been charged with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)), (Sec. 13, 23, 38(2), and 39(2) “causing an explosion likely to endanger life or property” along with relevant sections of Indian Penal code.
In April 2021, seven UN human rights rapporteurs sent a letter to the Indian government, asking for more information about Markam’s arrest and expressing concerns about the use of anti-terrorism charges against Markam.
Activists and concerned citizens from across the globe have petitioned Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel demanding the dropping of charges levelled against her.
Markam has received bail in two cases. However, she remains in jail as her bail is processed in two other cases. She is reportedly being held in prison in Bastar.