Caught in an Irresponsible War: Cases Slapped Against Scholars, Activists After Bastar Report
Across the four districts, villagers complained of people being arrested in large numbers. The villagers have no understanding of the legal system, are forced to pay high fees to lawyers, and their lives are ruined. The law is being used as an instrument of torture rather than of justice or peace keeping.
Indrawati National Park area
In January 2016, three people were arrested from Sagmeta panchayat for ‘Naxali offences’: Tuggewadde, Munna Vedenja and Chinna Vedenja.
In 2016, the police shot three boys who were bathing in a nearby stream, namely Sukhram from Dokke village, Sukku from Bade Alweda village and Soma of Gundapur village. The deceased were taken to Maharashtra by chopper and then sent to Bijapur. Later, villagers were called by the police in Bedre and handed over the bodies for last rites.
Many villagers from this area went to a Salwa Judum camp in 2005. Tadmendri was one of the first villages which the Judum attacked. We got to know that first Judum people came and asked the villagers the names of the people associated with the sangham and dalam. When villagers refused, they were beaten up by the Judum people. Some of them got severe wounds. Later, there was a cross firing between the Judum and dalam people. When Police camp started coming up in the area, dalam people burnt the school fearing the police force would make the school its shelter. Since then, there has been no school in the village for last 10 years. Children go to Pharsegarh village which is 9 kms away from the village. There was an all out attack on the Maoists at that time and many people were killed.
In Mukabelli, during the Judum, one villager had two wives and both were shot by the police. One of them was pregnant too. One six-year-old boy was also shot. Most of the villagers went to the camp under police pressure. The Maoist also shot suspected informers, like the Patel of a nearby village, in 2008 or 2009.
We also heard that the Maoists helped people with medicines, and financial aid for students and in other ways.
Kanger National Park area: Arrests used to lure villagers to attend Jan JagranAbhiyans
In Darbha, police arrested 5 villagers from Bhadrimahu when they went to the haat or bazar on 26 August 2015. Three others were picked up from their homes. On 29 September, 2015, the entire village of Bhadrimahu was told to come to Darbha if they wanted to get the men released. So everyone from the village went, but instead of releasing the men, the police distributed sarees and other goods to the villagers. Instead, journalist SantoshYadav who came to report on the arrests was arrested.
A similar pattern was observed in the Chintalnar-Chintagufa area from Jan-March 2016 where the relatives of arrested persons were used to provide numbers to the police Jan JagranAbhiyans.
Arrests in Antagarh, Kanker district
Two men Pinashi Darro and Ramu Darro of Badarangi village have been picked up by the Police on the pretext of being a Naxal. Pinashi has now been in jail for the last one year. The villagers allege that a tiffin bomb was planted behind his house to prove that he is a naxal. When the police came to arrest Pinashi, they also beat up his elder brother Soma, and kept him in camp for a day. The Tadoki police demanded a bribe to let him off. Soma borrowed Rs. 20,000 from other villagers to pay this, but died of his beatings before he could return it. Ramu was picked up 3 months ago. His wife died and he has three small children, two of them girls, who have been left helpless. The villagers claim that he has nothing to do with Naxalites.
In Sadrangi village, one Jagjivan Darro was arrested on 30 March 2016 for the murder of a constable Jai Singh in 2008. The warrant came only in 2014, one of many in which the police arbitrarily fits in whatever names they want on existing crimes. In 2015, the BSF showed Jagjivan as surrendered in a big show in front of the SP. During the surrender period he was with the police for 15 days. However, since they had not done any paper work on his case – and his name was still implicated in the police records – he was arrested in 2016. JagjivanDarro is married and has three children. The eldest is in the 6th class, and the youngest is 4 years old. This indicates that he is hardly likely to be a Naxalite.
RAPE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE
Alleged Rape in Indrawati National Park
A rape case was alleged of a young woman, Phullo, of Chuchkunta village, while she was working on an irrigation pond. The villagers said she was not a Naxalite, but has been raped and then arrested as one. She was raped by SPOs and men from the district force on 17-18 January 2016. The Pharsegarh camp forces patrol the area frequently. We asked the Camp-in-charge charge of Pharsegarh, Shivanand Tiwari, who said that she was from Platoon 2 of the local area Dalam, and denied any rape. He claimed that her father was kept along with her till she was taken to jail. She is now in Jagdalpur jail.
Rape and Sexual Exploitation by BSF SPO in a Village in Antagarh
A visit to Etebalka resulted in the revelation of a case of a young girl being exploited by an SPO, Budu Ram, s/o Phagu Ram, attached to the nearby BSF camp. He regularly visited her house and raped the girl 2-3 times. When the girl protested, the SPO threatened her and said that “the reward for being a police informer and SPO is that he is free to do all these things”. The girl was married off to another person by her family in June 2015 without any knowledge of this incident. Her in-laws discovered she was pregnant and she was sent home with a demand that the husband’s family should be compensated. The SPO already has two wives. A Panchayat was called to settle the matter. It decided that the SPO should pay Rs 51000 to the girl’s family, but only Rs. 25000 has been so far paid. The girl wrote a complaint to the district collector for which she has not got any response. There is no action by the BSF against the SPO.
The existence of such camps and the authority it gives jawans and SPOs/sahayakarakashak/DRG leads to sexual exploitation, and makes all women in the vicinity vulnerable. We also heard allegations of rapes, at least one of which resulted in death, in the vicinity of other BSF camps but the families were unwilling to talk.
In villages in both the Kanger Park area and in Antagarh, we heard stories of both police and Maoist killings in the past. For instance, in village Sarandi, in Antagarh, three men have been killed by the police in the past ten years. Four men have been killed by the Maoists, including MeghnathDhuruGond who was sarpanch for 15 years and was killed by the Maoists with an axe in 2011. For the past five years, however, the Maoists had not been coming to this area. However, as mentioned above, Maoist beatings and killings of so-called informers have gone up in parallel with state repression and co-optation of villagers.
HARASSMENT OF STUDY TEAM BY STATE POLICE AND ADMINISTRATION
At Pharsegarh on May 13, the Camp-in-charge, Mr. Shivanand Tiwari, invited us for a ‘friendly’ chat over tea, and then took our phone numbers and insisted on photographing us. One of us, Nandini Sundar, gave her name as Richa Keshav, since she had been harassed considerably in the past due to her Supreme Court case against Salwa Judum, and giving her real name would have meant that the team would have been detained and unable to proceed with the fact-finding. This is the only place where she gave this name. The details of all the team members were then relayed to all the police stations across Bastar, as if we were suspicious characters who must be trailed. We were then stopped at other points and questioned.
As soon as we left Bastar on 17 May 2016, a fabricated complaint was filed in the name of villagers from Kumakoleng and Nama alleging that the study team had gone to Kumakoleng and Nama villages and threatened the villagers that if they did not cooperate with the Maoists than their villages would be burnt and they would be killed. The complaint also alleged that the study team had gone to instigate the villagers against the government. It is telling that they initially used the name Richa Keshav, when this was a name known only to the police. This unverified complaint was posted by the Bastar District Collector, Amit Kataria, on his personal facebook page and canards were spread in the social and electronic media about the ‘Maoist’ orientation of the study team. The entire episode was even linked to the fact that one of the Professors was from JNU and that it is natural that teachers and students from this premier university would be ‘anti-national’ and Maoist. Zee news went to town with a biased and defamatory story. A demonstration of ‘villagers’ was organized by the police outside Darbha thana, followed on May 23 by a letter to the President again in the name of these so-called villagers asking that the members of the research team be arrested and sacked from their jobs.On May 27, members of what used to be the Samajik Ekta Manch, a vigilante group but has which has now acquired several new names,organized a protest with pictures of Archana Prasad and Nandini Sundar, in Jagdalpur, accusing them of being Maoist and elitist.
The Indian Express and Naidunia interviewed villagers, exposing how the police are fabricating the complaints. When the Indian Express reporter (29 May 2016) showed the villagers a copy of the complaint they clearly stated that none of the people were from Nama village. They also thought that the signatures could be of people who had surrendered to the police and got jobs as SPOs. Hence the so-called villagers are actually the people who have already surrendered or SPOs, and are all in the control of the police. They also started clearly to the reporters that no-one had told them to support the Maoists.
The Press Release of the study team with its preliminary findings made its position clear that both the Maoists and the State were responsible for the existing situation. But the intimidation and witch hunting has continued. All local people who accompanied the team are being harassed beyond measure. Manju Kawasi, a member of the CPI, who went with the team was visited by the police at midnight and asked to appear before the Sukma and Kukanar police. Mangla a villager we picked up to guide us to Nama has been continuously called for questioning. The car driver hired from Raipur has been repeatedly summoned to Jagdalpur. The police has also contacted all others whom we met and visited in the course of our visit, including old friends who had nothing to do with the fact-finding. The Superintendent of Police of Bastar has written to the Vice Chancellors of JNU and Delhi University sending them the complaints for “further pursuance”. However, no letter has been sent to us, suggesting that the purpose is not to carry out any genuine enquiry, but instead to carry out a media vilification campaign. RTIs have been filed in both JNU and DU asking if we took leave to go to Bastar. (As a matter of principle, we always do).
The story of this study team is, however, not unique. Lawyers and journalists in Chhattisgarh have been harassed by the administration on the grounds that they are ‘Maoist sympathisers and supporters’. Three journalists continue to be in jail on the same charges; one has now been released. It is increasingly clear that the state of adivasis in Bastar is very bad and the impact of the State-Maoist conflict is leading to the disruption of their daily lives. Their constant harassment and oppression has been a subject of much concern and any one who has tried to expose this has faced the ire of the State police. That Chhattisgarh is an intolerant police state is becoming more and more evident and the recent attacks on the study team are meant to ensure that no independent study groups visit the areas and voice the concerns of the adivasis of the State.
The general secretaries of CPI and CPI (M) have written to the Chief Minister and Home Minister protesting against the harassment of members of other political parties in a democracy. However, it is clear that the BJP is not interested in normal democratic processes.
To Political Parties
1. An all-party delegation should visit Bastar, especially some of the interior villages, and initiate conversation with a wide range of stakeholders to suggest measures for conflict resolution.
2. The parties should demand that the Centre and state government initiate a dialogue with all political parties and the Naxalites, and come up with a comprehensive plan that recognizes the rights and development needs of the people.
3. The BJP must allow opposition political parties to operate freely without arresting and intimidating their members.
To the Central and State Government
1. There should be a high level judicial enquiry on all the encounters, arrests, surrenders and rapes and other atrocities by police, security forces and Naxalites since 2005.
2. There should be prosecution of all these cases and compensation should be paid regardless of perpetrator.
3. The camps should be removed.
4. The forest rights, and land rights of the people should be recognized. No projects should be implemented, including mining, without the full knowledge and consent of the gram sabha.
5. There should be a full accounting with on the ground verification of all works done under government schemes. In particular NREGA should be implemented, and all pending dues must be immediately paid.
6. The harassment of political activists, scholars, journalists, lawyers and others fighting for adivasi rights must be stopped and their freedom of movement and security ensured.
To the Maoists
1. The Maoists must allow all development works to take place.
2. They should allow political activity such as standing for Elections.
3. They should stop beating people, and killing so-called informers.