Caught in an Irresponsible War: Cases Slapped Against Scholars, Activists After Bastar Report
BASTAR: Editors Note: The members of the fact finding team and others have been implicated by the Chhatisgarh police in a murder case. In an area where the poverty stricken tribals are controlled by either the Maoists or the police (as the report itself points out), the wife of a tribal has filed a case naming ten persons for the alleged murder of her husband. Proactive Bastar Inspector General of Police SRP Kalluri who has assumed a larger than life image in the Maoist belt is in charge, and activists and journalists have faced threats, harassment in the past with many leaving the area altogether, or learning to live in the good books of the authorities. The above scholars and activists, well known for their contribution to strengthening democratic freedom, ran foul of the Bastar police with the detailed report produced below. This has been followed weeks later with the new charges filed against them:
Bastar division, comprising seven districts, in the state of Chhattisgarh, is one of the most militarized zones in India, owing to the conflict between the State and the CPI (Maoist).
This conflict which has been going on since the late 1980s, reached its current peak with the state’s sponsorship of a vigilante movement called Salwa Judum in 2005.
This resulted in widespread displacement of villagers into camps and neighbouring states, and the creation of a local counter insurgency force out of young, often minor, civilians. These Special Police Officers (SPOs) became the first line of defense against the ‘Maoists’ and a civil war type situation was created in Bastar.
The understanding that the ‘Maoist problem’ is largely a ‘law and order’ and ‘internal security’ problem has been refuted by a committee of the Planning Commission in 2008 which outlined the material and political contexts under which Naxalism has been expanding its influence. The report clearly pointed towards the development challenges in the region and also cautioned against a purely militaristic approach towards Naxalism. It also clearly pointed out that if adivasi rights were not respected than the alienation between the adivasis and the rest of society was bound to grow.
Subsequently, the Salwa Judum was pronounced as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2011, which ordered that local civilian youth under any name (SPOs or otherwise) should not be used to combat insurgency, that all crimes committed by the state and Maoists should be prosecuted and that the victims of conflict should be compensated. Rather than following the Supreme Court’s directions, the Chhattisgarh government merely renamed the SPOs, and called them Armed Auxiliary Forces.
It has recently recruited more surrendered Maoists and other civilians under the name of District Reserve Group. No-one has been prosecuted or compensated for crimes committed by the Salwa Judum vigilantes, SPOs and security forces. Above all, the government has intensified its military offensive, with Police, BSF and CRPF camps opened up in the most interior parts of Bastar Division, along with the liberal distribution of money to bribe villagers into becoming informants, along with coerced surrenders. This in turn has led to a kind of Maoist implosion. The Maoists have started targeting the local population, accusing them of collaborating with the police. This has escalated the conflict and placed the villagers in a position where they face repression from both sides.
In this situation a group comprising of Sanjay Parate, Secretary State CPI-M, Vineet Tiwari, Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies and CPI, New Delhi, Archana Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru University and member AIDWA, and Nandini Sundar, Delhi University visited Bastar Division from 12 to 16 May 2016. The visit covered Bijapur, Sukma, Bastar and Kanker districts. The focus of the visit was on the situation of ordinary villagers who are living through the conflict between the state and Maoists. In all four districts, we visited villages chosen randomly, but with a focus on the most interior villages. In both Bijapur and Bastar for instance, we visited villages located in or at the boundaries of National Parks to try and assess the role of the revenue and forest departments. Our conclusions on incomes etc. are based on rough estimates, and proper surveys need to be carried out. In all we visited eleven villages.
The level of Maoist presence and scale of state repression varies somewhat across the districts. The worst affected at the moment appear to be Sukma district, portions of Bijapur district and the Darbha and Tongpal areas of Bastar and Sukma district, but fake encounters, rapes and arrests by police and security forces, beatings(by both police and Maoists), IED blasts and killing of informers (by Maoists) are a serious problem everywhere. The findings of the study team should be seen in this context.
THE MATERIAL CONTEXT and OUTCOME OF THE CONFLICT
The historical underdevelopment and exploitation of Bastar has laid the foundation of the growing conflict. During its visit the study team tried to ascertain whether the villagers were receiving the benefits of the schemes run by the state in the normal course of governance, leave alone those created under the Integrated Action Plan for Left Wing Extremist (LWE) affected areas. We collected information about the main livelihood strategies, namely agriculture, collection of tendupatta, Public Distribution System and the work generated through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), as well as by the forest department. Almost all the blocks visited revealed one common feature: the villages near the camps of the security forces or where these camps were located had better facilities than the ones which were in the remote areas. This is largely because the government is using development as an instrument to get villagers to cooperate with security agencies.
This is a drought year and there is mass migration to Andhra Pradesh and even further afield for work. The only way people are surviving is through this migration. For instance, if they go to AP for 2 or 3 months they get Rs. 8-9,000, which is often their only source of cash income apart from tendupatta work which lasts about 10-15 days a year.
However, there is no sign that the administration has responded by providing rural employment as required under MNREGA. For example in Somanpalli village (the panchayat headquarters near the road) all villagers have ration cards, get about 45 days of MNREGS work (at Rs. 160 per day) and 15 days tendupatta work. While the official rate is Rs. 150 per saikda or 100 bundles of 50 leaves each, the traders give Rs. 50 extra, such that the villagers are getting Rs 200 for 100 bundles. They also sell about 50 percent of their paddy production and get a profit of Rs 2500 per acre. The average size of land is three acres. Overall the family makes about Rs. 1300-1500 per month. In another remote village, Tadmendri in neighbouring Sagmeta panchayat (at a distance of 14 Km on the forest road), the villagers have not got any MNREGA work and had not even heard of it. They also have to walk 14 km for their rations and were not able to produce anything from their land this year because of the drought. The households of this village barely make about Rs. 1000 per month.
There are other villages in the Koleng panchayat in the Kanger National Park where villagers have not received wages for MNREGA work for several years. The Bhadrimahu villagers informed us that they completed work for making a road 6-7 years back under MNREGA but have not been paid for it yet. Therefore when the contractor contacted them to do MNREGA work recently, they refused to work for him. In Koleng, they have not been paid since February 2016, ie. 3-4 months.
In Kanker district, the villagers of HP had been given MNREGA work for three month to work on leveling the fields of three households. They had been paid only for two fields so far, although the work on the third field was also finished in March, i.e. three months earlier.
A look at the MNREGA website yields the following data about the amount of work generated for villagers in 2015-16 for selected panchayats visited by the study team:
|Panchayat||Person days of work generated, 2015-2016||Number of Active Workers, 2015-16||Average number of days of work per person|
The lack of work in MNREGA is accompanied by machine driven construction of roads in the entire area.
In one case from Sukma district, we heard that the CRPF had organized the villagers to do MNREGA work (apart from free work cleaning up the CRPF camp), along with forcing the sarpanch to attend a mass fake surrender ceremony. The Maoists then detained the villagers, including the Sarpanch, for 12 days as punishment for cooperating with the district administration, and beat up some of the villagers.
In the Kanger national forest we found that the forest department, which used to provide employment in bamboo coupe cutting had stopped that work. The villagers had no work. In the Indrawati National Park area, villager said the forest department had stopped coming to their village.
LAND TITLES and GOVERNMENT JOBS
Although Chhattisgarh states that it has addressed 100% of the claims made under the forest rights act coming to a total of 8.5 lakh claims, with 3.47 lakh claims accepted and 5.07 lakh claims rejected, we found that many people continue without land titles. For instance, in Tadmendri, only 10-15 households out of 38 households in the village had pattas. Other villages on the roadside like Ambeli and Gattapalli – which incidentally had actively participated in the Salwa Judum – had received pattas. There were many educated youth in the area who had not got any employment and were at home cultivating.
In Soutnar panchayat, one of the causes for resentment with the Maoists was that the police was giving surrendered Maoists jobs as part of the District Reserve Group but when they applied for jobs with the Bastar battalion, they had to wait for years and didn’t get jobs. Across the district, unemployment is a big problem.
Since the schools were earlier used as police camps, schools buildings were destroyed by Maoists in several villages between 2006 and 2010. In Soutnar, the school was destroyed as late as 2013, even after the CRPF had started building their own extensive barracks.
During the Salwa Judum the administration moved all schools to camps and has not restored them even when people have gone back. One such ashram school that we saw is Mukabeli whose ashram school is now housed in Pharsegarh opposite the security camp, more than 20 km away from the actual village. This is effectively a violation of the Right to Education Act of 2009 (RTE). Across the district, the government is building 500-1000 seater portacabin schools and ashrams next to security camps, rather than restoring primary schools to the villages.
One of the contentions made by the State is that the Maoists have been at the forefront in stalling the development of the region by asking the villagers to not cooperate with the government. While this may be a partial truth – as mentioned above, we heard of Maoists threatening villagers in some cases - the study team also found that in areas where there are no Maoists, there is no evidence of the developmental state and Chhattisgarh continues to be at the lower end of the Human Development Index of the country.
THE PHYSICAL TRANSFORMATION OF THE AREA – OCCUPATION BY CAMPS
As soon as one enters Kanker it is clear that the conflict zone has arrived. In fact, even the guesthouse overlooking the Keskal pass has been taken over by the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) consisting of the CRPF, the BSF, the ITBP etc. The whole division is heavily militarized with CAPF camps every 5 km, and in the villages around Raoghat in Kanker district, every 2 km. These are being set up in complete violation of the 5th Schedule, Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996 (PESA) and the Scheduled Tribes and other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (FRA), under which the consent of the gram sabha has to be taken and the villagers claims settled. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs Annual Report, 2015-16, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has given general approval under Sec 2 of the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, to divert 1-5 ha in LWE affected areas, for developmental purposes. However, under this head it has also smuggled in “police establishments like police stations/ outposts/ border outposts/ watch towers in sensitive area” as well as two lane roads. It is not clear that this blanket permission is entitled to ride over the requirements of PESA and FRA. Just as irrigation facilities, schools, dispensaries etc. must be built in consultation with the villagers, so should police outposts.
What the villagers across the district reported was that camps come up at night, and people’s land is taken over, without their rights being settled. In HP village in Kanker district, three people lost marhan land they had been cultivating for several years, and to which they should have been given title under FRA. They are unable to say anything to the camp authorities. There is visible and massive destruction to the environment, with trees along the roads also being cleared for security purposes.
In the Raoghat area, where the camps are very frequent, the villagers reported that the Maoists had ceased visiting the villages about 2-4 years ago. They said that earlier the security forces used to pick up chickens and steal money from the villagers but that has also ceased. In some places, we also got the impression that the villagers were scared to report rapes or other abuse by the security forces to avoid further trouble. There has been no visible developmental benefit of having camps in terms of land pattas, irrigation facilities etc. As one villager said: “Earlier the Naxalites stopped road building. Now that they have gone, the government pays us no attention.”
The expansion of the camps has also exacerbated the tensions between villagers and Maoists, as we discovered in Soutnar and Koleng villages of Bastar district, with a chain of police arrests leading to Maoist retaliation on those surrendering which in turn leads to villagers demanding camps, which in turn invites more Maoist retaliation. All of this has heightened the insecurity of the villagers, caused divisions within the villages and created the potential for a new Salwa Judum type of displacement and division.
As we note below, the camps have also led to greater insecurity for women.