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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 16, April 9, 2011

Are these Anti-Naxal Operations, Mr Chidambaram?

Thursday 14 April 2011, by Gladson Dungdung

India’s security budget grows up every year and even the economic crisis does not make any difference to it. The Indian Government spends most of its money for the security of its own people. Apart from this, the government also has special budget allocations for dealing with the internal security threat and several State governments also spend the money, allocated for the Tribal Sub-plan, on security. Ironically, the government(s) use the money, which is supposed to be spent for their welfare and development, to kill the Adivasis. The innocent Adivasis are victimised most of the time in the process of dealing with the security threat. The fastest growing State of Chhattisgarh is a living example of it, where the Adivasis have been victimised by the paramilitary forces, local police and Koya Commandos (an armed tribal police comprising surrendered Maoists) but instead of taking action against the perpetrators, the State justifies their inhuman acts and shield them.

Recently Chhattisgarh’s Koya Commandos, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and CoBRA battalions burnt more than 300 houses and foodgrains, raped five Adivasi women and killed five men of Timapuram, Morpalli and Tarmetla villages of Dantewada between March 11 and March 16, 2011, alleging them to be Maoists, during the ongoing special police operations against the Maoists in the region. The security forces, comprising 200 Koyas, 150 CoBRA and 50 CRPF jawans, carried out intensive operations in the area on the basis of the report of a surrendered Maoist, who claimed the existence of a Maoist arms factory at Morpalli village, and also the intelligence inputs suggesting the presence of 100 Maoists in the vicinity. However, the security forces found neither any arms factory nor the Maoists. The police also accepted that the people killed during the operations were not Maoists but villagers. Indeed, these people, who were victimised by the security forces, were neither Maoists nor their supporters but they were innocent people living in their ancestors’ villages. Can P. Chidambaram, the corporate Home Minister, tell us what kind of anti-Naxal operations are these where innocent villagers were killed, women were raped and their houses, clothes and foodgrains burnt by the security forces?

Of course, we need answers from the Home Ministry as to why the top cops were not held accountable and punished for allowing the paramilitary forces and the local police to rape the women, kill the villagers and burn their houses? Why is the Home Ministry silent in the matter? And will the Ministry hear the villagers’ cry for justice? According to Madhavi Hunge of Morpalli village, her husband Madavi Chulla (30) was sitting on a tamarind tree and plucking tamarind. The force saw him and opened fire. She pleaded with them to stop, but instead of hearing her plea, they assaulted her too. Somehow she escaped but her husband was killed and the dead body was left hanging in the tree. Similarly, 45 year-old Aimla Gandi was plucking ‘Tendu’ leaf on the field when the forces reached and charged her with spying for the Maoists. They threw her on the ground, pulled off her clothes and raped her in front of her two daughters. In another case, the force caught 45 year-old Madavi Ganga, his son Bima and his daughter Hurre and took them to the Chintalnar Police Station. The police put 20 year-old Hurre in a separate cell, stripped and raped her throughout the night. During the anti-Naxal operations, the police burnt 37 houses in Morapalli, 50 in Timapuram and 200 houses of Tarmetla village including foodgrains, clothes, utensils and money as well. The relevant questions are: what will the villagers eat this year? What will they wear? And where would they live? However, the billion dollar question is: do they have citizenship rights in this country? 

The crime was perpetuated on them only because they refused to shift to the government-run camps near the National Highway. According to the police, since the villagers declined to go the camps, they are no different from the Maoists. The police insist that if they are with the government, they must have shifted to the camps but they don’t listen to us because they are Maoists and their supporters. Is this the justification to perpetuate crimes against the Adivasis and other local people in Chhattisgarh? However, when there was a hue and cry, the Dantewada Collector, R. Prasanna, announced a probe into the matter and set up a five-member committee headed by the Tehsildar of Konta. The committee shall submit its report in one month. The Collector has also announced Rs 50,000 as compensation for each house burnt, and will also reimburse the villagers for their grain, utensils and other possessions. The questions here are: would justice be really delivered to the people? Can we expect the committee to bring out the facts without any pressure, manipulation and influence from the government? And why no high-level judicial inquiry was instituted in this case? Is it because the state does not want the truth to come out in the public domain?

The police officers and top bureaucrats are playing a dubious role in the ongoing brutalities against the Adivasis. The Director General of Police of Chhattisgarh, Vishwa Ranjan, refused any police inquiry into the incident saying that since the local police are denying the charges therefore there will be no inquiry. The question is: does a criminal accept the charge after committing a crime? The Dantewada Superintendent of Police, S.R.P. Kalluri, even went beyond shielding his inhuman gunmen by dismissing the allegations and interpreted those as Maoist propaganda. The irony is that the district administration was sending rice, pulses, edible oil, clothes and fuel to Tarmetla village and it also denied the brutalities. The Bastar Commissioner, Shreeniwasulu, and Dantawada Collector, R. Prasanna, were prevented by the police to distribute relief materials even after that they had denied the allegations of arson, rape and killing. R. Prasanna said no one had complained to him about the incident, therefore he cannot take any action. Can the villagers dare to file complaints against the security forces that have been deployed by the top cops? The Sub-Divisional Officer, who was taking the relief materials, had to return as the Koyas, CoBRAs and SPOs attacked the vehicle and severely beat up the drivers and food suppliers. Does our democracy have any solution to such acts? Ironically, the Dantewada Superintendent of Police, S.R.P. Kalluri, blames the Maoists for everything. According to him, the security forces not allowing distribution of the relief materials among the victims of brutalities is also a part of the Maoist propaganda.

The Chhattisgarh Government has been lying regularly. In October 2010, the State Government had informed the Supreme Court that Salwa Judum no longer exists in Chhattisgarh. However, the reality is completely different. The Salwa Judum has been converted into the ‘Koya Commando Battalion’ and ‘Special Police Officers’ (SPOs) and the Indian Government bears the expenses under ‘Security Related Expenditure’ (SRE). In fact, the top cops of Chhattisgarh have deployed the Koya Commandos, SPOs and CoBRAs to wipe out all the villagers who do not follow the order of the government to vacate their villages for the corporate sharks. We must recall that Chidambaram had told us at the beginning of his war against the Maoists that ‘you should be either on this side or on that side’. There is no middle path in his ‘war theory’. Now his top cops are just implementing his war theory. Perhaps, the security forces are taught that ‘those who live in the villages are Maoists or their supporters’; therefore they must be removed from the area. These Koya Commandos and SPOs are also assigned the job to detain, in the police stations, those people who attempt to investigate the cases of arson, rape and murder committed by the police.

In these circumstances, the issue of major concern is the hijacking of the freedom of thought and expression by the state. The freedom of thought and expression no more exists in the State of Chhattisgarh. In fact, no one is allowed to enter into the vicinity on the pretext that those areas are unsafe. According to the Officer-in-Charge of the Chintagufa Police Station, there are strict instructions from the Dantewada Superintendent of the Police not to let outsiders enter those areas. The mediapersons are seen as image-damagers of the state and so are the human rights activists. Consequently, many journalists, social activists and human rights activists were attacked, tortured and detained in the police stations. However, some daring journalists and human rights activists went into the vicinity and exposed the brutalities.

However, the media elites are also no different from the top cops of Chhattisgarh. The worst thing is that we have countless news channels running ‘breaking news’ 24 hours but torching of the Adivasis’ houses, rape of women and killings by the security forces in Dantawada were not breaking news for them. Similarly, the print media also neglected the brutalities (even if there were some honourable exceptions). Is it because the state-sponsored crime was perpetrated against the Adivasis, whom the Indian state sees as the biggest obstacle for economic growth, since they don’t want to surrender their land to the corporate houses? Would the media have behaved in the same manner if it would have happened with the other communities? And why those so-called intellectual television debates are not taking place on the state-sponsored crime against the Adivasis?

On the one hand, the police do not allow the outsiders to roam about in Dantewada for security reasons. Consequently, Swami Agnivesh, Nandini Sunder and others were attacked, detained and tortured. Himanshu Kumar’s Ashram was razed and he was thrown out of the State. However, on the other hand the representatives of the corporate houses, that is, Tata, Essar, Jindal and so on, are welcome to the area and well protected. We have never heard of any attack on them by the CoBRAs, Koyas and SPOs. Are they not outsiders? Is there no security threat to them? And why is there security threat only to journalists, human rights activists and social activists? Of course, if you are a representative of the corporate houses, including the multinationals, then you are not an outsider in Chhattisgarh. But the meaning of outsiders in Chhattisgarh is: those who expose the state-sponsored crimes against the Adivasis; the outsiders are also those who raise their voices against the rampant human rights violations; moreover, outsiders are those who pen the injustices perpetrated on the Adivasis by the law enforcement agencies. In fact, the so-called anti-Naxal operations are being carried out to ensure land for the corporate houses; therefore they are treated as insiders.

One more point is to understand that if you are a politician or have political support you can do anything in the Red Corridor. The renowned doctor, Binayak Sen, is in jail for his alleged links with the Maoists. He has also been convicted by a local court for allegedly being an integral part of a Maoist conspiracy that resulted in violence and killings. However, according to the government record, a former BJP Minister, Satyanand Bhokta of Jharkhand, had a clear link with the Maoists when he was a Cabinet Minister in Jharkhand but no action was taken against him. There are a number of MPs and MLAs irrespective of political parties who have won the elections with the support of the Maoists; and they have been merrily enjoying power. In fact, if you are in power then having links with the Maoists, bagging huge public money, killing the innocents, raping women and grabbing the land of the Adivasis are also not enough to be charged under sedition. However, if you are out of political power then demanding your rights is sufficient to be charged as Maoist, anti-national and seditious. Are we really living in a democratic country?

Presently, we are witnessing two faces of growth and development. Chhattisgarh is the result of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation where one face is depicted as the fastest growing State in India and other, the ugly face, with illegal arrests, torture, rape, killings and arson of houses and foodgrains of the Adivasis by the security forces. However, the government attempts to cover the second face of the state by the first face. Is it the real face of the emerging superpower, where rights, humanity and conscience do not matter for the majority of the people and what matters is only the rat race of development called “economic growth”? However, people must get justice. Since there are so many ifs and buts in the brutalities in Dantewada, therefore only a CBI inquiry will deliver justice to the victims of state sponsored crime against the local Adivasis.

Gladson Dungdung is a human rights activist and writer from Jharkhand. He can be reached at gladsonhractivist@gmail.com

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