#India – More mines, fewer schools in former Maoist stronghold


 

Manoharpur (Jharkhand), June 17, 2013

 

Anumeha Yadav, The Hindu

  • Villagers in Saranda, West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, get their drinking water from the Koina river, which has high iron content. Photo: Manob Chowdhury
    The Hindu Villagers in Saranda, West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, get their drinking water from the Koina river, which has high iron content. Photo: Manob Chowdhury
  • A Google map of the affected villages in West Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, and the mines.
    A Google map of the affected villages in West Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, and the mines.

Deep inside the Saranda sal forest, Thalkobad lies at the core of what was a CPI (Maoist) “liberated zone” in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district along the Odisha border. Thalkobad, along with 24 other villages, was reclaimed by the Indian state after a massive military operation — Operation Anaconda-I in August 2011 to destroy the CPI (Maoist) Eastern Regional Bureau and several training camps inside Saranda. The village bears scars of conflict — a high machaan used by the then rebel government of the village is intact but the secondary school building the Maoists took cover in to return fire at the CRPF is gone. The rebels blew up the school before escaping.

Saranda is a “laboratory for how to consolidate on security successes,” Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development, in a recent interview. Mr. Ramesh launched the Rs. 250-crore Saranda Development Plan (SDP) in 56 villages here in 2011 and has since announced similar plans for rebel-controlled zones in Latehar and Bokaro districts recovered through recent paramilitary operations. Two years on, Saranda villagers are still awaiting schools and health centres, even as mining companies have lined up to invest in the newly secured forests.

In Thalkobad, the adivasi villagers recall the pitched battle that August: most families fled to Karampada 13 km away for a month, 18-year-old Munna Soya and his father were taken by the Central Reserve Police Force in a helicopter to Ranchi on suspicion, detained and beaten in several police camps and later released, 50-year-old Jarda Honhaga was beaten so severely that he died in the hospital. From the 25 villages, 37 persons were arrested, more than 100 were detained.

The CRPF returned six months later bearing sarees, blankets, and farm implements. In the last few months, the villagers have watched the construction of a security camp next to their village, and then a road connecting Karampada to Jaraikela. Some have found temporary work with the road contractor and in MGNREGA. Others fear new mines will be opened in the forest. “If mines open our land will be ruined. The river will have only red water. We are not literate. How many of us will find jobs?” said Binodini Purti who cooked meals at the secondary school that was blown up.

Red area to ‘Lal paani’

Almost all the villages in Saranda struggle for drinking water. The forest is the catchment of three large rivers — Koina, Subarnrekha, and Damodar, and several streams flow through it. But there are 12 large mining companies operating in 200 sq km of this 800 sq km forest which holds one-fourth of India’s iron-ore reserves. The Ho adivasi living in the forest first launched ‘Lal Paani Andolan’ against the pollution of the streams from effluents and surface-run off in 1978 at Noamundi and their resistance has continued. “All 56 villages are in need of potable water. There is a problem of high iron content in the water,” notes the Saranda Plan outline of October 2011.

Thalkobad, Tirilposi, Baliba lie downstream of Steel Authority of India (SAIL)’s crushing plant at Kiriburu where ore is washed and crushed into uniform pieces. At Kiriburu, SAIL’s Rs. 4.23 crore-slime beneficiation machine meant to extract ore from the water that is discharged back into the river does not work. “It has not worked even once since it was inaugurated in 2010. When the inspection teams come, the guesthouses are full and the orchestra comes from Jamshedpur,” says a SAIL official. SAIL’s mines in Saranda accounted for over 80 per cent of its 15 million tonne production last year.

Downstream, villagers dig shallow pits, a few inches deep by the river to collect drinking water. Farms in Thalkobad, Karampada, Navgaon, Bandhgaon, Mirchgada, Bahada, Kalaita, Jumbaiburu have been ruined by the ore-laden water. “I cannot say about the beneficiation plant but the Kiriburu plant is being modernised. The river is polluted because private mining companies wash 200-250 dumpers carrying iron, oil and grease everyday in the river. I check them when I spot them,” said Dilip Bhargava SAIL General Manager (Mines).

More mining leases

Since January, the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure headed by the Prime Minister has recommended clearance for opencast mining in Saranda forest in areas that form the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve to three private firms. JSW Steel owned by Sajjan Jindal got lease of 998.7 hectares in Ankua forest division, Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) led by Congressman and industrialist Naveen Jindal got 512 hectares in Ghatkuri forest. The approval of 138.8 hectares forestland in Ghatkuri to Rungta Mines Limited was nearly completed last month. There are 155 proposals on the anvil for leases in 500 sq km — nearly two-thirds of the forest.

On paper, the proposals must first be recommended from the state government. “We have little say in the recommendations,” says a senior forest official. “There are over 600 elephants in Saranda. More mining may disturb their migration intensifying their attacks on villages,” says state Principal Chief Conservator of Forests A.K. Malhotra in Ranchi. A proposal by the department of forest to notify 63199 hectares forest in Saranda as inviolate is pending since 2006.

Ironically, the recent approvals to private firms are riding on the back of clearance given to SAIL in February 2011 to mine iron ore in Chiria in Saranda by Mr. Ramesh. Mr. Ramesh, then Minister of State for Environment and Forests had overturned the Forest Advisory Committee’s decision to grant approval to SAIL citing the Public Sector Unit (PSU)’s “Rs. 18,000 crore IPO on the anvil”. Private mining firms have cited the proximity of Ankua and Ghatkuri to SAIL’s Chiria mines to argue they too be granted permits in the already “broken,” what is no longer pristine, forest. Mr. Ramesh in 2011 said that in Saranda, he was in favour of mining only by the PSU but there was no executive order to back this or grant it legal status.

As the government has issued a slew of mining permits, the Minister in interviews to the media asked for a 10-year moratorium on mining in Saranda. “A gap of 10 years will allow the situation to stabilise, will allow building trust among the locals, and allow time to train and educate local people to take advantage of the economic opportunities that mining throws up but there seems to be a desire on the part of the government to allow mining in Saranda,” said Mr. Ramesh to The Hindu. There has been no public reaction from the UPA to Mr. Ramesh’s suggestion.

No new schools, or health centres

While in Thalkobad where the secondary school building was blown up by Maoists, Surendra Purti, a high school graduate from the village volunteers to teach teenaged children in the primary school building. He is not paid any wages. The teachers stopped coming long back and the nearest high school is in Manoharpur, 45 km away. At Tirilposi, the next village 17 km away, there are 90 school-going children but no building. “CRP sahib broke the roof,” explains village munda Budhram Gudiya.

The SDP’s original outline proposed 10 residential schools. Now, that seems all, but abandoned. “There is a plan to build one ashram school at Manoharpur,” says the recently-posted District Collector Abu Bakr. Mr. Ramesh explained the conceptual change in the SDP as both the interiority of the villages and the fact that “education and health are different ministries.”

The plan lists building 10 Integrated Development Centers (IDCs) — each will have a hospital, besides an anganwadi, ration shop, banks — only one has been completed at Digha this April. To improve health services, a mobile health unit has deputed since last October to visit all villages. “The ambulance visits regularly,” say villagers in Thalkobad. But it has not yet been spotted in Tirilposi though a motorable village road exists. In January an eye-health camp was held by a private hospital. “More than a third of over 1000 villagers had pterygium — a painful inflammation which may lead to blindness — because of exposure to mine dust,” said Dr. Bharti Kashyap.

There is hectic activity in all villages to build new Indira Awas houses. This March as part of the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society’s efforts to provide long-term livelihood security, a team of trainers of Self-Help Groups from Andhra Pradesh visited Saranda. The team stayed 15 days in Thalkobad but no meetings have been held since it left. Villagers say they are unsure what to make of their visitors. “They said “hum se judiye”(join us). That is what the party (Maoists) used to say too, and look what followed,” said Binodini Purti. At Tirilposi, villagers explain it differently. “Most families earn Rs. 60 a day after selling siali leaves in the market in Barsovan in Odisha. What will we save?” asks Budhram Gudiya. Then there are families in debt to pay legal expenses. Guvida Honhaga (60) among those arrested by CRPF got bail last year after his son Bimal, a mine worker, spent Rs. 1,60,000 on legal expenses. “I borrowed Rs. 40,000 each from four people at 20 per cent interest. Now he is required to go Chaibasa court thrice a month and that costs Rs. 900 — a fourth of my salary,” said Bimal Honhaga.

Rubber stamp by gram sabhas

At Manoharpur block office, 40 km away, an official waved a sheet of blank paper with 40 signatures. “This is what the mining firms submit as gram sabha’s consent for mining. They call people to football matches and get them to sign anything,” he says.

Bilarman Kandulna, 25, a political science graduate from a Manoharpur college was elected panchayat representative in Digha in 2010. “Some manki-munda (community leaders) now roam in Scorpio SUVs, but a few boycotted the Electrosteel public hearing for Kudalibad mines last year. Last April, we held demonstrations in the villages. The company then shifted its public hearing in Bahihatu, 20 km away,” says Kandulna. “What is the use of forest pattas when they give mining leases in the same forest?” he asks. Of 812 claims for individual forest rights, 511 were accepted till April, the rest were rejected as they fell in mining lease areas. Though a significant number of community rights — over 1200 — have been granted under SDP.

At Jamkundiya at the house of Laguda Devgam, the manki of 22 villages, there is no Scorpio car, but there are three solar street light poles towering on three sides of his house — the only streetlights in the otherwise non-electrified villages in Saranda. They are inscribed as gifts from Rungta Mines Limited, Usha Martin Industries, and Tata Steel.

At Sonapi, one of the six villages that boycotted the public hearing, there is anger. “If anyone comes to your courtyard, something will be disturbed,” said Mary Barla. “We asked for a written commitment that the company will provide health, education, jobs but they did not do it. Instead they shifted the public hearing site. Now they are back again with blankets.”

 

Complaint to Odisha Human Rights Commission on CRPF atrocities in Niyamgiri


To, The Secretary,

Odisha Human Rights Commission,

Bhubaneshwar
Date: 11th June 2013
Sub: CRPF atrocities and human rights violations in villages of Niyamgiri mountains
On 3rd June 2013, at around 11am, the Central Reserve Police Force opened fired on a group of three Dongria Kond tribals (1 adult and 2 children) from the interior Batudi village of the Niyamgiri mountains who were bathing in the stream near Panimunda village. A group of adult men and children from Batudi village had gone to bathe to the nearby Panimuda village as the water streams around their village were still dry. Around 11 Dongrias (6 adults and 5 children) were bathing at a higher level of the stream, and one adult and two children were bathing at a lower level. Suddenly, the CRPF opene fired. The two children, Munna Jakesika (14years) and Ravi Jakesika (10years), and Pakru Jakesia (25 years) were present in the area where the CRPF open fired. Their photo is attached. Terrified, three of them started running uphill towards where the the other people were. Bullets flew through Munna, Ravi and Pakru’s sides and above their heads. The adults who were on a higher level of the stream, on hearing the bullet sounds rushed towards where the sound was coming from. They saw Munna, Ravi and Pakru frantically running uphill, as bullets missed them by inches. This open firing by the CRPF lasted for around 5 minutes.
This incident was reported by villagers of Batudi who witnessed the firing to a group of activists (Samarendra Das and Devangana Kalita) who visited the village on 7th June 2013. The names of the 11 people who saw the firing on Munna, Ravi and Pakru, and who reported the incident to us are as follows:
Duku Jakesika: 30yrs
Derku Sikaka: 20yrs
Janju Mandika: 22yrs
Bindu Jakesika: 32yrs
Momo Jakesika: 20yrs
Druku Jakesika: 21yrs
Babula Jakesika: 8yrs
Lanji Kuturuka: 6yrs
Swadevo Jakesika: 10yrs
Manni Kuturuka: 8yrs
Lassu Jakesika: 12yrs
We also spoke to the three people on whom the CRPF had fired. The two children, not surprisingly, were immensely shaken after the experience, and recounted how terrified and scared they felt as the bullets flew on their sides and above their heads. Duku Jakesika, in a powerful statement, said,
“This is an assault on our very lives. The CRPF has no right to shoot at us without any provocation. Villagers bathing in a stream are not Maoists. Little children are not Maoists. These are our mountains, our forests, our land. Because of the CRPF, today, we cannot roam around freely in our own area. We do not feel safe anymore, we have to live in fear and insecurity. Our lives do not matter to the state, they can kill us whenever or wherever.”
This incident in Batudi is indeed a gross violation of national and international human and children’s rights. It is however, one of many similar incidents of CRPF atrocities in the Niyamgiri mountains. CRPF’s ‘combing’ operations have been generating immense fear and insecurity amongst the Dongria Kond, and threatening people’s lives, livelihood and culture. On 5th June in Kesarpadi village, a meeting of Dongrias from various villages was held to discuss on the gram sabha process ordained by the Supreme Court. In the meeting, a Dongria woman, in an interview with Oriya journalist, Amitabh Patra, narrated the following experience of CRPF atrocities,
“Few days back we were gathering forest products near our village. At that time so many armed forces arrived and they pointed guns at us and surrounded us. They started asking “where is Lada (the tribal leader)? Where have you hidden the maoists ? Where have you hidden the weapons? Why are you opposing mining?” Some one from the behind yelled – ‘If you resist the mining you will be killed like dogs’…………….We do not want such development where our lives are threatened every moment by the armed forces! We kept some weapons to safeguard our selves and our crops from wild animals. We do not want to kill the animals, but to drive them away. Occasionally when these animals attack or come too close to us we get killed. They (CRPF) came and barged into our houses, took away our belongings, threw our stored food grains and cooked food, took away our worship weapons and the guns we kept for our protection from wild animals. We have been living and preserving the mountains and the soil and everything around us since centuries. You can see us living in harmony with nature. But since past ten years our peace and life has been disturbed by the company and police. Since the armed forces presence our freedom to move around in our mountains has been restricted. We are living in a state of fear”
The video of the women’s interview can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5D7FAUhNQg&feature=youtu.be . She did not want to reveal her name or village in fear of retribution by the armed forces. She felt without her name and village, it would be difficult for the CRPF to easily locate her, since she lived in the villages inside the forests.
Such atrocities and gross violations by the CRPF are threatening the existence, livelihood, mobility and freedom of the Dongria Kond. The Dongria Kond only live in the Niyamgiri mountains, and such immense repression by the CRPF and the atmosphere of fear and vulnerability generated by this are violations of international standards and protocols for protection of tribal groups.
We demand an immediate enquiry by the Orissa Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights into these violations by the CRPF in the Niyamgiri mountains. These inhuman atrocities need to be immediately stopped, especially in the context of the democratic process of conducting gram sabhas for determining Dongria’s religious, cultural and habitat rights that has been initiated by the Supreme Court judgement on the Niyamgiri mining case. No democratic process can be truly free and fair, in a context of such repression and violation of the Dongria’s basic human rights.
We look forward to hearing from you at the earliest and hope that immediate action will be taken on this matter.
Yours sincerely,
Samarendra Das, Activist, Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti and Foil Vedanta (London)
Devangana Kalita, Independent Researcher and Activist, New Delhi.
Amitabh Patra, Journalist and Activist, Orissa

 

Chhattisgrah- Police Complaint on Edesmetta Adivasi killings in Bijapur


Police Station In-charge

Gangalur police station

Gangalur village

Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh

 

 26 May 2013

 

 

Subject: Killings of adivasi civilians in Edesmetta village on 17 May 2013

 

 

 

Respected Sir,

1. Yesterday, we visited Edesmetta village that falls under your jurisdiction and enquired into the killings of adivasis, which according to newspaper reports, had occurred on 17 May 2013.

2. We talked with relatives of those killed and injured as well as with other eye-witnesses and villagers; visited the site of the firing; and today we have also talked with the Inspector of Gangalur police station.

3. Residents of Edesmetta are Maria Gond adivasis. There are 78 houses in this village, which are divided into 6 hamlets. The village is situated in the midst of forests and villagers are dependent on agriculture and forests for their survival.

4.  People told us that Friday, 17 May, was the last day of the seed sowing festival (beej pandum), which had begun three-four days ago. Around 70-100 male members of the village (adults, youth and children) representing their respective households were present in the field where the male and female deities (Roi-Gama), worshipped during the beej-pandum, are kept. They had started assembling from 6.30 pm and the ceremony began at around 9 pm.

5. The field where the festival was being celebrated is surrounded by forests. A thatched shed on one side includes wooden sculptures of the deities. Many small leaf bundles and agricultural implements hang from the beams of the roof on both sides. Pointing at the bundles, people said that at the start of the ceremony that evening the village pujari (priest) first collected the grain that each family had brought and then re-divided it amongst all. Then the portion of each family were tied in bundles; these are the seeds that will be sown this season.

After this, people lit a large bonfire near the thatched shed and singing the song of beej-pandum and playing the pen akum, a brass trumpet-like musical instrument that has a narrow tube and a flared  bell, they started walking around the fire; according to custom each has to go around the fire thrice.

6.  Around 10 pm., with the idea of quenching their thirst, three youth headed towards a water source that is on the east of the field. It is then that they noticed the security forces who had been watching them under cover of bushes and trees. According to the villagers, the security personnel caught the three, but two youth (Punem Chukku and Karam Sannu) managed to escape while the third youth, Karam Budhram, was beaten severely by the security forces and left for dead. Around this time, firing commenced from all directions. In the disturbance that followed people ran towards their homes.

According to the villagers, only the police and security forces were firing [there were no maoists and no exchange of fire with them]. In the shootout,  8 civilian villagers were killed of which 4 were children (two are below ten years) and 4 civilian villagers were injured, of which one is a ten year-old child. Besides, one member of the security force was also killed, though, he was a victim of cross-firing between the security forces.

7.  List of those killed and injured is as follows. All the persons who were killed or injured are male because according to the Maria-Gond tradition only male members can participate in the beej-pandum.

 

Names of those who were killed

Name Age (years) Father’s name Hamlet
1. Karam Pandu 35 Karam Unga Kadwapara
2. Karam Guddu 10 Karam Pandu
3. Karam Masa 16 Karam Lacchu
4. Punem Sonu 30 Punem Gutta
5. Punem Lakku 15 Punem Lakku
6. Karam Somlu 35 Karam Pandu Permapara
7. Karam Joga 35 Karam Aaitu Gaitapara
8. Karam Budru 8 Karam Joga

 

 

Names of those who were injured

Name Age (years) Location of the bullet injury
1. Karam Somlu 40 upper back
2. Punem Somlu 20 right upper arm
3. Karam Somlu 25 back
4. Karam Chotu 10 through right thigh

 

8. People believe that the police and security forces who were involved in this incident had come from  Gangalur police station.

9. We learnt that on 17th night on their way back the police took dead bodies of Karam Masa and the security person as well as three others (Karam Aitu, Karam Manga and Karam Lachu) with them. The three were beaten on the way.

10. On 18th morning women from Karam Masa’s family and other village women went to the police station and   protested and forced the police to free the three they had taken the previous day as well as hand over Masa’s body. Masa was cremated that day.

11. On 18th morning, at around 10 am, a batch of around a hundred policemen and security forces came to the village from the Cherpal-Todka direction. By that time the relatives of the deceased had taken the dead bodies to their homes. After repeated requests by the security forces they handed the bodies to them for post-mortem.

12.The post-mortem was carried through in the Community Health Centre in Gangalur by Dr. Biswas, who was heading a panel of medical personnel. We learnt about this from the Inspector of Gangalur police station. After the post-mortem women and other family members took the deceased to their village for last rites.

 

13.On 20th, around 300-400 policemen and security forces came to the village again. It was reported that senior officials who were accompanying the force apologised to the villagers accepting that they had made a mistake.

14.People mentioned that the government has since talked about providing compensation but they have refused to take it so far.

15. We learnt from the Inspector of Gangalur police station that an FIR related to the case had been lodged in the Gangalur police station by the officer who was leading the team of policemen and security forces (CoBRA). The FIR mentions that the deaths and injuries occurred due to an armed encounter between the security forces and the maoists.

16. We have provided the information that we learnt in the course of our fact-finding so that people’s testimonies may reach you, this incident of injustice is enquired into truthfully and as per due procedure, and justice is achieved.

 

       Many thanks,

 

 

 

Bela Bhatia            Honorary Professor

Tata Institute of Social Sciences

V.N. Purav Marg

Deonar, Bombay – 400 088.

 

 

Also on behalf of other team members, all of the Human Rights Forum, Andhra Pradesh:

VS Krishna (HRF State general secretary)

G Mohan (HRF State secretary)

SK Khadar Babu (HRF Khammam district president)

K Sudha (HRF Visakhapatnam district committee member)

 

Chhattisgarh- What will Bastar’s children reap from this bloody war of binaries?


SANJAY RAWAT
No kind conflict Tribal kids have no escape from the red war
GROUND ZERO
An Ill Sowing Festival
What will Bastar’s children reap from this bloody war of binaries?
SUPRIYA SHARMA, in Outlook

A few hundred metres short of where the Maoists would launch an attack that would propel them as far as the pages of the New York Times, a young adivasi boy, not more than ten years old, stood in the dull afternoon heat, facing perhaps the biggest dilemma of his life. He knew what lay ahead on the road. He possibly struggled with the burden of what to do about it for a couple of moments before he flagged down a motorcyclist. “All he said was ‘aage kuch hai’,” recounts Om Prakash Singh, a 42-year-old businessman and Congress party worker who was racing ahead of a convoy of party leaders on his motorcycle when he noticed the boy and slowed down to hear him out.

Singh ignored the boy’s words of caution. A few minutes later, he heard an explosion ring through Darbha Ghat. While Singh had safely crossed the bend where 30 kg of ammonium nitrate laid buried, the convoy of about 25 cars had not. An explosion heaved the road. What followed was a bloodbath its survivors are not likely to forget.

But what about that boy? He would remain unknown and unheard. And it is best that way. For he had violated the rule of self-preservation that Bastar’s adivasis drill into their young as early as they learn to speak: see everything, but stay mum.

Last year, when I returned to Chhattisgarh after a break of eight months, I was told things were looking up in Bastar. The official figure of lives lost in the Maoist insurgency had plunged to 107—the lowest in eight years. The state had lost the top spot in the casualty table to Jharkhand. Beyond the statistics, I looked around for signs of change. A construction boom was under way in the district headquarters. Bijapur had a swimming pool. Dantewada had a new cricket ground with grass as green as the lawns in Lutyen’s Delhi. People in the towns were breathing easy. Even the villages seemed somewhat better off. At least the ones along the highways.

Then I ventured off the roads and spent a few days inside the large expanse of forests where adivasis live to the sun, the seasons and the rules of the Janatana Sarkar. Here, in the second week of March, the news that an encounter had taken place in Kanchal, a village deep south, just 25 km short of Andhra Pradesh, floated to the village where I was staying. Fear had travelled like radiation, distorting the face of a young boy—let’s call him Joga—who had made plans that morning to take his cows down to sell at a border market. Now, it was no longer wise to go, he surmised. The security forces could still be around. He could be caught, beaten, taken away. At 16, Joga had internalised the twisted logic of the conflict: You may have to pay for what you have not done.

The Greyhounds, Andhra’s elite anti-Naxal force, had stormed Kanchal in the early hours of morning. They had wanted to bust a group of Maoists camping near the river. The Maoists escaped. But a village woman, Kunjam Deve, who was filling a vessel of water, fell to the bullets. Three days after her death, I found Deve’s daughter Bhime, aged 17, standing by the river bed, crying her heart out.

A little tribal boy, all of 10 years, had warned a motorcycle-borne Congress worker of the danger ahead. He wasn’t heard. Or understood.

The summer grew blistering inside the Maoist territory. On April 16, the Greyhounds came further inside Chhattisgarh and killed nine Maoists, including a senior leader, in Puvarti village. A month later, on the night of May 17, in Edesmetta village, men, women and children gathered to cajole the village spirits to send new life their way—the village was celebrating Beeja Pandum, the seed festival marking the beginning of the sowing season—but instead, CRPF jawans turned up to deliver death. Eight villagers died in firing by the CRPF. Three were children.

Regardless of who was killed, the pertinent fact, from the point of view of the Maoists, was that the security forces were frequently entering their terrain, carrying out attacks and outrages, and going away unchallenged and unharmed. “Hatyare sarkari shastra balon par jawabi hamla kar shaheedon ka khoon ka badla lenge (We will avenge the death of our martyrs at the hands of the murderous government security forces),” said the Maoists’ note on the Puvarti encounter. At the bottom of the page, printed in fine red, were thumbnail pictures of the Maoist guerrillas who had perished. How long before a publication rolls off the Maoist press featuring dead government soldiers, I thought.


Shot at CRPF firing killed 3 kids in Edesmetta. This boy survived. (Photograph by Supriya Sharma)

With the clarity of hindsight, one can argue it is not surprising that the bloodied bodies of Mahendra Karma and Nand Kumar Patel and not dead soldiers would become the face of a Maoist victory pamphlet. Since the humiliating losses of 2010, inflicted by the Maoists in a mine attack and ambush, the CRPF has come a long way. It is better equipped and trained. It has more camps and boots on the ground. For the Maoists, under pressure to deliver a victory, it was easier to blow up a political convoy than ambush a security patrol. Except, by doing so, they have ensured that when children living in their area are gunned down by the CRPF, no one would care.

Three days before he found himself crouching in a ditch, ducking the spray of bullets coming from the automatic weapons of young adivasi guerrillas, Congress MLA Kavasi Lakhma had climbed a hill to reach Edesmetta, to condemn the killing of the three children and five others and to ask for the CRPF soldiers to be punished. A year ago, Lakhma had his party boss Nand Kumar Patel by his side when they made a similar demand in Sarkeguda, the village where the CRPF troops had shot dead 17 people, including children.

Tasked with breathing life into a comatose Congress when he took over as the state chief in 2011, the mild-mannered Patel had first shown mettle when he had taken on the state government in March that year over a police rampage in Dantewada. The police had burnt homes and granaries in three villages—not for the first time. But for the first time perhaps, the state Congress raised a ruckus. Patel led a delegation to the villages, held up the state assembly for days, and kept the story alive in Chhattisgarh’s newspapers, otherwise not keen to report police violence. The Congress’s repeated attacks ensured that this year, with elections coming up, the Raman Singh government took no chances and swiftly ann­ounced Rs 5 lakh in compensation for the Edesmetta victims. But with dead bodies of Congressmen landing up in faraway districts, there is no opposition left for a future protest.

In the Times of India office in Raipur where I worked, I was the sole journalist. The rest of my office colleagues were young men and women employed in the paper’s marketing department. Some of them were freshly out of college. Born and raised in the city, they had travelled to Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, Vishakapatnam, but not to Bastar. They sourced bright ads of Bastar tourism but saw it as an area of darkness. It filled them with vague fears. Those fears have intensified this week. The landmine explosion has opened up a bigger chasm between the youth of Raipur and the youth of Bastar.

The Maoists fear that TV will turn the minds of villagers towards consumerism. “Dimaag gol gol ghoom jayega,” said rebel leader.

And yet, never before has the gap been narrower. For the first time, a generation of adivasi children, living and studying in ashramshalas, the residential schools run by the government, is being raised on more than just stale textbook narratives. Along with mid-day meals, satellite TV has been made compulsory in school. Already, the adivasi children and youth have taken to cricket with a vengeance. Young men shop for jeans and sneakers and crave for mobiles and motorcycles. They still love to lock their arms and sway while singing Gondi songs lustily. But at a school annual day I attended in January, they reserved their greatest enthusiasm for the ‘taara rara’ of Daler Mehndi.

Urban radicals may believe revolutionary fire cannot be doused by stoking material aspiration through a culture of consumption. But the Maoists are more pragmatic. The party does not want electricity in its villages, because with electricity would come TV, and by watching TV “logon ka dimaag gol gol ghoom jayega”, as a Maoist commander told me. It is not surprising then that in the football tournament it organised in February, the CRPF gave out solar-powered TV sets with satellite dishes even to teams that lost.

The state’s push to woo the young is unmistakable. It did not begin as coherent policy but as the drive of a young collector who “wanted to do something big”. When he arrived in Dantewada in 2011 at the age of 29, O.P. Choudhary wasted no time in drawing up an ambitious plan to spend Rs 100 crore on building an education city with schools, hostels and polytechnics. While the campus came up, he built a library, a plush auditorium, a cricket ground in the district headquarters. It was no less than a blitzkrieg. Every week, buses brought children from the village ashramshalas to watch movies and play games. And those who had dropped out of school began showing up at a newly created livelihood college to train the in industrial stitching, plumbing, welding, computers, hospitality. When I visited the college in January, a young boy exp­ertly folded a table napkin five times and gingerly stuck it in a glass, looking pleased with his newfound skill.

But the state cannot create opportunities for all, and even if it could, not everybody would want to take them. Many children who come to study in the state’s ashramshalas eventually want to go back to their villages in the Maoist territory. Their life is inextricably linked to family and community. And after three decades, the rebels are part of the clan. Not many young people would easily break rank. Not for an outside world that has much to offer but not respect.

Two days after the attack, when the clamour for sending new troops to Bastar reached a feverish pitch in TV studios, the CRPF quietly began its long-planned rally to hire adivasi youth. Some 2,000 constables were to be recruited, 280 from each district of Bastar. But over three days, only 46 turned up in Sukma; Dantewada fared better with 233, but only half of them were adivasi. Some would argue it was because of the Maoist attack. But I wondered if it would have been any different at any other time. Between state and rebel, Bastar’s youth have no simple choice; it’s complicated by everything that complicates the lives of young people elsewhere—family, love, ambition, personality. But the choice they don’t seem to have—not now, not unless they leave Bastar—is between war and peace.

In his ten years, the boy who stood on the highway has lived through the bloodiest years of Bastar. It seems unlikely peace would come his way before adulthood.


(Former NDTV reporter Supriya Sharma reported for the Times of India from Chhattisgarh for two years.)

 

#India – The Bloodstained Karmic Cycle #Peru #Guatemala


PTI
Target of reprisal The late Mahendra Karma, with guards
OPINION
The Bloodstained Karmic Cycle
To end the Maoist conflict, look to Peru and Guatemala
NANDINI SUNDAR in Outlook

Any keen observer of Chhattisgarh could have foreseen Saturday’s deadly Maoist attack at Jeeram Ghat in Bastar, though not perhaps its magnitude. Mahendra Karma’s death was long expected, though politicians like him who flirt with the dark side usually have enough security to keep them safe. With a string of killings of Maoist leaders under its belt, the security establishment thought the Maoists could be written off. However, like insurgents elsewhere, the Maoists scaled back only to strike hard.

Calls for more concerted military action ignore what has actually been happening. In fact, in recent months, the security forces have ratcheted up operations, densely carpeting Maoist strongholds with CRPF camps. On the 46 km stretch between Dornapal and Chintalnar, there are now seven camps, with the latest two, Burkapal and Minpa, having come up in the last fortnight. Overnight, large stretches of forest were cleared in Burkapal, for a helipad on one side and a CRPF camp on the other, and the question of forest clearances for this, or any other security installation, is never even seen as an issue. The biodiverse forests of Bastar—which are national treasures—have been one of the biggest casualties of this war, which rages across trees, roads, transformers, schools and the bodies of men, women and little children.

Sceptical villagers argue that rather than reducing hostilities, the presence of the camps will mean constant skirmishes between the forces and the Maoists, following which the forces will take it out on them. They report that security forces steal chickens from their homes when they are out in the fields; and indeed, with camps close by, even going out to defecate, cultivate or collect fuel wood becomes a hazard, especially for women. In Chintagufa, where several buses are parked to ferry security personnel back and forth, the forces have taken over the primary healthcare centre and the school. The Supreme Court’s orders on keeping off schools mean nothing to them.

We are on a slippery path if we dismiss any citizen, whether a Congress leader or a Gond child, as expendable. The very raison d’etre of a democracy is lost if it thinks that way.

Simplistic morality plays may be good for the trps, but will not address the real issues. The Maoist ambush came bar­ely a week after an equally terrible attack by the security forces, again during an area domination exercise, on the villagers of Edesmetta in Bijapur, who were celebrating Beeja Pandum, the seed sowing festival. Eight villagers, including four children, were killed, while severely injured villagers were given medical aid only a day later after local media coverage. The Beeja Pandum is one of the most important festivals of the adivasi calendar. The only glimpse that non-adivasis get is when they are stopped at roadside blocks placed by women and children, and they assume it is just for some easy money. But the ritual significance is that anyone crossing the village during Beeja Pandum must be fined for taking the seed away with them. The equivalent of what happened there would be the police opening fire on a garba dance during Navratri in Ahmedabad, saying the presence of so many people at one place was suspicious. Yet, there has been little national outrage around Edesmetta. For once, the government has promised compensation, but as one CRPF jawan said about the 2010 killing of 76 CRPF personnel, “Nothing can recompense the loss of a loved one.” The adivasis have loved ones too. Unlike the CRPF, they did not even sign up to fight. If what happened in Edesmetta can be dismissed as “collateral damage”, then why not apply the same logic to Saturday’s ambush, where Mahendra Karma was the main target? This is, after all, a war. But once we dismiss any citizen, whether a Congress pradesh president or a Gond child, as expendable, we are on a slippery path. In particular, a democracy that holds this stand loses its raison d’etre.

As in Tadmetla March 2011 (where security forces burnt 300 homes, raped and killed), Sarkeguda June 2012 (where they shot dead 17 villagers during their Beeja Pandum last year) and Edesmetta 2013, the Chhattisgarh government has ordered a judicial inquiry into the Jeeram Ghat ambush. But since the Congress knows well what this means, they have preferred to enlist the NIA. Given a list of 537 killings by Salwa Judum and security forces, the state government has ordered magisterial inquiries into eight cases since 2008, of which seven are still pending!

The Chhattisgarh police claims it need SPOs for intelligence gathering, refusing to disband them as the Supreme Court ordered. But what kind of intelligence are they getting if they claim Edesmetta was a Maoist gathering, and could not predict the Jeeram ambush? Instead, the fortification of SPOs with better guns and more money as the renamed ‘Armed Auxiliary Forces’ only increases alienation.

Even if they support massive human rights violations, politicians are not combatants. The same is true for unarmed villagers who may support the Maoists ideologically. An attack on party leaders engaged in electoral rallies must be strongly condemned, and the Maoist’s expanding hit list is truly reprehensible. However, it is only partially true to say that what happened is an attack on democracy. In a democracy, someone like Karma would have been jailed long ago. Even when confronted with evidence of his personal involvement in the Salwa Judum atrocities, quite apart from a CBI FIR for his role in a major tree-felling scam, the Congress chose to retain Karma in the party. And despite declaring Naxalism the country’s gravest security threat, never once has the prime minister felt the need to visit the area himself to find out why people support them, or console grieving adivasis.

Under the Constitution of India, chief minister Raman Singh and the Union home ministry, who are as responsible for the Salwa Judum as Karma, should also be held accountable. At least 644 villages were affected, over a thousand people killed, hundreds raped, and some 1,50,000 displaced. Small children were bashed to death or thrown into ponds; old people who could not run away were burnt alive. Yet there has been no prosecution or compensation, despite the Supreme Court’s repea­ted orders. Indeed, there is a danger that, with Karma gone, the uncomfortable questions regarding official culpability for Salwa Judum will be closed. The Constitution and democracy are not terms of expedie­ncy, as the Congress and BJP seem to think—they embody difficult moral principles which must guide our collective behavior.

To respond with even more force now would be a grave mistake, for insurgencies thrive on government excesses. The combing operations under way must take great care to see that ordinary villagers are not harassed. It is unlikely that anyone will countenance calls for peace talks now, as the war has become a prestige issue on both sides. But eventually, there is no alternative to negotiations. If a country like the US with its military might could get bogged down in Vietnam and Afghanistan, what makes us think we can succeed militarily? A far better model would be the Latin American countries, like Peru and Guatemala, with similar histories of guerrilla war and exploitation of indigenous people which resolved their conflicts through Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. If FARC and the Colombian government can come to an agreement on land reforms after 30 years, what prevents a democracy like India?


(The writer, a professor of sociology at Delhi University, was a co-petitioner in a case that resulted in the Supreme Court’s 2011 ban on the Salwa Judum.)

 

Report Of The Killing of Adivasi Civilians by CRPF at Edesmeta in Bijapur District


May 28, 2013

Human Rights Forum

Following media reports that eight adivasis and a CRPF constable had died in an alleged encounter on the night of May 17, 2013 at Edesmeta village in Bijapur district of Chattisgarh, a team of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) from Andhra Pradesh visited the area on May 25, 26 to elicit facts. The team spoke with residents of Edesmeta as well as police officers at Gangulur. There are 67 households in Edesmeta located in six paras (hamlets). The village is in Burgil panchayat of Bijapur block and falls in the jurisdiction of Gangalur police station.

The following is a brief report of the fact-finding team. A more detailed report will be put out in due course:

It is the HRFs view that contrary to the police version of an encounter with Maoists, there was no exchange of fire at Edesmeta on the night of May 17. Eight adivasis, including four minors, all of them male, and the CRPF constable died as a result of indiscriminate and unilateral firing by the CRPF. None of the deceased eight adivasis are Maoists as the police initially claimed. The eight did not die because the Maoists used them as human shields as an improvised police version put out a day later stated. They were killed in gunfire unleashed by a specialized anti-naxalite unit of the CRPF. There was no provocation whatsoever for the firing. Four more adivasis including a minor were injured. This callous brutality is chillingly similar to the slaughter of 17 adivasi civilians (including six minors) at Sarkeguda, also in Bijapur district, on the night of June 28, 2012.

This one-sided firing by the CRPF took place upon a gathering of adivasis of Edesmeta who were performing the beej pondum, the seed festival normally held this time of the year before the rains arrive and sowing begins. About a 100 adivasis had gathered around a small structure containing their dieties known locally as ‘gaama’. The beej pondum on May 17 (Friday) was the last of the four-day long festivities that were held during the evening-night. The adivasis had congregated at the place which is an open field and about a 10 minute walk from the village. The area is ringed on all sides by fairly thick forest. That the adivasis were unarmed civilians would have been clear to the naked eye from a distance since they had going a large fire.

A huge contingent of security forces from Gangulur consisting principally of CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, a specialised anti-naxalite guerilla unit of the CRPF) commandos numbering well about 150 personnel surrounded the area from three sides. The CRPF men caught hold of three young men Punem Sukku, Karam Budra and Karam Lakhma who were going towards a chelimi (a water hole) to drink water and also fetch some for the others gathered at the pondum. The CRPF men roughed them up. The terrified three, however, managed to wriggle out and ran into the forest in the direction away from the gathering. The villagers noticed the presence of the CRPF men when the three young men started running. They stopped dancing and almost immediately the CRPF started firing at the gathering. It was about 10 pm.

The initial burst of firing was from the north and it hit Karem Somlu(35), Punem Somu (30) and the beej pondum pujari Karem Pandu (37). They died on the spot. As soon as they heard the shots and saw these men falling, the adivasis began to scream and run with most of them heading south towards the village. The firing continued, this time from the west killing the four minor boys Karam Guddu (10) Karam Masa (16), Karam Badru (8) and Punem Lakku (15). It is entirely credible that the CoBRA constable Dev Prakash was hit by the gunfire unleashed by his colleagues from the west. His body lay next to that of Karam Masa’s. Villagers of Edesmeta the HRF team spoke with stated emphatically that there were absolutely no Maoists in the area and the CoBRA constable was hit in the same burst that felled Masa.

In fact, a few adivasis who managed to survive this massacre and were hiding in the bushes or behind some boulders said they overheard some of the CRPF men shout “stop firing, one of our men has been hit”. After the firing stopped, the CRPF lit up the area with flare guns. They also slapped and beat up a few adivasis. They left about an hour later carrying with them the bodies of Karam Masa and the constable Dev Prakash. They also took away three survivors Karam Aiytu, Karam Manga and Karam Lachhu. All three were beaten enroute Gangalur and at the police station also.

Karam Soma (35) managed to survive as he ran quickly and hid behind a boulder pretending he was dead. Karam Joga, who was hit by a bullet fell close by. Joga pleaded for water a few times and then passed away. After the firing stopped, the CRPF men found Soma and beat him up before leaving.

Those killed in this senseless carnage are:

Karam Pandu (35), the village pujari.
Karam Somlu (35) husband of Somli.
Punem Somu (30), husband of Boodhi.
Karam Joga (36), husband of Somli.
Karam Guddu (10) son of Karam Pandu (killed in firing).
Karam Masa (16), son of Karam Lachu and Somli.
Punem Lakku (15), son of Punem Lakku (late) and Borru.
Karam Badru (8), son of Karam Joga (killed in firing) and Somli.

Injured: Karam Somlu (40), Punem Somlu (20), Karam Somlu (25) and Karam Chotu (10). All four spent well over as day in pain before being given treatment. They are now recovering at the Maharani Government Hospital in Jagdalpur.

As soon as news of the firing and death of their relatives reached the village, the women rushed to the spot. In fact, an old woman Karam Lakki reached the place even before the CRPF men had left. On seeing the bodies of the adivasis, she screamed at the CRPF. She was slapped a couple of times by them before they hurriedly left. After the other women arrived, they carried the seven dead bodies and the four injured back to the village.

Women relatives of Karam Masa and those of the three men picked up by the CRPF after the firing went to the Gangalur police station the next morning (May 18). They pleaded with the CRPF to let their men go. Masa’s body was handed over to his mother after a post-mortem and the three were let off towards the evening.

The same day meanwhile, another large contingent of security forces came to the village from towards Cherpal. On seeing them, most of the adivasi men fled into the forest fearing they would be subjected to violence. Weeping women shouted at the CRPF men saying “you have butchered our men and children”. The CRPF men, who were on their best placatory behavior, told the women that it was not them but another party from the Gangalur and Bijapur side that had taken part in the firing the night before. It took a long time for them to convince the women to allow them shift the dead bodies for post-mortem. Many women from the village followed the CRPF men as the bodies were carried to Gangulur that evening.

A post-mortem was conducted by a panel of doctors at the Community Health Center, Gangulur the next morning (May 19) after which the bodies were handed over to their relatives. Angry villagers, most of them women, then placed the bodies between the Gangulur police station and the CRPF camp located opposite it and abused the local police as well as the CRPF and threw stones at the police station. That adivasi women pelted stones on a police station in an area where even the presence of the police is highly intimidating to the average citizen speaks volumes. The police merely watched on. Would they have been silent if their conscience was clear and there really was an exchange of fire? The women later took the bodies back to Edesmeta and cremated them the same evening.

According to the villagers, on Monday (May 20), another huge contingent of the police went to the village. A few of the officers addressed the adivasis where the firing took place and apologised for what had happened on the night of May 17. In turn, the villagers told the police that they wanted those who were responsible for the killings punished. When we asked the Gangulur inspector PK Sahu about this he denied that the police had even gone to Edesmeta on Monday.

Police Version:

In the face of this terrible brutality, the security establishment continues to maintain the fiction that the Maoists had fired upon the CRPF men and the latter had to therefore, retaliate. In this version, the fact of the dead adivasis being unarmed civilians is conceded, but the averment is that they were felled by Maoist bullets or they were a tragic outcome of crossfire in which they were used by the retreating Maoists as “human shields”.

The police assert that a special CoBRA unit from Gangalur enroute Pidiya to launch an offensive against the Maoists came under hostile fire near Edesmeta village following which they retaliated in self-defence. While one of their men was killed in the fierce encounter, they managed to kill an extremist and apprehend three suspects. It was only the next morning that they discovered some bodies which could be those of civilians and had evacuated them for post-mortem. Even senior officials in the security establishment touted this falsehood initially. When media reports emerged that a number of civilians including minor boys were killed, the version quickly changed to ‘Maoists used adivasi villagers as human shields to make good their escape.’ Senior officials in Raipur maintained that the CoBRA was a specially trained elite force and that the CRPF had put in place additional precautionary measures after the Sarkeguda incident last year. In effect, what is being conveyed is that the CRPF men exercise maximum restraint and only engage in exchange of fire. Civilian fatalities resulted because of Maoists firing recklessly while retreating!

These assertions fly in the face of facts. The plain truth is that the CRPF personnel opened fire without any provocation upon a gathering of unarmed adivasis celebrating a traditional festival. Edesmeta residents stated repeatedly that the CRPF men could easily ascertain that there were no Maoists in the area and that it was an unarmed gathering of villagers but they fired nevertheless. Several villagers who are still in grief and anger told the HRF team: “They want to finish us off”.

Attacked By Salwa Judum:

Edesmeta village has been subjected to violence during the early months of the Salwa Judum campaign. In the winter of 2005, Salwa Judum vigilantes and the police raided and set the entire village on fire. Three adivasis Karam Budru, Karam Latchu and Karam Lakku were caught by the Salwa Judum on that day. They beat up and inflicted knife and axe injuries on all three. Budru and Latchu died but Lakku managed to survive. This is reflective of the brazen manner in which a combination of the Salwa Judum and State instrumentalities committed illegalities during that period. On that occasion, the adivasis got wind of the impending raid and fled deeper into the forest to save themselves. They managed to survive for about two years after which they returned to the village and rebuilt their homes and lives. All of them are subsistence farmers who also go to the border mandals of Khammam district in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh to work as farm labour during the mirchi plucking season for about 2 to 3 months every year.

The State government has awarded a compensation of Rs 8 lakh to each family of the deceased adivasis of Edesmeta. The villagers of Edesmeta are in open contempt of this largesse. They told the HRF team: “We do not want this blood money. We want those responsible for killing our people punished”. A judicial enquiry has also been ordered by the State government to be headed by VK Agarwal who is also probing the Sarkeguda massacre of last June.

Conclusion:

Time and again we have pointed out that the government’s policy of treating the Maoist movement as an outbreak of mere criminality and seeking to “wipe it out” by deploying more and more special forces is deeply offensive of the Constitutional scheme and democratic sensibilities. As has been elucidated in the report of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission in 2007, a detailed and democratic response to the sources of discontent that is at the root of Naxalism is the way forward instead of a ‘law and order’ quick fix. This would per se include viewing and treating the Maoist movement as a political phenomenon and devising political means to address it. It is not our contention that the police apparatus must be a mute spectator to violence committed by the Maoists. They must meet that violence but in a manner that is respectful of the law and the rights of the people. They cannot overstep the boundaries of the law much less indulge in ‘administrative liquidation.’ Otherwise, immense injury would be done to the ‘children of our republic’ as the Supreme Court so poignantly put it.

A judicial enquiry is no substitute for a criminal prosecution. The law of the land and the Constitution will not have it any other way. We demand that:

1. CRPF personnel who participated in the unilateral and unprovoked firing upon unarmed adivasi civilians at Edesmeta village on the night of May 17, 2013 must be charged under Section 302 of IPC relating to murder and other relevant provisions of the penal code as well as provisions of the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and prosecuted.

2. The investigation into these cases must be handed over to the CBI.

3. The Central and State governments must stop the ongoing policy of trying to suppress the Maoists by increased deployment of Special Forces. It must address that movement politically.

4. Governments must respect the Fifth Schedule mandate in letter and spirit and the adivasis’ right to land, forest and other natural resources in their region. Protective legislation meant for the adivasis must be implemented in letter and spirit.

Members of the fact-finding team:

VS Krishna (HRF State general secretary)

G Mohan (HRF State secretary)

SK Khadar Babu (HRF Khammam district president)

K Sudha (HRF Visakhapatnam district committee member)

Bela Bhatia (Researcher, Bombay)

PRESS RELEASE- Fact Finding Report ‘ Guilty Until Proven Innocent’ on Unlawful Police Activities in North Bastar


CHHATTISGARH LOK SWATANTRYA SANGATHAN

(PEOPLES UNION FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES, CHHATTISGARH)

___________________________________________________________________________

                                                                                                                                                                Date 20th May 2013

To: The Editor/ Chief Reporter

PRESS RELEASE: FOR FAVOUR OF PUBLICATION

A team consisting of eminent activists and lawyers went for a fact finding mission organized by PUCL-Chhattisgarh to the Edanar and Malmeta Villages of the Edanar Panchayat, Kanker District and the Anjrel Village of Khadkagaon Panchayat, Narayanpur District of North Bastar, on 18th and 19th April 2013.  The purpose of the mission was to investigate and document the unlawful police activities that were exposed by Edanar villagers during a statewide camp by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) conducted on 12th April, 2013 in Raipur.   The representation by Edanar village focuses mainly on a police rampage that happened in Edanar and Malmeta Villages in which six villagers were assaulted, two families were robbed, and one innocent man was arrested, and remains in jail till date, after being accused of aiding Naxalites.

However, the 23rd January incident is only a small part of a longer history of militarization and unlawful police activities in this region.  In the Edanar Panchayat (P.S. Tadoki), security forces consisting of CRPF and BSF, accompanied by local police and Special Police Officers (SPOs), conduct combing operations twice a month in which homes are looted and villagers are assaulted, threatened, labeled as “Naxalites”, arrested, charged with very serious offences and some of them even killed. In the Khadkagaon Panchayat (P.S. Narayanpur), villagers are routinely terrorized and even evicted from their homes by local SPOs, despite the Supreme Court order declaring SPOs unconstitutional.

The team documented over 20 such incidents of unlawful activities in both panchayats.  The report also examines the legal issues associated with and the overall context in which these violent attacks have occurred.  It gives special importance to the broader impact of the ongoing militarization of the region including the six BSF camps which are already stationed in Kanker, and the pending construction of 22 paramilitary barracks by the Bhilai Steel Plant to protect the functioning of its Raoghat iron ore mine.

The team releases the attached report,  Guilty Until Proven Innocent :  A Fact Finding Report on Unlawful Police Activities in Two Panchayats of North Bastar, Chhattisgarh with the hope that the media would highlight the situation of the people living in these areas, understand the larger political and economic context of the ongoing violence, and strike a well-educated public discourse around the issue.   We strongly urge correspondents to visit the area and write firsthand accounts of the issues faced by the local villagers.

Team members include: Shishir Dikshit (Lawyer, Janhit Legal Center), Lakhan Singh (People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh), Somdutt Upadhayay (Lawyer, Bilaspur Social Forum), Tathagata Sengupta (People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh), Samantha Agarwal (Sanhati), Pinki Verma (Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha-Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti), and Keshav Sori (Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan). The following report has been jointly prepared by the members of the fact finding team.

For further information contact: Adv. Sudha Bharadwaj (9926603877)

Sincerely,

Sudha Bharadwaj

General Secretary, PUCL-Chhattisgarh

SC ban on Salwa Judum not implemented: Nandini Sundar


by  May 27, 2013

“On no count has the government done anything to implement the Supreme Court judgment. In fact, they have done everything to subvert it and make the situation worse,” says author and sociologist Nandini Sundar, on whose petition the apex court in 2011 banned the Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored militia propped up to counter Maoists in Chhattisgarh.

In its hard-hitting judgement, the Supreme Court had ordered the prosecution of all those involved in criminal activities of Salwa Judum, the architect of which was controversial Congress leader Mahendra Karma. On Saturday, Karma, the tribal leader from Bastar was among the 27 people gunned down in a deadly Maoist attack on a convoy of Congress leaders while they were returning from a political rally.

CRPF jawans carry of the body of a victim. PTICRPF jawans carry of the body of a victim. PTI

The Supreme Court had directed the state government to investigate all previously “inappropriately or incompletely investigated instances of alleged criminal activities of Salwa Judum”, file appropriate FIRs and diligently prosecute the guilty.

But no one has been prosecuted, says Sundar. “Somebody like Mahendra Karma should have been in jail a long time ago,” she adds.

Has the Supreme Court verdict impacted the government’s response at all? “No. For one thing, we had explicitly named Mahendra Karma and shown from police diaries and the Collector’s monthly reports of his involvement. Right from the beginning we had shown the involvement of the Chhattisgarh government in what was going on. It wasn’t a people’s movement at all.”

Describing the response by the state government to the Supreme Court’s order to disband the 6500 “barely literate” and inadequately trained tribal special police officers to fight the Maoists, as a “slap in the face of the court”, Sundar says “The SPOs were supposed to be disbanded. Instead, they were constituted into an armed constabulary force from the date of the judgment. The Chhattisgarh Act says very clearly that everyone who was an SPO on the date of the judgement would now be considered an armed constabulary force and they were given better guns and more money.”

Asked whether the scale and nature of response by the government to the deadly attack was a cause of worry and what she would like the government response to be, she said, “I am very saddened by the attack and I think it is terrible… Firstly, I would like to see the government implement the Supreme Court judgment. Secondly, I would like to see them resign for their complete failure to address the whole issue.

“The judgment laid down very clearly the fact that people who violated human rights should be prosecuted. I would like to see the SPOs disbanded. I would like to see the compensation and rehabilitation of all those who were affected by the Salwa Judum. I would like to see the schools being vacated and restarted in every village. They continue to be occupied by the security officers (despite the Supreme Court’s order). We would like to see some element of justice and normalcy as the main plank rather than just military operation.”

 

Activists probing Maoists’ deaths detained #WTFnews


Ranchi, May 26, 2013

 

 

Anumeha Yadav

  
 
 
 
 
 
 
Activists of the Coordinationof Democratic Rights Organisations at a Ranchi police station on Sunday. Photo: Manob Chowdhury
  Activists of the Coordinationof Democratic Rights Organisations at a Ranchi police station on Sunday. Photo: Manob Chowdhury
 

Jharkhand on high-alert following Maoists attack on Congress rally in Chhattisgarh

A team of activists from Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO), an alliance of 20 human rights advocacy bodies, was detained for questioning at a police station in Ranchi for over three hours on Sunday evening.

The activists said they had visited Jharkhand to do an independent fact-finding into the killing of 10 Maoists by the banned Tritiya Prastuti Committee, a breakaway faction of Maoists, in Kunda panchayat in Chatra district on March 29 this year.

The TPC had allegedly killed 10 Maoists in Lakarmanda village and taken 25 hostage for four days. Eye-witnesses in the village had at the time reported that they seen the TPC hand over the bodies of the Maoists to security personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force, who reached the site the next day but did not attempt to arrest any of the TPC cadre.

“We were talking to journalists at Albert Ekka Chowk in the city when policemen called [us] aside for questioning. [They] insisted we accompany them to the police station,” said Shashi Bhushan Pathak, a Ranchi-based CDRO activist.

Chatra Superintendent of Police Anoop Birtharay said the district police had informed Ranchi police to probe the team after local intelligence inputs from Kunda. “[The activists] spoke to the villagers portraying Maoist leader Laleshji, who was killed by the TPC in the encounter, as a “people’s protector”,” said Mr. Birtharay.

Jharkhand Director-General of Police Rajeev Kumar said his state’s police were on high alert following Saturday’s Maoist attack on a Congress motorcade in Chhattisgarh in which over 27 were killed.

 

Another Volley of Bullets for Bastar’s Tribals


In a replay of last June’s killing in Sarkeguda, CRPF jawans gun down eight innocent villagers in Edesmeta, reports Anil Mishra

Anil Mishra

1-06-2013, Issue 22 Volume 10

Hapless victims Women display the bodies of their loved ones in Gangalur Hapless victims Women display the bodies of their loved ones in Gangalur

Little did the tribals know that death awaited them at the village temple. On the night of 17 May, they had gathered at Edesmeta village in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district to celebrate a local festival when the firing started. Eight villagers, including three children, were shot dead. The CRPF, which was conducting a combing operation in the area, claims that its personnel retaliated after coming under Naxal fire, but the villagers dispute those claims.

This is not the first time that the CRPF’s trigger-happy jawans have come under the scanner. On 29 June 2012, they had shot dead 17 villagers in Sarkeguda village of Bastar district. They claimed to have sprayed bullets in self-defence after coming under fire from Naxals. But a ground report by TEHELKA had found that the CRPF was guilty of attempting a cover-up (Death. And dark lies in Bastar by Brijesh Pandey and Prakhar Jain, 21 July 2012). Even before the judicial inquiry into the Sarkeguda incident is over, the carnage at Edesmeta took place.

On 18 May, the CRPF told the media in Bijapur that a Naxal and a CRPF jawan had been killed in an encounter in Edesmeta.

When reporters visited Gangalur to cover the incident, the women from Edesmeta reached there carrying seven bodies on their shoulders. The angry women demonstrated and pelted stones at the police station and demanded that the guilty must be hanged.

Edesmeta is a small hamlet located 12 km from Gangalur in Bijapur district. There are around 70 houses scattered across the village, which is accessible only by foot.

According to sources, the tribals in Edesmeta traditionally celebrate Beej Pondum (seed festival) before sowing paddy every year. The paddy seeds are blessed by the village priest first and then the tribals dance around the local deity.

Villagers claim that a new CRPF unit set up a camp in Edesmeta the day after the firing. Sources say the jawans privately acknowledged to the villagers that a mistake had been made the previous night. After this, the jawans asked the women to carry the bodies to the Gangalur police station. During all this commotion, the terrified men stayed away from the village.

Rage A villager attacks the police station Rage A villager attacks the police station

Budhram, the brother of Karam Masa, 19, who was killed in the firing, says the tribals were dancing around the deity at 10 pm when around 300 CRPF personnel surrounded them from three sides. They got hold of Masa, but shot him when he tried to run away. Later, they took his body to the Gangalur police station.

Karam Joga, 28, the priest who conducted the ritual of Beej Pondum, and his 10-year-old son Badru, were among those killed in the firing. Joga is survived by his wife, a son and an old mother who are all inconsolable.

Karam Bhanu, 12, and Punem Lakhkhu, 14, were also killed in cold blood, while Lakhkhu’s brother Punem Somlu was injured. Karam Somlu, 40, Karam Pandu, 45, and Punem Sonu, 25, were the others killed in the firing.

Doctors in Gangalur conducted a postmortem of the bodies but the report has not been released as yet. In all, four villagers were injured in the firing. Karam Somlu, Karam Mangu, Punem Somlu and 10-year-old Karam Chotu have been admitted in Jagdalpur for treatment.

Besides firing indiscriminately, the jawans also beat up the villagers. Karam Aaytu says he was hit with a rifle and taken to the police station where he was again beaten up. He was finally let off in the evening on 18 May.

Thirty-five-year-old Soman was beaten up and then shot; he saved himself by lying motionless with the other corpses. Forty – year- old Karam Mangu’s ribs were fractured as a result of the beating he got from the police.

On 18 May, villagers who sustained bullet wounds lay in agonising pain in the village but were too afraid to go to the hospital for treatment. The police took them to the hospital only when the media highlighted the carnage.

Ashok Singh, the sub-divisional police officer in charge of Naxal operations, told TEHELKA that acting on a tip-off on the night of 17 May, security forces from six locations were dispatched to Pidiya village to nab Naxal commander Madhvi. The 208 battalion of CoBRA (Combat Battalion for Resolute Action) was dispatched from Gangalur and Cherpal. He claims that jawan Dev Prakash Singh was killed in the encounter.

CRPF DIG S Llingo claims that the jawans were crossing Edesmeta to carry out an operation in Pidiya when they came under fire. “When they approached the place, the Naxals opened fire in which one CoBRA jawan was killed and another was injured,” he says. “It was a genuine encounter. A CoBRA unit cannot commit such a mistake because they are trained for such situations.The villagers are making false allegations.”

But the villagers vehemently deny that any such encounter took place. They say that the security forces surrounded them from three sides and started firing and the CRPF jawan was killed accidentally in the firing.

“We have nothing to do with Naxals. A vendetta is being carried out against us for not joining the Salwa Judum (an anti-Naxal campaign),” says Budhru, a resident of Edesmeta who works as a farm labourer. “We were targeted when the Salwa Judum was active. The whole village was set on fire and two people were killed. A road was constructed to the village through the mountains and the forest department used to take bamboo from here. But the road closed after the Judum was started. Even the village school was shut down. Now the forces routinely attack the village.”

After Salwa Judum, Operation Green Hunt was started. “In any case, we would be killed,” says Budhru. “Although the villagers have ration cards and some even go to Gangalur to cast their votes, the government has isolated this village from the outside world.”

In an election year, the incident has immediately taken a political colour. Congress leaders have accused the state government of killing innocent tribals, putting the Raman Singh-led BJP government on the backfoot. Stung by the outrage, the government has announced a compensation of 5 lakh to each victim’s family and ordered a judicial inquiry headed by high court judge VK Agarwal to probe the incident. However, no representative of the government has taken the trouble to visit Ground Zero.

On 22 May, CPI leader Manish Kunjam and Congress MLA Kavasi Lakhama visited Edesmeta and wanted the government to lodge an FIR against the jawans. The leaders said the fact that the state government has offered compensation to the dead proves that they were innocent. However, the angry villagers have refused the offer and have demanded action against the erring jawans.

After the incident, the village is seething with anger at the CRPF. Ironically, the Naxals will benefit from this and the villagers will be targeted further by the forces.

Translated from Hindi by Saif Ullah Khan

anil@tehelka.com

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 10 Issue 22, Dated 1 June 2013)