#India- A warning to Prime Minister of India , think twice before jumping the gun


Mr PM, think twice before jumping the gun

Pushing in more troops to fight Maoists will only aid the onset of a full-scale insurgency
Prem Shankar Jha

15-06-2013, Issue 24 Volume 10

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Back to square one Demands for retribution after the Darbha hills massacre could prove to be counter-productive Back to square one Demands for retribution after the Darbha hills massacre could prove to be counter-productive

In September 2001, the US reacted to al Qaeda’s attack with an explosion of rage and declaration of a War on Terror that has so far cost more than a million lives and turned the CIA into what author and The New York Times columnist Mark Mazetti calls a “killing machine”. Has the US gained anything from this bloodletting? Has it destroyed al Qaeda? Has it made its allies in West Asia feel more secure? Has it won the hearts and minds of the people it set out to ‘liberate’? One has only to ask these questions to know the answers.

The Congress party has reacted to the  attack on 25 May that claimed the lives of its leaders in the Darbha hills of Bastar with a similar burst of rage and demands for retribution. The  government has promised to bring the culprits to justice and sent in 600 additional paramilitary personnel. Accusing the  of not being interested in talks or following the democratic process, MoS for Home Affairs RPN Singh has said there is an urgent need to review the policy on dealing with the . Echoing what former home minister P Chidambaram had said in 2009, he affirmed that there would be no talks with the  until they gave up violence.

The Centre has inducted the air force into the battle by making it agree to provide helicopters for search, rescue and surveillance missions against the Maoists. It has thus broken the cardinal rule of the armed forces — not to intervene in insurrectionary wars within the country.

All the signs are therefore pointing to another campaign against the Maoists. Will this meet with any more success than Operation Green Hunt, launched in 2009? Or will it leave behind a trail of bitterness that will further swell support for the Maoists in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere on the ‘Red Corridor’?

The answer, here too, is self-evident. In the past five years, the number of districts “seriously affected” by left-wing insurgency has increased to 56 and those seriously or moderately affected, to 83. These make up almost one-sixth of India. In the worst affected areas such as Dantewada and Bastar, as Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh conceded, the writ of the State has virtually ceased to run, and there has been no development for the past 20 years.

New Delhi and Raipur have placed the blame for the 25 May slaughter on a monumental intelligence failure and launched not one but two inquiries into this ‘lapse’. But this is no isolated incident. The failure was equally complete when the Maoists wiped out almost an entire company of CRPF personnel in Dantewada in 2009. It was highlighted, less tragically, a year later when the government discovered a road that the Maoists had built in the forest to spirit away hijacked trucks, entirely by accident.

Although it began decades earlier, the alienation of the  gathered momentum only after the pace of economic growth increased the hunger for land. When Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were carved out from Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh began to shower mining concessions on corporates like confetti. Neither he, nor anyone at the Centre, spared a thought for the , who would lose their traditional rights of usage in forest lands, their livelihood from selling forest produce and the herbal remedies on which they relied for their health.

What completed their alienation was the creation of the , an armed militia of tribal louts recruited mostly by Mahendra Karma in 2005, but quickly endorsed by the state government. Its main purpose was to drive the villagers off their land in the name of ‘development’. This was a rare example of Congress-BJP collaboration that somehow escaped Sonia Gandhi’s notice.

By 2011, the Salwa Judum had driven people out of at least 644 villages, killed almost a thousand tribals and displaced at least 1.5 lakh more. Of those it has killed, Maoist leaders in Chhattisgarh told Shubhranshu Choudhary, author of Let’s Call Him Vasu, no more than 200 were members of their Sangham. Human rights organisations brought 537 of these killings to the notice of the Chhattisgarh government, but so far the state has ordered only eight magisterial inquiries, of which only one has begun.

In 2011, when the Supreme Court banned the Salwa Judum in one of the harshest indictments of a state government on record, Raman Singh inducted 3,000 of its cadres into the police as Special Police Officers (SPOs) on a salary of Rs 1,500 a month. Since then these SPOs have been responsible for some of the worst massacres in the state. To the Adivasis, this is the democracy that the politicians are extolling. No wonder, they consider the Maoists their defenders and the State their oppressor.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must prevent another mindless resort to violence, for it will only accelerate the onset of a full-scale insurgency. The war that will ensue will be unwinnable for, unlike the US, which has won battles but is losing the War on Terror, New Delhi has been losing both the battles and the war against the Maoists. Green Hunt was a failure because the Maoists emerged from it not only ideologically but also militarily stronger. In 2011 and ’12, the scales have tilted further in favour of the Maoists because, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, while the security forces have killed 80 Maoists, they have lost 126 of their own people.

As for the battle for the people’s minds, it is already, irretrievably, lost. According to ‘Vasu’, Choudhary’s eponymous contact in the Maoist leadership, “Though we called the movement People’s War, it was the Salwa Judum that made it a real people’s war. The Salwa Judum left no room for fence-sitters.”

Before going further down the road to repression, the PM would do well to re-examine the assumptions upon which it has been based. The first is that the insurgency is being fed by acute poverty. The second is that this can only be alleviated by ‘development’ — roads, schools, hospitals and power supply. The third is that the tribals are the authors of their own misery because they are not interested in development. The fourth and most important is that the Maoists are against democracy and oppose development. Therefore, they have to be eliminated for good sense to prevail among the Adivasis once more.

Choudhary’s book, written after months of living with the Maoists and chronicling their lives, thoughts and aspirations, shows the superficiality and hollowness of these assumptions. Poverty does not feed the insurgency any more than it fed the French revolution. What feeds the insurgency is injustice. The government claims to have been elected by them, yet takes decisions that take away their rights, break the slender thread that binds them to nature and its bounty, and make their lives more precarious. Denied any voice in decision-making, when they protest, they have to face atrocities by the police or the Salwa Judum. Maoists spoke of these events as casually as townspeople talk about corruption. But the anger that burned in them accounted for the high proportion of women in the armed cadres. It also helps us understand why Karma was stabbed 78 times in addition to being shot.

It is true that the Adivasis are not interested in New Delhi’s concept of economic development, because this is the root cause of their misery. But it is most certainly not true that they do not want any development and wish to be left as noble savages. Choudhary describes the pains the Maoists take to procure medicines, attract doctors, create village schools, bring out ‘comrade’ teachers to teach in them, and enable the tribals to get better prices for their produce.

As for their goals and willingness to seek them peacefully, Rajanna, the Maoists’ chief armourer, has the following things to say: “The party has addressed, and to an extent alleviated, excessive poverty in Dandakaranya. People have access to the forest and the land now. A single Mahua tree yields an income of Rs 5,000 a year; people are not starving anymore. The fight should transform itself into a demand for tribal autonomy. We should demand that all Dandakaranya be able to decide its fate without interference from outsiders. Schedule Five of the Constitution gives these rights in theory, but we should work towards making them a reality.”

When people cite the Indian Constitution, it means that given the right circumstances, they are not averse to living within it. Rajanna is not a moderate or an aberration. So his reflections need to be treated seriously.

letters@tehelka.com

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 10 Issue 24, Dated 15 June 2013)

 

Chhattisgarh- Mahendra Karma and his cynical form of vigilantism #Maoists


For long, Karma often resembled a wolf that preyed on the tribals of southern Chhattisgarh, many from his own tribe
Sudeep Chakravarti , The Mint
First Published: Tue, May 28 2013. 12 00 AM IST
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Karma and his ilk gradually distanced themselves from the blood-letting, though the stains never really washed. Photo: Manpreet Romana/AFP

Mahendra Karma is dead. And I am here to write ill of him.
This may be construed as indelicate in the aftermath of the savage Maoist attack on 25 May in southern Chhattisgarh that left him and several others dead—unlike Karma, many innocent of human rights wrongdoing. But it certainly is not an act of hypocrisy. Karma wasn’t exactly a man of probity. For long, the Congress party’s point man in Bastar, sometimes called “Bastar Tiger”, Karma often resembled a wolf that preyed on the tribals of southern Chhattisgarh, many of them from his own tribe, with utter disregard for their livelihood and lives. While I abhor violence, including the revenge hit by Maoists that finally claimed Karma at 62, his death should not be used to whitewash his crimes against humanity.
Where Karma, the son of a clan chief, walked, chaos could follow. I am still chilled when I listen to the intercept of a police transmission reportedly between the superintendent of police (SP) of Bijapur in southern Chhattisgarh and his junior colleague planning an operation to deny Maoists support among dirt-poor, neglected locals in that forested, resource-rich region.
The recording, distributed by human rights activists and Maoist sympathizers—not always interchangeable—to several researchers and writers, is from 2005. It was a time when Salwa Judum—which, in the local Gondi dialect, translates as Purification Hunt—an extreme, cynical form of vigilantism led by Karma took wing. He did so in compact with Chhattisgarh state, in a rare case of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Raman Singh and the leader of opposition—Karma, then a Congress member of the legislative assembly—seeing eye to eye. In the mirrored, public-consumption vocabularies of the government and Karma, Salwa Judum emphatically remained a spin—Jan Jagaran: People’s Awakening.
As I wrote in my book Red Sun, this is how people were sometimes awakened:
(SP) All officers and forces should be well distributed. And be on high alert. If any journalists come to report on Naxalis—get them killed. Did you understand?
(Voice): Roger sir…
(SP) …the Jan Jagaran people are telling villagers very clearly, ‘You come with us… If you do not come (after being told for the) third time, we will burn your village.’
Salwa Judum vigilantes destroyed homes, and stores of grain and any other food they had; killed dozens of men, women and children; maimed and—or—raped several. Children were forced to watch the death and dismemberment of parents. Pregnant women were disembowelled. The death and torture of those suspected of allying with Maoist rebels was instant. This intimidation, blessed by posses of state police and Union government paramilitaries who have their own record of blood, lust and war crimes in the region, at one point herded in excess of 50,000 tribal folk into little more than concentration camps across Dantewada district—since last year further split to create the additional districts of Bijapur and Sukma.
To be fair to Karma, there was a method to his madness. Maoists had begun to infiltrate the Dantewada region as far back as the 1980s—it was then part of the vast Bastar district of the undivided Madhya Pradesh—to establish what would later enlarge into the rebel-influenced Dandakaranya zone. Landlords such as Karma, himself a child of a tribal landed family, increasingly began to see left-wing extremists, then spearheaded by the vanguard of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War, as a threat. The perception was mutual.
For the rebels, Karma and his ilk symbolized the class enemy—worse, a tribal who came from traditionally, socio-politically oppressed stock was the class enemy of fellow tribal folk. For Karma & Co., the stealthily and rapidly infiltrating rebels represented a threat in several ways. For one, at the barrel of the gun they could redistribute land to the landless. For another, they were a direct threat to the local practice of Malik Makbuja, the right of the Adivasi to cut trees on his own land that had been subverted to benefit middlemen and various vested interests.
The MP Protection of Scheduled Tribes (Interest in Trees) Act, 1956-57, was designed to protect the interest of the Adivasis. Trees felled by them on their own land could not be sold to non-tribals and required monitoring by the office of the collector; a complex system deposited sale proceeds into an account. Middlemen often stepped in to facilitate the process, in several cases cheating the locals. Meanwhile, vested interest in the timber business thrived. Even as traders were on the lookout for any land owned by non-tribals, landed tribals such as Karma cut into the action by buying and grabbing land from fellow tribals. The local bureaucracy and the forest department staff played handmaiden to all the deal-making, coercion and removal of timber from prime forest land.
I most recently read about it in a document prepared in the defence of barefoot doctor and human rights activist Binayak Sen, which had a preface by Supreme Court lawyer Nandita Haksar. It cited a Central Bureau of Investigation first information report (FIR) from 1998 that, after taking into account a writ petition filed by two non-governmental organizations and the Lokayukta, held there was prima facie evidence of criminal conspiracy by several government officials and landowners. Among them, Karma. They were, the FIR stated, “party of (sic) criminal conspiracy during 1992-96 to cause wrongful gain to the land owners in the matter of felling trees. It is alleged that the accused public servants bestowed undue favours to the said land owners and others and illegally accorded permission to fell a large number of valuable timber trees on the basis of forged and fabricated documents and in utter disregard” of laws to protect aboriginal rights. As the document on Malik Makbuja noted: “No further action has been taken against Mahendra Karma or any of the other accused”.
While that’s another, familiar story of politico-legal winking—Madhya Pradesh at the time was a Congress satrapy—Karma and the Maoists evolved their own grudge match over influence. By late 2004, the merger of the People’s War faction with the Maoist Communist Centre (India) formed the rebel behemoth of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The extreme left-wing grip over Chhattisgarh appeared to be unassailable. Local rebel leaders and cadres, in their ideological enthusiasm and their bid for a power grab, were dictating nearly every aspect of tribal life—deciding when people could go to the market and, in some cases, even marriages.
The heavy-handedness that an ideological drive backed by weapons inevitably brings became an affliction, and resentment against the Maoists began to grow in several areas. Not just against members of the dalam, or armed cadre, but arguably more so against members of the sangham, the rebel militias and the recruitment, information and logistics networks. In a few villages, scuffles broke out between pro- and anti-Maoist groups. In one case in June 2005, Maoists even attacked villagers from nearby areas in Kotrapal who had gathered to decide against cooperating with Maoists. Two villagers died, several were beaten up; some were kidnapped. One major incident lit a reverse spark, as it were.
Karma, never short of bluster or chutzpah, latched on to this with blinding speed, and nurtured it with resentment, rumour and rigour. “Something had to be done,” K.R. Pisda, the former collector of Dantewada, told me as he elaborated on this when I interviewed him for Red Sun. “There were rumours that the Naxals were entering villages to loot, beat and kill. Anger began to spread… We established camps and organized food… Then we asked around, checked, and discovered there was no looting or intimidation as rumours had it.” In four or five days, people began to return home.
“Then Mahendra Karma arrived there,” Pisda told me. “He toured the area, talked to people, held meetings with important people, with elders.” Karma held frequent meetings in that area through that July, accompanied by a senior police officer, whipping up anti-Maoist sentiment till poorly attended meetings became mass gatherings. “Then in the middle of all this, we appointed special police officers, created village defence committees,” he said. Pisda dead-panned this admission of creating a force, frequently including adolescents, armed and paid a salary—at the time Rs.1,500 a month—from state funds, which really answered only to leaders such as Karma and several brutal sub-bosses, as they went about their business of being a rogue force. “Naxals started to attack these people—that continues,” he said.
Indeed, that continues till today. And so too the Judum, as it came to be known. The rogue force was formally disbanded by the government of Chhattisgarh after a severe censure by the Supreme Court in 2008 when it termed Salwa Judum illegal in its premise of the state arming civilians to kill—other civilians. But the Judum continued in the garb of the Koya commandos. After widespread legal and human rights outrage, the state modified its recruitment laws to take in several Judum cadres. In one form or another, the Judum writ still runs in southern Chhattisgarh.
Karma and his ilk—one that now quite transparently includes aiding corporate interests in the region—gradually distanced themselves from the blood-letting, though the stains never really washed. Talk has it that his influence within the Congress had lessened somewhat, though he was hopeful of a resurgence in a political drive aimed at weakening the hold of the BJP in southern Chhattisgarh—perhaps even claiming the seat in the legislature he lost in 2008.
I had some queries of him. The last time I tried to talk to him during a cocktail reception at the improbably named Babylon hotel in Raipur—a universe away from his village home in Farsapal, a short drive from Dantewada town—he had brushed my questions aside as being redolent of a “Naxali”, and soon left in a swish of heavily protected sport utility vehicles. Too bad.
The endgame in the battle against Maoist rebels is still to begin in earnest, but it will likely come sooner than later, precipitated by the 25 May incident. Meanwhile, the competitive hell that they and Karma & Co. created in Chhattisgarh festers. For now, Maoists remain here in force, intermittently fighting security forces. And Karma was hardly the last of his kind.
Sudeep Chakravarti is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. He writes a column each Friday in Mint, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business.

 

Remembering Mahendra Karma- Two Roads Parted In The Woods


Two Roads Parted In The Woods
Remembering Mahendra Karma, the founder of Salwa Judum, who was killed by Maoists on 25 May 2013
Himanshu Kumar in Tehelka

File Photo: Mahendra Karma, center, lawmaker and founder of Salwa Judum, the government-supported militia to combat Communist rebels known as Naxalites, is surrounded by bodyguards at his residence in Jagdalpur, in the central Indian state of Chattisgarh. Karma was killed when Maoist rebels attacked a convoy of cars of Congress party leaders and supporters , injuring several people on Saturday. PTI Photo

File Photo: Mahendra Karma, center, lawmaker and founder of Salwa Judum, the government-supported militia to combat Communist rebels known as Naxalites, is surrounded by bodyguards at his residence in Jagdalpur, in the central Indian state of Chattisgarh. Karma was killed when Maoist rebels attacked a convoy of cars of Congress party leaders and supporters , injuring several people on Saturday. PTI Photo

 

 

I first met Mahendra Karma in 1992. We had organised a training programme for farmers at our NGO, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, in Kanwalnar village in Dantewada, which was still part of Madhya Pradesh then. Karmaji came over and spoke to the farmers. I became his admirer in my very first meeting with him. He was a very good orator. I have never heard anyone employ the Gondi language as powerfully as he did. I learned a lot from his use of the language.

At the time, Karmaji did not have an official position. He had a lot of free time. We spent a lot of our time together. He borrowed and read nearly every book in my personal library. He showed an immense interest in the working of our organisation. He often attended our meetings, too. Subsequently he became the head of the district panchayat. Our friendship deepened. Karmaji often called me to his office to seek my views on various matters of policy. When elections were called Karmaji became an independent member of parliament. Later he became an MLA and the jail minister in the cabinet of then Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh.

Meanwhile, a movement was launched to demand that Dantewada be made a separate district. Mahendra Karma was the chairman of the committee set up for the struggle and I was made its secretary. Later I piloted the programme where Dantewada was made a district. After that, the entire administration came down to our ashram. We had a meeting where we discussed all the then existing problems of Dantewada district and their likely solutions.

When Chhattisgarh became a separate state in November 2000 Mahendra Karma became its industry minister. My friendship with Karmaji was getting ever deeper. The administration would nominate me to every committee in the district. So much so that BJP leaders started calling me a Congress man.

In 2003, the BJP won the assembly elections. Karmaji became the leader of the opposition in the assembly. We were still friends as before. He would often talk with me about the BJP’s communalism. I gave him Prabhash Joshi’s book, “Hindu Hone Ka Dharma” (The Dharma of being a Hindu), to read.

As industry minister, he had told me that he was going to invite the industrial houses of Mittals and Jindals for mining in the Bailadila area to bring development. Karmaji told me that he would ask the industrialists to begin by building a township in Bijapur district, which is to the west of Dantewada, so that it, too, can develop.

In 2005 Mahendra Karma had a word with me when the Salwa Judum, a militia of the tribals to counter the Naxals, was being started. It was possibly only a coincidence, but a dangerous one nonetheless, that the Salwa Judum was to be started in the same Bijapur where licenses were given out for mining. Karmaji told me that tribal villagers were planning a rally against the Naxals and he was going to join it. He said that I, too, should participate in it. I told him that I am always in solidarity with the people and if they are against the Naxals then I would stand with them. But I said I would join the rally only if it was free of weapons because I just cannot participate in a movement that has weapons in it.

Mahendra Karma assured me that the rally would be without any weapons. I asked if his bodyguards would be there. Mahendra Karma had been given Z category security and 55 commandos were always with him. I know this figure because every time he visited our ashram I would be asked to count how many cups of tea needed to brewed. I had to count all the people with him.

Karmaji told me that his bodyguard would indeed be present with him and that Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh had said he would send the police to provide security at the public meeting. Upon learning that I declined to participate in the rally.

In a few days news of violence began to come in. I still kept quiet. Now various human rights activists and national and international journalists began visiting our ashram to investigate the role of the Salwa Judum. Binayak Sen, Balagopal, Nandini Sundar, Ramchandra Guha, Harivanshji and many others visited our ashram and subsequently published their reports on the Salwa Judum.

Mahendra Karma and I continued to meet each other. But we did not talk as openly as before. Although I hadn’t yet publicly spoken out against the Salwa Judum.

Around that time Vanvasi Chetna Ashram started working with UNICEF. That was when Salwa Judum men attacked our workers for the first time. They kidnapped our volunteers and thrashed them badly. That was when I spoke against the Salwa Judum for the first time publicly. By now, the tribal people had begun coming to us to seek help. Most incidents were about the police murdering tribals, or kidnapping and raping tribal women. We wrote to the government on these matters. But the government did not take any action. So we started approaching the courts. We had now begun speaking out against the Salwa Judum in the news media even though Mahendra Karma was its leader.

Karmaji, too, had now obliquely started attacking me. Any time we came face to face we still talked to each other but only about our children. He doted on my two daughters. His young daughters would often drop by at our ashram to play there. His wife, Devti, too, would visit often to meet with my wife, Veena. Karmaji continued to borrow books from me. But we had stopped talking politics altogether.

Then in 2009 the state government demolished our ashram. We tried to continue our work through a rented house. I wrote to the then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and invited him to visit Dantewada to hold a hearing on the atrocities being committed on the tribals. This greatly troubled the state government and Mahendra Karma. The police began to put our workers into the prison, or threaten them with murder. On my last day in Dantewada one of my volunteers came to me and said that Mahendra Karma was sitting in the office of the district collector and screaming that he wanted freedom from Himanshu Kumar right away. The volunteer told me that I would be killed that night. Immediately thereafter that worker fled Dantewada with his wife and daughter. Within a half hour of that the police attacked his house and, among others, took away the motorcycle that the ashram owned and that was parked outside.

I thought about all this for long. I realised that if I died that night it would be of no profit to the tribals. My coworkers were in prison. I was fighting court cases on behalf of so many tribals. That night I jumped the wall in the backyard and escaped into the forest. The police had surrounded the entire house. I somehow reached the main road. A taxi was waiting for me there. I sat in it and left for Delhi. Since then I have not gone back to Dantewada that had been my home for 17 years.

Mahendra Karma’s killing today has revived my memories of the time I had spent with him. His ambition and his fears had forced him to get caught in a trap that Raman Singh had laid for him. In 2005 the police had been closing in on him over his alleged role in illegal sale of teak wood from the forests. He had faced imminent arrest. It was to escape that and the subsequent ignominy that he gave in to Raman Singh’s demand that he head the Salwa Judum. I may or may not have agreed with whatever Mahendra Karma did, but I must concede that he always impressed me with his intelligence and courage.

I am deeply saddened by his killing today. I bid farewell to my loving friend with a heavy heart.

(Translated to English by Ajit Sahi)

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)

 

Mix-up cloud on tribal deaths – Cops unable to establish Maoist link of Bastar casualties


JAIDEEP HARDIKAR, The TTellegraph
Edakmetta villagers after the anti-Maoist operation. T-News Bhadrachalam

Nagpur, May 19: Eight tribals, including three children, were killed by security forces in what was supposed to be an anti-Maoist operation on the intervening night of Friday-Saturday in Chhattisgarh’s restive south Bastar.

Senior police officers today admitted, but refused to be quoted, that those killed in Bijapur’s Edakmetta village had no links with the CPI (Maoist). Yesterday, police had first let out information that they killed a Maoist while losing a COBRA jawan in the operation. The death of the tribal villagers started trickling in late on Saturday evening.

“Three of the eight were children aged 10, 12 and 15. We know civilians have been killed but we don’t know whose bullets got them,” said a senior police officer of Bijapur. It is not clear if the eight were killed in indiscriminate police firing as claimed by the villagers or were caught in a crossfire between the security forces and the Maoists.

Bijapur district collector Mohammad Jazim Abdul Haq told local reporters a mandatory magisterial inquiry into the incident has been ordered and “some civilians may have been killed”. In Raipur, chief minister Raman Singh announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the families of the deceased.

The CRPF’s Combat Battalion for Resolution Action (COBRA), Chhattisgarh Armed Force and district police had started combing the area following a tip-off on the heavy presence of Maoists, sources said.

The troops came under attack a little after Friday midnight, killing the COBRA jawan. This led the forces to retaliate, yesterday’s police statement said.

“But the intelligence input might not have been reliable. Sometimes they are planted so that the operation takes place and the Maoists can take advantage of the unrest that follows,” the officer said.

Edakmetta villagers told journalists today that they had congregated for Beej Pandum, a festival announcing the beginning of the farming season, when they heard the firing. The villagers assemble late in the evening for the rituals that run late into the night.

More than 20 villagers had been missing since that night. The eight bodies were found yesterday morning, but all through the day the forces would not let journalists enter Edakmetta. Some people are still missing, the villagers said.

The police today shifted the bodies to Gangaloor, 20km from Edakmetta, for post-mortem amid protests from villagers who refused to take back the bodies.

The district police said the raid followed intelligence reports about Maoists holding a meeting in the village. They said the ambush, in which one of their jawans died, lent credence to the presence of rebels in Edakmetta. The police also claimed that they had recovered some weapons from the spot.

The villagers told journalists that the COBRA jawan was killed in the cross-fire of the security forces. The forces, they told journalists, had encircled them and fired indiscriminately.

Last year, in the same district, security forces were accused of killing 17 villagers mistaking them for Maoists. Former high court judge V.K. Agrawal is probing the incident. Agrawal will also probe Friday’s killings.

 

Chhattisgarh- No Maoists were present when forces opened fire, say villagers


May 19, 2013

 

Suvojit Bagchi, The Hindu

“The villagers gathered in one particular area for community dining, which is a ritual at this time of the year. It is part of the seed festival and there were no Maoists around. The forces opened fire without any provocation,” said a local on condition of anonymity.

Locals of Chhattisgarh’s Edesmeta village — where at least nine persons were killed during a gun battle late on Friday purportedly between security forces and Maoist fighters — have told The Hindu that there was no Maoist presence in the area at the time and that the forces had fired without provocation.

“The villagers gathered in one particular area for community dining, which is a ritual at this time of the year. It is part of the seed festival and there were no Maoists around. The forces opened fire without any provocation,” said a local on condition of anonymity. Two other villagers seconded his testimony.

The incident had taken place in Bijapur district’s Edesmeta forest — about 600 km south of the State capital Raipur — under the Ganglur police station during a combing raid by joint forces. Reports suggest that most of the victims were innocent civilians. Senior officials confirmed that at least seven casualties were villagers and prima facie not attached to the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Chief Minister Raman Singh has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident.

The dead villagers were identified as Guddu (10), Pandu (45), Bahadur (12), Joga Karam (40), Punem Lakhkhu (15), Punem Sonu (40), Karam Chhonu (42) and Karam Masa (27). Guddu and Pandu were father and son, as were Bahadur and Joga Karam. CRPF soldier Devaprakash died after he was shot in the forehead.

Police say at least one of the slain villagers was a Maoist and that they seized a country rifle made from the spot with the CPI-Maoist’s ‘West Bastar Division’ inscribed on it.

The incident took place when six teams of joint forces — a mix of State police, CRPF personnel and elite commando force CoBRA — were converging upon the Maoist stronghold, Pidiya, from six different directions. “In last few months we have moved in the Pidiya area thrice. We are targeting Pidiya as it is a strong base of the Maoists,” Additional Director-General of Police (Naxal Operation) R.K. Vij told The Hindu.

The forces were reportedly moving from six police stations — Sarkeguda, Jagargunda, Basaguda, Cherpal, Kirandul and Ganglur — towards Pidiya and reached Edesmeta village, around eight km from Pidiya, when the Ganglur team came under heavy fire.

“There were some villagers who were cooking food for a group of Maoists. One of them came towards the force and alerted the rest of the team; firing started and the forces retaliated,” said a senior officer. The senior officers told The Hindu at least seven persons killed in the exchange of fire could be “innocent villagers”. Another officer said “they could also be with Maoist militia”.

On Saturday, senior officers told The Hindu that Maoists were using the villagers as “human shields”. However, other officers refuted this claim and said the villagers were shot when they happened to stray into the firing line.

Post-mortem was conducted in Ganglur police station.

 

#India- Forest Rights:Illusory Rights #tribalrights #indigenousrights


Frontline
Volume 30 – Issue 08 :: Apr. 20-May. 03, 2013
from the publishers of THE HINDU

Illusory rights

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN AND AJOY ASHIRWAD MAHAPRASHASTA

PESA, which is seen as an enabling law for tribal self-governance, is violated brazenly by both the Union government and State governments in the name of development.

AP 

Participants play traditional musical instruments during the march. 

SINCE October 2012, the Ministry of Rural Development of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has apparently been engaged in an exercise to evolve a “National Land Reforms Policy”. Over these months, the Ministry wrote to various State governments, highlighting the importance of the initiative. In January, it also constituted a national-level “Task Force on Land Reforms” comprising nine official and eight non-official members.

These steps were in pursuance of the October 11, 2012, agreement the Ministry had signed in Agra with the Jan Satyagraha, a movement that had launched a padayatra (foot march) demanding a comprehensive National Land Reforms Act and institutions for its effective implementation and monitoring in order to provide landless, homeless and marginalised communities access to land and livelihood resources. Ironically, while the Ministry’s efforts have been continuing apace, other segments of the Union government and some State governments have actuated a number of measures that decisively undermine the initiative.

These acts of sabotage are essentially related to the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, which, under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, seeks to enable tribal self-governance. The Agra agreement, which virtually forms the basis of the efforts to formulate a new “National Land Reforms Policy”, also lays emphasis on effective implementation of PESA as a prerequisite for developing a just and balanced land rights system. However, on February 5, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests accorded “a general approval for diversion of forest land for undertaking developmental activities by the State Government Departments for the welfare of the people”, under its guidelines F. No. 11-9/1998-FC (pt). The explanation of “developmental activities” “for the welfare of the people” apparently involves infrastructure projects in different sectors.

Observers of tribal and environmental issues, such as E.A.S. Sarma, former Secretary to the Government of India, have pointed out that this government guideline is in clear violation of PESA and the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006. The FRA was enacted to recognise and vest forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who had been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded.

U-turn on Governors’ powers

A few days after the promulgation of the guideline, the Union government filed an affidavit in the Bilaspur High Court in Chhattisgarh which overturned its own earlier positions on the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and PESA. The government, through the affidavit filed by the Additional Solicitor General, negated the “discretionary powers” entitled to the Governor in the Fifth Schedule. Its contention was that the Fifth Schedule was after all only a part of the Constitution and the general principle of the Governor acting only on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers applied here too.

A.M. FARUQUI 

OCTOBER 3, 2012: Thousands of protesters, mostly poor farmers and tribal people, set out from Gwalior on the Jan Satyagraha march demanding land rights. 

Interestingly, this also negated the opinion placed on record by former Attorneys General Goolam E. Vahnavati and Soli J. Sorabjee. Both had held that the Governor did indeed have discretionary powers under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. Vahanvati undertook a detailed study of the provisions of the Fifth Schedule before giving this opinion in April 2010. In fact, the position articulated by Vahanvati has been the line consistently taken by the Supreme Court since 1997, for example in Bhuri Nath and Ors vs Govt. of J&K and in the Samata case. But in one single stroke, the UPA seems to have subverted the government’s own considered positions of the past.

The Union government’s affidavit came about in the context of a public interest petition against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Chhattisgarh. The State government had anointed Chief Minister Raman Singh as the Chairperson of the Tribal Advisory Council (TAC) and the petition filed by the social activist B.K. Manish had argued against this, stating that it was a violation of Para 4(2) of the Fifth Schedule, which stipulated that the TAC would advise on matters referred to it by the Governor. Clearly, both the ruling UPA and the principal opposition party, the BJP, are on the same page when it comes to undermining PESA and the Fifth Schedule.

Referring to these developments, the land rights activist Ramesh Sharma, who is associated with the Ekta Parishad, stated that these manoeuvres of the country’s two principal mainstream parties pointed to an organised attempt to thwart tribal land rights in general and PESA in particular. “Even at the best of times the implementation of PESA was faulty and patchy. It seems that the effort is to institutionalise its ineffectiveness. In other words, make the Act a paper tiger. This, in fact, has been an ongoing process, which has gathered increasing momentum over the past decade and a half,” Sharma told Frontline.

Other land rights activists and observers point out that while the Adivasis have historically depended on their traditional rights over the region’s jal, jangal aur jameen (water, forests and land), indiscriminate land acquisition by different governments for multinational mining corporations in the past two decades has led to considerable displacement and exploitation of these people. The legal rights and immunity that were guaranteed to Adivasis in the Constitution were frequently bypassed or misinterpreted by various governments to suit corporate interests in the mineral-rich lands of Indian forests. While the governments have justified the acquisition of lands in the name of economic growth, the Adivasis were never made stakeholders in the process of industrial development. Neither their participation nor their consent was sought in the rush for industrialisation, nor were they given any proper rehabilitation benefits.

However, Adivasis have resisted such government and corporate initiatives and struggled to retain their rights over the natural resources. In many places, the struggles have been violent, as in the case of the Bastar region in south Chhattisgarh; in other areas, Adivasis, along with civil society groups, have tried to regain their rights by fighting militant social and legal battles and reminding the government time and again of their constitutional rights.

Exploitation by States

As activists like Sharma point out, it is in this context of indiscriminate land acquisitions and industrialisation that PESA has become the most violated legislation at present. The governments, both in the States and at the Centre, have exploited semantic loopholes in the Act to circumvent its provisions and deny the tribal people any sort of self-governance. And in the past few years, this has become the most important point of contestation for the tribal people in India’s hinterland. In almost all such land acquisitions in tribal areas, PESA has been violated in some way or the other. “There are three important gaps that the governments exploited to bypass the Act: first, PESA is a loosely drafted Act; second, there is no overarching clause that protects it from being bypassed by the State governments; and third, the word ‘consultation’ with the tribal people, as mentioned in the Act, is not clearly defined,” Neelabh Dubey, an advocate in the Bilaspur High Court, told Frontline.

PESA uses the word “consultation” with the tribal people, and the governments have used it to their own advantage by not taking the consent of the villagers concerned before any acquisition of land. Activists have pointed out several incidents where the State governments have falsely claimed that the villagers were “consulted”; as PESA does not require a written approval from the gram sabha, the governments are not bound to show a written statement.

V.V. KRISHNAN 

OCTOBER 11, 2012: Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister for Rural Development, and P.V. Rajagopal of Ekta Parishad in Agra before the Parishad and the Union Ministry of Rural Development signed the agreement on land reforms. The Jan Satyagraha march the Parishad led was called off subsequently. 

PESA mandates that the gram sabha or panchayats should be consulted at an “appropriate level” before any decision. Videh Upadhay, an advocate, points out that the governments have, however, distorted the meaning of “appropriate level” and have not even bothered to consult the gram sabhas and have resorted to seeking opinions only from district-level committees, most of whose representatives are stooges of one political party or the other. In many instances, the consultations for land acquisition were done with district committees 500 kilometres from the area where land had to be acquired.

Such problems stem from the larger fact that PESA empowers the State governments to frame rules. PESA mandates that within a year of its promulgation, the rules for the panchayats in the Fifth Schedule areas have to be legislated keeping in mind the regional contexts. But except for Madhya Pradesh, no other State has done this. Recently, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, on his visit to Kalahandi, Odisha, was shocked to find out that none of the villagers knew about PESA. Odisha remains among the many States that have not framed rules for PESA even 16 years after its promulgation. That PESA offers flexibility and does not have universal rules owing to the varied conditions and contexts of every tribal area has been used by State governments to their own advantage. For example, PESA does not make it necessary for the governments to empower the panchayats with fiscal and administrative powers such as collecting taxes and fees. And this limits the autonomy of the tribal areas.

In the past few years, more than 600 villages were converted into urban panchayats as the State governments have the power to upgrade rural panchayats. Upgrading has generally been an effective tool to bypass PESA, which mandates the gram sabha’s approval for land acquisition for industrial and mining projects. In most of the upgraded villages, there is a conspicuous industrial drive at present. Barring Madhya Pradesh, the States, in stark violation of Section 4(n) of PESA, have enacted laws that provide the bulk of the powers to the gram panchayat instead of the gram sabha. Panchayats, being an elected body, have also been heavily corrupted by money and muscle power.

In addition to all these violations, activists have noticed that in many places, districts came up with their own rules for PESA to dilute the powers of the gram sabha. PESA was drafted in an open-ended manner to make it flexible so that its vision of guaranteeing tribal autonomy is not compromised. But the way the State governments have gone about formulating rules for it have completely violated that spirit.

In a 2006 report on PESA violations, a joint effort of the Planning Commission, the Land Resources Department of the Ministry of Rural Development, and the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, a number of such violations have been reported from Raigarh, a district of Chhattisgarh. In at least four blocks of Raigarh, where there are many investment proposals, PESA has not only been bypassed but also not considered by the State government (“Standing up to the state,” Frontline, June 17, 2011). Because of such violations, which are in stark contrast to the spirit of PESA, more and more lands are being alienated from the tribal people, and the natural resources that they had been dependent on are being taken away from them on a daily basis.

Out of the total tribal population of India, more than 40 per cent has already been displaced. This is happening when, even by government estimates, more than 60 per cent of the Adivasis are classified as living in extreme poverty with no access to land, adequate food, health facilities and education. In such circumstances, even minor violations of laws like PESA and other provisions of the Fifth Schedule have an enormous impact on them. Violations of PESA make a mockery of India’s boasts participatory democracy.

 

Chhattisgarh: Tribal girls reveal tales of violence, sexual abuse #Vaw #WTFnews


Chhattisgarh, Updated Mar 28, 2013

New Delhi: Last week, the government passed the much awaited Anti-rape Bill. The Bill promises to tackle sexual crime. But will it really make a difference, especially in the remote corners of this country. An IBN7 investigation exposed how young tribal girls are being sexually abused in government-run homes and schools in Chhattisgarh.

Minor girls studying in the State-run Ashrams meant to provide education and boarding facilities for poor tribals in Chhattisgarh are being sexually assaulted, pushed into prostitution by their own teachers.

Girls face violence and sexual abuse and admit on camera that they were raped and abused by hostel officials. In January 2013, medical tests confirmed 11 girls were sexually abused at Jhaliamari Kanya Ashram.

The ashram came under scanner after death of a 12-year-old in 2012. The Official cause of the 12-year-old girl’s death was given as jaundice. However, on a hidden camera the government hospital doctor admitted the girl underwent a pregnancy test.

Meanwhile, a 17-year-old girl alleged that she was being forced into sex racket by her own hostel warden Anita Thakur. After public outrage the police filed an FIR and arrested Anita.

In 2006, Chief Minister Raman Singh announced the Aadarsh Ashram and Chatravas Yojna – opening 2600 hostels to house and educate children from Tribal and other backward classes. The central government poured several crores into the project. But in January 2013, medical tests confirmed that 11 girls at the Jhaliamari Kanya Ashram had been sexually abused.

Singh sadi, “I have ordered that a fast track court in the district decides on this case.”

The Jhaliamari Ashram came under the scanner after the death of a 12-year-old in August 2012. Eight people were arrested – including a teacher, security guard and hostel warden at the ashram. Swastha Adhikari, Narharpur DOC, Dr Prashant Singh had said, “Water had accumulated in her stomach and she died of jaundice and severe anemia.”

On hidden camera, the same doctor admitted the girl was given a pregnancy test but did not test positive.

Her family admits receiving threats to stay silent. The mother of the 12-year-old who survived the abuse said, “He used to drink and come, he sexually assaulted my daughter, what he did to my child was wrong.”

The parents now want their children back but the administration has sent them to other government hostels. “They have told us that the girls will stay on in the hostels, we have been asked not to worry. If this has happened to other girls, it could happen to our children. We are scared,” said one of the parent.

Equally shocking is how the sexual abuse went unnoticed for four years, even though Ashram guidelines say the girls must have weekly health check-ups. The district collector, too, refused to meet us.

In violation of an order by state government, since 2009 there have been no monitoring or inspection at the local level. As a result poor, Adivasi girls had to pay the price for sheer callousness and negligence of the district administration.

After living in a state of terror for nearly seven years, two girls from the North Bastar region of Chhattisgarh gathered the courage to speak up. They recall the horror of how they were pushed into prostitution by their hostel warden Anita Thakur. The girls also said that many more were abused but are scared to speak up.

“I was told I had to work with other girls, when I went into the room, madam closed the door behind me,” said one of the victims.

In 2006, a 17-year-old girl forced into a sex racket allegedly by her own hostel warden. The girl was in class seven then, the trauma forcing her to leave school, sending her into depression for three years. Today she has regained the strength to speak out.

“There were a lot of girls like me, they had given statements earlier. But now they are afraid to speak up,” said the victim.

Her father who has three other daughters says he blames himself. “I have four daughters, I just wanted them to have an education, I should never have put them in the ashram, I could not imagine this would happen,” he said.

Shockingly, the Chhattisgarh government actually gave Anita the best hostel warden award in January 2013. The Balod collector could not explain how the alleged sex racket run by Anita at the Amatola Ashram, went undetected for seven years. Balod Collector Amit Kumar Khalko said, “We had not recommended Anita Thakur’s name for any award. This incident is from 2006, I am sure there was a probe into it at that time too.”

Even the Chief Minister gave no answers. “I cannot give you any answers in this regard,” said Singh.

But the girl was not the only student exploited at the Ashram. The investigation has accessed seven affidavits, given by students of the Amatola Ashram, clearly stating how the warden forced them into a sex racket. Another victim recalls when she was just 13, she was brutalised repeatedly in 2006. “I was called into a room, the warden closed the curtains. I was raped but I could not understand what was happening, I was very young at that time. They have ruined the lives of so many girls like me. How long will this go on for,” she asks.

Activists working on the issue in Chhattisgarh are demanding justice. Activist Ranjeet Markam said, “We demand a CBI probe into the sexual assault of our children we demand justice.”

The sexual abuse and violence faced by these girls, going undetected for years, raises serious questions about Chhattisgarh’s tribal hostel program.

 

Chhattisgarh -200 suicides in four years. What’s ailing the state employees?


While the number of employees taking their lives goes up, the government has dismissed the concern as a personal matter.

January 17, 2013, Issue 4 Volume 10

Occupational hazard Rahul Sharma ended his life in March 2012 owing to harassment by a senior Occupational hazard Rahul Sharma ended his life in March 2012 owing to harassment by a senior
Photo: Rajkumar Soni

SOMETHING SEEMS rotten in the state of Chhattisgarh. On 26 October 2012, H Kujur, additional collector of Narayanpur, was found hanging at his residence. The police found a suicide note, in which Kujur had written that he was under stress, especially for not following a circular with regard to issuance of caste validity certificates the previous year. What’s still not clear is that issues related to issuing caste certificates were not even his prerogative; it’s the Sub-Divisional Magistrate’s (SDM).

On 2 March the same year, the Bilaspur superintendent of police (SP) Rahul Sharma, a 2002-batch IPS officer, shot himself with his service revolver. His wife Gayatri Sharma alleged that Sharma was not being allowed to work in an independent manner. In his suicide note, the officer complained about interference by his immediate boss, and harassment by a judge. Sharma’s senior at the time was Inspector General (IG) GP Singh. The judge had allegedly admonished Sharma over the plight of traffic in the city. Sharma had even mentioned he was under tremendous pressure to raise funds for the upcoming Assembly elections: on Facebook, he had written to one of his friends, “They force us to work like bonded labourers. There is no self-respect. I have already been given the target for election expenses. Is this why I studied to become an IPS officer?”

In the same month, on 16 March, Manju Mehta, a project officer with the Panchayat department of Bilaspur, was found hanging at her residence. Her colleagues revealed to TEHELKA, on condition of anonymity, that her honesty had cost Mehta her life. Mehta was taking care of her mother and two disabled brothers when she was transferred to Masturi, about 20 km from Bilaspur, where she was posted as an executive officer. But within days, she was transferred back to Bilaspur. Happy with her posting and promotion, Mehta went back to Bilaspur but she was made to work as an assistant project officer, instead of executive officer. Her colleagues say Manju continued with the work but when questions were raised about her capability and competence, she committed suicide.

Competent and honest employees ending their lives after being tormented is not an isolated phenomenon in Chhattisgarh. Lack of transparency in the administration, corruption at all levels, and the stress associated with work are all pushing employees to the wall.

Pressure from above to sanction payments despite the noticeable discrepancies was too much for Kishore Sharma, a sub-engineer with the water resources department of Abhanpur. Kishore had noticed discrepancies in  the construction of the Canal Area Development Authority project that came under his department. He refused to sign the note for the payment to the contractors. According to his wife, Anita Sharma, her husband was being pressurised by Sub Divisional Officer (SDO) Gopal Memon, and an engineer, KR Sahu, for his signature. On 29 July 2012, Kishore hanged himself. In a suicide note, he named Memon and Sahu for this extreme step. It is alleged that both Memon and Sahu have political patronage because of which no criminal case has been filed against them for abetment to suicide.

When on 16 August 2012, Rameshwar Prasad Soni, an executive engineer posted in the Maoist hotbed of Narayanpur district in Bastar set himself on fire, the spotlight was back on the plight of upright officials in the state. Soni’s wife Sarita alleged he was under pressure to overlook corruption.

Another conspicuous void in the state machinery is the shortage of civil servants. In July 2012, replying to a query, Chief Minister Raman Singh admitted that the state was functioning with only 126 IAS officers, against a requirement of 178. The state has been talking to the Centre in this regard but with no success. A senior officer told TEHELKA, on condition of anonymity, that after the creation of the state a large number of officers wanted postings here, both for the challenge and the experience. But of late, due to rampant corruption, upright officers are refusing to come here.

IT IS not just senior officials in the state; suicides due to work-related pressure are becoming common even among the junior staff. On 6 May 2012, Rajuram Ragde, a sweeper with the Balod Municipal Corporation, committed suicide when he was not allowed to report for duty even after being transferred to Arjunda Nagar Panchayat. On 30 July 2011, Bhuvneshwar Dhruv, a constable posted at Dantewada, committed suicide. In August 2012, another constable shot himself fatally with his service rifle. In December, a constable posted at the Mahasamund police station consumed poison and ended his life.

Although there are no official records of the number of suicides by government employees in the state, according to the data available with major police stations of 27 districts, around 200 government employees have committed suicide between 2008 and 2012.

Aruanshu Pariyal, a psychologist based in Chhattisgarh, says the number of government employees coming to him with cases of depression has shot up in the past five years. Most patients complain of work-related stress.

Refusing to acknowledge this, however, is N Baijendra Kumar, principal secretary to the chief minister, who maintains that all state employees should be able to withstand such stress. “We cannot discount personal reasons for the suicides,” he argued. Truth is, discrimination in postings, unnecessary pressure, and a total disregard of honesty is fast turning Chhattisgarh into a burial ground for its state employees.

 

Chhattisgarh home minister blames ‘stars’ for crime against women #WTFnews #Vaw


PTI | Jan 8, 2013, 01.38 PM IST

RAIPUR: Facing flak for the Kanker rape case, Chhattisgarh home minister Nanki Ram Kanwar has landed himself in a spot by saying that crimes against women were happening as their stars were in adverse positions, a remark termed as childish and vulgar by the state Congress.

“We have no answer to this rising spate of crimes against women. Star are not in position,” Kanwar told reporters in Raipur.

Harm can come on a person if the stars are in adverse positions…We have no answer to this, only an astrologer can predict,” the state home minister said.

Kanwar’s remarks on Monday came after opposition Congress in Chhattisgarh demanded dismissal of the BJP government over the issue of the alleged rape on minor inmates of a government-run residential school for tribal girls in Kanker district, which came to light following a complaint on Saturday.

Asked about the home minister’s remarks, chief minister Raman Singh today quipped, “Now, what do I say on this.”

State Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel called Kanwar’s comments as childish and vulgar.

A delegation of Congress leaders, led by Patel, had on Monday met Chhattisgarh governor Shekhar Dutt and demanded dismissal of the state government, saying it has failed to ensure safety of the girls living in residential schools.

In a memorandum to the governor, the party said that everybody was shocked by the incident of rape of inmates of Tribal Girls Pre-matric Hostel in Narharpur area of Kanker.

Two persons, including a teacher, have been arrested for allegedly raping minor inmates of the government-run residential school, according to police.

Accused Mannu Ram Gota, 24, a contractual teacher, was arrested on Sunday night from a forest area of Narharpur, Superintendent of Police Rahul Bhagat said, adding that school watchman Deenaram had also been taken into custody in the case for sexually abusing the girls for several months.

Medical examination has confirmed rape of nine out of the 40 students, who are residing at the hostel located in Narharpur police station limits, he said. Medical tests were still underway.

The Chhattisgarh government has ordered a high-level probe into the incident and Director General of Police Ramniwas has deputed IPS officer Neetu Kamal to investigate it. Stringent action will be taken against those who will be found guilty after the probe, the DGP said.

Meanwhile, services of both the accused along with hostel warden Babita Markam have been terminated by the district collector.