Archive for the ‘Basaguda’ Category

h1

A Short History Of Death And Madness in Bastar

July 8, 2012

A young boy outside Basaguda police station in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 8th of July, 2012.

The list of villages are endless. Operation Green Hunt was only the second phase, Operation Hakka and Vijay are only new names to an old war. But the names of villages touched by war can sometimes repeat themselves. Gompad, Singaram, Gacchanpalli, Lingagiri, Nendra, Rajpenta, Tatemargu,Tadmetla, Vechapalli, Gaganpalli, Kottacheru, Maraigudem, Pallecharma, Munder, Pollampalli, Kotrapal, Burgil, Bhejji, Goomiyapal, Hiroli, Jangla, Dhampenta, Hariyal Cherli, Karremarka, Mankelli, Sameli, Regadgatta, Pusnar: these are just a few villages where adivasis have been killed in the last 8 years in undivided Bastar district, with testimonies collected by journalists and anthropologists and political activists whose own list was submitted as petitions to the Supreme Court.

Since 2004-2005, the Salwa Judum rallies conducted themselves completely out of sight and out of mind like they did in Basaguda block.

From the testimonies of the villagers themselves, ‘On the 5th of December, 2005, the workforce of Salwa Judum and the CRPF visited Basaguda and stuck posters that said that a Salwa Judum meeting is going to be held at Avapalli on the 1st of January, 2006, and if the villagers do not turn up, they shall be called Naxalites. We attended the meeting on the 1st of January 2006. We were told that, if those who are members of the Sangam (village-level Naxalite groups) do not surrender right away, all of us will be killed. Nine of the villagers who were not members of the Sangam were forcefully made to admit that they were members of the Sangam. After this, we stayed till the meeting ended and came back to our village. After some days, on the 21st of February 2006, the Salwa Judum workforce came to Basaguda and asked us to deliver a speech against the Naxalites, and those who would not, would be deemed as a Naxalite.

Two days later, villagers from (names withheld) were made to carry out a rally at Lingagiri, Korsaguda, Sarkeguda, Mallepalli, Borguda, where many houses were burnt, people were beaten and many women were raped. Out of rage, a few days after the rally, the Naxalites came to Basaguda on the fifth of March, 2006 at 9pm. They attacked the villagers and killed four people. The villagers then went to the police station to file a report, and after the post-mortem of the deceased, they returned back across the river. Meanwhile, the Salwa Judum and CRPF came and beat us, grabbed us from our necks and took us to the camps on the other side of the river, where we were kept for two months, and the mistreatment continued.’

Three years after that, with the help of a Supreme Court order that gave the villagers the right to go back home, did the villagers from Basaguda block return back, to live in a tentative peace that was shattered by the killing of 18 people in Sarkeguda on the 28th of July, this year. In 2010, Basaguda block was hit by a ‘cholera’/dysentry epidemic that claimed more than sixty lives. Those who never went back to their homes in Chhattisgarh still continue to face violence in Andhra. Just recently, on the 2nd of July, another IDP settlement was destroyed by the Forest Department in Khammam.

The state has never shied away from geography of murder: everyone who lives beyond a certain village, further into the forests is a potential Naxalite and can be killed. The mandarins of the mainstream media can call it collateral damage when they’re confronted by overwhelming evidence of an unjustified killing. And at the same time, they’ve never taken themselves into the civil war whose brutality raged for six years in complete silence, until Herr Chidambaram would finally make his exhortations of development, and the Tadmetla massacre of 76 jawaans had journalists in newsrooms wondering where is Dantewada.

‘Did any journalist come to the village the last time it was burnt down? I had asked the villagers of Badepalli of Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh.

‘No.’ They said.

‘Did any human rights activists come?’

‘No.’

‘Did any lawyer, or anyone from Manish Kunjam’s party, (Communist Party of India) come?’

‘No.’

‘How many homes were burnt down that time?’

‘All.’ Said the Sarpanch, ‘But this time, only two survived.’

The above conversation took place in the village of Badepalli, in Kuakonda block of Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh in May, 2009, a few days after the village was burnt down by security forces for the second time in five years. The first time was in the summer of 2006 when it didn’t even make a statistic, while violence was perpetrated by both the state and the Maoists on a daily basis. The second time in the summer of 2009.

This too, in an area where the government exempted around 108 villages from the 2010 survey due to inaccessibility of terrain and ‘prevention by the Maoists.’

Its existence, forget its burning, did not exist as a statistic, nor did it exist as an complaint against the police in any charge-sheet, or in any of the petitions that were filed in the Supreme Court.

So how many villages were really burnt down in undivided Bastar district by the Salwa Judum or the security forces when there was a chance that some were never even counted, and many were burnt down more than once? How many people were really killed in those eight years?

What is rarely mentioned in mainstream debates is the extent of violence perpetrated against the local population, starting from the mass forceful displacement by the Salwa Judum where village after village was burnt down, and people were forcefully driven into ‘resettlement camps’. There are thousands of testimonies of the same, that are repeatedly and categorically denied by the state of Chhattisgarh, who once, in a moment of pride a few years ago, mentioned that 644 villages were ‘liberated’ from the Maoists and its inhabitants were now living in the camps supporting the Salwa Judum movement. That is 644 villages, whose villagers were driven away from their homes and taken into camps. Then there were the Matwada Camp killings where three men had their eye sockets smashes by SPOs.

And burnings preceded killings, and killings preceded burnings.

Fifteeen killed in Gaganpalli. Ten killed in Nendra. A man talks about his brother from Kottacheru who was killed by the CRPF. ‘He was shot in the stomach, his shit was all over the place.’

Of course, Salwa Judum backfired, Maoist recruitment rose. Then came Operation Greenhunt.

Nine killed in Gompad. Five killed in Gacchanpalli. Three killed in Pallecharma. Six killed in Goomiyapal. Two killed a few months later in Goomiyapal. One fiteen year old boy killed again a few months later.

Seven killed in Tatemargu. Two killed in Pallodi on the same day. Ask the villagers about what happened five years ago, and again they would talk about the dead and murdered.  Sarkeguda, the epicentre of Chhattisgarh’s newest atrocity of the year, was burnt down in 2005. Their memories don’t fade. Last year when Tademetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram was burnt down, it was not the first time they were attacked. Sodi Nanda s/o Adma  of Tadmetla was killed by the security forces in 2007.  Barse Lakma s/o Bhima of Morpalli was going for ration at Chintalnar market when he was picked up by the security forces two years ago.

From Phulanpad village where Barse Bhima and Manu Yadav were killed last year, around three years ago, Aimla Sukka (20) s/o Chola and Aimla Joga (20) s/o Choma were killed when their village was raided by security forces.

The memory of violence in Chhattisgarh stays in the present tense. But how will the rest of the world beyond Dantewada remember something it never knew? Earlier there was silence, now the Murdochian media calls the dead collateral damage. When will the casualties of war be robbed of their gravestones, those nouns: Maoists, Maoist supporters, SPOs, Salwa Judum leaders, adivasis, CRPF jawaans, when will we start talking about killing itself as the war crime, and not who was killed? This is a war of attrition, a dance of death, a class war to some, yet the greatest inhumanity is to believe this is a war someone will win.

***

Journalist Rito Paul from DNA has also visited the site of the latest killing with Kopa Kunjam, who worked to rehabilitate the villages in Basaguda block but would eventually be arrested for murder of a man who the Maoists had killed and who Kopa had tried to save. Rito’s report and the people’s reaction to meeting Kopa is here

Advertisements
h1

Exile And The Kingdom

May 16, 2010

Villagers from Basaguda returning to their homes after spending three years as Internally Displaced Persons. They had just passed a CRPF outpost as this picture was taken.

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 16th of May, 2010 here. And here.

The Supreme Court had asked petitioners who challenged the legality of the Salwa Judum to submit a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for the Internally Displaced Persons of South Bastar. The same petitions have listed over 129 villages where killings have allegedly taken place, and in many cases, the FIRs haven’t even been registered by the police. On the 6th of May, 2010, the Supreme Court denied the proposal to set up a monitoring committee to overlook the registration of complaints, yet it has given the state of Chhattisgarh, four weeks to respond to the demands of the petitioners to set-up an independent monitoring committee to overlook rehabilitation and compensation.

Meanwhile, the village of Basaguda that was rehabilitated by private citizens in 2009 has survived the trials and tribulations of reclaiming itself in a district torn by war.

‘Basaguda! Basaguda! Basaguda!’ – The cry rang out at Jagdalpur bus station, on the 13th of April, 2010. Yet in 2006, the village of Basaguda had been wiped off the earth.

A Salwa Judum camp and a CRPF outpost looked across the bridge over Talpedu river, that led to Basaguda that no one had crossed since 2006. Beyond the bridge was unofficial ‘Maoist territory’, according to officials. It was just one of the official 644 villages that were empty, where there was arson and looting, murder and mayhem.

On the 5th of March, 2006, four villagers were killed by the Maoists with axes and hatchets yet it would be a simplification to believe that that was the only reason the village was empty.

On the 6th of April 2009, ten days after the village of Basaguda was rehabilitated with the help of local NGOs and activists, armed with the recommendations of the Supreme Court, a few villagers complained that their story was being misreported in the local press. It was common knowledge that the Maoists had killed four people yet the villagers wanted the world to know the whole complex truth. They collectively wrote a letter to the editors of all local newspapers, detailing a long history of brutality, violence and retribution – causes and effects and causes, ad infinitum.

We, the villagers of Basaguda make a sworn statement that we have been misrepresented by the Press, regarding the reasons why we left our village in 2006. Navbharat Times and many other newspapers have printed that the villagers of Basaguda left their village due to the Naxalite forces, whereas we have not committed this to any of the newspapers.

On the 5th of December, 2005, the workforce of Salwa Judum and the CRPF visited Basaguda and stuck posters that said that a Salwa Judum meeting is going to be held at Avapalli on the 1st of January, 2006, and if the villagers do not turn up, they shall be called Naxalites. We attended the meeting on the 1st of January 2006. We were told that, if those who are members of the Sangam (village-level Naxalite groups) do not surrender right away, all of us will be killed. Nine of the villagers who were not members of the Sangam were forcefully made to admit that they were members of the Sangam. After this, we stayed till the meeting ended and came back to our village. After some days, on the 21st of February 2006, the Salwa Judum workforce came to Basaguda and asked us to deliver a speech against the Naxalites, and those who would not, would be deemed as a Naxalite.

Two days later, villagers from (names withheld) were made to carry out a rally at Lingagiri, Korsaguda, Sarkeguda, Mallepalli, Borguda, where many houses were burnt, people were beaten and many women were raped. Out of rage, a few days after the rally, the Naxalites came to Basaguda on the fifth of March, 2006 at 9pm. They attacked the villagers and killed four people. The villagers then went to the police station to file a report, and after the post-mortem of the deceased, they returned back across the river. Meanwhile, the Salwa Judum and CRPF came and beat us, grabbed us from our necks and took us to the camps on the other side of the river, where we were kept for two months, and the mistreatment continued.

Suddenly, around this time, some 100m away from the CRPF, there was a bomb explosion. Though none of the Salwa Judum and CRPF suffered any casualties, they still brought the villagers out of their houses, and beat people till they were unconscious. They also verbally abused the women and warned us that if they don’t inform them about the movements of the Naxalites, they would unclothe the women, and put everyone in jail.

Villagers who were injured in this bomb explosion were Savaragiro Ramanna, Sarke Chandreya, S.G. Shreenivas, Panke Dinesh, Sarke Venkateshwar, S.G. Raj, S.G. Chinn, and Erragalla Lakshmaiya who died a few days later even after receiving medical care. Inspite of all of this, some people were still living in the village, and on June 2006, the C.R.P.F. and the Salwa Judum workforce re-entered the village and caught three villagers and accused them of being Naxalites. They also started to threaten villagers, claiming that we did not inform them about the recent movements of some armed Naxalites who were passing by. We told them that we did not see any armed Naxalites, so they arrested three villagers, who were Paslet Krushnarao, Hanumant Rao and Dapka Babulal. The police then took them to the jungle and asked them to run. The captives fearing they would be shot if they’d run, did not run and pleaded that they were innocent. They were later freed, instead of being taken to the Police Station. Due to all these problems, all the villagers of Basaguda left the village.

On the 28th of March, 2009, the villagers of Basaguda block – the Mahars, Telgas, Murias, Muslims, Halbas, Kunbis and Kalars started returning to their homes after three years living as IDPs in Salwa Judum Camps, in the towns of Avapalli and Bijapur in small rented rooms, and in Cherla in Andhra Pradesh.

For the first time in three years, the villagers of Basaguda crossed the bridge over the Talpedu river as a CRPF sentry with a LMG looked on.

The villagers returned home to find their homes vandalized and looted. All the doors had been ripped out, the roofs had collapsed, and a majority of homes had been burnt down and were nothing but cinders. There was no electricity, numerous handpumps weren’t working, pathways were blocked by uncontrolled growth of vegetation, and there was Maoist graffiti calling for voter boycott over the walls that were still standing, while on one wall, ‘Naxali chorr’ (Naxalites are thieves) was scribbled with black charcoal.

People were cheerful yet they were wary, as they rummaged through the remains of their lives. They were too many memories of violence in Basaguda block – four villagers in Boreguda were also killed by the Salwa Judum, three more were killed at Maharpara by the Maoists and there are no certain estimates of how many were killed when the Salwa Judum held its rally in the ‘interior’ villages. Those were the days when every village expected an attack, and villagers slept en masse in one large home or in a ‘para’ or village that they believed was safe. Such was the case of the villagers of Lingagiri who slept in Pathanpara – the village of the Muslims, believing it would be safe. Yet there was no safety. And it was just a fragile hope that it would be safe in 2009, as they were rehabilitated.

Home Is Where The War Is

Basanti Motiram of the village of Lingagiri in Basaguda block. Her husband was allegedly murdered by the Salwa Judum.

Basaguda was the third village to have been given a second chance at history – the first being Nendra in Dantewada district that was rehabilitated in 2008 and the other being Lingagiri that was rehabilitated eight days before Basaguda, two kilometres away. All were rehabilitated by the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram and NGOs from Andhra Pradesh, that provided relief materials, mediation with government officials. The recent rehabilitation plan that has been submitted to the Supreme Court calls for not just the freedom of villagers to return home but that ‘the village community as a whole has to be rehabilitated and restored as a functioning unit, with all necessary infrastructural provisions.’ The village of Basaguda had none of that. They were dependent on the NGO for not just provisions but also for a sense of security.

VCA volunteers would live amongst the villagers and voice their every grievance and requirement from the government. The villagers of Basaguda who returned home had no food nor shelter, and would sleep en masse under a banyan tree in the middle of the village.  By day, they would work together to clean their village, clearing pathways, and reconstruct their homes, one home at a time. They were entirely dependent on relief, and the idea was that they’d remain dependant, until agriculture and government services could be jump started again.

Yet the government was not forthcoming. Not only did the government not act on the recommendations of the Supreme Court, they directly thwarted efforts to provide relief when they confiscated 15 quintals of rice that was meant for the villagers of Basaguda block. They would only release the rice some five days later after activists and the owner of the vehicle were made to appear in the Bijapur Sessions Court. 35 kilograms of cooking oil that was a part of that relief material disappeared from the van kept in the police station.

Apart from that, they repaired one handpump in Basaguda block. And for the first five weeks, their presence was just negligible. So when bus services to Basaguda resumed through initiation of the government over a month ago, a year after the rehabilitation, it was a sign that things had changed a long way. The resumption of the bus services wasn’t something that anyone took for granted.

Basaguda used to be a thriving market that drew traders from Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, yet women needed to walk 17 kms to Avapalli to bring back ration that was supposed to reach the camp across Basaguda. Rice that every family was entitled to at Rs.3 per kg was available at Rs.10 per kg at Avapalli (it was being siphoned off by corrupt traders). Even children who lived in the Salwa Judum camp across Basaguda had to walk 17 kms to get school.

The road itself was treacherous. It had seen six IED blasts, mostly targeting civilian vehicles in the long years of terror and counter terror since the inception of the Salwa Judum. The bombs were allegedly built by a man the police refer to as an ‘angutachap’. And to prevent Maoist ambushes, there was irregular felling of trees for 100 metres across, on both sides of the 48km road from Bijapur to Basaguda.

Today, two daily buses go to Basaguda. The markets are running again, NREGA work has started through initiation of the administration and the villagers of the entire block are self-sufficient.

Down The Barrel Of The Gun

Samtul Janki at her home in Basaguda. Her husband was killed by the Maoists in 2000, while her uncle was killed on the day of the raid in 2006.

Four days after the villagers of Basaguda were rehabilitated, it had become evident that their safety entirely depended on how the villagers in the ‘interiors’ would react. It also came to light that there were Maoists from Andhra Pradesh present in the group that attacked them, and many villagers described it as an execution more than an attack. Nevertheless, relatives of the murdered still chose to return, such as Samtul Janki whose husband was killed by the Maoists in 2000, and her uncle who was killed during the 2006 raid on her village.

None of the men of her family had returned initially, it was just her and her daughters. Interestingly, none of the men of Pathanpara felt it was safe to return to their village either, no matter how much their wives or mothers tried to convince them. Sofia Begum whose husband was beaten by both the Maoists and Salwa Judum on different occasions had no luck convincing her husband to return with her and she went back to Avapalli after salvaging what she could of her home.

Of course, it wasn’t entirely safe for men because many of them were under suspicion by the Maoists. As it is, there were many SPOs from Basaguda block.

The same SPOs would still go along and intimidate villagers of Lingagiri just a few days after they returned to their villages. According to the Maoists, many SPOs themselves were involved in the burning of the villages in the interior areas of Basaguda. But again, ‘Naxali ghatna se bachne ke liya SPO banna hi  tha.’ (to survive Maoist attacks, I had to become a SPO.) Said one young teenager who was an SPO in Basaguda police station. Another one, Suresh from Dharmapuram village in Basaguda block would be killed by the Maoists in May, 2009.

None of the families of SPOs returned to Basaguda. And when the Sarpanch of Hirapur, Punem Hoonga who had implicit ties with the Salwa Judum was killed in June 2009, the entire village of Hirapur left their village, cursing the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram who failed to protect him from the Maoists. VCA volunteer Kopa Kunjam would eventually be arrested for his murder in December even as he attempted to save him from the Maoists. This was Kopa Kunjam’s only failure, overlooking the entire fact that the reason Basaguda stands right now, is because he had gone into every village that was attacked by the Salwa Judum rally in 2006, convincing them that the villagers of Basaguda had nothing to do with the attack.

‘We can deal with them,’ One villager of Basaguda points towards the police station and the Salwa Judum camp, ‘But we’re afraid of them.’ he pointed towards the jungle.

At one point, just a month after they were rehabilitated, a few ‘andarwale’ had called a villager from Basaguda into the jungle and interrogated him about how many policemen were in the police station. The villager claimed he didn’t know much and he was left unharmed after that. Yet that incident spooked the whole village and it was all they could talk about. They remembered in 2006, how they were beaten for not ‘informing the police’ about the movements of the Maoists, and if they do, then what would the Maoists do to them?

The local cadre would eventually arrive, inquire and issue threats, insinuating that ‘tum salle Salwa Judum ka chaawal kha rahe ho’ – the rice was actually bought with the funds acquired through NGOs but no one tried showing the receipts to a bunch of illiterate angry tribals with axes whose houses were burnt down by the Salwa Judum.

Then a few months later, Raju, an area commander, and Apparao, a Dalam commander would eventually arrive and interrogate the VCA human shield volunteers, of their intentions, their employers, their histories and whether they’re police spies. A volunteer explained that he is apolitical and neutral and is only going to help people rebuild their lives, and work to communicate the villagers needs with the government.

‘Tum log hamara ladayi khatam kar doge,’ ‘(You will destroy our struggle),’ One of them said, ‘Tum log janta ko sarkar ke godh mein dal dongey.) (You will just put these people into the lap of the government.)

Finally, a top Politburo member would voice his assent with the rehabilitation process and promise that the Maoists wouldn’t hinder the rehabilitation process nor harass the VCA volunteers. A few days later, two VCA volunteers were beaten and robbed by local Maoist cadre.

Peace is fragile when anarchy is king.

At one point, I remember sitting with a group of villagers from Basaguda, and I asked them the one question that was on my mind the entire time, ‘What would you do if the Maoists attack your village again, or if the Salwa Judum burns it down again?’

‘We will never leave.’ – was an instant unanimous response, ‘We know, there is nothing else out there for us, we will have to die here.’

As it is, the villagers of Basaguda have endured hell and exile. And there are limits to human endurance.

h1

Villagers Rehabilitated Through Apex Court Order Beaten By Security Forces

February 13, 2010

Sukdi, the mother of Pujari Motiram who was allegedly killed by a joint force of SPOs and the CRPF in 2006. She was rehabilitated in her village of Lingagiri in March 2009 along with all the villagers of Lingagiri who lived in abject poverty as landless labour in Cherla, Andhra Pradesh.

This Article Appears in The New Indian Express on the 14th of February, 2010.

The village of Lingagiri of Basaguda Block, Bijapur district was allegedly attacked by members of the COBRA on the 31st of January, 2010 during the panchayat elections held in the village. Six villagers were allegedly beaten for not voting. They duly filed their complaints in Basaguda police station and the Basaguda Police have registered a FIR. Yet there are reports that a few of the villagers have left their village again.

Tokay Ramaiya from Doleguda was the only candidate for Sarpanch in the village of Lingagiri and won by default. He lives in Bijapur town that is 57 kilometres away from Lingagiri. On the day of the polls, COBRA forces found a number of villagers at their homes around eleven in the morning and asked them to show their hands and their fingernails. None of them had voted and they were duly abused and beaten with sticks.

Interestingly, the thanedaar of Basaguda police station had told the villagers of Lingagiri that voting is completely optional and that the villagers needn’t vote if they didn’t want to. He told them that he is aware of their fear of incurring Maoist displeasure.

Earlier, in December 2006, the village was attacked by a joint force of SPOs and CRPF and four people were allegedly killed. Pujari Ramaaih (40), Pujari Motiram (45), Gantal Shridevi and Gantal Kanaiya (50) were killed in broad daylight. Gantal Shridevi was allegedly raped before she was killed, as was Gantal Chandni (name changed) who was allegedly raped but managed to survive. All the villagers left their village in 2006 after burying the bodies of the deceased.

Soyam Ramalu, who was beaten on polling day, was stabbed thrice by security forces in 2006 but managed to survive, being taken to the hospital at Cherla by bullock-cart through the jungle. Gantala Beby was pregnant during the day of the attack, and gave birth to a boy on the way to Cherla through the jungle. The boy was later to be named, ‘Aadavi Ramadoo’, – ‘boy born in the jungle.’

61 villagers of Lingagiri had submitted their testimonies to the National Human Rights Commission’s Enquiry Team at Cherla, Andhra Pradesh in June 2008 yet the NHRC recommended no further need for an investigation. Similar testimonies that detailed Maoists atrocities were accepted by the Enquiry Team that consisted of fifteen police officials. The NHRC eventually visited Lingagiri in 2008 and found all the houses burnt yet could not verify the killings since the village was abandoned.

Eventually, on the 20th of February, 2009, the village of Lingagiri was rehabilitated by social activists and NGOs armed with the Supreme Court recommendation ‘with reference to petitions regarding the Salwa Judum,’ filed before the Supreme Court by Nandini Sundar and others vs. State of Chhattisgarh, Writ Petition (civil) 250 of 2007.

Rights activist Kopa Kunjam who is now in jail was instrumental in the rehabilitation process of Lingagiri and a number of other villagers in Basaguda block, ensuring safe passage to villagers from both the Maoists and security forces.

Since his arrest in December of 2009, the villagers of Lingagiri have lived without any semblance of security from the Maoists or the security forces.

Soyam Ramalu of the village of Lingagiri was stabbed thrice by the security forces in December 2006, and beaten again by COBRA forces on the 31st of January, 2010.

The Fifth Schedule

“The Forest Rights Act gives a guarantee to every tribal for ownership of his land. However, to be given a title (patta) to this land, the tribal must be in possession of it and if not, then it goes to the state. So when villagers are taken at gun point and resettled in Salwa Judum camps, or forced to flee to other areas in fear; they lose possession of the land. Possession of the land then goes to the Government, who merely leases it to mining companies/MNCs.”

h1

…..And Justice For Anyone?

January 13, 2010

A Maoist 'Jan Adalat' statement attempting to justify the execution of an unarmed SPO.

‘Meltha’ means ‘justice’ in Koya language but it means nothing to the tribals of Dantewada and Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh

‘We know what we do here is wrong sometimes, but what am I supposed to do? Bharti ho gayi, aur duty karna parta hai.’ Says Prashant (name-changed) of the Chhattisgarh State Police from Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh. He has been in Dantewada district for more than 12 months now and like a majority of those he is serving with, he’s from a Scheduled Caste. The exceptions in his platoon belong to Other Backward Castes. The SPOs meanwhile, are mostly Muria tribals.

Prashant’s compatriots from the CGP, like him, have MA degrees or BSC degrees. They could not find any jobs back home and Bharti ho gayi. Now with a pay of Rs.10,000 a month, they’re put into the risk of indiscriminate Maoist IEDs and landmines, – their jan adalats or ‘People’s Courts’, and their ambushes, where the police are fired upon by the weapons of their long-fallen comrades, and bows and arrows.

Official sources state that around 125 security personnel were killed in the year 2009. Adding to it are the figures that 113 Maoists and 124 civilians were also killed. Out of the 125 security personnel killed, one of those killed was SPO Suresh from Dharmapuram village of Basaguda Block in May of 2009 – an event that was not reported in any national daily but was merely destined to be a part of the above-mentioned statistic.

He was abducted by the Maoists from Timapuram village in Basaguda Block during a ‘pudum’ (festival) and kept in detention for a few days. The police frequently combed the area to locate him but to no avail. His body was found a few days later near Basaguda police station. He was in his early 20s and was a father of one year old child.

The Maoists from the Jagargonda Area Committee left a ‘People’s Court’ or ‘Jan Adalat’ statement justifying their execution of SPO Suresh, claiming that he was present during the widespread arson and looting of the villages of Basaguda block, where over 2000 villagers had left their homes in 2006. They also claimed that he was involved in the killing of two villagers from Sarkinguda.

‘Any SPO or undercover officer that conspires against the people shall be given similar punishment.’ The Maoists had written on paper in red and left next to his body.

Of course, as the Maoist ‘judiciary’ and sense of justice is only accountable to itself, in the state of Chhattisgarh, the law is the police.

Kopa Kunjam, human rights activist shall be brought to court on the 20th of January, 2010. He has barely been a month in jail yet he is already a broken man. He has been allegedly hung upside down and beaten repeatedly in jail, and been openly told that he has been framed.

The very legal system that he tried to upheld has now condemned him – he had helped to file complaint after complaint to the National Human Rights Commission and the High Court, against the alleged atrocities of police and the Salwa Judum and all that he ever got out of it was imprisonment and torture.

It was even reported by the local press that one of the accused in the Konta rape case, was throwing eggs and mud at a visiting Medha Patkar from within a Salwa Judum demonstration allegedly orchestrated by the police, and according to some sources, from Delhi itself. There is a warrant for his arrest yet he’s absconding right in front of the police. The ‘Ruchikas’ of Dantewada, from Samsetti, Arlampalli and Bandarpadar have been cut-off from their lawyers, from activists and the press.

The Superintendent of the Police, Amresh Mishra frequently visits Kopa Kunjam in jail, and it has been confirmed that the police met him the day before he was arrested, had ‘requested’ him to leave the VCA, and become a police informer.

‘I have seen with my own eyes, what it is that you do,’ he had allegedly told his tempters. Now his three wives break into tears as they meet him in Dantewada jail. The NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram has all but ceased to exist. His NGO director and mentor Himanshu Kumar clandestinely left Dantewada, out of fear of arrest. So the Muria gets beaten in jail, the Brahmin escapes.

Giving him company in Dantewada jail, are numerous adivasis from the interior areas who have no idea of their rights. For instance, there is Lachinder from Gangaloor village of Bijapur District, who has been in Dantewada jail for more than a month and a half, booked under section 436 (arson) of the IPC, and section 25 and 27 of the Arms Act. He’s also thirteen years old. His school card stating his age isn’t indicative enough of his age. A mentally-handicapped mother comes to court and looks at her 13 year old son and says he might be 60 years old, or 30 years old or 13 years old. He stays in jail, and not a juvenile home, a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act.

Meanwhile, a RTI application filed by concerned citizens had uncovered that 14.8 hectares of land from the village of Goomiyapal in Dantewada district is part of a land acquisition proposal with Tata Steel Limited. Six villagers from Goomiyapal were also allegedly gunned down by the police in December as alleged Maoists. No one in the local press reported the encounter even as the village is just four kilometers from the industrial town of Kirandool.

Similarly, Medha Patkar and activists had visited the village of Kuper on the 7th of January to investigate into the matter of four missing boys. The police had refused to lodge the FIRs and refused to inform the parents of the whereabouts of the missing boys. Disappearances and abductions are widespread in Dantewada, and the rule law continues to be a myth.

(This article has been written for The New Indian Express)

h1

Greetings From Basaguda

November 9, 2009

P3303379

There are still shoot-at-sight orders at Basaguda police station at night.

‘Villagers who escaped the Maoist-Salwa Judum conflict return to their homes after three years’

On the fifth of March, 2006, the thriving village of Basaguda was attacked around nine in the night by an angry crowd shepherded by gun-wielding Naxalites. Four people were killed by axes and hatchets. There are reports that one man was executed in front of the entire village.

Eventually, the raiders disappeared into the darkness, and the villagers took the bodies of their friends and neighbours across the bridge to the police station to file a report. On the way back to their homes, they were beaten by the C.R.P.F. and the Salwa Judum and dragged back across the river to live in decrepit Salwa Judum camps. They were not allowed to return to their homes.

A few days later there was an explosion in the vicinity where around nine villagers were injured. One man, Erragalla Lakshmaiya would eventually succumb to his injuries. This was one of the six IED blasts on the road to Avapalli to Basaguda, that mostly targeted civilian vehicles. According to the police, the bombmaker is an ‘anghutachap’ – a man who neither reads nor writes.

At the same time, the police re-entered the village Basaguda and started to harass villagers who had somehow managed to remain in their homes and on their land. The police threatened to strip all the women if the villagers did not inform them about the movements of the Naxalites. They also threatened to arrest everyone from the village. Eventually, they caught three men and accused them of being Naxalites and asked them to run into the jungle. The villagers were aware that this was a ruse, and they would surely be shot dead, in an ‘encounter’, if they even considered to run.

Eventually, they were set free and everyone had enough of the harassment and left the village of Basaguda by June 2006.

Not very far away, around two kilometers from Basaguda, the village of Lingagiri, specifically Boreguda, was attacked by the C.R.P.F. and S.P.O.s on the 25th-26th of December of 2006, where three men were killed, two women were raped, out of which, one was also shot dead. Another man was stabbed repeatedly by the C.R.P.F. and managed to escape to Cherla in Andhra Pradesh, some seventy kilometers away.

Another girl, Gantal Beby was nine months pregnant as she was escaping into the jungle. She would deliver her baby in the middle of the jungle and would eventually name him, ‘Aadvi Ramudu’ – which means, simply – ‘boy born in the jungle’.

All villagers of Boreguda escaped to the village of Cherla where they lived as landless labourers in abject poverty. Their village was completely burnt to the ground, and was entirely empty by 2006.

On the other side of Basaguda, two kilometers away is the village of Pisepara and Pakela – twin villages, a stone’s throw away from one another. Both villages have seen arbitrary arrests, beatings, lootings, arson and threats from the Salwa Judum and the security forces. Three people died as they were escaping the Salwa Judum raid – two from snakebites and one from overexposure to heat. Two people from Pakela were arrested as Sangham (village-level Naxalite group) members and are now languishing at Jagdalpur jail. All the villagers of Pakela and Pisepara had abandoned their village as well, in 2006.

There are also reports that during this same period, three people from the village of Maharpara, which is a part of Basaguda were killed by the Naxalites as they were trying to find materials for their homes. The villagers of Maharpara also left their village in 2006.

The same fate had fallen upon all the other villages and ‘paras’ in the vicinity – Kumarpara, Doleguda, Dharmapur, Pathanpara and Nayapara. A constant feeling of dread and terror had pervaded all the nights of Basaguda Block, at one time, it was a thriving marketplace that even drew visitors from Andhra Pradesh. It had a river, endless fields, a rice mill, a mosque, a school, a sense of community – for this is a land where there are Mahars, Telgas, Murias, Muslims, Halbas, Dalits, Kunbis and Kalars. Yet this would be the land, where the villagers of Lingagiri would huddle in a mass, and take refuge at Pathanpara – the hamlet of the Muslims, yet even they were not spared. Almost all the homes were burnt – there was really no discrimination.

By late 2006, all villages of the area were derelict empty wastelands, every other home was burnt to rubble, looted, and all the inhabitants had disappeared. By late 2006, no one crossed the bridge to Basaguda, to Lingagiri, to Pisepara, to Pakela, to Maharpara, to any of the villages or paras on that side. People languished in Salwa Judum camps, and had no access to electricity, ration, transport and most importantly, their land and their harvest. Women would walk some seventeen kilometers in the sun to Avapalli and carry back around ten kilograms of rice on their heads. The only remaining schools were also seventeen kilometers away in Avapalli and many children in the camp would suffer from Grade 2 malnutrition.

Other villagers languished at Cherla, in Andhra Pradesh where they lived as IDPs – Internally Displaced Persons – refugees in their own countries. People languished in small rented shacks and shanties in the towns of Avapalli and Bijapur, trying to find whatever work they could find. Many people started to live further within the forests, higher up in the hills, away from the reach of the combing operations of the security forces.

And of course, there are implicit causes to what happened in Basaguda. Nothing speaks for itself more than a sworn statement signed by the villagers of Basaguda themselves –

‘On the 5th of December, 2005, the workforce of Salwa Judum and the C.R.P.F. visited Basaguda and stuck posters that said that a Salwa Judum meeting is going to be held at Avapalli on the 1st of January, 2006, and if the villagers do not turn up, they shall be called Naxalites. We attended the meeting on the 1st of January 2006. We were told that, if those who are members of the Sangham (village-level Naxalite groups) do not surrender right away, all of us will be killed. Nine of the villagers who were not members of the Sangham were forcefully made to admit that they members of the Sangham. After this, we stayed till the meeting ended and came back to our village. After some days, on the 21st of February 2006, the Salwa Judum workforce came to Basaguda and asked us to deliver a speech against the Naxalites, and those who would not, would be deemed as a Naxalite.

Two days later, villagers from (names withheld) were made to carry out a rally at Lingagiri, Boreguda Korsaguda, Sarkeguda, Mallepalli, where many houses were burnt, people were beaten and many women were raped. Out of rage, a few days after the rally, the Naxalites came to Basaguda on the fifth of March, 2006 at 9pm. They attacked the villagers and killed four people.’

* * *

As of now, May 2009, the matter of the legality of the Salwa Judum is still in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court also instructed the Administration to rehabilitate the villagers back to their rightful homes and to provide compensation. According to Human Rights Watch, there have been at least 40,000 people displaced by the violence in Chhattisgarh since 2005. Some sources place those numbers as high as 60,000 people, others as high as 1,00,000. Officially, there are 644 villagers that lie empty.

India, herself is no stranger to displacement. In the name of development, uprooting whole communities and whole villages is almost a mainstay of the development gospel. According to some sources, around 50 million people have been displaced due to development-related projects since independence.

This time, people have been forcefully displaced out of some experimental idea of severing the Naxalites from their home base. Of course, that’s what it is on the surface, as many, including the Naxalites themselves, claim that entire idea of herding villagers into Salwa Judum Camps is merely a ruse to capture the land of the Tribals and to sell it to the companies like Essar and Tata.

Whatever it is, it’s no small thing for people to live in exile in their own country, without rights, without land and with constant risk of being uprooted again.

As many have said, it’s no small thing to not have a home – to lose your land.

In a country like India, the issue of land is close to boiling point, the heart of the matter. More than half of India languishes below the poverty line for they have neither land nor the ability to harvest on the little that they have. Many farmers are actually incapable of producing anything profitable. And farmer suicides are tragic events that only manifest the real faceless expression of an India that weeps herself to sleep, as the GDP soars and the Naxalites find arguments to justify killing. People can earn less than Rs.30 a day, and have to feed around five children. And finding opportunities to earn Rs.30 a day is not that easy itself – the landless have to beg for work at times. And eventually they find a landlord who’d provide them a day’s work. They’d toil and they’d toil on someone else’s land who can barely pay them.

Their fate is such, that even the beggars in the metropolitan cities can earn more than them.

Give these many landless labourers land, so many have said, and people have been fighting for their rights, for the redistribution of land. After all, companies like Tata and Essar will not starve to death if they don’t have land.

In Bastar, people had land. Even if they only had about five acres or three acres, they all had land. The villagers of Basaguda had land. The villagers of Lingagiri had land. The villagers of Pisepara had land. The villagers of Pakela had land. The villagers of Doreguda had land. They all had land.

The villagers of the entire mineral-rich Bastar, also have the Fifth Schedule and their rights have been protected, or so it says in the Indian Constitution. Not a single building can be built or torn down on tribal land without exclusive permission from the Gram Sabha – the heads of the village.

Yet so many of them lost it all and lived as landless labour, or as ‘coolies’ as they’d call it. So many had left their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back. So many had left their homes with nothing but the memories of a serene life. All they knew was that they had to go back.

The villagers from the camps of Basaguda made repeated requests to the Collector’s office of Bijapur to help them reclaim their homes. They weren’t even aware of the Supreme Court’s requests to the Collector’s office to rehabilitate the villagers to their rightful homes.

With the initiation of numerous activists and a local Gandhian NGO, Vavasi Chetna Ashram, that the people of those villages have been motivated to return. First, there was the village of Nendra in Dantewada that was rehabilitated a year ago. Then it was the villagers of Lingagiri who were brought back from Cherla with help from NGOs from Andhra Pradesh such as the ASDS. Yet they were initially detained at the police station and prevented to go back to their homes.

A week after Lingagiri, the villagers of Basaguda were taken back by human shield volunteers.

Within the first five weeks, there were little to no attempts of the administration to provide assistance for the people of Basaguda and Lingagiri. They had repaired one hand pump and their other major contributions have been the constant harassment of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram and their workers. On one occasion, the police confiscated around fifteen quintals of rice brought by the NGO for villagers of Lingagiri who had long run out of ration. They had also stolen about 35 kilograms of cooking oil from the same confiscated ration.

A few policemen had also entered Boreguda and verbally abused some of the villagers. And the perpetrators of the crimes of Boreguda roam free. Gantal Raju, whose sister was raped and murdered can identify a man riding a motorcycle at Bijapur as the killer of his sister. And barely does he talk about justice. He has repeated his story a thousand times to a thousand different people – journalists, human rights lawyers, activists, and often he’d exclaim that he’s tired of it.

Eventually, the neighbouring villages of Doleguda, Pisepara and Pakela also requested help from the NGO to help them reclaim their homes. The NGO organized transport, their human shield volunteers, and informed the administration of their intentions. They also prepared the long list of demands and problems that the villages would face. The homes in their villages are inhabitable and the monsoons are coming. They would all have to start again from scratch. They would require ration, a bus service, access to clean water, and most importantly a sense of security – they want nothing to do with the security forces and the Salwa Judum or the Naxalites. They want peace.

Back on their land after three long years, the villagers slowly and hesitantly rummaged through the remains of their lives. Soon enough, without much initiation, the villagers began to rebuild their lives, together. They would share the little food they had and they would work together to clean up the remnants of one another’s homes. People were laughing even if they had nothing. People were happy to be back to the vestiges of the little bit of the past that has survived, that’s now embellished with Naxalite graffiti calling for a boycott of the general elections. People ignore all of that, most don’t even have voter cards, so how will they vote?

The fact remains, that the villagers of Basaguda block reclaimed dignity. The State made that little miscalculation when it rehabilitated people into Salwa Judum camps and expected them to fend for themselves. Why would they, really? It was not theirs, they did not ask for it – this little shack, this small plot of dirt, this non-existent land, this ‘concentration camp’. Why would they want to rebuild their lives in poverty? It was on their own land that they’d work, for on their own land, they’d find dignity. It was on their own land, that they’re masters.

Eventually, I had asked a group of villagers from Basaguda and Lingagiri, about what they’d do if ‘they’ come and burn their village again.

‘We’d never leave, we’d die here, we know there’s nothing else out there.’ – is an answer I often heard.

* * *

Two days after the villagers of Pisepara and Pakela were rehabilitated on their land, the state demolished the main buildings of the Gandhian NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. The state claims that the NGO was encroaching on forest land, while the NGO claims that they live on land with express permission of the Gram Sabha. The matter was still sub-judice, and therefore no action was to be taken by the state. The notice to leave the premises by the 17th of May, was delivered to the NGO on the 16th of May, when it was issued on the 13th of May.

A week after the demolition, the NGO begins initial work on the rehabilitation of villagers from Jagargonda block.

* * *