Archive for the ‘Dantewada’ Category

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On the killing of Sai Reddy: Murder and Maoist Rationalisations

January 9, 2014

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Sai Reddy’s mother walking through the remnants of their home in April 2009.

This story appears on The Hoot on the 29th of December, 2013

The murder of the man who kept quiet, for reasons best known to him, reasons we could guess;  killed for reasons that are not justifiable in accordance to any decent human law.

The second killing of a journalist this year by the Maoists in Bastar is further revealing a pattern in arrogance, hypocrisy, and a roaring of silence over endless streams of noise. One doesn’t need to be a state apologist to find something extremely perturbing about just another murder of an unarmed man. Nor does one need to be a Gandhian, nor a revolutionary, nor an armchair intellectual acrobat drowning in the anxieties of growing fascism. A man was killed again, an oft-repeated sad truth of Bastar, and there must be a further engagement with the idea of killing informants: which the Maoists use as their own justification of murder, as the state would do with ‘national security,’ or ‘development’.

‘National security’ is ‘informant’ and ‘informant’ is ‘national security’. Rationalizations of murder is murder itself. We’re stuck in a time-warp of redundant language, and I often wonder how many times must the same thing be repeated until it is truth, as an edge of an axe, or a meaningless epitaph for a life that disappears to the sound of nothing.

It has become superfluous that every justification of murder and atrocity by the Maoists only seem to be in relation to state atrocities: ‘We’re sorry we burnt a train, but your government burns more trains,’ ‘We apologize for killing bystanders, but Mahendra Karma was a monster ’, ‘We don’t really apologize for killing a Salwa Judum foot soldier, but the Salwa Judum has burnt, looted, murdered and raped countless adivasis since 2004.’ Somehow it seems impossible for any introspection when one lives in relation to the violence of the ‘other.’

Sai Reddy, 51 year old journalist of Hindi-daily Deshbandu, was killed on his way from the Basaguda market on the 5th of December, 2013. A note by the South Regional Committee of the CPI (Maoist) claimed him to be an informer, a ‘reactionary journalist’, a murderer, a recruiter. But truth to the matter, he was no Mahendra Karma, nor was he a Brahmeshwar Singh of the Ranvir Sena who stood by his politics of bludgeoning to death countless Dalits who stood up for their rights in Bihar, whether it was in Bathani Tola or Laxmanpur-Bathe. Mahendra Karma was killed in retaliation to his politics and his identity, his opportunism, his own people, those ‘other’ adivasis, a contractor class, a class who has suffered the Maoists, which he held on, till his dying breath; as was Brahmeshwar Singh, executed on the street by two riding pillion on a motorcycle, the unofficial murderous prophet for the the landlord Bhumihars. Sai Reddy was a quiet man, who kept himself out of controversy, and often avoided meeting outsiders, and if he did he wouldn’t say what was already known. He faced the wrath of both a state that had charged and arrested him with the Chhattisgarh Special Security Act in 2008, and whose house in the town of Basaguda was burnt down in Basaguda in 2006. It was a block which was emptied and burnt down, in response to a Salwa Judum rally that led to killings and rapes in the nearby interior villages, that further led to an enraged adivasi population and Maoists to attack the block headquarters of Basaguda, which was mostly populated by non-adivasis and big farmers, leading to the death of four people.

It would be in 2009, that this block was rehabilitated after Supreme Court orders, and in June 28th of 2012, another massacre by the security forces was perpetrated in the village of Sarkeguda, a walk way from Basaguda. In 2009, I would watch Sai Reddy’s mother walk through the remnants of their broken down home, while others started to rebuild their lives, pledging that they would rather die at the hands of the state or the Maoists, then to leave again. But Reddy’s family knew that he wasn’t safe to live so far across the Talperu river, the unofficial line of control, lands that the CRPF would refer to Pakistan, where on some nights in a long past ago, abuses were hurled across the waters by passing Maoist cadres and the CRPF watchtowers: ‘Madharchod police’ vs. ‘Madharchod maovadi.’

That was 2009. Sai Reddy lived and worked with an axe over his head. What justifies a hit list, how does one get themselves off it once they are on? If Reddy felt the only way he could live in a world  on a hitlist, was to deny the Maoists an agenda, then is it not understandable if he even was an informant, or anti-Maoist? It doesn’t even matter. For Reddy had just recently begun to start talking about rebuilding his home at Basaguda, and a marked man doesn’t travel cognito through a war zone.

The press release would go on to accuse Sai Reddy of recruiting Special Police Officers, of arson, murder and of creating a spy network. If that was true, then Sai Reddy was the bravest journalist in the subcontinent, for unlike the people who actually recruited, murdered and created spy networks, who roam around with large entourages of armed men in Boleros and Sumos, Sai Reddy would walk alone, work alone, move alone. More so, did any of Reddy’s actions lead to the killing of innocent adivasis in Bijapur? Did the party ever try to engage with Reddy? If it did, why is it not mentioned in the Maoist communiqués justifying his murder?

Furthermore, is there any evidence to support that he was a threat? Every local journalist is usually an anti-Maoist reporter, because they live in the other side of the Stockholm Syndrome, in areas under control by the police, under their watchful eyes. What reports or information did Sai write or report that led to his murder, when everyone has to lie or keep quiet out of fear? Did his reports about local health and corruption bother the Maoists? His reports about the development of daily needs, were reactionary? If Sai Reddy was another journalist who wrote about the cosy and invisible relationship the Maoists held with contractors, does it justify death? Was Sai Reddy also being blackmailed out of a contract he held? Was it just another renegade local group who killed Sai Reddy for profit?

The Maoists are probably not going to stop killing people they deem informants, but they should try and be a little more intelligent or imaginative about bumping off journalists: ‘Javed Iqbal, was killed by our Dalam because he was a dolt, and we wanted to save the Chhattisgarh police the trouble.’ But the killing of Reddy is filled with nothing but lies and deadly clichés that relegate human beings to statistics, and outrage to a deafening disgust.

And after the murder of a journalist, it makes no sense to hear this from their statement trying to justify his death: “It is not a policy of the party to assassinate journalists who would write against us. We do not encourage any policy to jeopardize the independence of the media … rather we strongly support freedom of speech and the right to write.”

What’s the point of freedom of speech if you don’t respect the right to life?

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The New Songs Of The Murder Manual

June 17, 2013

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This article appears in the Sunday Guardian on the 16th of June, 2013

“Jump over Dilli, we jungle people

Even if you dont know how to sing.

Boys (chorus) : We don’t know how to sing!

Girls (chorus): How do you not know how to sing? Jump over Dilli jungle people!

in our villages we come,

we will go with our axes,

big feet police, we will jump in delhi,

with bows and arrows, we will jump in delhi,

with these arrows, we will kill the police,

loot the government,

we will snatch weapons and bring them.’

These are words from a Gondi song sung in Bastar by the adivasis in the interior forests. To some it would seem a seditious aspiration, a decades-old Naxalite lyricism mutating Muria songs, or a desire with twisted explicable joys, yet there are reasons why these songs are being sung in the forest. There is a bloodlust, a violence, even the translator of the song, whose village was burnt down by the Salwa Judum and who now lives as an Internally Displaced Person in Andhra Pradesh has a distaste towards its words, its new meanings. Yet to hear it, it is even melodic, haunting, and joyful; and it becomes an incongruous expression of rage, a rage in memory, a rage against the burning and looting, rape and murder by the Salwa Judum; elsewhere they sing, How it was before — in the earlier days/it was beautiful/It was wonderful/now there is so much suffering/the garlic skin police is harassing us.’

There is even a song sung in rememberance of the 2006 killings in Nendra village where at least 10 adivasis were murdered by the Salwa Judum, and their families would testify to the National Human Rights Commission. The killers would never be prosecuted. On the 29th of May, 2013, the Salwa Judum leader from Konta, Soyam Mukka who was implicated in the violence in many villages around Konta, was assassinated by the Maoists, just a few days after the Maoist ambush on the Congress party motorcade that left 29 people dead. Soyam Mukka was a man who had warrants for his arrest for numerous cases, including one where an adivasi woman would be gangraped in the police station, after he had kidnapped her and left her there. The police would declare him an absconder, even when there was explicable proof where he’d be photographed, standing right next to the police during a protest in January of 2010. Now he is another man who escaped the clutches of the law of the nation, but was claimed by the law of the land.

There are no songs sung about justice in Bastar. Those who have been with adivasi villagers marching to the police stations to demand the bodies of their loved ones, would’ve heard the haunting echoed, chorus of the harmonious crying, of hundreds of adivasi men and women. Mahendra Karma is dead. Soyam Mukka is dead. ASP Rajesh Pawar is dead. SPO Ismael Khan is dead. SPO Kartam Surya is dead.

There would even be a song of mourning during the funeral for Mahendra Karma, where elsewhere someone would probably be writing a song to celebrate it. Karma was stabbed 78 times, and in 2006, in Matwada village of Bijapur, SPO’s smashed stones into the eye sockets of three adivasi men. In 2004, Oonga Madkam of Kottacheru village, a friend of many of the leaders of the yet to be formed Salwa Judum, was shot dead on the road between Konta and Cherla, and the Maoists smashed his head, already void of life, with a small boulder. In 2012, the CRPF would be accused of setting Pudiyam Mada’s genitals on fire in the Sukma police station.

We will fight like red ants, jungle people,

for our land, we will jump,

We won’t give our jungle resources,

We won’t give our mountains and shrubs, they are ours,

We will keep our gold,

This is a loot government, we will not give to them.

Chorus: Dilli!

Charu Mazumdar’s murder manual always had it’s songs, and now these adivasi anthems of anger  sung in the jungles of Bastar are one man’s songs of resistance, and to another man it is sedition; and if you don’t know the lyrics, you’d believe they really are serenades to the forest, which they probably are to those who sing them. These are now the songs heard amongst the red ants, the butterflies, the frogs and the birds and they are songs of an anger that is seldom heard by the state, who preferably chooses to not listen – year after year, inquiry after inquiry, even after the Salwa Judum was banned by the Supreme Court, the state of Chhattisgarh invoked the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force Ordinance of 2011, and inducted the SPO’s into the regular police force. More killings and burnings in the villages would follow. On the 17th of May, 2013, in a repeat of last year’s encounter at Sarkeguda that left 22 dead, a police firing in Edesmetta during a seed festival, would claim eight people, including four children and one soldier. The mothers take the bodies to the Gangalur police station and throw stones at them.

Dilli’ – probably sang the stone.

The calls for warmongering continues with the dance of death, the other songs from the newsroom calling for the army which is also militarily idiotic as the essence of all armed conflict, is intelligence gathering, and the state in Chhattisgarh has done everything from torture to fraticide to try and get the adivasis to submit, and provide them with intelligence. A case in point would be a young adivasi journalist Lingaram Kodopi who is still languishing in prison even after he was forced to be a Special Police officer and was imprisoned in a toilet in the police station for over 40 days. That is how the police of Chhattisgarh acquires intelligence, a misnomer of a word that a hundred years of counterinsurgency across the world can’t find funny. You show them who is boss. We’re worse than the rebels, we’re more militarily equipped, so you better submit to us.

Even the Salwa Judum was an exercise in brutality and a temporary success in intelligence gathering. By forcing people, out of fear, to point out village level Sangam members who were instantly murdered, the Maoist hold in particular villages was weakened. Yet the Maoists rebuild their base and replaced their cadres, and it wasn’t so difficult as the Salwa Judum was involved in rape, murder and arson on a massive scale. And now, the Maoist’s are picking off the leaders of the Salwa Judum like flies.

More militirization is more of the same, and would play into Maoist hands.

Jump over them and kill them

We will jump like tigers in the jungle

Aim like the eye of the cat in the jungle

And the chorus sings: ‘Dilli’. The lietmotif is ‘Dilli’.

The heart of political conscience that could never even point out Bastar on a map, now hears the songs of death as a yearly massacre is committed by either the state or the Maoists. Death is Bastar’s muse. Yet there was another song being sung a few days ago in March of this year, a song seldom heard beyond the forest, when a rally of thousands of adivasis under the banner of Manish Kunjam’s CPI and the Adivasi Mahasabha, marched to demand the Sixth Schedule. They have been demanding it since the early 1990’s, and when the state violates the laws of the Fifth Schedule and the PESA act, the demands for the Sixth Schedule, which is more or less autonomy, are only going to get louder. The adivasis of Bastar are writhing with seething anger, from the decades of exploitation by the non-tribals, the inherent racism in the system, to the Salwa Judum, to the everyday tortures and encounters, to the burnings and killings by the COBRA to the CRPF. It will take the Central  Government an imagination it probably has never used since Independence, to placate such anger. But the question is, does it really want to?

Song – Ee Na Ve

Girls: You all sing along

Boys: We don’t know how to sing

Girls: How do you not know how to sing?

Boys: You are the singers here, you sing

Girls: What’s wrong with your voice? I can’t hear it

Boys – We dont know how to sing

Girls: How do you not know how to sing?

 Boys: I have a cold so my voice isn’t strong enough

 Girls: Adivasi people

 Boys: Sing on

Girls: The people live like this, big foot police

We live off the land, from farming

My people, where have you gone?

We are farmer people

We live of the land, farmer people,

Where will we run away to?

If we have to die, we will die here.

 

The Judum started and its over,

They lost, the people have won,

Everyone had run here and there,

And they all came back

The land, the trees, the mountains,

are ours again,

in our hands again,

the mango trees we planted,

our lake is there,
our land is there,

the house we built with our hands is there.

 

Our fathers and grandfathers in the village,

were caught by the Judum,

the Judum ate our house,

they drank the people’s blood,

they become bigger,

but at some point, they will die,

if they won’t die, so what?

that much will happen, let it be.

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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.

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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

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The Life Of A Witness

June 17, 2012

Photo credit: Tehelka photo

In memoriam: Tehelka photographer Tarun Sehrawat (1989 – 2012)

This piece appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 17th of June 2012. Another piece appears in Tehelka on the 30th of June.

I first met Tarun Sehrawat and the intrepid Tusha Mittal in January of 2010, when we both found ourselves with the duties of trying to investigate why the state of Chhattisgarh had kidnapped Sodi Sambo, a supreme court petitioner, and a woman who was shot in her leg during the combing operation of Gompad that took nine lives. She was there in Jagdalpur hospital, while we were outside the ward trying to get access to her, and Tusha Mittal would harangue every stubborn official with such gusto, that you were certain that war reporting was best left to women. Tarun and myself sat quietly, smiling at each other, joking and taking photographs of one another while Tusha did her job. He was an absolute delight to work with, or in this case, observe work. He had no malice and insecurity that most photographers had for their own. And his innocence was something that you were absolutely glad you could find in a place like Dantewada.

The next time we met, we found ourselves on the way to the village of Tadmetla, Timmapuram and Morpalli which was burnt down by the security forces in March of 2011. Tusha and I were this time, at each other’s necks like a bunch of Laurel and Hardy’s on steroids, regarding the best way to deal with the logistics of going into ‘the jungle’. Tarun, as usual would smile to placate our anger against ourselves. We all did do our jobs eventually, and Tarun’s images were an absolute justification of our profession.

Tarun was a witness to our state’s grand security operations in Central India. He has photographs of burnt homes, of widows whose husbands were killed by the security forces, of women raped by security forces, of fragile old men with country rifles who the state refers to the greatest internal security threat, and of Abhuj Marh, his final assignment, where few have ventured. But one of his most heartbreaking images would remain a photograph of a family in Dantewada sifting through their burned rice trying to separate the ash from what they could eat. That’s what he witnessed. That’s what only a few handful of people from the outside world have ventured in to see, some of the bravest and some of the most brilliant journalists and photographers I have had the honour to work with.

Yet it’s death from Dantewada that follows you around, as with each story of encounters, and killings. Just a few months ago, the controversial superintendent of police Rahul Sharma would take his revolver and shoot himself. Assistant Superintendent of Police Rajesh Pawar who I confronted about a fake encounter would be gunned down by the Maoists some years later. And now a tortured adivasi journalist Lingaram Kodopi would wish to die in jail, as there’s no way he feels he can get justice in this country. Each name jotted down in my collection of notebooks, of those killed, of sons named along with their fathers –Madvi Kesa s/o Bhima, Madkam Deva s/o Bhima, Madkam Admaiah s/o Maasa, and countless others. They add to a list that I don’t know sometimes whether they will have any meaning, when all that tends to happen, is that the war goes on. It’s the ghost of the conscience of the country that’s dead as each time the warmongers ask for helicopters to drop hell from above onto one of the darkest corners of the country.

A cellphone becomes the purveyor of madness and death. ‘There’s been an attack in your favourite village’ an activist once called and told me, and I went into a daze, and hated him – how many favourite villages did I have? Then came the final message about Tarun, ‘Pronounced brain dead.’ And this just a few days after friends would tell me that he was making a full recovery.

We all think we’re invincible. We venture into roads that could be mined with IEDs, as did one explode a day after two of us passed, killing three security personnel. We venture into the haven of the malarial monster, the killer of people that doesn’t discriminate like we do. In Basaguda, I remember the sight of a CRPF jawaan holding the hand and walking with another jawaan, whose body was sapped of energy, whose eyes lost of life, who would say the dreaded word: malaria. It was an absolutely tragic sight of watching these two towering men, pathetically walking down, broken down. A year later in Chintalnaar, a few days after 76 jawaans were killed in an ambush, the jawaans of Chintalnaar would exert, ‘You don’t even have to ask about the mosquitoes. Around 80% of us suffer from malaria at some point or the other’.Mosquitoes have killed one of the Maoist’s most iconic leaders- Anuradha Ghandy. And for the ordinary adivasis, their stories are left to statistics, sometimes to a world beyond statistics.

In Jharkhand, at the Roro mines of Chaibasa, an old adivasi miner left to die of asbestos exposure by the Birlas would talk to me, while three young children, slept behind him. All three had high fever. All three had malaria. In fact, a few months into the job, and it became standard operating procedure to not just document the atrocities committed on a whole people, but to finally ask about illnesses in the village. At one visit to an IDP settlement at Warangal last year, our investigation team very quickly became a medical team, and we had to take on the responsibility of taking people to the nearest clinic.

Some quarters mention how Tehelka should’ve guided Tarun with some precautionary measures but unfortunately those are never enough and some circumstances can’t be helped. Tarun had no option to drink pond water, in a place where water, even after boiling would turn yellow. A few years ago, my adivasi guides and a few other journalists and myself faced a similar problem. And we had to walk over 15 kilometres of hillocks in a summer that can blaze to around 48 degrees, and our water supply ran out. We had to drink from a miasmic river. And we all did and we were lucky.

The more water you carry, the more you’d tire, and the more you’d drink. And you can’t ration what is never enough.

I used to even take anti-malaria pills every week in my first forays into Central India, and ended up in the middle of nowhere with high fever, and find myself in the middle of a busy bus station, alone and wrapped in a shawl, shivering like my bones would be shattering, with my mind drifting away, waiting for a family friend to come and save my life. And I was lucky. Malaria was bombed out of my system. To most people in Central India, there’s little rescue. Where Tarun had gone, no doctors venture. In fact, in some of the areas in Dantewada and Bijapur where Doctors Without Borders did go to work, they were accused by the state of Chhattisgarh of ‘helping the Naxalites’.

The angel of death of Bastar made of iron ore, covered in flags and illusions of greatness, is touching and destroying everything that is beautiful. Tarun had a long way to go. Twenty three, the age of most SPOs and Maoists, is not the age to die.

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‘Even if they don’t let us settle here..’

May 4, 2012

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 4th of May, 2012.

Conflict and displacement in Bastar leads to deprivation and forest loss in neighbouring Khammam.

Around 43 families from the villages of Millampalli, Simalpenta, Raygudem, Darba and Singaram in Dantewada District, lost their makeshift homes for the second time in three months in the Mothe Reserve Forest of Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh on the 26th of March, 2012, when the Forest Department, mandated to protect the forests, would evict them using force.

A large number of families are Internally Displaced Persons who’ve escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict of Dantewada and have lived in Khammam as informal labour.

Most originated from Millampalli, that was burnt down by the Salwa Judum in 2006 and Maoists have killed at least three people – Sodi Dola, Komaram Muthaiya and Madkam Jogaiya in the past ten years. Another resident of Millampalli, Dusaru Sodi, used to be a member of the Maoist Sangam but would eventually become a Special Police Officer who witnesses from Tadmentla and Morpalli alleged was present during the burnings of the villages or Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram in March of 2011 by security forces. His name again re-appeared in testimonies by victims of rape, submitted to the National Commission of Women and the Supreme Court by Anthropologist Nandini Sundar.

Madvi Samaiya and Madvi Muthaiya from the village of Raygudem were also killed by the Maoists.

In Simalpenta, the Sarpanch’s brother Kurra Anda was killed by the Maoists in 2006.

In Singaram, an alleged encounter that took place on the 9th of January of 2009, where 19 adivasis were killed by security forces as alleged Maoists.

In Khammam, most of the IDPs/migrants have worked as informal labour during the mircchi cutting season, earning around Rs.100 per day and live off their savings in the summer season when there is no work, and little access to water to a majority of the settlements. The Muria from Chhattisgarh, or the Gotti Koya as they are known in Andhra along with Koyas from Chhattisgarh, have been in a struggle to appropriate the Reserve Forest land of Khammam for podu cultivation, often leading the Forest Department to evict them, aware that the entire forest cover is turning into a ‘honeycomb,’ as described by the DFO Shafiullah, who pointed out to satellite imagery of a pockmarked forest in Khammam, in 2010 itself.

The influx of migrants and Displaced persons has even led to conflicts with local adivasi Koya tribes over land and resources, sometimes leading to deadly clashes, such as an incident in Mamallivaye in Aswapuram Mandal where the local Koya burned down the homes of the Gotti Koya, or in Kamantome settlement in 2009 where one man would be killed as a Maoist by the police after an erroneous tip-off from the neighbouring village of migrants who had settled before the civil war.

Recently the Forest Survey of India, Ministry of Forest and Environment, published a controversial report that almost exonerates mining and land acquisition yet claimed that over 367 square kilometres of forest has been lost since 2009, pushing Khammam district to one of the worst affected districts where 182 square kilometres of forest cover have been lost.

In a recorded conversation between an activist and Home Minister P.Chidambaram during the first months of Operation Green Hunt in late 2009, when repeated combing operations in Dantewada/Bijapur led to further influx’s of IDPs into Andhra Pradesh, the activist Himanshu Kumar had urged P.Chidambaram to look into the plight of the IDPs and the migrants yet his claims were refuted by the Home Minister as an exaggeration.

Yet there have been many recent reports of IDPs from the previously independently estimated 203 settlements who have returned back to their villages owing to a decline in the frequency of combing operations and violent actions in their villages in Chhattisgarh and further difficulty to settle in Andhra Pradesh. After the villages of Nendra, Lingagiri and Basaguda block were rehabilitated with the help of NGOs and activists using Supreme Court orders, many others have simply moved back to their villages on their own accord, including those of Kistaram, Uskowaya, Kanaiguda, Mullempanda, Gompad and Gaganpalli, to mention a few. Both Gompad, and Gaganpalli have faced a large number of killings – nine people were killed in Gompad on the 1st of October, 2009 by security forces, and in the village of Gaganpalli, from where one of the leaders of the Salwa Judum originates, ten people were killed in 2006 during the burning of the village by the Salwa Judum.

While the Forest Survey of India Report 2011 has put the blame on leftwing extremists for massive deforestation in Khammam, the villages of Millampalli repeatedly exhorted and listed all the violent actions by the Maoists in their villages in Chhattisgarh. In fact, one of the most educated villagers of the settlement, Komaram Rajesh, is the brother of a Special Police Officer and has repeatedly claimed that the Salwa Judum didn’t oppress his people, often denying that his village was burnt down by the Salwa Judum, when the rest of his neighbours said it was indeed the Salwa Judum.

Beyond conflict with the Forest Department, other tribes, the Salwa Judum and the Maoists, another conflict takes place within settlements themselves where a growing tendency to cut down a large number of the forests for podu cultivation, has brought individuals in conflict with their own villagers who feel there should be more moderate felling of trees. Certain settlments cultivate rice without cutting larger trees while others have destroyed acres of forests.

‘If we cut the entire forest down, where will we live?’ A man from Kamantome once exhorted during a summer season when there was little access to food, or water for the settlement.

Ironically, in Millampalli, one of the men killed by the Maoists, Kumaram Muthaiya, was killed in 2002 because he refused to share his 70 acres of land with other villagers.

A Shrinking Space

Land alienation for the all the adivasi tribes of Khammam isn’t a new phenomena, and was adequately studied by late civil servant J. M. Girglani, who had commented in his report that, ‘The most atrocious violation of the LTR (Land Transfer Regulation) and regulation 1 of 70 is that all the lands in Bhadrachalam Municipal town and the peripheral urbanized and urbanizable area is occupied by non-tribals with commercial buildings, hotels, residential buildings, colleges including an engineering college. The market value of this land on an average is Rs.4,000/- per square yard. This was confirmed to me not only by local enquiry but also by responsible District officers. This would work out to about 5,000 crores worth of land, which should have been the property of the tribals. It is now the property of the non-tribals and is commercially used by them.’

Just two kilometres away from land that was meant to belong to the adivasis, is the latest Koya settlement that was destroyed by the Forest Department.

‘They (the Forest Department) destroyed our homes in January, and in February, and they came in March and even took away all the wood we used to make our homes. Now, we will rebuild our homes and if they come again and destroy them, we will rebuild them again.’ Said Komaram Rajesh of the village of Millampalli.

Villagers alleged that Forest Guards held them down and beat them on the soles of their feet, asking them why they had settled in the forest, and who had pointed them out to this patch of the forest. One man embarassing recollected in humour as his neighbours laughed, that one of the Gaurds threathened him saying, ‘ghaand mein mirrchi ghussa doonga.’

Officials would arrive a day later to convince all the Koyas, to leave the Reserve Forest but the residents protested. When the tractor arrived to carry away all the timber that was being used to make their homes, the adivasis willingly piled the timber onto the seat of the tractor, threathening to burn it down but refrained.

‘Even if they don’t let us settle here, we will manage somehow.’ Continued Komaram Rajesh.

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A Constitution’s Dead Army

April 9, 2012

Thirty years ago, a retired armyman’s body was being dragged by a police jeep as his adivasi brethren, armed with bows and arrows, helplessly tried to stop the convoy but were fired upon and chased away.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 9th of April, 2012.

Gangaram Kalundia was bayonneted in the police van, and then dragged across the village, for speaking for the rights of his people, and there was never any prosecutions against the police for his murder.

Gangaram was an adivasi of the Ho tribe, who joined the army when he was 19 years old, fought in the war of 1965 and the war of 71 as part of the Bihar Regiment, and had risen to the rank of Junior officer.

He voluntarily retired and returned home to find that his village Illigara in Chaibasa of West Singhbhum of Jharkhand (then Bihar), along with some 110 other villages would be submerged due to the Kuju dam project, that was funded by the World Bank.

He would organize his people to fight for their fundamental rights against displacement and the project exactly thirty years ago, to only be brutally murdered by the police early in the morning on the 4th of April, 1982.

‘This is where we placed stones to stop the convoy that had Gangaram,’ Said Tobro, then 14 years old, now pointing to a small woodland by the roadside, ‘and this is where we were, with bows and arrows, but the police fired upon us and chased us away.’

While Gangaram Kalundia was killed in 1982, a long agitation had still sustained itself, that had often driven people like Tobro underground, aware that the police were rounding people up. Surendra Biduili, 52, was a part of the agitation against the dam, and the eventual victory in 1991 when, ‘the World Bank withdrew the money.’

‘Their reports said that the dam would only submerge lands that had paddy,’ he continued, ‘but it was a lie, we were cultivating vegetables as well.’

It was much later when Gangaram had become a symbol for oppurtunistic politics, and his shaheed divas, would be attended by every other political party, or as Surendra would say, ‘First everyone used to be afraid to mention Gangaram’s name, now all the parties of contractors and dalaals come for his shaheed divas.’

In The Thousands

Gangaram Kalundia was not the only adivasi leader killed for representing the rights of people. Just a few kilometres away from Chaibasa, across the Sal tree forest, is the village of Bandgaon, where Lalsingh Munda was killed in broad daylight in the market on the 1st of November 1983. His concerns were that sacred grounds were being used by non-tribals and contractors as a waste dump.

‘You travel by bus to Chaibasa, well, back then, people used to get off the bus to piss into the sacred grounds.’ Said Phillip Kujur, a member of JMACC (Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee).

Phillip Kujur was also associated with Lalit Mehta who was brutally murdered in Palamau in May 2008, Niyamat Ansari who was killed by the Maoists in Latehar District on the 2nd of March, 2011, and on the 29th of December, 2011, Pradip Prasad was killed by PLFI extremists in the village of Mukka, Latehar.

Sister Valsa who fought for the adivasis in Pachuwara in Pakur District of Jharkhand was murdered on the 15th of November, 2011.

The roads in adivasi villages are punctuated with memorials for fallen leaders and activists.

The office for NGO Birsa in Chaibasa has a memorial stone with other names: Vahaspati Mahto killed in 1977 in Purulia, Shaktinath Mahto killed in 1977 at Dhanbad , Ajit Mahto killed in 1982 at Tiraldih, Beedar Nag killed in 1983 at Gua, Ashwini Kumar Savaya killed in 1984 in Chaibasa, Anthony Murmu killed in 1985 at Banjhi, Nirmal Mahto killed in 1986 at Jamshedpur, Devendra Mahji killed in 1994 in Goilkera. The memorial ends with the sentence, ‘anaam shaheed….hazaaron mein.’ (Unknown Martyrs, in the thousands)

‘When I was young,’ Said Phillip, ‘I was travelling with two veteran activists, who kept pointing to village after village saying, ‘here’s where another cadre of ours was killed’, and there I was, another man they trained to fight for people’s rights. Finally, I turned to them and asked, ‘you taught all these people how to fight, but did you teach them how to stay alive?’

In recent times, K Singanna, one of the first organizers of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh in Narayanpatna Block of Koraput District of Odisha was shot thrice in his back in a police firing incident on the 20th of November, 2009. Since then, another leader Nachika Linga has been living underground in fear of arrest, or death, as posters calling for him to be caught ‘dead or alive’ were posted all over Narayanpatna after the firing. Both individuals were responsible for organizing the Kondh adivasis to claim their rights as per the Fifth Schedule, to free themselves as bonded labourers on their own land.

In Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, Muria and Koya adivasis committed to taking the cause of their people via rallies, writ petitions, and organizing them to fight peacefully for their rights, have almost all been arrested as alleged Maoists. Manish Kunjam, an ex-MLA, has faced repeated death threats and his own cadre, responsible for working in the villages, have been in and out of jail.

On International Labour Day, the 1st of May, 2008, in Kalinganagar Industrial Park of Jajpur, Odisha, one of the leaders of the Anti-displacement group, Dabar Kalundia was attacked outside the gates of the Rohit Ferrotech Steel Plant and escaped, but Omin Banara (51) was killed.

In Memory of Gangaram

‘They all talk about Gangaram, but they don’t care about his wife.’

Birangkui Kalundia, widow of Gangaram, lost her only daughter when she was giving birth to her grandchild. She was widowed by the state, and her daughter would be another statistic to those 80,000 women who die every year due to childbirth.

Her brother-in-law, would also cut ties with her, often dividing the produce of Gangaram’s 15 acres for himself, leaving her out with nothing, and after his death, she moved out of the village his husband fought for, to move in with her new caretakters, her nephew and his wife, where she lives with a quiet pride to this day.

She still holds onto the medals won by her husband, the citation for his President’s Medal,  speaking in soft tones unforgivingly about the men who killed her husband, coming to terms with injustice in this life, to a hope for justice in the next.

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Death In A Quiet Corner

March 21, 2012

This op-ed appears in abriged form in Daily News & Analysis on the 19th of March, 2012.

‘Torture has long been employed by well-meaning, even reasonable people armed with the sincere belief that they are preserving civilization as they know it. Aristotle favoured the use of torture in extracting evidence, speaking of its absolute credibility, and St.Augustine also defended the practice. Torture was routine in ancient Greece and Rome, and although the methods have changed in the intervening centuries, the goals of the torturer – to gain information, to punish, to force an individual to change his beliefs or loyalties, to intimidate a community – have not changed at all.’ – from Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, The Dynamics of Torture, by John Conroy.

On the 11th of August of 2010, Mandangi Subarao of Kondabaredi village of Rayagada district of Odisha, allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself in the offices of the Anti-Naxalite cells of the police station.

He killed himself in the police station that specializes in tracking down and killing Maoists, in fear of the Maoists, according to the police.

His case was eventually sent to the National Human Rights Commission by the National Campaign For The Prevention Of Torture, who asked the state to submit action taken report by 2 February 2012. The police continue to be on duty. A similar situation had developed in Dantewada when the NHRC took cognizance of the death of Pudiyama Mada after newspaper reports detailed his torture by the Central Reserve Police Force, and his eventual ‘suicide’ in the Sukma police station.

Meanwhile, the medical report on adivasi teacher Soni Sori’s condition that reached the Supreme Court stated that stones were found lodged in her vagina and her rectum while she was in police custody.

The Supreme Court gave the Chhattisgarh government 55 days to respond, and sent her back to the Chhattisgarh jails, and has revealed once again, that the rule of law and the constitution is divorcing itself from the aspirations of citizen of the state, whose fundamental Right To Life has to be protected by the Courts, not something the Court grants her, or the police is allowed to take away the instant they consider her a Maoist sympathizer.

Her hearing was supposed to be held on the 25th of January, 2012, but its turn never came up. Instead, the Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg, who she accused of torturing her, won the President’s Medal for Gallantry on Republic Day, the day the constitution of India came into being. He was awarded for his conduct during an encounter with the Maoists in Mahasumand District in 2010.

To the state machinery: it remains a story of he said, she said, as the allegations of torture in police custody leave no witnesses besides the tortured themselves, but in this case, the accused has a medical report from Kolkatta to say that her body was violated beyond anyone’s imagination, unlike the Mandangi Subarao case, where a man who kills himself in the police station in fear of the Maoists has done so in a district, out of sight and mind, and buried in the quagmire of the hopelessness of raising one’s voice over endemic abuse.

The National Human Rights Commission has gone on record to say that 1574 custodial deaths took place between April 2010 and March 2011. And between 2001 and 2011, there were around 15,231 custodial deaths, according to The Asian Center For Human Rights who had done a similar study on custodial violence in 2008, where they had claimed around 9,000 people were killed in police custody since 2000, at an unchanging average of four per day.

The Police State Against The Woman’s Body

16 year old Meena Khalko was killed in an alleged encounter and accused as a Maoist. Allegations would surface that she was raped and murdered and not killed in crossfire, and the Chhattisgarh Home Minister parroted his police officials who said that she was ‘habitual about sex’ and had links with truck drivers.

Ishrat Jahan who the Special Investigation Team confirms was killed in a fake encounter recently was questioned by our own Home Minister G.K. Pillai who finds that her checking into a hotel room with another man is suspicious.

In none of the 99 cases of rape allegations against Special Police Officers or security personnel in South Bastar did the police file even a single First Information Report even after the Supreme Court ordered them to do so. The National Human Rights Commission Enquiry Team, (comprising of 15 police officials out of 16) only investigated five cases out of 99, where in one instance, they visited the wrong village and construed that the allegations were baseless as they couldn’t find the victims.

In the other village of Potenaar, there were discrepancies in the testimonies of women who were raped three years earlier and there was no FIR filed in the police station. Thus they construed again, that the allegations were baseless, as women traumatized brutally by assault have to apparently remember the intricate details of everything that was done to them and lodge a complaint against the same police that rapes them.

The women of Vakapalli of Andhra Pradesh who were allegedly gangraped by the special anti-Naxalite forces the Greyhounds, are still fighting for justice in a case that was widely highlighted in Andhra Pradesh but the accused policemen continue to be in duty, and the state continues to construe their allegations as nothing but Maoist propaganda.

Even though the women’s statements were recorded both before the police as well as the Magistrate: all of them stated that they bathed after the assault, they did not resist the assault as they were afraid of violence, thus, there was no sign of injuries (besides one woman who had a boot on her face), and thus no physical evidence of rape, and the case would run aground by a system that ignores the Supreme Courts own directives on rape, which mention that inquiries should be done on accusation alone and the burden of proving innocence falls on the accused.

A 12 year old girl who was allegedly raped by the member of the elite anti-Maoist C60 group of Maharashtra, in the village of Paverval on the 4th of March, 2009, the alleged rapist himself, claims with strong conviction, that it’s all Maoist propaganda mischief.

In Narayanpatna block of Orissa, in the village of Taladekapadu, on the 19th of April, 2011, a 14 year old girl was allegedly gang-raped by four security personnel, yet without making her medical report public, the Crime Branch claims the entire allegation is false. The girl’s family belong to the Kondh tribe who have been criminalized in a district that has seen mass arrests, police firings into crowds, mass abductions and tortures, and the burning of villages, and to them, the idea of approaching the judicial system itself is oppressive.

And the cases like hers are those that never receive the kind of attention that the Soni Sodi case has, where a woman stood up for her rights, who approached the media that would listen to her, who repeatedly spoke about the torture faced by her family by both the state and the Maoists, and would yet be condemned by the system, while those who defend human rights watch helplessly.

The State As A Bystander

A woman attacked with acid by a man in the middle of the market while a crowd watches without doing anything can be described akin to Soni Sodi being brutally tortured as the judiciary, the press, the senior police officials, larger civil society and the general public sit quietly.

A group of committed activists, a dissident media and international human rights organizations have been repeatedly bringing her case to the public eye, yet as a matter of fact, have failed to prevent her torture.

Bystanders, and the silent consent of the general public plays its role in perpetrating human rights violations. If a woman is being tortured, first it’s veracity is questioned, then when it is confirmed, she is dehumanised with the tag ‘Naxalite supporter’ so people can continue to be bystanders, and turn the pages over the suffering of a fellow human being. When it comes to rape, a victim is dressed indecently, not that men need to keep their dicks in their pants. When it comes to rape accusations against the police, the very lackadaisical and haphazard manner of the investigation, the complete lack of interest shown in even lodging FIRs, doesn’t entertain any seriousness of the crime and only manifests the complete bias of the police who are convinced that all accusations against their own, is malicious propaganda meant to ‘demoralize’ their ranks.

Bystanders, when there are many of them, will always pass on the responsibility of doing something when there are others in the crowd. Responsibility is diffused. Responsibility is further diffused, when the crowd looks around and notices no one is doing anything. Chief Ministers are quiet. Home Ministers are saying a rape victim was habitual about sex. The Highest Court of the land, sends a woman back to her torturers, to ensure procedure. But when a police official suspected of torture is awarded by the president of the nation, what kind of message does it give to the police?

The police however have been convinced that the Maoists have been using the laws of the land, the courts and Writ Petitio, to hamper their counterinsurgency efforts. And counterinsurgency is completely incompatible with human rights – what are human rights violations to one, are standard operating procedures to those in uniform.

State of Anomie

Psychologist Ervin Staub quotes in The Origins and Prevention of Genocide, Mass Killing, and Other Collective Violence, that ‘Dominant groups usually develop “‘hierarchy legitimizing myths” or legitimizing ideologies that justify subordinating other groups. They often see themselves as superior and deserving of their status due to their race, religion, intelligence, hard work, worldview, or other characteristics. Groups also embrace ideologies of development and visions of economic progress, identifying the victim group as standing in the way.’

And Jon Conroy quotes him extensively in Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, The Dynamics of Torture, where Staub studied mass human rights violations in Argentina during the military Junta, where “….over time, ‘the many kinds of victims made it difficult [for the perpetrators] to differentiate between more or less worthy human beings. It became acceptable to torture and murder teenage girls, nuns and pregnant women. Learning by doing stifled the torturer’s feelings of empathy and concern.’ Furthermore, the Argentine torturers could see that their actions were supported by the larger society. Their superior officers signed release forms for kidnappings, relieving the lower orders from responsibility for the acts they carried out. The judiciary commonly accepted the military’s versions of events. The press – threatened by prison terms for demeaning or subverting the military – largely accepted censorship and did not report on disappearances. Doctors were present in interrogation rooms…….The middle class, Staub says, was pleased by the junta’s economic policy and was unmoved by the repression that accompanied it.”

A considerable difference in India would be: the mainstream media censors itself not out of fear but for reasons it knows best.  The middle class, especially, is happier to be engaging with the indigenous adivasis as exhibitions in state-sponsered fairs. Doctors in Chhattisgarh had botched two medical reports on Soni Sodi.

In India, ‘development’, ‘economic progress’, have become the legitimate myths, justifications, war cries; the apathy, for the killing of the illegitimate children of the Republic.

That every day, four people are invisibly tortured to death in police custody reflects upon the society we are becoming, and the apathy that emanates from it, is the gasoline that falls into the tinderbox that is a lawless society holding a gun to its head, a neurotic world of violence where people kill each other for a packet of biscuits, or uncontrolable rage, or where the Border Security Force strips a man and beats him brutally and videographs it, as every institution of authority has broken down, where the new deities of profit, growth, development have destroyed the needs of human touch and conscience: where compassion, empathy, and mercy were quietly executed in some forest declared as a Disturbed Area or a ‘liberated zone.’

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The Ghosts Of Dantewada

March 14, 2012

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 13th of March, 2012.

On the 11th of March, 2012, Superintendent of police of Bilaspur Rahul Sharma took his service revolver and shot himself in the head. Some cite personal problems, others feel he was under severe pressure from his superiors.

I first met him on the 3rd of April, 2009 when Maoists, travelling by motorcycle had gunned down Channu Karma, a relative of Mahendra Karma, in broad daylight, just a few kilometers away from the police station at Dantewada. I had taken the above photograph of the witness of the crime, who sat distraught, holding his head, unable to talk. Rahul Sharma (framed by the window) then the Superintendent of Police of Dantewada, had entered the scene of the crime, and instantly called someone in Raipur, and in a calm demeanor he described the situation and everything that was being done by his deparment to handle just another political assasination in Dantewada. He would later ask me where I had come from, and I replied, I came from Mumbai. I would live in Dantewada for months under his office.

A few days later, on the 12th of April, an encounter had taken me to the village of Goomiyapal, then to Hiroli, then Samalwar, where the police had claimed to kill three Maoists in the forest, yet the dirt-roads leading away from the village of Samalwar were filled with pools of blood.  The villagers too claimed that three people were taken away by the police from Samalwar and that there was no encounter in the forest.

That day I had interviewed Rajesh Pawar, the Assistant Superintendent of Police in the mining town of Kirandul. He had a strange habit of leaving his service revolver on his desk. I would meet him a few more times, once to find access to some prisoners who I knew were being beaten in the other room after an IED blast on a road near Kuakonda that had injured three CRPF personel.  And each time I met him when he was in office, he would leave his 9mm on the desk. When another reporter challenged him about the killings of Hiroli, he responded quickly, ‘Itna easy nahi hai, aadmi ko marna.’ And he handed his service pistol to the reporter, ‘mujhe maro.’

A few months later, he was gunned down by the Maoists on the 23rd of May, 2011 at Gariaband. The Maoists had filled him up with twenty bullets in an ambush that also took nine other lives. The village of Goomiyapal, where a mother and her son were beaten up during 12th of April encounter in the ‘forest’, would see another encounter in December 2009 that claimed six lives, and another in May of 2010, that claimed two lives, and again on the 12th of February, 2012, where a young boy was shot dead.

But Rahul Sharma’s stint as Superintendent of Police at Dantewada was even more controversial with the killing of 19 adivasis in Singaram village, which the police referred to as harcore Maoist cadres, but human rights groups and the media had cited as ordinary villagers, and witnesses claimed that people were lined up and shot. The Singaram matter was taken to the courts by human rights activist Himanshu Kumar, and a few months later, one of the adivasi petitioners who was challenging the version of events of the police, would be killed by the Maoists.

Death, in Dantewada, moves in circles, and only the ghosts know the end of the war.

There was once a casual story about Superintendent of Police Rahul Sharma, who met Arundhati Roy and filmmaker Sanjay Kak when they were in Dantewada. He would tell Ms.Roy that he was an avid reader of her work when he was in JNU, and would say, like a market economist would concur, ‘Peace would come to Dantewada if the adivasis would be taught greed.’

I wish I knew Rahul Sharma a lot better now, and I wish could’ve asked him what he learnt from the Adivasis.

 

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Where Individuality Means Waging War Against The State

September 29, 2011

The Curious Case Of Lingaram Kodopi

Testimonies from the burnings of the villages of Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram were also collected by Lingaram and can be found on youtube here.

This article first appears in abridged form in DNA on the 26th of September, 2011.

I got a call around midnight in the Delhi summer. It was Lingaram, the young Muria adivasi from Sameli village in Dantewada, then studying in Noida’s International Media Institute of India. Linga’s misfortunes never seem to end: first he was accused of helping the Maoists, then tortured in the police station toilet, forced to be a Special Police Officer, then released with the help of a habeas corpus petition. In a few months, he would be dealing with encounter killings in his village that left three dead, to only add to the targetting of his family members by the Chhattisgarh police, and then to be accused in a press conference by Senior Superintendent of Police Kalluri of being a mastermind of an attack on a Congress leader, and that Lingaram would be the sucessor to Maoist leader Azad.

‘Javed bhai,’ He asked me that night in Delhi, ‘do you know where I can get a Che Guevara t-shirt?’

Silence.

‘Linga, you wear that T-shirt in Dantewada, you’d be the first man in jail.’

Lingaram chuckled uncontrollably.

Prankster.

A young man who is repeatedly targetted by the state of Chhattisgarh wants to wear a t-shirt with a face of a revolutionary while he traipses around the forests as a newly-trained video journalist, with the clearest of intentions of trying to help his people.

That alone, is his first crime against the state. Lingaram wants to help the adivasis, his own people, which means, to ensure them a fair stake in their forests, their lands, and their rights, which is completely against the policies of the state of Chhattisgarh. That alone, is a crime. That alone, makes him a Maoist sympathizer.

A simple idea, enshrined in the idea of the dignity of the human being: that he should not be shot, that she should not be raped, that they should not lose their children to war, that they should not lose their forests and their way of life to the profit margins of companies, and the idea of economic growth.

Lingaram was arrested again on the 9th of September, 2011 from his village of Sameli in Dantewada, for allegedly facilitating Essar Steel’s payment of protection money to the Maoists.

He was arrested along with B.K Lala, a contractor.

That Essar Steel pays the Maoists is a fact that was well-known in Dantewada. In 2009, when the Maoists blasted the 267km pipeline that carried iron ore slurry to Vishakapatnam, one local journalist was quick to quip: ‘It’s collection time!’

Essar Steel pays local journalists too to keep their mouths shut. That also everyone knew. Local journalists need to collect their own advertising revenue and they get that from companies.

As for Essar Steel paying the Maoists, this is no new phenomena. Contractors and companies have paid the Maoists in almost all the districts where they have a ‘liberated zone’. You don’t cut a single beedi leaf or mine a single rock of ore without paying the Maoists.

Lingaram, would’ve been one of the rarest breeds of journalists in a district of Muria and Koya adivasis: he would be one who knew Gondi, who spoke the language of the people in the furthest hills, with the quietest whispers.

His story on the Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram burnings is available on youtube, and his story quotes adivasis who want justice, who want ‘karvai’, nor ‘kranti’, they want investigations, not anything else. It is there for everyone to see, called ‘Dantewada burning 1.mov’

Linga knew his district too and what his people would tell you. He would tell you that the development by the Essars and Tatas is not development for his people. He would tell you how even though the National Mineral Development Corporation and the Bailadila mines have been around since the 1960s, it has not brought any upliftment to the hundreds of adivasi villages around it.

But why is he really in jail?

The state of Chhattisgarh has an unwritten set of rules about how an adivasi is meant to behave. You don’t organize, you don’t agitate, you don’t protest human rights violations, you don’t protest against the state, and you certiainly don’t protest against industrial development, which the drafters of the new Land Acquisition bill will tell you in the introduction to the bill, that ‘urbanization is inevitable’….. and these adivasis better understand that.

Lingaram joins all the other adivasis who stood up for their rights and started to ask questions about the kind of development that was thrown onto them without a choice: Manish Kunjam, an ex-MLA was given death threats and has been living on borrowed time, Kartam Joga, Supreme Court petitioner against the Salwa Judum who is in jail on absurd charges, Kopa Kunjam, human rights activist who refused to be bought by the state.

They’re all guilty of trying to help their people.

The Maoists too, claim to help the Adivasis. And while some people would like to ensure that those two things, ‘the Maoists’ and the ‘adivasis’ are the same thing, there’s also another adivasi voice dissenting amidst the dissenters that says, ‘but they kill our own people.’ Lingaram, the so-called Maoist sympathizer, would last call me when he needed help to ensure his uncle could get treatment after the Maoists shot him in his leg.

Linga also had that voice, the voice to profess his complete independence: free of being called something. I still remember the one thing he said with most emphasis, the first time I met him: ‘I just want to be my own person.’

Individuality, according to the state of Chhattisgarh, is also called Waging War Against the State now. Individuality would mean, that a young boy who is being forced by two warring parties to come to their side, doesn’t need to choose his allegiances but can be his own person.

A Brief Note on Kuakonda Block: Lingaram’s Testimony

One day in Kuakonda block: a mother and her child look on as security forces who commandeered their vehicle return to base camp, about thirty minutes after an IED blast that injured three security personnel and led to the arbitrary detention of four adivasis, including a young boy. The incident took place on the 2nd of May, 2009.

Lingaram had given a testimony in the Independent People’s Tribunal in Delhi on the 9th of April, 2010, three days after the Tadmetla killings that left 76 security personnel dead. The entire testimony is here:

“My name is Lingaram, from Sameli,  Dantewada.  I am a driver and my family has a car, in which I can ferry people.  We  have  some land on which we farm.  I am not very literate.

I was watching TV at home, around September last year.  Five  motorcycles came, with 10 people, who were holding AK 47s. They took me to Koukonda. They asked me questions such as “where did you get the bike from?  How do you go about in style?”  My family is fairly comfortably off, but they accused me of being a Naxalite.  They  tortured me and wanted me to become an SPO.

In the meanwile, my family members filed a writ of habeus corpus. I should have been released. But they kept threatening me that I would either be killed by them—in a fake encournter, or by the Naxalites.  Finally, I  agreed to be an Special Police Officer. They took me for the Court hearing and kept me in a fancy hotel—but before the judge, I said that although I have come here of my own will, I now wish to return to my family and village.  So the police had to let me go.

But on the way back, while I was being accompanied by my family and villagers in cars, the security forces stopped us again, and arrested me again and were trying to force me to go back to the police station.  However, I managed to flee, but my brother was taken by them instead.  A few days later, they again came for me. And have been threatening my father also.

I have been living in hiding since. The police are still looking for me.

Who is not grieved by the killings of 76 people? But I feel that even though the stated target of the police is the naxalites, the real target is somewhere else? Why are we (adivasis) being harassed by the police because of what the Naxalites do?  Why can’t we adivasis wear a good watch, drive a car without being picked up by the police?

Our village has 1800 people, the block has 30,000 people.

I fear that because of what has happened recently (the killing of 76 security forces), the entire town of Chintalnar will be razed.  Just because of coming here to testify, God knows what will happen to me.  But I have to die in any case, how long can I live in hiding?

There is news that some mineral has been discovered in the hills close to our village. And I think that is the real reason that the police is there, not because of the Naxalites.

We have a Gram Panchayat but it has no meaning.  It is full of Marwaris and non-tribals.  If we write and send them something, they bury it and make sure that it doesn’t reach any of the authorities.  We have no education, no health, nothing.  Calling us Naxalites is simply an excuse to terrorize us.

We have a school in our village upto the 5th class.  The teachers come for only one day in a month, and collect a full month’s pay. We want real education.

The only time the politicians come is during the elections.  No one comes to our areas except the police force. We complained about the teachers—but to no avail.  We are told that till Maoists are there, we can’t get any relief. When we tell the Maoists we want education, they tell us that they aren’t here for us, adivasis, but for a ‘class war’.

There is no NREGA in our region. We were organized under an organization to collect forest produce, but were told that we are Naxalites. How is it that the Marwaris can come and steal our forest produce and make high profits, but when we, adivasis try to collect it, we are called Naxalites?

We get enough from our land to feed us.  What is development?  NMDC has operated in our area for 52 years but has only caused destruction. Naxalites don’t help us, but they don’t hurt us either.  If having a company nearby could give us development, then considering that Bailadila (NMDC mines) is 20 km from us and has been there before the Naxalites, then we should have had a lot of development. What is the reason that we still have no education and no hospital? Not one hospital in 52 years!  When our Adivasis go to Bailadila for treatment, they humiliate us and don’t admit us to their hospitals.”

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The Migrating Forests of Warangal

September 14, 2011

A young child sleeps in the Internally Displaced Persons settlement of Mandaltove in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh

Three year old Centi Madkam S/o Joga, died just a few weeks ago of ‘mirrgi’ in the IDP settlement of Mandaltove in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh.

In a small settlement of 20 homes, there were another three cases of malaria and another of typhoid, and in a village of day labourers, access to healthcare did not mean access to healthcare, when it took a few days wages for travel to the clinic, along with expenditure for medicines.

Mandaltove’s residents have all escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict, hailing from Gadiras, Nakulnar, Edpal, Jarapalli, and from Pamed block in undivided Bastar district of Chhattisgarh. Deva Choddi s/o Adma had migrated from Tadmetla, the day after the police had burnt his village down on the 16th of March 2011.

And it wasn’t suprising that Muria adivasis who had first settled in the forests of Khammam district were now living in neighbouring Warangal.

‘We’ve gone through great difficulties to get here.’ Said Idma Ram, who first lived in the IDP settlement of Rayenpenta in Aswapuram mandal of Khammam. Lack of land, lack of security and constant harassment by the Forest Department of Khammam has sent a few families to Warangal where the Forest Department of Warangal continues the same.

The nearby settlement of Jangalinsa had been burnt down by the Forest Department just a year ago. It was broken down at least three times in the last four years.

Mandaltove, unlike Jangalinsa, is a colony of landless labourers, while Jangalinsa has been secretly cultivating rice, sugarcane and cotton deep within the Reserve Forest, and has constantly incurred the wrath of the Forest Department.

Kavaram, another settlement in Tadvai Panchayat has existed even before the Salwa Judum had come into being. ‘The forest department only started to harass us three years ago when we started to cultivate in the forest.’ Said Bheemaiah Karam, originally from Mopepal in Chhattisgarh.

Before that, their existence was tolerated as they were only cheap labour.

The Numbers And The Reasons

The burnt remains of the house of Hemla Jogaya of Jangalinsa in Warangal district

The number of Internally Displaced Persons in Andhra Pradesh who’ve escaped the conflict in Chhattisgarh has always been a contentious issue. Activists would say 50,000 as a speculation, the central government ignores them completely, while others who do the hard work of surveying each settlement and each family, would count 213 settlements in Khammam District alone, and that itself, has a tendency to be a floating population that comes and goes, and has to often live through near starvation, or droughts.

In Warangal, a majority of the ‘mandals’ close to the Chhattisgarh border are yet to be surveyed, yet two mandals Etunagaram and Tadvai have around 39 settlements, each of around 15 to 20 families, who’ve been living in Warangal for years, or have just recently migrated.

Migrations are all family affairs – the first family of a settlement who migrated, may have migrated over 10 years ago, and would soon be joined by another ten of fifteen families, a rate of migration that was excarcebated by the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict.

Fear of the Salwa Judum and the Maoists isn’t the only factor that drove the Muria into Andhra Pradesh, but also lack of land, as many Murias had small holdings of land in their villages in Dantewada or Bijapur.

Land itself, that is being diverted from agricultural purposes to industrial use by the state of Chhattisgarh.

Land again, that would be submerged by the Polavaram dam – over 276 villages in Khammam, East and West Godavari districts, would be submerged along with over 10,000 acres of reserve forest land.

Land again, that for decades has been encroached upon by non-tribals. The late civil servant J.M Girglani had documented the alienation of the tribals in Telengana, and his findings can be found here. Here are a few extracts from his findings, ‘The most shocking case is that of Mangapeta Mandal. Here 23 villages were excluded from the Schedule V notification under High Court orders because of some technical error. All the efforts of the State government and the States Human Rights Commission to have the rectification notification issued by the Central Government have failed during the previous and present regimes, because the powerful non-tribal occupants have been able to prevent action in New Delhi.’

‘In Kothaguda village, there are 21,000 acres worth not less than 110 crores at the minimal value of Rs.50,000/- per acre of Billa number lands, which are occupied by non-tribals. In 1993 the land was surveyed. In 2002 the extremists are said to have blasted the MRO’s Office and destroyed the survey records. To who’s advantage? Who really blasted, God knows. ’

‘Thousands of acres of government land is not being assigned to the tribals on the pretext of lack of surveyors to sub divide the land while non-tribals merrily continue to enjoy these lands, without any sub divisions.’

Land again, in Khammam, the district with the highest rejection rate for claims for patta (deeds) as per the Forest Rights Act : out of a total of 68,470 claims for 3,92,495 acres, just more than 50 per cent of these claims – 35,643  for 1,78,717 acres were rejected. In Warangal, out of a total of 33,997 claims, the Gram Sabha itself rejected 18,340 claims for 41,428 acres.

Land again, that is being slowly encroached upon by mining in the forests of Khammam. 1.37 lakh acres in Khammam and Warangal was leased to a private mining firm Rakshana Steels, whose Executive Director is the son-in-law of the late Chief Minister YSR Reddy. The opposition parties were quick to demand a cancellation.

Yet the Forest Department has been overtly vocal of their opposition to the Muria or Gotti Koya as they are known in Andhra Pradesh, often citing the ‘extensive’ damage done to the Forests by Gotti Koya cultivation.

But what other options do the Muria have?

Morally, one can say the Muria adivasis have a right to the forest, realistically, one can ask if there is enough forest for every adivasi family, and for community rights as per the Forest Rights Act? And ambivalently, a Koya adivasi who has been working for the Muria adivasis ever since they first started to settle in Andhra Pradesh has been saying that if the ‘Muria get the chance, they’d cut the entire forest down.’ While an old Muria adivasi man, once replied to the same question, ‘if we cut the entire forest down, where will we live?’