Archive for the ‘Kopa Kunjam’ Category

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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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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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In Chhattisgarh, The Only Criminal Is Law

December 26, 2010

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 27th of December, 2010.

In the middle of the above photograph, is the Salwa Judum leader Soyam Mukka, a part of a state-sponsered mob, protesting against Medha Patkar, Sandeep Pandey and a contingent of human rights activists and social workers, in January 2010.

Soyam Mukka is a few feet away from the police and would be, for the duration of the protest on that faithful day in January. It is also a fact that there is a warrant for his arrest, for the kidnapping of a young tribal woman, who’d be eventually gangraped by Special Police Officers in the Konta police station in 2008.

In the above photographs by a local reporter (look at the extreme right and left), one can see the police of Chhattisgarh trying its utmost best to uphold the law.

Soyam Mukka has never been arrested as per 25th of December 2010.

Previously, they hadn’t even accepted the FIR of the girl who was raped. And when the girl was taken to the JMFC Court in Konta, by human rights activists, the police did their best to loiter around the area to harass the girl. Their crowning achievement was the harassment of her family. But the police could not uphold the law. It was difficult for them to fight the Maoists when they’re too busy trying to save their own skins from what is just ‘collateral’ or the ‘spoils of war’.

So they changed their tactics. We should uphold the Law (by making it ours, to do whatever we please), by harassing, beating up, arresting, and chasing away all of these pesky humanrightwallas, who talk about constitutional rights. Nobody has time to go and intimidate witnesses and victims of police atrocities all the time, and we all know that it’s the Maoists who’re using ‘human rights’ as a strategy.  So bugger with human rights.

We need to shoot the messenger, these people calling for the Law. Chase them away like common criminals, and everyone else is scot free.

Now that the good doctor and human rights activist Binayak Sen is sentenced to life for Section 124A Sedition, there is human rights activist, Kopa Kunjam who has been in jail for over a year now for the murder of a man who every witness has so far claimed – he had tried to save.  Then there are CPI cadres, many of whom are elected representatives – Lala Kunjam, Sukul Prasad Nag, Sudru Ram Kunjam, Bhima Kunjam and Kartam Joga, who’re all in jail.

Kartam Joga was even one of the first petitioners in the Supreme Court regarding the illegal killings of the Salwa Judum. Unlike the police, he believed in upholding the law. He believed in the courts.

And while the CPI had called for a rally on the 25th of November to protest against the police and the administration, on the night of 24th of November, numerous reports surfaced about the police beating up CPI protestors around Katekkalyan, Pondum and Jhirum villages on Dantewada road. The CPI even demanded that the Home Ministry should take action against the SSP Kalluri, who they claim is responsible for the attack on their party.

And on the 8th of December, 2010, the CPI along with other organizations under the banner of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, was part of a rally of over 10,000 people who submitted a petition of one lakh people to the Chhattisgarh State Assembly asking for better implementation of PESA, Forest Rights Act, the end of fake environment hearings, harassment of activists and displacement from land.

Almost everyone in Chhattisgarh seems to want the Law.

Yet let’s not forget the journalists. When the news about the burning of villages, fake encounters, rapes and illegal detentions started to get out, the state forgot that they need to chase the journalists away as well.

Just recently, the new Avatar of the Salwa Judum, the Maa Danteswari Adivasi Swabhimani Manch had made a statement calling for the deaths of three local journalists in the undivided Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.

Anil Mishra, the previous district head of New Delhi-based Hindi-Daily Nai Duniya, NRK Pillai, the vice president of the Working Journalists Union, and Yashwant Yadav of Deshbandu were mentioned in the press release that states, ‘journalists and NGOs who are befriending the Naxals, be it Himanshu Kumar or Arundhati, or even for that matter NRK Pillai, Anil Yadav or Yashwant Mishra, all of you will face consequences. Leaders of CPI, BJP or Congress, in jail or outside – who have been on your side will not be make any difference. Under the garb of human right activists you should know that you cannot last too long. If you do not leave Bastar you will die like a dog.’

This is not the first time the state apparatus or the state-backed counter insurgent group has attacked journalists in Bastar. Over the last four years, full timers and part-timers, Kamlesh Paikra, Maqbool of Sahara Samay, Afzal Khan, and this author have faced the lathis of the police or the Salwa Judum.

NRK Pillai had long made a statement to the journalists in Delhi about the persecution of the press in Dantewada. Yet there was nothing but silence from Delhi. Journalists were soft targets.

In October, 2009, right at the onset of major operations that would then be known-as Operation Green Hunt, the police had ‘requested’ all the local journalists not to go and work in the jungles. And almost no one did. When there were others who accompanied national and international journalists into the field, they were warned, ‘tere koh yah rahna hai, yeh log nikal jayenge.’ (you live here, these people (outsiders) will go away.)

Anil Mishra lost his job at Nai Duniya because he accompanied international and national journalists into the area. And he moved out of Dantewada. And there is no doubt that the recent Maa Danteshwari press release was a reaction to his recent visit to the Jagargonda area of Dantewada.

And the first report of the Maa Danteshwari death threat had come out on citizen’s news portal CGNet Swara. The young adivasi journalist Mangal Kunjam only had to call the CGNet Swara number (080) 4113 7280, to record his report that would be scrutinized by moderaters. Yet a few days after the recording was made available to the world, he would be called to Kirandul police station where he was dutifully threatened.

But why target the poor Binayak Sen? To silence dissent? To act as a deterrence, that no human rights group work in Dantewada? They had arrested him in 2007 and that didn’t deter anyone. There were hundreds of human rights workers and journalists who had visited Dantewada after 2007. There have been fewer visits in the last one year by any outsiders but a brave few who travel incognito, as the state has now attempted to destroy the contact base of the journalists and human rights workers.

Binayak Sen was definitely condemned for political reasons. No sensible court would sentence a man to life in prison, when the evidence the prosecutors present to court, are ‘links to ISI’, which they didn’t bother to realize, was the Indian Social Institute, a Delhi-based advocacy organization.

It seems that the police are using the same strategy that the Maoists use with human rights and the courts. The police often claim all the petitions filed against them in the Supreme Court or the High Court, are strategic tactics by the Maoists to use human rights organizations to keep the police busy dealing with Supreme Court queries of missing petitioners and witnesses, which in their unimaginative self-delusions, can be equated to, keeping the civil rights organizations, and journalists busy with Binayak Sen and not the ground realities of Dantewada and Chhattisgarh.

But for the adivasi in Dantewada facing brutal repression and for Binayak Sen, the Law had been abandoned a long time ago.

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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.

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To Get Away With Murder, Chhattisgarh Style

February 21, 2010

The graves of the villagers of the now eeriely empty Dorla-para of Gompad. The bodies were exhumed by the state of Chhattisgarh on the 23rd of January.

This article appeared in The New Indian Express on the 28th of February, 2010.

Sets: The Supreme Court and the inaccessible jungles of Dantewada.

Cast – missing witnesses and supreme court petitioners, a controversial activist, a young superintendent of police, counsel for the petitioners Colin Gonsales, counsel for the respondents Ajit Jha and DGP Chhattisgarh Vishwaranjan.

Plot – the truth about the killing of nine villagers at the onset of Operation Green Hunt.

Act I – It was alleged that, in the early morning of the 1st of October, 2009, a police party killed nine innocent adivasis at the village of Gompad, Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh.

There were no press reports about it, no press conferences and no bodies were taken to the police station. There were numerous conflicting accounts of whether it was ever announced by the police.

Testimonies of the villagers: The Maoists were present outside the village in the morning but they had disappeared long before the security forces arrived. All those who were killed were villagers of Gompad and two were from Bandarpadar. Three of them were women, one of them was an eight year old girl, and an eighteen month old baby Katam Suresh lost three of his fingers. His deceased mother was missing her nose and her body was found before the remnants of her burnt home. Two other deceased villagers – Soyam Subbaiya (20) and Soyam Jogi (18) were a newly married couple.

One more villager was killed from the neighbouring village of Nukaltong and another from Velpocha on the same day.

Act II – Activist Himanshu Kumar takes the victims of violence of Gompad, Velpocha, Nukaltong and the village of Gacchanpalli where five villagers were killed on the 17th of September, 2009 to the Supreme Court and files a Writ Petition (criminal) No.103 of 2009, against the State of Chhattisgarh, Respondent no.1.

The Supreme Court accepts the petition and requests the State of Chhattisgarh to file a reply.

Act III – Activist Himanshu Kumar is hounded out of Chhattisgarh, his right-hand man Kopa Kunjam is imprisoned and petitioner no.13 Sodhi Sambo who was in the care of Mr. Kumar is detained at Kanker police station on her way to receive treatment for her injured leg. She will be kept in virtual confinement at Jagdalpur’s Maharani Hospital with no access to her lawyer, activists or the press.

The Supreme Court passes an order directing that the Respondents would in no way obstruct Sodhi Sambo from going wherever she pleases. So instead of letting her go wherever she pleases (which no one could ask her about as she had no access to anyone), the respondents take her to Delhi, AIIMS hospital themselves and she is again, not allowed access to her lawyer, activists or the press.

At the same time, villagers who had come for a public hearing at Dantewada (organized by Himanshu Kumar) on the 5th of January, 2010 were last seen being driven away by the police in four Bolero vehicles without license plates.

Katam Suresh of Gompad who is now around two years old, and his father Katam Dulaiah, along with Soyam Rama and Soyam Dhulla from Gompad were taken away and were last seen at Konta Police Station on the 14th of January, 2009.

Colin Gonsales, advocate for the petitioners, on the 10th of January: ‘Apparently all the 12 tribal petitioners from the writ petition have been picked up and are in custody of the police, and it is possible that they will be coerced to withdraw from the case.’

On the 22nd of January, Justice Sudarshan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar, presiding judges of the Supreme Court passed an order allowing lawyer Colin Gonsales and activist Himanshu Kumar access to Sodhi Sambo at AIIMS, stating, “we direct that the respondents shall not create  any obstacle in the way of petitioner No.1 and/or advocate for the petitioners in meeting petitioner No.13, in which the police shall not be present.”

However it soon came to light that Sodhi Sambo was discharged from AIIMS. Counsel of State of Chhattisgarh Ajit Jha had previously told the court that the Chhattisgarh State had no objection to anyone meeting her and that she was still in AIIMS.

Act IV – On the 23rd of January, the police exhume the bodies of the villagers of Gompad while the lawyers claim they’re tampering with evidence.

On visiting Gompad, it has been observed that articles of clothing have been removed from the graves. A bottle of phenyl as well as the packaging of surgical gloves lie around the graves.

Act V – The Supreme Court directs the State of Chhattisgarh to produce all the petitioners by Monday the 15th of February, 2010. The State claims all of them have gone back to their villagers, the lawyer for the petitioners claim all of them are still in custody of the police. No independent verification is possible.

On the 9th of February, a police party attempts to go to the village of Gacchanpalli to bring the petitioners to court and are allegedly ambushed by Maoists around the village of Gorkha.

No local journalists visit the spot yet two SPOs are reported to be seriously injured.

On the 15th of February, the police present the petitioners of the village of Gompad – Sodhi Sambo along with Soyam Rama and Soyam Dhulla to the Supreme Court. They also presented petitioners Muchaki Sukdi from the neighbouring village of Nukaltong and Kunjam Idma from the village of Velpocha.

They were always in the custody of the police, and the police claimed they did this to protect them from Maoists who might consider them to be police informants.

Act VI – On the 15th and 16th of February, six of the petitioners (of all the villages but Gacchanpalli) confirm that killings took place but they don’t know who attacked their villages on the said day.

As of February 18th, all the villagers still living at Gompad and the villagers of Velpocha claim that it was the police who had attacked them on that day. They had come at six in the morning at Gompad, burnt two houses and killed nine people. They had killed one young boy Kunjam Hoora from Velpocha and another Muchaki Bhoote from Nukaltong a while later.

According to press reports from the South Asia Terrorism Portal regarding the 1st of October, the police claimed to have killed two Maoists around the Nukaltong forested area, and detained nine villagers for ‘interrogation.’

DGP Vishwaranjan writes in the Outlook: “The police have since August 2009 been receiving credible intelligence about Maoist designs to oppose Operation Green Hunt by killing tribals or committing other atrocities and then blaming the security forces.”

Two houses were burnt down in the village of Gompad.

Act VII – On the 18th of February, Sodhi Sambo’s parents claim they met their daughter at Jagdalpur three ‘saptaahs’ ago (three market days ago, which is three weeks). Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra had initially claimed that Sodhi Sambo’s parents were her attendants at Jagdalpur hospital in the first week of January. That was six ‘saptaahs’ ago. The next of kin of both Kunjam Idma and of Soyam Rama and Soyam Dhulla, claim that their relatives never made it home after a meeting in Dantewada more than two months ago – the date of the botched public hearing on the 5th of January.

Kattam Dullaiah and his 2 year old son Suresh from Gompad, who are NOT petitioners are still missing.

Act VIII – Similarly, a few days after the alleged ‘ambush’ at Gorkha, villagers from Gacchanpalli begin to appear at the markets in Andhra Pradesh and claim that the police had come to their village and taken away 20 people.

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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.”

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…..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)