Archive for the ‘Muria’ Category

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Internally Displaced Hunger

November 14, 2010

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 14th of November, 2010.

On the 25th of October, 8 malnurioushed children were refused treatment by the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Center in Badrachalam, Khammam District in Andhra Pradesh. All eight were children of Internally Displaced Persons from Dantewada/Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh.

Apparently, the Project Officer of the Integrated Tribal Development Authority of Badrachalam, on the behest of the visiting Schedule Tribe Committee (consisting of MLAs from Congress, Telegu Desam Party and CPI-M), had passed a written order to stop treatment to ‘non-tribes’ and ‘non-BPL’ families. Strangely enough, the Gotti Koya, or the Muria from Dantewada/Bijapur District, who’ve had to flee the burning of their villages by the Salwa Judum and the police, and the threat of Maoist violence, fall into this criteria, simply as they have no documentation to prove that they are tribals or BPL families.

Let us also put this into context.

The children of the Internally Displaced Persons at a Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre at Khammam District, Andhra Pradesh. (Photo credit: source)

On the 23rd of September, a young couple Madvi Nanda and his wife Chukki had approached a mobile health clinic of an NGO. Their ten day-old infant stopped taking his mother’s milk, and another son Budra looked severely anaemic (see photos).

The 10 day-old son of Madvi and Chukki Mandavi before being taken to the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre (Photo credit: source)

They were IDPs from Chhattisgarh, village Duled in Konta block. Madvi Nanda said to have come to Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh to escape the threats and violence of the Salwa Judum. Previously, they were landowners of around twenty acres, but in Khamman, they have had to subsist doing manual labour in the ‘mirrchi’ fields, tendu patta and cotton fields, for Rs.60 a day.

When Chukki got pregnant, it had become difficult for her to work, and thus the wages that came into a house without ration cards or any form of subsistence, reduced by half. Hunger and malnutrition soon followed.

The entire family was then taken to the hospital where, after four days of treatment they were referred to the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre, run by the ITDA at Badrachalam.

At the NRC, it was found that the youngest son, now 15 days old, wieghed only 1.5 kilograms, and the second son Budra, around three years old, weighed only 4.8 kilograms. They were both classified as Grade four malnourished, and treatment began immediately.

All four, the mother and her three sons were given three meals a day along with medicines till the 12th of October. They were then discharged when their condition normalized (see photos). The NRC then recommended a diet of milk, mutton, vegetables, green leaves, fruits, etc, for three months to help improve their health condition.

Chukki Mandavi with her sons at the time of discharge from the NRC. (Photo credit: source)

Madvi Chukki's youngest son after treatment by the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre. (Photo credit: source)

Then of course, at the behest of the Tribal Welfare Ministry, the ITDA passes a note that ensures the Muria/Gotti Koya from Chhattisgarh, can’t find a single meal at the Nutrition and Rehabilitation Centre of Badrachalam.

P Balaraju, the chairman of the Scheduled Tribe Committee, whose recommendations to the ITDA ensured that the Gotti Koya’s hungriest remain hungry, is also the Minister for Tribal Welfare, Andhra Pradesh.

Cause and Effect: A background

The Internally displaced persons from Chhattisgarh are in perpetual limbo. They’re occasionally pitted against the local adivasi tribes of Andhra Pradesh over minimal resources and no state government whether Andhra Pradesh, nor Chhattisgarh is willing to take responsibility for them. At the same time, no civil government department is capable of undermining the arm-twisting policies of the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department that wishes to send them back to Chhattisgarh, who would probably dump them in mismanaged Salwa Judum camps.

Previously in the scorching summer, the 203 IDP settlements, with over 16,000 IDPs had to survive under draught-like conditions that were more man-made, specifically, Forest Department-made, as the Forest Department ensured no handpumps could be installed in the settlements whose natural sources of water had dried up in the beginning of the summer.

In 2007, the late civil rights lawyer Balagopal had filed three Writ Petitions on behalf of numerous families of the Gotti Koya, and had managed to get a stay order on the demolition of their homes by the Forest Department. Yet the Forest Department continued to break down IDP settlements in other parts of Khammam, specifically in the summer season. They even argued in the High Court against the stay order, stating that the Gotti Koya should claim their rights to livelihood and to life in Chhattisgarh and not Andhra Pradesh; that they are a threat to the local population and that they do extensive damage to the forests.

Recently, Justice CV Ramulu dismissed the vacate stay petitions filed by the Forest Department and upheld the rights of the tribals to live in the reserved forests.

Yet let us take the Forest Department’s motive to protect the forests. They claim they need to protect the forests from slash-and-burn cultivation of the Gotti Koya, which has even been contested as an exaggerated claim. And yes, there is very little doubt that the Gotti Koya/Muria have done some damage to the forests in Khammam. And there is even lesser doubt that they’re not managing higher yields from the amount of land they ‘secretly’ cultivate.

The land they cultivate lacks irrigation facilities, and they don’t manage too much produce, in comparison to the irrigated land cultivated by the Reddys or the Koyas.

‘One acre and the Muria will have just about 2-3 bags, and I’ve seen Reddys manage 30 bags of rice out of one acre.’ says a local social worker in Khammam.

One wonders how the Muria would be, if he was allowed just a few acres of irrigated land, to support and feed his own family. Yet if he can’t even do that, why is the ‘Intergrated Tribal Development Authority’ ensuring that his malnutritioned children starve?

Yet there is no right to the Reserve Forest given to the Gotti Koya/Muria at all. Not even one acre. And even local Koya tribals and older Muria tribals, living on non-reserve forest are preyed on by ‘promises’ of the legal deed – the patta.In the village of Amdalpeta in Chintur Mandal of Khammam, two non-tribals had taken Rs.300 from every family and promised them pattas. And the exploited of Amdalpeta themselves spoke of another case, where a lawyer managed to take Rs.2,00,00 from the tribals for a patta.

There are countless cases of exploitation over legality, and right to land. How many times villagers are exploited with promises of pattas (deeds), one will never know.

‘You have to either save the tribal, or save the forest.’  I was told by a DFO dealing with extensive deforestation by the Gotti Koya in Khammam district.

‘But can I ask you, who are the first beneficiaries of a forest? Who are you protecting the forests for?’

The answer is obvious. The Adivasi – the Santhals, the Kondhs, the Murias, the Koyas, the Baiga themselves weren’t ever consulted when the British laid the foundations of a law that would divorce them from their forests. It is difficult to believe that the forests ‘need to being protected’ from the tribals whose livelihoods, cultures and homes depend upon, when mining companies and corporations run amok in the jungle.

Since 1980, the Ministry of Environment and Forests granted 34,527 hectares of the forest in 317 mining leases till 1997, and 60,476 hectares of the forest in 881 mining leases during 1997-2005.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh may try his best to protect the forests and the odds are against him, yet who is protecting the tribal from exploiters and the Forest Department? The Naxalites? The Home minister? Or the Tribal Welfare Minister’s team whose recommendations ensure that the Muria from Chhattigarh aren’t tribals nor poor because they can’t prove it?

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Land Nor Freedom

August 23, 2010

Nahi denge zameen!’ (we won’t give our land) – said one villager of Lohandiguda, as over 150 villagers – Sarpanches and ward members with their families, stood up, and walked out of the meeting with government officials on the 12th of May of this year. In 2005, the villagers in Lohandiguda didn’t even know their land was up for acquisition by Tata Steel – they learnt about it after they read the newspapers.

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 22nd of August, 2010.

Villagers from Lohandiguda walk out of a meeting held with government officials on the 12th of May, 2010.

It is a known fact that the Adivasis have existed long before there was any idea of India. And there are estimates that there has been more displacement by development projects in India than by the Partition, and a majority of the displaced have been Adivasis.

It’s therefore not surprising that the Maoists don’t believe that India has attained independence. In a school in the liberated-zones of Dantewada, a lone poster of Chandrashekar Azad remains, there’s no sign of Gandhi or Nehru. In the Red Corridor, the Maoist squads go to schools in the middle of their Independence Day celebrations, remove the tricolour, holster up a black flag, distribute sweets or biscuits to the children and leave.

63 years after independence, the history of the tribals in Independent India has been wrought by promises never kept.

In 1955, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had addressed an All India Conference of Tribes in Jagdalpur, Bastar District of Chhattisgarh (Then Madhya Pradesh) and had said: ‘Wherever you live, you should live in your own way. This is what I want you to decide yourselves. How would you like to live? Your old customs and habits are good. We want that they should survive but at the same time we want that you should be educated and should do your part in the welfare of the country.’

Today, Rights guaranteed to the tribals by the constitution, embodied in the PESA are floundered routinely all across the Fifth Schedule areas. The PESA enables the adivasis to govern themselves through Gram Sabhas, and the state has no right to acquire lands, nor dish out mining leases without the permission of the Gram Sabhas. Yet the State of Chhattisgarh, is using a ‘Colonial-era law’, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, to acquire lands.

‘They asked us to hold a Gram Sabhas and there was police everywhere.’ Said one of the village-leaders of Sirisguda, in a meeting with the Express a few days ago, ‘And yet we said no to Tata!’

Nevertheless, the next day, all the local newspapers were reporting that the villagers of Lohandiguda had accepted Tata’s plan for acquisition. This pattern would repeat itself regularly throughout the years. A public hearing would be held, the villagers would say no, and the local press would print their assent.

‘We always say no! And you write yes!’ they screamed at the press at Lohandiguda.

Today, the discrepancies in numerous Gram Sabha resolutions and public hearings held in Chhattisgarh rarely find any report in the Chhattisgarh press, nor the national press, but only in a citizen-run initiative called CGNet Swara.

CGnet Swara is an innovative audio-based news service. One simply has to call 08041137280 from their mobile phones, and can either press 1 to record news, or 2 to listen to the news. After some cross-checking, the moderators release the recordings, which include reports on public rallies, discrepancies in the PDS, water issues, medical issues, arrests of activists, fake encounters, child labour issues, anti-liquor campaign issues, and every issue governing adivasi and village life.

Yet they have been particularly useful in bypassing a compromised local press and giving grass-root reports about public hearings. For instance, a public hearing held on the 5th of May, this year in Dantewada district, regarding the NMDC in Kirandul, was considered fraudulent as many of the villages who’d be directly affected by the project weren’t even present during the hearing.

‘The public hearing was held 50 kilometres away from the affected villages, and the people at the hearing were contractors and other lackeys of the NMDC.’ Said a news report from CGNet Swara, in Hindi.

Similarly, another public hearing was held in Raigarh district in Chhattisgarh on the 3rd of July organized by Hind Multiservices for a 15,000 TPA Ferro Alloy Plant, where the affected villagers weren’t even informed of the hearing.

‘Only 32 people showed up, mostly activists, and it is safe to say, there are no affected villagers here because they were not informed. This whole hearing was a farce.’ Said another news report from CGnet Swara.

Each report from CGnet Swara explicitly begins to highlight the muted voice of the adivasis in their own fate, whether it is the public hearing or the Gram Sabha. And this brings us to an interesting Censored Chapter.

The Censored Chapter

A recent study by the Institute of Rural Management, commissioned by the Panchayat Raj Ministry, on the functioning of Panchayat Raj highlighted the violations in the Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) act, or PESA. To quote:

‘The central Land Acquisition Act of 1894 has till date not been amended to bring it in line with the provisions of PESA and to recognize the Gram Sabha, while a newer bill meant to replace it is yet to be tabled in parliament. At the moment, this colonial-era law is being widely misused on the ground to forcibly acquire individual and community land for private industry.’

‘In several cases, the practice of the state government is to sign high profile MOUs with corporate houses (Government of Jharkhand 2008 and IANS, 2010), and then proceed to deploy the Acquisition Act to ostensibly acquire the land for the state industrial corporation. This body then simply leases the land to the private corporation – a complete travesty of the term ‘acquisition for a public purpose’, as sanctioned by the act.’

‘In some cases, administrations run through the motions of a PESA consultation, but in no instance has the opposition expressed by tribal communities to acquisition of their land resulted in a plan for industry being halted, suggesting the disempowerment of the Gram Sabha.’

There was no surprise that the chapter, aptly titled, ‘PESA, Left-Wing Extremism and Governance: Concerns and Challenges in India’s Tribal Districts’ was entirely taken out of the final report released by the government, for it is a damning indictment of the state’s pro-industrial policies. The report even goes on to mention, that the growing strength of the Maoist movement in central India is inextricably linked to the government’s ‘exclusionary’ policies:

‘Some analysts read the resurgence and spread of left-wing extremism as a phenomenon of tribal self-assertion. They point to the co-incidence in the rise of economic reforms and the deepening of the Maoist movement in India’s polity, the latter being a retort to the exclusionary nature of these policies. According to one senior politician, ‘If the state is neglectful and oppressive, as it  has been, it provides the water in which the guerilla fish swim.’ Another senior politician seconded, ‘PESA has not yet been honestly implemented in a single district yet. If it is, we will solve the Naxal problem.’

Lohandiguda also finds mention in the censored chapter of the PESA report.

‘Resident Mahangu Madiya has Rs 55 lakh in his account, but does not even own a mobile phone. He has no use for most such material possessions. Or even this significant sum of money, which he has not touched since it landed in a bank account this January as ‘compensation’ given by the state, in return for acquiring his 35-acre farm for a proposed steel plant. “I am concerned with farming. My land is important to me. What will I do with this money?” asked the middle-aged farmer’.

Eventually, resistance to the land grab began to accentuate. The Communist Party of India had no influence in Lohandiguda before Tata showed up. They only found footing as they’re openly anti-displacement and anti-corporate land grab.  Both the BJP and Congress have supported Tata’s project, but today only CPI party workers, or those explicitly anti-displacement work in Lohandiguda.

‘I remember telling people, that we need to protest first, we need to organize ourselves first, and then only will people come and support us.’ Said Advocate Girju Kashyap, who at some point, was also detained by the police and prevented to appear in court.

Most of his clients are villagers from Lohandiguda with cases slapped against them.

Yet even the CPI has not been able to hold off Tata’s project, and there is a severe sense of frustration with the villagers of Lohandiguda.

The Meeting

Lohandiguda is far from the theatre of war at first sight. Yet there’s a permeable tension that everything shall burn. On the 11th of May, the Naib Tehsildar of Lohandiguda PR Marghya had began a ‘bhoomi puja’ (inauguration ceremony) near the proposed project site for Tata’s steel plant, at Dhuragaon village. A few villagers of Lohandiguda would then beat him up, mistakenly believing, he was commencing with Tata’s project on their land.

The next day the administration decided to talk to ward members and Sarpanches of all the villages of Lohandiguda.

They had asked them to come at three in the afternoon.

On that afternoon, the villagers at Tarkeguda weren’t interesting in attending the meeting. They were busy with a family dispute. A forty-year old lady was being screamed at by her husband and her 20 year old son, as some twenty other villagers sat around them.

Hidmo Ram Mandavi, one of the leaders of Tarkaguda, was almost dismissive of the meeting with the government.

Meanwhile, the story of the family dispute would come to light. The Mother-Wife had apparently gotten drunk and slept with a man half her age.

At some point, her son charged at her in a fit of rage. His mother would scream back at him, asserting her rights. Eventually, she would leave with her young toy boy. Her family screaming at her to never come back.

That’s two more tribals out of Lohandiguda.

Yet eventually the meeting (that the villagers of Tarkeguda didn’t care for) commenced at five in the evening. The Superintendent of Police, the Collectorate and members of the local press arrived to meet villagers who had been waiting for two hours.

Machinegunned policemen spread across the area, surrounding the villagers.

The meeting commenced as the Upper-Collector Fulsingh Netaam stands up and speaks politely to the villagers. He started by speaking about everything the administration has done for the people and how much more they will be doing. The reaction is lukewarm. No one is interested.

‘We will give you land for land,’ he finally said.

‘Where is that land?’ Asked one villager loudly, ‘Show us the land.’

‘It’s there. Don’t worry.’

The meeting only lasted some two minutes after that. One man screams ‘nahi denge zameen’ (we won’t give our land) and the villagers got up raising their fists, screaming at the Collector, the Superintendent of Police and every other official.  An old lady with a baby tied to her chest, stood before all the officials, screamed vociferously, gestured violently and then only walked away.

The police videographed every loud protestor, every violent gesture, and eventually they all drove away.

Meanwhile, the local administration claims that out of the 1707 affected families, 1163 families have already accepted compensation. When asked about alternative land, the Upper-Collector responded, ‘we are ready to give land, but they don’t come to us.’

Many villagers still allege deceit and corruption, and the intimidation and arrests of village leaders who opposed Tata, some of whom were all forced to sign blank sheets of paper.

The most effective tactic employed was however, distrust – turning family members against family members, villagers against villagers.

‘Whoever took Tata’s money should be thrown out of the villages.’ Said an elder from Sirisguda.

Yet many people in Lohandiguda, have refused to withdraw the money that was put into their bank accounts. And no one knows who withdrew their money, and who didn’t. Everyone suspects the other village of accepting compensation, and the other home of taking money.

‘Some people went and took Tata’s money, and spent it, and now they’re back.’ Said the village elder, ‘It’s because of them, things are like this. Some people had to get greedy.’

Photography Post-Script

The meeting on the 12th of May, 2010.



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Family Matters

August 1, 2010

In Bastar, the un-sanitized war is brutal, unforgiving and uncompromising. And it’s impact on families has been specifically devastating. Battles aren’t just fought in the jungles – this a war where villages are the battlefields, homes are the trenches and your family is a weapon and a target.

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 14th of August, 2010.

The day after a combing operation in Dantewada.

Kosa Mangli was a Special Police Officer from the village of Hirapur in Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. The Maoists killed her father Mangoo with an axe soon after she became an SPO during the first few months of the Salwa Judum. They then threw his body a kilometre from the police station where she was posted. A year later, they killed her mother Lakhi too. Kosa is no longer a SPO. She was taken into the regular police.

Such incidents are not isolated, nor are families of combatants, only a target to the Maoists.

Padmakka w/o Balakrishna, resident of Ramnagar, Hyderabad was arrested in August 2007 in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh and was booked under section 302, 149 of the IPC, and 27 (1) of the Arms Act. No evidence was produced against her and she was acquitted of all charges on the 10th of August 2009, and the Bilaspur High Court had ordered her to be released from Central Jail, Raipur.

She then disappeared from custody.

Her lawyer would wait the whole of 11th August for her and the jail authorities claimed she was released on the 12th of August, 2009. He would file a Writ Petition (Habeas Corpus) against the State of Chhattisgarh, fearing for her life, and demanding she be produced.

But in reality, two days after she was acquitted of all charges, she was re-arrested from Central Jail, Raipur, and booked under section 147, 148, 307 of the IPC, and section 25 and 27 of the Arms Act, and remanded to judicial custody.

Padma w/o Balakrishna, was now identified as Padma w/o Rajana, a resident of Bhopalpatnam, Bijapur, who was shot dead in an encounter on the 15th of October, 2006, in the Ballampalli forest. Padma w/o Rajana was a Mangi squad commander and was a known Maoist, and a warrant for her arrest was issued on the 4th of October, 2001 by the Chief Judicial Magistrate A.S. Chandel and was executed by ASI Ravindra Yadav on the 12th of August, 2009, when he arrested the recently-acquitted Padma w/o Balakrishna from Central Jail, Raipur.

On the 20th of August, Padma had gone on a hunger strike in prison, to demand her rights to inform her advocate and her family of her situation. She also demanded to write a letter to the magistrate who remanded her. She was granted those rights, and continued to languish in prison on a case against a long-dead Padma.

Later on the 10th of March, 2010, her new court date drew nearer. Yet Padma w/o Balakrishna, was not produced in court, as ‘the authorities said there was no escort’, according to her lawyer V.V Balakrishna, who was carrying evidence of the death of Padma w/o Rajana – the testimony of her son and husband, their photos in telegu dailies speaking about their Maoist-mother. But it didn’t matter, two more Padma ‘cases’ were now attached to Padma w/o Balakrishna.

And why all of this? Was this just a simple case of mistaken identity? No – Her husband Balakrishna AKA Bhasker Rao is a known Maoist and the member of the Andhra-Orissa Border Committee.

Treatment meted out to family members of known-Maoists has had a long history in the Red Corridor, especially in Andhra Pradesh. Padma being just another instance in the abuse of a legal system that neither protects one’s rights nor does it establish any Rule Of Law, as instances such as these give the Maoists arguments to challenge the legitimacy of the Indian state.

And you don’t need the mainstream media to tell a Maoist-husband how his wife is kept in jails. Even then, every instance of state terror, they use frequently and vocally, to justify counter-violence.

Senior Maoist leader Ramanna, one of the masterminds of the Tadmetla encounter, in a recent telephone interview with Tehelka magazine had stated, ‘The security forces are now torturing and raping innocent tribal women and girls.’ (Referring to the recent allegations of rape committed by the security personnel in the villages around Chintalnar.)

‘I know most of them (the forces) are from poor families.’ He had continued, ‘Some of them are also tribals. But that is no excuse for atrocities they are inflicting on women and girls. We will conduct a similar ambush like the one we did at Chintalnar and Chintagufa and teach them a lesson ’

And to avenge rapes allegedly committed in Dantewada district, 27 jawaans die in Narayanpur District on the very day Ramanna had issued his statement.

This brutality and intensity of blind terror shows no sign of subsiding.

‘I may have never seen combat, but this, this is as bad as it could get.’  Said Head constable R. N. Bhairagi of Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur, ‘It just keeps getting worst.’

Over the last few months, every other wounded, dismembered and dying jawaan from Narayanpur, Dantewada to Bijapur District, would arrive at his hospital; the closest to the theatre of war. And there hasn’t been just one or two wounded men, who’ve stepped on landmines, or had their faces and limbs blown off whose last moments he has witnessed. 76 killed. 8 killed. 31 killed. 26 killed. That’s just been since April.

Of course, this brutality that shatters families, creates widows and leaves fathers and mothers without their sons, has been around for years and is an everyday part of life for the adivasis, especially since the fratricidal Salwa Judum-Maoist terror campaign turned friends and families apart.

‘Woh, mera bhai lakta hai,’ (He’s like a brother to me), said M, from X village in the ‘liberated-zones’, about one of the leaders of the Salwa Judum in Konta – Soyam Mukha.

‘How?’

‘We studied together.’

‘Do the dadas (the Maoists) know about this relationship?’

‘If they did, I’d never be able to live at home.’

Today, apart from the dreaded ‘encounters’, the adivasis are frequently subjected to beatings, interrogation and as they are released there itself, it is seldom reported. During combing operations, forces often interrogate villagers (out of procedure), beat, threaten, and force them to act as guides through the jungle (out of need).

To state the obvious that is not obvious anymore: one doesn’t seem to notice that these aren’t criminals we’ve gone to war against, these are families. These are people living to face a brutal police force with their mothers and grandmothers, daughters and infant sons. Farmers who till their land, parents who work to feed their children. Maoists themselves often constitute of husband and wife squad members, often eventually widowed to be then driven by more blind vengeance. Many who’ve gone underground even leave behind families, who’re constantly under surveillance and aware that every phone call and meeting place could mean a death-trap.

‘She made her choice, as a Gandhian I may disagree with her views, but I have to accept her.’ Says K, a husband of a Maoist, long underground who he hasn’t even seen in more than a year.

Adivasis, of course are all suspected Maoists, by a simple twist of fate, a weird matter of geography – you just happen to be living for centuries on the highest-value iron ore and the Maoists come and visit you once in a while, and refer to your village as a ‘liberated zone’.

‘The forces need to go comb further in the jungles,’ Said, Ajay Singh, a Salwa Judum leader from Bairamgarh in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh in March of 2009.

He was complaining that the government had abandoned the Salwa Judum and the police didn’t conduct their operations properly. But someone took his advice, and combing operations took place in September and October, 2009, further in the interior villages or the ‘liberated zones’ of Gompad, Nukaltong, Velpocha, Gacchanpalli, Pallecharma, Gattpad, Tatemargu, Pallodi, where numerous reports of innocent civilians being killed surfaced in the media.

For instance, as reported by the New Indian Express in November 2009, 18 month old Kattam Suresh of Gompad, lost three of his fingers, his 20 year old mother, his eight year old aunt, and both his maternal grandparents when the forces raided their village in the first week of October 2009. And as of now, he was last seen detained in Konta Police station along with his father on the 14th of January, 2010.

‘The DGP is not listening….The point is when you are given an assignment the first thing you need to do is become a part of the solution. The illegal killings have contributed to the problem. So if you are party to it then you become a part of the problem,’ CRPF Special-Director General Vijay Raman had told The Week magazine a few days ago.

The Director-General hadn’t mentioned where these ‘illegal killings’ took place. But do families permit a ‘legal’ killing of their loved ones?

Sadly, what should be the last option (an escalation of fratricidal violence), is the first opted by the government, and the Maoists themselves have shown no restraint.

Post-Script- Family Album

Ajay Singh, a Salwa Judum leader with his daughter.

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Dear Chhattisgarh Police, Are You Mad?

July 16, 2010

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 19th of July, 2010

The above photograph is of a bus that was hit by a Maoist IED in 2006. There were only civilians on the bus, no soldiers, and this mangled bus, was the first sign of war I had come across when I had taken the long road from Avapalli to Basaguda on a tractor a long time ago. It told me a lot about the Maoists.

A few months later, a colleague of mine had called me up on the 17th of May, 2010, about the IED blast near Sukma, Dantewada District, targeting a civilian bus, that eventually killed 31 people, ‘The Maoists are targeting civilian buses now?’ She had asked.

‘They’ve always done that, I’m not surprised.’

They’ve always killed civilians with impunity and they’ve also burnt down trains, hacked people to death, and executed unarmed soldiers. And it’s not so hard to have a critical view of the Maoists if you’ve spent enough time in the jungle. Your biases are based on facts.

And I’ve been going in and out for two years now, into ‘Maoist liberated zones’ finding quiet voices of dissent. Villagers who I’d speak to quietly, within their homes, who tell me about how the Maoists beat them, or how they need to keep secrets from them. But for a moment, let’s forget about violence. Let’s agree with Arundhati Roy for a moment – we don’t need a violence-based analysis of the Maoists – as it is, there is no freedom to think, to even express a view contrary to the official party line, in their ‘liberated zones’.  Is that freedom? Or is that tyranny? Aren’t the Maoist-Big Brothers watching you, making sure you don’t commit a thoughtcrime?

And of course, I have even documented atrocities committed by the Maoists on the adivasis themselves.

And a few days ago, to my surprise, the Chhattisgarh police branded me a Maoist agent. And I’m not the only one who receives this ‘honour’ from the police.

When another reporter from a reputed English Daily who works in Chhattisgarh, had called up the then DIG Kalluri about the Tadmetla encounter that left 76 security personnel dead, he was promptly abused.

‘You! You must be celebrating!’ He had screamed at the reporter.

A few days ago, when the same reporter had called up the now Senior Superintendent of Police Kallluri, he abused him again calling him a ‘Naxalite reporter.’

A High Court lawyer from Mumbai was in Dantewada a few days ago and had gone to the police station to speak to the police and understand the ground realities of Dantewada. SSP Kalluri accused him of being a Naxalite informer, and had him locked up in the police station. He was eventually let off the same evening, visibly shaken, after some frantic phone calls.

The very fact that the Chhattisgarh police would rather target civil society activists, opposition party workers and journalists than investigate the Maoists, is explicit proof of their incompetence. A kind of fascinating wife-beating syndrome, where they can’t get the Maoists, so the insecure, frustrated police will go after soft targets like journalists, activists and opposition party members.

They arrested CPI party workers for the attack on Audesh Singh Gautams home, and adivasi CPI leader Manish Kunjam confirmed the same. He, himself, has no police security. It was withdrawn by the police months ago even though there have been numerous threats to his life. He has been openly critical of the Salwa Judum that roams around Bastar, armed to its teeth, and has spoken up against corporate land grab, supporting and helping to organize the anti-displacement movements across Bastar.

Now, according to the police press release that implicated Lingaram Kodopi, Nandini Sundar, Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, I’ve been mentioned as someone who had gone with the Maoists, ‘videographing’ their failed assassination attempt on Audesh Singh Gautam.

Forget that they police don’t know the difference between a ‘photographer’ and a ‘videographer’. Forget that the police don’t know that at 1:00am there’s no light, and videography and photography is useless. And I believe the Maoists have infra-red cameras? Why? Because they’re ‘infra-red’?

Forget that the police allege that I have ‘videographed’ an incident where the Maoists had also injured a child. Why would I then take this photograph and write this article about a young boy whose ‘… right kneecap is filled with shrapnel, and his right shin bone is broken. There are large fragments of steel in his right ankle and a bullet in his left shin.’?

Forget that they accused Lingaram Kodopi of being the mastermind of the attack. Why? Because Lingaram is also from Kuakonda block where the attack took place? Hadn’t the police forced Lingaram to be a SPO a few months ago? And that he’s going to replace Azad now? Lingaram must’ve truly made an impression on the Politburo.

But yes, now the problem arises when a particular police contact of mine calls me up and asks me about my whereabouts on the night of the attack.

‘Why are you asking me these stupid questions? You know the accusations are bullshit.’ I had replied.

‘No, I want to know where you were, so when we’re interrogating you and pulling out your fingernails, we know what you’d say.’ He said sarcastically.

‘Very funny.’

Immediately I became conscious about my fingernails and realized they needed cutting. I’ve also become aware that the Chhattisgarh police, in their long years of dealing with the Maoist movement, have become their own worst enemy.

And if we need to deal with the Maoist insurgency, we need to deal with the police.

Post Script:

Dear, Chhattisgarh police, in response to your accusations about me being a Maoist Agent, I’d like to tell you about something called a ‘conscience’. It’s quite a fragile thing, it’s not an absolute. It doesn’t really control the world nor win anyone any fame or success. In my young naive head, it has no politics, it has no religion, but it says one small thing – that in no way, will I be responsible for the harm of any human being. Everytime I leave for the warzone, I’ve had all but one futile prayer:

a prayer before leaving

I pray that nothing I do makes anything any worse,

I pray that nothing I do makes

life miserable for anyone I leave behind

I pray that I know what the hell I’m doing,

and I pray that I don’t lose my soul.’

And you, the police, think I will accompany the Maoists while they shoot dead sleeping men and fill a child’s leg full of shrapnel? And I will be videographing it? Do you really think so?

That crazy silly little thing called conscience is really that crazy and silly that it ceased to exist? Of course, I’m not stupid enough to believe that what I write, document, or photograph, isn’t being used in a propaganda war by others. And I know, at times, I am being used to document your atrocities on the adivasis by people who don’t believe in human rights themselves.

But do you remember these words – ‘does keeping quiet make anything any better? If I don’t report a single killing, does it cease to exist? If I don’t take pictures of a burnt village, does it cease to exist? If I don’t report a disappeared 12 year old girl, does she cease to exist?’

I wrote that to you the last time you had attacked me for documenting your crimes.

And of course, you wish to use me too in your mad war. You call me up and ask me what Ramanna looks like. Why do you think I was left perturbed? As it is, I have never met him, and had no idea of what he looks like. And you ask me to manipulate another colleague of mine to gather information for you, so you can kill him? Why would I do that? Even though this man is a Maoist and is responsible for the deaths of countless CRPF jawaans, I would in no point feel comfortable about his death because of some stupid information about how tall he is, or how big his nose is. To me, that’s as bad as pulling the trigger myself. And I’d rather go to hell than compromise my conscience. And thanks to you and your kind, I probably will find it on earth.

If I ever had a chance to even sit down with Ramanna with a revolver to point to his head, or a pen, I’d pick the pen and I’d do what I do. Which is write. Which is to speak up. Which is to appeal to them. Which is to tell them that killing CRPF Jawaans isn’t going to make the world a better place.

They probably won’t listen to me. But they don’t listen to you either. You can kill all of them. History will not change anything. You will find a thousand more Ramannas.

We’re cogs in a machine, you do your job, and I’ll do mine, and if you think you’re going to tell me how to do mine(by intimidating me), I’ll return the courtesy. Although, I don’t think the words ‘human rights’, or ‘the constitution’ or the ‘rule of law’ are ever going to frighten you. I have two better ones, ‘police reform.’

Coming soon.

Yours truly,

Javed Iqbal

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‘Cholera’ outbreak kills over ‘60’ in Bastar

July 10, 2010

Yet violence continues unabated in affected-areas

An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or ‘tiffin bomb’ was found near Basaguda, in whose block there have been around 115 suspected cases of cholera over the last month.

This article appears in its original form on the 9th of July, 2010.

A suspected cholera outbreak has killed around an estimated 60 people in Bijapur District of South Bastar, Chhattisgarh since the beginning of the 7th of June this year when the first fatality was confirmed in Gadiguda village in Pamed Block.

At the same time, there has been no cessation of violence between the Maoists and the police. On the 6th of July, according to the local police, a gunfight had taken place near the village of Basaguda where a health clinic is set-up, and the police recovered an IED, or a ‘tiffin bomb’. There were no casualties on either side.

‘We were on patrol when we saw them, they fired upon us and ran away.’ Says Assistant Sub Inspector Patle of Basaguda police station, holding the detonator of the ‘tiffin bomb’ he recovered in the encounter. The ‘tiffin’ is filled with stones and scraps of metal, and according to the villagers of Basaguda, the police found the bomb buried in the earth.

‘There might be an operation tonight,’ Said ASI Chauhan from Avapalli police station on the 7th of July, ‘And I can’t share any other details with you.’

However, there were no reported encounters by the police or by the Maoists on the night of the 7th of July, but again in the dead of night, on the 8th of July, on the last day of the two-day bandh, the Maoists had fired onto Basaguda police station. There were again no casualties reported.

Meanwhile, the government claims that 38 people were killed by diarrhoea, and not cholera, and that fact is disputed by numerous independent sources working in the field.

The village of Kothaguda for instance in Pusbaka Panchayat of Basaguda block lists only three fatalities over the last 10 days in the official government list, yet Venkat Lakshmi, an angaanbaadi worker who had worked in the village to control the outbreak lists those three names along with a total of nine fatalities, including those of three children under the age of five. Those six names aren’t included in the official government list.

For instance, Avlam Bhime (35) and her son Avlam Raju (3) of Kothaguda died on the same day, before any medical care could get to them and thus there is no record of their death. The MOH itself lists around 16 fatalities in Basaguda block in the recent outbreak out of which 10 fatalities alone come from the village of Chinnagelur, near Tarem village.

The Bijapur District Program Manager for the National Rural Health Mission, Mausam G. Muske, has also confirmed the fatalities have taken place where the health teams couldn’t access the villagers.

‘The important thing is to access these areas, and we’re low on man power.  There are 64 villagers in Usur block itself, and we sent people to wherever we’ve heard about cases of diarrhoea.’ He says.

Yet most of the fatalities have taken place on account of inaccessible terrain further in the jungle and contrary to local media reports there aren’t 80 patients in the rehydration camps in Basaguda or Usur. But the outbreak is still widespread and specifically, out of reach.

‘We managed to save the life of every person who made it to a health clinic.’ Continues Mausam, ‘We’ve followed protocol by WHO standards and treated patients for cholera,’ he says, yet many officials, refute that there’s an outbreak of cholera, even though numerous other doctors and health workers in the field have diagnosed cases of cholera.

As per official records, there were 168 DVD cases (Dysentery-Vomiting-Diarrhoea) treated in Pamed block, while 115 were treated in Basaguda block and 14 were treated in Usur block.

It is yet unclear whether ground water is contaminated or the rivulets that run through a majority of the villages. The three affected blocks, Basaguda, Pamed and Usur, border Andhra Pradesh are also highly sensitive areas, known to harbour a strong Maoist presence, and many of these areas are even ‘liberated zones.’

The response to the outbreak was relatively quick – numerous clinics were set-up in Usur, Avapalli and Basaguda by the MOH and independent NGOs and organizations. Volunteers were selected to travel into the ‘interior villages’ and educate people on the illness and more importantly, to put in place preventive measures to control the outbreak.

‘Patients used to come to the clinic at even nine in the night on bell-gaadi,’ says Satish Kumar Nayak, Rural Medical Assistant, running one of the clinics in Basaguda. He is now one of the few healthcare workers left in Basaguda block, along with reputed international organization Doctors Without Borders. Many organisations and volunteers were recalled by the state before the two-day bandh was announced by the Maoists in response to the killing of top politburo member Azad. Yet the New Indian Express travelled through the area without any incident, nor harassment by the Maoists. And many observers believe that the government didn’t need to recall the medical teams as the Maoists aren’t known to harass health workers.

And according to some sources, the temporary clinic set-up in Basaguda village may turn into a permanent clinic due to the high influx of patients from across the block.

Cholera is not the only illness ailing Basaguda block. In the village of Lingagiri, two villagers, Angela Allama (40) w/o Naga, and Chandra Sukli (60) w/o Malaiya are bedridden and incapable of moving. Doctors Without Borders had apparently referred their cases to Jagdalpur’s Maharani Hospital, but the villages do not have the money to take them there.

A bus runs from Basaguda to Jagdalpur and the ticket costs Rs.130, which would run a minimum cost of Rs.520 for a patient and one family member to make the round trip. As it is, the bus hasn’t been running for two days due to the bandh announced by the Maoists.

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Kottacheru: A Short History Of Violence

June 14, 2010

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

Kottacheru is a village in pieces. There are fragments of it across the countryside – the anonymous, forgotten, cursed Muria people of Kottacheru can be found everywhere but at Kottacheru. It was a village born just 25 years ago when the adivasis from Nagaras migrated there to cultivate land. Then came the war.

‘It all started with Pandu.’ Laments Aitu (name changed), a refugee from Kottacheru in Khammam district, Andhra Pradesh. A few years before the Salwa Judum, Vanjam Pandu s/o of Maala (23) was a wanted man by the Maoists. They told him they would kill him for some alleged corrupt dealings and he fled his village of Kottacheru and built a shack right in front of the police station at Gadiras, far up north, hoping that he would be safe.

Eventually, he would be apprehended by the Maoists, then brought before the other villagers of Kottacheru and tied up. After a summary ‘jan adalat’, the Maoists slit his throat.

A while later, his good friend and Sarpanch of Kottacheru, Kovasi Bhime s/o of Idma was killed by the Maoists.

Then there was the infamous Oonga Madkam case. Oonga Madkam (35) s/o Madkam Admaaih was assassinated by the Maoists in 2004. He was travelling by motorcycle between Chetti and Konta – the bordertowns of Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. He was approached by four assailants on two motorcycles. Then shot in the head. And after he collapsed on the ground, one of the assailants crushed his head with a small boulder. The assailants, young adivasi youth, then shouted ‘Laal salaam! Laal salaam!’ repeatedly and disappeared.

Oonga Madkam left behind four wives, one daughter, seven sons and an unknown number of mistresses. He was also a ‘Janpath Adishak’, who the Maoists also killed for alleged corruption. The current leaders of the Salwa Judum in Konta had close ties to Oonga Madkam.

Then in 2006, the village of Kottacheru was attacked by the Salwa Judum and five persons, Madkam Deva s/o Bhima, Madkam Admaiah s/o Maasa, Madkam Admaiah s/o Linga, Madvi Deva and his father Madvi Bhudra were killed.

Madkam Admaiah s/o Linga was killed by the Salwa Judum as he tried to save his house from burning down. He was the father of the same Oonga Madkam whose head was smashed in by the Maoists at Konta.

Then on the 6th of February, 2006, the Maoists killed nine personnel of the Naga Battalion with the use of an IED near the village of Kottacheru.

And it still doesn’t end there.

‘Nine of our people were killed in our village,’ Said Maala (name changed), another IDP from Kottacheru. But when I asked him for the names of the killed, he only gave me five names – the five people who were killed by the Salwa Judum. Then another woman, reservedly gave me the name of ‘Kovasi Dhoole,’ a young woman who was coming home to Kottacheru. And she wasn’t clear about how she died.

‘Did she die when the Salwa Judum raided the village?’ I had asked.

‘No.’

‘Did the Maoists kill her?’

She was quiet.

Eventually, over the course of six months, after interviewing over 14 villagers of Kottacheru in three different locations in Khammam district, including Kovasi Dhoole’s sister, I managed to piece together the story of Kovasi Dhoole and the story of Kottacheru.

In 2007, Kovasi Dhoole was a young woman on her way from Nagaras to her village of Kottacheru. She was stopped at Errabor police station and allegedly detained against her will. She only reappeared two months later, as a SPO, married to another SPO, a ‘turrka’ or Muslim, according to the rest of the villagers of Kottacheru. They also alleged that she was forced to become a SPO, and there was no ‘consent’ in the marriage.

A while later, on the 9th of July, 2007, a combing operation was ambushed near the village of Gaganpalli by the Maoists. 25 security personnel were killed via the use of IEDs placed in the trees and small arms fire. The security personnel retreated out of the jungle and it would take them three whole days to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades. Kovasi Dhoole was one of the injured who was abandoned to the Maoists who found her bullet-ridden body. She was still conscious and breathing. Yet there was no mercy killing. For some reason, the Maoists took her injured body and left it at the road, hoping someone would take her to the hospital.

No one did.

Kovasi Dhoole from the village of Kottacheru, bled to death.

This is the short story of violence in the village of Kottacheru. Now what about the even shorter story of justice for the villagers of Kottacheru?

The National Human Rights Commission’s Enquiry Team held a public hearing at Cherla, Andhra Pradesh in 2008 with a few villagers from Kottacheru where they had alleged that their homes were burnt down and looted by the Salwa Judum, and they had given three names of people who were killed by the Salwa Judum and the security forces.

The NHRC team then visited Kottacheru, found the village partially destroyed and completely abandoned. It also could not find any villagers from Kottacheru in any of the Salwa Judum Camps. Thus, they could not ascertain as to who was responsible for the burnings, killings and lootings.

Thus, ends the story of justice for the villagers of Kottacheru. Now what about the shortest story of storytelling for the villagers of Kottacheru?

Anthropologist Nandini Sundar who started to realize the extent of terror and violence unleashed by the Salwa Judum in 2005 had gone to the editors of most prominent mainstream publications and channels and passed on report after report of burnings, lootings, killings and rapes that were taking place in Dantewada and Bijapur District.

‘They just couldn’t believe it was happening.’ She responds, ‘It is a bit unbelievable. The extent of violence.’

Six years after the Salwa Judum, a hundred Kottacherus later, things still remain invisible to the mainstream media. Instead about talking about forest rights, land rights, agricultural development, malnutrition, exploitation, hunger, drought, child labour, dispossession, displacement, rehabilitation, they talk about the Maoists. Instead of attempting to understand what is really causing the violence, they’re asking about the army. And what is the army really going to do?

Besides create a thousand more Kottacherus?

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Rape As A Weapon Of War

June 9, 2010

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 11th of June, 2010.

On the 21st of September, 2007, the adivasi gangrape victims of Vakapalli, Andhra Pradesh, declared in a memorandum to the Sub-Collector of Paderu. “We, the Adivasi women of Vakapalli village who have been raped, wish to place before you the reasons why we have decided to go on an indefinite fast…

On 20-08-2007, Greyhounds police (21 in number) raided our village Vakapalli and raped 11 women. We have brought this brutal and terrible act of the police to the notice of not just the government and the judiciary but everyone we could reach out to. We asked that justice be done to us. When an incident like this takes place, the government should respond and take steps to ensure that the accused are punished. It must stand by the victims and give them protection. Over a month has passed since we were raped. A criminal case was registered but not a single accused has been arrested so far. On top of it, they are trying to make out that nothing has at all happened.”

Are we not citizens of this country? Will these laws and courts not do us justice? Can they not protect us? Will they only side with the police? In that case, at least take action under international laws if any. In case there are no such laws, then do us justice as per principles of natural justice.

If this system fails to give us justice and security, we, who are helpless, refuse to remain so. We are ready to even sacrifice our lives so that such brutality is not visited upon us and those like us ever again. We therefore, humbly state that we have decided to sit on an indefinite fast.”

On the 22nd of May, 2010, over two and a half years after the incident at Vakapalli in Andhra Pradesh, three adivasi women of village Mukram near Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh, allege to have been raped by members of the security forces. And it has been over just a month after 76 jawaans were killed by the Maoists near Chintalnar. Initial reports alleged that 10 women were raped around Chintalnar over the last few days but owing to a virtual police blockade, all reports couldn’t be entirely verified.

These are not isolated cases. Four women claimed to have been raped under similar circumstances in the village of Samsetti, Dantewada by SPOs in 2006. Five women from the village of Potenar allege to have been raped in the Jangla Camp in 2005. Two women were raped by the Salwa Judum and SPOs in Lingagiri in 2006. One woman alleged to have been gangraped in Konta police station. Three woman claimed to have been gangraped at Tatemargu in November 2009 during a combing operation.

The list is endless. And not even once were the First Information Reports ever registered by the police. Only five girls from Potenaar had testified to the National Human Rights Commission’s Enquiry Team on the 10th of June 2008 but the team (comprising out of fifteen police persons out of sixteen) inferred that the allegations could not be substantiated.

‘During the enquiry it was observed that there were many inconsistencies in the versions of alleged victims, in the petitions given by them, as well as in the statements of the alleged victims. These inconsistencies were with regard to the number of victims raped, number of SPOs who took them away from the camp, number of SPOs who actually committed the act and their identity, and the accompanying circumstances.’ – As mentioned in the NHRC report.

Yet nowhere did the NHRC report mention that rape didn’t take place. And it ‘recommended that a further enquiry may be conducted by an independent agency.’ Nothing happened after that. The Writ Petitions that had challenged the legality of the Salwa Judum had alleged a total of over 99 cases of rape, and the NHRC Enquiry Team that was appointed to investigate into these allegations by the Apex Court, only spoke to five of the victims who were not even mentioned in the petition. Then of course, the NHRC team investigated only another allegation of rape at the village of Polampalli.

At Pollampalli, two women were allegedly raped and murdered but the NHRC report states, ‘The names of Bhusaki Bandi and Selam Bhima could not be identified as from this village. However, the villagers denied any incidence of rape in their village.’

Of course, the NHRC Team visited the wrong Pollampalli. There are two Pollampallis in Bastar, one in Usur Block and another in Konta Block.

The fact remains, rape is a part of everyday life for the adivasi women of Bastar, and according to many independent observers it is used as a Weapon of War.

Rape as a weapon of war, was recognized by the United Nations Security Council in 2008, ‘as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” In the Red Corridor, the predominately non-tribal police force looks at the predominately tribal Maoists as an distinctive group. There is a definite sense of racism and collective punishment. The three girls who were raped at Mukram on the 22nd of May, were accused of being ‘Maoist supporters’ and were alleged to have helped in the ‘Chintalnar attack on the CRPF’.

The police have often claimed all of these allegations of rape as baseless and the Maoists motivate women to make such claims to undermine the morale and legitimacy of the police. As it is, in many cases, owing to the stigma related to rape, as well as further threat to their lives, the victims never come forward. It took the women of Samsetti three years to even come forward and even then the police didn’t lodge their FIRs. They would eventually harass the women, detain them, and beat them after they lodged a case against them in the  JMFC in Konta.

The Maoists are not beyond rape either even though they don’t use it as a weapon of war.

I get a chuckle from the adivasis from Konta every time I ask about a particular Area Commander called Comrade Naveen. His real name is Sodhi Gangaya and he hailed from the village of Curreygudem in Konta block, deep within their ‘liberated zones’. When I ask villagers about Sodhi Gangaya, I get a blank stare, but when I say Comrade Naveen, they chuckle indignantly.

Comrade Naveen had raped a girl in the village of Curreygudem in 2008. When I asked the villagers of Curreygudem if they had ever complained to anyone about it they responded, ‘hum itne bade aadmi ke bare mein aesa kaise bol sakte hai…’ (how can we say such a thing about such a big man?)

Eventually, a relative of the girl complained to a senior Maoist and Comrade Naveen disappeared from the forest. Of course, it didn’t end there. Comrade Naveen left the party and eventually became SPO Sodhi Gangaya.

He was recognized by the villagers of Tatemargu on the 9th of November, 2009, as one of the guides for the police contingent that raided their village where over 60 buildings would be burnt down, seven villagers would be killed, and three women would be allegedly raped.

How many Comrade Naveens exist amidst the Maoists, can count as just as many SPO Sodhi Gangayas there are amongst the police. But how many more Vakapallis will there be?

“If this system fails to give us justice and security, we, who are helpless, refuse to remain so. We are ready to even sacrifice our lives so that such brutality is not visited upon us and those like us ever again.”