Archive for the ‘Police State’ Category

h1

Invisible Cities: Part Twelve: Breaking The Sparrow

November 6, 2012

Months after the last demolition drive, a court order to construct a boundary wall in Sion Koliwada leads to tension between the police and protesting residents especially after a contractor illegally demolishes a home.

This article appears in two parts in Daily News & Analysis on the 6th of November, 2012. Photos of the day can be viewed here.

Residents of Sion Koliwada showed all the documents to the police officers at Sion Police Station, prima facie evidence of forged signatures on consent forms and proof that a few people who signed, died long before they apparently gave consent to the builder. Instead, the police had to pay heed to a High Court order asking for them to provide protection for the building of a boundary wall across the village and they showed up on Monday, the fifth of November.

This is irrespective of the fact that the protesting residents of Sion Koliwada have a number of cases against the builder in the High Court.

Meanwhile, residents still stayed back from work, and decided to protest against the construction. But ever since their experience with mass arrests last May, the residents made a tactical choice to let the builder construct his wall, provided he does that and nothing else. The case in question was filed by the previous society of Sion Koliwada (who the remaining residents accused of fraud) complaining about slow work against the BMC and the state, without making the protesting residents as a party in the case.

The construction of the walls resumed with one of the first actions of the police to direct the removal of a small tent at Sion Koliwada where most of the residents conduct their meetings, or watch TV, wondering how the few TV Journalists who visited them, documented their lives.

After that, through hurls of abuse, the demolition/construction crew started to break down remnants of homes already demolished, and then moved to the door of the home of 85 year old Rozi Francis Patil whose house was disputed between the BMC and the 85 year old Rozi and her family. While residents loudly protested against the demolition of the door, repeatedly asserting that the police has a high court order that only asks for the building of a wall, the contractors relented and moved away from her home.

However, once the wall was built around Rozi’s home, cutting off her neighbours from view, an overenthusiastic contractor ensured it turned into rubble.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police promised to file a case against him, while builder Sudhakar Shetty of Sahana Developers claims that the disputed building belonged to them as the BMC had sealed it, and handed it over to them.

Short silences in moments of chaos

The Sparrow: Lily Peso left her work today as a stenographer and came to look after her 85 year old mother Rosie’s home in Sion, afraid that it might be levelled for the wall. She sits alone by her door, quietly, watching the labourers build their walls in what used to be her yard.

‘Why are you sitting alone?’ I asked

‘I am like a sparrow. Do you know the story of the sparrow and the tree? Once a tree falls and all the sparrows leave the tree except one. And that sparrow stayed near her broken tree and cried and just refused to move. Then Goddess Indra comes and asks the sparrow what is the matter. The sparrow says that I grew up with this tree, she lived happily here, and ate her fruits, lived in her shade, how can I leave it? And then the Goddess made the tree again and all the sparrows came back.’

‘I am here now alone, just remembering the place where I grew up.’

The labour: More than three dozen labourers were picked up from the Nakas, promised 400 rupees for a days work. Nasirul, who lives in a slum in Mumbai Central says: ‘They lied to us.’

‘They told us we only had to do some fencing work, not that we had to barge into people’s homes to do it.’

‘This is all wrong, we shouldn’t be doing it.’

‘Have you done work for the government before, like this? Even during demolition drives?’

‘Yes, and they never tell you that’s the work they’re taking you for.’

The Sellout: Kalpesh Shivkar, screams at the crowd, at his angry ex-neighbours, at his friends, ‘I just took five lakhs, what have I done? What have you done for me?’

In May of this year 25 people went to jail trying to protect his home from being demolished. They were arrested for rioting when they lay down before the bulldozer that was menacingly crawling to break down his walls.

The journalists:  Journalist A: ‘A white girl got raped in Bandra today, I don’t think anyone will come to report what is happening in Sion now.’

Journalist B: ‘I work for ____ media, owned by the Pawars.’

‘And they will let you write about this?’

‘We already did before.’

There were only two journalists at Sion Koliwada today.

The Detained: Resident of Sion Koliwada, a young professor B. at a prominent college in Mumbai, abused Inspector More, calling him a servant of the builder and he was swiftly taken away and put in a police van.

Police Discourtesy: When things subsided, a group of young boys were gathering when Constable Tely started to scream at them: ‘Are you here to watch a film?’

‘Yes, they are,’ Said Pushpa Shivkar, defending the boys of her village, ‘You have shown them a wonderful film by doing what you did today.’

At this point, Constable Tely started calling Mrs. Shivkar, who is twice her age,

‘madharchod/behenchod.’

Pushpa Shivkar yelled back saying that he should just meet her in civvies and not in his uniform so she could teach him a lesson, and he continued to hurl abuses at her, until another woman took her away.

The Bad Policeman: ‘Are you happy that you don’t have to raise your lathi on anyone today?’ I asked a constable, sweating under his riot gear.

‘Yes.’

‘And how would’ve you felt if you had to?’

‘I would feel nothing.’

‘Ever felt bad for beating up someone?’

‘We usually give warnings, if they don’t listen, then that’s it. And it is my duty.’

The Good Policemen: In the middle of the afternoon, two policemen, one Tukaram Jadhav was more interested in sharing riddles, lively laughter and mathematical wisdom with two happy school-going girls, away from all of the arguments and the abuse that flowed between the residents and the police.

‘If you have to cut a long pipe into 2002 pieces, how many times do you cut it?’

Advertisements
h1

A Short History Of Death And Madness in Bastar

July 8, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No.’ They said.

‘Did any human rights activists come?’

‘No.’

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

‘No.’

‘How many homes were burnt down that time?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

And burnings preceded killings, and killings preceded burnings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

h1

The Life Of A Witness

June 17, 2012

Photo credit: Tehelka photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

h1

Invisible Cities: Part Eleven: Demolition City

June 14, 2012

Qareem of Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 in Mankhurd holds a photograph of the last time his house was demolished. His young daughter was injured during the latest demolition drive on the 30th of May, 2012

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 14th of June, 2012.

The week before the monsoons, saw demolition drives in Ambujwadi in Malad, in Sion Koliwada and in a far reaching corner of the city, in Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 near Mankhurd station, a small group of shanties of twenty homes that live hidden from the city under a flyover and adjacent to the Mankhurd rail line heading to Vashi.

The demolition in Ambujwadi was thwarted when thousands of people gathered at the street and chased the bulldozer away, but the state has promised it would come the next day, and an activist who spent the whole day in the rallies, who’d move around getting water for all the others, dies of a heart attack the same night.

All three slums have different histories, identities and states of desperation – Sion Koliwada is filled with the original inhabitants of Mumbai, who refer to the state as encroachers of their land, while Ambujwadi is referred to an encroachment by the state. Mahatma Phule Nagar, a slum of muslims and dalits, migrants and the poorest, most vulnerable of the city, are referred to encroachers by the Railway Department. And yet none of the second generation of ‘encroachers’ will move – they rebuild, and they talk about the last time their homes were demolished – Qareem at Mahatma Phule Nagar had taken out a laminated photograph of his family and the remnants of his home, the last time his house was demolished a year and a half back.

Tuliya Saket, who lives at the end of Mahatma Phule Nagar with her son and her husband had just built her home over three years ago. She is originally from Satna District in Madhya Pradesh and lost her lands to a flood. Her son Suresh would point out that the ‘Maha Sankha’ built by the state was responsible for the flooding of their fertile lands. Where will we go? Has stopped being the response of every so-called encroacher, yet the state, in
its blind adherance to town planning, to its latent anti-migrancy biases, has failed to see that they can break down the homes of people repeatedly, but the people will not move. In it’s almost futile adherance to its mandate and law, the demolitions keep happening, the people keep rebuilding, and at the same time, a tabloid newspaper would report that the Chief Minister hasn’t had time to inaugrate the latest Golf Course at Khargar.

In a Human Development Report done by the United Nations Development Programme for the BMC, it was stated that …. ‘the relevant dimension is that the area, they (slums) together occupy – just 6 per cent of all land in Mumbai explaining the horrific levels of congestion. Delhi has 18.9 per cent, Kolkatta 11.72 percent and Chennai 25.6 per cent in slums.’ Adding to this, the BMC recently revealed the Below Poverty Line Survey they had conducted in 2005-2006 which stated that there are around 4,93,855 families Below The Poverty line, with the maximum number in Andheri East, with 79,107 families, while Fort would have 797 families, or Parel would have 259, or Bandra would have 8271. Mankhurd, ghettoized with over 70% of it as slums, has around 65,051 families Below The Poverty Line.

Last year, slums built on the periphery of the dumping grounds of Deonar, Sant Nirankari Nagar and Rafiq Nagar 2, both in Mankhurd, were demolished and the state dug up ditches to make the land un-livable, but the people still rebuilt their homes in the little spaces afforded to them. In December of last year, Bheem Chhayya on Forest Land was demolished and once again, the people refused to let go. A young boy Jayesh drowned in one of the miasmic ditches dug by the municipal authorities and the residents had filed a case against the responsible authorities.

All of the slums – Ambujwadi, Rafiq Nagar 2, Mahatma Phule Nagar 2, Bheem Chhaya, have been denied the right to water, a right that India conferred as a Human Right in the General Assembly of the United Nations, yet to those slums that have come into existence after 1995, the residents have to pay exobirant prices from a private water mafia. At the same time, according to an RTI response by the BMC’s Hydraulic Department, between January 2009 and February 2010, 2,95,576 kilolitres of water were used by seventeen bottling plants in Mumbai – for instance, Dukes & Sons (Pepsi), used 78,721 kilolitres of water, while Jayantlal Mohanlal (Bisleri) used around 42,403 kilolitres of water.

The people of Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 were busy rebuilding their homes a few hours after the demolition, aware of the coming monsoons. And yet they are all aware, touts will demand money for protection, they will have to pay for water, work when they get work, earn little money they can by selling dates or falling into the absolutely fragile world of informal labour, and that the state will come again, break their homes down again, and that they will not move.

A common answer to encroachment has always been: ‘Why was the state sleeping when these people first started to settle here? When they built even one house, they should’ve been kicked out.’ Ironically, Uday Mohite of Bheem Chhayya, who had gone on a hunger strike for 19 days to get justice for his son, and for the right to a home, partially agrees to that idea – yet adds that its not so simple – it is their right to come to the city, and ‘where will we go?’ isn’t just a defence – it’s the truth. The questions arise about citizenship – and migrants and those deemed encroachers have repeatedly wondered if they’re citizens of the country, when they’re treated like outcasts and illegals in the city.

The republic of Mumbai and the republic of hunger meet when bulldozers crash through tarpaulin and inter-party canvas posters that make the walls of the poorest of the city. It meets when middle class aspirations bulldoze their way into those of the working class and the poor. It meets when the same people who have faced demolitions since 80,000 homes were demolished in 2005, had symbolically taken over the un-touched Adarsh building last year.

‘Demolish that’, they had said, ‘Leave our homes alone.’

h1

Invisible Cities: Part Ten: The Demolition Seige Of Sion Koliwada

June 4, 2012

This article appears in abridged form in Daily News & Analysis on the 4th of June, 2012. Photographs of the demolition drive can be viewed here.

The residents of Sion Koliwada face police brutality for opposing a redevelopment project

Twenty-five residents and activists who were peacefully protesting against the re-demolition of a home in Sion Koliwada, remained in custody and had applied for bail at Kurla Magistrate Court on Friday. The accused were then sent by the court for medical examination after allegations of police brutality. They will remain in police custody till the 5th of June, 2012.

On May 29, the police had demolished the home of Kalpesh Shivkar, arrested activist Medha Patkar and seven others, including Frank Fernandes, 16, a science student of St. Andrews college, who had gone to defend his father Nelson, when the locals tried to prevent the police from demolishing their homes.

A day later, the people deeming the demolition illegal, would begin to reconstruct the home of Kalpesh Shivkar. But late night on May 30, the locals tried to rebuild the home, and over a 100 security personnel positioned themselves in one of the re-development buildings, while the police stood across the street, claiming they are there to maintain law and order. Jai Maharashtra, a TV channel owned by Sudhakar Shetty, has been sitting with what the developer’s own supporters call ‘bouncers’, all tagged with the name ‘Sairaj’ on their uniforms. The supporters also allege that the remaining residents have simply resorted to blackmail the builder, and there have been no irregularities in the scheme.

All night the residents stayed on a dharna, while neither the police nor the private security would move. The next evening, on the Bharat bandh, the police would again enter the slum and drag away individuals as they lay down before bulldozers, and again, demolished Shivkar’s home. They arrested one activist Jameel Akhtar Sheikh, whose on slum of Ambujwadi in Malad, faced a demolition drive two days earlier, who lay down before the bulldozer, and 24 other women, including Madhuri Shivkar, a leader of the resistance at Sion Koliwada.

On Thursday night, the police not only refused to reveal to journalists what sections those arrested where booked under, but also prevented the entry of journalists into the police station to interview senior officials.  It was finally revealed that all of them were arrested for, Section 143, 147, 149, 152, 332, 353, 504, 506, while Madhuri Shivkar was also charged with Section 447 and Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Most charges concern rioting, unlawful assembly and ‘causing hurt to a public servant’ when almost all the residents claim they had peacefully protested.

The issue dates back to 1999, when builder Sudhakar Shetty of Sahana Builders approached the residents with plans to redevelop the land. Sudhakar Shetty who is a known aide of Baba Ramdev was raided by the Income Tax Department in September of 2011.The residents have been protesting that the builder Sahana Developers had illegally acquired their consent for the project. When he did not get the requisite 70% consent, he allegedly forged signatures on the consent forms.

After filing an RTI, it was discovered that a consent form, dated 20/7/1999, has the signature of Eknath Koli who had died in 1997. Another form has the signature of Lilabai Vishnu Patil, signed in English, even though Lilabai is actually illiterate and has only ever used thumb prints for all her official documents.

The residents had gone to the Sion police station on February 26, 2011 stating forgery in the project, yet the police had refused to file the FIR, claiming that this falls under the purview of the BMC. The matter concerning the forgery is still pending in the Kurla Magistrate Court. After Medha Patkar’s nine-day hunger strike in Golibar slums last year, the government had consented to investigate into 15 re-development schemes, including Sion Koliwada, where the residents alleged irregularities and fraud. But the government backtracked and the matter is now pending in the High Court.

Builder Sudhakar Shetty, however, maintained that he has played by the rules. Speaking to journalists, he said, ‘When the BMC demolished one hut on 30 May, locals got ladies from outside and started to rebuild. Therefore on 31 May, the BMC demolished again.’

He added, ‘Eight years ago, locals gave us 70% consent only then the proposal was passed. Until then, locals didn’t complain. When the case went to the HC, it was dismissed. We have all the necessary documents. Why didn’t the locals get relief in HC if documents were forged?’

National Alliance of People’s Movements and Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao (GBGB) Andolan condemned “this brutal move of the administration to evict the people from their decades old settlements, for no cogent public purpose, rather for the vested interests of a private real estate lobby,” the body said in a statement.

‘They keep talking about encroachers,’ said Kiran Keny, of Sion Koliwada, ‘but the government had encroached on our lands since the British times. The land on the harbour line all belong to the Kolis.’

‘This government is looting us, at least the British gave us something and left, which is the land we have right now,’ lamented Devendra Vaity, another resident.

‘Dear Chief Minister, is this rioting?’ Ask the residents of Sion Koliwada.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 6th of June, 2012.

According to the police, the protestors had not only resorted to rioting and injuring a lady constable Kalawati Ravindra Sinha, 54, who would be admitted to Hinduja Hospital, but they also illegally rebuilt a home that the residents claim was illegally demolished.

The police also demanded police custody of the protestors till June 7 fearing they would return to protest, and return to ‘provoke’ the residents. Their only eyewitness is another police constable, while residents had video footage of the so-called riot, where every person who was arrested was picked up from the ground when they were lying down before the bulldozer.

At the police station, no one was allowed to meet the accused and even after all the protestors were sent to the Nagpada police station, no one was allowed to send them any food. Journalists were also not allowed to interview senior police officials.

The protestors remained in police custody all night and would complain before the Kurla magistrate court that their medical tests were not done properly. Allegations of abuse have been widely circulated in the Sion village, and just two days earlier a young Frank Fernandes sat in a police van with torn shirts, showing tell-tale signs of police violence.

A few of the police’s justifications for demanding police custody make an interesting indication of naked police aggression. In the first information report, they claim that if the protestors are released they would hurt the ‘peaceful environment’ in the area.

This is unfortunately only half the picture as dozens of private security ‘bouncers’ as described by the builder’s supporters, have been sitting in the building already completed by Sahana Developers, since the night of May 29. When asking the DCP whether they would be sent home, he replied, that they are the builder’s security, they are only sitting in their area, and only if they act, will the police intervene.

Another reason given is that the police constable Kalawati is in a serious condition. To blame 25 people for someone who allegedly kicked the constable in her head, and to keep them in police custody for the same is akin to revenge. The residents themselves alleged that the constable was hanging onto the van as it sped away from the village, and she had fallen down. At Hinduja Hospital where she was admitted, it had come to light that she was discharged on Sunday Morning after being described as ‘stable’.

h1

A Constitution’s Dead Army

April 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The Thousands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Memory of Gangaram

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

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

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

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

h1

Death In A Quiet Corner

March 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Police State Against The Woman’s Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State As A Bystander

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

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

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

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

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

State of Anomie

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

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

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

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

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