Archive for the ‘Salwa Judum’ Category

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In Chhattisgarh, The Only Criminal Is Law

December 26, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost everyone in Chhattisgarh seems to want the Law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Maoists Attack Contractor’s Home

July 10, 2010

Two killed, two injured, including 11-year old son of contractor

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 10th of July, 2010.

The home of contractor and Congress party worker Audesh Singh Gautam of the village of Nakulnar, Dantewada district was attacked by the Maoists late at 12:45am on the 8th of July. Two people, Sanjay Singh and Dharmendra Lohra were shot dead from the window as they slept. David Toppo, a CGP jawaan, from Jajpur District was shot in his face, and has been flown to a hospital in Raipur.

Abhijeet Singh, the eleven year old son of the Audesh Singh Gautam was wounded during the attack. His 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.

Earlier at night, the Maoists had surrounded Nakulnar police station and had first quietly raided Audesh Singh’s neighbours house. They then infiltrated his house and fired through the windows onto the sleeping Sanjay Singh, a relative of Audesh Singh and Dharmendra Lohra, his driver, killing them instantly. They then hurled hand grenades into the house while Audesh Singh and his security managed to reach the second floor of the house, leaving his family to the mercy of the Maoists.

‘I was in my room,’ Says 11-year old Abhijeet from Jagdalpur’s Maharani Hospital, ‘When there was a blast in the hall.’

There were numerous grenades thrown into the house and according to witnesses, at least one grenade fell next to the intended target, Audesh Singh Gautam, but failed to explode.

Eventually, the coast was clear and the Maoists then entered the home and found Audesh Singh Gautam’s family.  At the same time, the CGP members as well as Audesh Singh, retreated to the top floor and were then involved in a gunfight with the Maoists who had taken position around their home.

According to Abhijeet’s elder sister Anjali, the Maoists had instructed her to take her wounded brother out of the house and into their neighbour’s home.

At some point at night, during the gunfight from the roof, CGP jawaan David Toppo, an adivasi from Jajpur took a bullet in his face that left him severely dismembered. His teeth have mostly fallen out and he was incapable of speaking as his tongue was hanging out of his mouth.

‘By around four in the morning, the reinforcements had reached Nakulnar,’ Says Inspector-General Longkumer, ‘There was no exchange of fire and the Maoists had withdrawn into the jungle.’

By daylight, it was discovered that there were pools of blood, and on one spot, brain matter was found where the Maoists had positioned themselves, indicating that they had taken casualties as well. Dharmendra Lohra’s and Sanjay Singh’s bodies lay as they were sleeping, still wrapped in their blankets.

‘We can speculate that the Maoists took two fatalities and a few were injured.’ Continued IG Longkumer, ‘although the information is unverifiable.’

It was also a known fact that Audesh Singh was a target of the Maoists even though he had no involvement with the Salwa Judum. According to some sources, he was also supplying the police with information about the Maoists.

This was not the first attempt on his life. Previously, around six months ago there was an attempt on his life in the market, but the gunman’s weapon had jammed.

Audesh Singh himself anticipated an attempt on his life over the last week.

He was eventually attacked on the second day of the bandh declared by the Maoists, to protest the killing of top Politburo Member Azad AKA C Rajkumar.


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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.”