Archive for the ‘Sandeep Pandey’ Category


Yes, Minister, My Sympathies

May 10, 2010

The parents of 19 year-old Channu Mandavi waiting for the police to release the body of their son. Channu Mandavi was shot dead in an encounter as an alleged Maoist in 2009.

This Op-ed appears in The New Indian Express on the 13th of May, 2010.

Sympathy • noun (pl. sympathies) 1 feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. 2 understanding between people; common feeling.3 support for or approval of something. 4 (in sympathy) relating harmoniously to something else; in keeping. 5 the state or fact of responding in a way corresponding to an action elsewhere.

— ORIGIN Greek sumpatheia, from sun- ‘with’ + pathos ‘feeling’.

Mahasweta Devi challenged Chidambaram to put her in jail for 10 years, in response to the centre’s newly found enthusiasm for using the UAPA to arrest so-called Maoists sympathizers. As of now, I truly sympathize with the home minister for being humiliated by a gutsy 84 year-old woman.

Yet sympathy is a thought-crime thanks to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and accordingly, ‘any person who commits the offence of supporting such a terrorist organization with inter alia intention to further the activities of such terrorist organizations would be liable to be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or with fine or with both.’

I like to place some emphasis on ‘intention to further the activities’ of the Maoists. Since we have brought public debate on Operation Green Hunt down to the ludicrous and the farcical, I’d like to ask one question: who has really furthered the activities of the Maoist any more than the exploitive economic policies of the state and their counter-insurgency tactics? I mean, what’s more useful to the Maoists, a Writ Petition filed by activists for the adivasis, or the state’s security apparatus that terrorizes the population on mere suspicion and suppresses dissent and civil society?

Maoist sympathizers, or supporters, according to the state, are simply anyone who stands up for the rights of the adivasi. Not long ago in the Supreme Court, an accusation was hurled at just-another-activist who was fighting for the rights of the adivasi, for being a Maoist supporter. The response by the judges was fitting. ‘Suppose somebody fights their (victims) case, so what does that imply? First you say they are Naxals, then you say they are sympathisers, then you say they are sympathisers of sympathisers… Why all these innuendos?’

‘Sympathy is fighting for their cause (victims). Nobody is advocating their cause. They are not saying their action should be condoned.’

And who is really advocating the Maoist cause? Anyone with even half a brain would know that even if the Maoists do capture state power, we’d merely be dealing with a whole bunch of clowns, who’d merely shoot the students at JNU, if there was even a single squeak of dissent.

And unfortunately I need to have yet another fashionable pot-shot at Mr. Chidambaram whose policies are single-handedly the greatest support for the Maoists to help ‘further their activities’. First, let’s start with the Salwa Judum, that was given unbridled freedom to do as it pleases – burn, rape, loot and murder in every place that was known to have a strong Maoist presence, and the Maoists had the last laugh – as recruitment was an all-time high. How much did the Salwa Judum help to ‘further the activities’ of the Maoists? Does the centre now know that the Salwa Judum had even burnt down villages that had no Maoist links? And killed people who had no grudge against the state?

That the same misguided counterinsurgency rationale is being used again with Operation Green Hunt, is indicative enough that the centre learnt nothing from the terrible experiment that was the Salwa Judum. COBRA battalions that are directly under the Union government have been singlehandedly responsible for a majority of adivasi deaths since September of last year.

Counterinsurgency isn’t really an exact science – it’s a methodology of killing, of keeping kill-ratios, of area domination. It’s really measured by ‘who is more effective to terrorize the local population’ – the insurgents or the state? And both the state and the Maoists are trapped in their own contradictions, they exist violently for the other is – the brutal killing of alleged informants by the Maoists as a deterrence, follows the same logic of the state that brutally cracks down on the local adivasi population that it considers ‘supporters’.

‘Agar woh Maovadi the ya nahi, woh unke supporter toh the.’ (whether they were Maoists or not, they were definitely their supporters)’, Said a forest official to me about the Singaram massacre of 2009, when 19 tribals were killed.

We know the home minister believes that the state has a philosophical right to violence, yet so does the right to fight back that is very easily propagated to the Adivasis of Dandakaranya. And the Maoist version of the truth, is truth to the adivasi who has no other option.

It’s almost impossible not to sympathize (emotionally) with everyone in such terrifying consequences.

‘Naxali hai bimari, hum hai dhulayi.’ Said an inspector to me at Kirandul, during a ‘casual chat’ outside the police station. We were all waiting for the police to release the body of a 19 year-old adivasi boy to his parents.

Adivasi women don’t weep – they cry in song, a rhythm of grief, and Channu’s mother ‘sung’ continuously for over two hours outside the police station. Fifteen feet beyond barbwire, an autopsy was being conducted on her son, in the open, shielded from the eyes of the passing world, by blue tarpaulin sheets. She sung across barbwire until two SPOs with masked faces yelled at her to get lost. That if she wants to cry for her son, she shouldn’t do it in front of the police station.

Meanwhile, the inspector would tell me his own version of ‘1084 ki Ma’. There was yet another encounter in Bastar and an old frail woman had come to the police station all the way from Andhra Pradesh to claim the body of her son.

After putting her son onto the bullock-cart, she stoically, turned towards the inspector and told him that this was her second son who was a Maoist, who was killed in an encounter.

The callous inspector had sympathized.


The Tribal ‘Ruchikas’ Of Dantewada

January 14, 2010

This story first appeared in The New Indian Express on the 7th of January, 2010.

The Muria don’t know anything about rape, as they say, their word for it is closer to ‘baalatkaar’ than anything else. But when four tribal girls were allegedly gang-raped by SPOs in the village of Samsetti in 2006, neither does the entire state machinery of Chhattisgarh.

Recently, the same girls were beaten by the very accused and forced to give their thumb-prints on blank papers. They were then detained for five days in Dornapal police station, where the very accused are stationed. Once the girls were released they flatly refused to talk to anyone, let alone their lawyers. The villagers of Samsetti had told the victims to let go of the matter as well. Previously, throughout September, the Sarpanch of Samsetti would ask the villagers to withdraw the cases and to put their thumbprints on blank papers otherwise the police and the SPOs would come to their village again. They did not heed to his threats.

According to victim testimonies, on the 6th of July 2006, in the village of Samsetti, in the district of Dantewada, three girls, aged 19, 22 and 23 were gang-raped by government appointed SPOs and members of the Salwa Judum during a raid on their village. Another girl had been raped in January of that very year.

When the girls had gone to file a complaint at the police station, they were threatened and chased away. Time would pass. It was discovered that there were allegedly 24 cases of rape in the entire Konta block, out of which, only six of the women were willing to speak up. Four of them were from Samsetti, one from Arlampalli and another from Bandarpadar.

The girls first wrote their complaints straight to the Superintendent of Police and the Collector on the 27th of March, 2009. Nothing happens. Then a complaint case was jointly filed to the Judicial Magistrate First Class, Konta on the 29th of April, 2009.

Interestingly, while statements were being recorded at the court on the 16th of June, 2009, the accused were loitering around the corridors. On the next court date, the 17th of July, when the testimonies of the victims were meant to be heard, the Magistrate was absent, allegedly, ‘called away to headquarters.’ The Magistrate also magically disappears on the next court date, the 12th of August.

The Magistrate, Amrit Karkate nervously rides his bicycle to court everyday from his house in Konta – the bastion of the very accused. A warrant for the thirty accused is finally issued by the court in October to the police stations of Dornapal, Konta and Bhejji. Yet no arrests are made. The accused are missing. One of them is even giving speeches. The accused SPOs are on duty yet for some reason they’re missing too.

Harassment of the victims still continued, the women fled their village and began to live on the premises of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. They had even approached the Collector Reena Babasaheb Kangale on the 11th of August to ensure the safety of the women. Yet nothing would happen. There would be no security. They returned to their village. They’d be beaten. They’d be dragged to jail. Irrespective of the fact that once a warrant is issued, the accused cannot withdraw the case unless the accused are brought to court and the matter can proceed. What’s the point of beating them now? What can they do?

Take the case of Madkam Madvi (name changed) of Bhandarpadar, Konta block, who was allegedly gang-raped by SPOs at Konta police station in April of 2008. According to her testimony, she claims that she was taken to the police station by the Salwa Judum, robbed of some Rs. 25,000, then kept alone in a room. She was first raped by a SPO in an isolated room in the police station, then blindfolded and gang-raped over two days at the station by three more unidentified persons.

Eventually, she was set free and after further harassment she escaped to Andhra Pradesh. She had hoped to start over and had even married.

At this point, members of the Salwa Judum traced her down in Andhra Pradesh and the harassment continued. According to her husband, they had threatened him saying, ‘we were going to sell this girl and earn some money but now that you married her, we have suffered a loss that you shall now have to payback.’ They then stole Rs.3500, one cow, three goats and two chickens to ‘make up for their loss.’ After further threatening them, they went back to Chhattisgarh, ensuring that Madvi would sleep in a different room in a different village every night.

Finally, through the Gandhian NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, a complaint was written to the Superintendent of Police, Dantewada. There was no reply for months. The matter was then taken to the court as a private complaint. There was a request to shift the case from Konta to the Dantewada sessions court on the 9th of March, 2009.

Harassment began soon after. SPOs crossed the state border and searched Madvi’s house on the 10th of April, 2009. And on the 2nd of December, 2009, Madvi’s father and a boy who shared her husband’s name were apprehended and taken to Chintur Police Station in Andhra Pradesh. There, the father was threatened and the boy was beaten. They were told to bring Madvi to Konta police station. At this point, she had gone into hiding, knowing that her next appearance at court was to be held on the 10th of December when she had to depose.

The deposition didn’t happen. On the very day of the hearing there was a rally against the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, who used to support her emotionally and financially. As of January 6th the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram has ceased to exist, it’s workers arrested, it’s employees threatened, it’s director missing.

The day after, prominent activists Medha Patkar, Sandeep Pandey, D. Gabriele, Kavita Srivastava along with some twenty others were attacked by a mob comprising of members of the Salwa Judum who referred to themselves as ‘Maa Danteswadi Adivasi Swabhimaan Manch’. According to activists, the entire mob was orchestrated by police. And according to local media reports, one of the accused in the Konta Rape case was also part of the mob.