Archive for the ‘Supreme Court’ Category

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Those Damned Floods Destined to Obscurity

October 7, 2013

(158 of 197)The Aftermath of a flood: The house of Sundar Lal Varma at Chikalda village. A fisherman by trade, his house was entirely submerged on the 24th of August, 2013. He has received no compensation or help from the state as of the 2nd of October, 2013.

This article appears in The Sunday Guardian on the 6th of October, 2013

‘The mismanagement by the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to respond to the floods of the Narmada valley is indicative of their failures in the Rehabilitation and Resettlement itself. A state involved in Land Acquisition, doesn’t see citizens as much as they see Project-Affected Persons.

There were a series of floods across India in the past monsoon season, from Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal that did not make headlines like the Uttarakhand floods. But it was the recent flooding of the Narmada valley where politics and the nature of an administrative system revealed itself as completely unmotivated to respond to the man-made disaster. It was late at night when the Bhilala adivasi villagers from Morkata in the Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh, realized something was wrong with the reservoir waters of the Narmada river on the 23rd of August, 2013. Water slowly started to seep through the doors of Kamal Chauhan’s house, over a kilometre away from the river, and within two hours, he and his family would be in water just over their necks, carrying whatever belongings they had, to higher ground.

On the other side of the Narmada river at Chikalda, a Valmiki hamlet on a hill overlooking 60 feet above the normal levels of the river, would disappear completely on the 24th of August. The homes of Munu Hussain, Munu Vijay, Munu Nana, Munu Kamal, and Antim Munuram were completely destroyed, and while the caste system took them across the villages to clear all the carcasses of livestock littering the landscape, the state that completely ignored them led their resilience to rebuild on their own, with the remnants of anything that wasn’t destroyed. ‘Nine of our pigs were taken away by the waters,’ Said Munu Hussain, with callused hands, clearing debris over his home, ‘We found their bodies four days later, they got stuck in the bushes and drowned.’

The waters started to rise at around 8pm at Chikalda and would reach their highest level at 10pm, and unlike previous floods, the waters did not recede for days. 115 homes would be destroyed, but for one family on the Valmiki hamlet who earn their living cleaning 12 nearby towns, Suresh, Mahesh and Rajesh Babulal, along with Rekha and her mother Gulshan bai, it wasn’t any different from the flood waters three weeks earlier on the 2nd of August, or last year, or in 2010, or in 1994, when the Tava dam water’s had destroyed their home.

At Picchodi village in Badwani district, the illegal sand mining at the banks of the river, that led villagers a month ago to stop dozens of trucks and ensure the arrest of the few involved, were further dealt with the fury of the waters to enter through the broken banks, mined into a soft flatbed, letting the flood waters turn a road into a river that ran through the village, ensuring hundreds of acres of crop would be fated to destruction.

The village of Nisarpur on the other side of the river, with thousands of homes, shops, with mosques, temples and a thriving market, had water levels rise slowly over three days, as the Ori tributary of Narmada started to rise on the 23rd, and continued to, on the 25th, entirely submerging hundreds of shops and destroying over 105 homes.

Apart from the local media, there was absolutely nothing written in the mainstream national press, besides a few short reports on floods up the river in Gujarat, barring exceptions from the independent media organizations. A whole week after the destruction at Nisarpur, only one Revenue Officer had showed up towards the hamlets most affected by the backwater floods of the Ori tributary of the Narmada. Dozens of families in Dhangarpara of Nisarpur were living in the private schools of village until they were kicked out a week later. The village of Morkata was given 50 kilograms of wheat as relief, only after they stormed the collector’s office at Badwani. By the second of September, angry villagers from across the region began their march against the administration, in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district as well as Badwani, Alirajpur and Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, while at the same time up the river, the Jal Satyagraha began by those facing displacement by the Omakeshwar dam demanding fair rehabilitation and resettlement, especially land for land, house plot for house plot, agricultural land for agricultural land, and yet the administration responded by  ordering curfews and preventive arrests. This matter at least made some ripples in the mainstream media. For those affected by the recent floods, an oft-repeated response they had received from tehsildars office to tehsildars office, was that the land is already acquired, and therefore Panchanama’s of the damage caused by the submergence couldn’t be done. This led the villagers to file legal notices against the officials to ensure that all the damages are recorded in the ‘Revenue Book Circular (RBC) Rules and the oustees are duly compensated, which as of October 2nd, is yet to be done.

The decades –old project of the Sardar Sarover Dam on the river Narmada (amongst 18 other dams in different levels of completion on the river), according to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, would claim to provide for hydroelectricity generating over 1200 MW and 250 MW power to three states, would irrigate 18.45 lakhs of hectares of land, covering 3,112 villages in Gujarat, 2,46,000 hectares of desert land in Rajasthan and 37,500 hectares on the tribal hills of Maharashtra.  Yet it is a prime example of an attempt at a utilitarian philosophy gone wrong, where the benefit of the majority over the few, is an almost iconoclastic destruction of democratic values, when the few (in and around 3 lakh people as per 2011 census) are not even paid attention to, as those in the submergence areas of the dam, are condemned to an absent administration, a horrific level of corruption in the Resettlement & Rehabilitation policy, as well as the further risk of the dam’s height increasing from 122.92 metres to 138.68 metres, which will further submerge over 245 villages. Looking at the calmer waters of Narmada from the home of fisherman Sundarlal Verma of Chikalda village, one can see that if the dam height were to be raised to 138.68 metres, the destruction of the village would be complete, as the floods that devoured his home happened as the water level was height of 129.44 metres.

The Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra ModI has been vocal about raising the dam’s height over the past few months, and was promised ‘co-operation’ by the Prime Minister’s office. His website NarendraModi.in, has a wonderful post of the dam overflowing at 129.44 metres on the 2nd of August, described as a ‘breathtaking sight’, when at the same time the Valmiki hamlet of Chikalda would be submerged for the first time this monsoon season, when the overflowing dam’s backwaters were as breathtaking as the destruction of their homes.

The Narmada river was a violent force in the month of August and again in late September, destroying thousands of homes, stranding whole villages, in the district of Bharuch and Ankleshwar in Gujarat, that led to the army and the airforce to conduct rescue operations. The death toll in August by some reports was above 106 people. Yet in the submergence areas, the state had provided little to no relief, to thousands of destroyed crop, and countless homes that were washed away when the backwaters flooded over the hills of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, until the villagers from over 106 villages from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra marched to the offices of the respective Tehsils and demanded answers. They even challenged the state’s complete lack of disaster management, even as the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited’s, Flood Memorandum of 2013, a 558 document with every officials mobile number, from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh, of the Engineers, to the managers of the Narmada Project, to emergency services, was released ‘for official use’ months before the floods, compiled by the Superintendent Engineer of the Narmada Project Design Circle, based out of Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

The response of the state of Madhya Pradesh, has convinced angry villagers after angry villagers, that the state is just trying to forcibly displace them, a perception, whether justified or not, has still created an angry population living on rumours that the raising of the dam, to the vagaries of the canal system, is to provide water for the upcoming 90 billion dollar project, the Mumbai Delhi Industrial Corridor. And they may have a other reasons to by suspicious of their state. Since 2008, the project authorities of three states submitted to the Narmada Control Authority that the project-affected persons from each of the three states, is ‘0’, and the NCA has accepted those figures.

The risks of yearly floods, compounded with the mistrust with the state’s rehabilitation policy can be explained with the story of just one farmer: Ramsingh Ghedia, a Bhilala farmer, who had lived in the village of Pichodi until the year 2000, when rising water levels from the Sardar Sarover dam compelled him to accept one installment of compensation. He was told by the state that the dam would be helping thousands of farmers in Gujarat and Rajasthan, as they would be supplied irrigated water. He moved over 40 kilometres away into Madeel Panchayat, where his family purchased four acres of land, which are now lost because the Narmada Valley Development Authority has excavated the massive main canal of the Indira Sagar Project, and have dumped massive amounts of debris onto it.

In Morakta, a public hearing with the Bhilala adivasis indicated clear enough how outsiders had managed to rent homes in the village, and take compensation, how land registrars were filled with people who didn’t exist. All of this was brought to light to the Jabalpur High Court, that constituted the Justice Jha Commission of Inquiry on the 21st of August, 2008. The Commission conducted field visits to Nisarpur and Chikalda in 2009, and it found villagers more than willing to talk about how they were approached by agents, asked to bribe, and how those that were eligible landholders, would be deemed ineligible, as they couldn’t afford to pay.

The Inquiry is now in its fifth year, and the raising of the water levels and the recent floods, would stand in violation of the Supreme Court’s order that until the rehabilitation is complete, no homes or properties can be submerged. Land and livelihood based rehabilitation was guaranteed by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award, Rehabilitation policy and the judgements of the Supreme Court of 15th October, 2000, and 15th March, 2005, yet the demands of the villagers across the region for cultivable agricultural land remain unheard. The Justice Jha Commission would further find that at five rehabilitation sites at Badwani and Dhar, the civic amenities were more than lack, considering they couldn’t get their own water bottles filled, as there were no working handpumps, water tanks were incomplete and taps were constructed over missing pipelines. They found families living in the schools and dispensaries of Pichodi. Across Badwani, the rehabilitation sites for Pichodi, or Morkata, or at Dhar, at Nisarpur or Chikalda, only those who belong to a contractor class, or with a higher purchasing power, were able to shift to the new plots of land.

Meanwhile, just as the villagers from the Narmada Valley marched to government offices demanding compensation for the dam-induced floods and fair rehabilitation in the first week of September, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, had lobbied for his amendments on the recent Land Bill, which were approved by the Prime Minister, which specifically focuses on the un-feasability of ‘land for land’ rehabilitation, and for the deletion of the clause that when land would be acquired for irrigation projects, the affected families would be given monetary compensation and land for land.

And isn’t going to impress Subhram Patel, a 70 year old Bhilala farmer from Morkata, with 25 acres of land for his family, who is yet to be compensated for his agricultural land, and whose village was flooded when the dam waters were raised, ‘I had showed them all my documents, why didn’t they give me my land?’

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A Short History Of Death And Madness in Bastar

July 8, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No.’ They said.

‘Did any human rights activists come?’

‘No.’

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

‘No.’

‘How many homes were burnt down that time?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

And burnings preceded killings, and killings preceded burnings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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Murder At Pachuwara

January 23, 2012

The murder of activist-nun Sister Valsa John has a lot to say about India’s mining policy

Karu Tudu of Kolajuda village stands over his destroyed paddy field, covered in coal dust. Over 500 trucks carrying 2300 kilograms of coal each, travel pass his fields each day and are forced to dump some of the coal on the roadside by local villagers, who sell it on the black market.

This article appears in two parts in the Sunday Guardian on the 15th of January here and the 22nd of January 2012, here.

Everyday over 500 trucks travel the 35km stretch from Pachwara to Pakur in Jharkhand, carrying over 2300 kilograms of coal each. And everyday, hundreds of local adivasis and landless farmers stop the trucks, and unload a little coal onto the road for themselves to sell in the black market.

In the process, the paddy fields on the periphery of the roads are entirely covered in coal dust.

The police sometimes accompany the trucks carrying the coal and attempt to stop the locals from taking coal, and have often chased them away, beaten them, or arrested them. Yet the practice continues.

‘We make around 150 rupees a day, if a whole family sits to collect coal to sell it.’ Said one of the ‘scavengers’ on the roadside.

‘Why do you do it?’

Two brothers Badan and Darbo Soren who live in the village of Kulkipada have no choice. The coal dust has destroyed their produce, and it renders their crop unsellable.

‘We eat the black rice ourselves. No one will buy it.’ Said Badan, ‘Earlier we used to make some Rs.15,000 or Rs.20,000 per year.’

‘And there is no more mahua seeds, no more mango in the trees.’ Continued his brother.

The rains have failed in the last three years in a district where the rivers run with streaks of black coal. Families make a living out of the coal that travels their road every day, turning the entire stretch of the 35 kilometers into a black field, where children as young as six can be seen working to help their families.

The coal mining company Panem Coal Mines Limited, had also tried to acquire lands to build a railway line from Pachuwara to Pakur, but they faced stiff resistance from farmers like Badan Soren and his brother, who’d lose their farm land to the track.

Instead the dumper trucks travel everyday across a dusty road where both people have lost their lives to hit-and-run accidents, and in anger, the locals burn down the trucks, and an informal industry is born.

How The Free Market Murdered A Nun

Of the thousands of villagers who stop the dumper-trucks and collect coal on the 35 km stretch from Pachwara to Pakur, many are children under the age of ten.

The story of Pachuwara can be told by telling the story of the murder of Sister Valsa, a nun and an activist who fought for the rights of Santhal Adivasis, who would be a part of a compromise that would spell her own demise, when she was brutally axed to death in her adopted home in the village of Pachwara in Pakur district on the 15th of November, 2011.

Within hours of her killing, the mainstream media was quick to report that she was murdered by the Maoists. The Maoists denied it, even as an initial note, claimed to be written by them, condemned the nun and the activist to be working for the coal mining company Panem, and not in the interests of the people.

A few days later the police would arrest seven individuals who were associated to Sister Valsa. Almost all of them were local villagers/contractors who’d get work from Panem. One of the accused, Pycil Hembrom was the son of the president of the Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan that fought against the company and had a long history of working with Sister Valsa. And after the end of the agitation against the company and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the 30th of November 2006, he worked with them as an independent contractor.

Sister Valsa was living as a guest in the house of Pycil Hembrom and had only moved out eight days before her murder. A confrontation had taken place over the money that came from the mining company and Sister Valsa moved into the home of Sonaram Hembrom, who confirmed that Sister Valsa had confronted Pycil and others for embezzling money.

‘The MOU made a lot of promises, but the work only happened on their accord.’ Sonaram Hembrom said, who was present when over forty people had surrounded his house in the dead of night to look for Sister Valsa who was hiding in her room, and would eventually find her and axe her twice near her head and her neck.

‘They saw all that money and they got greedy.’ Said Sonaram’s neighbours, about Pycil and the other accused from Aalubera village adjacent to Pachwara.

‘Sometimes, the money we were supposed to get for one tree used to be Rs.50,000, but Sister would find out that we only got Rs.5,000. When we confronted them about this, they said it was a computer error.’ Continued Sonaram Hembrom. All the documents and registers that detailed all the financial dealings of the Project-Affected-Persons and the PANEM Coal Mining Company that Sister Valsa had kept, were appropriated by the police as evidence and are currently unavailable.

The History of An MOU

D. Marandi, once a farmer, now a miner at Panem Coal Mines Ltd at the rehabilitated site of Naya Kathaldih.

On the 19th of April, 1985, very close to Pachuwara, at Banjhi, and close to the collective memory of the elders of Pachuwara, the police had shot and bayoneted over 15 people including an ex MP Anthony Murmu as they were demanding their rights. Every year they gather in the thousands on the day of the incident to pay homage to their martyrs.

Years later, their rights were again usurped by the Panem Coal Mines Limited, who were given land by the administration, who used an infamous colonial era law, the Land Acquisition Act to acquire all the lands of Pachuwara and the nearby villages for coal mining. This has remained a story repeated across central India’s mining belt that gives birth to numerous protest movements and a direct confrontation with the state’s mining policy that has acquired lands by flouting laws, and violating tribal rights.

Almost all the mineral deposits in Central India are on Fifth Schedule land, which is protected by the constitution and has given local tribes authority over local resources. Yet the arbitrariness of the Land Acquisition Act allows the government to simply hand over lands to private companies, and the locals have always resisted, leading to brutal confrontations with the police and the administration.

But of the 104 MOUs in Jharkhand, Pachuwara is one of two where work has started, as there was a settlement between the villagers and the company, a settlement that many still feel has to be completely understood.

‘Our land cannot be sold, you people with a brave history can and must drive out this company!’ said Binej Hembrom, the parganaith (village headman) to the people of Pachuwara in a meeting long before the agreement, but would eventually be one of the signatories to the MOU along with the company director Bishwanath Dutta.

Today Binej Hembrom is a senile old man, half-deaf, seemingly unaware that his son is in jail for murdering a woman who they once fought the company with, and some say, had won.

‘People in Ranchi, in the social movement’s think we sold out.’ Said Father Tom Karvallo, who along with Sister Valsa John was close to the movement at the time of the signing of the MOU.

‘But there was a lot of repression.’

‘Our people were being divided by the company. There were police cases on Valsa and others like Joseph who’d eventually be killed in an accident. And when we lost in the High Court, we had gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the illegality of the land acquisition as this was a Fifth Schedule area. But the Courts are a gamble, it can really depend on the judge, or the climate of the time. And we were afraid, that if we lost, we’d set a dangerous precedent as there were so many other adivasi movements fighting for their land. And they would’ve all suffered if the Supreme Court had ordered in favour of the company.’

‘So we signed the MOU. And it was a good relief package, that we only got after such a strong struggle.’

The agreement was reached in Delhi on the 30th of November, 2006, after ‘persuasion’ by a section of outsider activists, and one, including Shajimon Joseph, then Resident Editor of The Hindustan Times, who’d eventually be a signatory of the MOU as a witness, who confirms there was police repression in the form of cases on Sister Valsa and other adivasi leaders, but also mentions there was no dissatisfaction during the signing of the MOU.

The Memorandum of Understanding itself was unprecedented. Apart from offering schools, healthcare, employment, rehabilitation sites, there would be a yearly stipend for each acre the company appropriates, and that the work for the construction of rehabilitated sites would be given as per the MOU, to local contractors and Project-Affected-Persons.

The money that came from Panem company for such work, would go to Sister Valsa, who directed the young contractors like Pysil to work in the area.

Five years after the Memorandum of Understanding, the promised hospital is still under construction.

The village of Kathaldih was uprooted, and the company has resettled them in a newer colony called Naya Kathaldih, where farming as all but stopped and most of the young men work as miners in the coal mine, waiting for the company to finish mining their lands, and then return it to them, so they can commence farming again.

Living In Fear

A truck that was allegedly burnt down by the Maoists. Yet there have been many other times, when local villagers burnt down trucks in anger after numerous hit-and run incidents.

Rajan Marandi and Pradhan Murmu were two other contractors arrested for the murder of Sister Valsa who lived in the adjacent village of Aalubera that is soon to lose their land to the company.

Rajan has five cars for himself, while Pradhan has around seven cars and all their cars remain parked in the village in front of their houses. The village is a village in fear, as the police has been searching for others who may have been present when Sister Valsa was attacked. Two boys who refused to give their names say the police has been searching for them, and they are innocent.

They quickly disappear when they’re asked about the relief package.

There are no village elders, and there is no one who is willing to talk about the impending displacement and rehabilitation.

One young woman whose family lost her land years ago to the petrol pump that fills over 500 trucks claims their family doesn’t get the monthly stipend, but refuses to go on record, in fear of antagonizing the powers-to-be.

‘They’re all filling their own pockets,’ she said.

‘Isn’t there anyone who takes up these issues?’

‘There’s no one.’

‘Who speaks up against the company?’

‘No one.’

‘Over here,’ said another young boy Chappu Deheri in Pachwara who was asked the same question, ‘Only Sister Valsa and her samiti used to.’

Aalubera is also the home of Advin Murmu, a 20 year old boy who was arrested for the alleged rape of a young girl who lived in the house of Sonaram Hembrom along with Sister Valsa.

According to her father, Advin Murmu and three other boys had kidnapped the girl on the evening of the 7th of November, and while the three boys had disappeared, Advin kept the girl all night in an empty home at Aalubera.

The girl was only let out in the morning and she had gone to her aunt’s house. The family along with Sister Valsa would take the case to the police on the 9th of November, six days before her murder.

The Superintendent of Police, Mayur Patel claims that there was no rape, and that the girl and the boy knew each other, and the girl’s family is merely protesting the fact that the boy is a Christian and the girl’s family is Sarna.

The family however claims, that Pycil Hembrom and the contractors wanted them to drop the rape case, threatening that they’d lose all their lands and their home if they persist to fight them. The family especially indicted the local sub-inspector of police, Daroga, as someone who wanted to give the family Rs.50,000 to forget the so-called imaginary case.

The Inspector has since been suspended for dereliction of duty after the murder of Sister Valsa.

Advin Murmu has since been arrested and according to the Superintendent of Police, for both incidents. Advin Murmu’s brother, also a contractor, claims his brother is innocent while his bail application was rejected by the Courts.

Photography Post-Script

‘The blackened, unsellable rice of Badan Soren of the village of Kulkipada.

Badan Soren and his house, next to the 35km road where 500 trucks travel everyday carrying 2300 kilograms of coal.

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Invisible Cities: Part Eight: Breaking The Homes Of Hungry People

June 5, 2011

Shabnam Zafar Sheikh with her eight month old baby Aisha. Shabnam hasn’t worked after the BMC demolished her home on the Deonar dumping grounds on the 25th of May.

If you destroy the homes of hungry people, the Planning Commission would say they aren’t poor even if they are hungry, and die of malnutrition.

Welcome to the republic of India, brought to you by the folks who worked with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank who want to set the new Poverty line to Rs.20 per day for the urban poor and Rs.15 per day for the rural poor.

On the 25th of May, 2011, the Brihanmumbai Corporation demolised over a hundred homes of Rafiq Nagar 2, on the periphery of the dumping grounds of Deonar, where there have been over 25 malnutrition and malnutrioned-related deaths in the last two years.

Seventeen-month old Gulnaaz died of measles on the 24th of March, 2011. And her neighbours homes were demolished the next day. Her father earns around Rs.70-Rs80 at the dumping ground. According to the Planning Commission, he would be above the poverty line. He is not poor. But even if he is below the poverty line, the government of Maharashtra is yet to provide him with a ration card, or recognize his home as a slum.

Shabnam Zafar Sheikh has an eight month old baby Aisha, and a three year old boy Farid who suffers from Grade 3 Malnutrition. Her home was broken down on the day of the demolition and she hasn’t worked since. She works as a ragpicker on the dumping grounds, and because she has to look after her children alone, she only manages around Rs.30 a day. Thus she is not poor, according to the Planning Commission.

The only people who are earning less than Rs.20 a day, or Rs.600 a month at Rafiq Nagar 2, are the people who’ve lost their homes and haven’t been able to work since the demolitions started.

Katija Asif’s husband has gone fifteen days without work. And when her husband gets work at the dumping ground he can earn around a daily sum of Rs.300 for collecting scrap. So he is not below the poverty line, provided the government doesn’t break his home.

Meanwhile, in Writ Petition (CIVIL) NO. 196 OF 2001, by the People’s Union For Civil Liberties, v/s the Union of India & ORS, regarding the Universal Public Distribution system, the Supreme Court ordered that, ‘We have no objection to Government of India providing universal food security. However, they must first ensure food security for more vulnerable sections of the society.’

‘Mr.Parasaran, learned Additional Solicitor General submits that as on 1st April, 2011 there are 44 million tonnes of stocks. Perhaps never before have food grains stocks been so high.’

‘Millions of tonnes of food grains are lying in open for years because of inadequate storage capacity. Admittedly, about fifty five thousand of tonnes of food grains rotted in Punjab and Haryana. A very large chunk of food grains were destroyed in recent Punjab fire because the food grains were lying in open.’

But not only do people lack ration cards at Rafiq Nagar, but the Maharashtra government has not given any commitment to the people, regarding a stay on demolitions or the Right To Housing.

Hum ne virodh kiya,’ (we protested), Said Hamida, regarding the day of the demolition. ‘But the BMC fellows said they’d only break 50 homes to build a canal around the dumping ground. So we let them.’

‘But once they got inside the basti, they broke some 100 homes.’

Earlier in February, the BMC had also broken down the homes bordering the dumping ground, some 400 metres away in Chikalwadi. ‘Why did the government let us stay here in the first place for so long?’ Asked an old man.

The plight of the people of Rafiq Nagar, like that of Chikalwadi is not a new one. There have been three demolitions in the last 10 years at Rafiq Nagar 2 and the government does not recognize the settlements as slums as per the Maharashtra Slum Act, 1971. Therefore, not only does the settlement have to deal with regular demolition drives, but the settlement is not eligible to basic amenities such as water or electricity. Water, that is universally regarded as a human right, is not one in Rafiq Nagar where, the people have to pay for it.

‘We have to buy water now for Rs.40 a drum,’ Said Katija, ‘What will we eat?’

Rafiq Nagar 2 in Mankhurd, comes under Ward M of Mumbai, where according to the Mumbai Human Development Report published in 2009 by the Ministry of Housing And Urban Poverty Alleviation, over 77% of the population as per the 2001 census lives in slums and it has the high child mortality rate of 66 per 1000 births.

Medha Patkar’s hunger strike at Golibar also concerned the fate of numerous slums at Mankhurd including Rafiq Nagar 2, Mandala and Annabhau Sathe Nagar who also lost their homes in the infamous demolition drive of 2005 where over 80,000 homes were broken down by the government. One of the demands of the hunger strike regarded that slums like Rafiq Nagar 2 would be declared as slums under Section 4 of the Maharashtra Slum Area Act and to be undertaken for improvement as per Section 5. At the same time, the government agreed for discussions on the implementation of Rajiv Awas Yojana in Mumbai.

Yet the fate of Rafiq Nagar is closely linked to that of United Phosphorus Limited who has a tender to privatize and close the Deonar dumping ground ensuring a loss of livelihood of every home at Rafiq Nagar, where either one or two family members work as ragpickers, sifting through the garbage of the city.

‘They said they will close the dumping ground,’ said Asif of Rafiq Nagar 2, regarding United Phosphorus, ‘And then give us work….’  ‘Will you live at his mercy?’ Interrupted his neighbour, Alamgir, ‘Do you trust them?’

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Dantewada: Days of Rage

April 8, 2011

No, Minister

On the 2nd of April, the chief minister, Raman Singh, the governor Shekar Datt and the DGP Vishwaranjan had visited Tadmetla village which was burned down on the 16th of March, 2011. They did not visit Morpalli village which was burnt down on the 11th of March, and where Madvi Sulla was killed in cold blood and two women were sexually assaulted, or Timmapuram which was burnt down on the 13th of March, where Barse Bhima from Phulanpad was killed with an axe.

‘Six or seven helicopters had flown down,’ Said Madvi Mukka of Tadmetla who met the delegation. Eventually, the security forces started to find whoever they could as many had simply run away on sight of the security forces.

The government also distributed relief to the villagers of Tadmetla, while they had given nothing to the villages of Morpalli and Timmapuram. Yet even the people of Tadmetla aren’t impressed.

‘They gave us 17 quintals of rice,’ Said the former sarpanch Gondse Deva, ‘and that’s not going to last even a week.’

‘Every other house that they burnt down had that much rice.’

There are 185 families in Tadmetla and 207 buildings were burnt down and the government had given 105 sheets of tarpaulin. They had given 200 saris for the women, and nothing for the men. They had also given about 10 quintals of potatoes and 7 quintals of onions, 5.5 quintals of pulses, along with spices.

‘They gave us tea but no sugar.’ Joked a villager.

And it doesn’t end there. The chief minister’s delegation had also distributed volleyballs to the adivasis of Tadmetla, which no one seems to be very thrilled about.

And the villagers of Tadmetla allege, that while the chief minister was taking their testimonies and distributing ration, a group of SPOs who were part of their escort were stealing food at the periphery of the village.

Gondse Deva, the former sarpanch was told by Raman Singh that he’d be made a permanent teacher, while another SPO would threaten him later.

‘They said, they’d re-open the markets, but we told them to shut down the Salwa Judum first.’ Said Bhima Madvi (65), whose home was burnt down, along with all of his grain, his clothes, his vessels and even his patta (deed).

‘Yeh kiska sarkar hai joh ration le ke aata hai?’ aur yeh kiska sarkar hai joh gaon jalata hai?’ (whose government is it that gives us ration and whose is it that burns our villages?) said Madvi Mukka in his broken hindi – Madvi Mukka’s house was burnt down with over 15 quintals of rice. The above question was directed to Raman Singh, chief minister of Chhattisgarh, who apparently had no answer.

Other villagers also brought up the matter of the two men – Madvi Handa s/o Kosa, and Madvi Aita, who were taken away by the police.

‘Handa was sleeping on the cot,’ says his mother Pojje, ‘when the forces came and beat him up and took him away.’

‘They took us all away from our homes, and behind us, some other forces came and burnt our homes down.’

The families of the people who were taken away by the police had eventually gone to the police station to help release their loved ones. ‘It was holi, many of them were drunk,’ Said Hidme, Handa’s wife, ‘And they said they’d release them tomorrow, but the next day they sent them to Dornapal, and then later, to Dantewada jail.’

The chief minister apparently promised that they would be released in a few days. But four days after the visit, none of them have been released.  And the people are not surprised. Pojje’s husband, and Handa’s father Madvi Kosa had been taken away by the forces in similar circumstances five years ago, and had only come back after four years.

Hunger but no starvation

Madkam Nande w/o Bandi or Morpalli gave birth to a baby boy on the 3rd of April in a house without a roof. Her home was burnt down with all of her produce and her husband is in Andhra Pradesh working as a day labourer.

The Chief Minister has denied all allegations that there have been starvation deaths in Tadmetla even though local news reports and those from BBC Hindi had claimed that those reports had come from the village of Morpalli. The chief minister is half-right. There were no starvation deaths due to arson and the widespread burning of a self-sustaining communities food supply. But three people over the age of 65, Nupe Rajalu, Madavi Joga and Madkam Bhime  from the village of Morpalli had died of hunger/starvation/dehydration after they got lost in the jungle trying to escape the approaching security forces.

Their bodies were found on the 14th, 15th and 16th of March by villagers who buried them at the outskirts of the village.

The people of Morpalli have had to share whatever food they had managed to save from the burning of their homes and are aware that their supply might run out.

And this is not even the first time their village was burnt down by the security forces. The security forces had even burnt their village down along with all of their produce in April 2007.

It took them around fifty-sixty days to rebuild their homes.

The Perpetrators

Madkam Nande of Morpalli village with her children before the remnants of her home.

The state of Chhattisgarh has repeatedly told the Supreme Court that the Salwa Judum had been shut down and that they aren’t allowed on combing operations anymore.

Yet Bodke Mara s/o Lacha from the village of Morpalli had only become a SPO two or three months ago. The villagers of Morpalli, alleged that he only became an SPO after the Maoists threatened him with dire consequences.

‘He used to misbehave with girls in our village, and he even stole rice from some adivasis in Lachapur in Andhra,’ Said his ex-neighbours.

He would eventually lead the police to the village of Morpalli where one man would be killed and two women would be raped.

The villagers were also able to identify other SPOs who were leading the attack on their villages, including Madkam Bhima of Junagoda village in Penta Panchayat, who used to be known as Comrade Ramesh when he was with the Maoists. There was also Vanjam Deva from Sirpanguda, near Timmapuram who also used to be a Maoist.

Two more SPOs came from Timmapuram which was burnt down – Madvi Chona s/o Mandgroo and a female SPO Payke Barse who allegedly acted as the guide for the security forces.

The people of Tadmetla also identified the above mentioned SPOs along with the following – Ramlal Barse from Budgill village, Telam Nanda s/o Konda from Lakhapal, Telam Kosab, Aimla Mukesh s/o Deva from Nagaram, Aimla Manu s/o Deva, Karti Singha, Dasaru Sodi from Milampalli, Oyam Kapil from Gaganpalli who used to be a teacher, and Kiche Nanda from Dornapal, Surya from Misma – both who have warrants for their arrests, and have been declared as ‘absconding’, for what is known to be the Samsetti rape case.

A few weeks ago, Surya also allegedly led a group of SPOs who stopped trucks taking relief to the affected villages, even though the relief was sent by the collector of Dantewada.

Post-Script: A Case Against Forgetfulness

One year after 76 security personnel were killed in the Chintalnar area, with allegations of rape being used as a weapon of war soon after by the state, the latest attack on the adivasis of Bastar during a five-day long carnage has led to break the silence on atrocities that have been committed for over six years now, across the undivided Bastar region.

Last year in November, the security forces had burnt down Tatemargu and Pallodi village. Pallodi which was on route to Tadmetla has now rebuilt itself. There was no relief given to the people, there was no suo moto case filed by the National Human Rights Commission and there was no visit by the chief minister. There are at least 644 villages that lie empty and at least 300 of them had been burnt down at least once.

And for three of the villages that were attacked recently, this was not the first time.

Sodi Nanda s/o Adma  of Tadmetla was killed by the security forces in 2007. Two houses were burnt down that day.

Barse Lakma s/o Bhima of Morpalli was going for ration at Chintalnar market when he was picked up by the security forces last year.

Madkam Nanga s/o Aita was going to the sell his produce in Chintalnar when he was also picked up by the police and sent to jail over three years ago. None of them have been released.

From Phulanpad village where Barse Bhima and Manu Yadav were killed in the recent operation, 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.

There are many people from Phulanpad who live in Andhra Pradesh as Internally Displaced Persons, as a part of the estimated 16,000 to 40,000 adivasis who have been completely forgotten by the state of Chhattisgarh.

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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.”

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Exile And The Kingdom

May 16, 2010

Villagers from Basaguda returning to their homes after spending three years as Internally Displaced Persons. They had just passed a CRPF outpost as this picture was taken.

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 16th of May, 2010 here. And here.

The Supreme Court had asked petitioners who challenged the legality of the Salwa Judum to submit a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for the Internally Displaced Persons of South Bastar. The same petitions have listed over 129 villages where killings have allegedly taken place, and in many cases, the FIRs haven’t even been registered by the police. On the 6th of May, 2010, the Supreme Court denied the proposal to set up a monitoring committee to overlook the registration of complaints, yet it has given the state of Chhattisgarh, four weeks to respond to the demands of the petitioners to set-up an independent monitoring committee to overlook rehabilitation and compensation.

Meanwhile, the village of Basaguda that was rehabilitated by private citizens in 2009 has survived the trials and tribulations of reclaiming itself in a district torn by war.

‘Basaguda! Basaguda! Basaguda!’ – The cry rang out at Jagdalpur bus station, on the 13th of April, 2010. Yet in 2006, the village of Basaguda had been wiped off the earth.

A Salwa Judum camp and a CRPF outpost looked across the bridge over Talpedu river, that led to Basaguda that no one had crossed since 2006. Beyond the bridge was unofficial ‘Maoist territory’, according to officials. It was just one of the official 644 villages that were empty, where there was arson and looting, murder and mayhem.

On the 5th of March, 2006, four villagers were killed by the Maoists with axes and hatchets yet it would be a simplification to believe that that was the only reason the village was empty.

On the 6th of April 2009, ten days after the village of Basaguda was rehabilitated with the help of local NGOs and activists, armed with the recommendations of the Supreme Court, a few villagers complained that their story was being misreported in the local press. It was common knowledge that the Maoists had killed four people yet the villagers wanted the world to know the whole complex truth. They collectively wrote a letter to the editors of all local newspapers, detailing a long history of brutality, violence and retribution – causes and effects and causes, ad infinitum.

We, the villagers of Basaguda make a sworn statement that we have been misrepresented by the Press, regarding the reasons why we left our village in 2006. Navbharat Times and many other newspapers have printed that the villagers of Basaguda left their village due to the Naxalite forces, whereas we have not committed this to any of the newspapers.

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

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

Suddenly, around this time, some 100m away from the CRPF, there was a bomb explosion. Though none of the Salwa Judum and CRPF suffered any casualties, they still brought the villagers out of their houses, and beat people till they were unconscious. They also verbally abused the women and warned us that if they don’t inform them about the movements of the Naxalites, they would unclothe the women, and put everyone in jail.

Villagers who were injured in this bomb explosion were Savaragiro Ramanna, Sarke Chandreya, S.G. Shreenivas, Panke Dinesh, Sarke Venkateshwar, S.G. Raj, S.G. Chinn, and Erragalla Lakshmaiya who died a few days later even after receiving medical care. Inspite of all of this, some people were still living in the village, and on June 2006, the C.R.P.F. and the Salwa Judum workforce re-entered the village and caught three villagers and accused them of being Naxalites. They also started to threaten villagers, claiming that we did not inform them about the recent movements of some armed Naxalites who were passing by. We told them that we did not see any armed Naxalites, so they arrested three villagers, who were Paslet Krushnarao, Hanumant Rao and Dapka Babulal. The police then took them to the jungle and asked them to run. The captives fearing they would be shot if they’d run, did not run and pleaded that they were innocent. They were later freed, instead of being taken to the Police Station. Due to all these problems, all the villagers of Basaguda left the village.

On the 28th of March, 2009, the villagers of Basaguda block – the Mahars, Telgas, Murias, Muslims, Halbas, Kunbis and Kalars started returning to their homes after three years living as IDPs in Salwa Judum Camps, in the towns of Avapalli and Bijapur in small rented rooms, and in Cherla in Andhra Pradesh.

For the first time in three years, the villagers of Basaguda crossed the bridge over the Talpedu river as a CRPF sentry with a LMG looked on.

The villagers returned home to find their homes vandalized and looted. All the doors had been ripped out, the roofs had collapsed, and a majority of homes had been burnt down and were nothing but cinders. There was no electricity, numerous handpumps weren’t working, pathways were blocked by uncontrolled growth of vegetation, and there was Maoist graffiti calling for voter boycott over the walls that were still standing, while on one wall, ‘Naxali chorr’ (Naxalites are thieves) was scribbled with black charcoal.

People were cheerful yet they were wary, as they rummaged through the remains of their lives. They were too many memories of violence in Basaguda block – four villagers in Boreguda were also killed by the Salwa Judum, three more were killed at Maharpara by the Maoists and there are no certain estimates of how many were killed when the Salwa Judum held its rally in the ‘interior’ villages. Those were the days when every village expected an attack, and villagers slept en masse in one large home or in a ‘para’ or village that they believed was safe. Such was the case of the villagers of Lingagiri who slept in Pathanpara – the village of the Muslims, believing it would be safe. Yet there was no safety. And it was just a fragile hope that it would be safe in 2009, as they were rehabilitated.

Home Is Where The War Is

Basanti Motiram of the village of Lingagiri in Basaguda block. Her husband was allegedly murdered by the Salwa Judum.

Basaguda was the third village to have been given a second chance at history – the first being Nendra in Dantewada district that was rehabilitated in 2008 and the other being Lingagiri that was rehabilitated eight days before Basaguda, two kilometres away. All were rehabilitated by the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram and NGOs from Andhra Pradesh, that provided relief materials, mediation with government officials. The recent rehabilitation plan that has been submitted to the Supreme Court calls for not just the freedom of villagers to return home but that ‘the village community as a whole has to be rehabilitated and restored as a functioning unit, with all necessary infrastructural provisions.’ The village of Basaguda had none of that. They were dependent on the NGO for not just provisions but also for a sense of security.

VCA volunteers would live amongst the villagers and voice their every grievance and requirement from the government. The villagers of Basaguda who returned home had no food nor shelter, and would sleep en masse under a banyan tree in the middle of the village.  By day, they would work together to clean their village, clearing pathways, and reconstruct their homes, one home at a time. They were entirely dependent on relief, and the idea was that they’d remain dependant, until agriculture and government services could be jump started again.

Yet the government was not forthcoming. Not only did the government not act on the recommendations of the Supreme Court, they directly thwarted efforts to provide relief when they confiscated 15 quintals of rice that was meant for the villagers of Basaguda block. They would only release the rice some five days later after activists and the owner of the vehicle were made to appear in the Bijapur Sessions Court. 35 kilograms of cooking oil that was a part of that relief material disappeared from the van kept in the police station.

Apart from that, they repaired one handpump in Basaguda block. And for the first five weeks, their presence was just negligible. So when bus services to Basaguda resumed through initiation of the government over a month ago, a year after the rehabilitation, it was a sign that things had changed a long way. The resumption of the bus services wasn’t something that anyone took for granted.

Basaguda used to be a thriving market that drew traders from Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, yet women needed to walk 17 kms to Avapalli to bring back ration that was supposed to reach the camp across Basaguda. Rice that every family was entitled to at Rs.3 per kg was available at Rs.10 per kg at Avapalli (it was being siphoned off by corrupt traders). Even children who lived in the Salwa Judum camp across Basaguda had to walk 17 kms to get school.

The road itself was treacherous. It had seen six IED blasts, mostly targeting civilian vehicles in the long years of terror and counter terror since the inception of the Salwa Judum. The bombs were allegedly built by a man the police refer to as an ‘angutachap’. And to prevent Maoist ambushes, there was irregular felling of trees for 100 metres across, on both sides of the 48km road from Bijapur to Basaguda.

Today, two daily buses go to Basaguda. The markets are running again, NREGA work has started through initiation of the administration and the villagers of the entire block are self-sufficient.

Down The Barrel Of The Gun

Samtul Janki at her home in Basaguda. Her husband was killed by the Maoists in 2000, while her uncle was killed on the day of the raid in 2006.

Four days after the villagers of Basaguda were rehabilitated, it had become evident that their safety entirely depended on how the villagers in the ‘interiors’ would react. It also came to light that there were Maoists from Andhra Pradesh present in the group that attacked them, and many villagers described it as an execution more than an attack. Nevertheless, relatives of the murdered still chose to return, such as Samtul Janki whose husband was killed by the Maoists in 2000, and her uncle who was killed during the 2006 raid on her village.

None of the men of her family had returned initially, it was just her and her daughters. Interestingly, none of the men of Pathanpara felt it was safe to return to their village either, no matter how much their wives or mothers tried to convince them. Sofia Begum whose husband was beaten by both the Maoists and Salwa Judum on different occasions had no luck convincing her husband to return with her and she went back to Avapalli after salvaging what she could of her home.

Of course, it wasn’t entirely safe for men because many of them were under suspicion by the Maoists. As it is, there were many SPOs from Basaguda block.

The same SPOs would still go along and intimidate villagers of Lingagiri just a few days after they returned to their villages. According to the Maoists, many SPOs themselves were involved in the burning of the villages in the interior areas of Basaguda. But again, ‘Naxali ghatna se bachne ke liya SPO banna hi  tha.’ (to survive Maoist attacks, I had to become a SPO.) Said one young teenager who was an SPO in Basaguda police station. Another one, Suresh from Dharmapuram village in Basaguda block would be killed by the Maoists in May, 2009.

None of the families of SPOs returned to Basaguda. And when the Sarpanch of Hirapur, Punem Hoonga who had implicit ties with the Salwa Judum was killed in June 2009, the entire village of Hirapur left their village, cursing the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram who failed to protect him from the Maoists. VCA volunteer Kopa Kunjam would eventually be arrested for his murder in December even as he attempted to save him from the Maoists. This was Kopa Kunjam’s only failure, overlooking the entire fact that the reason Basaguda stands right now, is because he had gone into every village that was attacked by the Salwa Judum rally in 2006, convincing them that the villagers of Basaguda had nothing to do with the attack.

‘We can deal with them,’ One villager of Basaguda points towards the police station and the Salwa Judum camp, ‘But we’re afraid of them.’ he pointed towards the jungle.

At one point, just a month after they were rehabilitated, a few ‘andarwale’ had called a villager from Basaguda into the jungle and interrogated him about how many policemen were in the police station. The villager claimed he didn’t know much and he was left unharmed after that. Yet that incident spooked the whole village and it was all they could talk about. They remembered in 2006, how they were beaten for not ‘informing the police’ about the movements of the Maoists, and if they do, then what would the Maoists do to them?

The local cadre would eventually arrive, inquire and issue threats, insinuating that ‘tum salle Salwa Judum ka chaawal kha rahe ho’ – the rice was actually bought with the funds acquired through NGOs but no one tried showing the receipts to a bunch of illiterate angry tribals with axes whose houses were burnt down by the Salwa Judum.

Then a few months later, Raju, an area commander, and Apparao, a Dalam commander would eventually arrive and interrogate the VCA human shield volunteers, of their intentions, their employers, their histories and whether they’re police spies. A volunteer explained that he is apolitical and neutral and is only going to help people rebuild their lives, and work to communicate the villagers needs with the government.

‘Tum log hamara ladayi khatam kar doge,’ ‘(You will destroy our struggle),’ One of them said, ‘Tum log janta ko sarkar ke godh mein dal dongey.) (You will just put these people into the lap of the government.)

Finally, a top Politburo member would voice his assent with the rehabilitation process and promise that the Maoists wouldn’t hinder the rehabilitation process nor harass the VCA volunteers. A few days later, two VCA volunteers were beaten and robbed by local Maoist cadre.

Peace is fragile when anarchy is king.

At one point, I remember sitting with a group of villagers from Basaguda, and I asked them the one question that was on my mind the entire time, ‘What would you do if the Maoists attack your village again, or if the Salwa Judum burns it down again?’

‘We will never leave.’ – was an instant unanimous response, ‘We know, there is nothing else out there for us, we will have to die here.’

As it is, the villagers of Basaguda have endured hell and exile. And there are limits to human endurance.