Archive for the ‘Witness protection’ Category

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Death In A Quiet Corner

March 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Police State Against The Woman’s Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State As A Bystander

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

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

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

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

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

State of Anomie

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

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

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

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

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

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Where Individuality Means Waging War Against The State

September 29, 2011

The Curious Case Of Lingaram Kodopi

Testimonies from the burnings of the villages of Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram were also collected by Lingaram and can be found on youtube here.

This article first appears in abridged form in DNA on the 26th of September, 2011.

I got a call around midnight in the Delhi summer. It was Lingaram, the young Muria adivasi from Sameli village in Dantewada, then studying in Noida’s International Media Institute of India. Linga’s misfortunes never seem to end: first he was accused of helping the Maoists, then tortured in the police station toilet, forced to be a Special Police Officer, then released with the help of a habeas corpus petition. In a few months, he would be dealing with encounter killings in his village that left three dead, to only add to the targetting of his family members by the Chhattisgarh police, and then to be accused in a press conference by Senior Superintendent of Police Kalluri of being a mastermind of an attack on a Congress leader, and that Lingaram would be the sucessor to Maoist leader Azad.

‘Javed bhai,’ He asked me that night in Delhi, ‘do you know where I can get a Che Guevara t-shirt?’

Silence.

‘Linga, you wear that T-shirt in Dantewada, you’d be the first man in jail.’

Lingaram chuckled uncontrollably.

Prankster.

A young man who is repeatedly targetted by the state of Chhattisgarh wants to wear a t-shirt with a face of a revolutionary while he traipses around the forests as a newly-trained video journalist, with the clearest of intentions of trying to help his people.

That alone, is his first crime against the state. Lingaram wants to help the adivasis, his own people, which means, to ensure them a fair stake in their forests, their lands, and their rights, which is completely against the policies of the state of Chhattisgarh. That alone, is a crime. That alone, makes him a Maoist sympathizer.

A simple idea, enshrined in the idea of the dignity of the human being: that he should not be shot, that she should not be raped, that they should not lose their children to war, that they should not lose their forests and their way of life to the profit margins of companies, and the idea of economic growth.

Lingaram was arrested again on the 9th of September, 2011 from his village of Sameli in Dantewada, for allegedly facilitating Essar Steel’s payment of protection money to the Maoists.

He was arrested along with B.K Lala, a contractor.

That Essar Steel pays the Maoists is a fact that was well-known in Dantewada. In 2009, when the Maoists blasted the 267km pipeline that carried iron ore slurry to Vishakapatnam, one local journalist was quick to quip: ‘It’s collection time!’

Essar Steel pays local journalists too to keep their mouths shut. That also everyone knew. Local journalists need to collect their own advertising revenue and they get that from companies.

As for Essar Steel paying the Maoists, this is no new phenomena. Contractors and companies have paid the Maoists in almost all the districts where they have a ‘liberated zone’. You don’t cut a single beedi leaf or mine a single rock of ore without paying the Maoists.

Lingaram, would’ve been one of the rarest breeds of journalists in a district of Muria and Koya adivasis: he would be one who knew Gondi, who spoke the language of the people in the furthest hills, with the quietest whispers.

His story on the Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram burnings is available on youtube, and his story quotes adivasis who want justice, who want ‘karvai’, nor ‘kranti’, they want investigations, not anything else. It is there for everyone to see, called ‘Dantewada burning 1.mov’

Linga knew his district too and what his people would tell you. He would tell you that the development by the Essars and Tatas is not development for his people. He would tell you how even though the National Mineral Development Corporation and the Bailadila mines have been around since the 1960s, it has not brought any upliftment to the hundreds of adivasi villages around it.

But why is he really in jail?

The state of Chhattisgarh has an unwritten set of rules about how an adivasi is meant to behave. You don’t organize, you don’t agitate, you don’t protest human rights violations, you don’t protest against the state, and you certiainly don’t protest against industrial development, which the drafters of the new Land Acquisition bill will tell you in the introduction to the bill, that ‘urbanization is inevitable’….. and these adivasis better understand that.

Lingaram joins all the other adivasis who stood up for their rights and started to ask questions about the kind of development that was thrown onto them without a choice: Manish Kunjam, an ex-MLA was given death threats and has been living on borrowed time, Kartam Joga, Supreme Court petitioner against the Salwa Judum who is in jail on absurd charges, Kopa Kunjam, human rights activist who refused to be bought by the state.

They’re all guilty of trying to help their people.

The Maoists too, claim to help the Adivasis. And while some people would like to ensure that those two things, ‘the Maoists’ and the ‘adivasis’ are the same thing, there’s also another adivasi voice dissenting amidst the dissenters that says, ‘but they kill our own people.’ Lingaram, the so-called Maoist sympathizer, would last call me when he needed help to ensure his uncle could get treatment after the Maoists shot him in his leg.

Linga also had that voice, the voice to profess his complete independence: free of being called something. I still remember the one thing he said with most emphasis, the first time I met him: ‘I just want to be my own person.’

Individuality, according to the state of Chhattisgarh, is also called Waging War Against the State now. Individuality would mean, that a young boy who is being forced by two warring parties to come to their side, doesn’t need to choose his allegiances but can be his own person.

A Brief Note on Kuakonda Block: Lingaram’s Testimony

One day in Kuakonda block: a mother and her child look on as security forces who commandeered their vehicle return to base camp, about thirty minutes after an IED blast that injured three security personnel and led to the arbitrary detention of four adivasis, including a young boy. The incident took place on the 2nd of May, 2009.

Lingaram had given a testimony in the Independent People’s Tribunal in Delhi on the 9th of April, 2010, three days after the Tadmetla killings that left 76 security personnel dead. The entire testimony is here:

“My name is Lingaram, from Sameli,  Dantewada.  I am a driver and my family has a car, in which I can ferry people.  We  have  some land on which we farm.  I am not very literate.

I was watching TV at home, around September last year.  Five  motorcycles came, with 10 people, who were holding AK 47s. They took me to Koukonda. They asked me questions such as “where did you get the bike from?  How do you go about in style?”  My family is fairly comfortably off, but they accused me of being a Naxalite.  They  tortured me and wanted me to become an SPO.

In the meanwile, my family members filed a writ of habeus corpus. I should have been released. But they kept threatening me that I would either be killed by them—in a fake encournter, or by the Naxalites.  Finally, I  agreed to be an Special Police Officer. They took me for the Court hearing and kept me in a fancy hotel—but before the judge, I said that although I have come here of my own will, I now wish to return to my family and village.  So the police had to let me go.

But on the way back, while I was being accompanied by my family and villagers in cars, the security forces stopped us again, and arrested me again and were trying to force me to go back to the police station.  However, I managed to flee, but my brother was taken by them instead.  A few days later, they again came for me. And have been threatening my father also.

I have been living in hiding since. The police are still looking for me.

Who is not grieved by the killings of 76 people? But I feel that even though the stated target of the police is the naxalites, the real target is somewhere else? Why are we (adivasis) being harassed by the police because of what the Naxalites do?  Why can’t we adivasis wear a good watch, drive a car without being picked up by the police?

Our village has 1800 people, the block has 30,000 people.

I fear that because of what has happened recently (the killing of 76 security forces), the entire town of Chintalnar will be razed.  Just because of coming here to testify, God knows what will happen to me.  But I have to die in any case, how long can I live in hiding?

There is news that some mineral has been discovered in the hills close to our village. And I think that is the real reason that the police is there, not because of the Naxalites.

We have a Gram Panchayat but it has no meaning.  It is full of Marwaris and non-tribals.  If we write and send them something, they bury it and make sure that it doesn’t reach any of the authorities.  We have no education, no health, nothing.  Calling us Naxalites is simply an excuse to terrorize us.

We have a school in our village upto the 5th class.  The teachers come for only one day in a month, and collect a full month’s pay. We want real education.

The only time the politicians come is during the elections.  No one comes to our areas except the police force. We complained about the teachers—but to no avail.  We are told that till Maoists are there, we can’t get any relief. When we tell the Maoists we want education, they tell us that they aren’t here for us, adivasis, but for a ‘class war’.

There is no NREGA in our region. We were organized under an organization to collect forest produce, but were told that we are Naxalites. How is it that the Marwaris can come and steal our forest produce and make high profits, but when we, adivasis try to collect it, we are called Naxalites?

We get enough from our land to feed us.  What is development?  NMDC has operated in our area for 52 years but has only caused destruction. Naxalites don’t help us, but they don’t hurt us either.  If having a company nearby could give us development, then considering that Bailadila (NMDC mines) is 20 km from us and has been there before the Naxalites, then we should have had a lot of development. What is the reason that we still have no education and no hospital? Not one hospital in 52 years!  When our Adivasis go to Bailadila for treatment, they humiliate us and don’t admit us to their hospitals.”

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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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Gadchiroli: Narratives

September 24, 2010

The closer one gets to the eastern border of Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra, the closer one gets to the eerily similar narratives of violence and counter-violence.  Maoist graffiti marks the asphalt, the walls, while police outposts find themselves marooned in the middle of nowhere, and the stories of brutal suppression, encounters, informant killings, and the threat of violence gets onerously louder.

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 3rd of October, 2010.

The Road To Abhujmarh.

‘Nobody can even move anywhere. There’s too much risk.’ Says Superintendent of Police Veeresh Prabhu about the policemen posted at Laheri and Bhamragad police stations, closest to Maoist ‘liberated-zone’ Abhujmarh in Bastar.

‘I asked them why they were beating my son, and they beat me too.’ Said Dama Pada of the village of Mungner. ‘They told me that I was feeding Naxalites, and they beat me.’ Said the village-head of Mungner village.

‘The girl wanted to, but we believe that the family was too afraid to pursue the matter.’ Said a civil rights activist about a 13 year-old girl who was allegedly raped by a member of the elite C-60 group of Maharashtra.

‘As much as I have seen, the people are more afraid of the police than of the Naxalites.’ Said deputy collector of Gadchiroli, Rajendra Kanphade. On the 24th of August, he, along with eight members of the government visited the village of Binagonda in Naxalite-territory to look into the condition of the government-run Ashram schools.

The Fallout

Security forces on patrol on the Gadchiroli – Dhanora Road on the 1st of September, 2010.

Five security personnel were killed on the 31st of August, 2010 in Kanker district in Chhattisgarh. Two days later, in the neighbouring district of Gadchiroli in Maharashtra, security personnel are on a patrol on Dhanora road. Anti-landmine vehicles, and groups of 4-5 CRPF personnel and state police are positioned 30-40 metres along the Gadchiroli-Dhanora road. Just a few kilometres through the jungle is Kanker, where search operations are taking place.

‘Gadchiroli is Bastar’ isn’t something that far-fetched and one barely finds ears who disagree with it. The district of Gadchiroli in Maharashtra State, borders Rajnangoan, Bijapur, Narainpur District, Kanker district of Chhattisgarh, and more specifically, Abhujmarh, the infamous Maoist-bastion.

The river Indravati forms the border through Bijapur and Gadchiroli, yet the districts and their forests intersect near Bhamragad or Laheri police station in the north, and there is no surprise that here the police live in virtual prisons – no one dares to venture out too far alone.

Nearby, three young men cross the Indravati river in a dugout boat from Chhattisgarh to enter Gadchiroli. There is a clear organic link between Bastar and Gadchiroli. The Madia Gonds of Gadchiroli are similar, yet differ from the Murias and Koyas of Bastar, often referring to the ‘Abhuj Murias’ or ‘Hill people’ of Abhujmarh as the ‘Bada Gonds’.

‘Did the Salwa Judum ever come to your village?’ I asked one of the boys who just came from Bastar. He is a Muria boy. He affirms that the Salwa Judum had come to his village. And they burnt their village down, and beat people. Yet then a forest department ward officer shows up. The boy says hello to him and leaves.

A few days earlier, a team of government representatives had crossed this same river. They were led by the Deputy Collector, Rajendra Kanphade, and they crossed into Abhujmarh after being detained by the police in Laheri.

They had gone into Naxalite territory on the 24th of August, Tuesday, to check on the condition of the Ashram schools in the village of Binagonda. And there were no news of them for the next eighteen hours, and numerous officials believed they had been kidnapped by the Maoists. Yet they reappeared on Wednesday evening the next day, unscathed – nobody had harassed them, but the police at Laheri who had detained them a day earlier and refused to offer them protection.

Deputy Collector Kanphade would then deliver a scathing report about the condition of the schools in Binagonda.

‘The situation of these schools is terrible, there are irregularities in the number of students and malnutrition is pervasive.’

‘We already have schools from the Zilla Parishad, why do we need schools from the Tribal Welfare department also?’ Said Mr. Kanphade.

‘Some people are taking advantage of poverty. This is all just a money-making racket.’

There were around a hundred or more villagers who came to meet the Deputy Collector, the Tehsildar and other members of the team at Binagonda and the officials even took cognizance of the relationship of the people with the Naxalites.

‘They (the Naxalites) come to these villages with guns. So the villagers do what they want. And here, they’re evening paying for food.’ Said Mr.Kanfade. ‘I have been to many areas, and here too, it seems that the people in these areas are far more afraid of the police than the Maoists.’

‘There is legalized violence committed by the state, and illegalized violence committed by the Maoists. I do not agree with the violence of any party, especially the Maoists, but I personally feel that the legalized violence of the state is far more destructive.’

A few days after Mr.Kanphade would make similar comments in the local and national press, the Superintendent of police Veeresh Prabhu would request the Collector’s office to initiate disciplinary measures against the Deputy Collector, for his statements have ‘maligned the image of the government’ and ‘affected the morale of the police.’

Commenting that some of the news reports had misquoted him, Mr.Kanphade, nevertheless stuck with his statements.

‘What have I done?’ Retorts Mr. Kanphade, ‘I have gone to a village and reported on the issues of the village. Instead of addressing the issues of the people, the police want to suffocate the truth.’

The village of Mungner

On the 31st of August, 2010, in the predominantly Madia Gond village of Mungner in Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra, four villagers were beaten by the security forces during a routine operation.

‘They came from all sides, and they asked all the villagers, men, women and children to come at one spot.’ Said Tukaram Walko, the village-head or ‘Patel’, who was caught returning from his fields with an empty steel box. ‘A policeman saw my empty box, and said I was feeding Naxalites and slapped me there and then.’

‘Then they told us not to support the Naxalites, and threatened us.’ Said another villager, ‘He (Hingle, the CO) said that I can kill ten of you just like this.’

Mungner is said to be around three kilometres from Chhattisgarh and unsurprisingly, the villagers are not shy to reveal that the Maoists do visit them. Three years ago, they had even killed the then village-head for being a ‘mukhbir’ or informant. At the same time, the villagers revealed that a ‘surrendered’ Maoist had brought the police to their village.

‘Don’t tell them.’ Screamed a woman from the hut, when asked about his/her identity. An animated discussion ensued in Gondi between the rest of the villagers thereafter.

‘There were bullets flying across our homes’

This was not the first time the police had come to Mungner – a village where the crops failed for lack of monsoons for the last two consecutive years, where there is one patta (title) for 180 homes, where contractors defaulted on NREGS payments, and the Forest Department had been cutting bamboo for Rs.1 over thirty years ago. Mungner is deep within the jungle but a dirt road does lead to it from Dhanora Police Station.

On the 6th of April 2009, an encounter had taken place near the village of Mungner, and three security personnel were killed, while the police claim over seven Maoists were also killed.

On that day, the villagers heard gunfire that lasted till evening, and claimed that gunfire had even gone over their roofs.

‘Us din duniya bhar ki gadiya gaon aa gaye the.’ (all the world’s cars had come to our village that day), Said Budram Galme, the Sarpanch of Mungner, referring to the police rescue party.

Yet irrespective of the proximity to the Maoist ambush, the villagers claimed no one was mistreated by the police in retaliation.

‘Munna Thakur (commander C-60) was good to us,’ said a villager, ‘whenever there was an incident of firing nearby, he used to tell us to stay away. And no one from our village was harassed.’

‘He may have been something else to other villages, but he was okay with us.’

The legend of Munna Singh Thakur.

Munna Singh Thakur is a name well-known in even adivasi villages in Gadchiroli district. The commander of the elite C-60,  a specialist counterinsurgency group, Munna Singh Thakur lost his older brother Lalbabu Singh to an encounter with the Maoists on the 8th of July, 1988.

‘He was shot seventeen times, I still remember that day,’ Said Munna Singh Thakur, who was 18 at the time, ‘He was left alone to fight. The other policemen had all run away. And even now those policemen are still in the service.’

Munna Singh Thakur would then serve in anti-naxal operations in Maharashtra for the next 21-22 years. There are many observers who even believed that the C-60 under Munna Singh Thakur worked without the authority of the then S.P Rajesh Pradhan, but worked directly under the auspices of the Director General of Police (Anti-Naxal Operations) Pankaj Gupta. Munna Singh Thakur functioned out of Pendri police station, effectively given a free hand since around 2004.

The immediate villages around, would grow to fear him and his reputation, or in the particular case of Mungner, find him reasonable – making him a proponent of a carrot-and-stick, counterinsurgency.

Nevertheless, 2009 was a particularly brutal year for the police. There were three highly reported incidents where the security forces were ambushed, often with deadly results. 15 police officials including a sub-inspector were killed on the 1st of February near Markegaon, 16 police officials, including five women personnel were killed on the 17th of May, and 18 were killed near Laheri police station on the 8th of October during the assembly elections. Munna Singh Thakur was the CO when his party was ambushed near Mungner village where they only suffered three casualties. And 2009, has now ensured that no police party can move within the sensitive areas of Gadchiroli in smaller numbers.

In that year alone, there were a total of 52 fatalities from the police, in contrast to a total of 27 fatalities amongst the police in the four years preceding 2009. In 2009, Gadchiroli district was elevated to being one of the worst-affected LWE (left-wing extremism) districts.  In 2010, there have been minimal incidents of violence, with only two fatalities amongst the police as of September the 13th. Interestingly, all three, Munna Singh Thakur, Pankaj Gupta and the then SP Rajesh Pradhan, were transferred out in 2009 itself.

‘The police had not followed basic standard operating procedures in 2009, they kept going out in small numbers and made mistakes. The incidents were self-created.’ Said a local journalist in Gadchiroli, ‘Munna Thakur with his signature of carrying two rifles, was useful, quite dynamic, if he was told to rescue one police party, even as he is engaged in another area, he would.’

‘A particular incident took place where a police party was stranded in the jungle, and their commanding officer was too circumspect to move, believing they’d be ambushed if they did. Munna Thakur, dutifully, would be sent to rescue the party. And yes, mission accomplished. No casualties.’

‘There were many incidents like this where I was involved,’ Said Munna Singh Thakur, now posted in Nagpur, ‘I once had to rescue a jawaan who lost his hand at 12 in the night.’

‘But I got tired of all of it.’ He says, ‘I had to take note of my family, my children are older now and the risks I took, affected them. I have been wounded, my jawaans were killed.’

‘I got tired.’

The village of Paverval

Advocate Anil Kale, of the Indian Association of Peoples Lawyers was sent a message through the Jailer of Chandrapur jail, by one of his clients in jail. The message was about a young girl who had just arrived in prison. In violation of the Juvenile Justice Act, a child who was proved to have been born on the 20th of March, 1996, was sent to prison after being arrested by the police in the village of Paverval on the 4th of March, 2009. She was just shy of her thirteenth birthday.

‘My client had also told me that the girl claimed she was raped by the police.’ Said Advocate Kale.

The girl would eventually be released on bail after she was produced before the Juvenile Justice Board. She had been booked under sections 307 (attempt to murder), 143, 147, 148, 149 of IPC and section 3, 25 of the Arms Act.

Payal (name changed) had been visiting her sister in the village of Paverval when the police had raided the village on the 4th of March, 2009. An unidentified man had run past her sister’s home at the edge of the village as the police gave chase. Gunshots were heard, and the police returned to the house without the man, and started to beat villagers, including Payal’s brother-in-law Kaju Potawe insinuating that they were helping the ‘Naxalites.’

The police would spend the night in Paverval village, with eight villagers, including Payal detained in the home of Dayaram Jangi. At some time in the morning, Payal was raped repeatedly. One of her alleged rapists was none other than Munna Singh Thakur.

Eventually, all of them were flown out by helicopter.

‘She gave us graphic details, these were not things a thirteen year old should know.’ Said a civil rights activist from the Committee Against Violence on Women who was involved in the fact-finding team that would take Payal to the police and register her complaint.

‘Payal did not use the word rape.’ Mentions the fact-finding report, ‘She used the word “badmash kaam”. Payal said that her breasts and her entire body were pressed. Then, that portion of the male body from which urine is passed was pushed into that part of her body from which she urinates. The first person who raped her told her that he was Munna Singh Thakur, and that she must have heard of him. Payal said that she was in great pain, and after sometime she fainted. She gained consciousness when the police were splashing water on her.’

‘The investigation into the rape was initially lukewarm,’ Said Advocate Kale, ‘We even took the girl and the family to meet the Superintendent of Police, but he stuck with his man. Eventually, they had an inquiry and he was transferred.’

‘At night, the DSP had asked us about where we’d be sleeping. They knew we’d be sleeping at the guest house. And over there, the girl identified Munna Thakur, loitering around the guest house.’

‘All those allegations are just the work of Naxals.’ Said Munna Singh Thakur in Nagpur, ‘There were 60-70 of us there, and we encountered that girl, and put her on a helicopter and took her. Nothing else.’

Yet that is not the only cause of anger against Munna Singh Thakur.

‘Munna Singh Thakur should be hanged.’ Says  Manik Jangi of Paverval village. His own son Ramse Jangi was shot dead by a police-party lead by Munna Singh Thakur in 2006, and at the same time, another son is the only one in the village who has studied past his 11th grade.

Post-Script

A memorial room for policeman slain in Naxal-related violence in Gadchiroli police station. The earliest dated portrait was of Lalbabu Singh of the State Reserve Police Force who was killed in 1988.

Maoist grafitti on the road to Bhamragad commemorates two fallen Maoists, Mangesh and Ravi.

Mixed Fortunes: Manik Jhangi of Paverval village, Gadchiroli district, lost one son to the police in 2006. Another son is the first boy in his village who has passed his 10th standard.

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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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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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To Get Away With Murder, Chhattisgarh Style

February 21, 2010

The graves of the villagers of the now eeriely empty Dorla-para of Gompad. The bodies were exhumed by the state of Chhattisgarh on the 23rd of January.

This article appeared in The New Indian Express on the 28th of February, 2010.

Sets: The Supreme Court and the inaccessible jungles of Dantewada.

Cast – missing witnesses and supreme court petitioners, a controversial activist, a young superintendent of police, counsel for the petitioners Colin Gonsales, counsel for the respondents Ajit Jha and DGP Chhattisgarh Vishwaranjan.

Plot – the truth about the killing of nine villagers at the onset of Operation Green Hunt.

Act I – It was alleged that, in the early morning of the 1st of October, 2009, a police party killed nine innocent adivasis at the village of Gompad, Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh.

There were no press reports about it, no press conferences and no bodies were taken to the police station. There were numerous conflicting accounts of whether it was ever announced by the police.

Testimonies of the villagers: The Maoists were present outside the village in the morning but they had disappeared long before the security forces arrived. All those who were killed were villagers of Gompad and two were from Bandarpadar. Three of them were women, one of them was an eight year old girl, and an eighteen month old baby Katam Suresh lost three of his fingers. His deceased mother was missing her nose and her body was found before the remnants of her burnt home. Two other deceased villagers – Soyam Subbaiya (20) and Soyam Jogi (18) were a newly married couple.

One more villager was killed from the neighbouring village of Nukaltong and another from Velpocha on the same day.

Act II – Activist Himanshu Kumar takes the victims of violence of Gompad, Velpocha, Nukaltong and the village of Gacchanpalli where five villagers were killed on the 17th of September, 2009 to the Supreme Court and files a Writ Petition (criminal) No.103 of 2009, against the State of Chhattisgarh, Respondent no.1.

The Supreme Court accepts the petition and requests the State of Chhattisgarh to file a reply.

Act III – Activist Himanshu Kumar is hounded out of Chhattisgarh, his right-hand man Kopa Kunjam is imprisoned and petitioner no.13 Sodhi Sambo who was in the care of Mr. Kumar is detained at Kanker police station on her way to receive treatment for her injured leg. She will be kept in virtual confinement at Jagdalpur’s Maharani Hospital with no access to her lawyer, activists or the press.

The Supreme Court passes an order directing that the Respondents would in no way obstruct Sodhi Sambo from going wherever she pleases. So instead of letting her go wherever she pleases (which no one could ask her about as she had no access to anyone), the respondents take her to Delhi, AIIMS hospital themselves and she is again, not allowed access to her lawyer, activists or the press.

At the same time, villagers who had come for a public hearing at Dantewada (organized by Himanshu Kumar) on the 5th of January, 2010 were last seen being driven away by the police in four Bolero vehicles without license plates.

Katam Suresh of Gompad who is now around two years old, and his father Katam Dulaiah, along with Soyam Rama and Soyam Dhulla from Gompad were taken away and were last seen at Konta Police Station on the 14th of January, 2009.

Colin Gonsales, advocate for the petitioners, on the 10th of January: ‘Apparently all the 12 tribal petitioners from the writ petition have been picked up and are in custody of the police, and it is possible that they will be coerced to withdraw from the case.’

On the 22nd of January, Justice Sudarshan Reddy and S.S. Nijjar, presiding judges of the Supreme Court passed an order allowing lawyer Colin Gonsales and activist Himanshu Kumar access to Sodhi Sambo at AIIMS, stating, “we direct that the respondents shall not create  any obstacle in the way of petitioner No.1 and/or advocate for the petitioners in meeting petitioner No.13, in which the police shall not be present.”

However it soon came to light that Sodhi Sambo was discharged from AIIMS. Counsel of State of Chhattisgarh Ajit Jha had previously told the court that the Chhattisgarh State had no objection to anyone meeting her and that she was still in AIIMS.

Act IV – On the 23rd of January, the police exhume the bodies of the villagers of Gompad while the lawyers claim they’re tampering with evidence.

On visiting Gompad, it has been observed that articles of clothing have been removed from the graves. A bottle of phenyl as well as the packaging of surgical gloves lie around the graves.

Act V – The Supreme Court directs the State of Chhattisgarh to produce all the petitioners by Monday the 15th of February, 2010. The State claims all of them have gone back to their villagers, the lawyer for the petitioners claim all of them are still in custody of the police. No independent verification is possible.

On the 9th of February, a police party attempts to go to the village of Gacchanpalli to bring the petitioners to court and are allegedly ambushed by Maoists around the village of Gorkha.

No local journalists visit the spot yet two SPOs are reported to be seriously injured.

On the 15th of February, the police present the petitioners of the village of Gompad – Sodhi Sambo along with Soyam Rama and Soyam Dhulla to the Supreme Court. They also presented petitioners Muchaki Sukdi from the neighbouring village of Nukaltong and Kunjam Idma from the village of Velpocha.

They were always in the custody of the police, and the police claimed they did this to protect them from Maoists who might consider them to be police informants.

Act VI – On the 15th and 16th of February, six of the petitioners (of all the villages but Gacchanpalli) confirm that killings took place but they don’t know who attacked their villages on the said day.

As of February 18th, all the villagers still living at Gompad and the villagers of Velpocha claim that it was the police who had attacked them on that day. They had come at six in the morning at Gompad, burnt two houses and killed nine people. They had killed one young boy Kunjam Hoora from Velpocha and another Muchaki Bhoote from Nukaltong a while later.

According to press reports from the South Asia Terrorism Portal regarding the 1st of October, the police claimed to have killed two Maoists around the Nukaltong forested area, and detained nine villagers for ‘interrogation.’

DGP Vishwaranjan writes in the Outlook: “The police have since August 2009 been receiving credible intelligence about Maoist designs to oppose Operation Green Hunt by killing tribals or committing other atrocities and then blaming the security forces.”

Two houses were burnt down in the village of Gompad.

Act VII – On the 18th of February, Sodhi Sambo’s parents claim they met their daughter at Jagdalpur three ‘saptaahs’ ago (three market days ago, which is three weeks). Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra had initially claimed that Sodhi Sambo’s parents were her attendants at Jagdalpur hospital in the first week of January. That was six ‘saptaahs’ ago. The next of kin of both Kunjam Idma and of Soyam Rama and Soyam Dhulla, claim that their relatives never made it home after a meeting in Dantewada more than two months ago – the date of the botched public hearing on the 5th of January.

Kattam Dullaiah and his 2 year old son Suresh from Gompad, who are NOT petitioners are still missing.

Act VIII – Similarly, a few days after the alleged ‘ambush’ at Gorkha, villagers from Gacchanpalli begin to appear at the markets in Andhra Pradesh and claim that the police had come to their village and taken away 20 people.