Posts Tagged ‘Naxalism’

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Archive: Open Letter To The Police

November 8, 2009

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Self-portrait : The children of Kavalnagh, along with myself, amidst the rubble of what used to be my room at the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. 

On the 17th of May, 2009, during the demolition of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, I was taking pictures, and the instant the archway of the Ashram’s gate was broken by the bulldozer, I was picked up by a policeman, had my camera confiscated, then beaten repeatedly by some CRPF personnel and some members of the STF.

I was then locked up in a police van.

Some thirty minutes later, two policemen entered the van (that now had about three other people), and took me out into the open. Now I was beaten again by three-four policemen by lathis, specifically from the STF who started to abuse me, by saying: ‘Saala madharchod, tum humare khilaf likta hai?’ (You mother****er, you write against the police?)

‘Tu Badepalli gaya tha na, bhonsdike?’ (You had gone to Badepalli, hadn’t you, ********?)

Eventually, I was let back into the van and kept there for another few hours in the summer heat. I was repeatedly abused by passing policemen yet also treated kindly by a few sympathetic policemen from the CGP (Chattisgarh State Police). I was then taken to the police station and released after a medical check-up under police supervision that didn’t even bother to check for any bruises.

Now, to the police.

All you have done is helped motivate me, and offered me more clarity than before. I shall not pack my bags and leave, and even if I do, I shall be back. Your lathi-wielding policemen actually ‘complimented’ me, mentioning the stories that I’ve done as they beat me, and I was happy that someone was reading my work. In fact, the mention of Badepalli by the policeman who beat me, where 19 homes were burnt on the 26th of April, 2009, is really the first compliment I’ve gotten for that story. But before there are anymore incidents as such, when your ‘boys’ think it’s necessary to beat up journalists who delve for the truth and listen to the whispers of a suffering people, I believe the time has come for a little clarity between us, and you must know what I am doing here.

You, are, my police.

I do not pay my taxes for you to kill villagers and burn villages without the proper conduct of law. I do not accept that you earn the right to live in the grey world, believing you have the right to do as you wish, as long as it is for the greater good. Yet what is this greater good? This funny little thing called Law & Order? There is no such thing as the greater good and I don’t give you the right to be the defenders of denial, of the status quo that ensures that people remain ignorant, unaware, apathetic, and live a meaningless insecure egocentric life in the pursuit of wealth, self-indulgence, power with the daily dosage of IPL matches, saas-bahu shows and parties, when more than half the country starves its own soul for a single meal.

I believe in shattering the mirrors of the status quo with a hammer and you wish to protect it. I believe people have the right to dissent, to protest and to ensure that the state does not get away with the power, that we, the citizens, have bequeathed upon it. And this protest, this dissent has every right to exist in a democracy. The stone that is hurled at the police ordered in to curb an angry mob who’ve been betrayed by an incompetent or corrupt administration, is democracy.

I believe in the Rule Of Law, as flawed it is, as absurd it can seem, and you believe you are it, when you are not. I believe the Indian public has every right to know what its police does in our name. And whether you can live with your actions or not, I can’t.

Yet does this make me a Naxalite sympathizer? Maybe to you, but I know where my conscience lies when it comes to the actions of men who give themselves unlimited power to do as they wish. There’s no secret that the Naxalites are also capable of brutality, authoritarianism and the very kind of actions that your SPOs have become infamous for. The Naxalites are as brutal and I am not going to hide the fact that I disagree with their methods, their violence and even their policies. I have heard the other voices of the people – the very tribals whom the Naxalites apparently fight for. I have heard their anger, and I have seen them cry about their helplessness. Bastar possesses it’s own world at times, when concepts like human rights, Marxist theory and industrialization become completely irrelevant as a man is being hacked to death.

I have spent more than 50 days in Bastar, and spent lots of time around policemen and SPOs, and each time, a certain thought would pass my mind – about them getting killed by IDPs, or by the Naxalites, and I would shudder each time. This is where I can even understand the patriarchal love of the police superiors regarding their juniors, their boys.

The possibilities of a violent death hangs over their heads. And that is not a fate I’d bequeath upon even the evilest of men in the world. And not a single ounce of anger I have for the policemen who beat me at the Ashram. It is their power that I have loathing for.

And I am aware of the moral burden of my work: reporting atrocity only fuels more atrocity. And the war between the police and the Naxalites is acted out on who possesses moral authority, played out onto the stage called the press and public opinion. Yet does keeping quiet make anything any better? If I don’t report a single killing, does it cease to exist? If I don’t take pictures of a burnt village, does it cease to exist? If I don’t report a disappeared 12 year old girl, does she cease to exist? No, there are the people who lost their loved ones, and there are the people who live and die in those villages. Their sadness and their rage will exist, whether I am there or not, whether they, the many brave and dedicated reporters, are there, or not.

Truth, is always more important than chaos. We will write, because we know that if we keep quiet now, we shall all pay for it tomorrow. And we shall bring out the voices of people who possess real moral authority – the villagers who just want to live and want nothing to do with the police or the Naxalites or the Salwa Judum, yet circumstances are such that they have no choice but to take sides. And you had visited the village of Samalwar, and slapped people around because they spoke to me, because they helped me write a story on a fake encounter and the cold-blooded murder of a 19 year-old boy.

These are not the actions of a police, this is, in simple, goonda-giri. These are signs that further manifest India as a Police State, and further manifest that the Police in Bastar merely exists to repress the Adivasis of Bastar. And of course, I shall not fall prey to the laziness of prejudice.

Truth is, that even as your STF were beating me, there were certain policemen who protected me from further beatings and harassment. There are no words to express my gratitude to them, not just to protect me, but to remind me about their own humanity. I would hope, as far as hope goes, that those young boys never lose their sense of decency and conscience, being actors in a play that wants them to lose their souls, and learn the value of brutality, in the name of duty. All I could offer them, for their kindness, is a thank you, and I know there was no other way for me to show my gratitude to them, for fear that their superiors would reprimand them for being human beings. And I hope, as far as hope goes, that they don’t fall victims to Naxalite violence.

Not all policemen are guilty of atrocity and this is an indictment to all forms of prejudice – we must learn to value individuals, not look at things as a whole and condemn it all because that would make life so easy and simple. Prejudice, in the end, is merely lazy thinking. I don’t look at the actions of the police as indicative of the entire police forces character. Most are merely following orders, and many are slaves to a  paycheque, others are trapped in catch-22 situations where they can neither fight the counter-productive policies of their superiors nor remain public servants who work for the people. Many have seen their friends and comrades die, and are blinded by hatred. And most find it hard to play the game and still keep their conscience, or in simple, their posts.

Yet we find ourselves as antagonists and this is merely the beginning. There are chances that we meet again under violent circumstances, and your conscience-less violent gorillas would come after me again. Well, let them.

Yet, I do have one request, I myself, feel that I didn’t deserve those beatings for one reason alone – I don’t think I wrote enough, or took enough pictures, and I request that my next beating take place after I have actually done a significant amount of work.

Thank you,

Regards,

Javed Iqbal

Freelance Photojournalist.

Self-portrait : The children of Kavalnagh, along with myself, amidst the rubble of what used to be my room at the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram.

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Attack On The Village Of Badepalli

November 8, 2009

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The village of Badepalli in Kuokonda block was attacked for the second time by security forces on the 25th-26th(?) of April 2009.

Around the 25th or the 26th of April 2009, the village of Badepalli in Kuokonda Block of South Bastar in Chhattisgarh, was attacked by a joint force of the CRPF, BSF and the SPOs. At that moment, hearing gunfire, around 215 villagers ran into the jungle. One man, Laxman Madka could not escape and was beaten and taken into custody. The police then proceeded to burn all the homes in the village.

Nineteen homes that kept grain, imli, mahua, some money and all the relentless labour of months, were burnt and people were left with nothing but the generosity of the few homes that were spared. The police also stole about twenty-five chickens from the village.

Badepalli itself is a village that is some fifteen kilometers off the road, a two-hour trek into the jungle, across four hills, through a jagged pathway. The villagers visit the market at Bailadila to sell their imli for two rupees a kilogram, the endeavor often taking the whole day. There is one handpump in the village that was dug up some twenty years ago, whose water turns yellow within five minutes. There is no healthcare, no working school and no anganwadi. And of course there is the police who burns all the food the people have, often rationalizing that the food is for the Naxalites.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi talks about development when the ground reality is that the Indian state does not exist in villages like Badepalli, nor does it make any inclination to. It’s only inclination to enter villages like Badepalli is, as the police. And if the Naxalites come to your village, that apparently gives the police the moral authority to burn it. The Naxalites, themselves are obviously not going to allow you to ‘develop’ the village.

According to the villagers, the police had also raided the village of Badepalli in 2006 during the ‘mango’ season. Like many villages in Bastar, this village has seen repeated burnings. In 2006, they had beaten people, shot one man, a bound Bandi Pandu in the leg, and burnt twenty-two homes. The press had no knowledge of it, nor did any of the human rights groups, nor the CPI who have a presence in the block. And of course, the villagers did not file any report in the police station.

A world apart, the Chattisgarhi Home Ministry wrote to the Collectors of Bijapur and Dantewada, ‘with reference to petitions regarding the Salwa Judum,’ filed before the Supreme Court, on the following actions to be taken on the report of the National Human Rights Commission, – ‘1) Necessary action be ensured for rehabilitation of uninhabited (displaced) families by District Level Rehabilitation Committee constituted under the chairmanship of the Collector. Necessary scheme/proposal with respect to rehabilitation at the Collector State Level be sent to State Level Rehabilitation Committee. 2) Necessary relief money be given in cases of properties damaged by the Salwa Judum activists/security forces, besides Naxalite violence, after village-wise analysis.

Now, not only are the above recommendations disregarded and refuted, and there have been no initiatives taken by the government to rehabilitate the Internally Displaced Persons’, villages are still being burnt by the security forces.

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Eventually, Laxman Madka of Badepalli was released by the court. The police claimed he was a member of a Sangam, yet the court did not buy it. Apparently the Magistrate told him, ‘Yeh sab log jo tumko yaha laye hai, sab chor hai, aap jaao.’

He came back to his village with a big black eye yet he claimed he was not mistreated in jail. He did reveal that the SPOs had beaten him initially. In the police station, the police had asked him whether the Naxalites come to his village.

‘Of course they come, but what the hell can I do?’ He apparently exclaimed to his interrogators.

‘And where do they go?’ They asked.

‘How the hell am I supposed to know?’

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Anatomy Of An Encounter in South Bastar

November 8, 2009

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Channu Mandavi, 19, was shot dead by the police in an alleged fake encounter.

On the 12th of April 2009, a 30-minute encounter took place between the villages of Kutrem and Hiroli, between the police and the Naxalites, where three ‘Naxalites’ were shot dead. The police recovered an AK47 and an unexploded grenade. The police took no casualties.

That’s of course, the official police version.

According to the villagers of Samalwar, on the 12th of April, 2009, three men were picked out of a wedding party, not far from Hiroli. The two of them, had made the critical mistake of attempting to run away from the screaming, gun-toting, lathi-wielding SPOs: according to the police that is an act that automatically indicates guilt. Some four-five other young boys and girls were also picked up but most of them were released there itself. Three men were not, and that was the last time the villagers of Samalwar, themselves bruised and beaten, saw them. The next time they saw them, they were in the Kirnadool police station, lying with eyes wide open, staring ceaselessly into space, their blood run dry onto gunny bags.

Somewhere, en route to the Police Station at Kirandool, they were shot dead.

SPOs who were previously Sangam members, had identified one Naxalite at Samalwar, and the police would later reveal a photograph of the same man, sitting on a chair, amidst an unkempt green garden, holding an AK47. The three ‘Naxalites’ were later identified as Raju, Bhasker and Channu Mandavi.

The same day, just a few kilometers away, the police had beaten up the villagers from the villages of Goomiyapal. Inga Budoo was beaten mercilessly by Gondi-speaking SPOs, and was only left alone as he feigned unconsciousness. The same SPO’s also beat Inga Budoo’s mother Piso, who was pleading with her son’s attackers to leave him alone.

Inga Budoo, lay on the bed, his bare back swollen and red, barely able to speak yet lucky to be alive. Unlike Raju, Bhasker and Channu Mandavi.

On condition of anonymity, many villagers do accept that Raju and Bhasker were Naxals, yet not a single villager from Hiroli and Samalwar believe that Channu Mandavi was one. He was, in fact, just a nineteen year old boy, who recently got selected to work for the National Mineral Development Corporation. And of course, for that job, one needs a police verification certificate. Channu Mandavi had one, and he was about to start work in a few days. News of his death hadn’t reached his village or his parents until morning. Most thought he was just detained and taken away for questioning. The police, of course, didn’t shoot them dead at Samalwar. There was no gunfight at Samalwar where they were apparently apprehended, merely SPOs going after villagers with lathis and rifles. So what question is there of an encounter?

Yet by afternoon, the whole village of Hiroli, numbering about a thousand people, eventually marched to the police station, quietly, empty-handed, while mother’s had their infants tied to their chests. They all demanded the body of Channu Mandavi. His father Suka quietly and stoically walked to the station, his mother Maley wept incessantly and wasn’t alone. The police meanwhile had no qualms about releasing the body but they had to perform an autopsy.

Channu Mandavi’s parents were let in to identify the body of their youngest son that was lying in the summer sun all afternoon. His mother was now hysterical, and would continue to cry for the next two hours, right outside the police station, to the discomfort of all the SPOs, the IRBs, the CRPF, as well as the doctor performing the autopsy. Once the body was released she wasn’t the only one. The father, Suka Mandavi broke down, and as the body reached the rest of the villagers who were waiting a few hundred meters away, a chorus of women also began to wail – in a rhythm, in unison.

For one Channu Mandavi, a hundred women wept, and that means that the police have killed a hundred Channu Mandavis. If the state wants to win the hearts and minds of the Adivasis of Bastar, it has to start by valuing every single life, for they certainly do. Yet does it really look like they want that? And whose police is it anyway? It is naïve to believe that the Chattisgarhi security forces provide security to anyone but themselves. Their camps are often garlanded by barbwire, and the sentry posts look over their own. They don’t provide any security to the public that live in the vicinity, and all they do in combing operations is help alienate themselves from the people they’re entitled to serve.

 

Now, coming to the matter of encounters.

The word ‘fake’ before ‘encounter’ is really redundant in itself. A public consciousness is more or less aware of the reality of the Indian Police and it’s modus operandi. Yet unlike the metropolitan cities where encounters are an accepted reality, in Bastar, there’s the outrage and grief of the Adivasi’s that the Maoists would feed off.

In Bombay, if you shoot dead a Dawood Ibrahim, or a Chhotta Rajan, the public would more or less, sigh in relief, exclaim good riddance, and the film directors and hacks would show up on the spot and start delving for inspiration. In Bastar, you shoot dead a Raju or a Bhasker, and you merely contribute to Naxalite logic: to no quarter, to terror and counter-terror and the ceaseless cycle that the Adivasi’s of Bastar have found themselves between. You go further and shoot dead a Channu Mandavi, and you’ve helped create another 100 Rajus and Bhaskers.

 

Meanwhile, no one voted from Goomiyapal, Samalwar, Hiroli and the nearby villages of Aalnar and Kallepal, to name a few. The Indian government ceased to exist in those villages. A few days later, the police re-entered the village of Samalwar and intimidated the villagers for speaking to journalists.

The villagers of Goomiyapal who suffered beatings as well as the family of Channu Mandavi are planning to file a FIR against the police, against the SPOs – the young  Muria boys who were given guns and a freehand to kill their own people. The same SPO’s whose own survival depends on the annihilation of the Naxalites, who have promised them no quarter themselves.

So far there hasn’t been any action taken regarding the other 1000 or more FIRs filed against the SPOs, the Salwa Judum and the CRPF over the last four years. And FIRs are barely an indication of the number crimes committed against the Adivasi’s of Bastar, considering most don’t file FIRs aware of the futility of the government machinery that either abandons them, or merely comes to shoot their Channu Mandavis, and beat up their Inga Budoos.

Justice is really an ambition for the Adivasis of south Bastar.

So, whose judiciary is it anyway?