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Raise your voice against state backed vigilante groups in Chhattisgarh

by Kavita Srivastava, 11 April 2011

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Magazine / The Hindu, 10 April 2011

Salwa Judum’s war on the people

Kavita Srivastava

Will the Supreme Court’s Commissioners, ordered to carry out a fact-finding inspection, be allowed to visit the cut-off villages in Dantewada and Sukma in Chhattisgarh, and engage with the people on a long-term basis?

Having gone once will they be able to sustain the access of supplies with the help of the Supreme Court?

Blocked: Salwa Judum members erect barricades to prevent the Collector from reaching the villages. (Photo: Kavita Srivastava)

The Supreme Court order of March 29, 2011 asking its Commissioners and the District Collector to carry out a joint inspection in the three villages of Tademtla, Morapalli and Teemapuram, in the Chintalnaar area of Dantewada District is very significant and let us hope that the Apex court engages with the situation in these villages on a more long-term basis so that relief actually reaches and the people can rebuild their ravaged lives.

It maybe recalled that these three villages were attacked and burnt down by COBRA and Koya Commanders and SPOs of the Chhattisgarh Police on March 11 and 16, 2011. The plan of the Government of Chhattisgarh is very clear, which is to use the front of the Salwa Judum and SPOs and push these people out from their villages into either migrating out of their homelands into the Salwa Judum camps or to join the IDPs in Khammam, AP or go deeper into the forest area and join the Maoists or stay in the village and die of hunger. This tactics is not new. All this is being done in order to shrink the mass base of the Maoists.

Documented state violence

This is how it was done in 2005 and the first report of the PUCL, PUDR, carried out under the leadership of Dr. Binayak Sen, called “When the State makes War against its own People”, clearly documented this. This was also highlighted in subsequent human rights reports by various organisations and individuals. After all, in the first phase of the Salwa Judum, they pushed people out of their homes, hearth, farms, fields from hundreds of villages. It is ultimately a game of who will actually control these lands. So, as it was then so now, prevent people from being accessed, cut all communication and supply lines to the village and let them either join “us” or “them” or “die”.

A burnt house and granary in Tadmetla.

Thus it is a test whether the SC Commissioners will be allowed to go to the area by the Chhattisgarh Government as the five earlier attempts in the last one week made by people to reach these areas from the Raipur-Jagdalpur-Sukma route was thwarted by stage-managed obstructions. And if they do manage to go, will it be sustained by allowing supplies and communication from being established?

The latest in the series of preventing the affected villagers from getting any aid was that of the team of 10 Congress MLAs whose attempt of going on March 29 with relief supplies was obstructed by the same set of people with the support of the police.

Ex-Minister turned back

The Congress team was led by Ex Home Minister Nand Kumar Patel. They left Sukma with food supplies at about 10.00 a.m. and proceeded towards Chintalnar. This team too was stopped at the same village Polampalli, where the Collector was stopped on March 24, 2011, by a group of about 25 SPOs and Salwa Judum persons only. The IG, Long Kumar of Bastar who was escorting them, instead of stopping the hoodlums prevented the Congress MLA team from going, saying that he could not provide security to them as there was a risk involved in going to the villages of Tadmetla, Morapalli, Teempuram. When the MLAs insisted that they would go as they argued that this kind of resistance was routine for politicians, they were told they would not be allowed. The IG, instead of using his command and stopping the SPOs and Salwa Judum personnel from breaking the law, arrested and brought the MLAs to Dornapal, where they were released on personal bonds. The Congress MLAs left for Raipur by evening to raise the issue in the State Assembly.

A day earlier, on March 28, on the instructions of the District Collector, the Dornapal village Naib Tehsildar, Vijendra Patil, tried to take relief to the three villages. At around noon he was stopped and not allowed to proceed. When the ASI Dhruv tried to clear the obstruction at Polampalli he was stopped by an SPO.

Above the law? File photo of Special Police Officers at a Salwa Judum training camp.

In the police hierarchy the SPO would be at the lowest rung, but here they are the war lords. They even refused to take instructions from the District Collector and the Divisional Commissioner who tried to go there with supplies on March 24. They threatened the SDM who went ahead with the supplies, then on March 26, Swami Agnivesh was stopped twice, although he was being taken by the Additional SP Marawi in his own vehicle, they did not spare their own senior and threw stones and smashed the vehicle. It took the Additional SP two days of struggle to get an FIR lodged as the local police station would not lodge a case against the Salwa Judum and SPO lords of the region. And, of course, IG Long Kumar also does not want to exercise his control over them.

Which means that till now, all those who have attempted to visit those areas from the Sukma end have been prevented by the Government from going there. On March 20 and 21, the Times of India and The Hindu reporters were prevented from going to the area. They could only reach there through a longer and difficult alternate route. The All India team of members from the democratic rights organisations who went there on the same dates as Swami Agnivesh could reach and conduct a fact finding could do so because they took a third route to get there. This the first fact-finding team that visited the area after September 2009, since the PUDR team had gone to Gompad area when 16 people were killed by CRPF and other forces in its Operation Green Hunt intervention. And subsequently teams were not allowed to go to the affected areas (A women’s team was not allowed to visit Samsetti village to study a gang rape case on December 15, 2009. Professors Nandini Sundar and Ujjwal Singh of DU were chased out of Dantewada and Sukma, were not allowed to stay in any hotel on the eve of the new year of 2010. Then Medha Patkar and Sandeep Pandey led a NAPM team of 40 people in early January, 2010 and they too were harassed and were not allowed to move freely into the areas to hear the woes of tribals and then in May 2010 a team led by Prof. Yashpal and 40 other intellectuals met the same fate).

Urgent questions

Now suppose the SC Commissioners are taken by chopper from Raipur to these villages, then they will have to go alone and not with a local team of journalists or villagers who can be objective local guides for such visits. And then having gone once will they be able to sustain the access of supplies with the help of the Supreme Court? Who will monitor it there? Till public access of these villages is not assured nobody will know what is happening there.

The news of how a Government lets its “lesser people” be killed, raped, their houses and granaries burnt, allows them to live in conditions of food scarcity, perhaps even die of starvation does not even make it to the national channels. Soon this will be forgotten, till the Maoists strike back and then we will only see channel after channel breaking news, calling the poor tribals, terrorists, monsters and killers. And the human rights workers will be verbally flogged with the pitch of the anchors going higher and higher on these very channels.

Would not the Chhattisgarh Government be responsible for that eventuality, if it ever happens? We should all raise our voices and stop this from happening.

Kavita Srivastava is a national secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan and is the petitioner in the Supreme Court in the PUCL petition on the Right to Food.