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Concern about violence and shrinking democratic space in Chhattisgarh

3 November 2008

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Oct 31st 2008

We, the undersigned groups concerned about issues of justice in Chhattisgarh, are dismayed to learn that Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) members were driven out of Nendra village in Dantewada district, under threats of violence by the Naxalites.

We are deeply concerned about this drastic shrinking of democratic space in Chhattisgarh. Nendra has already faced the brunt of state sponsored violence in the past three years, when Salwa Judum cadres and security forces attacked it multiple times, causing many of its villagers to flee to Andhra Pradesh. In July 2008, 18 families of Nendra who had sought refuge in the jungles of Andhra Pradesh, were escorted back to their homes by members of VCA’s Human Shield Team. With the human shields’ support, villagers sought restoration of normal life and activities. Families in other villages, heartened by the example of Nendra, were on the path of doing the same. Unfortunately, this nonviolent human shield, which could have extended its support to other villages, has now been forced to leave Nendra under severe threats of violence, this time by Naxalites.

We recognize that Salwa Judum and state sponsored violence have aggravated conflicts among tribal communities leading to an escalation of violence. However, we believe that people in the village are not all necessarily aligned with the Naxalites or with the Salwa Judum, and have differing political orientations and abilities to withstand aggression. Cycles of violence and counterviolence do not leave any room for alternative political articulations and only foster a culture of the gun.

In such an environment, we urge all parties to the current armed conflict in Dantewada to follow the Geneva Convention (Protocol II, 8 June 1977, Article 4 and Article 18), which states that groups at risk during armed conflict must be humanely treated, and the organizations working for this must be allowed space and access to work. Groups such as the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and VCA, which engage in development work by addressing urgent problems of widespread malnutrition, healthcare needs and livelihood, play an important role and must be respected by all parties to the conflict.

There is an immediate need for people to feel secure and return to their villages. We feel that the role of tribal volunteers of the VCA risking their own lives to instill confidence and reach relief to needy people is an important political exercise in non-violent resistance. Banishing such efforts can only be counterproductive in the long run for democratic struggles.

We stand in solidarity with the brave people of Dantewada district who are striving for peace and justice, and appeal to all groups to respect their democratic rights.

Information about Human Shield Effort in Nendra:

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