Is Salwa Judum on rise again?
A delegation comprising of Sanjay Parate, Chhattisgarh State Secretary CPI-M, Vineet Tiwari, Joshi-Adhikari Institute, CPI member, New Delhi, Archana Prasad, Professor Jawaharlal Nehru University and CC member AIDWA, and Nandini Sundar, Professor, Delhi University visited Bastar Division from 12 to 16 May 2016. We visited the following districts: Bijapur, Sukma, Bastar and Kanker. The focus of the visit was on the situation of ordinary villagers who are living through the conflict between the state and Maoists.
The level of Maoist presence and scale of state repression varies somewhat across the districts. The worst affected at the moment appear to be Sukma district, portions of Bijapur district and the Darbha/Tongpal areas of Bastar/Sukma district, but fake encounters, rapes and arrests by police and security forces, beatings (by both police and Maoists), IED blasts and killing of informers (by Maoists) are a serious problem everywhere.
Rise of a new form of Salwa Judum: The most recent and worrying development we observed was the manner in which villagers in and around the Kanger national park – in Tongpal and Darbha blocks – are being arrested and made to surrender by police, and then threatened and brutally beaten by Maoists. The police are holding Jan Jagran Abhiyans (the original name of Salwa Judum), both threatening and distributing all kind of goodies to the villages, including cell phones, if they inform on the Maoists. This is very similar to the origins of Salwa Judum. In Kumakoleng village, 50 persons were forced to ‘surrender’ in March, and are now living in different police and CRPF camps. On 15th April, the police/CRPF held a Jan Jagran Abhiyan in Kumakoleng. On 17th April, the Maoists beat up villagers, including women, for asking for a CRPF camp to come up near their village. Two-thirds of the entire village of Kumakoleng has now fled and is living outside the village for fear of Maoists.
In neighbouring Soutnar panchayat, the villagers have resolved to keep the Maoists out and have been patrolling the villages with bows, arrows and axes for the last three months. In the past, the Maoists have beaten and killed people in the village, on charges of being informers. The villagers say the police have refused to set up camp, telling them that the Maoists will go away if they patrol, thus making them vulnerable in the first place and then leaving them to their own devices. We are extremely concerned that such developments will lead to large-scale divisions and displacement as happened during Salwa Judum and urge all parties to work in the best interests of the adivasi population.
The fact that the police is not interested in any peaceful and honest approach to the problem is indicated by the planted “breaking news” they have circulated that our group asked the villagers to side with the Maoists and threatened them that their villages would be burnt by the Maoists if they did not do so. Nothing could be further from the truth. We feel a proper dialogue process and a genuine people oriented democratic model of development is essential for the well being of the people of Bastar. In the current context neither the State nor the Maoists are addressing this urgent need.
Marjum fake encounter: On 12 May, villagers from Marjum and CPI leaders Manish Kunjam and Nanda Sori held a press conference in Dantewada, in which they testified that two innocent youth were killed, and passed off as Maoists by the police. The CPI is holding a demonstration on 19 May in Dantewada to press for a fair enquiry into the incident and registration of an FIR. In the first week of May 2016, two police personnel died in a cross-firing incident near Marjum village in Dantewada district. After a few days, on 8th May, the villagers went to a nearby village to celebrate Beeja Pandum, their main seed-sowing festival. Two boys, aged around 17-18 years, Markam Manglu and Podiyam Vijja went to bathe in a nearby stream. The patrolling force found them alone, shot them and announced to the press that they had killed two Maoists. The villagers learnt around 12 noon that there was some firing near the river, found the two boys missing and contacted the police where they learnt about the death of the two boys. The sarpanch of Marjum, the anganwadi worker, family members and other villagers confirmed that the boys had nothing to do with the Maoists and this were nothing else but the murder of two innocent tribal boys by the police/security forces.
Apart from these two major incidents, we came across a number of instances of arrests of ordinary villagers, some allegations of rape by police, and one confirmed instance of rape and sexual exploitation by an SPO/sahayak arakshak working in a BSF camp, resulting in pregnancy. We also learnt of instances in the past where Maoists had killed people, leading to severe disaffection among people.
1. The whole district is heavily militarized with CRPF/BSF/ITBP camps every 5 km, and in the villages around the Raoghat mines, every 2 km. These are being set up in complete violation of the 5th Schedule, PESA and the Forest Rights Act 2006. No gram sabha permission is sought, camps come up at night, and people’s cultivation is taken over, without their rights being settled. There is massive destruction to the environment.
2. The whole emphasis is on building roads with a view to intensive mining and industrialization, with no concern for people’s welfare or rights.
3. In some places the camps have created a sense of security, with Maoist presence coming down, but in most places they have severely enhanced the insecurity of the villagers, due to exploitation and repression by the forces.
4. Across the four districts, villagers said that people were being arrested in large numbers. The villagers have no understanding of the legal system, are forced to pay high fees to lawyers, and their lives are ruined. The law is being used as an instrument of torture rather than of justice or peace-keeping. The jails are over-flowing.
5. The living conditions of villagers are at starvation levels. Average incomes are Rs. 1000-2500 per household per month, with the maximum cash generated by tendu patta collection and wage labour in Andhra Pradesh.
6. There is almost no implementation of NREGA despite this being a drought year. In many places we heard complaints that people had not been paid wages for NREGA work done seven years ago.
7. In this context, the vast amounts of money being spent on militarization, rewards to security forces, surrenders, and civic action spectacles amounts to a criminal diversion of money from the welfare of the people. The Maoists also bear responsibility for not allowing work on roads and use of panchayat funds, etc. but in areas where there are no Maoists, we found no evidence of the developmental state.
It is imperative that all sides take the following steps on an interim basis to build confidence and enable a long-term solution to avoid the complete decimation of the rights of the people of Bastar.
To Political Parties
1. An all-party delegation should visit Bastar, especially some of the interior villages, and initiate conversation with a wide range of stakeholders to suggest measures for conflict resolution.
2. The parties should demand that the Centre and state government initiate a dialogue with all political parties, including the CPI (Maoist), and come up with a comprehensive plan that recognizes the rights and development needs of the people.
To the Judiciary
1. There should be a high level judicial enquiry on all the encounters, arrests, surrenders, rapes and other atrocities by state-sponsored vigilantes, police, security forces and Naxalites since 2005. The enquiry should be held under the watch of the Supreme Court where there is an ongoing court case.
2. There should be prosecution of all these cases, under the supervision of the judiciary, and compensation should be paid regardless of perpetrator.
To the Central and State Governments
1. The camps should be removed.
2. The police must stop mass fake arrests, fake encounters, rapes and other atrocities
3. The state must allow journalists, lawyers, researchers, activists and others to freely visit the area to get an honest assessment of the situation.
4. The forest rights and land rights of the people should be recognized.
5. No projects should be implemented, including mining, without the full knowledge and consent of the gram sabha.
6. There should be a full accounting with on the ground verification of all works done under government schemes. In particular NREGA should be implemented, and all pending dues must be immediately paid.
To the Maoists
1. The Maoists must allow all development works to take place.
2. They must allow political activity such as standing for elections.
3. They must stop beating people, and killing informers.
4. They should indicate willingness to engage in dialogue.