Bloodbath in Bastar: The Theory of Ethinic Cleansing
REVISITING THE THEORY OF ETHNIC CLEANSING IN BASTAR
Adivasis and the ongoing Maoist conflict and anti-Maoist operations – whether it is under the erstwhile peace movement of Salwa Judum and the later Samajik Ekta Manch or the ongoing Operation Green Hunt – needs a critical review. Every other day there are reports of violent incidents from this crisis-ridden zone. While the presence and functionality of security forces in the Maoist domain of south Chhattisgarh needs an elaborate review and independent study, particularly in the context of impact on Adivasi population, the role of Maoist in aggravating the conflict cannot be left off.
Undoubtedly these victims of armed conflict suffer from excessive violations of human rights under Indian laws and international humanitarian law. Though the Constitution under fundamental rights establishes these rights categorically, it has been swept under the carpet in most of the Adivasi regions of India. Various other laws have sections and clauses to uphold the human rights of Adivasis, yet what remains in their baggage is only a whole set of miseries.
Soni Sori – the unbreakable Spirit
In a zone ridden by an undeclared civil war, Soni Sori has emerged as an unbreakable warrior spirit of the First Nation. Her story is not hidden from the world. She has emerged as a symbol of battling for Adivasi Human Rights over the last half a decade. She has been constantly in the discussions for facing unbelievable torture and violence in police custody on allegations of being a Maoist. Sori rose from the ashes as the symbol of Adivasis struggles in India over the past few years. In February 2016, unidentified assailants attacked her with an acid like substance almost disfiguring her face along with the pain and psychological trauma. She had come out of that at present.
Sori is back in the picture during the past three months through exposing several cases of torture by security forces, fake encounters and the battle for the Adivasi rights in Bastar region. While undergoing treatment for her disfigured face, she made a courageous statement stating, ‘my face is the face of Bastar today.’ She is in a sit-in at the SP office in Sukma since two days. She was blocked from going to Gompada village where on June 13 the police reported a gun battle with the Maoist. Several other sources suggested a different picture. She wanted to go there and have a reality check on the actual situation.
Rape and killing of Madkam Hidme from Gompada
Gompada village is in Kota police station range of Sukma district. According to Himanshu Kumar, ‘I got information from the villagers that on June 13 security forces went to Gompada village within Kota police station range. They picked up a young lady, Madkam Hidme (21), – who was pounding the paddy at her home. They took her to the nearby forests and began to sexually abuse her on which she started screaming for help. Hearing her screams the villagers rushed to the spot. Instantly the security personnel took her with them. She was gangraped and killed. Before that they changed her dress – from sari to a brand new Maoist uniform. The next day on June 14, the police issued a statement to the media that they have gunned down a hardcore Naxalite in an encounter. The same day while police took her body back to the village, the villagers refused to perform the death rites. This case is yet another example of the severe crime against Adivasi population.’
It is clear that this young woman was doing household chores when a few security personnel spotted her and dragged her into the forest. She was wearing a sari when abducted and had nothing to do with Maoists. According to Sori, ‘the security forces changed her sari into a uniform to send a wrong message that she was a Maoist. They even took pictures of her body and send it across to many people. I wanted to go to her village to check the reality but they are scared that I would bring out the truth of the encounter story.’
Both Kumar’s and Sori’s versions corroborates with the photograph taken by police which went viral. Three days ago, Sori with a team of Adivasi activist went to meet people in Gompada, however, was disallowed and harassed in various camps. Finally reached Injeram camp. This was around 10 kms away from Gompada where the security personnel stopped her and asked to return.
On a telephonic discussion an annoyed Sori said that the police and administration is trying to hide the truth of this encounter. Giving reasons for her protest she said, ‘unless I reach Gompada, I would not stop my sit-in. The administration and security forces should make essential arrangements for me to reach there. Why are they obstructing me to go there? I want to meet the family members of Hidme and know the truth of this encounter. The police and administration were aware that I would be going to the village. So they created all possible hurdles to stop me. They wasted my time at every check-post and finally asked me to go back at Injeram camp only 10 kms away from Gompada. Though I could not reach there, I have informed the villagers that they should cremate the body only after the post-mortem.
The Police Version of Gompada
In connection with the Gompada incident, the Sukma Superintendent of Police told media persons that, there was a gun battle between the Maoist guerrillas and a joint team of Special Task Force (STF) and District Reserve Group (DRG) in a forest near Gorkha village under Konta police station limits. The security personnel, while carrying out the operations in the interiors of Konta forests, spotted a group of Maoists, following which an encounter broke out. However, extremists soon fled taking the cover of dense forest. Later, during search, the body of a woman Naxal was found with a muzzle-loading gun seized from the spot. The dead person was identified as Madkam Hidme, a member of Kistaram area platoon number 8 of Maoists.
When media persons enquired with the police of blocking Sori, the official told that that it was dangerous for her to go her since the Maoist could kill her. The police also issued a statement that Maoist guerrillas are still hiding in the jungle. Citing the life threat to Sori, she was not allowed to go there, said the police version.
This is not the first time that such cases of fake encounters had surfaced in media circles. Recently an 8-member fact-finding team of All India People’s Forum (AIPF) visited four districts of Bastar region between June 8-11, 2016. The report of the team gave clear pointers to several cases of fake encounters.
Rape and fake encounter of Rame, Pandi, Sunno and Mase from Nagalguda
The village Nagalguda comes within thana Gadiras of Kuakonda Tehsil in Dantewada district. At 7 am on the morning of November 21, 2015 four women – Rame, Pandi, Sunno and Mase – were killed in a fake encounter. Badru, a former Maoist who surrendered and became a ‘Pradhan Arakshak’, accompanied the security forces. He raped Mase before killing her. 22 DRG jawans were rewarded with promotions for participating in this encounter. These are clear guidelines from the Supreme Court as well as NHRC not to reward jawans for encounters. The rewards and promotions were against these guidelines.
Killing of Dudhi Bhima, Sodhi Muya and Vetti Lacch from Arlampalli
Arlampalli village is in Dornapal Tehsil of Sukma district. AIPF team reported that the villagers told them that on November 3, 2015, the police killed three village youths namely Dudhi Bhima (23), Sodhi Muya (21) and Vetti Lacchu (19). On that day in the morning, Bhima told his mother that he would meet her in Polampalli market after having a drink with friends. The three youngsters left the village on two cycles to have a date palm drink (local alcohol). After having drink, they were on the way to Polampalli Bazaar, where Bhima’s mother was waiting for them.
Close to the village, there is a stream, which they were about to cross. On the way near the stream, Lacchu got down from the cycle while the two others went ahead. At the same time security forces were moving in the area for a combing operation. They caught the two boys Dudhi Bhima and Sodhi Muya on cycle and began to beat them. Seeing this Lacchu turned his cycle and set about to run. Seeing him run the police shot him dead then and there. The other two youth were asked to carry the body of Lachhu to Polampalli police station. On the way, they too were shot dead. No FIR has been registered as yet. Many villagers narrated the story to the AIPF team. Though the villagers made some attempts, but none of these could help them file an FIR.
Murder of minors – Siriyam Pojje and Manjam Shanti from Palamagdu
Palamagdu village comes in Dornapal Tehsil of Sukma district. On January 31, 2016 the police claimed that two women Maoists were killed after an hour-long gun battle. The police issued a statement in a local newspaper as saying that the two women were Naxalites clad in saris due to which they could not run. In the rush they had fallen into a ditch and got killed.
The AIPF fact-finding team revealed that in fact, the police had killed two small girls in cold blood. According to the team, the mother of Siriyam Pojje (14) said that her daughter along with Manjam Shanti (13) had gone to feed the hens and were supposed to have a bath in the river. They were to return home but never did. On the way the police shot dead both the girls. Manjam Shanti’s father told the team that both girls lived in the village and had no connection with Maoists.
Kavita Krishnan of the AIPF team raised the question, ‘how can the police dub two minor girls as Maoist and kill them? They had no distant connection with any Maoist outfits. These are cold-blooded murders. What is going on today in Bastar is a clear state of impunity and civil war against the Adivasi population.’
Killing of Manoj Hapka and Pandi Hapka from Kadenar
Kadenar village is in Bijapur district. The police claimed that on May 21, 2016 an encounter took place with 30-35 armed Maoists, in which a husband and wife – Manoj Hapka (30) and his wife Pandi Hapka (also Tanti) (25) were killed. The AIPF team met with the mother and brother of Pandi who told that at around 8 pm at night on 21 May, police came to the house where the family members were having dinner. They took Manoj and Pandi away, along with their clothes, other belongings. The police also looted Rs 13000, which earned by harvesting chillies in Andhra Pradesh.
According to the AIPF’s fact-finding, Manoj and Pandi had been with Maoists for a year. Five years ago, the couple left the Maoists and came back to the village where they did farming. Pandi was very lean as she had been a tuberculosis patient for the past five years and has been very ill. Few weeks before the killing, she complained of severe stomach ache and was being treated in the Cherpal dispensary. When the team enquired with the doctor in the dispensary, her name was in the list of patients who visited it.
Manoj hailed from Cherkanti village, however has been living at his in-laws place for the last five years. When their bodies were received back, the villagers observed that the entire body had marks of cuts with a knife. Manoj’s leg was broken and the possibility of a few unrevealed injuries, wounds and breaking up of bones cannot be dismissed. He had a gun shot on his head, while Pandi possibly would have died due to a hit on the back of her head with the gun’s butt.
Fake Encounter of Markam Manglu and Podiyam Vijji from Marjum
Earlier in May, another fact-finding team of academicians visited parts of Bastar. The team came up with the Marjum encounter of Dantewada district. According to the report on 12 May, 2016, villagers from Marjum and CPI leaders Manish Kunjam and Nanda Sori held a press conference in Dantewada. In the conference, they testified that two innocent youths were killed and passed off as Maoists by the police.
The background to this incident is the killing of two police personnel in cross-firing with the Maoists near Marjum in the first week of May 2016. A few days later on May 8, the villagers went to a nearby village to celebrate Beeja Pandum – their main seed-sowing festival. Two boys, Markam Manglu (17) and Podiyam Vijja (18) 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 and that the two boys were missing. They contacted the police where they learnt about their death. The Sarpanch of Marjum, the anganwadi worker, family members and other villagers confirmed to the fact finding team that the boys had nothing to do with the Maoists and this were nothing else but the murder of two innocent Adivasi boys by the police/security forces.
Salwa Judum reincarnated?
There seems the persistence of impunity and appearance of new constructs even after disbanding the vigilante army namely Salwa Judum. The level of Maoist presence and the 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 serious problems.
The fact-finding team of the academicians also referred the worries and concerns of the rise of a new form of Salwa Judum. The report says, 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, both threatening and distributing all kind of goodies to the villages, including cell phones. These goodies come as a fortune to provide information about Maoists and their movement.
This is very similar to the origins of Salwa Judum, where Jan Jagran Abhiyan was the key proposition in mobilising Adivasis and non-Adivasis. Such Jan Jagran Abhiyans have been in existence since early 1990s as a political opposition to the Maoist, particularly from the upper caste non-Adivasi sections alongside a few dominant Adivasis. The landlords power were challenged and land was taken by people’s peasantry movement and redistributed to the landless. Therefore such Jan Jagran Abhiyans turned out to be the natural byproduct of such dissatisfied dominant sections to protect their landholdings in alliance with the trading class (also castes). Such Jan Jagrans have been time and again surfacing and re-surfacing in Bastar like the one in 1998, 2000, 2005 and so on. Since mid-1990s the landlord and business class sought state protection to their Jan Jagrans and thus Jan Jagran Abhiyans turned out to be an official feature of the state to combat Maoism in it’s overt and covert formats.
Kumakoleng is a classical example that the team of academicians visited. In Kumakoleng village, 50 persons were forced to surrender in March 2016, and are now living in different police and CRPF camps. On April 15, the police/CRPF held a Jan Jagran Abhiyan in Kumakoleng. On April 17, the Maoists beat up villagers, including women, since the villagers demanded for a CRPF camp near their village. Two-thirds of the entire village of Kumakoleng has now fled and is living outside the village for fear of Maoists. More and more internally displaced people (IDPs) are being created in Bastar.
Another pattern of the Jan Jagran Abhiyan could be witnessed in Soutnar panchayat. Here 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 and told them that the Maoists will go away if they patrol. This makes the villagers vulnerable in the first place and secondly they are left to fight the Maoist with their implements. Such developments will lead to large-scale divisions and displacement of Adivasis as happened during the Salwa Judum phase.
Certainly these are clear violations of human rights. The cases of encounters mentioned above are cold-blooded murder of the Adivasis in this region. Apart from these incidents, during the past one decade several instances of arbitrary arrests of ordinary villagers, detention, rape and sexual exploitation by SPOs/ police personnel/ security forces, intimidation, beating, abduction, arson, looting, destruction of crop and property, burning of houses have been consistently brought into the limelight by many groups that has mostly gone unheard. All recommendations and directives by many fact-finding teams have not reached any logical conclusion till date.
Bastar is today witnessing a bloodbath of the Adivasis. While the Adivasis still strive to avail the legitimate rights in accordance with the law of the land, the Maoist are engaged in a war with the state and the state in a counter-war exercise. In this entire war and counter-war, the Adivasis are the clear looser. The damages not only include individual families and villages but there is an entire breakdown of trust within the villages – dilapidation of the community system, cultural injuries (many local festivals have almost stopped, village markets and fairs taken over by outsiders), dysfunctional administration including Gram Sabhas under PESA and the justice delivery mechanism – where the normal procedures of FIR registration, investigation and prosecution has collapsed. The presence of security forces with guns and ammunitions itself is a way to spread arbitrary fear and terror among the peaceful Adivasis.
All these contexts give rise to multiple conflicts. Thus resistance to such violations has been brewing, as is repression, which is becoming more direct day by the day – the conflict is thus taking a sharper line. The state has declared all those who oppose such human rights violation as Maoist sympathiser. The question comes back is why is there an attempt to weaken the Adivasi people all through these efforts, take away their land, transfer the land to industrial house, the rigorous application of anti-Adivasi laws, non-implementation of pro-Adivasi laws, implicating those who attempt to exercise their democratic rights (or raise voices of dissent) in fake cases, throw them behind the bars as Maoists or extremists, tortured, killed, ousted and encountered. One needs to find answer to these questions.
 Salwa Judum was the vigilante army like group of whom many members were the surrendered Maoists. Other villagers who mostly aligned with the contractors, businessmen, politicians, spies and police informers also become members of group. They were armed by the State and they went on to create more and more problems for the local inhabitants. Later this was dissolved under strict instruction from the Supreme Court of India, however, the entire force was converted as Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force Act, 2011.