On Feb 3rd, 2016, more than 30000 Dalit Bahujan students from all over Karnataka part of BVS(Bahujan Vidhyarthi Sangha) conducted a peaceful massive rally and protest demanding Reservation in Private Sector and boycotting Global Investors Meet was met with huge police repression of students without any provocation and arresting 30 students charging various offenses and kept in subjail without bail or 3 days. The entire mainstream with the exception of few kananda media suppressed the news when they were pouring crocodile tears and extensive analysis on Rohit Vemula’s death and situation of Dalit students. Thanks to Dalit Camera Ambedkar for video footage of the protests and lathi charge and the interview taken of Hariram, Coordinator of BVS and Asst Professor of Political Science on the protest. watch it on the you tube –
12th April, 2013
The Hon’ble Chairman,
National Human Rights Commission
Sub: Regarding the Human Rights situation in Chhattisgarh – a Note by the Chhattisgarh PUCL
First of all we welcome the fact that the National Human Rights Commission has, in its present sitting at Raipur, not only taken up several extremely serious cases of human rights violations to which the State Government had miserably failed to respond to so far, but has also invited various non-governmental organizations to share their experiences and suggestions.
On behalf of the Chhattisgarh PUCL, being the Chhattisgarh State Branch of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, we would like to place on record, along with a copy of “Chhattisgarh me Manav Adhikar ki Haqeekat” – a compilation of our Reports over the past two years (henceforth referred to as our Report), the following note delineating some of the serious aspects of the human rights situation in the state, which we believe require deserve the urgent attention of the National Human Rights Commission:-
Aspects of the Human Rights Situation in Chhattisgarh
- Widespread displacement of peasants and adivasis from livelihood resources:-
On account of a large number of MOUs (121 as on 30.03.2011 as per the Chhattisgarh government website) to set up power plants, steel plants and cement plants, as well as the grant of a large number of Prospecting and Mining Leases (already more than 2 lakh acres have been covered under 354 MLs as on 30.03.2011), a large scale transfer of agricultural lands, commons and other livelihood resources – particularly forest lands and water (both surface and ground water) – is occurring from the peasants and adivasis (who enjoyed these earlier both privately and collectively) to private corporate entities. While this phenomenon is visible all across this mineral rich state, it is particularly acute in the districts of Raigarh, Sarguja, Janjgir-Champa and Korba. This is causing a crisis of livelihood among a vast rural population, intensifying earlier trends of migration to brick kilns, human trafficking and other forms of bondedness.
In carrying out acquisitions of land the State Government is misusing its powers of eminent domain in the name of “Public Purpose” whereas the reports of the CAG of the state clearly indicate that in granting such largesse corruption is occurring on a large scale, and private companies are gaining at considerable loss to the state exchequer. The case of allotment of coal blocks is an example in point where the spirit of the Directive Principles of State Policy is being violated.
The legal provisions designed to protect agriculturists and tribals are being systematically violated, bypassed or turned into an empty formality. This is particularly true of the provisions for mandatory consultation with the Gram Sabha under the “Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act” (PESA Act) in the Scheduled Areas. Similarly the provisions for making objections under Section 5A of the Land Acquisition Act are circumvented by misuse of the provisions for urgent acquisition under Section 17 of the Act. Despite the law being clear that the consent of both owner and occupier are mandatory for entry into private land for mining by a company (other than a government company under the Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition Act), the State acts on behalf of the private company to present the farmers with a fait accompli of having to accept compensation as if in the case of acquisition.
Almost in all affected villages there have been protests, some sporadic and short lived, others more prolonged and determined, but almost all have faced state repression. The leaders of the protests and often large numbers of villagers have been victims of malicious prosecution by powerful corporates in which the local police and administration have been hand-in-glove. The Chhattisgarh PUCL has documented a few such cases of malicious prosecution of farmers’ leaders, trade unionists and environmental activists at Pages 60-65 of its Report. An extreme example of this is the case of the murderous attempt on the life of environmental activist Ramesh Agrawal at Raigarh by persons associated with the Jindal Steel and Power Limited.
- Increasing attacks on dalit communities:-
In the aforesaid scenario, as the pressure on land mounts, we find repeated instances of targeted and brutal eviction of dalit families. PUCL has documented at Page 58-60 of our Report one such stark representative case of 34 dalit families of Village Chichour Umariya, district Raigarh brutally evicted from generations-old occupation of forest land (for which forest rights applications were pending) by the dominant caste community. Even more serious in this case was the absolute failure of constitutional mechanisms to bring relief either through a Writ Petition in the High Court or by a complaint to the State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Private as well as state violence against dalits has been on the increase. PUCL and other human rights groups had also taken up the case of custodial torture of young dalit workers belonging to Village Lailunga, district Raigarh culminating in the death of one, which is reported at Pages 27-31 of our Report. Despite detailed statements by the victims and their families, neither the enquiry of the DSP under the SC-ST (Prevention of) Atrocities Act nor the Magisterial Enquiry has resulted in any action taken against the culprit private persons or policemen.
- Conditions of Industrial workers and Contract teachers (Shikshakarmis):-
Chhattisgarh accounts for the highest number of industrial accidents per lakh of workers in the entire country. In the large and ever increasing number of industrial establishments in the state, the labour laws are violated with impunity, 12 hour work day is the norm and even minimum wages – which are grossly inadequate – are not paid. Even permanent, perennial and core production activity is carried out by contract workers who are not even given statutory proof of employment. Precariousness of employment results in extremely poor unionization. Compliance with the ESI and Provident Fund Acts is poor. Recently in the Ambuja Cement Factory at Village Rawaan, district Baloda Bazar (now a unit of Swiss multinational Holcim), the collapse of fly ash hoppers due to gross negligence in design and maintenance of buildings resulted in the death of five workers literally buried in hot cement ash in a confined space. (A fact finding Report by the Building Wood Workers International, New Trade Union Initiative Federation and local unions is available.)
Nearly 2 lakh Shikshakarmis (contract teachers ostensibly employed by the Panchayati Raj institutions) were on strike recently for their legitimate demands of absorption as regular teachers in the Education Department as in fact mandated by the Right to Education Act and the principle of “equal pay for equal work”. 17 teachers and their family members committed suicide/ died unnatural deaths during the agitation in the course of which tens of thousands of teachers were suspended, dismissed, cane charged and arrested.
- Jail deaths:-
Chhattisgarh again tops the states in the proportion of overcrowding in its jails, which house prisoners to the extent of between two and three times their capacity.
The PUCL recently filed RTI applications with regard to deaths in jails and discovered shocking facts. At Page 78-81 of our Report, for instance are the details revealed by Central Jail Bilaspur. We see that:-
- a) All 11 deaths were of undertrials, and three of them were held in preventive detention (151 or 107/116 of the Criminal Procedure Code) when they died in jail.
- b) The caste composition of the 11 dead prisoners was – 7 SC, 1 ST, 2 OBC, 1 Muslim.
- c) 6 of them died within a short time of being admitted into jail ( 5 days, 16 days, 3 days, 2 days, 2 days, 8 days) which is indicative of either being admitted with serious injuries or having being subjected to ill treatment in jail.
- d) One died owing to the barrack roof having collapsed and he having sustained head injuries.
- e) In all cases the nature of illness/ cause of death as per the Medical Officer was “serious”.
The documents obtained from Central Jail Jagdalpur show that deaths due to severe anaemia (3.5 grams or 5.0 grams of Haemoglobin) was the commonest cause. Usually blood transfusion could not be arranged in a timely manner and there is nothing on record to show that any efforts were made to contact the family to find a blood donor.
- Violence against women:-
Trafficking of young women for work as domestic servants in the metropolises and also in prostitution has been widely reported from the districts of Jashpur and Sarguja and Advocate Sevati Panna, who is also an active member of the Chhattisgarh PUCL, has conducted meticulous research in exposing the so-called “placement agencies”.
The recent cases that came to light regarding sexual abuse of young adivasi girls in State run Ashrams/ hostels has now also been verified by the National Commission of Protection of Child Rights.
Violence against women takes on an even more serious dimension in conflict areas, where it has been observed internationally and also elsewhere in our country that sexual violence is used as a means to subjugate a population. Even today the affidavits of 99 women alleging rape by SPOs, Salwa Judumm and the security forces, which are filed before the Supreme Court in the Nandini Sundar and Kartam Joga cases (challenging the constitutionality of Salwa Judum) remain to be acted upon.
- Large number of adivasi undertrials languishing in Bastar jails:-
There are a large number of poor adivasis languishing in the jails of the Bastar region. A recent estimate of the number of undertrials in three of these jails is as follows
|Name of Jail||Capacity||No. of convicts||No. of undertrials|
|963||Convicts + Undertrials = 2,499|
While we can understand and appreciate the complex conditions under which the courts and jails would be functioning in this region, we are concerned at repeated complaints that a large number of these adivasis are being implicated in serious cases without the concerned magistrate exercising his/her judicial discretion in an independent manner. This has resulted in thousands of ordinary villagers, routinely picked up in searching operations, being incarcerated under serious charges. Once, being implicated in a serious offence, and particularly a “Naxal Offence”, the undertrials are not produced in the courts for long periods of time, on account of there not being “sufficient police guard”. Owing to this the trial does not proceed for years together. Out of economic difficulty and for fear of harassment, family members of the undertrials are unable to visit them in jail. Particularly in situations of physical and mental ailments this makes the undertrials even more vulnerable.
Since “Naxal undertrials” are only kept in Central Jails, owing to overcrowding, many of them of them are transferred to Durg or Raipur Central Jails, where they are even more inaccessible, and too far away to be taken to court regularly. PUCL had been sent a list of 79 undertrials facing trials in Kondagaon who were sent to Durg Jail (more than 300 km away) and who had petitioned the Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh High Court in 2011 regarding their long incarceration without trial. One undertrial from amongst them Sukdas (32 years) died in jail on 1st February 2010.
Most of the adivasi undertrials are dependent on legal aid lawyers. However more often than not, the legal aid lawyers never go to meet the client or seek instructions regarding the case. Often they are careless in their conduct of cases and are amenable to pressures from the police or prosecution. The vast majority of adivasi undertrials speak only adivasi languages i.e. – Gondi, Halbi etc., however it is shocking that even now Courts in the Bastar region do not have official interpreters/ translators and the adivasis are unable to communicate with the Officers of the Court or otherwise effectively intervene in the judicial process.
On 12th January 2011, 379 adivasi undertrials in Dantewada Jail, alleged to be “Naxalites”, went on hunger strike saying that they had been held falsely, their trials were not being conducted and that they be released on bail.
It is unfortunate that the Nirmala Buch Committee, created in the wake of the abduction of Collector Alex Paul Menon, has neither been able to carry out a judicial review of adivasi cases nor conduct a fact finding mission to find out the actual circumstances of arrest of the large number of undertrials.
Another disturbing aspect of the functioning of the criminal justice system in Bastar is that political opponents or other “inconvenient” persons can easily be implicated in “Naxal offences” thus ensuring that they would be put away behind bars for several years. Page 77 of our Report has a list of all the activists of the Communist Party of India, a registered national political party contesting elections, incarcerated including Kartam Joga who was a Petitioner in the Petition filed in the Supreme Court challenging the modus operandi and the atrocities committed by the Salwa Judum, and was acquitted after being in jail for the past 3 years.
- Fake encounters and police excesses in the name of the anti- Naxal operations and failure of the constitutional response:-
Page 7-27 of our Report carries extracts of our Fact Finding Report titled “Just a Little Collateral Damage” which concerned four cases of alleged encounters in areas outside the Bastar region, namely Village Ledgidipa, district Mahasamund; Village Kade, district Rajnandgaon; Jamul, district Durg and Village Sawargaon in the bordering district of Maharashtra and which we found clearly to be cases of fake encounters. The Magisterial Enquiries announced in all the cases appear to have been routinely carried out only to support the police versions of events, and despite our finding that in all the cases local persons were vociferous in their allegations, their versions have never been recorded.
Page 31-36 contains the Fact finding Report of the Chhattigarh Bachao Andolan into the murder of a minor girl Meena Khalkho in Sarguja by the police and security forces in July 2011, again claiming her to be a Naxalite. The Judicial Enquiry announced has not even begun, though again, the family members have been brave enough to submit their affidavits. Similarly an investigation into an alleged encounter at Village Harri, district Jashpur, revealed that the police and security forces had manhandled and beaten ordinary villagers and had been rewarded for their “bravery in Naxal encounter”. The unaccounted funds allotted to Naxal affected police stations and to Naxal- affected districts seem to be an incentive to claim Naxal activity even where there is none.
Page 46-52 contains the Fact Finding Report of the Co-ordination of Democratic Rights Organisation into the fake encounter which occurred on 27-28 June 2012 in the clearing between Villages Sarkeguda, Rajpenta and Kottaguda in district Beejapur. The Magistrate conducting the Enquiry turned down the villagers who had come to depose before him. The Notification for Judicial Enquiry signed in November 2012 was notified in December 2012, and this Notification was not even communicated to the concerned villages. It was only when lawyers associated with PUCL contacted the villagers that they came to know of the Judicial Enquiry. The Terms of Reference made to the Judicial Enquiry Commission have, perhaps deliberately, mixed up this obvious case of fake encounter with two other cases of possibly actual encounters in Village Chimlipenta and Village Silger, both of district Sukma on the same day, to which the villagers have objected. Although the villagers have filed affidavits, the Enquiry does not appear to have started in earnest. In the meantime two villagers arrested from the spot of the encounter continue to languish in jail as “Naxals” and the victims of the encounter have had a string of cases put upon them showing them to also have antecedents of “Naxal cases”, and this includes the 12 year old bright student Kaka Rahul.
A case filed in the High Court in regard to the Singavaram fake encounter and demanding a CBI Enquiry remains pending even after about 6 years, while another filed in the Supreme Court in regard to the killings in Village Gompad also remains pending for the past 3 years. Thus, the people of Bastar have continuously been denied constitutional remedies, which has accentuated their alienation.
The PUCL received by post in the year 2011 a letter from a journalist in Bastar enclosing a list of 135 villagers alleged to be killed during Operation Green Hunt between January 2009 and April 2010. Many of the incidents narrated could be correlated with newspaper reports and some news of protests by villagers. However, we have not been able, through our own investigation, to verify these serious allegations, mainly because there has been a denial of physical access to the entire Bastar division to concerned citizens from other parts of Chhattisgarh or India over the past 3-4 years. This denial has been systematic – whether to an All India Women‘s Team who were trying to meet women who had filed complaints of rape against SPOs (November 2009); or to Medha Patkar, Sandeep Pandey and other members of the NAPM who were going to join activist Himanshu Kumar in a public hearing in Dantewada to which the Union Home Minister had been invited; or to a team of Gandhians who were on a Peace March (May 2010) including Shri Banwarilal Sharma and Swami Agnivesh who subsequently made efforts for talks with the Maoists. The modus operandi of such denial has been through the mobilization of SPOs and Salwa Judum camp inmates who have organized demonstrations and brickbatted the teams. Individual researchers, lawyers, film makers and journalists have been detained, intimidated or otherwise ―persuaded to leave Dantewada. Even the CBI has not been spared. The acts of burning of the huts of adivasis in Morpalli, Tadmetla and Timmapuram, in regard to which the Supreme Court had, in the course of the Salwa Judum case directed CBI Enquiry, could not be carried out by the CBI, as per their application in the Court, owing to an attack by Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Force (into which the SPOs have been absorbed)!
- The civil war in Bastar is creating a grave humanitarian crisis:-
The districts of the erstwhile Bastar division in Southern Chhattisgarh are now undisputedly the arena of a civil war and also the region where Operation Green Hunt, as it is still referred to by the police and security forces in Chhattisgarh despite denials by the Union Home Minster, is been carried out with the greatest ferocity. The already heavy deployment of security forces is being continuously reinforced, now the Army has a training camp here and even helicopters of the AIF are being pressed into service. Almost every day there are reports of ambushes and land mine blasts by Naxalites killing security forces; and reports of searching and area domination exercises by security forces with considerable number of Naxalites being killed in encounters and also a very large number of arrests. SPOs and police
informers who are being recruited in hundreds are being targeted by Naxalites.
What is of great concern are the repeated reports and complaints of thousands of adivasis fleeing these areas in several waves since 2005. Indeed at page 39-46 of our Report is a joint write-up of different human rights groups including PUCL into the serious conditions of internally displaced adivasis in Andhra Pradesh. The recommendation of the NHRC in the Enquiry conducted on the directions of the Supreme Court in the Salwa Judum Case, that the displaced villagers be rehabilitated back in their villages, has not been acted upon at all by the State. On the contrary, those NGOs which were trying to assist such resettlement were severely victimized. The Ashram of Himanshu Kumar, who is also one of the Vice Presidents of the Chhattisgarh PUCL, was demolished and two activists associated with him – Koparam Kunjam and Sukhnath Oyami – active in rehabilitating the adivasis of 10-15, were arrested under the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act. Sukhnath was finally acquitted after several years in jail and Kopa Kunjam had to obtain bail from the Supreme Court. The Sarkeguda village was also one such rehabilitated village. Indeed it appears that apart from the counter insurgency strategy of clearing the villages to bring the adivasis to roadside camps, there is a ground clearing motive, possibly connected with mining since 7443 hectares of land in Kanker, Narayanpur and Dantewada alone have been given out in prospecting leases to various private companies as per the Government website.
Another issue of grave concern is that with the withdrawal of educational and health services of the State as well as ration shops from the so-called “Naxal” stronghold areas, into which a large proportion of the population has fled, a situation has arisen in which several lakh adivasis have been automatically “outlawed”. This population is being deprived of basic needs. Anti Naxal operations in this area could result in a virtual genocide and killings of unarmed civilians and non-combatants on a large scale. Additionally the State programme of bringing children to study in roadside hostels and ashrams and separating them from their families is repeating the “historical mistakes” committed by the Australian government on its indigenous peoples for which the Australian Prime Minister recently rendered a public apology.
The democratic voices in Chhattisgarh have been repeatedly demanding that the way to de-escalate violence in the Bastar region would be to rehabilitate people in their villages, restore the civil administration and whole heartedly comply with the Forest Rights Act and PESA Act to give the adivasis of the area substantial rights. Decisions to carry out large scale mining and set up industries in that area can only be effective if carried out with a genuine consultation with the people and by winning their confidence.
|People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh|
|A note on the situation of ordinary adivasis in Bastar|
A note on the situation of ordinary adivasis in Bastar
The Bastar Division in South Chhattisgarh comprises today of seven districts – Kanker, Kondagaon, Narainpur, Bastar, Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur. Sparsely populated, this area is home to many of the Adivasi tribes of Central India – the Gonds, Murias, Koyas, Halbas, Bhatras, Marias, Abujhmarias, Dorlas, Dhurvas etc. While richly endowed with minerals and lush forests, this region is also home to the most impoverished populations of tribals, with one of the highest rates of infant mortality, illiteracy, poverty and maternal deaths. South Bastar has had the presence of Naxalite groups since the 1980s, but the conflict has intensified in recent years, with the state embarking on heavily militarized counter-insurgency operations such as Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt. As the state pushes its military might to recapture its control over the territory and underlying resources of Bastar, vulnerable communities of Adivasis are threatened with arbitrary detentions, arrests, fabricated cases and fake encounters.
This year saw the change of government in Delhi, which was rapidly followed by an intensification of the State’s war against its own people in Central India.
Soon after the new government took position at the Centre, on June 7th, the Home Ministry announced an innocuous-sounding name change of its Anti-Naxal Unit to the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) Division. A far more substantive announcement that day was the sanctioning of an additional 10,000 paramilitary troops for Chhattisgarh’s war on Naxalism, now rechristened as Left Wing Extremism. On the same day, the Chhattisgarh state government announced a major reshuffle of its police officers, in which the SPs of all 3 districts of South Bastar (Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur) were replaced, and police officer, SRP Kalluri, accused of numerous human rights violations, was made the Inspector General of Police (Bastar Range).
Two days later, on June 9th, the Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh met with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, and made several more demands for effectively combating Naxalism in Bastar – 26 new battalions of paramilitary forces, 21 additional choppers for troop movement, more UAVs, an Armed Forces Recruitment Training School, a commercial airport in Jagdalpur among others. The Chief Minister also sought relaxation of norms under the Forest Conservation Act for diversion of forest land in LWE areas, and in a move eerily reminiscent of SPO recruitment, asked the Centre for help in providing monthly stipends to over 4.75 lakh tribal youth, to wean them away from recruitment by Naxalites.
The Union Home Ministry responded the next day with its new “Get Tough” approach, indicating that the new government did not believe in talks, and would only concentrate of wiping out the LWEs. The Union government acceded to most of Chhattisgarh’s demands in principle, and decided to make Bastar the focus of its new all-out offensive against the Naxals. The Union followed up by granting Chhattisgarh two additional helicopters, 2 technical battalions (2000 men) comprising of engineers for carrying out construction projects; 1000 ITBP troops and 2 battalions of Naga IR battalions. Writes The Economic Times:
“With the additional deployments, Bastar is set to be the most-militarised zone in the entire country. With an area of 40,000 square kilometres, Bastar already has a deployment of 36 central battalions and 12 state police battalions.”
A Policy of Impunity for Police Officers
In September, Home Minister Rajnath Singh made a statement that police officials initiating action against Maoists should not worry about reactions from human rights bodies. This statement is reflected on the developments in Bastar wherein, Police officers like SRP Kalluri have been promoted as the IG of Bastar range despite a dark human rights record and a pending inquiry.
As SP of Surguja and Balrampur, Kalluri had been known for “encountering” Naxalites – many of them were later revealed as fake encounters by various human rights groups. In 2007, civil liberties groups across the country had taken up the case of Ledha Bai, a tribal woman in Balrampur, who had accused Kalluri of killing her husband first and raping her when she tried to get legal redress. In 2009-2010, Kalluri exhibited similar brutality when he was posted as senior SP in Dantewada. In March 2011, a group of SPOs and CRPF men had burned down the three villages of Tadmetla, Timmapuram and Morpalli in Chintagufa thana, killing three villagers, sexually abusing three women, burning over 300 houses and granaries in the three villages, allegedly under Kalluri’s orders. A public uproar ensued when details of this incident became known, following which a judicial enquiry into the incident was ordered and Kalluri was transferred out of the area, in order to ensure independence of this enquiry. The Tadmetla judicial inquiry is still underway, but Kalluri has been posted to the area again – and this time, at an even higher position as the Inspector General.
This policy of impunity violates the state’s responsibility to uphold rule of law and respect and fulfill human rights.
Systematic Human Rights Violations
The heavy deployment of forces in Bastar has meant continuous, round-the-clock search and patrol operations, frequent encounters (extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary killings), and a spiraling increase in the number of arrests and surrenders of alleged Naxals. In the month of July alone, the police claim to have made more than 200 arrests of alleged Naxals in Bastar. While only 22 surrenders of suspected Naxalites took place in Chhattisgarh in all of 2013, the six months from June to November this year have already seen the surrenders of more than 280 alleged Naxalites in the Bastar division alone.
It is doubtful that the Bastar police have suddenly turned very efficient, and it is more likely that the increased arrests and surrenders are a result of coercive measures adopted by them against ordinary Adivasi villagers. There have been reports that the state apparatus is pressurizing a lot of ordinary villagers to surrender. There also have been protests in various villages in Bastar on the issue of arrest of innocent people and illegal detentions in many cases.
Allegations of forcible surrenders, false implication and arrests of innocent villagers and extra-judicial killings have been leveled against the police by the state Congress leaders, CPI Leaders and AAP leaders. These allegations have been brushed away by the state police and government by carelessly labeling all the leaders who’ve raised these questions as Naxalite supporters who are trying to shield Naxalites.
Some of these are highlighted in the case studies below.
CASE STUDY 1 – The Jiram Valley Arrests and Surrenders: False Implication of Political Workers
On 25th August, the Bastar police and the NIA held a press conference in Jagdalpur, showcasing three masked “Naxals” allegedly involved in the Jiram valley attack on the Congress convoy last year, who had now surrendered before the authorities. These three, Chaitram, his wife Manjula and a woman called Rajni, hailing from the Kanker district of Bastar Division, were involved in many Naxalite operations, including the attack in Tadmetla which lead to the death of 76 CRPF men, claimed the police at the press conference. Direct questions to the three by reporters present were severely discouraged.
The very next day, on 26th August, Bhupesh Baghel, the president of the State Congress Committee, held a press conference in Raipur, accusing the Bastar police of shielding high placed police officers and instead, coercing innocent adivasis into fake surrenders for the Jiram valley attack. He claimed that the three so-called surrendered Naxals were actually ordinary villagers, and Chaitram’s wife Manjula was a cook in the village, with no connection with the Naxals.
Undeterred by such accusations, the Bastar police under the able guidance of IG SRP Kalluri, held another press conference on the same day in Jagdalpur, announcing that based on important information divulged by the three surrendered Naxals the previous day, they had nabbed two “dreaded Naxalites,” – a certain Sukhdev Nag and one Manjhiram Kashyap of Tongpal, who had also taken part in the Jiram Valley attack, and the police claimed that Sukhdev was the very person who had pulled the trigger on Mahendra Karma. At this press conference, the police described in great detail how the daring policemen had nabbed these two dangerous Naxalites who had been traveling on a motorcycle, and they had also recovered IEDs and Maoist pamphlets from them.
The next day, on the 27th of August, Manish Kunjam, veteran CPI leader and the president of the Adivasi Mahasabha, issued a press note challenging this version of the police. He claimed that the two arrested the previous day were actually activists of the CPI. Of these two, Sukhdev Nag was an elected member of the Janpad Panchayat, and Manjhiram Kashyap was the secretary of the Tahakwada branch of the CPI. Manish Kunjam revealed that the two had been asked by the police to report to the police station on the 25th of August – when they reported the first time, the in-charge was away and they were asked to return later. It is only when they had reported to the thana the second time, that the two were nabbed and then produced before the world as dreaded Naxal leaders. In a press conference later that week, it was highlighted that Manjhiram Kashyap had been badly injured in an accident several years ago, consequently he walks slowly with a pronounced limp – certainly not the image of an agile Naxalite who leads an operation in dense jungles and escapes soon after. And Sukhdev Nag had already been questioned by the NIA earlier, and let go since there was nothing to link him to the attack. But then, as we have come to realize, lack of evidence has never stopped the Chhattisgarh police from arresting people.
It should be noted that as of now (November 2014, three months after the press conference), both Manjhiram Kashyap and Sukhdev Nag are facing charges in the Jagdalpur court (district Bastar) on incidents surrounding the Jiram Valley attack (stocking of explosives etc.) – but the National Investigating Agency (NIA) – the premium investigating agency which is in-charge of the investigation in the Jiram Valley attack – has not yet taken them into remand or started any proceedings against them.
CASE STUDY 2 – The Extra-judicial Killings in Ramaram
There have been reports wherein the police have claimed that they have killed dreaded naxalites, but investigations in a few of these cases reveal that some of them are cases of extra-judicial killings of ordinary villagers. One such case happened in the village Ramaram in Sukma District.
On 29th August, soon after Manish Kunjam had denounced the Bastar IG for arresting innocent adivasis, the Aam Aadmi Party also held a press conference in Jagdalpur. The AAP raised questions about the encounters being reported by the Bastar police. In particular, the Bastar police had claimed that on 28thJuly in a joint operation with the CRPF in jungles close to Ramaram, they had killed 11 Naxalites, of which they were able to retrieve one body. But Soni Sori of the AAP reported in the press conference that a fact-finding conducted by the AAP had revealed that the security forces had surrounded the Ramaram village and shot indiscriminately into it, killing one sick woman who was in the process of rising from her bed to take cover from the gunfire. Her name was Adme Vetti and the villagers had prevented the security forces from taking her body away. But on the way back, the security forces had come across another boy from Pidmel village, Hidma Markam, who was in the jungle to graze his cattle. They had killed him in cold blood, dressed him up in battle fatigues and taken him along as their trophy Naxal. All these details have also been confirmed by an independent journalist for BBC Hindi in a BBC Hindi report of the incident.
CASE STUDY 3 – Hijacking democracy- interference with democratic processes
Nothing illustrates the impact of the new LWE policy on our fragile democracy better than the story of the bye-elections in Antagarh (Kanker).
After the sitting MLA from BJP, Vikram Usendi vacated the Antagarh assembly seat in Bastar Division for the Lok Sabha seat of Kanker, by-polls were scheduled for Sept 13. Fourteen candidates had filed their nominations, of which one was rejected. It was expected to be a close contest between the Congress candidate Manturam Pawar – who had lost the previous Assembly election by as few as 5000 votes – and the BJP candidate, Bhojraj Nag.
In a move that took everyone by surprise, Manturam Pawar withdrew his nomination on August 29th, (one day before the last date to withdraw candidature) and went missing immediately afterwards. While speculation was rife as to what had happened with him, the Congress Party Chief rushed to the constituency and declared that Congress was willing to support any other independent candidate for the seat. However, on the next day, all other independent candidates also withdrew their nominations, one by one, and also proceeded to go missing. At the end of that day, there were only two candidates still in the fray – the BJP candidate Bhojraj Nag, and an unknown candidate from the Ambedkarite Party of India, whom no one was able to reach, called Rupdhar Pudo.
Some insight into what had happened in those chaotic 48 hours emerged in the following days, when the Congress filed a complaint before the Election Commission claiming that candidates had been forced to withdraw by the BJP workers, who threatened to have them prosecuted as Naxalites under the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. Alleging the complicity of administration and police with the BJP, Pankaj Mahavar of Congress filed an affidavit before the Election Commission stating that Bhupesh Baghel, the President of Chhattisgarh State Congress Committee, had been placed under virtual house arrest in his hotel room after he had come to the district to meet with the six independent candidates who had gathered in Pankaj Mahavar’s house. He further stated that in the wee hours of the morning of the 30th August, police and BJP workers had barged into his house, rounded up the independent candidates and had taken them away to an undisclosed location. Later on that day, these independent candidates also withdrew their nominations.
When Rupdhar Pudo of the Ambedkarite Party surfaced a few days later, he told the media that he had gone into hiding to escape from BJP’s pressure to withdraw his candidature. While on the one hand, he was offered plum positions on compliance with BJP’s request, on the other, he was threatened with implication in Naxal-related offences if he defied it. “[T]hey said that if I did not take back my nomination, I would be charged with being a Naxalite. That they would make life difficult for me. This is not new; I have been threatened similarly in the past too. The charge is used very often against the tribals, who are then made to spend a number of years in jail,” Pudo told a journalist.
The Election Commission has refused to step in so far, and the constituency went to the polls as scheduled on the 13th of September. The results have been predictable – the BJP candidate has won by a whopping margin of over 53,000 votes.
What gets deeply ingrained by this whole episode is this: In a war zone, where security concerns become an excuse for impunity, democracy dies. The much cherished “ballot,” which was to provide the tribal with an alternative to the “bullet,” is still a distant dream for her. Elections fought in this manner will certainly not yield the kind of government that can look beyond fake arrests and opportunistic surrenders to draft a roadmap to any kind of justice or peace.
CASE STUDY 4 – Who listens to the Adivasi? The Case of Burgum villagers
On 6th August 2014, local media reported that 3 young adivasi men had been caught red-handed the previous day. According to the news report, the police party had been returning from a 3-day anti-Naxal operation conducted in the villages of Nilvaya, Potali, Phoolpad etc. when they came across three members of the Jan Militia – Joga Mandavi, Pandu Mandavi and Rajaram Sori – planting explosives near the Revali canal.
A few weeks later, scores of villagers landed up at the door of the Dantewada collector with an entirely different story. They said that the three young men belonged to farming families of Pujaripara in Burgum panchayat, who had been working in the fields in the early morning of the 4th of August, along with other villagers. After a few hours, these three decided to take a bath in a waterhole next to their field, at which time, a huge posse of security people was spotted coming towards them from the direction of Nilvaya. All the villagers quickly vacated the fields to go back to the security of their homes – but the three young men, oblivious to the approaching forces, continued to bathe, and were nabbed thus by the security forces and forced to accompany them. The entire village witnessed the incident, and followed the security forces who took the men to the Aranpur police station. Yet, when the villagers approached the Aranpur Station House Officer for information about their young men, the SHO flatly refused all knowledge of them.
The entire village of around 150 people, including women and young children, spent the night of the 4th of August in the open, keeping vigil at the Aranpur Police Station. The next day, the sarpanch and up-sarpanch of the Burgum panchayat also arrived, only to be told once again by the police-station in-charge that he had no knowledge of the three youth. However, the very next day, the same Aranpur police station in-charge produced the three young men before the Dantewada magistrate as dreaded Naxalites, who had been caught with landmines next to the Rewali canal, 5 kms from the village of Pujaripara.
On 22nd September, 2014 the Pujaripara villagers came en masse to the Dantewada collector, demanding that he take note of this travesty of justice as the District Magistrate and the nodal officer of the NHRC. The collector met them with perfunctory assurances. The villagers also gave memoranda to the police with their story demanding that the police investigation also takes account of the villagers’ version of how and when the three men were picked up, but the police too turned a deaf ear.
The villagers wished to submit affidavits before the Investigating Officer, insisting that their version also be recorded in the chargesheets. However, as a painful reminder of how the lopsided court system works against adivasi villagers, the notaries of Dantewada court refused to notarize the villagers’ affidavits. At first, the notaries explained that they usually do not notarize affidavits on such sensitive issues for Gondi-speaking deponents – since these, the notaries claimed, are unreliable witnesses, and the notaries are often hauled up before courts for taking incorrect testimonies. But when the villagers insisted, the notaries used the excuse that government-issued photo–IDs were needed for notarizing their papers – and the ration cards, or the sarpanch-issued photo IDs that most of the villagers were carrying were not sufficient to satisfy the notaries’ zeal for authenticity. Eventually, the villagers had no option but to send plain, un-notarized letters to the Investigating Officer.
A few days after the villagers had come to Dantewada demanding justice for their young men, 400-500 CRPF and police forces again went to the Burgum village and camped there for 4 days, where they beat up 17 people, including an 80 year old woman, ransacked houses, stole hens, watches and other valuable material. The police abused the villagers for talking to the media and going to the Collector, and specifically sought out the up-sarpanch who had led the villagers’ representation before the Collector, and cautioned them against creating more trouble.
On 31st October, the charge-sheets were finally presented against the three young men. As expected, the only witnesses listed are those from the police. As expected, the villagers’ testimony has found no place in the investigation that has taken place so far.
CASE STUDY 5 – Collateral Property –The wife as surety for the husband
On 20th November 2014, a woman from Badegurba village of Sukma district, Madvi Sukdi, was picked up by the police in broad daylight from her house. She is the wife of Madvi Ayata, a local village level representative (Janpad Sadasya) and a popular village level activist with the Bharatiya Janata Party. For unspecified reasons, the police had been harassing Ayata for a while, calling him for interrogation into the police station, pressuring him to surrender to unknown crimes as a Naxalite. That day also, the police had again come for him in two Boleros and four motorcycles. Not finding him in the house, they decided to take his wife instead – at 3:30 in the afternoon, in front of the entire village.
The villagers and her family waited to hear from Sukdi for a whole day, and then they went to the local police station of Kukanar, demanding knowledge of her whereabouts. According to newspaper reports, around 500 villagers surrounded the police station that day. Lawyers from Jagdalpur also contacted the Superintendent of Police of Sukma, but the SP denied all knowledge of the incident, stating that there was no one by that name detained or arrested in any of the police stations in his district. Interestingly, he also suggested that should the family require more information, her husband should contact him directly to register a complaint. Similarly, the villagers protesting at the Kukanar police station were also given the misinformation by the local police that only the husband could come forward and register a missing person’s complaint for his wife.
On the next day, the 22nd of November, about 6000 villagers along with Aam Admi Party leader Soni Sori continued the gherao and again demanded the release of Sukdi. On this day the mother-in-law of Sukdi filed missing person report to the police wherein she mentioned the details of the abduction of Sukdi from her house by armed police personnel. However, the police continued their stand that they had no hand in the abduction of the Sukdi. The SP once again informed the lawyers that the police had no information about the missing woman, but that he had taken cognizance of the missing persons report filed by the family. Meanwhile, Sukdi’s young child of 3-4 years was running a high fever due to malaria, and was refusing to take in all food and medication in the absence of his mother.
The villagers continued their vigil in the open outside the police station into the fourth day, their numbers growing daily. Soni Sori gave an interview to the press, directly challenging the police version of events and holding the IG Bastar Range of orchestrating the ‘surrender’ of innocent adivasis through such coercive measures. With the villagers getting more restive and impatient, and the police refusing to budge from their positions, the situation grew extremely tense.
Meanwhile, as news of the situation percolated the social media and the internet, several concerned citizens from different corners of India, international human rights organizations and journalists started contacting the Sukma authorities, seeking information on the detention of Sukdi. The combined pressure due to the continued presence of thousands of villagers and constant phone calls from the outside world led the police to suddenly “discover” Sukdi in the nearby village of Rokel that evening. The police stated Sukdi had herself fled from her village to Rokel, fearing the ‘masked’ abductors who had come in the Boleros and motorcycles. The police took her to the Sub Divisional Magistrate wherein she apparently repeated the police version in her testimony before the Magistrate. The police version also went on to malign the character of Sukdi’s husband by claiming that he had links with the naxals and there was a constant flow of suspicious people visiting the house.
Sukdi’s story of the ordeal is different. She states that she was picked up by the police on the 20th of November and then kept at a nearby security forces camp, and was constantly pressured to get her husband to surrender before the police as a Naxalite. As a sign of protest, Sukdi went on a hunger strike for her entire duration in the camp. After her release she has been re-united with her family but the situation continues to be grim with the police pressure on her husband to surrender mounting.
The five cases above illustrate the impact of the conflict and repression on lives of ordinary adivasis in Bastar. Arbitrary detentions, criminalization of large masses of people, intense militarization, fake encounters plague civic life in Bastar. But in the midst of all this, people are still resisting – through whatever means available – fighting elections, protesting arrests, moving the courts – but getting their voices heard is proving to be harder and harder.
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General Secretary, Chhattisgarh Lok Swatantrya Sangathan.
Address: Janhit, Near Indu Medical, Ring Road No. 2, Maharana Pratap Chowk, Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh – 495001.
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 Vijaita Singh, “Give us ‘air mobility’ to tackle Naxals: Chhattisgarh,” The Indian Express, June 10 2014 http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/give-us-air-mobility-to-tackle-naxals-chhattisgarh/
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 “Government to send 2,000 para-military men of Naga unit to fight Maoists in Bastar,” Aman Sharma, The Economic Times, Aug 19, 2014 http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-08-19/news/52983522_1_bastar-raman-singh-crpf
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 Rabindra Nath Choudhary, “Operation Meghdoot a hit in Bastar,” The Asian Age, Aug 4 2014, http://www.asianage.com/india/operation-meghdoot-hit-bastar-352
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 PTI, “Three Maoists surrender in Bastar,” Zee News, 25 August 2014, http://zeenews.india.com/news/chhattisgarh/three-maoists-surrender-in-bastar_957297.html
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 Bhaskar News Network, “रामाराम में पुलिस ने ग्रामीणों पर दागी गोलियां : सोनी सोढ़ी,” Dainik Bhaskar, Sept 30, 2014, http://www.bhaskar.com/news/CHH-OTH-MAT-latest-bastar-news-020007-471195-NOR.html
 Ajit Sahi, “माओवाद से जंग, जंगल में अमंगल,” BBC Hindi, 16 October 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/hindi/india/2014/10/141015_chhattishgarh_bastar_maoist_naxal_rns?ocid=socialflow_twitter
 Bureau, “दस निर्दलीय प्रत्याशियों ने छोड़ा अंतागढ़ उपचुनाव मैदान,” Nai Dunia, 31 Aug 2014, http://naidunia.jagran.com/chhattisgarh/kanker-antagarh-byelections-kanker-news-172813#sthash.jMWGxoPD.dpuf
 Anita Katyal, “Chattisgarh CM Raman Singh used threats to subvert by-poll, claims Congress,” Scroll.in, September 9, 2014 http://scroll.in/article/678246/Chattisgarh-CM-Raman-Singh-used-threats-to-subvert-by-poll,-claims-Congress
 Parakram Rautela, “Back of from by-poll, or get branded a Maoist,” Millenium Post, 12 September 2014, http://www.millenniumpost.in/NewsContent.aspx?NID=68824
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 PUCL Chhattisgarh, “Immediate action regarding threat and intimidation of human rights defender, Harim Markam,” Letter to the NHRC dated 20.10.2014, available at http://thepeopleofcg.blogspot.in/2014/10/immediate-action-regarding-threat-and.html
 Nai Dunia, वर्दीधारियों ने किया महिला को अगवा, 22 Nov 2014 available at http://naiduniaepaper.jagran.com/Article_detail.aspx?id=9205&boxid=8410&ed_date=2014-11-22&ed_code=43&ed_page=13
 Nai Dunia, नाराज ग्रामीणों ने किया थाने का घेराव, 23 Nov 2014 available at http://naiduniaepaper.jagran.com/Article_detail.aspx?id=9286&boxid=9072&ed_date=2014-11-23&ed_code=43&ed_page=13
Nai Dunia, रोकेल में मिली सुकड़ी, 24 Nov 2014 available at http://naiduniaepaper.jagran.com/Article_detail.aspx?id=9365&boxid=9270&ed_date=2014-11-24&ed_code=43&ed_page=13
Bijapur. 18th January, 2016.
Reports from Nendra and Pedda Jojer in Bijapur, and Kunna in Sukma reveal a new and brutal wave of systematic violence being carried out by security forces in South Chhattisgarh. On the one hand Chhattisgarh police proudly announces the launch of new operations and tactics, boasting of better coordination among forces and improvement in training. On the other, we have the bold but lesser heard voices of people who inhabit the lands to which the police is “laying siege” – revealing the bitter truth of the war the State continues to wage on its people.
The Coordination of Democratic Rights Organization (CDRO), a nation-wide platform of rights organizations, together with Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) and CPDR (Tamil Nadu) conducted a fact-finding in these areas between the 15th and 17th of January. Here are some of our findings.
In a chilling repeat of the violence we saw in Peddagellur and around, forces in large numbers entered Bellam Nendra, in the Basaguda thana area on the 12th of January 2016. They stayed for two nights – looted homes, used up food and rations, beat up several women and sexually assaulted several others. A young woman was covered with a mosquito net and gang-raped, another mother and her young daughter were forced into their homes and simultaneously raped by 5 security personnel. They hurled abuses and issued threats of extreme violence. There were also two rounds of blind firing into the forests surrounding the village.
At the same time, further away in Sukma district, forces in large numbers entered Kunna and surrounding villages between the 12th and 14th of January. Fearing the inevitable and baseless violence inflicted upon them by paramilitary forces, most of the men of the village fled into the forest. Once again, in what seems to be a part of the ethos of combing operations, those who remained were beaten up brutally and women were sexually assaulted. 5 women and 22 men were rounded up and taken to a camp in the area. After the intervention of human rights activists, the 22 men arrested were released. The five women who were picked up were stripped and brutally sexually assaulted. Besides these 27 persons, two of the women who were also assaulted in the village are now in hospital for medical care. Lalu Sodhi, from the village Kormagondi was brutally beaten up by the forces on the 13th of January who succumbed to his injuries the next day on the 14th January. Joga Sodi, who too was brutally tortured, is unable to walk now.
During their visit to the area, the team also learned of an encounter that had occurred in Chinna Jojer, Gangalur thana, Bijapur through local newspapers. On visiting the area, we found that what was reported to be an ‘encounter’ in which four Maoists were killed, was in fact a cold-blooded murder of villagers, including a 13 year old child.
Six young people from around Pedda Jojer were on their way to the market at Reddi early on 15th morning to purchase their daily needs, when they were fired at by paramilitary forces hiding in the forest. Majji Badram aged 20, Oyam Munna (24), Oyam Tulasi (13) of Pedda Jojer village accompanied by Madkam Pandu (20) from Akuwa Village and two other children aged 9 and 12 were among those who were fired at. Four of them were killed instantly, while two young girls managed to escape. The team also found that the bodies had bullet wounds behind the ears and forehead indicating that the group were shot at from close range. There was no panchnama conducted at the site of the crime, and the troops did not inform the families of the deceased. Instead, they had to make their way to the thana and demand the release of the bodies. District administration and police are yet to come out with any response to the incident.
The remarkable similarity in scale, magnitude and nature of these operations which have been conducted in places distanced not only by several kilometers but also in varied topographical locations marks the beginning of a new wave of State-sponsored violence. Rampant looting, blind firing, brutal beating, cold-blooded murder and sexual assault seem to have become a part of the fabric of routine combing and search operations, revealing the ways in which extreme forms of violence have been institutionalized by the State and it’s security forces.
In light of this new wave of terror being unleashed by the State, we demand:
- Stop ‘Operation Green Hunt’ at once.
- Immediate action against the gross atrocities committed by the security forces of the State under Sections 294, 302, 323, 354 (B), 376, 395 of the Indian Penal Code, POCSO (2012) and the SC/ST Atrocities Act (1989).
- Immediate provision of fair compensation to those affected by State violence.
- Immediate withdrawal of all paramilitary troops from the Bastar region.
Ashish Gupta, Chilaka Chandrashekhar
Rape, loot and plunder seem to define the grammar of combing operations carried out by security forces in South Chhattisgarh.
January 21, 2016 morning 9 a.m.
Rape, loot and plunder seem to define the grammar of combing operations carried out by security forces in South Chhattisgarh. In a chillingly similar repeat of what we saw in Peddagellur some months ago and in Sukma as recently as last week where seven women were brutally sexually assaulted, the people of Nendra village, Veerapur Panchayat, Basaguda thana were subjected to this cruel form of violence between the 11th and 14th of January, 2016. Several cases of rape, sexual assault, the loot of poultry and rations causing extensive loss, beating and constant verbal abuse were reported by people of the village.
Sixteen villagers including 8 rape survivors traveled to the district headquarters to lodge their complaint and file an FIR with the Collector and the Superintendent of Police on the 18th of January. It is now the third day since they have been here, giving testimony after testimony to the administration and negotiating with the Kotwali police that refuses to lodge an FIR in the absence of the SP.
Section 154 of the CrPC makes it mandatory for a police officer to file an FIR on receipt of any information of a cognizable offense such as rape, molestation, or disrobing. Further, no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a case. By refusing to file an FIR, any public servant, is himself culpable under the IPC.
The team met with the Collector, who ordered testimonies to be noted and asked the villagers and human rights activists to trust him, saying that he would make sure that an FIR would be filed as soon as the SP returned from the field, and that latest by the morning of 20th of January, the women would be able to return to their village, having filed and FIR. Similarly, the TI Bijapur Kotwali and DSP also maintained that after the SP returned, it would be done.
Accordingly, detailed statements of the affected women were recorded by the police on the first day, and then again with the SDM. The statements clearly describe rape, sexual assault and looting. Despite this, the police have not lodged an FIR against their own functionaries who have committed such heinous crimes while on official search and combing operations.
As we wait for senior people in the authorities to respond, three children accompanying the women have fallen seriously ill. Others who have left children at home, fear for their safety given the possibility of further repression and attack by security forces. The women are not only exhausted form having to repeat their experiences of violence , but also bewildered at the apathy of the State. How can it be so difficult to lodge an FIR and so easy to blatantly disregard the law? As they recall the horrors of the Salwa Judum, when their homes were burnt, women raped and family members killed, they are determined that they will not allow their lives to be destroyed again and again. The state has to be accountable to its people.
At the end of October 2015, a nation-wide team of women’s groups traveled to South Chhattisgarh to look into reports of harassment of women human-rights defenders, the arrests of local journalists and news of fake encounters. What we found was far more devastating than we’d imagined. As a matter of chance, the group met with women from Peddagellur and surrounding villages of the Basaguda thana area, Bijapur district, while the women were returning from the weekly market. They reported that during a search and combing operation conducted in their villages between the 19th and 24th of October, several women, including a 13 year old girl and a four-month pregnant woman, were raped, molested and beaten. Rations and poultry were looted, abuses hurled, homes were wrecked and property was destroyed. The women traveled to Bijapur district headquarters and after days of grueling testimonies, were able to lodge the first ever FIR against rape by security forces. The issue was then taken up by the media, the local Congress and other rights groups. Despite investigations and reports by independent fact-finding teams and cognizance taken by the NHRC, no action has been taken. Troubled by the inaction and several new reports of encounters and killings in the area, another group of rights organisations visited Bijapur in January 2016. In a chilling repeat of the violence reported in Peddagellur and around, we learnt of what happened in Kunna, Sukma and Bellam-Lendra (Nendra), Bijapur between the 11th and 14th of January, 2016. The similarity in scale and nature of violence made it all seem like a recurrent bad dream.
Rapes and Sexual Violence – an Integral Part of Search and Combing Operations?
“When I tried to stop them from taking my chickens, they dragged me into my house. One of them pinned my legs to the ground, another my shoulder, while the third sat on me and raped me”
Sexual violence has defined the grammar of warfare for centuries. But in the 21st century, when a nation has walked the streets protesting against the culture of rape, resulting in the amendment of the laws that govern sexual violence, how is it that the State itself repeatedly uses rape as a tool to “area dominate”, and gets away with it scot-free?
Between the 11th and 14th of January, 2016, five batches of police and security forces entered the village of Bellam-Lendra (Nendra, as it is called) in the Basaguda thana area of Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh. They blindly fired a round of bullets into the surrounding hills. The men of the village and its surrounding paras fled. Making their way from the hills into the village – the police and security forces invaded people’s homes – they caught their chicken, took their rations and cooked in their vessels. The ones who protested had it worse – “They took four kilos of rice from my home and promised to pay me. They also took four chickens. I told them we sell chickens to buy clothes and asked them not to take them. When I told them this and asked them for money for the rice, they threw a fishing net over my face and pushed me into my house. They took off my clothes and threw them. They even held my breasts. One of them held my legs down, another my shoulders. A third raped me. When I screamed for help, my mother-in-law came running and began hitting the person sitting on top of me. That’s when they wore their clothes and ran.” Said one of the women. Another was asked where the men had gone and why they had run. When she responded saying the men run because they fear what you would do to them, she was held by two men and taken into her house. “They threw me on the floor. They took off my clothes, tore my blouse and squeezed my breasts. One of them raped me and said You give food to the Naxals. We will set fire to your homes. You’re lucky it’s daytime. If it was night, we would kill you. My two children held me and began crying. That’s when they let go of me and threatened me not to tell anyone what they had done. They took my chickens and left.” From the neighbouring para, Gotum, women share similar stories: I was working in the fields when they came. Four policemen took me and my mother-in-law to my house. I recognize two of them – one of them is from a village nearby. They used to work for the Naxals, but they were now in police uniform. They chased my mother-in-law away, and tied a cloth to my face. One of the men held my legs down, another my shoulders and another policeman raped me. I screamed and screamed, but they didn’t listen. After raping me they threatened me and told me to keep my mouth shut. They said they’d shoot me the next time they come if I told anyone what they had done. My breasts and private parts still hurt. I also have difficulty walking…” Another woman from Gotumpara was in her backyard picking vegetables when two men silently entered – “They covered my face with a black cloth and pushed me to the ground. One of them held my chest down. The other raped me. They pressed my legs down with their shoes…Later, when we approached them at the boring well and asked them why they did such things, they told us not to falsely accuse them. They said they would do again what they did to us during the time of Salwa Judum. They also threatened to burn our houses with us and our children inside.”
These are only a fraction of the testimonies that women gave to the police and the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) when 12 of them traveled to Bijapur District headquarters together with the fact-finding team. Eight of them were themselves rape survivors. The testimonies attest to several other rapes. At least 13 rapes have been testified to. There were several other instances of verbal sexual abuse and molestation. Many others were threatened and physically assaulted.
At exactly the same time, in the neighbouring district of Sukma, the women of Kunna village, Thana Kukanar were facing a similar horror. Many were stripped, their breasts were squeezed and verbal sexual abuses were hurled at them. Men from the troops made demands that the women sleep with them, tauntingly asking if they wanted to conceive. The breasts of several women and young girls were squeezed – in a test to see whether they were lactating or not. The test for lactation is done with the assumption that if a woman is not a breast-feeding mother, then she is of Maoist cadre. What kind of savage world allows acts of sexual violence to be tests for political allegiances or nature of work? In one instance, women were first stripped and then dragged to the school ground and paraded in their semi-nude state for over two kilometers until they reached the police vehicles in which they were taken to the camp. While walking, police and security personnel took turns to touch the women – squeezing their breasts, pinching their nipples, touching their stomach, back, and thighs. They laughed mockingly as they did this. From the women’s descriptions of the sexual torture that they were subjected to and phrases like “they sat on top of me”, there is a strong sense that some women might even have been raped, but are afraid to explicitly say so.
In a matter of four months, this pattern of rapes and looting during search and combing operations has come to light in three different parts of South Chhattisgarh – first in Peddagellur, then simultaneously in Kunna and Nendra. Given the similarity in scale and nature of violence, are we to believe that the men who committed these crimes are a few evil misbehaving individuals, or is it that the infliction of sexual violence goes hand in hand with the maintaining of law and order and the preservation of national security? This repeated use of sexual violence makes one wonder if rapes have now become a routine part of the “aggressive intelligence-based operations” that the infamous Inspector General of Police (IG), Bastar range, SRP Kalluri – a man who has been implicated in rape cases himself – talks about?
[As SP Sarguja, he was the main accused in the case of rape against a tribal woman, Ledha Bai. She had testified before a magistrate that he had also ordered his juniors to continue to gang-rape her every day. The case was filed by Ledha in 2006, but she was later forced to withdraw it. It is also important to remember that Kalluri was posted out of Bastar after 300 homes in Tadmetla and neighbouring villagers were burnt, people killed, and women raped by security forces in 2011. He has now been brought back into the region, even though the Judicial Enquiry into the incident is pending and has not concluded. It is as though we all suffer from some form of collective amnesia.]
Lawlessness in the Name of National Security: Blatant Refusal to Lodge an FIR
The women, together with the fact-finding team, first met with the Collector to bring to his notice what had happened in Nendra. Given the difficulty in registering an FIR in the Peddagellur case, the team requested the Collector to put pressure on the police to lodge an FIR without delay. Abhishek Kumar Singh, the CEO of Bijapur Zila Panchayat, sat through the meeting, smirking. He even broke into a laugh every once in a while. When the matter of an FIR was brought up, he said it was a matter of National Security. Since when did rapes – even when the perpetrators are the police themselves – become a matter of national security, one wonders. The Collector, more cordial than his CEO, ordered immediate testimonies. Despite the chilling testimonies recorded both by the police and the SDM, however, the police initially refused to lodge an FIR. When we confronted the DSP Bairamgarh, Sahu, he said they would first investigate the matter and then lodge an FIR. Section 154 of the CrPC makes it mandatory for a police officer to file an FIR on receipt of any information of a cognizable offense such as rape, molestation, or disrobing. Further, no preliminary inquiry is permissible in such a case. By refusing to file an FIR, any public servant, is himself culpable under Section 166A(c) the IPC. When we cited the law to the DSP himself, he said they would lodge an FIR, but when it came to actually filing it, he evaded the issue, saying that they would accept a complaint but not register an FIR, since his seniors were not in town. He was later joined by the Basaguda Thana-in-charge (TI) Sharad. When the group of activists confronted them about the delay in lodging an FIR, they evaded the issue by talking of Naxalite violence, while the others made phone calls to their superiors. Eventually, the Basaguda TI exited the collectors office through the back gate, unable to come up with reasons for further delay, while the DSP left it to officials lower than himself to do what they saw fit. It was clear however, that despite the law, the power to file an FIR did not rest with thana-level officials. Later, in a meeting with the Collector, when the refusal of the police to lodge an FIR was narrated, the Collector himself said we should trust him and that he would see to it that an FIR was lodged once the Superintendent of Police (SP) was back in town. Earlier that day, a police official in Bijapur had said to us – “In Bijapur, there are no thana-in-charges. There is only one thana-in-charge. And that is the SP himself.” We didn’t realise that he wasn’t trying to be funny. Two days of grueling testimonies later, and another long day of negotiating with officials, there was no sign of the SP or an FIR. When we finally managed to contact the SP by telephone, he said he would first meet with us and then talk about filing an FIR. Citing bad weather conditions, he said his helicopter was unable to land that day. By the second phone call, he had flatly refused to order an FIR. “I have discussed it with my seniors… I will not give the order to file an FIR” he said, in no uncertain terms. On the fourth day, the SP finally called and asked the team to meet with him. By then, the media had already carried reports of the refusal to lodge an FIR, and people had begun calling, texting and emailing the collector, SP and Additional SP about the matter. The SP managed to return the next day, and seeing that a three-member team from the National Commission of Women (NCW) was visiting Bijapur with a view to investigate the Peddagellur sexual violence case the very same day, the SP hurriedly ordered an FIR from the gates of the circuit house, while all other officials made every attempt to prevent the fact-finding team from meeting the NCW delegation. Finally, the team was able to send in a letter requesting an audience. This put considerable pressure on the authorities. An FIR was finally filed just before midnight – four full days after the women of Nendra had traveled to Bijapur to register a complaint. On the fifth day, medical exams were conducted and the NCW delegation even met with 9 of the women complainants.
Women who had left their children behind had begun to worry for their safety. Sitting on the floor of the Collectorate, tired after having told and retold of the violence she had survived, one woman said she couldn’t stay another day – What if the forces come again? Our men will run. What will happen to our children then? she said. Three children who had accompanied their mothers to Bijapur had also taken seriously ill. All three were diagnosed with malaria, which is endemic in the area. As though the violence of what they had already been put through was not enough, the women of Nendra had to spend five grueling days braving the callousness of bureaucracy, negotiating with and testifying before authorities just to register a simple FIR – something that authorities are compelled to do immediately, by virtue of law. Through delays and refusals, the State and the police in particular, seemed determined to harass the women further. Such blatant disregard for the law compels one to ask which, if any, of the States own institutions can people turn to with the hope of demanding justice? Are those two grand words – national security – enough to allow for complete lawlessness, or to grant those in positions of power complete impunity?
Pitting People Against People
While a few members of the team were waiting to meet with the NCW delegation, a large mob of a couple hundred individuals identifying themselves as victims of Naxal violence had gathered around the circuit house. While representatives from the group presented their grievances to the NCW delegation, others continued shouting slogans demanding the human rights team to leave Bijapur. While this carried on for some time, the crowd later disbursed without much of a confrontation. However, the next day, when the women and the team together waited to meet with the NCW delegation, a smaller section of the same mob reappeared at the circuit house and confronted the team and the women. They engaged in a discussion with some of the activists who were part of the team, hurling allegations at them of being “Maoist supporters” for taking up issues that pertained to violence by the forces but not violence by the Maoists. Some mob members questioned the women directly for registering an FIR against the forces and even threatened them, demanding that they leave Bijapur immediately. This altercation was extremely upsetting and intimidating for the 12 complainants, including the 8 rape survivors.
The group, that included some ex-Salwa Judum members, seems to have the complete support of the police. They were ferried in what appeared to be police vehicles. Their sudden appearance and the ease with which they were let into the fortified thana which is otherwise unapproachable without prior permission also raises questions. Further, their access to the team at all times, unrestricted by the police in anyway, indicates prior knowledge of the presence and objectives of the team. They followed the team from the meeting with the NCW to the thana (where some paper-work had to be completed for the medical examinations). They also continued to blindly defend the security forces despite the teams efforts to argue that as victims of violence, people should stand together rather than apart.
While some of the discussion was amicable – and a few individuals from the mob and members of the team seemed to see eye to eye on some matters – there were some in the group who began shouting the same slogans and repeating the same antagonistic, threatening tone the moment such amicable discussion began. It was clear that while some of them were genuine victims troubled by their experiences, others were there with a set agenda, clearly present as instigators. This is not the first time one has witnessed such a phenomenon. Time and again, the State and those in power have pitted people against people, driving a wedge between them, ensuring that they do not stand together. The blind defence of security forces, the irrational repetition of slogans, the dismissive way in which they said the women were lying about the rapes, saying that they could have believed them if their men had accompanied them, made it evident that it wasn’t simply a spontaneous crowd taking issue with what they saw around them. The fact that they were ferried in what appeared to be police vehicles and that they knew exactly where the team was at all times serves to reinforce this fact.
A week after the FIR was filed, the group even staged a rally in Bijapur, targeting individual members of the team, and also shouting slogans against Arundhati Roy, who had nothing to do with recent visits to Bijapur. If what genuinely troubles this group is Naxal violence, then rather than seeking more active protection from the State, why is it that they are targeting rights activists? Of what use would it be to them to do so? It would serve the police well however, to begin such a campaign to malign those who dare to question the atrocities they commit.
The team stands clear in its wish to dialogue with victims of violence, irrespective of the perpetrators. However, it is also concerned that such actions encouraged by the police create an atmosphere of fear – one in which people will be afraid to speak out about the wrongdoings of the State and security forces.
It is also important to note that, contrary to the picture being painted by the police and large sections of the mainstream media, the adivasi civil society in Chhattisgarh (Adivasi Mahasabha, Sarva Adivasi Samaj) as well as other political parties have been raising concern over the daily illegal murders of innocent people masked as encounter killings, and the systematic use of sexual violence as a tool in this war against the Maoist movement.
One must remember, that the most violent phases of this war have been carried out in a similar manner – by groups like the Salwa Judum which too, claimed to be a result of public mobilisation, but enjoyed full support of the State and police (and of course, the Tatas, as one must not forget) . This has been a tactic of violence – from riots to war – whether in Gujarat, Bombay, Bihar or Chhattisgarh that those in power have invariably resorted to. Let us not allow them to divide people.
It may be relevant here to recall what the Hon’ble Supreme Court said about the Salwa Judum in its judgment. It (pursuing policies of using adivasi youth to counter the Naxalite movement) would be “tantamount to sowing of suicide pills that could divide and destroy society”(Para 20). In Para 17-18, the Honorable Judges point out that “[r]ecent history is littered with examples of the dangers of armed vigilante groups that operate under the veneer of State patronage or support. Such misguided policies, albeit vehemently and muscularly asserted by some policy makers, are necessarily contrary to the vision and imperatives of our Constitution which demands that the power vested in the State, by the people, be only used for the welfare of the people…” The judgment goes on to say that the use of local adivasi youth in the identification of Maoists or Maoist sympathizers would not only result in the branding of persons unrelated to Maoist activities as Maoists or their sympathizers but would also in turn “almost certainly vitiate the atmosphere in those villages, lead to situations of grave violation of human rights of innocent people, driving even more to take up arms against the state.” (Para 51).
It is telling that IG SRP Kalluri has publicly declared his disagreement with this view and his support of Salwa Judum even recently, claiming that the Hon’ble Supreme Court has been misled by activists.
Concerns Regarding Further Investigation
Two days after having personally listened to the women of Peddagellur narrate their experiences of violence, and having seen the wounds on their bodies for themselves in November last year, the ASP (Naxal Operations) and SP were quoted as saying that it was all mere propaganda to slander the forces. Few days later, the Bastar Inspector General of Police (IG) Kalluri repeated their claim, saying it was all done to reduce the morale of the forces. This time round, even before the FIR had been filed and investigations initiated, the DSP, Bhairamgarh and TI, Basaguda who were present at the Collectorate, were already claiming the same thing. It is difficult to conceive that there is scope for a fair police inquiry given this evident bias.
Since the women had already spent five days in Bijapur having left their homes and children, the police have said that they would travel to the village to record testimonies. However as has happened in the past, investigation conducted in the village is carried out by the police who go there accompanied by a convoy of security forces. Given that the accused are the security forces themselves, it is inconceivable that the survivors of violence will be able to participate in such a process free from fear and intimidation.
Investigations must be sensitive to the survivors and have to be carried out with care and empathy. Under Section 157 of CrPC, investigations in case of rape must take place at a place of the survivors choosing. Given recent developments such as the presence of the mob that followed the team, we are concerned for the safety of the women and demand that further investigation take place in an atmosphere of security and comfort for the women. They must be assured that they will be free from intimidation from any source – the police or private groups. In addition we demand that investigation in such cases, and in particular this case, be moved from the accused police to an independent investigating agency, in order to ensure fairness and transparency.
We also call upon both parties – the security forces as well as the Maoists – to ensure an atmosphere in which an independent and neutral investigation is possible.
Of Malice and Power, Violence and Impunity
Paying closer attention to the abuses hurled by the police and security forces to the people of Nendra, the language used and the mundane acts of violence reveal a deep malice that often accompanies the relish of power. It is particularly disturbing that not only did the troops loot rations and poultry to consume – they even killed goats that they did not eat, spilled rations that they did not take. They even tore up lungis and blankets, making survival more difficult than it is for those who already live on the margins of society. Where does this malice come from? What allows it to exist?
“Like the falling leaves of a tree, we shall drop all your men” one of them said. Several others threatened to destroy the hand-pump – “We’ll destroy your hand-pump. Where will you drink water from then?” they said. Others made references to Salwa Judum times, threatening people with a repeat of the brutal wave of violence and terror unleashed then. As was revealed in one of the women’s testimonies, one of men from the security forces even warned “If Narendra Modi gives orders, then we’ll even burn down your village.” When she was asked who Narendra Modi is, she said she didn’t know. Is it the faith of the police and security forces in the people of power that grants them this impunity, this relish of power over the most vulnerable people of our society? Is this what the special training and “better co-ordination” of the forces has resulted in – is this daring impunity what the IG, Kalluri talks of when he speaks of the “morale” of security forces? Is this then, the same morale he accuses the villagers and rights activists of ‘reducing’ when they bring to light the rapes and looting?
In the face of such extreme violence perpetrated by a State that is intolerant of any form of dissent, where and to whom must we turn in search of justice?
Click here to read the full memorandum in pfd – ATT_1454720899577_Memorandum to PM of India and CMs of States