The Impact of Counter Insurgency Operations in Bastar
IN its judgment of July 5, 2011, the Supreme Court wrote that the “State of Chhattisgarh shall take all appropriate measures to prevent the operation of any group, including but not limited to Salwa Judum and Koya Commandos, that in any manner or form seek to take law into private hands, act unconstitutionally or otherwise violate the human rights of any person”. This landmark Salwa Judum judgment was to form the basis of all further anti-naxalite and Maoist activities in the state. However recent events in the Bastar division show that the directions of the Supreme Court have been violated and the Raman Singh government is using illegal and coercive means to establish its domination over the “naxal infested” villages. A visit to the Sukma district of Bastar division revealed that innocent villagers are being targeted and an atmosphere of intense fear pervades the villages.
MASS FORCED ‘SURRENDERS’
TO JUSTIFY REPRESSIVE TACTICS
One of the main strategies being followed by the BJP government and its security forces is the use of force to make adivasis admit that they are naxalites and then make them ‘surrendered’. Adivasi youth are particularly targeted with the aim of making them informants and SPOs (who have incidently been declared illegal by the Salwa Judum judgement). As the Indian Express of December 8, 2014 reported, that by November 2014 about 28,377 people had ‘surrendered’ to the police, but more than 80 percent of these people had nothing to do with the ‘Maoists’. The same reports state that only 29 ‘Maoists’ surrendered between May 2012 and May 2014. These figures are further corroborated by a visit to the villages under the Chintagufa police station. According to estimates, 96 forced surrenders have taken place in Chintalnar block within the last three months. Of these, not more than ten percent are of those who are directly involved with the CPI (Maoist). This factor is also further explained by the statement of Kalluri, Inspector General of Police, who says that the idea of the operation is to remove the first line defense of the dalams or the ‘Maoist’ guerillas. Hence, in one sense he has admitted that those who are being forced to surrender are not ‘dreadful Maoists’, as characterised by the Chhattisgarh government. In fact, most of the villagers have no weapons and the forced surrenders are made without handing over any weapons. As one police man in Chintagufa police station admitted on January 25, 2016, many of the ‘surrenders’ are taking place through word of mouth without any proper information regarding actual links of the villagers to guerilla Maoist cadres. Most of these villagers only have traditional bows and arrows with which they can hardly combat a highly armed security force.
If this is the situation then it is important to ask why people are compelled to ‘surrender’. The most obvious answer is the fear of repression. One of the main impacts of combing operations has been the creation of an atmosphere of fear within the villages. This is evident from the fact that villagers refuse to sleep in their houses and go to the forest in the night because they fear they will be picked up without any pretext. There are also reports that villagers are given a choice to either ‘surrender’ or be arrested. In the face of this Hobson’s choice villagers usually ‘surrender’ in the hope that they will be spared torture from the joint forces. Secondly, there are also bizarre instances where men ‘surrender’ because of internal disputes. For example, take the case of Nupo Bhima from Timmapuram village. Villagers claim that Bhima was an undercover police informer who had a fight with his wife. Because of this dispute, his wife told the villagers about Bhima being an informant. Hence Bhima went to the police and surrendered himself. This illustration however raises the question, if Bhima was not a ‘Maoist’ then where is the question of surrender? Has ‘surrender’ become a pretext for going away from the village in case of disputes? This once again exposes the claims of the government that most ‘surrenders’ are by genuine ‘Maoists’. The third obvious reason is the rewards being given to villagers who ‘surrender’. In most cases the rewards range from a paltry sum of Rs 1000 to Rs 10,000. However, as a recent report shows, the government has not met its promises in any of the genuine cases of surrenders by Maoist cadres. In this context it is pertinent to surmise that the lure of reward to non-Maoist ordinary adivasis is nothing but a way of ensuring that ‘fake surrenders’ take place so that the repressive anti-naxal joint operation can be termed as an unqualified success.
AND MISSING MEN
In a dawn operation on January 24, 2016, security forces surrounded the Minpa village and picked up 41 men for questioning. The news was brought by five fleeing women whose husbands had been picked up. On hearing this, we visited the Minpa village and found that the security forces had no specific information about alleged Maoists, but had picked up all young men who were available at that point in time. Most of the other villagers had gone to sleep in the nearby forest to evade the forces. Following this, the women of the village walked 15 km to Chintagufa thana to get their men released. On visiting Chintagufa thana on January 25, 2016, we found that the women were still sitting outside the police station. On being questioned, the SHO in-charge refused to confirm that the Minpa villagers were in the police station and were being detained even after 24 hours. They stated that there was no magistrate nearby and hence their illegal detention was justified. Repeated questions about the reasons for detention without any legal paperwork met with no answers. The constable on duty simply said that they were caught with traditional ‘bharmars’ (bows and arrows) and were only being questioned to get information about Maoists. On January 28, 2016, a CRPF source said that 26 of the 39 men were taken to the district headquarters Sukma for questioning. Thereafter the Chhattisgarh police released a statement saying that they had raided Minpa on the morning of January 28, 2016 and arrested 14 ‘naxalites’ with country-made guns and bombs.
On the face of it this press release may seem genuine, but it is obvious that it is designed to hide the illegal detention of the men since January 24, 2016. One may ask the question, if the men were caught with weapons and bombs, why were they not charged and arrested immediately? What was the need for illegal detentions for four days and why are the joint forces lying about the raids? Further if only 14 men have been arrested what has happened to the rest? Is it a case of illegal abduction by the State itself? These questions have no answers in Sukma, Bijapur and Dantewada districts where there are several missing men. For example Kawasi Nanda of Vanjampara Duled (where we stayed for the night) and Podiyam Sukka of Minpa have been missing since January 21, 2016 when they were picked up by the police in Chintagufa market. The visit to the police station on January 25, 2016 showed that they have been in Chintagufa jail without any formal arrest. Their arrest will take place once the police can arrange a helicopter to transport them to Dantewada. The brother and wife of Kawasi Nanda were told that they will only be released if the men of the village come to the thana. But the men are scared that if they go to Chintagufa they too may be arrested. In Morpalli at least three men have been missing for a month and were finally traced by the villagers in Dantewada jail. The villagers are now fighting a case to get them released. Such instances show that joint forces are working on the basis of no proper information or intelligence. Rather they are just arresting and detaining people indiscriminately in the hope that some ‘genuine Maoists’ may fall in the net. In the process they are targeting innocent villagers.
IMPACT AND IMPLICATIONS
OF JOINT OPERATIONS
One of the main impacts of these ‘anti-naxal’ operations has been that villagers have been subjected to several atrocities. The case of the rape of eight adivasi women in Bijapur in the middle of January has recently come to light. But there are several other unrecorded cases like these. Further, villagers also report routine torture and beatings in order to force ‘surrenders’. This has spread an atmosphere of repression which is disrupting the daily routine life of the villagers. One of the symptoms of this is that weekly markets have stopped in many regions of the districts. Traders refuse to go in with basic necessities because they are being accused of carrying supplies for the Maoists. On the other hand, the ‘Maoists’ have also directed the villagers to not participate in any government schemes like the MNREGS and PDS. This is shortchanging the villagers. It is also evident that the villagers find themselves in a bind, they are afraid both of the ‘Maoists’ and the forces. But at present, the ‘Maoists’ have retreated to save their cadres and the villagers are left facing the repression.
This situation shows that ordinary adivasi villagers are caught in between because of an armed conflict between the State and the Maoists. They have also suffered an extreme loss of faith and trust in a constitutionally elected government. Without such a trustworthy relationship, the State will be unable to deal with the ‘Maoist problem’ as the villagers will refuse to cooperate with the government. In other words, the problem of ‘Maoist’ insurgency can only be dealt politically and through the development of the region. This is only possible if the government follows constitutional procedures and immediately punishes those who are guilty of torture and other atrocities. It must also stop ‘forced surrenders’ and ‘illegal detentions’ in order to gain the support of the people. Hence an urgent political initiative is needed to pressurise the Maoists and the State into peace talks for the long-term benefit of the adivasis of the region.