Study Team Gets Hounded By Bastar Administration
Encountering An Authoritarian State
Study Team Gets Hounded By Bastar Administration
A STUDY team comprising Archana Prasad (JNU), Nandini Sundar (Delhi University), Vineet Tiwari (Joshi Adhikari Institute of Social Sciences) and Sanjay Parate (CPI(M) Chhattisgarh state secretary) visited four districts of Bastar division between May 12-16, 2016. The main objective of the visit was to assess the impact of the ongoing conflict between the State and the ‘Maoists’ on the adivasi villagers of the region and also to investigate reports of atrocities by both the security forces and the Maoists. The team visited villages in Sukma, Bijapur, Bastar and Kanker districts and found that the level of Maoist presence and scale of State repression varies somewhat across the districts. The worst affected at the moment appear to be Sukma district, portions of Bijapur district and the Darbha/Tongpal areas of Bastar/Sukma district. But irrespective of the scale of ‘Maoist’presence, fake encounters, rapes and arrests by police and security forces, beatings of villagers by both police and Maoists, and IED blasts and killing of informers by Maoists are a serious problem everywhere.
The study team pointed this out emphatically in its preliminary report and press release. However the events after their return from the trip showed that Chhattisgarh government and police are not interested in any ground level findings and want to curb all voices that want to investigate the oppression of adivasis by both the police and the Maoists.
OF THE VISIT
In its order in the Salwa Judum Case (2011), the Supreme Court held that the government of Chhattisgarh and the union government should cease to use all forms of civilian counter insurgency forces like special police officers (SPOs) or Koya commandos to combat the Maoists and ‘Naxalites’ in Bastar. This judgment has been considered a landmark in the history of the conflict between the State and the Maoists. It argues that naxalism, maoism and other forms of ‘leftwing extremism’ cannot be fought through only a military strategy, but needs to address the question of deprivation and rights also; and that the human rights of adivasis of the region were being violated by both the Maoists as well as the State.
Following this judgment the government of Chhattisgarh intensified its military offensive by using security agencies like the CRPF and BSF. These agencies not only opened camps in the vast interiors of the Maoist dominated territories, but also have been following a policy of compelling the villagers to surrender to the police and then inducting them into the police force as both informers and as auxiliary police force which was formed under the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force Act 2011 (enacted to circumvent the court order). At the same time the Chhattisgarh government also claimed that it had started several developmental programmes and Jan Jagran Abhiyans to win the trust of the villagers, and that they were well on course to winning the war against naxalism. But our visit to Sukma’s Chintagufa area in January 2016 showed that this is far from the truth and that the atrocities of the security forces were only increasing day by day in the area. At the same time the Maoists have also accelerated their coercion. The government’s strategy of using the ‘surrendered adivasi youth’ auxiliary force and the informers (doing the work of erstwhile SPOs) as the first line of defense has led to repression by the Maoists of ordinary villagers. In this situation, the villagers are caught between the State and the Maoists and are at the receiving end from both sides.
VISIT TO KAMAKOLENG
AND NAMA VILLAGES
This fact was pointed out by the team to the villagers in Kamakoleng and Nama villages which have allegedly filed a police complaint against the study team. The team proceeded to Kamakoleng and Nama villages on May 15, 2016 after receiving reports that the villagers of Nama had formed a village protection force called Tangiya Gang three months ago. On reaching Kamakoleng it found that almost the entire village had fled due to the fear of Maoist violence. Out of 101 households only 35 households were now present in Kamakoleng. In March, 51 of its villagers surrendered and moved to the police camps. Many of them were given jobs in the auxilary police force as SPOs. There are also cases where the Maoists beat up villagers in a jan adalat after the police held a camp in the area. Two women were beaten up particularly badly and left the village.
It is obvious that the Nama villagers, as reported in Indian Express (May 29, 2016) wanted to escape this fate and formed the Tangya Gang few months ago. A meeting was called in the evening of May 15, 2016 and the villagers met with the study team and explained the way in which the protection force was formed. They also emphasised that they had requested for a police camp in village by submitting a memorandum twice. They asked the study team about its opinion in this matter. At this point of the discussion, the study team clearly stated that it was aware of the Maoist violence and did not support such politics. However it also narrated the experiences of police atrocities in other villagers and stated that it did not think that having a police camp in the village was a good idea. It praised the villagers for their initiative and agreed that the best way forward was to remain equidistant from the Maoists and the police by organising themselves and maintaining their unity. After this the meeting ended and the study team stayed the night in the house of the ex-sarpanch. It did not feel any hostility and nor did it feel unsafe in the village.
HARASSMENT OF STUDY TEAM BY
STATE POLICE & ADMINISTRATION
The study team returned from Bastar to Raipur on the May 17, 2016. In the course of its visit, it was continuously stopped, followed and questioned by the police. As soon as the team left Bastar a fabricated complaint was filed in the name of villagers from Kamakoleng and Nama alleging that the study team had gone to Kamakoleng and Nama villages and threatened the villagers that if they did not cooperate with the Maoists then their villages would be burnt and they would be killed. The complaint also alleged that the study team had gone to instigate the villagers against the government. This unverified complaint was posted by the district collector on his personal facebook page and canards were spread in the social and electronic media about the ‘Maoist’ orientation of the study team. The entire episode was even linked to the fact that one of the professors was from JNU and that it is natural that teachers and students from this premier university would be ‘anti-national’ and ‘maoist’. Zee news went to town with a biased and defamatory story. In fact, the villagers have told reporters they know nothing of these complaints. A demonstration of ‘villagers’ was organised by the police outside Darbha thana, followed on May 23 by a letter to the president again in the name of these so-called villagers asking that the members of the research team be arrested and sacked from their jobs. On May 27, members of the Samajik Ekta Manch, a vigilante group, organised a protest with pictures of Archana Prasad and Nandini Sundar, in Jagdalpur. The recent reports in Indian Express and Naidunia also have interviews by villagers which show that the police are fabricating the complaints. When the Indian Express reporter (May 29, 2016) showed the villagers a copy of the complaint they clearly stated that none of the people were from Nama village. They also stated that many of the villagers signing were from Kamakoleng and had surrendered to the police and got jobs as SPOs. Hence the so-called villagers are actually the people who have already surrendered or are SPOs, and are all in the control of the police.
The preliminary findings and the press release of the study team made its position clear that both the Maoists and the State were responsible for the existing situation. But the intimidation and witch hunting has continued. All local people who accompanied the team are being harassed beyond measure. Manju Kawasi, a member of the CPI, who went with the team was visited by the police at midnight and asked to appear before the Sukma and Kukanar police. Mangla, the local contact from Nama is inaccessible since the incident took place and the car driver hired from Raipur has been continuously hounded and summoned to Jagdalpur. In a latest development the Suprintendent of Police of Bastar has written to the vice chancellors of JNU and Delhi University sending them the complaints for “further pursuance”.
The story of this study team is however not unique. Lawyers and journalists in Chhattisgarh have been harassed by the administration on the grounds that they are ‘maoist sympathisers and supporters’. Four journalists continue to be in jail on the same charges. It is increasingly clear, that the state of adivasis in Bastar is very bad and the impact of the State-Maoist conflict is leading to the disruption of their daily lives. Their constant harassment and oppression has been a subject of much concern and any one who has tried to expose this has faced the ire of the State police. That Chhattisgarh is an intolerant police state is becoming more and more evident and the recent attacks on the study team are meant to ensure that no independent study groups visit the areas and voice the concerns of the adivasis of the state.