Peace can come to Bastar
only when the State stops treating the adivasi people at large as its enemy
and lets them return to their villages.
The Government of Chhattisgarh admits that since the start of Salwa Judum in the year 2005, 644 villages of district Dantewada, whose overwhelmingly adivasi population is about 3.5 lakhs, have been emptied out. Our common sense understanding that enmasse displacement on this scale could only have been made possible by extreme violence, is vindicated by the horrifying incidents of arson, loot, murder, rape, and widespread arrests by the SJ and security forces that have continuously been coming to light, and which can no longer be ignored.
In honest moments, the security experts of the Jungle Warfare School, Kanker admit, that this is the well known American counter insurgency strategy of “draining the water to kill the fish”. Though many of us, who are witness to widespread displacement all over Chhattisgarh for rich mineral resources, believe that there is also considerable evidence, that the motive for ground clearing is acquisition for mining companies. Whatever the motive, what is the situation in Dantewada today?
Recently the Home Minister admitted, that out of the 50,000 “internally displaced persons” who were being housed in the roadside SJ camps since 2005, now barely 8,000 remain, the rest of them have run away. The recent incidents of a trigger happy CRPF jawan killing a woman and baby in the Cherpal camp, or of SPOs beating three persons to death in the Matwada camp, perhaps illustrate why. And yet - all schools, health centres, ration shops, (of course polling booths), which have been totally withdrawn from the 644 villages, (and even gram sabhas for determination of forest rights!) continue to be run from those camps.
The administration openly declares that the people of all those villages who have refused to come to the camps, all those villagers who have not joined/ co-operated with the Salwa Judum, those who are still daring to sow their fields in the affected villages (only to flee when the security forces arrive leaving the vulnerable behind to be killed or arrested), and certainly those, who are living in the forests, are automatically “Naxalites”. All youth found in the abandoned villages, and all persons from these villages who come to markets are beaten black and blue and thrown into jail on mere suspicion. And there is always a stock of uniforms and rusty “bharmars” to show as seizures.
Even conceding that around 50,000 persons might have fled to Andhra Pradesh and maybe another 50,000 to Orissa or Maharashtra, this means that at least 2 lakh people, by virtue of being in the forests or “Naxal stronghold” areas, have now been declared “Naxalites” by the State, and therefore it is considered legitimate that they can be starved of food, medical supplies and access even to village markets. No doubt “anti-Naxal operations” against them have, and would further result, in swelling the ranks of armed militants. For now, the ever present issues of land and livelihood have turned into the burning issue of the very survival of these lakhs of people. And history tells us, that in those circumstances, the adivasi people have always fought fiercely. Even 14 battalions of paramilitary forces, who, apart from occasional forays for “searching” within a small radius of their base, remain holed up in thanas, jails and schools with electrified barbed wire fencing, are feeling quite helpless against the swarm attacks of hundreds of Naxalite militia. In the past few months, at least 25 jawans have committed suicide after killing their officers and colleagues out of sheer stress.
That the Government of Chhattisgarh is hell bent on demolishing any “middle ground” is amply illustrated by its treatment of the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, an NGO inspired by Gandhian ideology, which has been trying to implement the recommendations of the NHRC with regard to rehabilitation of the displaced villagers, and to provide legal aid for the filing of FIRs/ complaints in the cases of disappearances and rapes. The Ashram was demolished recently; rice being taken to the villages of Lingagiri, Basaguda and Nendra, which have been resettled by the Ashram, was confiscated as “being supplied to Naxalites”; and a young volunteer of the Ashram – Sukhnath - has been booked under the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act. The voice of civil liberties is still sought to be silenced: two more supplementary charge sheets, again not disclosing any legally admissible evidence, have recently been filed against Dr Binayak Sen, General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh PUCL, even after unconditional bail was granted to him by the Supreme Court. Apart from the cases filed against Salwa Judum in the Supreme Court, numerous cases filed against fake encounters in the High Court of Chhattisgarh, and private complaint cases in the lower courts drag on without providing substantial relief, despite the best efforts of the Petitioners. Strident demands made in rallies of local adivasi organizations in Bastar, protesting the handing over of their lands to companies, meet with no response, either from the district administration or the Governor – the constitutional authority of the Scheduled Areas.
It is in this context that the implications of “clearing out the Naxalites by military operation” have to be understood. Today, this can only mean an indiscriminate genocide of adivasis, a full scale war against lakhs of people, against the people at large. How can “civilians” and “combatants” possibly be distinguished under such a dispensation? Have not our experiences in the North East and Kashmir told us that there is no “quick end” to such a war? We are already witness to the recent incidents of Singhavaram…Kokawada….Vechapal, cases where people came out on the streets in Bastar to protest that the so-called “militants” killed by the security forces and SJ SPOs were actually only simple villagers.
That is why, it is with a sense of great urgency, and in defiance of the fascist attitude of the Government of Chhattisgarh, that we appeal to all democratic minded people of this country to demand that -
First and foremost, the lakhs of displaced adivasis of Dantewada be allowed to return to their villages and rebuild their ravaged agrarian and forest based economies. Thus their rights to food, to basic health, to land and livelihood, and above all – to life, must be assured.
It is only this, that can ensure a de-escalation of the polarization between security forces on the one hand and the adivasi people at large on the other, and can avoid genocide in the name of counterinsurgency.
If you agree with us, please raise and support this demand.
On behalf of
Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Committee)
C/o CMM Office, Labour Camp, Jamul,
District Durg, Chhattisgarh.
Mobile No: 09926603877