Join Campaign to bring peace to Bastar

Chhattisgarh government should stop treating Adivasi people as its enemy and let them return to their villages.

adivasi-drummers-in-the-marchThe Government of Chhattisgarh admits that since the start of Salwa Judum (SJ) 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 And yet – all schools, health centres, ration shops, (of course polling booths), which have been totally withdrawn from the 644 villages, (and even gram sabhas for determination of forest rights!)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 villagers 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,

Dr. Binayak Sen - PUCL

Dr. Binayak Sen - PUCL

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.

Sudha Bharadwaj

On behalf of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Committee)

C/o CMM Office, Labour Camp, Jamul,

District Durg, Chhattisgarh.

Mobile No: 09926603877

Here’s some personal insight from an individual who had been a very frequent visitor to the areas of conflict

Letter from London… Felix PadelFelix Padel

Dear friends,

I first came to Chhattisgarh 25 years ago in 1980. Since then I’ve frequently visited Bastar, where I have some close friends. On that first visit I walked alone in Abujhmar, which was very memorable – so beautiful, and moving to be welcomed by Muria in their villages.

My friends are mostly Adivasis or people who work with them on a truly equal basis. So I’ve been privileged to see a lot of the quiet and real work that goes on, and some very moving scenes: such as forest produce co-operatives organized by tribal women, the work of tribal advocates against the vast web of corruption, and meetings which bring together senior forest officials with Adivasis to discuss their problems frankly: sitting down respectably on the ground to share leaf-cups of Mohuwa which facilitates open-hearted conversation, where senior officials really Listen to the tribal point of view and change their perceptions.

It’s heart-breaking to read the news of the naxal issue. My training is as a social anthropologist, and following what’s happening in Chhattisgarh, knowing also , and similar spirals of violence elsewhere, I feel often afraid Bastar, Surguja and such places are starting to go the way of , and wonder often what people can do to prevent this. I feel the starting point is to understand that there’s no basic difference between the violence done by the State and against the State: both use the tactic of outdoing each other in “teaching people a lesson”, and the basic lesson of both sides is: “Fear us!” Perhaps that’s what terrorism really is: a spiral of violence by and against State “security forces” – as true of as Chhattisgarh or .

It’s terrible the extremists use the name of Mao, who was basically a mass murderer, especially when he ignored reports that his policies were causing the world’s biggest famine, and in the cultural revolution. But people also need to understand that a system of endemic exploitation is imposed over Adivasis, which is often insufferable, and in which Govt servants often collude with businessmen, advocates, journalists etc. So it’s not surprising the naxals can attract Adivasis, and ending the cycle has to involve real attempts at unraveling the exploitation. Unless such attempts are being made and heeded by the authorities, who can blame Adivasis from being drawn to the Maoists’ message?

My last visit to Chhattisgarh was earlier this year, when I went to Mainpat Mountain in Surguja, to witness Balco’s bauxite mining there. I was with some experts who have seen mines all over the world, and we were appalled: the conditions up there are as bad as any mines in the world. We spoke with a group of miners – mostly tribal and dalit women, breaking the rock with hand tools, who shared their hardships with us: their villages up there (which we also visited) have little water, no electricity, no schools for their kids, and if they are hurt in their work they get basically no help or compensation. Conditions were much worse since Balco was privatized and bought up by Sterlite? Vedanta. We confirmed this also with workers at Balco’s main factory in Korba. That company is owned by Anil Agarwal, who is now one of ‘s richest men. Perhaps some people in see him as a hero, but do people realize that his wealth is based on an exploitation of people in Chhattisgarh that’s comparable with the worst excesses under British rule?

In the last 2 years I’ve begun to look at takeovers and deals involving foreign companies in Orissa, Chhattisgarh etc, and how these fit with the policy of my own Govt’s DFID, and I feel in many ways what is going on now is comparable to the way the East India Co. took power in in the 18th century, by manipulating law and finance. Especially the whole history of World Bank loans for industrial infrastructure and dams: this has made States like Orissa and Chhattisgarh, hugely indebted and created a tremendous pressure the WB and DFID are now using to push for deals where foreign companies are actually getting hold of India’s most precious resources: minerals, water etc, and starting to extract them very fast. They talk a lot about “sustainability”, but these plans are purely for short term profit, and leave social and environmental devastation in their wake.

In the case of Vedanta, its Orissa Lanjigarh project has just been stalled by a Supreme Court investigation, which uncovered numerous illegalities: the project got foreign finance through being registered as a London company in Dec. 2003, with leading European Banks (ABNAmro, Barclays, Deutsche Bank) investing – which means: European financiers making a bid to become the owners of or at least get quick high profits from Orissa’s minerals. The plan was outrageous: the mountain they started to mine: Niyamgiri, is sacred to the local Konds. It is well forested to the summit, and plays a vital role ensuring the fertility of a large part of Orissa. And the refinery they half-constructed below is right on the source of the Bansadhara river: the toxic red mud pond, literally beside the very start of this river where it forms from the mountains. Now the project is stalled, crores of rupees have been wasted. I fear that MANY similar projects in Chhattisgarh and Orissa  are very similar: E.g. Balco/Sterlite/Vedanta is starting a Bauxite mine in the west of Chhattisgarh near Kawardha, on the border of Kanha national park, which has already displaced some Baiga families, and will affect 1,000s.

All these projects happen in the name of “development”, but with very little debate about: What is real development? For tribal people, when they are “displaced” they are forcibly dispossessed of everything they value: community, land, forest, water – “even our gods are destroyed”. For them these projects are “anti-development”: if that’s the way mainstream society wants to go, why should they sacrifice the Adivasis, who have done least to deserve this?

Since the Supreme Court’s decision on Lanjigarh in September, we have heard that the London Metal Exchange has sent a team to to investigate the company. We also know that Anil Agarwal is classed as one of the richest men in the and has bought a multi-million pound house in London. What a contrast to his workers at Mainpat and elsewhere!

Also on Mainpat there are beautiful waterfalls which we saw – another contrast to the harsh conditions of those women and men laboring to extract bauxite nearby.

Been following Chhattisgarh-net mails for a year plus. I’m very impressed by it, especially the choice of news items and the way this debate forum works. Anyway, with Shubhranshu’s encouragement I decided to share some experiences. I’m from the – Indian by marriage only: my wife is from Orissa. I wish there was a similar news and debate website in Orissa – if anyone knows of one please let me know.

Anyway, these are some of my experiences, and I hope they are of interest to you.


One thought on “Join Campaign to bring peace to Bastar

  1. Pingback: India: Opposing the brutal subjugation of the adivasi by Salwa Judum and the Indian Government « Revolution in South Asia

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