Raipur: Akin to controversial Salwa-Judum of 2005-2008, an apparent movement is gradually developing in tribal Bastar in Chhattisgarh, if the sudden escalation of tension in Maoist insurgency- hit region is any indication. With the onset of 2016, a group of local vigilante groups have become active once again as they are targeting alleged Maoist sympathisers and many others who raise questions. Civil rights groups see these developments- attack on AAP leader Soni Sori, forcing journalist Malini Subramaniam and JagLAG group of pro-bono lawyers to leave Bastar as an indication of security forces gearing up for a massive operation against the rebels during summer.
The timing of these events cannot be a coincidence. During anti-Naxalite operations, there are incidents of security forces committing atrocities on innocent tribals. With teams of women activists, TOI has documented at least three cases of mass sexual violence in the past three months, where security forces have run amok in villages. “There were complaints of gang rape and destroying their homes and granaries,” said Isha from JagLAG. The local police and administration are talking in one voice of “clearing” the area within one year, she added.
Shalini Gera, another lawyer working in Bastar, who moved on Saturday told TOI, “In this scenario, all who are challenging the official narrative, are being silenced. Social mobilizations are being orchestrated as a cover to their illegal harassment of journalists, lawyers and activists.”
“When mass gang-rapes in Bijapur were being uncovered, a group calling itself the ‘Naxal peedit Sangharsh samiti’ under the leadership of ex-Salwa Judum leader Madhukar Rao, took out noisy belligerent rallies against Soni Sori, Bela Bhatia and NGOs, threatening all of us with physical violence if we entered Bijapur again,” said Mailini Subramaniam, the journalist who was forced to leave Bastar last week.
She added that when she wrote about the fake surrenders of Maoists, or the fake encounters, a motley group led by the nephew of the local MLA, calling themselves the “Samajik Ekta Manch” launched a vilification campaign against her. “When we tried to get her complaint of stones thrown into her house registered, the Manch publicly declared us as their next target, for defending “khoonkhar Naxalites” (dreaded naxalites) and going to villages inciting people against the state. The local Bar Association also renewed their fatwa against local lawyers working with us,” she said .
Activists allege that these attacks on journalists, JagLAG people, Bela Bhatia and now Soni Sori mean one thing – the small window that Bastar had to communicate with the world, to be heard, is being shut down ruthlessly. Prior to this, the administration has also put pressure on the Communist Party of India and its leaders and activists.
Talking to TOI, Bastar IG SRP Kalluri said, “We are not planning any Salwa-Judum-II. The attacks on these groups are saddening. Police is trying to find the reason behind that. I believe that local people are not ready to accept them, considering them a threat to their employment.”