While primetime TV is full of sensational news about an impending war with Pakistan, little is being spoken about the gory war within. A war unleashed by the Government to “wipe” out the adivasis and hand over their mineral rich region to big MNCs. As this war intensifies everyday with complete impunity, the little information trickling out of Bastar reveals a sordid saga of pillage, killings, rapes and fake encounters. In the last 7 months, more than 100 adivasis have been killed in ‘encounter killings’ in Bastar – the latest being two teenagers in the Burgum.
On the 25th of September, news reports reported of a fierce encounter in Bastar between the state’s armed forces & Maoist guerillas. PTI quoted Bastar SP stating that a joint force acting on intelligence inputs intercepted and confronted Maoist rebels heading to receive a top Maoist leader. As per the SP’s claims, the firing and cross firing continued for an hour after which the Maoists escaped to the forests. Subsequent searches of the area by the joint team led to the recovery of dead bodies of ‘two male Maoists’ and arms and ammunition. Post the killings, the state and its henchmen lauded themselves for the successful operations. AGNI, the local vigilante group recently propped up by the state which is headed by a VHP leader, complemented Kalluri for meeting the target of killing 100 Maoists as part of his “Mission 2016”.
Sadistic celebrations about the “achievements” could not cover up the fabricated story. Several fact finding teams, activists, local MLAs and journalists who reached the area were told by the villagers and relatives of the boys that they – Sonaku Ram (16) and Somadu (18) – were neither Maoists nor were they killed in any encounter. The two had gone to a relative’s house on 23rd September from where they were dragged out in full view of their relatives, taken to a nearby forest and shot in cold blood. The relatives who tried to stop the police when they were dragging the two out were brutally beaten up. The demand for an enquiry into the killings has remained unheeded. In fact exemplifying the impunity to the armed forces and the private gangs in the area, one of the leaders of AGNI said that “The Maoist sympathisers and social activists will keep on shouting and Bastar police will continue targeting the insurgents.”
In a heavily fortified Bastar, death comes cheap. This cold blooded killing is not aberration. Despite several NHRC notifications and Supreme Court judgements against encounter killings, encounter killings have become the ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ for the security forces in Bastar. Kalluri (who a describes himself as the most brutal IG of Bastar) has started giving incentives to his officers to carry out such killings. The personnel involved in this encounter, for example, were given a reward of Rs. 1 lakh each. Several such fake encounters have been brought to light by independent fact finding teams and journalists:
1. Around mid-June, news reports flashed the image of the dead body of the 23rd year old Madkam Hidme dressed in military fatigues with an AK 47 lying next to her. The police described her as a “Maoist” who was killed on 13th June in “a fierce gun battle” fought “bravely” by the DRG and STF against the Maoists in the Gompad forests. Contesting such claims, Hidme’s parents pointed out that she was dragged from her home on 13th June by the forces. Her mother who tried to save her was beaten till she fell unconscious. The next day her body was returned in a mutilated state. She had been raped and then killed. In fact, even the over-sized military fatigues which the photographs of her body show her dressed in were completely clean and perfectly ironed and creased. While the post-mortem revealed that there were 3 bullet marks in her body, on the uniform there were just 2 holes made by the bullet. It was amply clear that she had been killed, like so many before and after her, in cold blood and then dressed in military fatigues for a photo-op. Such is the reality of the government’s war against the “Maoists”!
2. On 5th July, Situ Hemla, a tribal villager in Bastar was working in his fields when a team of security jawans along with some others who had their faces covered abducted him and took him away. Later his dead body was found to be hanging from a tree with hands and feet nailed to it with thick spicks. What was his crime for which he was crucified? He happened to share his name with one of the Maoist commanders in the area. While the state claimed that he was indeed a Maoist and the family said that he was an ordinary villager, the question that however remains is can the law enforcing agency of the “world’s largest democracy” crucify someone and then target practice on him as was the fate with Situ Hemla?
3. Just a day after independence day, a 19 year old adivasi named Arjun Kashyap got a taste of what this independence means to adivasis. On 16th Aug he was killed in a fake encounter & then declared a “dreaded Maoist leader”. The ridiculousness of the state’s claims can be gauged from the fact that Arjun was out on bail in a false case which he had been implicated last year. He had been granted bail when his lawyers pointed out that he was not the same person as named in police FIR. He had his final hearing on 30th August, but sensing a possible defeat in the court case, the authorities simply decided to bump him off in a fake encounter. In Bastar afterall, it is not the judiciary but the trigger happy cops who are the arbitrers of “justice”.
The police in Bastar, the Raman Singh led Chattisgarh government, completely supported by the Modi government, are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the reality of this gruesome war does not go beyond the earmarked areas. They want to cut off Bastar from the rest of the country, which is the reason for the repeated attacks and houding of different democratic voices in Bastar – be it Soni Sori, Bela Bhatia, Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, Malini Subramaniam, Prabhat Singh and now Pavan Dahat and now Manish Kunjam. Recently, Kalluri told a journalist in Bastar, to either quit journalism or quit Bastar. The question is what exactly does the state want to hide?
These killings, the militarization or the gagging of democratic voices are a fall out of a certain kind of policy of development. Every battalion of paramilitary that marches into Bastar is the outcome of shadowy deals signed between corporations and the government. The area has been earmarked for the trillions of profits it can reap out of its mineral wealth – irrespective of the human & ecological costs. The mere presence of the adivasis in the area is seen as a hindrance to the successful operationalization of these deals. The Modi government is desperate in its bid to hand over the area to the corporate giants who have brought him to power. And therefore, since 2014, it has only added more fire power in this war.
It is only by building a broad based mass movement that we can force the government to stop this gruesome war being waged to satiate corporate greed. Bastar Solidarity Network condemns the reign of state terror unleashed in Bastar, demands the government to put an end to this war. We also call upon all democratic and progressive organizations and individuals to come together to raise their voice against what is the “Biggest Land Grab after Columbus.”
–Bastar Solidarity Netwok, Delhi Chapter