Indian government wages bloody war on its own peoples
Attacks on rights activists stridently condemned
It was, declared the general secretary of the Indian Human Rights Forum, "the worst case of such butchery" he had seen in his 25 years' work in human rights.
|A funeral procession at Sarkeguda village for a victim of the
Bijapur killings. File photo: Aman Sethi, the Hindu
V S Krishna was commenting on the killing of at least seventeen tribal villagers at Bijapur, in the state of Chhattisgarh, at the end of June, for which government forces, belonging primarily to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), have been held responsible.
During the murderous assault, police were said to have fired indiscriminately on unarmed villagers, slaughtered some with axes, and beaten one man to death with a brick.
Among those slaughtered on 28th June were five (other sources say seven) young people of 16 years and under, while four children between 10 and 13 were injured.
The following morning, three women were abused, beaten up and threatened with rape.
In defending these atrocities, Home Affairs minister, P Chidambaram * has accused the villagers of harbouring - or being - so-called "Maoists" or "Naxalites".
However, an all-India fact-finding human rights team has roundly trounced these claims.
It points out that none of the villagers was armed, and when fired upon, were in a meeting to decide matters relating to their collective agricultural livelihoods.
A week later, in separate incidents, two environmental activists were attacked by unknown assailants - one of whom, Ramesh Agarwal, has been battling against the huge Jindal mining and power conglomerate.
Update (14 July 2012): Ambrose Pinto, a regular contributor to the respected political weekly Mainstream conjectures that the death toll from police actions at Bijapur on 28-29 June is closer to twenty persons (3 more than mentioned earlier).
He also points out that a number of prominent politicians have gone on record as deploring the actions of the police.
These include the central minister for Tribal Affairs (himself an Adivasi) who demanded to know "for how long our tribal people will be used as cannon fodder in the name of action against Naxals, especially women and children?"
According to Pinto, the CRPF Director General (DG) has "let slip the deeper logic of what is happening", when he "compared the situation in Bijapur to that of Saranda" where a large part of the Saranda Forest Division is "being sought for mining." See: India: Who's speaking the truth on Saranda?
Concludes Pinto: "No one doubts that Maoist insurgency, covering one-sixth of India, is a serious challenge to the Indian state.
"But then the problem is not a purely military one and cries for a developmental solution. There are vital questions of life and death as far as tribal land, mines and forest rights are concerned".
MAC editorial comment: What happened in the Bijapur villages of Sarkeguda, Kottaguda and Rajpenta at the end of last month marks the worst attrition meted out to Indian citizens by government forces, for a long time.
Alongside recent attacks on human rights activists, we have yet another compelling reminder that central-north-eastern India has become a bloody battleground,where human rights are being sacrificed on an almost-daily basis.
Although only one of the non-tribal victims of the recent violence, Ramesh Agarwal, has specifically fought against the mining industry, Chhattisgarh lies at the eye of this unending storm. (It was in the state's capital, Raigarh, that Mr Agarwal was shot on 7 July).
In July 2011, when reporting a judgment by India's Supreme Court, we commented that it "delivered a striking defense of peoples' rights and condemnation of state-sponsored aggression.
"The Court's rulings specifically address the atrocities, torture, murders and forced removals suffered by largely tribal and Dalit communities trying to survive within their mineral rich territories in the state of Chhattisgarh."
We also said that "the Court's analysis of how this appalling situation came about, and the forces behind it, goes way beyond north-eastern India. It strikes to the very core of the country's neo-industrialising project - perhaps the most aggressive of its kind anywhere on earth." See: India’s highest court lays bare assaults on the country’s poorest peoples
Almost exactly a year later, it is clear that such aggression - undertaken under the fraudulent pretext of combatting terrorism - has in no way abated.
A critical part of the state machinery has itself been turned into an agency of terror.
For a further insight into the events at Bijapur on 28-29th June 2012, along with graphic photographs, see: http://www.countercurrents.org/kamal160712.htm
* Home Affairs minister, Mr Chidambaram, has a highly-chequered history as a defender of the accelerated industrialisation of India's rural areas, and a proponent of mining in tribal areas, notably as a lawyer and former director, acting on behalf of Vedanta Resources plc. See: London Calling probes the home affairs of an Indian minister - and the company he keeps
The killing of adivasis by CRPF forces in Bijapur district: 28 June 2012
Statement issued by Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO)
10 July 2012
An all-India fact-finding team of rights activists belonging to the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) visited the area in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh where 17 adivasis died as a result of firing by CRPF forces on the night of June 28, 2012.
The team visited the villages of Sarkeguda, Kottaguda and Rajpenta on July 6 and 7 and elicited information about the events. The following is a brief report of the team. A more detailed report will follow in due course.
All three villages are small settlements located close to each other and in the jurisdiction of the Basaguda police station which is located about a km away. There is a CRPF camp at about three km from the three villages. While Sarkeguda with 25 households and Rajpenta (12 households) are in Korsagudem panchayat, Kottaguda with 30 households is in Cheepurupatti panchayat. Most residents of the three villages belong to the Dorla Koya tribe.
About 60 adivasis of these three villages assembled from around 8 pm on June 28 in an open area between Sarkeguda and Kottaguda. Such meetings where decisions have to be taken collectively are usually held during the night since adivasis [indigenous people] are busy with work most of the day.
As the sowing season was upcoming, the meeting was held to discuss several issues related to farming including fixing the date for the traditional seed sowing festival known as bija pondum- (this was to have taken place a few weeks earlier but was delayed because the pujari who conducts the ritual had died), distribution of land for tilling, lending help to those families who were without cattle, deciding the amount of rent for using the new tractor they had brought and how to raise fish.
Arrears of Rs 10,000 due to the adivasis since two years for tendu leaf collection were paid only recently and they also wanted to discuss what use to put it to. It was a fairly cloudy night and visibility was poor. All those in the gathering were adivasi residents of the three villages and unarmed.
While the meeting was going on, a large contingent of CRPF personnel and CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, a specialised anti-naxalite guerilla unit of the CRPF) commandos numbering well over a hundred, cordoned off the area.
According to the villagers, at about 10 pm there was gunfire without any warning. The first burst was from towards the west and it hit three adivasis who died instantly. This was quickly followed by firing from three other directions.
Terrified villagers began screaming and running. Most ran towards their respective villages. Some tried to hide in a hay-storing enclosure. Those who were fleeing for their lives were also fired upon. The firing continued for about 30 minutes after which, as if to survey the dead, the CRPF forces fired two flare guns that lit up the area. The forces stayed on in the area.
It was clear to the fact-finding team that a peaceful gathering of adivasis, none of whom carried any firearms, was surrounded by the CRPF and without any warning fired upon indiscriminately.
As a result of this firing, 16 adivasis died -- 15 that night and Irpa Suresh (aged 15) in Bijapur hospital the next day.
Six of the dead were minors, including a 12 year old girl Kaka Saraswati, daughter of K Rama. She was hit while fleeing towards her house in Kottaguda. Of the other five minors, two -- Kaka Rahul (aged 16) and Madkam Ramvilas (aged 16) -- were studying in class 10 at a school in Basaguda. Both stayed at a hostel in Basaguda and had come home during the summer vacations.
It was plain slaughter that night near Sarkeguda.
According to the villagers, those who did not die from the bullet wounds were killed by the police with axes they picked up from the village itself. Several eyewitnesses from outside the village, including mediapersons who saw the bodies before they were cremated, referred to some of them as having been brutalised with deep hacking cuts on the chests and foreheads.
The 17th victim of this senseless butchery was Irpa Ramesh, husband of I Lachmi and father of three children. After the firing began, he ran and made it to the safety of his house and stepped out at dawn at about 5 am to survey the area. He was fired upon immediately and though he was hit, managed to get back inside his house. The CRPF men followed him in and clobbered him to death with a brick in front of his family members.
According to Ramesh's father Irpa Raju, the CRPF men also stole Rs 5,000 from their house. The same night the police also stole Rs 30,000 from Irpa Narayana's house in Rajpenta as well as Rs 2,000 from the house of Madkam Nagesh.
Those killed are:
1. Kaka Saraswati (aged 12), daughter of K Rama
2. Kaka Sammayya (32), farmer, husband of K Nagi.
3. Kaka Rahul (16), student of Class 10 at Basaguda, son of K Narayana.
4. Madkam Ramvilas (16), student of Class 10 at Basaguda and classmate of Kaka Rahul, son of M Butchaiah.
5. Madkam Dileep (17), studied upto Class 8 at Pamed, assists his father M Muttaiah in farming.
6. Irpa Ramesh (30), farmer, husband of I Lachmi, father of three children.
7. Irpa Dinesh (25), farmer, husband of I Janaki, father of four children, is younger brother of Irpa Ramesh.
8. Madkam Nagesh (35), farmer, also a professional dholak player who performed during festivals, husband of M Sammi, father of two children. His wife is pregnant with their third child.
9. Madkam Suresh (30), farmer, husband of M Sammi and father of two children, is younger brother of Madkam Nagesh.
10. Irpa Narayana (45), farmer, husband of I Narsi, father of four children.
11. Irpa Dharmayya (40), farmer, husband of I Bheeme, father of five children.
12. Irpa Suresh (15), studied upto class 5, son of I Chandrayya. Died at Bijapur hospital on June 29.
13. Sarke Ramanna (25), farmer, husband of S Somulu, father of three children.
14. Apka Meetu (16), son of A Sukhram, helps his father in farming.
15. Korsa Bichem (22), son of K Gutta, worked earlier for a borewell firm at Hyderabad, came home a month ago to help his family in farming.
16. Kunjam Malla (25), farmer, son of K Lakmadu.
17. Madvi Aithu (40), farmer, husband of M Kamli and father of four children.
Six adivasis were injured in the firing. Four of them, Kaka Ramesh (11) and Kaka Parvathi (10), Irpa Chinnakka (40) and Abka Chotu (16) were admitted to hospitals in Bijapur and Jagdalpur and have since returned home after treatment. Madkam Somayya (30) and Kaka Senti (19) were taken to a hospital in Raipur and are still undergoing treatment but are out of danger.
Among the injured Kaka Ramesh (13) and his younger sister Kaka Parvathi (11) escaped narrowly. After the firing began, they ran in the direction of their house in Kottaguda and sustained bullet injuries on their left arms. Irpa Munna (26) and Sarka Pullaiah (20) who were also injured were not taken to the hospital by the CRPF. They are being treated with traditional medicine by their fellow adivasis in Sarkeguda and Kottaguda respectively. A few cattle also died in the firing.
The CRPF men camped in the ground that night and took away 15 of the dead to Basaguda the same night and Irpa Ramesh in the morning. Apart from the injured, they also took along with them about 25 villagers who were let off in the evening.
The adivasis went to Basaguda the same day and demanded that the bodies be handed over. The police did so towards evening and the villagers performed their funeral the next day. While some were cremated others were buried. The body of Irpa Dinesh was not returned to the village since, according to the police, he was a Maoist. His body was buried near the police station at Basaguda.
Flouting standard norms, the CRPF men not only carried away the bodies but also scooped away the bloodstained ground beneath the bodies. The Bijapur superintendent of police has gone on record saying that "proper post mortem was conducted by a team of doctors at the Basaguda thana and a report is being prepared".
A post mortem has to be conducted at a hospital properly equipped for the routine and not a police thana. Significantly, the villagers are unanimous that no post mortem was carried out, a fact corroborated by several reporters who saw none of the tell-tale marks that show on the body after a post mortem procedure.
The fact-finding team was also told by the villagers that on the morning of the 29th, CRPF men dragged two women to the fields nearby and tore their clothes. Three other women were also abused, beaten up and threatened with rape.
While these are the plain facts, the police establishment -- from the Bijapur SP to high-ranking officials in the CRPF establishment -- have sought to portray this carnage on adivasi civilians as one of a prolonged exchange of fire with dreaded Maoists resulting in the deaths.
Injuries sustained by six CRPF and CoBRA commandoes was repeatedly pointed out.
These lies were duly parroted by the political class headed by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. Broadly, the initial assertion was that an "Operation Silger" was planned several weeks ago and three teams of the CRPF and CoBRA personnel had planned to converge in an area where they had "intelligence inputs" of a big Maoist gathering.
Even before the CPRF men could reach there, they came upon a congregation at Sarkeguda and before they could verify matters, they were fired upon because of which the CRPF men resorted to firing in "self defence" resulting in the death of many Maoists. According to IG (Operations), CRPF Pankaj Kumar Singh "a full-fledged Maoist training camp was being run there and the arrangements were such that if attacked they could wrap up everything and leave in 10 minutes. We have recovered IED's, lot of literature, polythene tents, solar cells and muzzle loading guns."
This is brazen falsehood to explain away a horrible crime.
The plea of self-defence is a favourite invocation by the police and paramilitary forces to explain away extra-judicial killings. The fact-finding team is of the firm opinion that there was no exchange of fire and the firing was completely one-sided, emanating only from the side of the special forces. It was unannounced and unprovoked.
The injuries to six CRPF and CoBRA personnel on that night was repeatedly cited by CRPF officers to buttress their argument of an exchange of fire. The fact-finding team noticed dozens of bullet marks on trees around the area where the adivasis had assembled as well as bullet marks on some houses indicating that the adivasi gathering was fired upon from all directions.
It is entirely plausible that the six personnel sustained the injuries because of the firing by their colleagues from the other sides. The villagers themselves are of the firm opinion that the six CRPF and CoBRA men were caught in their own crossfire.
All adivasi residents that the fact-finding team spoke to stated emphatically that there were no Maoists present in their gathering and all of those attending the meeting that night were unarmed.
Following reports in the national media that there were a number of civilians, including minors, who were killed, the official version was toned down but the basic argument of armed Maoist presence at the meeting and a bonafide encounter continues to be insisted upon. The CRPF now says that seven of the deceased -- Madkam Suresh, Madkam Nagesh, Madvi Ayatu, Kaka Sammayya, Korsa Bijje, Madkam Dilip and Irpa Narayana are Maoists and that there are various cases of violence of a serious nature lodged against them in various police stations across Chattiosgarh State.
In a macabre take on the death of adivasi civilians, Chattisgarh Chief Minister S Raman Singh said that the Maoists had used the adivasis as human shields and therefore were responsible for the death of civilians!
The more intelligent among the security establishment have now launched a discourse about "unfortunate collateral damage" and how that may be minimized in such engagements in future.
Pertinently, there was no way that the CRPF and CoBRA men could have made out the presence of armed people in the gathering on a cloudy night and from the distance they were located at -- about 100 metres away. They surrounded the gathering and began firing with murderous abandon. Even if the claim of the CRPF that they were fired upon and were only retaliating is true, there is absolutely no justification whatsoever in unleashing fire on a village gathering.
Over many years, terrible violence has visited the area. In particular after a combination of the police and criminal Salwa Judum vigilante gangs were let loose on the adivasis in south Bastar since 2005.
In a six-month long reign of terror, residents of all three villages have faced attacks by Salwa Judum gangs, had their houses looted and burnt as a consequence of which they migrated, many of them to Khammam district in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Two adivasis, Madkam Billa and a minor Korse Bheema of Sarkeguda were also killed by the police at the time.
In fact, the adivasis had returned about three years ago and were in the process of rebuilding their lives when the June 28 massacre happened.
In many villages of Korseguda and Cheepurupatti panchayats, instances of police harassment abound. While in the earlier phase of State brutality on adivasis, the common word one heard was that the "judum have done this", now people say "the forces are causing a lot of problem" alluding to the CRPF and other paramilitary and special police that have been pumped into the area in large numbers over the past two years.
The forces, they say, come and position themselves near the villages in the night and fire in the air. "They do this to see if any one comes out and runs so as to kill them." People of Korseguda, Cheepurupatti and other nearby panchayats go to Basaguda to purchase supplies and also sell some of their produce. "But only the women go since the men will invariably be taken in by the police at Basaguda, questioned, abused, beaten and sometimes detained for weeks on end. The men started staying away after some of them were booked in false cases."
As the fact-finding team was approaching the three villages, we saw several groups of heavily armed CRPF men in the forest. They viewed us suspiciously but did not intervene in any manner. They were present when the team was on its way back several hours later.
Their presence, after having been responsible for the blood-shed a week ago, works against normal and fearless functioning of life in the area. Referring to the announcement by the Chattisgarh government of a judicial enquiry by a sitting High Court judge into the incident, the adivasis said it would only have any meaning if the enquiry was held in the village itself.
Amidst this inhumanity, there was in evidence a heartening defiance among the adivasis.
Unlike during the horrendous mayhem of the early salwa judum, the adivasis are not considering leaving their villages anymore. Instead, there is a strong sense of the injustice done to them and an urge for redressal. The fact-finding team was witness to relief sent by the government being rejected outright.
The SDM of Bhoopalapatnam RA Kuruvanshi had arrived in several vehicles with supplies of rice, dal, clothes and some utensils. Angry villagers virtually shouted him and other officials out of Kotteguda. "You kill our children and now you want to help?" "We are maoists are we not? Have you come here to give Maoists these supplies?"
The fact-finding team is of the opinion that the mowing down of 17 adivasis on June 28 is a fall-out of the current counter-insurgency strategy of the government in its fight against the Maoists.
In Chattisgarh, time and again this has meant that adivasis perceived of being the support base of the Maoists are being deliberately targeted and subjected to terrible violence. This is an unacceptable violation of the right to life and liberty.
Functionaries of the Central and State governments keep stating from time to time that Maoism is not merely a law and order problem but as one having strong socio-economic roots. However, in practice Maoism is being treated as nothing but an outbreak of mere criminality and deployment of killer security forces is seen as the only solution.
This policy of brutal suppression must end. It is not our case that the police must turn a blind eye to violence by the Maoists. The police must carry out the task of prevention and investigation of crime but they must do so fully respecting people's rights and must function strictly within the ambit of the law.
The government should implement a policy which seriously addresses issues of social and economic deprivation. It must stop treating the law of the land and the Constitution with contempt. Governments must adopt a political approach to the Maoists in place of the policy of violent suppression that has been the State's principal response all these many years.
1. All CRPF and CoBRA personnel who participated in the operation near Sarkeguda village on the night June 28 must be must be charged under Section 302 of IPC relating to murder and other relevant provisions of the penal code as well as under the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 and prosecuted.
2. The investigation into these cases must be handed over to the CBI or a criminal investigation team under the aegis of the National Human Rights Commission.
3. The Central and State governments must stop the ongoing policy of trying to brutally suppress the Maoists and must address that movement politically.
4. Governments must respect the Fifth Schedule mandate in letter and spirit and the adivasis' right to land, forest and other natural resources in their region. Protective legislation for the adivasis must be sincerely implemented.
It's "plain slaughter" in Bijapur: Rights activists
S. Nagesh Kumar
11 July 2012
"Those who did not die in the firing were killed by the police with axes"
An all-India, fact-finding team of rights activists has brought out graphic details of what it described as the "plain slaughter" of tribals of Sarkeguda and Kottaguda in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh as the Central Reserve Police Force gave no quarter even to those who survived its firing on the night of June 28.
A report quoted villagers as telling the 16-member team, which visited Sarketuda, Kottaguda and Rajpenta on July 6 and 7, that "those who did not die from the bullet wounds were killed by the police with axes they picked up from the village itself." Eyewitnesses, including mediapersons, who saw the bodies, said the victims were brutalised with deep hacking cuts in the chest and forehead, the report said.
"I have never seen such butchery in my 25 years' work in human rights," said V. S. Krishna, general secretary of the Human Rights Forum, referring to the death of 17 Adivasis in the firing by CRPF personnel and CoBRA.
About 60 Adivasis had assembled around 8 p.m. on June 28 in an open area between Sarkeguda and Kottaguda. As the sowing season was about to begin, they were to discuss biju pondum, the traditional seed sowing festival, distribution of land for tilling, lending help to families without cattle, deciding rent for a new tractor and arrears of Rs. 10,000 due to them for tendu leaf collection.
It was a cloudy night and visibility was poor. A contingent of the CRPF and the CoBRA commandos, numbering over a hundred, cordoned off the area. At about 10 p.m, there was a burst of gunfire which hit three Adivasis, killing them instantly. Firing followed from three other directions, sending the terrified villagers running and screaming. It continued for about 30 minutes after which the CRPF men fired two flares to light up the area and survey the scene.
Sixteen, including six minors, died that night and one the next day. The 17th victim was Irpa Ramesh. After the firing began, he ran and made it to the safety of his house and stepped out at dawn to survey the area. He was fired upon immediately and, though hit, he managed to get back inside his house. The CRPF men followed him and clobbered him to death with a brick in front of his wife and three children, and also took away Rs. 5,000 from their house, the report said.
The CDRO sought to debunk the CRPF's attempts to portray the carnage as the result of an exchange of fire with dreaded Maoists and Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's repetition of this claim.
Observing that the plea of ‘self-defence' was a favourite invocation by police to explain away extra-judicial killings, the team said there was no exchange of fire; it was one-sided, unannounced and unprovoked. It was plausible that the injuries to six CRPF and CoBRA personnel were caused by firing by their colleagues from other sides.
Chhattisgarh Massacre: State Terror, Human Rights and Naxalites
By Ambrose Pinto
Mainstream ( VOL L, No 30),
14 July 2012
War on Adivasis
The message of the mass killing in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh, on the night of June 28, 2012 was clear. The security forces, both at the Centre and in the States, have declared a war on the Adivasis.
The objective of the war is to tell the Adivasis that they do not have the first right over their fertile land and resources. The state has every right to take over these and do what it desires. The state is the boss and in charge of ‘public interests' and the people have to be subordinate to the interests of the state.
Though undefined, the state interests mean the interests of the corporations, land mafia and those who have decided to mortgage the country to transnational and multinational corporations. Nothing else can explain the extraordinary callousness with which the cold-blooded murders of the innocent were committed on that fateful night. The country was told by this brutal public act of doing away with the lives of the innocent that the state is no more going to tolerate any kind of resistance when the people oppose its interests.
Voices of Contradictions
OF course, various kinds of explanations were offered to confuse the people of the designs of the state. The first official explanation was that those who were murdered were Naxals, waging a war against the state. As long as they wage their war against the state they have no right to live. It is a strange logic! They need to be killed! It is a doctrine of vengeance and retaliation that is unacceptable in a democracy.
There was a big euphoria with the sensational announcement across the country that the forces of the state had nabbed the Naxals and in one of the finest operations, the security forces had succeeded in killing 19 of them. The media was there to further add to the lies of the state.
Channels after channels were presenting the heroic deed of the security forces of putting an end to 19 suspected Naxals (while some channels even said that they were dreaded terrorists) in a fierce gun-battle in the dense jungles of Dantewada during the night-long encounter in a joint operation by over 300 Central Reserve Police Force and State personnel.
When questions were raised on the authenticity of the operation, the [Chhattisgarh] Chief Minister, Raman Singh, said the rebels were using humans as "shields" and in the process some innocent persons were killed. In one of those rarest of rare cases the Congress party, the main Opposition in the State, struck a discordant note and blamed the ruling regime of the State for the blood of the innocent tribals and minors.
The Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress chief, Hariprasad, said that it was a "completely fake encounter". The preliminary report of the Congress' twelve-member fact-finding team said among the victims were seven minors who were 15 years old and below.
There was another sane voice of reason coming from the Union Tribal Affairs Minister, V. Kishore Chandra Deo, who called the offensive "completely unacceptable" and targeted the State's BJP Government.
Dubbing as "notorious" the Chhattisgarh Government's record in conducting the anti-Naxal operations, Deo said: "Salwa Judum was one of such notorious movements by the Chhattisgarh Government which I had opposed as a Member of Parliament." Deo further pointed out that the biggest sufferers during these operations were the women and children from tribal areas.
"For how long our tribal people will be used as cannon fodder in the name of action against Naxals, especially women and children? We need to protect them and address their issues and protect their dignity," he said. More than a Congress voice, this was a tribal voice.
No Clarity on the Numbers Killed and the Manner of Killing
There was no clarity on the numbers killed. Initially while some reports said it was 16, some others stated it to be 17 and others 20. The State Government stated the number was two while Home Minister Chidambaram said there were three persons killed. The DG of the CRPF was vague and mentioned four or five. Some reports said there were seven. It took time to announce that the numbers were close to 20 though no official statement has been made to that effect.
However, it is important to realise that as far as the state is concerned tribal lives have no value. They are mere numbers and it does not matter how many of them are killed. On the other hand there is a need to demand from the State an explanation for the many dead. It is a serious criminal offence.
Citizens need to ask the state the reasons for gunning down innocent villagers, mutilation of their bodies and molestation of the women there. Why were the villagers gunned down? According to people's sources, men, women and children had assembled to perform beej pandum-seed festival-in which some lower level elements of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) too may have joined though the Congress party in Chhattisgarh has asserted that no Maoists were present. One is not sure of the facts.
They were encircled by about 600 troopers from the CRPF and the Combat Battalion for Resolute Action, who opened fire from three sides, and killed villagers, mostly men, women and school-going boys.
Available accounts, gathered from villagers, local leaders, even from officials, indicate a botched operation which was based on faulty intelligence. Pure imagination was passed off as intelligence and the forces went into this operation, three km from their camp. While a majority of the villagers deny the presence of Maoists, six injured CRPF jawans point to the presence of armed men. Again, villagers assert that these injuries were sustained in crossfire as the forces fired from three sides.
There are other questions that have been raised about the mutilated bodies and molested women. If it was a pure operation to nab the culprits, why were the bodies mutilated with axes? Why were the women molested and the men shot the next morning? The Congress fact-finding team has claimed that there was no exchange of fire between the security forces and alleged Maoists at the spot on the intervening night of June 28-29.
None of the 19 persons killed in the gunfire were Maoists, contradicting Home Minister P. Chidambaram's claim that at least three of them were Maoists. It was only a friendly fire by the security forces at the spot that injured the security personnel in the incident. Markhan Suresh, who was killed in the encounter, is being "branded" by the State Police as a Maoist and the mastermind of the Dantewada jail break incident that took place in 2007, while he was just a petty criminal who had escaped from the prison then and was staying in the village for the last four years.
To prove the point further, the fact-finding report states that Naxalites are not allowed to marry, but Suresh was married and had two children. There are no satisfactory answers to these queries and the way the people, including women and children, were killed. A police force is not an occupying force and they are not allowed to behave as they desire with the impoverished tribals. Its primary role is to protect the innocent and not to violate their rights.
There are no takers of the allegation of the security forces that those forces were fired upon. Even if the security forces were fired upon, what explanation can they offer for gunning down villagers at a village meeting where children and women had to become victims? Such mass slaughter of innocent people is not even legal under the laws of war. US troops are facing prosecution after their massacre of 25 people in Iraq was exposed. They had claimed they had opened fire in "retaliation" after a bomb blast and a "firing".
Security Forces are Accountable
Will the Government of India prosecute the security forces that were responsible for the blood of the innocents? Going by past records it is unlikely. At the first instance, the security forces were praised. Once it was known that the encounter was fake and innocent children and women were made scapegoats, there was no denunciation of the security forces.
Home Minister Chidambaram nauseatingly referred to Operation Green Hunt as being intended to "restore the rule of law", where many innocent tribal leaders were done away with. In the present case he has expressed deep sorrow "if" innocent people died. In his view, the claim that three of those killed had "criminal records" justifies them being shot.
He and the establishment he heads are not even bothered by the questions and demands of numerous mainstream parties, including his own, or for that matter those of his fellow Cabinet Minister, K.C. Deo.
Meanwhile, the CRPF DG [Director General] has told a news magazine that it is not the responsibility of the security forces to consider who a person is before killing him/her. This is a criminal statement and the person needs to be taken to task or ousted from the security forces. What he does not know is that the right to life is a sacred right and the security forces exist to protect that right and not to do away with it.
The DG, too, shares Chidambaram's view of the world. If, by bad luck, innocents were hurt, it is a matter of regret. Does the mere expression of regret absolve these guys of their criminality? How do they continue in office in a democratic state? The government believes that the Adivasis can simply be killed at will when convenient for its "counter-insurgency".
The definition of "rule of law" for the state is wherever there are protests, armed or unarmed, they are to be met with massive force and if the state massacres innocent people, it can go ahead with mere expressions of "regret".
Designs behind the Killings
Were there larger designs behind the killings? According to one note in one of the newspapers, the DG let slip the deeper logic of what is happening. He compared the situation in Bijapur to that of Saranda where out of 800 acres in Saranda Forest Division, 500 are being sought for mining.
Twentyfour police camps are being built there to terrorise the local tribal population to break their resistance. The police forces are said to be using indiscriminate firepower, kill innocents, wipe out resistance by calling every protest "Maoist", and deploy thousands of police-so that the area can then be mined to destruction.
The state simply does not believe in the practice of democracy in India's forests and tribal areas. What they want are the fertile lands of the tribals for loot and plunder while depriving the tribals of their right to livelihood.
Respect for Tribal Model of Development
The security forces, while fighting insurgents, are not known for restraint. Shouldn't there be an action against the security forces? After all, they are not the security forces of an authoritarian or fascist state but of a democratic country. The BJP Government leading a full-scale fight against the Maoists is now on the back foot. The Chief Minister and his party have been exposed. They cannot hide anymore.
What does this incident mean for the country? Killing of innocents, whether in a crossfire or otherwise, deprives the fight of any moral meaning for any kind of operation against the Naxals or Maoists. No one doubts that Maoist insurgency, covering one-sixth of India, is a serious challenge to the Indian state. But then the problem is not a purely military one and cries for a developmental solution. There are vital questions of life and death as far as tribal land, mines and forest rights are concerned.
As far as the state is concerned, no satisfactory solution has been found. The tribals have a solution. The problem with the state is that it simply refuses to listen to tribal wisdom. The mainstream wisdom that has caused havoc on environment resulting in pollution, impacting health and livelihoods negatively threatening our very existence is not the mode of development that the tribals want to imitate.
They have their own model of development. The state needs to respect and learn from them instead of sandwiching the tribals between the security forces and Naxalites or Maoists. The issue of development is central to the whole debate and very sensitive.
Unless the State and Central governments ensure security to the tribals in the State and allow them to move with their mode of sustainable development, we are likely to see more of these encounters by the state against the innocent tribals. Whenever an encounter takes place in the tribal belt, the victims are mostly poor tribals. This has happened in the past.
It is happening now and we need to stop this. More important for the civil society actors is to raise their voice along with those few small voices within the state who believe that the tribals have a right to live with their own mode of life and living.
Dr Ambrose Pinto SJ is with St Joseph's College Institutions in Bangalore.
Attack on activists Ramesh Agarwal and Akhil Gogoi condemned
mines, minerals and PEOPLE (mm&P) statement
9 July 2012
Bangalore: mines, minerals and PEOPLE (mm&P) condemned the attack on Ramesh Agarwal and Akhil Gogoi, in its national Executive Council meeting on 8th July in Bangalore.
Ramesh Agarwal was shot twice in broad day light in a congested locality in Raigarh, the industrial heart of Chhattisgarh, by allegedly unidentified gunmen on 7th July. A tireless environmental activist working for the rights of the marginalised communities of Chattisgarh, Ramesh is no stranger to intimidation - he was tortured, handcuffed and chained to a hospital bed as an undertrial in May, 2011, when he was arrested on the basis of a complaint filed by the Jindals, alleging defamation and that he was disrupting the proceedings an environmental public hearing.
It was on the basis of a letter written by him to Jairam Ramesh [central government minister for Rural Affairs], highlighting the huge gaps in following environmental norms that clearance to the Jindals was cancelled in 2010. Since then, he has been relentlessly hounded with impunity by industry-sponsored henchmen.
On the other side of the story is Akhil Gogoi, an anti-dam activist and the leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) from Assam. He was attacked in Dharmapur taluka in Nalbari district on July 6th, while he was taking stock of the flood situation. He sustained severe head injuries.
The alliance condemns the increasing, sponsored attacks against rights-based social activists throughout the country in the loot of the commons, without any concern for human, social or environmental impacts and legislation, lacking in basic consent of local communities and the processes mandated by the Constitution of India.
We condemn the blatant harassment of whistleblowers and information seekers, denied any semblance of protection, in their concerted pursuit to seek answers that should be in the public domain and to uphold the laws openly flouted by the industry and the state, alike.
We demand that a CBI inquiry be launched against these attacks throughout the country and call for the protection of human rights activists, in their efforts to bridge the voices of local communities, to curb corruption, protect the environment and restore the rule of law.
R.Sreedhar, Chairperson mm&P; Environics Trust, New Delhi.
Ravi Rebbapragada, Secretary General, mm&P and Executive Director, Samata.
B.T. Venkatesh, EC Member, mm&P; Reachlaw.
Guman Singh, Coordinator, Himalaya Niti Abhiyan.
Yousuf Beg, PKMS, Madhya Pradesh
Santosh Upadhyay, Bandi Adhikar Andolan, Bihar
mines, minerals and PEOPLE (mm&P)
177, Nebsarai, Near Shokeen Market,
Main IGNOU Road-New Delhi-110068
Right problems, wrong solution
10 July 2012
Recently, at least three activists have faced attacks on their lives for raising concerns over the adverse effects of power, water and mining projects.
On June 22, Bharat Jhunjhunwala, former professor, Indian Institute of Management, was attacked in his home in Devprayag, Uttarakhand. The assailants damaged his house, abused him, threw black ink on his face and threatened to return and burn his house down if Jhunjhunwala did not stop protesting against hydropower projects and dams in the state. The perpetrators are known; their faces were flashed on news channels. But the governments, both state and central, do not find it necessary to arrest them.
On July 6, the Right to Information (RTI) activist and leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, Akhil Gogoi, faced what he himself describes as a "murderous attack" in Nalbari, Assam, by people sent by a minister from the Tarun Gogoi-led state government.
For years now, Akhil, leader of the largest mass-based anti-dam movement in India, has been raising his voice against corruption. He is also spreading awareness on how big dams in Assam are creating more environmental problems than they aim to solve. To suppress his movement, some politicians and public officials have accused Akhil and his supporters of having connections with the Maoists. Several cases have been filed against him and others and Akhil has been arrested many times. He is admitted in a hospital following the recent attack.
On July 7, environmentalist and another RTI activist, Ramesh Agarwal of Jan Chetna in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, was shot at by an unidentified youth. One bullet hit him in the thigh. Agarwal has been hospitalised since.
His 'mistake' is that he has been campaigning for the implementation of basic norms of public hearings and environment impact assessments for power and mining projects. In May 2011, Agarwal was put behind bars following a complaint filed by a big corporation.
The state government has been trying to protect the interests of the corporate instead of listening to people's complaints on environmental norms.
This is not the first time an activist has been attacked.
In the past, some activists have lost their lives too. What's worrying is that the frequency of such attacks is increasing. This shows that some people want to silence activists and that they are getting help from governments to execute their nefarious plans.
Protests against the undemocratic imposition of the so-called development projects are on the rise too.
From Kashmir (NHPC is unable to take forward the work on Uri 2 projects for months now due to agitations) to Kerala (opposition from locals has stalled the Athirapally hydropower project on the Chalakudy river), from Gujarat (agitation against the 4,000 MW Mundra thermal power project) to the North-east (work on the 2,000 MW Subansiri hydropower project has come to a halt due to a campaign led by Akhil), protests are spreading far and wide in the country.
These protests are not against just big projects; people are also opposing relatively smaller projects which are affecting their lives. Therefore, we need to understand that adverse effects of projects, not their size, are inviting opposition.
The reasons that are triggering protests range from inadequate social and environmental impact assessments - there's none for projects below 25 MW - sham public hearings, absence of compliance of laws, benefits bypassing the poor and lack of democracy in planning and decision-making processes.
We need urgent, effective action from project developers and state and central governments. There is also an urgent need for action from the judiciary, media and civil society.
By not taking any action against the perpetrators, the UPA and the BJP, it seems, are busy strangulating RTI and the National Green Tribunal. It must be understood that terror can't bring about development or suppress dissent. Instead, such attacks will fuel more protests in times to come and will engulf the rulers too.
Himanshu Thakkar is with South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People. The views expressed by the author are personal.
Protest Demonstration at Raipur Against Murderous Attack On Ramesh Agrawal, RTI & Environment Activist
INSAF Press Release
12 July 2012
Raipur - About 500 workers and peasants, women and youth drawn from some 16 peoples organizations, trade unions, political parties, NGOs and human rights organizations staged a one-day Dharna [strike] at Budha Talab, Raipur on 12th July, 2012, strongly condemning the murderous attach on Mr. Ramesh Agrawal, RTI & Environment Activist of Raigarh in Chhattisgarh.
On 7th July 2012, two assailants fired on Sri Ramesh Agrawal in his shop at Raigarh. One bullet pierced his left thigh. Presently he is struggling between life and death in Narayanan Hospital at Raipur.
It is not only known to the Chhattisgarh Government, Central Government but is an established fact that Sri Ramesh Agrawal has been struggling against the might of the mining, coal-based power projects and JINDAL of Industries in Chhattisgarh; that too through legal and peaceful means within the broader framework of the Constitution of India.
Sri Ramesh Agrawal was specifically exposing the great ecological damage done for years by these projects and industrial groups through gross violation of laws of the land, and in utter disregard to the environmental and industrial policies of the country.
Last year he was arrested on false and fabricated criminal charges during the Public Hearing on Environment about the 2400 Mega Watts Power Project of JINDAL GROUP OF INDUSTRIES.
Being a heart-patient, Mr. Ramesh Agrawal was hospitalized during detention, but hand-cuffed and tied to the Hospital bed in gross violation of human rights standards and the Supreme Court guidelines in this regard. Later, he was granted Bail by the Supreme Court. Even today he is facing all these false and fabricated criminal cases.
In spite of all forms of harassment, Mr. Ramesh Agrawal continues with his peaceful struggles on the illegalities in the mining and power projects, which poses a threat to these companies and industrial groups. It is obvious that the murderous attack on his life is linked with his ommitted campaign against environmental degradation and gross violation of national policies by these big projects and industrial groups.
The day-long Dharna was addressed by Com Janak Lal Thakur, President, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha & Former MLA, Adv Gautam Bandopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha, Sri Keyur Bhooshan, Former MP & Convenor, Gandhi Vichar Manch, Sri Raghuveer Pradhan, Ekta Parishad, Chhattisgarh, Sri Jayant Bohidar, President, Lok Sangharsh Morcha, Raigarh, Sri Shashi Kant Sharma , Convenor, Anyay Mukti Morcha, Raigarh, Sri Laillan Kumar Sahu, Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh, Dalli-Rajhara, Ms. Meen Verma, Ekta Parishad & Secretary, CG Mahila Manch, Adv Rajendra K Sail, Chhattisgarh Labour Institute & Former President, CG PUCL, Sri Bisat Chandrakar, Jagruk Nagrik Manch, Sri Radhey Shyam Sharma, Loktantrik Samjawadi Party, Com Basant Sahu, Com S K Singh, Com Bisheylal, Com Sheikh Ansar, Com Meghdas Vaishnav - all from Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha.
Later a Memorandum was submitted to the Governor of Chhattisgarh through Ms. Poonam Sharma, Sub-divisional Magistrate, Raipur, with very specific demands that:
(i) A Fair & Independent Judicial Enquiry be made in the matter of murderous attack on Mr. Ramesh Agrawal headed by a person presently not holding any office of benefit in the State or Central Government;
ii) Keeping in view the collapse of law-and-order in the State, strict action be taken by suspending the Superintendent of Police, Station House Officer of the concerned police station, and the Collector of Raigarh district, and during the pendency of the Enquiry these officials be removed far away from the District of Raigarh;
(iii) A high level enquiry be conducted by Commission headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or the High Court on the anti-democratic, anti-constitutional and criminal activities of the Industrial Mafia, Forest Mafia, Mining Mafia, Liqour Mafia, Land Mafia, etc., not only in Raigarh district but the entire state of Chhattisgarh as it is posing a grave threat to democracy. The report and recommendations of this Commission be made public so that the truth may come out in the open, and action be taken accordingly on the culprits;
(iv) Mr. Ramesh Agrawals be provided adequate and appropriate medical treatment by referring him to the All India Medical Association of India, New Delhi, and the State Government must bear all the expenses in this regard;
(v) All false and fabricated cases against Mr. Ramesh Agrawal be withdrawn forthwith and he be released honourable from such false charges;
(vi) Similarly, all such false and fabricated cases against all social workers, human rights defenders and trade union activists be investigated by a high level independent committee and withdrawn accordingly;
(vii) It is the constitutional duty of the State Government to provide protection to the individuals and organizations fighting for justice and human rights. Thus, the State Government must create a special cell for this purpose which should take up concrete and effective measures in this regard.
The protest demonstrators were disappointed that in spite of prior request, the officials responsible did not arrange a meeting with the Governor of Chhattisgarh. However, it was decided that a Team led by Com Janak Lal Thakur (President, CMM) and Sri Keyur Bhooshan (Former MP) would try to meet the Governor the next day, and apprise him of the deep concern and anger of the protesting organizations and individuals.
Some people later met Mr. Ramesh Agrawal at the Naraynan Hospital, Raipur, expressed solidarity wishing him speedy recovery, and also gave him a copy of the Memorandum submitted to the Governor of Chhattisgarh.