State Repression of Tribals in Bastar, Chhattisgarh Region, IndiaPublished by MAC on 2001-04-23
State Repression of Tribals in Bastar, Chhattisgarh Region, India
India's National Mineral Development Cooperation (NMDC) decided to establish a steel plant at Nagarnar, Chhattisgarh state in May 2001. The NMDC, in collusion with state officials, contrived acquisition of the land in violation of the Constitutional mandates and the provision of the Land Acquisition Act itself. As there was no response from the state to the petitions of the tribals (adivasis), they approached the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes. As the local administration was disturbed by the exposures, a pre-emptive attempt was made to terrorize the people on 24th October 2001 when activists were apprehended. When people resisted the move, there was a brutal lathi (heavy baton) charge and even police firing, injuring 45 people, mostly women. The administration was bold enough to deny the entire incident, even though scores of people were admitted to hospitals. Chhattisgarh State PUCL went to the area for a fact finding mission and found that the District administration, along with the police, lathi charged and fired upon the people in order to make them abide by the unlawful intention of the state.
The National Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe Commission, on the basis of an inquiry conducted under Article 338 (5) of the Constitution, came to the conclusion that the acquisition process violated the Constitutional mandate for the Scheduled areas. Therefore, it was ab initio null and void. They further held that senior officials, including the Collector and Chief Executive officer, were involved in a conspiracy and indulged in certain criminal offences, such as destruction of Public records and fabrication of false records. Further, the National guidelines for establishment of industries in Scheduled areas (1974) had not been followed. The National Commission advised the State Government and NMDC to restart the process honoring the spirit of the constitution and legal provision and advised them to take action against the concerned officials.
The advice of the National Commission was totally ignored and pressure mounted. The people insisted that they could have a dialogue only after the NMDC and the state government restarted the process, on the basis of the recommendations of the National Commission. The four concerned Gram Sabhas (village councils) also decided to have a joint assembly from 2-3 March 2002 to which the relevant state officials NMDC were also invited. The invitation was extended to a number of National Dignitaries as well, so that they could advise on issues which concern the democratic governance at the village level in Scheduled Areas. The concerned officials did not respond to the invitation, nor did the police give permission for the high dignitaries, like Siddhraj Dhadda, Vandana Shiva, Dada Geetacharya and senior journalist Manimala. Nevertheless the joint assembly was held on March 2nd, although it was adjourned on 3rd because of the unseemly restrictions and the honoured guests being refused.
The joint assembly of Gram Sabhas in its resolution made clear that they were not opposed to the establishment of the steel plant. However, the Assembly resolved that the Guidlines must be followed and complete rehabilitation packages, including "land for land", should be prepared for all those directly and indirectly affected in the likely zone of influence. It was also resolved that the agreement must provide safeguards against privatisation (as in the Balco case) in the form of shareholding for the community. The local officers conveyed to the people that all but two of their demands were acceptable. The people asked for a formal response which could be placed before the Joint Assembly of Gram Sabhas for their consideration.
As the people were hoping for a peaceful democratic resolution of the vexed issues, there was a sudden volta face by the administration on March 8th, without any notice. Tose who had not accepted compensation cheques wer told to take them immediately. Simultaneously the police started further coercive methods and physical assault on the people. But even then they did not succeed in breaking the resistance.
More police violence
On the 10th March, hundreds of policemen descended on Nagarnar while the senior officials lodged themselves in the police station. The police started beating indiscriminately the people who were sitting at Nagarnar. As the news spread, the womenfolk began taking a lead in the struggle in a spontaneous manner since they are the real 'bread earners' in the tribal setting. There was a lathi charge and a truck full of women was dispatched to Jagdalpur. On the way near Amaguda village on National Highway 43, people gathered and stopped the vehicle, resulting in a commotion in the villages.
In the meantime the police spread out, to apprehend the dissidents from their homes. Their doors were broken, even women and children were beaten up and a number of people were arrested. At about 9 pm, the police reached Amaguda and broke doors, ransacked homes and apprehended people ruthlessly. The action continued in Kasturi and also Nagarnar till past midnight. The frightened people ran out of their villages and took shelter in forest and fields. But 169 were arrested and taken to jail.
The operation continued on 11th with a much larger contingent of police. As a large number of people had deserted the villages the police picked the remaining dissidents one by one. Those who refused to accept the cheques as compensation were mercilessly beaten up. There is a total reign of terror by the police and the district officials with the deployment of about 500 civil and armed police. The whole mission is possibly being personally managed and co-ordinated by the Inspector General of Police at Bastar, under strict instructions given by the Chief Minister of Chhatisgarh to show the tribals their real position on their land.
About 300 villagers, mostly women, have been put in the Jagdalpur jail, some of them are in the late stage of pregnancy. It is reported that 3 other women left their newborn babies outside. The police have terrorized the villagers so much that they take the help of goondas (gangsters) to identify the dissidents and catch hold of them, bring them to the Nagarnar thana (district headquarters), beat them up brutally and force them to take the cheques. The arrests are still continuing. The villagers who have been arrested have been charged under IPC Section No. 307, 506, etc. Some reports say that the people have been taken to the SDM and from there to the jail.
It seems the state government, under the pressure to invite foreign capital, is hell bent on suppressing the people's rights over livelihood resources; throwing away their constitutional protections. If any voice is raised against the policy of the state it seems to be silenced with the most brutal police force. Since it is a scheduled area the protection of the tribal people is the responsibility of the Union (Central) Government and the President. We demand that the recommendations of the National Commission for Schedule Castes and Tribes must be accepted.
Our Demands are:
- The police force be withdrawn from Nagarnar and other villages, and normalcy restored in the area forthwith;
- A judicial inquiry should be instituted about the police repression, atrocities, particularly against women,and about criminal offences and subversion of democracy;
- The demands of the joint assemblies of the four gram sabhas discussed and decided unanimously on 2nd March 2002 must be accepted by the government of Chhatisgarh before proceeding with the establishment of the steel plant.
- The state must compensate for damages to the properties of people by the police action
- Stringent actions should be taken against the police and officials for their illegal and undemocratic actions against the people.
Full information about the Nagarnar is contained in a booklet entitled "THE BESIEGED", which can be obtained from:
Sahayog Pustak Kutir
11a Nagli Rajapur
New Delhi - 13
Ph - 011-4353997 or on e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org
On Behalf of KISAN SANGHARSH SAMITI
NAGARNAR, BASTAR, CHHATTISGARH
(AFFILIATED TO BHARAT JAN ANDOLAN, 18 / 110 NEW SHANTI NAGAR, RAIPUR-492001)