Friday, June 20, 2008

The War between the Naxals and Police in Chhatishgarh

The war between the state and the Maoists is still on. Caught in the crossfire are the tribals living in remote villages. The policy adopted by the government of Chhatishgarh to divide the tribals into two groups has backfired..

CJ: k.Sudhakar Patnaik , 1 hour ago

Para-military forces and the police killed 68 Maoists (dead bodies recovered by the police) last month in a thick forest area of Chhatishgarh state according to delayed information received by this author. The DGP of Chhatishgarh, Biswaranjan, confirmed over phone to one of the national English dailies that there were 68 casualties. The unofficial figure put the death toll at more than 200 which included civilians (tribals). The local media is quite ignorant of the incident which took place last month, according to the local reporters I contacted over phone on Thursday last. Most of these villagers of Chhatishgarh and Andhra Pradesh are on the border of the undivided Koraput of Orissa. In fact most of the journalists working in Chhatishgarh state fear reporting the ground reality because of the Chhatishgarh Special Pubic Security Act - 2005 introduced by the government. Thus, the media too reproduces the police version. The DGP even confirmed the number of people killed was higher than the number of bodies recovered by the police. The difference was due to fact that in the many encounters wounded Maoists managed to escape to their hideouts and later succumbed to injury.

Medical teams or non-government organisations are not allowed to visit remote villages to provide medicare to the tribals living there. They are also safe hiding places for the Naxals. They die like flies for want of medical assistance. Last month, 19 Maoists were gunned down in another encounter at Pamer on the Andhra-Orissa-Chhatishgarh border following a tip-off by the members of Salwa Judum. Later the Maoists held a Jana Adalat and killed 9 suspects for leaking information. The word encounter implies that deaths occur on both the sides but in the recent two encounters deaths have been reported only from one side (only the tribals and Maoists died). On the other side the Maoists are also killing the police and suspected informers, which is a violation of the rules of the war declared by both the sides, the state and the Naxals.

The present phase of war against the Maoists will deliver a bloody blow to them, according to the DGP’s statement to the press. In protest against the mass killing of the people particularly tribals, sympathisers of the Naxal movement and forced displacement of tribals from their birth place by the government-backed Salwa Judum for the benefit of multinational companies and other mining transport companies, a revolutionary week was observed (Pituri Week) by the Maoists during the first week of June. The Naxals (Maoists) blew up a 220 KV high-tension electricity tower in the forests of Dantewara, leaving the region in darkness for about a week. The Maoists also forced the stoppage of the transport of iron ore and torched 19 trucks belonging to ESSAR Steel. In April too, they had set ablaze 53 trucks belonging to the same company. Running of a passenger train from Kirandul to Visakhapatnam and goods trains meant for transporting iron ore from Kirandul to Visakhapatnam was completely paralysed for a week. The railway authorities sustained a loss of Rs 4 crores per day, according to sources.

The war between the state and the Maoists is still on. Caught in the crossfire are the tribals living in remote villages. The policy adopted by the government of Chhatishgarh to divide the tribals into two groups has proved wrong. One is called the Salwa Judum and the other, living in villages, collectively called Naxal sympathisers. The tribal youth are forced to join the Salwa Judum, a peace-keeping force, only to kill their own men living in villages, suspecting them as Naxals or their sympathisers. A number of tribal families have left their birthplace and are taking shelter on the 19 roadside camps erected by the government. Around 50,000 tribals migrated to Khamam and Bhadrachalam forest areas, according to an independent survey conducted by journalists and human rights activists.

Hundreds and hundreds of people are killed, women are raped, properties of poor tribals are looted, domestic animals are killed and consumed by Salwa Judum (which is backed by armed constabulary) and villages are burnt down. It is a continuous process in Chhatishgarh. This was even confirmed by the tribal Congress MLA of Sukuma assembly constituency, Lakhma Kawasi, when this author met him a couple of months back at his residence at Sukuma. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights noted in December 2007 that an enormous tragedy was "faced by the villagers of Dantewada". They held public meetings at which every testimony included a narrative of extreme violence committed against them; how the families and their property was looted by the Naxalites, Salwa Judum and the security forces. Many people shared accounts of family members killed and women raped by the Salwa Judum. The Maoists blasted and destroyed more than 37 school buildings two years ago in Kunta block alone. Kunta is on the other side of the river Saberi in Malkangiri district of Orissa. The Naxals had to blast the school buildings because they were not meant for school boys but for providing shelter to the armed police force, according to the reply given by the Naxal leader to the Human Rights activists through an internet forum.

In May, 2006, for the first time, the Planning Commission appointed an expert committee headed by Bandhopadhyay, a retired IAS officer. Other members of the committee are Prakash Singh, former DGP of Uttar Pradesh, an expert on Naxal issues, Ajit Doval, former Director of Intelligence Bureau, B.D. Sharma, a retired bureaucrat and activist, Sukhdev Thorat, UGC Chairman and Dr. K. Balagopal, a human rights activist and lawyer. The committee was to study development issues and address the cause of discontent, unrest and extremism. The committee submitted its report in early June, which is now available on the Planning Commission’s website according to an e-mail sent by Rajat Kujur, PhD, Lecturer, G.M. College, Sambalpur, Orissa.

For the first time in the history of the Naxal movement, the government-appointed committee has put the blame on the state for the growth of the movement. Providing statistics relating to 125 districts from the Naxal-affected states, the committee reveals that the state bureaucracy has sadly failed in delivering good governance in these areas. The committee has also severely criticized the states for their double standard in making Panchayats truly the units of local self-governance. Findings of the report recommend rigorous training for the police force not only on human tactics of controlling rural violence but also on the constitutional obligation of the state to protect the fundamental rights. Coming down heavily on Salwa Judum, the committee has asked for its immediate suspension to maintain peace in Chhatishgarh and protect the tribal community.

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