On June 28 night, 17 people of adivasi villages of Bastar (Chhattisgarh) were killed in firing by CRPF, COBRA, and local police teams.
This horrific incident, and the State’s response to it, has served to rip the mask off ‘Operation Green Hunt’, and expose it irrevocably as an open war on the people. Nothing exposes the ‘Green Hunt’ lie more than the changing official versions of the incident.
The day after the massacre, the Chhattisgarh Government hailed it as the ‘biggest encounter of Naxals’, claiming that ’17 Naxals’ had been killed. The Home Minister P Chidambaram too held a press conference to claim that the ‘encounter’ was a major ‘success’ in the operation against Maoists. The official version was that the security forces were heading for a different spot, following intelligence reports of a major Maoist meeting, when they were fired upon en route, and retaliated, resulting in the deaths.
Some journalists reported the villagers’ version – that the security forces fired unprovoked on a village meeting, and that all those killed were villagers, including many children. This version was also corroborated by the Chhattisgarh’s Congress leaders, and the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs, KC Deo. The Chhattisgarh Government declared this to be a lie, and its leaders were seen on TV channels listing the names of the ’17 Naxalites’ who had been killed, and denying the presence of any villagers or children among the dead.
Subsequently, incontrovertible evidence emerged that 7 of those killed were children and teenagers. Then, the Chhattisgarh Government changed its tune, and said that the Maoists had used villagers and children as a ‘human shield.’ P Chidambaram had previously referred to one of the victims, ‘Rahul’ as an ‘important Naxal’; it emerged that ‘Rahul’ was actually a 15-year-old schoolboy, who used to reside in the Government hostel near the CRPF camp, and was bright at mathematics. Chidambaram now said he was ‘sorry’ if any innocent citizens were killed.
However, both Chhattisgarh Government and the Home Ministry continued to claim that most of those killed were ‘wanted Naxals’. It is clear from the investigative reports of journalists and civil liberties’ groups, that there were no Maoist leaders amongst those killed. There were a few who had flimsy cases against them, of ‘firing on police parties’, and one who had escaped jail during the Dantewada jail break. But all these had been living in the village with their families openly, and their behavior in no way suggested they had anything to hide.
The Chhattisgarh Government and Home Ministry have given ever-changing versions of the number of ‘Naxals’ killed in the ‘encounter’ – ranging from ‘17’ to ‘five or six’ to ‘seven’ to ‘two’.
Finally, hard-pressed to prove any ‘Nexal’ records of those killed, the Chhattisgarh CM has declared that even those without criminal records cannot be said to be ‘innocent’ villagers. He argues that ordinary villagers, with neither Maoist uniforms nor weapons nor criminal records were ‘Jan Militia’ recruited by the Maoists. In other words, the ‘Jan Militia’ theory allows the State to brand all the ‘jan’ (people) as Maoists – without any proof whatsoever!
While the official versions, increasingly desperate to cover up the gory massacre, have shifted and changed and contradicted each other daily, the villagers’ story has remained constant. They were holding a meeting related to their village sowing festival, when the security forces attacked. The firing went on for hours, killing unarmed and innocent villagers, including children. Several teenage girls were molested and beaten. And one young man who escaped the firing, was shot in the back the next morning as he tried to run towards the safety of his house – and when he did not die from the bullets, he was beaten to death with bricks.
These villagers had been forced to flee in 2005 when the Salwa Judum evacuated the villages. Only recently, they had returned and begun to pick up the threads of their life. The massacre has again proved that ‘Operation Green Hunt’ is a war on these adivasis for the evacuation of land in order to facilitate corporate loot.
In spite of the fact that the official versions have been mutually contradictory and changing according to convenience, and the villagers’ version has been consistent, the State and Central Governments are shameless in their refusal to order a convincing and impartial judicial probe. The State Government has ordered a judicial probe by a sitting judge of the Chhattisgarh High Court. The experience of the Binayak Sen trial, however, is a reminder that a probe within Chhattisgarh carries a high likelihood of bias.
A high-level judicial probe, conducted by judges based outside of Chhattisgarh, is a mandatory first step in the direction of establishing the truth about this massacre. And the Home Minister responsible for shamelessly defending this heinous massacre of adivasis, and even branding a child as a ‘wanted Naxal’ in a willful attempt to silence questions about the encounter, must resign. And the infamous Green Hunt operation, which is a war on adivasis, must be scrapped without delay.