In the wake of the JNU attack, we have seen prominent supporters of the Modi Government talking of the attack on campuses as ‘pest control,’ while BJP nd RSS leaders call for ‘purge and sanitisation’ of campuses. Journalists are being hounded and threatened in Delhi. In Dantewada, the Chhattisgarh Government and Central Government are actually achieving a systematic purge of activists from the area – as part of the larger plan to purge the area of adivasis and pave the way to handover the forests to corporates.
The intensified offensive of the past few months – including fake encounters and rapes by security forces, have been orchestrated by the IG (Bastar) SRP Kalluri. Kalluri is notorious for his role as the Sarguja SP in 2006 when he was accused of raping a tribal woman and ordering her gang rape by policemen for ten days. He had also presided over the Tadmetla massacre, where 300 homes and neighbouring villagers were burnt, people killed, and women raped by security forces in 2011.
On the night of 20th February, adivasi activist and AAP Bastar coordinator Soni Sori, herself a survivor of custodial sexual violence, was attacked by three goons in Geedam. They threw a chemical substance on her face that caused severe pain and burning, and threatened her saying “stop complaining against the IG, stop raising the issue of the fake encounter at Mardum. If you don’t behave yourself, we will do this to your daughter as well.” She was also warned against attempting to file an FIR against the IG of police again.
As the statement by the Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression observes, “Under the guise of anti-Naxal operations, the security forces are indulging in rape and plunder. Teams of women activists have documented three cases of mass sexual violence in the past three months, where security forces have entered villages in Sukma and Bijapur- stripping women, conducting gangrapes, looting their food supplies, and destroying their homes and granaries. The number of “encounters” is increasing, people are “disappearing” from villages, only to show up in the list of “surrendered” or “arrested” Naxalites several days later as press clippings and testimonies recount. The local police and administration are talking in one voice of “clearing” the area within one year.”
Soni is one of the activists challenging and exposing this concerted state violence on the ground. She attempted to file an FIR against the IG (Bastar) SRP Kalluri for instigating people to boycott and physically harm her. She had also raised the incident of the fake encounter of Hidme in the Mardum thana in Bastar District. Police had claimed that Hidme was a wanted Naxalite leader, but his family and villagers aver that he was an ordinary villager, picked up by police at night and killed in cold blood.
Independent journalist Malini Subramanium, who had been reporting on the Mardum fake encounter and the spate of fake surrenders as well as other instances of state violence, was intimidated by the police. The domestic worker in her home was kept in the police station till late night to pressurise her into saying that the journalist is a Maoist. Her landlord also was threatened. The journalist was forced to leave Jadgalpur on 19th February.
The Jagdalpur Legal Aid group (Jaglag), that now comprises lawyers Shalini Gera and Isha Khandelwal have been providing legal aid to adivasi undertrials in Bastar since 2013. They too are now being branded as Maoists, while their landlord was detained by the police and intimidated, as a result of which he asked them to vacate their house and office.
Bela Bhatia, an independent researcher, living in Bastar and working with Soni Sori and Jaglag on documenting and filing cases of human rights violations and people’s livelihoods, was threatened and her landlord intimidated. She, Jaglag and Soni Sori have been threatened by ex-Salwa Judum members, under the banner of Samajik Ekta Manch and groups such as the Naxal Peedit Sangharsh Samiti.
Bastar is the graveyard of democracy in India, indeed.