Who don't speak languages, but dialects.
Who don't have religions, but superstitions.
Who don't create art, but handicrafts.
Who don't have culture, but folklore.
Who are not human beings, but human resources.
Who do not have faces, but arms.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police
blotter of the local paper.
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.
--- Eduardo Galeano, translated by Cedric Belfrage
An 8-member fact-finding team of All India People’s Forum visited four districts Chhattisgarh (Bastar, Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur) between 8-11 June 2016.
THE AIPF team comprised former Madhya Pradesh MLA Dr Sunilam of Samajwadi Samagam, former Jharkhand MLA and CPIML Central Committee member Vinod Singh, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association, Brijendra Tiwari of AICCTU, Amlan Bhatacharya, State Secretary of PUCL West Bengal, Advocate Aradhana Bhargava of Chhindwara, Advocate Ajoy Dutta of Kolkata and Amlendu Choudhury. The AIPF team is also grateful for the participation of researcher Bela Bhatia and Dantewada-based activist Soni Sori who accompanied the team. Excerpts from the team’s report are published here.
Bastar today is witness to the most cynical mockery of constitutional values and civil liberties. Under cover of a war to ‘save Bastar from Maoism,’ or ‘make Bastar safe for democracy’, the Constitution is in fact being trampled to ‘make Bastar safe for corporations’ and ‘purify Bastar for the RSS.’ Every day, every week, there are horrific atrocities being unleashed on Bastar’s people – and the incidents outlined in this report should be seen, not as isolated aberrations but as the tip of the iceberg. Democracy is being hollowed out in Bastar.
The AIPF team divided into two groups daily to cover greater ground. Even so, there was much that we could not investigate given the paucity of time; the sheer volume of incidents calling for investigation; and difficulties of arranging suitable transport.
Several local intelligence men closely watched the team in Jagdalpur. Before we left Jagdalpur, one of them too our drivers aside, attempting to interrogate and intimidate them. The team was stopped, searched, photographed, and questioned interminably at police and CRPF check posts and camps, over and over again. On more than one occasion we were told that the number of our vehicle had been passed on to CRPF camps and police check posts in advance, and they had been asked to wait for us and question us. For instance, we were asked why it took us all day to reach Sukma from Jagdalpur and why we visited villages en route – the police at the check post at Sukma tried to intimidate our driver into revealing which villages we had visited and the names of villagers to whom we had spoken.
It was clear from the tenor of the questions that anyone wishing to speak to villagers is seen as ‘suspect’ and discouraged by the police, security forces and administration. We wish to put on record our concern about the safety of those who spoke to us, especially given the fact that villagers who have spoken to other fact-finding teams have faced harassment and threats. We have changed names in some of the instances, to protect the identity of the individuals.
The AIPF team heard testimonies of several Christians in the Bastar district that spoke of systematic attempts to persecute Christian minorities; foment communal division and violence in adivasi villages; bend pro-adivasi laws to communal ends; and allow Hindutva groups to dictate to the police and administration. In this sense, communal fascist outfits already hold sway in parts of Bastar and Chhattisgarh.
The team also spoke to Son Singh Jhali, a lawyer who is handling many legal cases pertaining to persecuted Christians.
At several villages in Bastar district – including Karmari, Bade Thegli, Sirisguda and Belar – resolutions adopted under Section 129 (C) of Chhattisgarh Gram Panchayat Act have been wrongly invoked in violation of the spirit of the law to restrict non-Hindus from residing in the village, practicing and propagating their religion, or building places of worship, even though the Bilaspur High Court has quashed such gram sabha resolutions in the case of both Karmari and Sirisguda.
Section 129 (C) of the Chhattisgarh Gram Panchayat Act, in keeping with the model of self-governance mandated by the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (PESA), that “the Gram Sabha shall have the power to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity and community resources and customary mode of dispute resolution.” Instigated by the Bajrang Dal and VHP, this provision is being used to equate adivasi customs and culture with the Hindu religion and prohibit non-Hindu practices. Section 55 of the same Act has provisions to prevent land alienation in Scheduled Areas, stipulating that prior permission of the panchayat is needed to build new houses, change the design of houses and so on. This too is being misused to withhold permission for construction of churches, community bhawans and so on. The Bilaspur High Court on 16th October 2015 struck down such interpretations, ordering that “the impugned resolution shall not come in (sic) exercise of fundamental right to preach and propagate of (sic) religion and their faith” (W.P.(C.)No.1759 of 2014 CG Christian Forum and others Vs. State of CG and others).
It is pertinent to quote, here, from the relevant Section (2.11.4) on the spirit of PESA in the Report of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission on ‘Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas’:
“Section 4 (a) of PESA mandates that State legislation on the Panchayats... ‘shall be in consonance with the customary law, social and religious practices and traditional management practices of community resources’. However, it is obvious that the Provisions of the Constitution and individual and community rights provided in other relevant laws of the Centre and states are relevant and their spirit and purpose should have primacy. Justice related issue of criminal, social and welfare spheres would be binding on traditional and customary bodies and also on GS (gram sabha) in SA (Scheduled Areas). Human rights and Constitutional values are sacrosanct and nothing that the traditional and customary bodies do or practice shall be against these rights and values.”
It is evident from the testimonies that the role of the police and administration is extremely lax. On some occasions the police have openly sided with the Bajrang Dal, refusing to protect the Christians. On one occasion the police and administration even failed to turn up having convened a gathering of Hindus and Christians, and possibly informed the Bajrang Dal that they would not turn up, thus setting the scene for organized mob violence against the Christians. On the occasions where the district administration and police have intervened, it has not been to enforce the rule of law and uphold the Constitution and arrest the Bajrang Dal mischief makers; rather the ineffectual mode of ‘dispute resolution’ has been adopted.
Pastor Pilaram Kawde, village Bhadhisgaon, Tokapal Panchayat, Bastar district
I laid the foundation for a prayer hall on my own land for which I have the papers. The panchayat orally refused to issue the No Objection Certificate for construction. I asked them to give me the order in writing. When they failed to do so for several days, I resumed construction. I was then given a written notice citing Sections 55 (1) and (2) Chhattisgarh Gram Panchayat Act 1993 saying I cannot be allowed to construct a place of worship for Christians because “People of big-big castes and religions live in this village, and every Dussehra even the Roopshila Devi Ma joins the celebrations,” and that the panchayat has the right to demolish the prayer hall. The Hindu villagers and panchayat leaders have threatened to evict me from the village.
On 25 May 2016, an elderly Christian lady Saradi Bai died, but Hindu villagers provoked by the Bajrang Dal stopped us from burying her. They said we could not be allowed to carry out Christian burial rituals, bury her in a casket or place a cross in her grave. Eventually, after negotiations conducted by the police, she was buried in a casket but without the cross. But the Hindu villagers warned that no Christian burial would be allowed in future. Accordingly, the 200 Christians of the village gave applications to the SDM, Tehsildar, police and Sarpanch asking that burial grounds be allotted separately for Christians, since they were being prevented from using the common burial grounds. The Sarpanch refused to accept the application, while the SDM and others are yet to respond. Saradi Bai’s husband Sukhdev Netam passed away on 6.6.2016, and Hindu villagers prevented Christians from carrying out his last rites and burying him, threatening to kill them if they tried to bury him. Eventually after police arrived, he was buried. But again, the villagers and Sarpanch warned that in future, they will call Bajrang Dal if there is any attempt by Christians in the village to use the burial grounds. They declared that they did not recognize the authority of police, tehsildar, SDM or anyone else.
Pastor John Masih (alias Chunnu), Karmari vllage, Bastar block, Bastar district
After securing NOC from the panchayat, we were constructing a community hall for Christians on our ancestral land. On 26 June 2015, I was summoned to a gram panchayat meeting to explain the construction. I told them I had the NOC and that I wanted to construct a community bhawan because Christians do not have a hall for social gatherings like marriages and so on. The panchayat leaders told me I was not allowed to construct the building. If the Governor and other authorities upheld my right to construct, they said they would call the Bajrang Dal to get me beaten up. I went ahead and constructed the building.
They held a rally against Christians in July, pressurizing villagers to participate. That day my child was ill so my wife and I had taken him to the hospital in Jagdalpur. The Hindu villagers gheraoed the police station, and called the SDM who stopped the construction. In August 2015 I showed the Collector all the documents, and the Collector issued a letter of permission for the construction.
On 8 September I resumed the construction work. On 9 September the gram sabha held a meeting in the name of drought relief, then mobilized villagers to the chowk. Some of them came on my land and told me to stop construction. I agreed to stop and talk to them. One Shailesh (alias Chhotu), son of Sabar Singh, lifted a shovel and threatened to kill me. I ran away to save my life. But two women – Ludri and Phulo Baghel – who were working on the construction, were badly beaten with bamboo sticks, and kicked and punched. They surrounded us and did not let us go out of the village. I called my wife who was away at Bastar and she informed the police. The local police were reluctant to come but did come eventually to our house. We also called an ambulance to take the women to the hospital. The TI tore up our FIR and wrote an FIR of their own naming just four of the assailants and protecting 8 others. Even those named surrendered in Court later and got bail – the police did not arrest them.
I have not been able to proceed with the construction. I told the SDM and Collector, but they did not back up their permission letter with force to protect us while we construct. The Chowki in-charge, one Sonwani, even said he cannot send his men to protect us because ‘one community’ (the Christian population) is increasing too much.
On 28 May 2016 we spent the whole day in Court but the defence did not cross question us. After my wife spoke up about the wasted day, the Judge scolded the defence lawyers for wasting time and making the women spend all day in Court doing nothing.
Karmari was one of the gram panchayats that had passed a resolution under Section 129 (C) of the Chhattisgarh Gram Panchayat Act: "To stop forced conversion by outside religious campaigners and to prevent them from using derogatory language against Hindu deities and customs, Sirisguda gram sabha bans religious activities such as prayers, meetings and propaganda of all non-Hindu religions." The Bilaspur High Court had deemed this resolution to be unconstitutional.
Sanauram Gotta, Gram Tumasnar, district Kanker
In 2006, Christians (7 in all) of my village were beaten up by the Hindu villagers. In March 2016, the Hindu villagers made a ‘Sitlamandir’ and demanded Rs 500 as ‘chanda’ from each villager. We said that you have been boycotting our marriages and other social functions, so we won’t give you ‘chanda’. We said, if we give you chanda, give it to us in writing that you will attend our social functions, you will call us to your functions. These discussions happened over 2 meetings in 2 days.
When my grandmother died, the Hindu villagers refused to attend the funeral. They did not attend several marriages.
Next, they demanded Rs 1000 as ‘chanda’. We said we are willing as long as you give us an assurance in writing. Instigated by Anil Kumar Kemro, ration leader and son of a BJP leader, Hindu villagers declared a social boycott, claiming we have insulted their gods and goddesses. The tehsildar called me saying that there is a written complaint against you, I told him about Kemro. There are now 100 Christians in the village and we are under threat of violence.
Baman Kowasi, village Parapur/Chhichoripara, block Lohaniguda, Bastar district
On 15 May, 2016, Bajrang Dal members who live in our village Manku, Sannu, Muda and Saibo beat up my sister Kumli Kowasi (age 18), accusing her of doing ‘jadu tona’ (witchcraft). My father Muda is no more, my mother Maso and my sister and I and our little brother are now in hiding. My sister was grinding rice at 5.30 pm in the back of the house when they came and beat her up. They kicked her in the stomach, pulled her hair and hit her on the head. She fell unconscious and they left her for dead. She had to be hospitalized for two weeks. We have been told by the ‘munshi’ (police) to remain in hiding for our own safety, so for the past month we have not been able to return home. We are living in the Church in another village (name of village withheld).
Ramkumar Darro, village Kohche, thana Antahgarh, Kanker district
25 hectares of land have been acquired for Raoghat Mines without informing the villagers, gram panchayat, or gram sabha. (Officially the Raoghat Mines, as well as adjoining dam and railway lines are for Bhilai Steel Plant but a consortium of private companies will be involved with the mining project). Trees have been cut, adivasis’ forest land that they have had for the last 50 years is being grabbed; several places of worship of adivasis are being destroyed and even the burial grounds have been taken over by the company. CRPF camps have come up densely at every kilometer in the area.
When I went to the Raoghat hills where mining is imminent, to map our sacred sites (which are stones and trees and won’t be recognised as such by the miners unless we mark them) using GPS, the security forces snatched my cell phone and deleted the photographs.
When the fact finding team of Nandini Sundar, Vineet Tiwari and Sanjay Barate came to our village in May 2016, I took them around. Later, when I was away at a religious function, the police came to my house and told my sister to send me to the police station when I got back. They did not identify themselves or give any reasons. When I got back I went to the police station and asked the Munshi as well as a cop I knew, what was up. They took me by motorcycle to the SDPO (Sub Divisional Police Officer), one Khalko, who asked me where I had taken the fact finding team. He said that Nandini Sundar, Vineet Tiwari and Sanjay Barate are all ‘Naxalites’ and I’ll have to jail you if you associate with them.
But I am not scared of such false cases.
Rape of an adivasi woman by an SPO
A villager from Kanker who did not want to be identified told us that an SPO had raped his daughter, who became pregnant and had a baby. The police refused to file a case and instead mediated a ‘settlement’ whereby the SPO, who is already married and has 2 children, was to pay Rs 50,000. He paid only half the amount. But the father and his daughter are too afraid to pursue the matter.
Nagalguda, thana Gadiras, Kuakonda Tehsil, District Dantewada
The police claimed to have killed four women – Rame, Pandi, Sunno and Mase - here in an ncounter at 7 am on 21.11.2015.
Villagers told the team that the encounter was staged. The four women Maoists had come to the village to resolve a dispute and had asked for utensils to start cooking a meal. The village was surrounded by the police force and the women tried to flee. One of them was killed from afar. Two women were shot dead after they surrendered. One woman, Mase, was raped by Badru, a surrendered Maoist who is now a ‘Pradhan Arakshak’ and had accompanied the force, before killing her. The identity of the witness to this fake encounter is kept confidential at the request of the villagers, for their safety.
22 DRG jawans were decorated and promoted for this ‘encounter,’ in spite of the fact that rewarding jawans for encounters is against NHRC guidelines and Supreme Court guidelines for encounters. (http://www.patrika.com/news/dantewada/22-nagar-sainik-were-military-policemen-involved-in-the-encounter-naglguda-1167544/)
Arlampalli, Dornapal Tehsil, district Sukma
Dudhi Bandi, father of Duddhi Bhima
On 3 November last year, my son Dudhi Bhima (aged 23) had gone to the forest just outside the village with two other village boys – Sodhi Muya (age 21) and Vetti Lacchu (age 19) to drink ‘seen’ (a local alcoholic drink made out of date palm fruits). The boys went on two cycles. After getting their drink, they were planning to go to the Polampalli Bazaar, where my wife was waiting for them.
Near the ‘nala’ close to the village, one of the boys Sodhi Muya got down from the cycle while the other two went ahead. Security forces were in the area for a combing operation, and caught the two boys on cycles and began beating them up. Sodhi Muya, seeing this, began to run away – and was shot dead by the police. Bhima and Lacchu were asked to carry the body of their friend to the Polampalli thana. Once they placed the dead body on a pick-up van, they too were shot dead.
Vetti Adma, younger brother of Vetti Lacchu
I saw my brother and Bhima alive, carrying the body of Sodi Muya on the road to Polampalli. I saw, from afar, they kept the body in a pick-up van. Then the police tied up Lachcu and Bhima and killed them.
Sodi Budra, father of Sodi Muya
No FIR has been registered as yet. We do not know whether or not a magisterial enquiry has taken place. We went to Raipur and Delhi to tell political leaders what had happened.
The CPI as well as the local Congress MLA have raised the issue of the Arlampalli massacre. In spite of this, there does not seem to have been any action taken against the police.
Palamadgu, Dornapal Tehsil, district Sukma
A news item in the Dainik Bhaskar dated January 31st 2016 quoted police as claiming that two armed women Maoists Vanjam Shanti and Siriyam Pojje were killed after an hour-long gun battle on 30th January 2016.
The ASP Santosh Singh is quoted in the paper stating that the Maoists had posted three 13-14 year old children on sentry duty, whom the force first arrested. The ASP claimed that while the Maoist contingent fled to the jungle, two women Maoists who were wearing saris and could not run, fell into the ditch, and thereafter they were killed by the police jawans. The question is that if they had already fallen into a ditch, why were they killed? Also, why were the ‘women Maoists’ wearing saris and not uniforms? The photograph of the bodies, as published in the paper, appears to be that of two very young village girls.
The team reached the village and spoke to Vanjam Aade, mother of Vanjam Shanti. She stood stiff for a while and then burst into tears and was unable to speak very much. She said that her daughter Vanjam Shanti, aged 13, had gone with Siriyam Pojje (14) to release the hens out of the coop and then have a bath in the river, as they did each morning. At 8 am she was told by villagers that her daughter had been shot dead. She said that Shanti had nothing to do with Maoists. Siriyam Deva, father of Siriyam Pojje, said the same.
Vanjam Bhima, a teenage youth, said that on the same morning of 30th January, he along with three other older boys were picked up by the police and detained in the police station for 18 days. Vanjam Ganga was also detained by the police for 18 days. They said that Madkam Unga, a youth from the village, has joined the police in the Dornapal thana, and since then he has been getting people from the village arrested and killed. For the past 4 months, 4 boys – Podiyam Bandi, Madkam Chanda, Madkam Som and Kodiyam Kosa have been in jail.
The villagers’ testimony makes it clear that the two children were killed in cold blood and the killing is being passed off as an encounter with women Maoists.
Kadenar village, Bijapur district
A Press Release dated 21st May 2016 on the police website claims that “Two Hard Core Maoists Were Neutralized in Bijapur’ http://www.police.gov.in/content/press-release/two-hard-core-maoists-were-neutralized-in-bijapur.php.
The Press Release states that the encounter took place between a joint operation of “CoBRA troops of CRPF and State Police” and “a group of 30-35 strong Maoists in the area of village Cherkanti and Karenar under PS- Gangloor , District – Bijapur, Chhattisgarh.”
The Press release states that “When the firing subsided, search of the area was done. During search, 2 dead bodies of Maoists including one female in uniform were recovered. The female Maoist has been identified as Tati Hapka, Member of Darbha LOS. The male dead body has been identified as Manoj Hapka, Commander of Kanger Valley Darbha LOS” and wanted for the “Jheeram Ghati incident on 25 May 2013” where top Congress leaders were massacred.
It is strange that in an encounter with 30-35 Maoists, the two killed happen to be husband and wife. The AIPF team reached Kadenar village, where villagers said that Manoj lived with Pandi’s mother and brothers in a hamlet a little distance away. Manoj and Pandi were buried in the village of Manoj’s birth – Cherkanti, across a river. Some members of the team went on villagers’ motorbikes to visit Manoj’s village and Pandi’s home. The team was accompanied by a local journalist Pushpa, of the Dainik Prakhar Samachar, who had photographed the bodies after the post mortem.
A Villager Of Cherkanti (name withheld)
I knew Manoj all his life. He and Pandi were with the Maoists for a year, but changed their minds and returned five years ago, since when they have been farming in the village itself. Why did the police kill honest people earning an honest living?
Bodhi Madiyam, Manoj’s Uncle, Cherkanti Village
Manoj and Pandi were picked up by the forces from their own home when they were having dinner at 8 pm. Pandi suffered from TB for the past 5 years. They were killed by the police in cold blood – there were knife marks all over their legs. Manoj’s leg was broken and he was shot dead. Pandi was beaten on the head with a rifle butt. Manoj and Pandi were with the Maoists for a year but returned and have lived in Pandi’s maternal home in Kadenar for the past five years. We cremated them and then buried the remains here in Cherkanti.
Tanti Ramuna, Brother of Pandi Tanti, Kadenar Village
We (my brother and I and our children, Pandi, my mother and Manoj) were eating dinner at 8 pm on 21st May. The forces barged in, tied Manoj’s hands with a towel, took him outside and washed his hands which were soiled with food. They took Pandi also out. Manoj was wearing shorts and a T shirt when he left home. Pandi was wearing a skirt, a blouse and a towel. The police beat me and my brother Rathu also, as well as a young cousin of ours. We got to know of the killing the next day. We took the help of a relative to write a complaint in the police the next day, stating the facts.
Tanti Bandi, Pandi’s Mother, Kadenar Village
They took Manoj and Pandi away, along with their clothes, other belongings and Rs 13000 that they had earned by harvesting chillies in Andhra Pradesh. Pandi was thin and had TB, she could not have children because she was so sick. For the last month before she died she had severe cramps in her stomach. She and Manoj left the Naxalites and came back to the village five years ago. Pandi was so sick, how could she be a Maoist soldier?
Dr DK Patel, Cherpal Dispensary
The doctor told us that very few patients from Kadenar visited Cherpal, preferring to go to Bijapur hospital instead. He said it was likely that a TB patient might have been picking up her medicine doses from a village helth worker (mitanin). He checked the OPD record book and found that on 23 April 2016, a 30-year-old woman Pandi Tanti (the name, spelt Peddi Tanti, is likely to be a misspelling) came to be treated for loose motions. This corroborates Pandi’s mother’s statement about her daughter’s stomach pains a month before she died. It also raises the question: would a wanted Maoist have walked into the dispensary to get treatment?
In Padiya village, Gadiras Thana, Sukma district, on 21 May 2016, at 9 am, a force of 200-300 police came and picked up villagers working on a water body, saying they were involved in the breaking of a Essar pipeline on 19 May 2016. Police took away 11 adivasis, left two of them later, and 8 remain in jail. The night before our team reached the village, the police forced sarpanch Madkam Hadma to wear police uniform and move with the force, arresting four people. Thus the police conspired to make the sarpanch look like a police agent, making him vulnerable to attacks by Maoists.
In the same village, a small 12-year-old boy Joga had been picked up by police on 12 May. The fact finding team met Joga and learned that Joga’s father and brothers had been arrested and detained illegally in the thana for seven days, where they were made to clean utensils and do other cleaning work in the thana. They were later released. The night before our team arrived in the village, Joga’s father had been taken into police custody with three others. The SHO of Gadiras thana said that repeated arrests are done because Joga’s sister is a Maoist ‘Mahila Commander’, whereas more than 150 villagers told the team that this is not true and the girl lives in the village. The team is apprehensive for the safety of Joga’s sister – she may be killed in a fake encounter claiming she is a Maoist. The sarpanch also is in danger of being killed.
Rape of minor girl by CAF Jawan
On 8 June 2016, a girl aged 14 years from Podum village, thana Dantewada was shutting her kirana shop when a Chhattisgarh Armed Forces (CAF) jawan came and raped her throughout the night in the shop. She told her brother in law, who complained in the thana and was sent for medical examination last night (11 June 2016) – a process facilitated by Soni Sori and the AIPF team.
There have been 70 surrenders in the Chintalnar area. The team visited Chintalnar village where we were told of several staged surrenders. One small trader told us that he was called to the Polampalli thana by an SPO saying there is a warrant against him. He went there where he and 25 others were told that either they must agree to ‘surrender’ or they will be booked in a case of killing Nagesh, an SPO who was killed 2 years ago. He is 55 years old and he said that the other 25 cases were also not genuine surrenders. They all were given Rs 10000 each on the spot. Several others also testified to fake surrenders but are afraid of reprisals from the Maoists. We were told that the sarpanch, Kudiam Kosa, is also under threat from Maoists for having facilitated the fake surrenders.
Two AIPF teams covered 1650 kilometres in their journey, where they encountered more than 60 police and CRPF camps. But in the 25 villages that the teams visited, the villagers were insecure and suspicious of each other. In these 4 districts, political groups and other organizations are rather inactive, suggesting that the scope for democracy has shrunk there. Most of the villages visited by the teams were without electricity, without roads, and lacking in education and health facilities. In Ketulnar, two baby girls died after drinking milk provided by the anganwadi. We found that the village had 8 mitanin who did not even have medicines to treat diarrhea and vomiting and the hospital is 10 kilometres away because of which the little girls could not be treated. Now after the death of the girls, medicines have been provided but a case of culpable homicide is yet to be registered against the milk provider.
The team strongly feels that magisterial enquiries into individual atrocities are insufficient even if these take place. Judicial enquiries must be ordered into the fake encounters. But at the same time, a monitoring committee must be appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor the entire situation in Bastar, and the conduct of the security forces. The Supreme Court should also appoint a separate team to monitor the conduct of the police and district administration in responding to communal campaigns against Christian minorities in the area.