A special report by Prabhat Singh on false surrenders in Chhattisgarh.
(Translated by Shobha R, Human rights activist and theatre artist)
Â Let me introduce you to the reality in villages like Banda, Chhattisgarh.
While I was returning from the padyatra organized in August 2016, from Dantewada to Sukma, to demand constitutional rights for adivasi communities, my motorcycle broke down. Since it was very late in the evening, me and my friends decided to stay back in Banda village. Pisam Pentaâ€™s family agreed to host us for the night. Despite being very tired, Pisam Penta narrated his story and the reality that their village faces today. We were shocked, to say the least, listening to this. Five people from Banda village had been allegedly forced to surrender by the police. All five people are ordinary farmers who rely on farming for a living.
Pisam Pentaâ€™s Story:
Pisam Penta and his family including three of his elder siblings, had to allegedly flee their homes to Andhra Pradesh (now part of Telangana), during the start of the Salwa Judum period. After the end of the Salwa Judum, the two elder brothers, Pisam Raja and Pisam Enka returned to their villages, to find that their homes had been burnt down and all their belongings and valuables including vessels and silver and gold ornaments, had been stolen by the Salwa Judum brigade There was nothing but broken walls that was left of what was once their home. The brothers built a small hut and resumed their life in the village. Before the Salwa Judum, this family had owned livestock including 40 goats, 20 buffaloes and 20 cows.
Pisam Pento did not return to his village with his brothers. He went to Bangalore to earn his living as a wage worker. After returning from Bangalore, he started living in the Salwa Judum camp at Konta. He found work at the mines at Bailadila. When he returned to his village, a month later, he saw that everything had been destroyed. His brothers had taken ill. His mother Pisam Adi had died of cough and his father Pisam Muccha had succumbed to some disease where the stomach had bloated up. His brother Raja had tried to get himself treated by trying everything from traditional healers to going to the hospital in Bhadrachalm district. However, nothing worked and he had to stop treatment when he had exhausted all his money. Soon after, Raja breathed his last. The other brother Pisam Enka also died after suffering from cough and vomiting of blood. Enka had also tried getting treatment from Konta, Chintur in Telagana and Bhadrachalam. At Bhadracham, he was asked to go to Khamman district. However since they could no longer afford even going to a government hospital, they came back to their village. When the condition worsened, Enka was admitted in Konta hospital where he breathed his last. The two brothers died within a span of two years. Raja is survived by his wife, who lives now in Banda village, with her parents.
Pesam Pento feels that his family had to face all this hardship since they had had stopped worshipping their traditional deities as per the adivasi culture. He owns around 25 acres of land, out of which he presently cultivates in 10 acres. The family has been farming here for generations now.
Pesam Pento and his friend Murram Raje, also a farmer, Â decided to build their home and then later got married in the traditional adivasi way, in the summer of 2009. On the 17th August, 2015, they had a girl child. They saved up enough and bought 10 buffaloes, 15 cows and 11 chickens. Pesam Pento fondly remembers that his wife makes him tea with fresh milk in the morning and evening, and curd rice for dinner.
Pesam Pento narrates how he along with four others from his village, Basant Korram, Telam Mutta, Podium Desa and Pulli Raataiya had been forced to surrender by the police. After being detained in Konta for two days, they were detained in Dornapal for another three days before being forced to surrender during a meeting organized by government functionaries. Many of those who were made to surrender didnâ€™t even know what was meant by â€˜surrenderingâ€™. Basant Korra had already been to jail once before. Pulli Rataiya has learnt driving and lives in Konta. Podium Desa travels to Telangana in search of work, as he no longer lives in his village. This is perhaps the scenario that the government terms as â€˜Migrationâ€™.
Korram Basantâ€™s Story- who was falsely implicated and sent to jail, got released and then made to surrender forcibly.
Korram Basant, who is 28 years old is from an adivasi farmer family, with four other siblings. Basantâ€™s elder brother Korram Vinod, died in 2012 due to a lack of access to proper healthcare. He died on his way to Kottaguda, Telangana after suffering from fever for two days. Another brother, Korram Mahesh had two daughters, one of who died due to an untreated illness. Basant had two sons, one of who died during the delivery. The youngest brother in the family, Ramesh got married a year back and has no children.
Basant recounts how the entire family had run away to Jogaguda in Telangana, during the Salwa Judum period, fearing destruction. When the fear subsided a little, in 2007, the family shifted to the Salwa Judum camp at Konta. After a year of living in the camp, the police summoned him, detained him at the police station for a day and then sent him to jail. Before being sent to jail, Basant says, the police didnâ€™t even tell him of what crime he was accused of. According to Basant, he was kept in Dantewada prison for 3 months and then sent to Jagdalpur prison. He was accused in eight false cases, reportedly. Since he could not afford legal help, his cases were dealt with by the lawyers offering free legal aid. The trial took 4 years due to delays in serving summons between Jagdalpur and Dantewada. He was eventually tried in Dantewada court in all 8 cases, and was found innocent in all cases and released in the summer of 2011. Basant cannot tell the date of his release.
Basant goes on to say that his brother Ramesh, used to live in the Salwa Judum camp. He used to go to Andhra (now Telangana) to find work as a wage labourer. He was picked up by the police there, in 2010 and brought to Konta. At that time, Basant was in prison. Ramesh was kept in the police station for a few days before being made to surrender. After being released in 20011, Basant became an SPO (special police officer) during the salwa Judum period, (now called auxiliary constables). The police had threatened him that if he didnâ€™t take the post, he would be sent back to jail. He started living in Konta ever since, where his family would occasionally meet him when they came to visit the market.
Basant recounts how the Konta police had threatened him similarly. He had refused to become an SPO and was thus called a maoist, by the police. When asked about the charges he faced, he said he didnâ€™t know anything about it and was eventually released since he was found not guilty. Once released from prison, Basant started living in Konta camp. When the situation in his village improved in 2012, he returned there with his entire family and started farming again. Basant got married and was leading a peaceful life in his village, till he was made to surrender again earlier this year, during the summer months.
He says the police told him that if he surrendered, his name would be in the police records and therefore he would not be beaten by the police if they caught him at night. They had reportedly told him, he would just be brought to the police station and released. After that he was detained in Konta police station for 2 days and another three days in Dornapal police station. He says he was not even questioned by the police about the Maoists. â€œThe SP told me that after surrendering, I wouldnâ€™t be beaten. After â€˜surrenderingâ€™, we were brought back from Dornapal to Konta and told to stay there and work with the police. However, we are farmers and if we joined the police, we would also face the wrath of the maoists. So, despite being threatened by the police, we returned back to our village and I have been farming since then.â€ On being asked about supporting Maoists, Basant says, â€œwe have no choice but to give food and water. We have never held a gun. We have never roamed around with the Maoists. The Police usually come with their own food. They donâ€™t ask us for anything.â€ On being asked if the police or Maoists stole their livestock, he says, â€œThe Maoists never ask for our chicken or goat. The police sometimes ask the sarpanch or Patel, who then have to give them.â€
These stories reveal that nobody here knows the meaning of â€˜surrenderâ€™. It seems like the Bastar police also donâ€™t understand this. Is that why these people are caught, detained and then forced to surrender in a staged act?
Tellam Muttaâ€™s Story- who has studied till the 5th std, continues farming even after â€˜surrenderingâ€™.
Tellam Mutta fled to Konta camp during the Salwa Judum period, in 2006, along with his family. When the fear of the Judum subsided a little, he came back to his village in 2008-09. When he returned, he found that his house had been burnt down and all his belongings including utensils and jewellery were stolen.
One of the most successful farmers in his village, Muttaâ€™s family had owned 15 goats, 20 cows, 15 buffaloes and 5 pairs of oxen, 20 chicken, etc . It was all gone. After returning to his village and toiling in his fields, he built back a sturdy home for his family and owns the same quantity of livestock he used to before. However recently, a lot of his poultry have been dying due to an unknown illness. He owns five acres of land from where he reaps 10 sacks of paddy, 50 kilos of sesame and 10 quintals of chilly. He sells his produce in Chintur, Telangana which is around 5 kms away. Konta is farther away and there, he doesnâ€™t get a good price for his produce. He manages to earn around 1- 1.5 lakh rupees a year. In addition, he also sells around Rs 3000 worth of vegetables in a year.
Tellam says that the government used to give paddy grains before but they havenâ€™t got any this year. â€œIt is a norm here that half of the villagers get left out from the distribution system.â€ According to the civic action plan, the Central Reserve Police Force had given a piece of cloth (towel) and solar light or blanket. â€œI donâ€™t know why in this year, in the month of April, I along with five others from my village were branded as naxals and taken away by the police on a Wednesday and released subsequently, on a Monday. They took us first to Konta station and then to Dornapal. We were told that we had once belonged to the Sangham.â€ Tellam doesnâ€™t remember the exact figures but goes on to say that he along with some 124-126 people were photographed together. He recounts that people from Murliguda, Chintakonta, Malaalbanda had been brought there. The SP and IG, Police were present when this group was being photographed. However, Tellam doesnâ€™t know the names of these officials.
The original article, published in Hindi, in Bhumkal Samachar, is here: