Fundamental unFreedoms: A note on the situation of Adivasis in Bastar

By PUCL Chhattisgarh,

The Bastar Division in South Chhattisgarh comprises today of seven districts – Kanker, Kondagaon, Narainpur, Bastar, Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur. Sparsely populated, this area is home to many of the Adivasi tribes of Central India – the Gonds, Murias, Koyas, Halbas, Bhatras, Marias, Abujhmarias, Dorlas, Dhurvas etc. While richly endowed with minerals and lush forests, this region is also home to the most impoverished populations of tribals, with one of the highest rates of infant mortality, illiteracy, poverty and maternal deaths.  South Bastar has had the presence of Naxalite groups since the 1980s, but the conflict has intensified in recent years, with the state embarking on heavily militarized counter-insurgency operations such as Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt.  As the state pushes its military might to recapture its control over the territory and underlying resources of Bastar, vulnerable communities of Adivasis are threatened with arbitrary detentions, arrests, fabricated cases and fake encounters.

an-adivasi-woman-in-her-burnt-house-in-dantewada
An Adivasi woman in her burnt house in Dantewada (File Photo)

Increased Militarization

This year saw the change of government in Delhi, which was rapidly followed by an intensification of the State’s war against its own people in Central India.

Soon after the new government took position at the Centre, on June 7th, the Home Ministry announced an innocuous-sounding name change of its Anti-Naxal Unit to the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) Division.  A far more substantive announcement that day was the sanctioning of an additional 10,000 paramilitary troops for Chhattisgarh’s war on Naxalism, now rechristened as Left Wing Extremism[1].  On the same day, the Chhattisgarh state government announced a major reshuffle of its police officers, in which the SPs of all 3 districts of South Bastar (Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur) were replaced, and police officer, SRP Kalluri, accused of numerous human rights violations, was made the Inspector General of Police (Bastar Range).[2]

Two days later, on June 9th, the Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh met with Home Minister Rajnath Singh, and made several more demands for effectively combating Naxalism in Bastar – 26 new battalions of paramilitary forces, 21 additional choppers for troop movement, more UAVs, an Armed Forces Recruitment Training School, a commercial airport in Jagdalpur among others.  The Chief Minister also sought relaxation of norms under the Forest Conservation Act for diversion of forest land in LWE areas, and in a move eerily reminiscent of SPO recruitment, asked the Centre for help in providing monthly stipends to over 4.75 lakh tribal youth, to wean them away from recruitment by Naxalites.[3]

The Union Home Ministry responded the next day with its new “Get Tough” approach, indicating that the new government did not believe in talks, and would only concentrate of wiping out the LWEs.  The Union government acceded to most of Chhattisgarh’s demands in principle, and decided to make Bastar the focus of its new all-out offensive against the Naxals[4]. The Union followed up by granting Chhattisgarh two additional helicopters, 2 technical battalions (2000 men) comprising of engineers for carrying out construction projects; 1000 ITBP troops[5] and 2 battalions of Naga IR battalions. Writes The Economic Times[6]:

“With the additional deployments, Bastar is set to be the most-militarised zone in the entire country. With an area of 40,000 square kilometres, Bastar already has a deployment of 36 central battalions and 12 state police battalions.”

A Policy of Impunity for Police Officers

In September, Home Minister Rajnath Singh made a statement that police officials initiating action against Maoists should not worry about reactions from human rights bodies[7].  This statement is reflected on the developments in Bastar wherein, Police officers like SRP Kalluri have been promoted as the IG of Bastar range despite a dark human rights record and a pending inquiry.

As SP of Surguja and Balrampur, Kalluri had been known for “encountering” Naxalites – many of them were later revealed as fake encounters by various human rights groups.  In 2007, civil liberties groups across the country had taken up the case of Ledha Bai, a tribal woman in Balrampur, who had accused Kalluri of killing her husband first and raping her when she tried to get legal redress[8]. In 2009-2010, Kalluri exhibited similar brutality when he was posted as senior SP in Dantewada.   In March 2011, a group of SPOs and CRPF men had burned down the three villages of Tadmetla, Timmapuram and Morpalli in Chintagufa thana, killing three villagers, sexually abusing three women, burning over 300 houses and granaries in the three villages, allegedly under Kalluri’s orders. A public uproar ensued when details of this incident became known, following which a judicial enquiry into the incident was ordered and Kalluri was transferred out of the area, in order to ensure independence of this enquiry[9]. The Tadmetla judicial inquiry is still underway, but Kalluri has been posted to the area again – and this time, at an even higher position as the Inspector General.

This policy of impunity violates the state’s responsibility to uphold rule of law and respect and fulfill human rights.

Systematic Human Rights Violations

The heavy deployment of forces in Bastar has meant continuous, round-the-clock search and patrol operations, frequent encounters (extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary killings), and a spiraling increase in the number of arrests and surrenders of alleged Naxals.  In the month of July alone, the police claim to have made more than 200 arrests of alleged Naxals in Bastar[10].  While only 22 surrenders of suspected Naxalites took place in Chhattisgarh in all of 2013[11], the six months from June to November this year have already seen the surrenders of more than 280 alleged Naxalites in the Bastar division alone.[12]

It is doubtful that the Bastar police have suddenly turned very efficient, and it is more likely that the increased arrests and surrenders are a result of coercive measures adopted by them against ordinary Adivasi villagers. There have been reports that the state apparatus is pressurizing a lot of ordinary villagers to surrender. There also have been protests in various villages in Bastar on the issue of arrest of innocent people and illegal detentions in many cases.

Allegations of forcible surrenders, false implication and arrests of innocent villagers and extra-judicial killings have been leveled against the police by the state Congress leaders, CPI Leaders and AAP leaders.  These allegations have been brushed away by the state police and government by carelessly labeling all the leaders who’ve raised these questions as Naxalite supporters who are trying to shield Naxalites.

For full report contact General Secretary of PUCL-CG at [email protected].

[1] The New Indian Express, “Naxal Unit Renamed” June 7, 2014 http://m.newindianexpress.com/nation/320726

[2] PTI Raipur, “24 IPS, 4 state police officers transferred in Chhattisgarh” as reported in Business Standard, June 7th, 2014 http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/24-ips-4-state-police-officers-transferred-in-chhattisgarh-114060700723_1.html

[3] Vijaita Singh, “Give us ‘air mobility’ to tackle Naxals: Chhattisgarh,” The Indian Express, June 10 2014 http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/give-us-air-mobility-to-tackle-naxals-chhattisgarh/

[4] The Hindustan Times, “Bastar to be focus of govt’s all out war against red terror”, June 11, 2014 http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/bastar-to-be-focus-of-govt-s-all-out-war-against-red-terror/article1-1228502.aspx

[5] PTI, “Anti-Naxal operations: Government deploys 1,000 fresh ITBP personnel in Chhattisgarh,” June 21, 2014 http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-07-21/news/51831007_1_itbp-anti-maoist-operations-anti-naxal-operations

[6] “Government to send 2,000 para-military men of Naga unit to fight Maoists in Bastar,” Aman Sharma, The Economic Times, Aug 19, 2014   http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-08-19/news/52983522_1_bastar-raman-singh-crpf

[7] Sudhanshu Mishra, “Rajnath says police need a free hand to deal with Naxals,” Daily Mail, September 3, 2014 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2742607/Rajnath-Singh-says-police-need-free-hand-deal-Naxals.html

[8] Ledha Bai’s testimony before the Magistrate in Complaint Case number CA No. 624/09, http://iadhri.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/ledha-bais-statement-against-srp-kalluri/

[9] Aman Sethi, “Swami Agnivesh, journalists attacked in Dantewada,” The Hindu March 27, 2011 http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/swami-agnivesh-journalists-attacked-in-dantewada/article1575323.ece

[10] Rabindra Nath Choudhary, “Operation Meghdoot a hit in Bastar,” The Asian Age, Aug 4 2014, http://www.asianage.com/india/operation-meghdoot-hit-bastar-352

[11] Avadhesh Mallick, “CPI leader accuses IG Bastar of arresting innocent villagers by branding them as Naxals,” News18, September 1, 2014 http://www.news18.com/news/chhattisgarh/cpi-leader-accuses-ig-bastar-of-arresting-innocent-villagers-by-branding-them-as-naxals-590461.html

[12] Pushpendra Singh, “सरकार की पुनर्वास नीति छलावा,” Jagdalpur Patrika, 17 November 2014, http://epaper.patrika.com/c/3852479