In the Shadow of Fear: Communal Tension, Military Repression, Sexual Assaults in Bastar
All India People’s Forum Fact-Finding Team's Visit to Bastar
Raipur, 12 June 2016: An 8-member fact-finding team of All India People’s Forum visited four districts of Bastar, Chhattisgarh between 8-11 June 2016. The fact-finding team found several incidents of communal violence against Christians as well as fake encounters, rapes, fake cases and arbitrary arrests, and fake surrenders.
The AIPF team comprised former Madhya Pradesh MLA, Dr Sunilam of Samajwadi Samagam; former Jharkhand MLA and CPIML Central Committee member, Vinod Singh; Secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association, Kavita Krishnan; Brijendra Tiwari of AICCTU; State Secretary of PUCL West Bengal, Amlan Bhatacharya; Advocate Aradhana Bhargava of Chhindwara; Advocate Ajoy Dutta of Kolkata and Amlendu Choudhury. Bela Bhatia and Soni Sori also accompanied the team.
Communal Violence Against Christian Minorities
In several villages in Bastar district – including Karmari, Bade Thegli, Sirisguda and Belar – resolutions adopted under Section 129 (g) of Chhattisgarh Gram Panchayat Act have been wrongly invoked in violation of the spirit of the law to restrict non-Hindus from residing or building places of worship. This is despite the fact that the High Court has quashed such gram sabha resolutions in Karmari and Sirisguda.
In Bhadhisgaon (Tokapal Panchayat) in Bastar district, Pastor Pilaram Kawde was given a written notice by the Gram Panchayat denying him permission to construct a place of worship on his own land. The written notice cited Sections 55 (1) and (2) of Chhattisgarh Gram Panchayat Act 1993 and said that Pastor Pilaram cannot construct a place of worship because, “People of big-big castes and religions live in this village, and every Dussehra even the Roopshila Devi Ma joins the celebrations.”
Christians are being prevented from using burial grounds in several villages. In Bhadisgaon, an elderly Christian lady Saradi Bai died on 25.5.2016, but Hindu villagers provoked by the Bajrang Dal stopped Christians from burying her. Eventually, after negotiations conducted by the police, she was buried in a casket but without a cross – however the Hindu villagers warned that no future Christian burial would be allowed. Accordingly, the 200 Christians of the village gave applications to the Sub District Magistrate, Tehsildar, police and Sarpanch asking that burial grounds be allotted separately for Christians, since they were being prevented from using the common burial grounds.
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.
At Ara village, Bario Chowki, Jeypore thana, District Ambikapur, on Sunday, 5 June 2016, a Bajrang Dal mob of 25 people led by Chhotu Jaiswal, Sonu Gupta, Bipin Gupta, Chhotu Gupta and others attacked the church during Sunday prayers; vandalized the church; and beat up the pastor, his wife and three others. They made a video of the thrashing and made it ‘viral’ – we have a copy of this video. They dragged off the Pastor, his wife, and three others to the Bario Chowki where they were kept till night. No First Information Report was registered against the assailants; instead a case under Section 295 A has been registered against the Pastor who is yet to get bail.
In village Sirisguda, rations were denied to Christians, and authorities from the Food Department were beaten up along with Christians; the ambulance was not allowed to enter the village; injured Christians were not allowed to get proper treatment in the district hospital. After great efforts a case was registered but the statements of the injured are yet to be taken in Court. People from the VHP and Bajrang Dal prevent Christians from filling water in the village. At a meeting called by the District Magistrate, the VHP and Bajrang Dal said that Christians must do ghar wapsi, or else we will evict them from the village invoking Section 129 (g) of the Panchayat Act.
Repression and Intimidation of Villagers Resisting Violations of Forest Rights for Raoghat Mines
A resident of village Kohche, thana Antahgarh in Kanker District said that 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.
Nagalguda, thana Gadiras, Kuakonda Tehsil, District Dantewada: Four women – Rame, Pandi, Sunno and Mase – were killed here in a fake encounter at 7 am on 21 November 2015. Badru, one former Maoist who surrendered and became a ‘Pradhan Arakshak’ and had accompanied the force, raped Mase before killing her. 22 DRG jawans were decorated and promoted for this ‘encounter,’ despite the fact that rewarding jawans for encounters is against NHRC guidelines and Supreme Court guidelines for encounters.
In Arlampalli, Dornapal Tehsil, District Sukma, villagers told the team that on 3 November 2015, three village boys – Dudhi Bhima ( age 23), Sodhi Muya (age 21) and Vetti Lacchu (age 19) were killed by the police. The three boys left the village in the morning of 3 November on two cycles to get a drink of the local alcoholic drink (made out of date palm fruits). After getting their drink, they were going to the Polampalli Bazaar, where Bhima’s mother was waiting for them. Near the ‘nala’ close to the village, one youth Vetti Lacchu 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. The third youth, Vetti Lacchu, seeing this, began to run away – and was shot dead by the police. The other two youth were asked to carry the body of their friend to the Polampalli thana but on the way, they too were shot dead. Two elderly people witnessed the two boys carrying their dead friend. No FIR has been registered as yet.
In Palamagdu, Dornapal Tehsil, District Sukma, Police claimed that two women Maoists were killed after an hour-long gun battle on 31 January 2016. In a local newspaper, the police is quoted as saying that the two women were wearing saris and could not run and therefore fell into a ditch and were killed. The team found that in fact, the police had killed two small girls in cold blood. The mother of Siriyam Pojje (age 14) said that her daughter along with Manjam Shanti (age 13) had gone to feed the hens and was going to have a bath in the river and return home. On the way the police shot both the girls dead. Manjam Shanti’s father also said that both girls lived in the village and had no connection with Maoists.
Kadenar village, Bijapur district: The police claimed that on 21 May 2016, an encounter took place with 30-35 armed Maoists, in which a husband and wife – Manoj Hapka and his wife Pandi Hapka/Pandi Tanti were killed. On reaching Kadenar village, Pandi Hapka’s mother and brother told the team that at 8 pm at night on 21 May, police came to the house where the family was eating dinner. They took Manoj and Pandi away, along with their clothes, other belongings and Rs 13,000 that they had earned by harvesting chillies in Andhra Pradesh. We were told that Manoj and Pandi had been with Maoists for a year, but five years ago, the couple left the Maoists and came back to the village where they did farming. Pandi has had TB for the past five years and has been very ill.
Fake Cases and Arbitrary Arrests
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 an Essar pipeline on 19 May 2016. Police took away 11 adivasis; while two of them were left later, 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. 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 about 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 CRPF Jawan
On 8 June 2016, a girl aged 14 years from Podum village, thana Dantewada was shutting her kirana shop when a CRPF 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 on the night of 11 June 2016 – a process facilitated by the team and by Soni Sori. The CRPF jawan had given a name – RR Netam – and number in writing to the girl but this appears to be false since the TI says that no jawan of this name is there in the Jarum CRPF camp near Podum village.
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. When he went there, 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 said that the other 25 cases were also not genuine surrenders. They were all given Rs 10,000 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, Kosa, is also under threat from Maoists for having facilitated the fake surrenders.
Conditions in the Villages
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 mitains (anganwadi workers) who did not even have medicines to treat diarrhea and vomiting; 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.
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