Himanshu Kumar is a Gandhian activist who, together with his wife, ran the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh for 22 years. He learned the local adivasi language (Gondi) and worked through the Ashram to help adivasis access their rights under the law. Starting in 2005, during the murderous Salwa Judum campaigns of vigilante groups against the adivasis of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, Himanshu worked to try to get villagers back to their homes, get people falsely accused out of jail, and win justice for the victims of police and vigilante crimes. His Ashram was eventually bulldozed and he was forced to move to Delhi, from where he continues to try to follow up with legal cases on the state’s treatment of the adivasis. JUSTIN PODUR interviewed him there in February 2013.
Any moment now I expect India’s litfest mafiosi to describe this article on the ‘Essar Kahani Utsav’ by Akshay Pathak as an ‘attack on free speech’:
Money was not the only thing coloured there. Long pieces of cloth in different colours hanging outside the venue— in classic Teamwork Productions style (the event management company organising this festival)—conjured a sense of celebration. The packaging was good. It mostly is—like that of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival, also organised by the same company.
The mood inside, though, didn’t match. That is, if you set aside the sight of visibly uninterested festival organisers and district administrators finding ways to pat their backs. And there was certainly no festive air around the 600-odd Adivasi children who had travelled hours on foot and buses to hear stories on an empty stomach—“the district administration miscalculated the numbers”, the organisers explained to me later, and so they had run out of food for the children. [Read the full article.]
I just finished a long essay for the cover of the May 2011 issue of Caravan magazine. In “At the Bloody Crossroads”, I plot the fate of the village of Tarmetla in the course of a year of ‘counterinsurgency”.
At 5:55 AM ON 6 APRIL 2010, Golf Company of the 62nd battalion of India’s Central Reserve Police Force [CRPF] radioed field headquarters at Chintalnar to report they were receiving small-arms fire in the “Tarmetla sector” and had sustained one injury. Golf Company was conducting a three-day area-domination exercise in the forests of Dantewada…
Operation Khanjar (“Dagger” in Hindi) was Golf’s last manoeuvre before the company was rotated out of Chintalnar to a less sensitive post. They were accompanied by their replacements from Alpha Company, who had just arrived from battalion headquarters in Barsur. The objective was to make their presence known in the district’s scattered hamlets: they were to spend three days sanitising the sector of guerrilla presence and acquainting the men of Alpha Company with the rolling hills and dry riverbeds that surround the CRPF camp at Chintalnar….
At 7:45 am, Golf Company’s deputy commandant, Satyawan Yadav, made a phone call from the vortex of the ambush to say that his company had been completely surrounded—and then the phone went silent.
Last week, the Chhattisgarh police were caught in an extraordinary encounter in the forests of Dantewada. The encounter was interesting not just in the event itself, but also in the Police’s attempts to shape media perception during and long after the encounter.
On Kafila, we devote a considerable amount of our time trying to decode how the press covers particular events. Perhaps this post shall go some way in explaining why our morning papers look the way they do.
If the police are to believed, on August 4 this year, the Koya commandos were caught in a Maoist ambush, yet through brilliant rear-guard action emerged completely unscathed, along with the body of a “Maoist fighter”, a 12 bore shotgun and two IEDs to boot.
The “ambush” caught a lot of us in the press unawares: something had happened in the forest – but what? A series of strategic leaks had primed the media to expect “major losses” among the security forces – so when the police emerged from the jungle unscathed, everyone was expected to heave a collective sigh of relief.
However, for once, the Chhattisgarh based press was skeptical.
Javed Iqbal of The New Indian Express on being targeted by the Chattisgarh Police as being on the side of the Maoists:
A High Court lawyer from Mumbai was in Dantewada a few days ago and had gone to the police station to speak to the police and understand the ground realities of Dantewada. SSP Kalluri accused him of being a Naxalite informer, and had him locked up in the police station. He was eventually let off the same evening, visibly shaken, after some frantic phone calls.
The very fact that the Chhattisgarh police would rather target civil society activists, opposition party workers and journalists than investigate the Maoists, is explicit proof of their incompetence. A kind of fascinating wife-beating syndrome, where they can’t get the Maoists, so the insecure, frustrated police will go after soft targets like journalists, activists and opposition party members.
They arrested CPI party workers for the attack on Audesh Singh Gautams home, and adivasi CPI leader Manish Kunjam confirmed the same. He, himself, has no police security. It was withdrawn by the police months ago even though there have been numerous threats to his life. He has been openly critical of the Salwa Judum that roams around Bastar, armed to its teeth, and has spoken up against corporate land grab, supporting and helping to organize the anti-displacement movements across Bastar.
Now, according to the police press release that implicated Lingaram Kodopi, Nandini Sundar, Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, I’ve been mentioned as someone who had gone with the Maoists, ‘videographing’ their failed assassination attempt on Audesh Singh Gautam.
Forget that they police don’t know the difference between a ‘photographer’ and a ‘videographer’. Forget that the police don’t know that at 1:00am there’s no light, and videography and photography is useless. And I believe the Maoists have infra-red cameras? Why? Because they’re ‘infra-red’? [Read the full post]
Two sisters live in a clearing in the forest about 10 km beyond the abandoned houses and empty yards of Mukram village in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. A third young girl cowers in the courtyard of her aunt’s house in neighbouring Tokanpalli. Between 14 and 18 years of age, Kose, Rame and Hidme (names changed) say they fled their homes in Mukram after they were sexually assaulted by Special Police Officers of the Chhattisgarh Police on May 22 this year.
“We can’t return to Mukram,” said Rame, “If they [the SPOs] find us again, they said they would cut my body into pieces and bury it in cement and no one would ever find it.”
Mukram: Rumours swirling around Mukram suggest that this adivasi village in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district may soon be abandoned. “There is talk of going to Orissa or Andhra [Pradesh],” said a prominent adivasi leader with familial ties to Mukram, “It could happen in as little as a week. Villagers say there is too much pressure from both, the Maoists and the Police.”
A mid-sized village of about 100 houses, Mukram shot to prominence as the site where an ill-fated company from the 62nd Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) rested on the night of April 5 this year. At dawn on April 6, the company was ambushed by about 300 armed cadres of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), resulting in the death of 76 security force members.
In a statement released after the attacks, the CPI (Maoist) praised the efforts of Comrade Rukhmati, a Maoist commander and Mukram resident, who was killed in the ambush. On May 11, The Hindu reported the death of Kunjam Suklu, a Mukram resident who, his family members allege, was beaten to death by the CRPF in a fit of retaliatory rage.
The news of killing of more than 40 people travelling in a bus blown by a blast in Dantewada is only a new chapter in the book of brutalities that is being scripted in Chhatisgarh and other parts of India in the name of ‘the People’. Six people were found slain in Rajnandgaon just a day before this blast. A day before that four villagers were killed in Bengal because they were thought be close to the CPM and were labeled as informers. Two days before these killings in Bengal, two villagers who were Gram Rakhis were killed in Orissa. This list does not include the death of 6 Para Military persons in Chhatisgarh who were killed a land mine detonated by the Maoists in Chhatisgarh.
Are these operations a response to the Operation Green hunt launched by the government? Or are they part of the Protracted People’s War that is being carried out by the purest revolutionaries of our earth who do not waver and shiver at the sight of blood? Or, as some friends caution us from rushing to any conclusion, as Shuddhabrata Sengupta has done, are they “ ‘ false flag operations’ conducted by some rogue elements of the state machinery” or directly endorsed by the state ? How are we to know who is the perpetrator of these crimes? Do we wait for a statement from the Maoists and if they deny their involvement, launch an investigation to find out the real culprit? It took nearly a month for the Maoists to officially own the attack which extinguished the lives of 76 CRPF men. The Maoist leadership congratulated the bravery of its combatants who had achieved the feat of eliminating a whole company of Indian para military force. Continue reading The Maoist Killings Once Again→
The CPI (Maoist) has issued a statement after the killing of the CRPF men in Dantewada. You would imagine that the statement should be all over the media. If you Google you will find it here and there, and if you’ve been reading the papers I won’t blame you for missing it. It’s buried in the inside pages today, and only the Hindustan Times yesterday had put it on its front page. This is not surprising considering that after the CRPF killings the media has gone into war mode. It’s war out there, they’re saying again and again. Anchors are shouting, news-magazines are declaring war and calling the Indian state impotent and the top editors are saying it’s a turning point, ab bas bahut ho gaya, now let’s just shoot ’em dead. What, no air strikes? get real guys.
School’s out! In Kerlapal, Dantewada, battle-weary soldiers of the B Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force peer over barbed-wire fences as skinny schoolboys in sky-blue shirts play cricket. The force has occupied the senior school and with it the basketball court and part of the playing field; but the game must go on.
As paramilitary troops pour into Chhattisgarh to fight the Maoists, the absence of military barracks has forced soldiers and children to share the only concrete structures in the countryside — the village school.
The Gompad case gets murkier. Gachanpalli is another village mentioned in the same case I have been writing about for some time now. I visited the village this week to find a similar pattern where villagers vanish without really telling anyone where they are going and suddenly show up in the Supreme Court in New Delhi.
Given the matter is sub judice, I’ll refrain from any theorizing at this point.
Gachanpalli: A frayed umbrella, a half filled bottle of cooking oil and two shopping bags stuffed with clothes constitute the unlikely tombstone that marks Kowasi Ganga’s grave. “It’s the sum total of his worldly possessions,” says his grandson Kowasi Muye, “It’s a Muria tradition.”
Kowasi Ganga, 75, died on September 17 2009. Muye’s last memory of his grandfather is of Ganga dying dead outside their home. He had been stabbed multiple times.
[Chhattisgarh and Dantewada have been in the news for quite some time now, as matters have reached a climax with the state on its anti-Maoist offensive after the near-failure of its stratgey to prop up Salwa Judum as a counter-insurgency outfit. All intermediate spaces stand wiped out now. Recently, Himanshu Kumar of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram had planned a padayatra in Dantewada and around that time, a team of women’s and human rights organization visited the area apprehending trouble. This a report of that team’s experiences.]
It was night by the time we set out. Four jeeps sped carrying 39 women of diverse age, class, caste, religion, faith, ideologies, from ten states across the nation, and representing 20 women’s and human rights organisations. We sped from Raipur to Dantewada, on wide, smooth highways on a common journey, as part of our campaign to address the alarming reports of sexual violence and repression of women by the State, that were emerging, particularly from Dantewada, in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. We were headed there both to get a first hand account and to show solidarity with victims of heinous crimes, who defying all threats and intimidation had managed to come forth and lodge complaints against their assailants – in this case, the State. This journey was to be an enquiry – a personal exploration and examination of the truth- of dark, dangerous, secret whispers that managed to trickle out from Dantewada and ooze into wider consciousness – tales of tortures, horror, and barbaric acts that our representatives, our own protectors and security forces meted out on a particular collective us, the weakest, most vulnerable, the voiceless adivasis of Bastar.
Over the next 22 hours, we were to find that our journey had become the goal, revealing to us far more from State’s desperate attempt to hide, than in our wanderings and talkings in Dantewada. In hindering us, we found how the State had repressed civil liberties of its citizens, how democratic spaces had vanished and how the authoritarian subjugation by the State had muted all voices – not just of protest, but of even posing a question. Continue reading A Journey Into the Dark: Arati Chokshi→
(An edited version of this piece appeared as the cover story in Himal Southasian in December 2007. The report is based on travels across Andhra to Bihar in October of the same year. At a time when most of the media is pushing the same binaries we must avoid, this may help in conveying the enormous complexity of the issue. Some facts may be outdated, and Kafila readers will be more familiar with certain issues like Salwa Judum than this reporter, but the broad argument may still have some relevance. I will follow this up with posts on the Nepali process and Indian Naxalites.)
A people’s movement. The greatest internal security challenge. Struggle for the rights of the poor, tribals, Dalits, landless. Compact Revolutionary Zone with influence in almost 200 districts. A socio economic problem rooted in exploitation and idealism. A law and order threat . True people’s democracy. A criminal, authoritarian and opportunistic outfit. The revolution will smash the Indian state. The Maoists are ants and can be crushed anytime .
Neat black and white portrayals have come to characterise one of the most complex stories of our times. The Naxal as the saviour and the state as the oppressor. The state as protector and Naxal as the villain. Numbers and scale of action act as the judge of Maoist spread and activity. 1608 incidents of Naxalite violence and 677 people killed in 2005; 1509 incidents and 678 killed in 2006; 249 persons killed till June 2007. Continue reading Complicating the ‘Naxalite’ debate→
[We are posting below a statement issued by some of us on the Maoist threats and intimidation in Chhattisgarh and its most recent manifestation in relation to the human shields programme of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. It is a distressing but undeniable fact that, by and large, the civil liberties and democratic rights movement has fought shy of condemning Maoist violence. This is a matter of deep concern as the absolutely undefensible, nihilistic violence perpetrated by the Maoists violates all tenets of the great revolutions of the twentieth century that they themselves swear by. Despite their subsequent degeneration (after coming to power), neither the Chinese revolution nor the Vietnamese (the Russian, of course happened without a single shot being fired) made a cult of violence. Never, in any case, did they use violence against defenseless civilians. In fact, revolutionaries have been known to court defeat and annihilation, rather than kill ordinary people – whenever they were presented with the choice between the two. The perverse cult that targets ordinary, unarmed civilians simply in order to have its way can only be seen as, to say the least, a kind of Left-wing Fascism. – AN]
We, the undersigned, are distressed to learn that a peaceful movement in the conflict-ridden Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh to help villagers return to their land has been disrupted by the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The villagers had been displaced earlier by the state-sponsored Salwa Judum campaign that began in 2005 and has resulted in horrific violence against ordinary villagers in the area. Continue reading Maoist disruption of the non-violent Human Shields movement in Chhattisgarh→