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.