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No Access to Judiciary or Media in Chhattisgarh

Javed Iqbal

Operation Green Hunt, launched last November, was supposed to provide  security from the Maoists, but security for whom? It is unlikely to be the tribals who live in the jungles of Chhattisgarh. They have suffered the attentions of the authorities for years. Equally, they also have to deal with the Maoists on their ground.

At the same time, there's no one to listen to them. They don't have access to the judiciary or the press. If they complain, they risk harassment and torture. If they persist, they might simply disappear. For mainstream India it's as if they don't exist. The following stories illustrate their plight.

On March 18, 2008, security forces killed 14 Maoists of a dalam (armed squad) near Dareli, Bijapur district. They claimed no casualties in the  alleged shootout while the Maoists said they were poisoned after police came to know of a meeting place. The incident was widely reported, yet what was neither reported nor investigated was the retaliatory killing of at least five villagers deemed 'informants' by the Maoists.

Rava Oonga (30), Badse Masa (50), Kovasi Hidme (35), Madkam Durva (70) and Madkam Idma (21) were returning to their villages in Bijapur district from Hyderabad after an election rally for the CPI (ML) New Democracy. They were axed to death in front of other villagers by a mixed squad of sangam and dalam members as suspected informants. One villager was from Pallagudem, two from Jeerlaguda and two from Dareli. Their previous visit to Hyderabad seemed suspicious to the Maoists who organised a Jan Adalat or People's court to condemn them to death.
When their relatives and neighbours were asked about the identities of the assailants and the Maoists who were present during the killing, they replied: "Agar hum aapko bol denge, phir woh log humko bhi marne aajayenge. (If we tell you who killed them, they will come to kill us also.)"

A majority of the villagers  no longer live at home. Afraid of being detained as suspected Maoists they left without lodging an FIR against the Maoists. Initially, they moved to Andhra Pradesh where forest officials broke down their shacks. But it doesn't stop at the Maoists or forest officials. Men from Salwa Judum raided the neighbouring village of Thadmetla and one man Sodhi Nando (30) was burnt to death in his house. That makes another threat to their lives.

Similarly, as previously reported by Express, security forces raided the village of Tatemargu in Konta block on November 10. Seven villagers were allegedly killed (four from Tatemargu, two from Doghpar, one from Pallodi). More than 60 buildings were burnt down in Tatemargu and 30 in Pallodi village.

There were allegations of rape yet no woman was willing to come forward then. Recently, at least three women from Tatemargu claim to have been raped on the day of the raid, allegedly by members of the security forces. One of the men apparently spoke 'Koya' - the tribal dialect. She has not lodged a complaint at Kistaram police station for fear of being apprehended as a Maoist. Nor does she have access to a lawyer.

Previous complaints of rape from Samsetti, Bandarpadar and Arlampalli were investigated but it led to nothing more than the harassment of victims. None of the accused, Special Police Officers or members of Salwa Judum, have ever been arrested despite warrants issued by the courts. The few people who find the courage to file a complaint face another danger. Even before the cases of rape are tried as criminal cases, both witnesses and victims of violence perpetrated by the state have a tendency to disappear.

Katam Suresh (20 months) and his father Katam Dulaiah (20 years) of the village of Gompad are still missing. Suresh lost three fingers when Gompad was attacked on October 1 last year. Nine villagers were killed, including his mother, aunt, and maternal grandparents. He was last seen on January 14 at Konta police station with his father.
Rava Jimey (17) and Madkam Sana (22) from Boorgam village were travelling to Kuakonda in Dantewada on January 25. They disappeared between Konta police station and Dornapal police station. Their relatives have had no word of them since. Tribals from Chhattisgarh often travel incognito from Andhra Pradesh to south Bastar, claiming to be from other villages and districts. Many of them travel around 70 km through the jungle to Andhra Pradesh for the regular saptaah - market day. Their markets are often out of bounds, as they fear the security forces may arrest them for questioning.

It's an upside down world from where they are standing. Their voices remain unheard and they are unseen in a world  where protectors are predators, and where justice is a fix for anyone who can afford it.

(Express Buzz, 7th February 2010)