23.06.2016: P.A Sebastian Memorial Lecture at Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work
On 16th July, Bastar was completely shut. This event was not “news” in Delhi or Mumbai but was an important affair for the adivasis and a strong portrayal of the common sentiment that they are experiencing at this point. The central reason for the bandh was the fake encounter of Madkam Hidme.
In a highly militarized zone like Bastar, one can imagine how much force was required to execute the shutdown as people could be arrested in any place where the bandh was being forcefully done. I believe that such a display of sentiments against the police force, against their vigilantism, and farcical narratives of the adivasis who are happy with security forces and the humanitarian aid workers who are only trying to spread mischief serves as a tight slap on the government’s face.
It is repeatedly being said that a final push will be given in 2016 and that there will be a “cleaning up”. Such statements have been heard before also. But there has been a clear increase in the strength of the military forces. There are now talks of building a “Bastaria” battalion surfacing.
Currently, there are military camps almost every five kilometres. It is difficult for adivasis to go to the field or the forest, or even to go about their seasonal migration to Andhra Pradesh. Their way of life has been destroyed completely. There is a lot of surveillance everywhere. Under such conditions, if the people have been able to execute a bandh, it is a big deal.
Since October 2015, operations are being carried out 24/7 across Bastar to exercise area domination. As soon as it is heard that the police forces are arriving, most of the men would run away fearing for their lives. The women were often left behind.
We are seeing systematic cases of sexual violence since October. Many fact finding reports have studied the area and they all seem to conclude that sexual violence is now a part of the military operation. The mainstream media is not paying attention to the manner in which the women have come out to report these incidents. They are registering FIRs, giving their account of the incident, and asserting their rights.
As it has been said in the UN, this is often a part of the war. It is always denied. In the Meena Khalko case, the judicial enquiry has stated there has been rape and murder. It has been one year since the FIR has been registered. When the Congress raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP replied that we are not being able to identify the perpetrators, can you identify them? The entire list of which battalion reports where and with what weapons is with you. How are those women supposed to recognize this? There is a horrifying kind of impunity. What we are observing in Kashmir, what we are observing in the North East, sexual violence was carried out systematically. It is very difficult to imagine this. Women are immersed inside water and raped. Jawans take their clothes off and enter houses asking women to sleep with them.
All the ways in which a woman can be offended have been carried out. But you will be surprised to know that when these women convey their stories, they begin by speaking of how all their clothes were torn, all the rice pulses were contaminated or destroyed, their hand-pumps were broken, school uniforms were set on fire, and books were torn apart. Their livelihood was destroyed first. This is what is area domination.
When the BJP was told that this is what goes on, they responded by asking why the women don’t run away like the police force? This is what their solution is. It is clear that they want them to run away.
I started counting all the encounters from 1st October to 1st February and there were around 54 encounter deaths, I stopped counting. There were more than 20 cases in which the villagers came forward and said that this person was merely working in the field or went to the jungle to do some work, etc. You can imagine that if this is what happens with ordinary women, what must happen to the women associated with a Maoist party.
There is a case in Nalagonda where there is a witness. I don’t know if that witness will be able to come forward, if the witness does come forward, there will either be case against them or they will disappear. But that was a case where the security forces found four women, shot them in their feet, raped them, and then shot them again. They put a uniform on them and even made holes where the bullets were. Just like in Madkam Hidme’s case, the uniform was well-ironed . But her naked body was presented in pieces to her parents in a plastic bag first after her post-mortem. I don’t know if this is a new manner of conducting the post mortem.
There has been a diligent effort towards strangling the adivasi community. And why shouldn’t there be? The reason is very clear. Leases allowing more than 4000 hectares of iron ore mining have been given out to profit making firms. This is only iron (there is gold and silver too). One such notorious company is Broken Hill Properties, Australia. 135 square kilometers of diamond mining has been given out to Major Anil Singh (BJP minister).
How do you get to all those square kilometres and hectares unless you do something about the people who are refusing to go away? Nothing has been able to start. There is enormous resistance. The problem is that we cannot see the resistance, we are not able to support this. That is the tragedy.
There is an actual difference this time. During the first phase of Salwa Judum, when villages were being burnt, there was silence. Binayak Sen went to jail at the time for his report. But now people are protesting. Malini Subramaniam of scroll was threatened repeatedly but she continues to write. Many journalists are not going to keep quiet. We must help them because the easiest thing over there is to brand one as a Naxalite. Santosh Yadav is still in jail. He reported from Darbha. When Mahendra Karma was killed, Santosh Yadav was the first to reach the scene and report about the incident. He was arrested for the same and stripped and beaten because he surely had to have some link with the Naxals to report this. He was actually arrested because the SP had gone to a nearby village to arrest individuals with blistered hands. For such individuals must all be Naxalites as Naxalites dig holes. This is the great, eminent, scientific evidence of the criminal justice system. Now, this incident was filmed by Santosh Yadav, the SP was on tape.
Santosh took the arrested individuals to Jagdalpur Legal Aid. This was his crime. Prabhat Singh had a similar crime. 300 journalists protested in Raipur and Jagdalpur demanding the right to be protected and have drafted a bill. Perhaps, the journalists in Bastar will be successful in saving journalists across the country.
Similarly, there is another journalist named Sheikh Anwar. He is Anjali Chauhan’s husband. Anjali Chauhan was not ready to distribute groceries through the camp and wanted to distribute it in the villages. She was arrested in Dantewada and presented in Raipur on account of purchasing ammunition from the CPRF over there. Sheikh Anwar and her mother were later arrested from a press conference related to Anjali’s arrest.
What should people do? You will be surprised to know that many people are doing things but if this does not come out, we will have to go see it for ourselves. It is difficult but this time the government has been unable to stop people from entering Bastar.
When people are arrested now, thousands come outside the police station to protest. We feel that there is no lack of resistance. People are not only fighting for their lives but also for their land.
They are going to build a factory in Dilmilli but the affected villages are coming out against it. Villagers near a mine in Bailadila (that exports iron ore to Japan) have come out in protest because their water has been contaminated. Many adiviasis have raised their voices against the Polavaram project. There is a fight going on.
What is worrying is the state’s use of air force strikes. This was first used on October 22 2015 and April 8 2016. I don’t think this government will hesitate in continuing this.
I request you to listen to the voice of the adivasis: That you are the one who has approved PESA in the Gram Sabha. Who have you asked before building these paramilitary camps and these factories and mines? Since when has the forest rights committee been pending for the twenty villages affected by the railway and mine being built in Raughat? You have done nothing for that. Why has your law not done anything for that? Is militarization going to be the only solution?
Can we at least say: not in our name.