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Archives for : Tribals

Monsoon Massacre-What really happened in the Nulkatong encounter

Bela Bhatia

Bastar, over the past decade and a half, has been synonymous with conflict and war. The region has been a central point in the armed conflict between the Indian state and Maoists.MANPREET ROMANA / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

IN AUGUST LAST YEAR, Kadti Sukka’s world came crashing down around him. It had been raining heavily in Bastar at the time. Sukka, a middle-aged Adivasi farmer, was growing increasingly anxious because the police were repeatedly visiting his village, Gompad. His 14-year-old son, Ayata, was spending a lot of time at home because he had not been admitted to the sixth standard in the ashram school he attended. “Every time they come, they beat and harass people,” Sukka told me. “They especially target young people and pick them up if they can find them.”

On the evening of 5 August, news spread that the police were circling close to the village. Around twenty young men, including Ayata and the village sarpanch, Soyam Chandra, ran towards the fields of Nulkatong, a neighbouring village about four kilometres from Gompad. They headed to a laadi—a thatched structure that villagers build close to their fields during the monsoon for refuge—to spend the night there.

Fearing for his son’s safety and wanting to protect him, Sukka followed him to Nulkatong. He recalled that there were around forty people in the laadi that night—young men from other villages had also heard of the police closing in. Early the next morning, he woke up to the sound of gunfire. “The forces attacked suddenly,” Sukka recalled. “Everybody was running, I too ran.” A bullet hit Sukka’s leg, but he continued running. In the terror and confusion that followed, he lost track of Ayata.

The next day, pictures of a long row of bodies in black polythene bags, which had been tied with green and yellow plastic ropes, were splashed across local newspapers in Bastar. The security forces, the papers declared, had had resounding success in a major encounter in Nulkatong village: 15 Maoists had been killed. State officials called it “the biggest success of anti-Naxal operation in Chhattisgarh”—a significant achievement in their Operation Monsoon. Ayata and Chandra counted among the dead.

Thirteen-year-old Ayata was one of the victims of the Nulkatong massacre.. KRITIKA A / THE LEAFLET

Thirteen-year-old Ayata was one of the victims of the Nulkatong massacre.KRITIKA A / THE LEAFLET

A week later, I met Sukka at his home. Sitting on an old tyre in the wet courtyard of his house, his eyes unseeing, he recounted the events that led to Ayata’s death. “If only my son had not gone that day,” he murmured. “He would have been alive.”

Relatives of the deceased, mostly women, had to walk to Konta to claim the bodies. Once they got there, they found out that the corpses had been taken to Sukma, the district headquarters, for post-mortem. It was not until two days later that they were able to take the bodies home and perform last rites. The police had left the bodies in Banda, and the relatives had to carry them back on foot, to their respective villages, for 15 kilometres.A real encounter would mean that there was an exchange of fire and proportionate use of force by the police. While the Nulkatong incident was portrayed as a real encounter, closer scrutiny reveals several aspects of a fake one. There are not just discrepancies in the official stories told by the police, but also suspicious irregularities in how evidence was gathered.

There are varying accounts of what happened that morning. State officials claimed that this had been a Maoist ambush, which the security forces successfully countered. Maoists claimed the police came after unarmed villagers, dragged them to a hill and opened fire. Most of the mainstream media put forward some version of the state’s account, and other reports claimed that there was no one affiliated to the Maoists in the laadi that night.

Missing from many of these accounts were the voices of the villagers themselves. As with anyone else, the villagers, too, may prevaricate or have fallible memories. But their voices are our best bet in getting closer to the truth about what really happened in the Nulkatong encounter.

NULKATONG IS A SMALL VILLAGE in the Konta block of Sukma, a district in southern Chhattisgarh. Nestled deep within the forests, it is difficult to reach. Beyond a certain point, there are no motorable roads. The closest town is at a distance of about twenty kilometres. The most straightforward route from Konta, the block headquarters, has a check post manned by the Central Reserve Police Force. When the CRPF do let a visitor through, it is only after a detailed entry about them is put into a register. At other times, as I experienced once before, people are turned away, and made to go back and forth between the CRPF check post and the Konta police station, where contradictory requirements regarding entry permits are given.

For this reason, in order to get there unencumbered by police checks, I took a much longer route, crossing a state border, wading through seven rivers and spending nights in villages along the way before finally reaching Nulkatong. I had gone with the objective of investigating what had happened after reading local press reports about the encounter. I learnt much about the incident from those I met on the way. The Sukma superintendent of police, Abhishek Meena, told me that the police always encouraged people to find out the truth, but the situation on the ground, as I discovered, did not align with his claim. There have been more than a couple of independent investigations into the Nulkatong incident so far, and they have all faced obstacles. I was followed by plainclothes policemen for a significant distance. The police beat up a group of women, family members of the deceased, who went to the encounter site after the firing ended. Lingaram Kodopi, a freelance journalist, circulated photographs of their injuries—dark bruises on their legs and back—on social media. When I asked Meena about the incident, he called it “dhakka-mukki”—a minor scuffle.

The excessive police presence in the area is not unusual. Over the past decade and a half, Bastar has been synonymous with conflict and war. The region has been a central point in the armed conflict between the Indian state and Maoists. Naxalites first entered the forest areas closest to Telangana in the early 1980s. As they moved further into the interiors, they became familiar with the poverty of the Adivasis and their exploitation by non-tribal traders and contractors. The only representatives of the state in those parts at the time—forest guards and policemen—were often very corrupt. The Maoists started organising people around local issues and slowly entrenched themselves in the area. The jungles offered them shelter, as well as a base from which to conduct guerrilla activities.

Chhattisgarh is home to mineral-rich forests, and 32 percent of its inhabitants are Adivasis. It contains deposits of nearly thirty types of minerals, including coal and iron ore. In 2003, the government passed the Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Fund Act, to enable the “mineral exploration and development of mining activities in the state.” Three years later, Manmohan Singh, the prime minister at the time, declared that Maoists were the country’s “single biggest internal security challenge” and emphasised the need for a military, rather than a political, solution to the conflict. The government relied heavily on security forces to end the Maoist insurgency, arming them not only with sophisticated weapons but granting them near impunity in their methods.

In June 2005, the government projected the Salwa Judum—or, purification hunt—as a spontaneous, peaceful movement of dissent against the Maoists. However, it soon became clear that this was a state-sponsored, violent exercise in a sort of strategic hamletting—an attempt to isolate the insurgents from people in their base areas by forcibly moving locals out of their villages and into camps administered by the government. Similar programmes have been carried out in other parts of India, such as Nagaland and Mizoram. The “campaign,” backed by massive funds, propped up armed vigilante mobs, who worked with the police and paramilitary forces to subdue tribal populations. The government openly declared its intention of destroying the mass base of the Maoists to weaken the movement.

Civilians have been caught in the crossfire. The metaphor of guerrilla fighters moving among the people like fish in water was often invoked by the state to justify its actions. In those years, hundreds of villages were burnt, tens of thousands of people were displaced—by either being made to shift to government-run camps, or by being forced to flee into the forests or across state borders to get away from the violence. Many hundreds of villagers were specifically targeted and killed on suspicion of having Maoist connections. Others met a similar fate because they happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Nearly a hundred women were raped; intimidation and threats were common and a general atmosphere of fear prevailed.

Jungles offer Maoists shelter as well as a base from which to conduct guerrilla activities.. ISHAN TANKHA

Jungles offer Maoists shelter as well as a base from which to conduct guerrilla activities.ISHAN TANKHA

Even though the Salwa Judum phase wreaked havoc and achieved little, similar operations followed, including the infamous Operation Green Hunt in 2009. Launched from Bastar, the operations spread to other areas with large Adivasi populations, such as in Jharkhand and Odisha. The nature and modus operandi of these operations have changed little over the years, despite a media outcry over violations of the “rule of law,” strong public censure, and even intervention by the Supreme Court—the Salwa Judum was declared unconstitutional in 2011. These operations have targeted not only Maoist combatants or those who were “captured” but also those seen to support the Maoists in any way, including ordinary Adivasis who happen to live in Maoist strongholds. For example, in Gompad—a village of about 50 houses—14 people, including children, have been killed since 2009 in successive “encounter killings.”

A real encounter would mean that there was an exchange of fire and proportionate use of force by the police. While the Nulkatong incident was portrayed as a real encounter, closer scrutiny reveals several aspects of a fake one. There are not just discrepancies in the official stories told by the police, but also suspicious irregularities in how evidence was gathered. For instance, relatives of the deceased told me that the camouflaged uniforms found on the bodies of four of the victims had no bloodstains on them.

The police claimed that everyone who died in the encounter was a Maoist. Afew media reports have suggested that there were only civilians in the laadi that night. But according to a few villagers I spoke to, almost half of the 15 people killed were members of the janmilitia, or people’s militia. The jan militia includes ordinary villagers armed with the most rudimentary weapons, who play a supportive role to the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, or PLGA—the armed wing of the CPI (Maoist). These members continue to live with their families and participate in village life. Like many villagers, they usually have relatives in neighbouring villages because of marriage ties.

The jan militia constitutes “the base force” in the Maoist military structure. According to a 2010 press report, the PLGA had 3,000 members and the jan militia about 30,000. According to a 2013 report, membership in both had grown in strength substantially.

Since they are poorly armed, jan militia members are easy targets for security forces, who use the full might of the state against them. This allows the police to meet the constant pressure of “showing results” in the grander scheme of boosting counter-insurgency statistics. The war against the Maoists is often reduced to a question of “kitne shav ko baramad kiya”—how many dead bodies could you get? That those who were killed were only foot soldiers in the Maoist organisation does not seem to matter.The war against the Maoists is often reduced to a question of “kitne shav ko baramad kiya”—how many dead bodies could you get? That those who were killed were only foot soldiers in the Maoist organisation does not seem to matter.

From the accounts of those who were present in the laadi, there were between thirty and forty people there. And by the police’s own claims, about two hundred policemen surrounded the laadi in the early morning. This would mean that the police to people ratio was as high as six to one. The police parties had an overwhelming advantage of numbers as well as weaponry. The central question here, then, is why could they not have overpowered and arrested the suspects?

Instead, the police opened fire on an unsuspecting group of people, the majority of whom were civilians. The police would have likely known exactly how many jan militia members were present there, since their team included ex-Maoists, who would have been able to identify them. Around six jan militia members and one member of a local guerrilla squad were killed in the firing, according to two local residents. Two of the victims, the residents said, also had their heads bludgeoned in—quite unusual in an encounter, where death by gunfire is the norm.

Police officials maintain that there was an exchange of fire. The superintendent of police, Meena, told me that a Maoist meeting was taking place, and the police knew that someone from the PLGA cadre was present. “Baman from Etegatta was a member of the military platoon four. He had a .303 rifle.” Baman was killed in the encounter. But he was dressed in plain clothes.

A bharmar is an archaic muzzle-loading weapon from the nineteenth century. It is no match for the advanced weaponry at the disposal of the state.. ISHAN TANKHA
A bharmar is an archaic muzzle-loading weapon from the nineteenth century. It is no match for the advanced weaponry at the disposal of the state.. ISHAN TANKHA

A bharmar is an archaic muzzle-loading weapon from the nineteenth century. It is no match for the advanced weaponry at the disposal of the state.ISHAN TANKHA

The police parties would also have known that the militia members were likely to be armed with local weapons such as bows and arrows, or at most with an outdated bharmar—an archaic muzzle-loading weapon from the nineteenth century—none of which are any match for the security forces’ automatic weapons. “But when firing is taking place from the other side you cannot know what weapon is being used,” Meena said. And even he admitted, “We have advanced weapons. Even a PLGA Company may have less than five automatic weapons.”

The people I spoke to—including those who said a few militia members were present in the gathering—denied that there was an exchange of firing. They all maintained that the police surrounded the laadi and suddenly attacked. Except for the superintendent of police, nobody else mentioned that there was a better weapon than a bharmar in the laadi that day.

Indiscriminate firing cannot be justified on any grounds, least of all based on an assumption that the other side may have sophisticated weapons. In warfare, there are ways for soldiers to protect themselves—wearing protection gear, for instance. They can, if they wish, use only as much force as necessary to subdue their targets. But all this means nothing, if the firing was part of a deliberate strategy, to kill as many “Naxalis” as possible, without any care for the nature or degree of their involvement, if any, in the Maoist project.

AS I MADE MY WAY along the Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh border, I met various people who told me about the sudden increase in police presence they had witnessed a few days before the encounter.

On 4 August, by late afternoon, two trucks full of local police had reached Mallempeta, a border village. After dropping them off, the vehicles turned back. According to early reports, this was part of a joint combing operation conducted by the District Reserve Guards—a special force with local recruits, including Adivasis and surrendered Maoists—and the Special Task Force of Chhattisgarh police, from the Konta and Bhejji police stations. Such search-and-combing operations are undertaken regularly by security forces as an area-dominating exercise, or after a tip-off about Maoist presence in a particular region. In some fake encounters that I earlier investigated, the relatives of the victims often recognised ex-Maoists who later joined the DRG, as playing a leading role in identifying and sometimes killing the victims. Since they are local, often from the same areas or villages, they know their targets by name, as well as the extent of their involvement with the Maoists. There have been occasions when victims’ relatives have accused former Maoists of targeting those they had recruited to the Maoist organisation in the first place.

Meena told me that this was the second operation that the police had launched that week in the area, after they had received information that the jan militia from three villages had merged to form a militia platoon. Over the next two days, the police spread themselves across the area, moving in three directions. This was towards the end of the Maoists’ “Martyrs Week,” which starts each year on 28 July—the day on which the Naxalite leader, Charu Majumdar, died in 1972. Commemorations are held in one or several places, depending on the security situation in each area. From the police point of view, the likelihood of finding an assembly of Maoists during or immediately afterwards becomes greater.

In Mallempeta, I met a youth, who was around 15 years old, from Nulkatong. He was on a bicycle and had stopped by at a grocer’s shop. Dressed in a neat shirt and trousers, he was carrying a plastic shopping bag with multi-coloured stripes. An umbrella was tucked into the frame of the cycle. According to him, there were jan militia present at the gathering but they had not gathered there for a meeting. It was a mixed assembly of people whose primary motive was to run for cover from the security forces. “Some people had gone there when they heard that the panchayat mukhiya was also there,” the youth said. “Apart from the militia, all others were public”—civilians. In his telling, there was no exchange of fire that morning as reported by the police. It was wholly one-sided. However, he said, “Some of the militia had a bharmar.” The youth said that one of the six people from Nulkatong who were killed was a militia member.

An older man from a village close to Nulkatong, who was standing nearby, interjected to explain how the police seldom make a distinction between civilians and Maoists. “They do not differentiate between a naxali, militia or aam-janata,” he said. “All are treated in the same way. This is what the police do when they come. Jinda kaatte hain”—they kill people in cold blood. “That day also they must have just seen the bharmars and started firing.”

The two of them pointed out that among those who had died were militia from other villages, including Gompad, Velpocha, Kindrepal and Etegatta. The older man added that he had heard someone identified as “guruji” from Etegatta had arrived in Nulkatong. Somebody who was translating for us in Nulkatong the next day told me that the guruji was in the dalam—the local guerrilla squad, which has jurisdiction over a cluster of villages.

There are many memorials dedicated to Maoist martyrs near the Andhra Pradesh border.. ISHAN TANKHA

There are many memorials dedicated to Maoist martyrs near the Andhra Pradesh border.ISHAN TANKHA

The militia member from Nulkatong who was killed, the youth told me, was called Madkam Lakma, and was also known as Tinku. Lakma was 30 years old, unmarried, and had not had any formal education. “We saw his body,” the older man said. “His head had been bludgeoned as though with a sambal”—an iron rod with a pointed end that is used in agricultural work. “Those who were wounded but still alive after the shootout must have been hit with the sambal or the end of rifles to finish them off.”

I showed them some photographs I had received on WhatsApp, which had been taken at the Konta police station. Some of them were of dead bodies, and one was of items that the police said they had confiscated from the laadi, such as guns and bags. A few of the photographs showed the lifeless bodies of young men dressed in T-shirts with the logo of the Bharatiya Sena, or the Indian army, on them.

I could not easily read the expressions on the men’s faces as they went through the photographs of the dead. They knew, as did I, that they could very easily have been the ones who died that day. Their first comment was, “Police ne baad mai dress dalathe police dressed the victims in uniforms after the event.

“I know him,” the youth said, pointing at one of the photos of a young man, his eyes open in still surprise, clad in a checked green shirt. “He was from Gompad. He was not a militia.” He could not recognise two others, but pointed out Sodi Parbhu, who had a string of blue beads around his neck; Unga, with a sharp nose and neat moustache, who looked as if he was sleeping peacefully; and Hidma, in a red and black striped shirt—all three were from Nulkatong. Many of the civilians who were killed were minors, some younger than the youth I was talking to. “The force also took two sangam”—the village committee—“members that day,” the youth said.

Straining to look closely at the photo of confiscated items, one of them said, “The jholas belonged to the militia, not the boris”—sacks. They recognised a blue backpack as belonging to somebody who had managed to escape. “Rassi”—the rope—“was not there that day.” Most of the guns on display (the police had claimed there were 16) were rifles, and a few were bharmars. “They have been planted,” they said. “Where did the two tiffins come from?” they wondered aloud. Tiffins are often used as containers for improvised explosive devices.

A few photographs, circulating on WhatsApp, showed the lifeless bodies of young men dressed in T-shirts with the logo of the Bharatiya Sena, or the Indian army, on them.. COURTESY BELA BHATIA

A few photographs, circulating on WhatsApp, showed the lifeless bodies of young men dressed in T-shirts with the logo of the Bharatiya Sena, or the Indian army, on them.COURTESY BELA BHATIA

The Nulkatong massacre traumatised its survivors. The older man said that all the men from Gompad and Nulkatong, even those who were not at the site of the incident, ran to the neighbouring village—Durma—that day to protect themselves. They were afraid that if the security forces found them, they would also be killed. “Whenever police go to any village, they harass and trouble people, steal money, drink daru, slay hens, beat people and sometimes take them away,” he said. “Those who had run to the fields of Nulkatong that day had gone with the hope of saving themselves.”

I stayed that night with a relative of the older man, who returned later that evening, and accompanied me to Gompad the next day.“They do not differentiate between a naxali, militia or aam-janata,” he said. “All are treated in the same way. This is what the police do when they come. Jinda kaat te hain”—they kill people in cold blood.

GOMPAD IS A SMALL VILLAGE of Gond Adivasis with a population of less than three hundred. For its size and location, deep within the forests, it has a disproportionate record of state violence. I first heard of the village in 2009, when Operation Green Hunt was in full swing and nine persons were killed in an “encounter” there. Since then, there has been further violence, including the rape, torture and murder of a young woman in 2016. Now, the village has lost six more of its residents.

The Maoist movement in this area is at least two decades old. The martyr-memorial columns in the village tell a story, as do other facts like the absence of voter ID cards.

Once I reached Gompad, I met three journalists and two members of the Ambedkarite Party of India, who were also there to investigate the incident. We met family members of Soyam Sita and Soyam Chandra, who had also been killed that fateful morning.

Santosh, Sita’s brother, said that his brother was in his mid twenties, and that Chandra was a few years younger. Chandra’s young wife, holding her one-year-old daughter, told us that Chandra and Sita had run with the others towards Nulkatong when they heard that charon aur police bichhi hui hai—the police is spread on all sides. Chandra was the sarpanch of the village, like his father before him. His younger brother, Mallesh, who is a student in Konta, took us to the margath, or burial ground, and showed us Sita and Chandra’s graves, as well as those of four others. In the drizzle, we saw the six overturned cots on the graves along with other personal belongings of the deceased. A backpack and shoes hung from a branch of a nearby tree. “Those belonged to Sita,” Mallesh said.

When we reached Nulkatong, it was the middle of the day. We spent many hours listening to people’s testimonies of the incident. The same story emerged again and again: people had taken refuge in the laadi on the night of 5 August, and the security forces opened fire on them the next morning.

Muchaki Sukadi was sitting on the mud-plastered verandah of her house, near a low fire, when I met her. A bicycle was leaning on the side frame of the verandah. “That was Muka’s cycle,” she says. Muka, her son, who was around 13 years old, was one of the people killed in the firing. She showed us his photograph.

This was the second time that a member of Sukadi’s family was killed at the hands of the police. In 2009, members of the Salwa Judum and security forces killed her husband, she told us. “He was not part of the Maoist organisation at any level. He was feeding wood in the fire while making daru when he was nabbed and killed.” Her youngest son is now studying in the seventh grade in Konta, but she is now unsure whether he will be able to continue.

Unga, another victim of the Nulkatong incident, was in his early twenties. He is survived by his wife Lakke and a daughter, who is around seven years old. Unga’s brother spoke to me about the futility of running to the shelter for protection. “Agar ghar mein rahte hain to bhi marte hain”—if we stay at home, we get killed there too. Lakke’s mother could not contain her tears as she spoke about how she was burdened by her thoughts.

The personal belongings of one of the deceased hung from a nearby tree.. COURTESY BELA BHATIA

The personal belongings of one of the deceased hung from a nearby tree.COURTESY BELA BHATIA

A village elder who was part of the gathering approached us once the testimonies were over. Dipping into the pocket of his well-worn khaki shirt, he took out six used cartridges. He showed them to us, cradling them in the palm of his work-worn hands, without saying a word.

ON 9 AUGUST, the South Bastar Division Committee of the CPI(Maoist) issued a two-page statement condemning the fake encounter in Nulkatong and calling for a bandh across Sukma on 13 August. The party’s account of the incident is wildly at odds with what I learnt from the villagers:

As part of a special operation, more than 200 police from Konta, Bhejji and Golapalli camps surrounded the villages of Nulkatong, Velpocha, Gompad, Kindempad and Kannaipad villages on 5 August, held more than 50 persons captive and took them with them. Next day on 6 August, at 6 in the morning, they took them near the Nulkatong hill, tied the hands and feet of 15 nishastra grameen(unarmed villagers) and fired indiscriminately killing them mercilessly. A few of them are still in the captivity of the police. Many are missing and injured.

In this version, the villagers did not go to Nulkatong by themselves, but were rounded up from their respective villages and taken there. They were all civilians; no one from the jan militia was present. There was no Maoist meeting. The statement included a list of those killed, which also disagreed with what I heard: for instance, only one victim was shown as being a minor.

The police had a diametrically opposing version of events. And while a starkly different account from the police was to be expected, I was surprised to find three different variants.

According to Meena, the police did not know about the Maoists’ whereabouts at all. “The police had camped on the other side of the hill,” he said. “They had no idea that only one-and-a-half kilometres of forest and darkness separated them from their target.” When they did finally see the gathering in the laadi, they started moving in their direction. “The Naxal sentry was standing towards the south,” he said. “He was the first to see their approach and fired. After that there was an encounter. They were armed and opened fire.”

The police had, in a self-congratulatory move, mentioned to the press that they had apprehended two wanted Maoists in Nulkatong: a man named Madkam Deva and a woman named Dudhi Budhri. Deva, they said, was a “wanted Naxali” with a reward of 5 lakh rupees on his head. When I met Deva’s wife, Idme, she told me the police had made a mistake. “He was with them”—the Naxalites—“for a year or so,” she said. “I don’t know what work he did for them. But he had some health problems and returned. After that he has been at home. That night he had also taken refuge in the laadi out of fear.”

It turned out that the police had confused two persons named Deva—one from Nulkatong and the other from Gompad. On Deva’s arrest, Meena admitted, “We mistook him for Deva of Gompad who is the adhyaksh of the Revolutionary People’s Council.”

Kaise, Budhri’s mother, was too worried to say much when we met her. It had already been eight days since Budhri had been taken away. Kaise said, “Hearing that the paike (police) are coming, Budhri went to the field to sleep. A few other girls also went with her. The police took her and I do not know where she is or how she is.” According to her Aadhaar enrolment slip, which was certified by the sarpanch and the sachiv, Budhri is only 19 years old.

“When our party captured Budhri,” Meena told me, “she said that she was hit by a bullet.” But there was no sign of blood. “She was taken that evening to the hospital in Sukma, where a lady doctor examined her and said that her hip was dislocated. She was produced before the magistrate on 7 August and, on his orders, is being treated first before being arrested.” Meena also told me that Budhri said she had joined the militia more than three years earlier, and had left the organisations six months ago. “But after a couple of months, Soyam Sita”—one of the 15 who died in the incident—“came to her home and forcibly took her,” Meena said. “He threatened to kill her if she did not come. She was roaming again with the militia party during the last three months. She will be a prosecution witness.”

Besides Deva and Budhri, the police party also arrested two youth, Sodi Handa and Madavi Lakma, from the laadi. Both of them were from Nulkatong, and, according to the youth and the older man I had met in Mallempeta, they were sangam members. The police took them to the Konta police station, where they were kept for eight days. I met them on the day they were released. When the firing started, they said they tried to run away, but were caught.

However, Meena later told me that “Lakma was not in the laadi that night. He was going from the village to his fields at dawn. When the firing started, he sat down where he was and was caught on the spot.” Meena said Lakma had supported the Maoists by providing food.The superintendent’s account of the events differs from the one in the initial press note issued by the Sukma police. That note gives the impression of an ambush-like incident, where armed Maoists had attempted to attack the police and the police had retaliated.

According to the superintendent, these four individuals—Deva, Budhri, Handa and Lakma—are primary “eye witnesses of the August 6 incident.” Like Budhri, the other three are also likely to be used by the police as prosecution witnesses. Their earlier associations with the Maoists, if any, or however brief, make them vulnerable to blackmail from either side.

“Had it not been an actual encounter, why would there be eye witnesses?” Meena asked me. “We are encouraging people to go to the villages. They should also know the truth.”

His account of the event differs from the one in the initial press note issued by the Sukma police. That note gives the impression of an ambush-like incident, where armed Maoists had attempted to attack the police and the police had retaliated. According to the statement, there were between forty and fifty Maoists who ran away after realising that the police had the upper hand.

On 7 August, a third version from the police was reported in the newspaper Nai Duniya. It was attributed to DM Awasthi, who was then the special director general of police for anti-Naxal operations. In that version, the Maoists were sleeping in their camp when the police reached the spot based on an intelligence tip-off. The police attacked the camp and the Maoists “tried to retaliate.”

In short, the police’s versions of the event are not only inconsistent with those of the villagers and the Maoists, but also with each other. The police prepared a list of the deceased on the basis of identification by family members. The list was missing the names of three of the people killed from Gompad: Soyam Chandra, Madavi Deva and Madavi Nanda.

At present, Budhri and Deva are in the central jail at Jagdalpur. When I met them there in September, I realised they had no legal representation. I offered my services as a lawyer, which they accepted.

Budhri told me that she was taken to court only once, after she had spent two weeks in the hospital. “In the court, I was told to say that 15 persons died and that I am a Naxali. I was made to put my thumb impression on a sheet of paper.” This was perhaps the “confessional statement” that Meena was referring to. Budhri and Deva have been charged with rioting, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy. They have also been booked under sections that prohibit the carrying of arms and membership as well as support of terrorist organisations. These are all serious offences carrying prison sentences of several years (up to ten years in the case of UAPA offences).

covered the graves of the six from Gompad who were killed in the Nulkatong massacre.. COURTESY BELA BHATIA

covered the graves of the six from Gompad who were killed in the Nulkatong massacre.COURTESY BELA BHATIA

THE CONCLUSION THAT THE NULKATONG INCIDENT may not have been an encounter, but a massacre, is consistent with a number of other facts too. First, none of the police were injured, despite the firing going on for an hour and a half by their own account. Second, the victims’ bodies were quickly put into body bags, while usually, after an encounter, dead bodies are brought to the police station and displayed as they are. The reason for this, quite likely, is that the police did not want anyone to see that many of the victims, including Ayata and Muka, were minors, and not the uniformed Maoists they had claimed they were. On 24 December, Meena told me that the youngest person there was 18 or 19 years old. Finally, the uniforms allegedly worn by some of the victims had the Indian Army insignia.

On 13 August, even as my inquiry was going on, a rally took place in Konta, where a crowd mobilised by former Salwa Judum leaders shouted hostile slogans against me and Soni Sori, an Adivasi school teacher turned political leader. It was the same day the Maoists had called for a shutdown to protest the farji muthbhed, or fake encounter. I was already in Nulkatong at the time. A group of journalists who were accompanying Sori on 18 August, and the following day too, were obstructed and found it difficult to reach Nulkatong. On arriving there, they found an empty village. They learnt later that the police had instructed the people of Nulkatong to leave (on the pretext of possible firing that night due to Maoist presence in the area) and go to Durma. They were expressly told to steer clear of outsiders

The police, often under pressure to boost counter-insurgency statistics, do not always distinguish between ordinary villagers and jan militia.. ISHAN TANKHA

The police, often under pressure to boost counter-insurgency statistics, do not always distinguish between ordinary villagers and jan militia.ISHAN TANKHA

Abuses and threats were also aired on social media. For example, on 19 August, on the WhatsApp group “Yuva Sangh Chhattisgarh,” which is administered by a leading member of the Action Group for National Integrity—an anti-Maoist group—some persons made wild allegations against Soni Sori, and the journalists Lingaram Kodopi and Prabhat Singh. They suggested that the three had taken money from the Maoists in return for speaking in their favour. One of them even issued a death threat against Singh. On the same group, someone hurled abuse at me: “Suar ki bachhi, murdabad.

A prominent anti-Maoist leader of Sukma circulated a note on 20 August, alleging that some villagers from Nulkatong had lodged a police complaint against Sori and me for pressurising the people of the village to give false testimonies against the police. A few days later, Soni received a notice from Konta police station, to which she responded both in writing and in a press conference. “It is a conspiracy of the police to implicate me in a false case,” she said.Militia members are in no position to defend themselves in this sort of situation, unlike higher level PLGA cadres who have a better chance since they have military training and modern weapons.

Despite these acts of intimidation, investigations by journalists as well as human-rights groups did take place. A public-interest litigation was also filed by the Civil Liberties Committee, Telangana, in the Supreme Court, charging that the encounter was fake and that civilians had been killed. The matter has been heard only once so far.

Naxalites first entered the forest areas closest to Telangana in the early 1980s.. ISHAN TANKHA

Naxalites first entered the forest areas closest to Telangana in the early 1980s.ISHAN TANKHA

The Nulkatong incident also raises a troubling question about the responsibility of the Maoist party towards those who make up its base force, as well as towards the people in the villages where the party has a strong presence. Militia members, let alone ordinary people, are in no position to defend themselves in this sort of situation, unlike higher-level PLGA cadre, who have a better chance since they have military training and modern weapons. Militia members are soft targets for security personnel.

The primary responsibility for the Nulkatong massacre, however, lies with the security forces. The incident shows, once again, the illegitimate nature of counter-insurgency operations in Bastar. Several acts of this sort have been challenged in the courts, but there is no progress. Any government that resorts to criminal tactics—for that is what it boils down to—as a matter of policy offers little hope for either peace or justice in this tormented land.

Bela Bhatia is a writer and human-rights lawyer based in Bastar, south Chhattisgarh.

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Elgaar Parishad case: Defence lawyers to get cloned copies of digital data ‘seized’ from accused

Police have alleged that organisers of the Elgaar Parishad — a one-day conference held at Shaniwar Wada on December 31, 2017 as part of events to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon — have links with the CPI-Maoist.

By Express News Service |Pune |Published: January 5, 2019 8:37:04 am2 Shares


Police have made several high-profile arrests in connection with the case. (Express)

Lawyers defending the accused in the Elgaar Parishad case will receive ‘cloned copies’ of the information recovered from the digital material allegedly seized from their clients, the prosecution lawyer submitted before Special Judge K D Vadane in a Pune court on Friday.

The copies will be prepared under the supervision of court and then given to defence lawyers, said the prosecution lawyer. Police have alleged that organisers of the Elgaar Parishad — a one-day conference held at Shaniwar Wada on December 31, 2017 as part of events to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon — have links with the CPI-Maoist. They have claimed that “provocative” speeches at the Parishad triggered the violence in Koregaon Bhima the next day, January 1, when lakhs had gathered in the area to mark the anniversary of the battle.

Pune City Police had, in June last year, arrested five persons — Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut — in connection with the case. The chargesheet had also named five alleged Maoist operatives who are “absconding” — Milind Teltumbde, Prakash alias Ritupan Goswami, Manglu, Deepu and Kishan alias Prashanto Bose. All of them have been charged under the (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) UAPA.

Pune City Police had claimed to have recovered about 25 TB data from the digital material seized from the five accused. They had claimed that in one letter recovered from the accused, one of the activists allegedly discussed the possibility of eliminating Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a “Rajiv Gandhi type” operation.

Some of the accused, including Gadling, a Nagpur-based lawyer, have filed bail applications before the court. During a hearing last month, Gadling had argued that police have not supplied him mirror copies of the electronic evidence in the case.

“Today, the prosecution said cloned copies of the evidence will be prepared with the help of experts under the supervision of court. The cloned copies of the evidence would then be given to us,” said defence lawyer Rahul Deshmukh. The matter will be taken up by the court again on January 22.

Police said the seized data was sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), which prepared cloned copies and gave it to the police for investigation. Now, more cloned copies of the same data will be prepared by forensic experts under the supervision of the court and given to defence lawyers.

courtesy- new indian express

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Telangana’s ‘villages of widows’

K. Venkateshwarlu

“Far from accepting responsibility and offering help , the government and the corporation left the workers who were suffering from silicosis to fend for themselves.” The quartz mines near Elkatta in Telangana’s Ranga Reddy district where the workers were employed. (Below) The women whose husbands died from silicosis narrate their stories. K.V.S. Giri

“Far from accepting responsibility and offering help , the government and the corporation left the workers who were suffering from silicosis to fend for themselves.” The quartz mines near Elkatta in Telangana’s Ranga Reddy district where the workers were employed. (Below) The women whose husbands died from silicosis narrate their stories. K.V.S. Giri  MORE-INTelanganaGround Zero

In the 1970s, hundreds of women from Mahbubnagar’s villages lost their husbands to silicosis, an occupational hazard that could have been prevented if safety protocols had been followed. Even after four decades, justice and compensation remain a distant dream for the affected families, reports K. Venkateshwarlu

If only someone could read them, the wrinkles on Narsamma’s face would tell an epic tale of agony and tragedy spanning four decades. Narsamma was a teenager when she married Chandramouli in the 1970s. What decided the match, as was the trend in those days, was his job in a public sector undertaking — at a quartz-mining and crushing factory of the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC) at Elkatta, a dusty village, 5 km from Shadnagar, in Telangana’s Ranga Reddy district (earlier in Mahbubnagar district).

For the first four years, things went smoothly for the couple. They had a baby boy in 1980. Narsamma’s relatives envied her good fortune: she was married to a man with a secure job and a good salary. For the people in this drought-hit district, mining quartz promised jobs and prosperity.

But soon things began to go downhill. In 1981, Chandramouli returned home one night with a persistent cough. “Initially, we dismissed it as common cold,” Narsamma says. “But his cough worsened, and he found it difficult to breathe. We took him to a private doctor in Shadnagar, and then to a big hospital in Hyderabad. We ran from pillar to post in search of a cure. Some said that he had tuberculosis (TB). We mortgaged the house to pay for his treatment and ran up huge debts. But we could not save him.”

There are many stories like Narsamma’s in Elkatta, Rangampally, Chowlapally, Kamsanipally and Peerlaguda villages in Ranga Reddy district. These places are known locally as “villages of widows”, as most of the women there have lost their spouses to silicosis. All of them belong to poor Scheduled Tribe, Scheduled Caste, Backward Class, or minority communities.

The mystery illness

Silicosis, an incurable disease, remained shrouded in mystery for a long time due to misdiagnosis and the delayed manifestation of symptoms. The locals called it “guttala bimari”, or “the disease from the hills”. The APMDC, now known as the Telangana State Mineral Development Corporation (TSMDC), ran the mines from 1965 to 1974, and then shut them down abruptly when they saw that the workers were succumbing en masse to silicosis.

But until the shutdown, whenever a worker fell sick, he was simply told that his cough was a temporary phenomenon and that he would get better. The workers were not told that they were victims of silicosis. Instead of being given proper medical treatment, they were given pieces of jaggery as some kind of an antidote.

Telangana’s ‘villages of widows’

According to the villagers, around 350 workers were employed in the mines and the crushing unit, and a majority of them were exposed to silica dust. The technologies of mining and crushing, the working conditions, and the safety protocols in the early 1970s were so primitive that most of the workers were exposed to heavy doses of silica dust on a daily basis. Quartz was mined at Chowlapally and brought to the crushing unit at Elkatta, where it was heated to 1,000°C in a kiln, broken into smaller pieces, and turned into fine dust in an oblong closed shed.

This shed proved to be a virtual death trap, as the workers kept inhaling the odourless silica dust that gave them a racking cough and led to shortness of breath. Over 100 employees were involved in this crushing process in each of the three shifts daily. When they fell sick, the women rushed them from one hospital to another, fighting against a disease that would soon turn into an unending battle for compensation.

Suppressing the truth

Far from accepting responsibility and offering help, the government and the corporation left the workers to fend for themselves. The authorities quietly abandoned the quartz-mining and crushing activities in 1974 though the mining lease was valid till 1985 and the mineral was available in abundance. When they realised that the health of the workers was deteriorating, instead of acknowledging the toxicity of the workplace as the issue, the corporation told the workers that operating the mine had become uneconomical. The workers were laid off in batches and paid paltry amounts instead of the full compensation and severance package that would have been their due had the legal process of closure been followed.

“Clearly, this was done to avoid the liabilities under Section 25-O of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 and Section 6 of the Metalliferous Mines Regulations, 1961 (which mandates that the mine owner should submit a notice to the Chief or the Regional Inspector, stating reasons for abandoning the mine and the number of persons affected),” says M. Sambasiva Rao of the NGO, Banjara Development Society (BDS).

Perhaps because the APMDC was a government undertaking, the regulatory agencies under the Mines Act and the Factories Act looked the other way. Many even wonder if the unit had any of the other mandatory permissions apart from the mining lease. Whether in overseeing the operations, putting in place safety protocols, or taking care of the sick workers and their families, the APMDC’s track record has been of consistent neglect and callousness.

For the stricken families, getting to the bottom of “guttala bimari” was itself quite a task. Exposure to large amounts of silica can go unnoticed as it is a non-irritant and does not cause any immediate health effects. The symptoms of silicosis — shortness of breath, cough, fever and bluish skin — show up only after prolonged exposure to silica dust, according to the World Health Organisation. “As silicosis is incurable, clinical management includes removing the worker from the industry and giving symptomatic treatment,” the WHO says.

When the quartz mine workers who fell sick were taken to the local government hospitals, they were wrongly diagnosed as having TB and were referred to TB hospitals in Vikarabad and Hyderabad, 50 km away. As they continued to get treated for TB, there was no clinical management of silicosis. For years after the shutdown, workers kept dying of silicosis with no remedy in sight.

“The doctors were either clueless or deliberately suppressed the fact that the workers were suffering from silicosis,” says Rao, who has been ferrying victims to hospital and fighting for their compensation for over two decades. “Our government negotiates nuclear liability clauses aggressively in international fora but doesn’t care about domestic industrial disasters. It’s been more than four decades since the quartz mine was abandoned and the workers died without proper care. But the families haven’t got a single rupee as compensation despite approaching so many government bodies and regulatory agencies, including the APMDC, the Directorate General of Mines Safety, the Directorate of Factories, the Labour and Health departments, the National Human Rights Commission, Assembly, Parliament and the High Court. It is a total failure of governance.”

Saga of insensitivity

What emerges from a study of the chronology of the events is a sordid saga of bureaucratic red tape and insensitivity. To start with, no government agency was willing to recognise the disease as silicosis. This was despite the fact that two of the victims, G. Narayana and Chandramouli, who had privately approached a chest physician, Dr. Jaichandra, in Hyderabad in 1987, were certified as afflicted by silicosis.

A medical camp set up in 1991 in Mogiligidda village (near Elkatta) by Dr. Mahender Reddy, a private doctor, also confirmed silicosis among the workers. In 1993-94, a joint move by the BDS and Dr. R. Vijai Kumar, a pulmonologist at MediCiti, a private hospital in Hyderabad, revealed 69 cases of silica dust-induced illness among the workers, with 58 suffering from silicosis and 11 from silico-tuberculosis. By as late as 1994, Dr. Kumar remained the only doctor who agreed to give evidence before a government agency. But the government hospitals either vacillated or dismissed the cases as TB.

In 1991, five affected persons and their family members filed petitions before the Commissioner for Workmen’s Compensation in Hyderabad. Two years later, they were referred to the Andhra Pradesh Chest Hospital for the checking of “past exposure and present morbidity and mortality”. A committee formed for the purpose refused to give its view and passed the buck to the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESI) hospital, Hyderabad. The ESI hospital, too, declined to get involved, on the grounds that mines are not covered by the ESI Act. The Commissioner for Workmen’s Compensation then referred the matter to the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Bengaluru. But the NIOH too refused to take it up.

It is telling that the government’s first efforts to medically examine the cases came a good two decades after the closure of the mines and the crushing unit. It was only on September 1, 1994 that the government of Andhra Pradesh issued a letter to the Andhra Pradesh Chest Hospital, after which the superintendent of the hospital held a medical camp in Shadnagar on “respiratory problems faced by people in these villages”. The letter made no mention of silicosis. But even this late intervention turned out to be a non-starter as the critical equipment, a mobile X-ray unit, was “not available”. Apparently, the Andhra Pradesh Chest Hospital authorities could not arrange for one to be brought from their hospital in Hyderabad to Shadnagar.

In response to a complaint filed by the BDS and a Delhi-based NGO, Society for Participatory Research in Asia, the Director General of Mines Safety conducted an inquiry and seized the employment and other relevant records from the APMDC in 1995-96. But no action was taken though the Director General could have invoked Section 75 of the Mines Act to prosecute the APMDC.

After the BDS lobbied with some MLAs, the issue was raised in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly in 1997. The NGO ferried 54 workers from their villages to the Andhra Pradesh Chest Hospital in Hyderabad for a proper medical examination. But again there was no report.

In the absence of any succour from any of the government agencies, the victims, with the help of the BDS, petitioned some MPs. Responding to a question raised in the Lok Sabha in 1997, the Union Health Ministry released a note prepared by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The note blandly stated that a team of doctors from ICMR visited Hyderabad, Mahbubnagar and the office of the Mandal Revenue Officer, Shadnagar, from February 20 to 22, 1997.

The team’s findings were baffling. First, it found that no cases of silicosis had been reported to the Director/Inspectorate of Factories. Second, it observed that though there may have been cases of deaths due to silicosis, no authentic records were available to establish this. These findings, however, fly in the face of a report from the Society for Participatory Research in Asia that was submitted to the ICMR team. The report, based on a house-to-house survey on deaths due to silicosis in select villages of Mahbubnagar district, stated that 136 people (85 men and 51 women) died from silicosis. Most of those who died were 40 to 49 years old.

A perusal of all the documents pertaining to these deaths leads to the conclusion that the ICMR team, instead of getting to the bottom of the causes behind the workers’ deaths, simply washed its hands of the whole mess with a perfunctory note. This non-response remained the norm with nearly all the government agencies.

Judicial intervention

Things began to move only after the issue was taken up by the National Human Rights Commission following a representation filed by the BDS in 1995. Five years after the petition was filed, the Commission issued a notice to the Chief Secretary of the Andhra Pradesh government, asking why no effort was made to find the cause of the illnesses and ameliorate the suffering of the victims. The government formed a committee under the leadership of Dr. K.J.R. Murthy, an expert in respiratory medicine, and ordered another round of tests on those willing to come to Hyderabad. The committee members examined 143 people in late 2000. Twenty-nine of them, including 11 women, were found to be suffering from silicosis. It was after this exercise that another silicosis victim, N. Sevia, died while returning to his village. Yet again, the entire exercise yielded nothing concrete for the affected families — no compensation and not even an allowance for those taking care of the victims.

More than 20 years after the death of their husbands, the women of these villages were still to see a glimpse of either justice or compensation. Distraught, they then approached the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 2000. Helped by the BDS, three petitioners, including Narsamma, moved the court under Article 226 of the Constitution. The case was effectively argued by human rights activist K. Balagopal.

After more than a decade of litigation, the High Court converted the writ petition into a Public Interest Litigation on September 13, 2012, and passed the final order in February 2013. It directed the authorities, including the APMDC, to propose a scheme to safeguard the life and liberty of the persons suffering from silicosis. On March 5, 2013, the Advocate General, appearing on behalf of the APMDC, placed a scheme before the court. It entailed the APMDC agreeing to pay the silicosis-affected workers compensation as decided by the Compensation Commissioner under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923.

The High Court gave two weeks to the affected persons to obtain the necessary documents from the authorities and another two weeks for the latter to complete the task. Fully aware of how bureaucracies tend to function, the court noted, “If any help is required from the Revenue authorities by the persons who were affected, generosity shall be shown and shall be dealt with on humanitarian ground.”

Another five years have passed since the court order. Only on December 19, 2018 did an official team of the TSMDC start a preliminary survey of the villages. While the visit has triggered hope among the families of the victims, there is also an unmistakeable note of cynicism. What will they do after so many decades, the families wonder.

Their despondency is hardly surprising. The scheme submitted to the High Court is good but it again talks of submission of proof of employment and confirmation and verification of workers who suffered silicosis. The government and the TSMDC are still struggling to put together a list of victims and their families who are eligible for compensation. G. Deepti, general manager, sales and marketing, TSMDC, however, says that the corporation would ensure that the families are compensated.

Rao has his doubts. He wonders how many of these poor families will have 40-year-old records and documents, given that the Director General of Safety had seized most of the employment-related records. “The authorities should show their human face and be generous in extending compensation instead of forcing the victims to again visit offices and hospitals seeking assorted documents to prove their misery,” he says.

Will these families, devastated by a deadly combination of industrial callousness, medical tragedy and official neglect, ever find closure? “I am not sure,” a weary Narsamma says. “Let’s see if I get something in hand.”

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A Spark of Hope: Lessons From the Zapatistas on the 25th Anniversary of Their Uprising

 by Hilary Klein —

At the 2018 International Summit for Women in the Struggle called by the Zapatistas. The mural reads: “Capitalism converts everything, absolute everything into commodities. For it [capitalism] we women are propaganda, decorations…Down with this capitalist system!” Photo credit: Global Justice Now/Flickr/CC 2.0

January 1, 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. For those of us who remember that day well, it’s hard to believe it was a quarter century ago. It’s been many years since the Zapatista movement was the darling of the international solidarity scene, and many years since I’ve been back to Chiapas. But in the era of Trump – of white nationalist populism on the rise around the world, of migrant children dying in ICE detention centers, of countless other horrors, the Zapatista movement still has much to teach us – about having the chutzpah to take on state-sponsored terrorism and global capitalism, while having the wisdom and humility to know that no one has all the answers, that we make the road by walking. There is much to learn from the Zapatista movement about the enduring nature of this work and the patience that comes with that understanding.

In the era of the Me Too movement (with all its successes, we still have so far to go!) there is much we could learn from Zapatista women. I feel lucky to have worked side by side with them for several years, witnessing and absorbing the quiet dignity of their resistance, their unflinching commitment, and their discipline infused with humor, militancy infused with tenderness. In the face of patriarchy’s ugliest manifestations, they made some tremendous strides towards collective liberation. A handful of Zapatista women in key roles of leadership, combined with a broad push from women in the Zapatista base, succeeded in changing laws, institutions, behavior and expectations around gender roles and domestic violence, achieving a series of remarkable transformations for women in Zapatista territory.

In a moment of heightened polarization in the United States, I appreciate the Zapatistas’ ability to remind us what we have in common. A group of indigenous peasants in southern Mexico, the Zapatistas were fighting for land reform and indigenous autonomy. But they also succeeded in communicating a vision of a just society so universal that people all over the world – living in very different contexts from them – felt included in their struggle.

As we face a daily barrage of hateful words and actions, I am reminded of the intertwined relationship between family, community, and political struggle in Zapatista territory, and what that might tell us about building social justice movements that are also a political and creative home – spaces where we foster community, where we treat each other with respect and dignity, where we collectively create some shelter from the storm.

In 1994, the Zapatistas were often celebrated for their creative use of the Internet to reach people all over the world (the Internet being relatively new back then). But anyone who has spent time in Zapatista villages can tell you that was a very externally focused strategy, and that one of the strongest foundations of the Zapatista movement is the deep social fabric of community, the unquestioned assumption that the collective well-being takes priority over the individual. So yes, let’s continue to use new technologies to get our message out, but let’s not forget to build community, and to have rigor and discipline while we do some old-fashioned face-to-face organizing.

I could go on – there are many other valuable, strategic lessons we could draw from the Zapatista movement. But, a quarter century after their uprising, perhaps the most meaningful gift from the Zapatistas is a spark of hope, a sense of what is possible, even in dark and uncertain times.

Hilary Klein spent several years working with women’s cooperatives in Zapatista territory and is the author of Compañeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories.

Originally published in Toward Freedom

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India – “Brutal” police crackdown on farmers, womenfolk in Bhavnagar

Demand for judicial probe

Prominent civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), has strongly condemned the “brutal” lathicharge on farmers on January 2 in Bhavnagar district, Gujarat, and has sought judicial inquiry into the incident. The police lathichargetook place in Mahua and Talja tehsils of Bhavnagar district of Gujarat. NAPM claims, Ultra-Tech Cement was given land for mining in Mahua and Talaja tehsils, in Uncha Kotada, Nicha Kotda, Talli, Kalsar, Dayal, Bambhor and Methla villages, about 20 years ago. However, no mining activities have been undertaken on the land, leading to farmers demanding their land back under the 2013 land acquisition Act.

This led the company to organize public hearing for mining. At the public hearing, local people protested. Despite farmers’ opposition, the company “managed to get” environmental clearance. People challenged the company in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Pune. As the deadline for hearing the case allegedly expired, farmers took the matter to NGT, Delhi. 

Meanwhile, the company started mining on the basis of the disputed environment clearance certificate. Mining began near Bhambhore village, where about 2000 people went on protest. Women and children also participated. Police promptly intervened to “rescue” of the company. People were surrounded and were brutally beaten up. Male cops attacked women who were protesting by singing songs. 

Those seriously injured were sent to the Bhavnagar Civil Hospital. The remaining people are in jail in an injured condition. Ninety two people have not been granted bail, and they have been sent to Bhavnagar jail under section 307, including women. 

NAPM has demanded that police “vandalism” be investigated by a sitting judge of the Gujarat High Court, FIR is filed against the police personnel involved, fictitious lawsuits filed against farmers are unconditionally withdrawn, and farmers’ land is returned

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India lost 11 million jobs in 2018, rural areas worst hit: CMIE

The analysis report showed individuals from vulnerable groups, namely women, uneducated, wage labourers, agricultural labourers and small traders, being the worst hit by job losses in 2018.

Job scenario turned bleak in the past year, as almost 11 million Indians lost their jobs during 2018, a report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) said. The analysis report showed individuals belonging to vulnerable groups being the worst hit by job losses in 2018.

The CMIE report showed that the number of unemployed has been steadily increasing in the country. The number of employed recorded in December 2018 was at 397 million, which is 10.9 million less than the figure of 407.9 million seen a year ago at the end of December 2017.

A closer observation of the unemployment trends shows that while people in both rural and urban India have been hit, most of the jobs losses were reported from former region. “An estimated 9.1 million jobs were lost in rural India while the loss in urban India was 1.8 million jobs. Rural India accounts for two-thirds of India’s population, but it accounted for 84 per cent of the job losses,” the report stated.

ALSO READ:Fresh investments in Indian public sector at 14-year low: report

Women were significantly impacted by job losses during 2018, where out of the 11 million jobs lost, women accounted for 8.8 million jobs whereas men lost only 2.2 million jobs. Around 6.5 million rural women lost their jobs, whereas the figure for urban women was at 2.3 million. Men on the other hand were not as affected by the job losses. Urban men gained 5,00,000 jobs, whereas rural men lost 2.3 million jobs, the CMIE report said.

People belonging to age groups between 40 years to 59 years kept their jobs, while all other age groups saw jobs shrinking, the report said. Around 3.7 million salaried employees lost jobs in 2018. Also, job losses were concentrated among the uneducated, as well as wage labourers, agricultural labourers and small traders. The latter three were also the worst affected in terms of employment during the aftermath of demonetisation.

“So, the break-down of employment statistics by the various attributes of respondents discussed above tells us that a person who lost the job in 2018 mostly fits a profile like – is a woman, particularly a woman in rural India, is uneducated and is engaged as a wage labourer or a farm labourer or is a small-scale trader and is aged either less than 40 years or more than 60 years,” the report said.

“India’s unemployment rate shot up to 7.4 per cent in December 2018. This is the highest unemployment rate we’ve seen in 15 months. The rate has increased sharply from the 6.6 per cent clocked in November,” the report said.

While employment estimates have been volatile between September and December, when month-over-month employment estimates have increased or declined by 5-7 million, the overall trend has shown a steep decline. The marginal decline seen in November was possibly an aberration in a trend that indicates towards a steady decline in jobs.

The report stated that this analysis, however, is only a preliminary insight into the job scenario during the months of September to December, and are bound to have a margin for error which will be eliminated in further studies over next couple of months

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Bhima Koregaon violence: Sarpanch, who signed fraudulent letter, doesn’t rule out conspiracy behind 2018 clashes

IndiaParth MN 


The sarpanch of Bhima Koregaon did not deny the conspiracy behind the violence on 1 January, 2018, which many believe was a pre-planned attack on Dalit pilgrims by upper caste mobs. Sangita Kamble, the sarpanch, was responding to the question about the fraudulent letter typed on the village letterhead for the taluka police station of Shikrapur ahead of the occasion. She claimed to have no experience then, having just taken over.

Every year, on 1 January, tens of thousands of Dalits across Maharashtra gather at the war memorial of Bhima Koregaon — 40 kilometres from Pune. It commemorates the historic victory of the British army, which had a significant Dalit contingent, over the Peshwas. 2018 was the 200th anniversary of the battle. Therefore, it was an even larger crowd, which was allegedly assaulted by right-wing groups.

On 30 December, 2017, the Bhima Koregaon Gram Panchayat, on its letterhead, submitted a letter to Shikrapur police station, which read, “To avoid law and order situation because of what happened at Sambhaji Maharaj’s memorial in Vadhu, the Gram Panchayat and the entire village has decided to observe a bandh on 1 January, 2018. We request you to take the appropriate decision and cooperate with us.”

The letter had signatures of Kamble and the clerk, Sagar Gawhane.

The Bhima Koregaon war memorial. Image Courtesy: Shrirang Swarge

The Bhima Koregaon war memorial. Image Courtesy: Shrirang Swarge

About four kilometres from Bhima Koregaon, the village of Vadhu had been gripped with caste tensions over a historical dispute in the last week of December last year. Vadhu has a memorial of Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji. Credible historical accounts suggest that he was cremated by a Dalit man called Govind Gaikwad after Aurangzeb killed him. On 29 December, Gaikwad’s statue, which stands right across Sambhaji’s memorial, was vandalised, triggering caste animosities. The Pune rural police had taken cognisance of the developments.

“The call to observe a bandh in Bhima Koregaon despite fears that law and order situation might deteriorate was odd, when Vadhu itself had not called for a bandh on 1 January,” said Rahul Dambale, activist with the Republican Morcha, based in Pune.

On 4 October, 2018, the tricky nature of the bandh in Bhima Koregaon came to light after Firstpost reported the testimony of the clerk to the inquiry commission appointed by the state to investigate the violence. He testified that the letter was backdated, and the village was not consulted as it claims.

In his affidavit, Gawhane, said he typed the letter because Ganesh Phadtare, an infamous Maratha leader and also a former deputy Sarpanch of Bhima Koregaon, asked him to do so. “On the morning of 31 December, Phadtare called and asked me to come to the Gram Panchayat office urgently,” the affidavit reads. “When I reached the office, Phadtare and his karyakartas were already there. He asked me to type a letter that called for the bandh in the village.”

A year later, Kamble did not deny the claims of the clerk when this reporter met her at the gram panchayat office in Bhima Koregaon. “I had just been elected as a Sarpanch on 19 December, 2017 to be accurate,” she apologetically said. “I had no experience. I am not even educated.”

Gawhane’s testimony even states that Phadtare called the Village Development Officer, Rajendra Satras, after he resisted typing up the misleading letter. Satras told Gawhane to do ‘what Phadtare said’. He typed the letter with Phadtare named as the initiator, and one Yogesh Gawhane as the endorser.

Yogesh, however, was not in the village at the time. When Gawhane pointed it out to Phadtare, he said, “It is none of your business.” Phadtare further asked him to mark the letter with the previous date because 31 December was a Sunday. “No such decision to shut the village was taken on 30 December by the Gram Panchayat or the villagers,” Gawhane’s afiidavit reads. “Gram Panchayat’s proceeding book also has no note of it.”

Kamble did not answer how she ended up signing the letter. “Please understand that my situation is vulnerable,” she said. “I sell vegetables to make my ends meet. My husband works as a driver. The village made me Sarpanch, and it is an honour for me to be given the chance to serve people.”

Bhima Koregaon gram panchayat is reserved for Schedule Caste. However, whispers on the ground say the sarpanch works under tremendous pressures from the influential upper caste men in the village, and it is highly likely that Kamble signed the letter in duress.

Shops and eateries in the village were shut on the day of the bandh because it would have caused inconvenience to the pilgrims who had travelled to mark the bicentenary on 1 January. Victims of the riots claim that was the precise idea of the bandh: cause inconvenience if Dalits obeyed, or more likely, wreck havoc if they resisted. Victims of the 2018 violence have consistently asked how did so many stones turn up in the area where the pilgrims had gathered.

Another resident of Bhima Koregaon, Mangal Kamble, in her affidavit, has said she had no clue about the bandh, corroborating Sagar’s claim of no unilateral decision or a meeting with villagers to keep the village shut due to frictions in Vadhu.

Mangal’s testimony to the inquiry commission explains how her eatery was burnt because she made arrangements of tea, snacks and lunch for those who had travelled to be part of the gathering. “On 31 December, 2017, my son Ram was decorating the premises in front of our shop. At 11.30 pm, member of Gram Sabha, Ganesh Phadtare arrived with two others,” she has written, “They said we have called for a bandh. Take down the decorations you have put up to welcome ‘your people’ and keep your shop closed tomorrow. My son declined to obey the orders and continued to work. Phadtare abused and threatened us that night. The next morning, when the visitors were having tea and snacks, a mob of 20 barged in and started beating us up, in which I was severely injured. My guests were forced to leave. The shop and the mandap we had installed were also destroyed. I was taken to a hospital in Hadapsar for primary treatment. On 2 January, when I came back to pay the person who had made decoration arrangements, a mob of 2,000 vandalised and burnt our house and shop at 11 am. We incurred losses of around Rs five lakh.”

Victims asked why the police have found it so difficult to find out on whose behest Phadtare had been conspiring. The Pune rural police have arrested over 100 people, acting on 23 FIRs, but because of the failure of the police to file the charge sheet even after a year, most of them are out on bail roaming around in the village. Including Phadtare, who, after being released was arrested again for half murder, and got bail for that too.

As preventive measure ahead of the procession on 1 January 2019, Phadtare had been asked to leave the village, and not come back until the rally concludes. He is currently in Goa, and is likely to return on January 5.

Lakhan Kamble, Mangal’s son, said the police have failed the victims, because they do not feel safe in Bhima Koregaon. “The police agreed to lodge our FIR in November, 11 months after the violence,” he said. “That too after activists pressured them. We have named Phadtare in our statements and affidavits, and he knows it. We could be in trouble once he gets back.”

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Chattisgarh -‘Bullet for bullet won’t end Naxal menace’- CM

Congress to return Bastar farmers’ land


“Congress lost its frontline leaders in a deadly Maoist attack (in May 2013). Many innocent jawans, local tribals and journalists have also lost their lives. If this problem was to be solved by blazing guns, it would have been solved during Raman Singh’s 15-year rule. The policy of bullet-for-bullet has failed miserably and it’s time to give a new thought to the issue,” he told TOI in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

Referring to the spate of encounters and complaints of human rights violations, the CM said it would be a mistake to assume that deployment of more forces, intensifying encounters and counting of bodies indicate successfully countering the rebel problem. “Instead, I would look for solutions with the involvement of all those affected. I don’t want records of body counts,” he said.

He believes Naxalism is a socio-economic and political issue. “I feel there is a need to initiate a dialogue with the affected people, mainly of Bastar, and all other stakeholders on how to bring an end to violence and fear in the region,” Baghel said, adding that it is important to know their point of view as they are “direct sufferers and feel trapped in the situation”.

Asked about cases of corruption, raised by Congress while in opposition, Baghel said the law will take its course. “We don’t allow corruption cases to linger on for long. Wherever there are recommendations for action, either by Lok Aayog or other agencies, action will follow,” he promised.Asked about the state’s finances at the end of BJP’s 15-year rule, the chief minister said the state is in debt. “When the Congress government handed over power to BJP in December 2003, the exchequer had a surplus of more than Rs 400 crore. Now, the state is in debt and our government will come up with innovative measures to mop up revenue. We will encourage industries to set up units, use and add value to raw materials available in the state,” he said.C

The Congress government in Chhattisgarh will return to Bastar farmers the 2044-hectare land acquired in 2005 for a mega Tata Steel plant that has since been abandoned. The first step in fulfilling this poll promise could have ripples 1,000km away in Bengal’s Singur, where return of land acquired by the Tata Group for the Nano project is a long-pending demand. An election promise of Mamata Banerjee in 2011, the case is now in Supreme Court. Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel told TOI on Wednesday that his government has fulfilled yet another key poll promise after agri loan waiver and reopening of the investigation into the 2013 massacre of frontline Congress leaders. TNN

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Maharashtra – State allows prosecution of 5 activists for sedition #WTFnews

The state government this week granted sanction to prosecute activists S arrested in the Elgar Parishad case on charges of sedition and waging war against India among other charges under Indian Penal Code.

Assistant commissioner of police (Swargate division) on Thursday filed the sanction order issued by deputy secretary (governor’s office) Vijay Patil on December 10 before special court judge, K D Vadane, through public prosecutor Ujjwala Pawar.

Pawar told TOI, “At the time of filing the chargesheet against the five activists and five others on the run, we had mentioned before the court that the investigation officer had submitted a report seeking government permission to prosecute the activists for committing offences under Section 153 (A) of IPC, among other charges. We had also mentioned that the sanction order would be filed later.”

She said, “The competent authority, after studying the report, accorded sanction under Section 196 (1) of Criminal Procedure Code. After receiving the sanction order, we filed it before court. We had earlier obtained government sanction for prosecuting the activists under sections of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act,” she added.

Dhawale, Wilson, Gadling, Sen and Raut were arrested on June 6 for alleged links with banned CPI (Maoist) during simultaneous raids by Pune police. Five other activists were arrested for the same reason in August. On November 15, Pune police had filed a chargesheet against Gadling and the four other activists arrested on June 6 and five “underground Maoist operatives”, including three top Maoist leaders, for “plot to kill the Prime Minister of India, conspiracy to create unrest, overthrow the government and wage a war against the country”.

The court on Thursday deferred hearing on the bail plea of Gadling as he, Dhawale, Wilson and Raut were not produced before court as no escort was available for seeking their custody from Yerawada central jail. The court will continue hearing arguments of Gadling and others on December 17.

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Bhima Koregaon violence: Dalit anger still simmering even after two probes and numerous arrests

Rural police named two Hindu leaders in FIR but never filed a charge sheet. Urban police arrested 10 activists, blamed Maoists for violence

Yogesh Joshi
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Bhima Koregaon violence,Pune-Ahmednagar highway
Protests by Dalit groups in the aftermath of the Bhima Koregaon clashes rocked Maharashtra, especially its capital Mumbai.(Vijayanand Gupta/HT Photo)

For decades, Bhima Koregaon was a sleepy cluster of shops and brick houses off the Pune-Ahmednagar highway, a blip on the map that would light up every New Year’s Eve as millions of Dalits gathered to celebrate a British-era war.

A war memorial at the spot had engraved on it the names of 22 Mahar (a Dalit sub-caste) soldiers who died fighting for the British army, which defeated the forces of the Peshwa, erstwhile Brahmin rulers who were notorious for having instituted oppressive caste practices.

To the community, Bhima Koregaon was a symbol of Dalit assertion, history and pride.

But over the course of the past year, the village of 5,000 people has burst onto the national stage and its name has become synonymous with Maoism. First, violence rocked the Dalit celebrations and left one person dead. The next day, Dalit groups clashed with police and security forces across Maharashtra, angry that their commemoration had been targeted.

Over the next few months, the Pune Police conducted raids across at least seven Indian cities and arrested prominent activists on charges of Maoist activities. And as the year ended, police produced a 5,000-page chargesheet that blamed the activists and alleged Maoist sympathizers of orchestrating the violence in Bhima Koregaon on January 1, charging them with sedition and waging war against the state.

To be sure, there are two police probes. One is conducted by the Pune (Rural) Police and looks into the violence on January 1 in Bhima Koregaon. The other is by the Pune (Urban) Police and is investigating an event held in Pune on December 31, called the Elgaar Parishad, that was organised by Dalit and Left groups.

The day after the clashes, Pune (Rural) Police filed an FIR against Samastha Hindutva Aghadi president Milind Ekbote and Shiv Chhatrapati Pratishan founder Sambhaji Bhide, both prominent Hindu leaders, on charges of “orchestrating violence” at Bhima Koregaon on a complaint by Dalit activist Anita Ravindra Savale. Both Bhide and Ekbote were booked for attempt to murder, unlawful assembly and rioting, among others, and under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act. By the end of the month, Ekbote was arrested.

But since then, nothing has moved. Ekbote soon made bail and the police made no attempt to arrest Bhide. In March, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said investigation had cleared Bhide. No charge sheet has been filed in the case. In its report before the Bhima Koregaon inquiry commission, the rural police did not name any individual or outfit and said the violence was a “sudden clash” between two groups, one carring “blue flags” and another with “saffron flags”. “Investigation in case related to Ekbote and Bhide is still on. We will file chargesheet in the case at an appropriate time,” said Pune (rural) superintendent of police Sandip Patil. Bhide and Ekbote have both denied the charges.

But while one probe flagged, the other one gained traction. In April, the Pune (Urban) Police introduced the Maoist violence angle by conducting multi-city arrests in Pune, Mumbai and Delhi. On June 6, five activists were arrested: Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale, lawyer Surendra Gadling, activist Rona Wilson, activist Mahesh Raut and former professor Shoma Sen. In a second wave of arrests in September, poet P Varavara Rao, activists Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, and trade unionist and rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha, were picked up. In its affidavit submitted before the inquiry commission, the urban police claimed “provocative speeches” made at the Elgaar Parishad along with “related objectionable programmes” triggered tension. Police have told the court that the Elgaar Parishad put the “unity and integrity” of the country in danger. All activists have denied all charges and blamed the police of muzzling free speech.

But activists say the focus on Elgaar Parishad is an attempt to steer attention away from the violence at Bhima Koregaon, which had angered Dalit groups across India because the memorial is seen as a part of the community’s history – one that was made popular by BR Ambedkar, often called the architect of India’s Constitution, in 1927. “By solely focusing on the so-called Maoist angle, the police wants to distract peoples’ attention from involvement of Bhide and Ekbote in the riots,” said PB Sawant, a retired Supreme Court judge who was one of the organisers of Elgaar Parishad.

Others don’t see a contradiction. “I don’t see any contradictions in two probes. The city police investigation is being monitored by Bombay high court and Supreme Court and if they have solid evidence, their case will stand to the scrutiny of judiciary. As far as the rural police probe is concerned, its ambit is limited to the January 1 incident,” said former DGP Jayant Umranikar.

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