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Archives for : Bastar

Another Bastar village bans non-Hindu religious activities, govt sits idle #WTFnews

TNN | Jul 8, 2014, 01.59AM IST

RAIPUR: Amid controversy over right wing groups motivating gram sabhas or village councils to adopt resolutions banning non-Hindu religious activities in villages in tribal Bastar, Chhattisgarh government seem to be adopting wait and watch policy on how to deal with the situation.

Yet another village, Belar in Lohandiguda block of Bastar district, convened its gram sabha on Sunday and passed a resolution banning all non-Hindu religious activities. On May 10, gram sabha at village Sirisguda in Tongpal block convened under the provisions of 129 (G) of Chhattisgarh Panchayati Raj Act, adopted a similar resolution banning non-Hindu missionaries. The resolution stated that “To stop the forced conversion by some outsider religious campaigners and to prevent them from using derogatory language against Hindu deities and customs, the Sirisguda Gram Sabha bans religious activities such as prayers, meetings and propaganda of all non-Hindu religions.”

Bastar’s district Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) president Suresh Yadav claimed that village councils of more than 50 gram panchayats has already adopted such resolutions to ban outsider missionaries from their respective villages.

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Chhattisgarh – Ex-Salwa Judum members face Maoist threat

 

KUTURU (BIJAPUR), July 5, 2014
Updated: July 5, 2014 02:52 IST

PAVAN DAHAT

Salwa Judum founder Madhukar Rao at his barricaded
home in Kuturu with his bodyguards. Photo: Pavan Dahat
Salwa Judum founder Madhukar Rao at his barricaded home in Kuturu with his bodyguards. Photo: Pavan Dahat

Sitting in his barricaded house adjacent to the police station in Kuturu village in Bijapur district of South Bastar and surrounded by heavily-armed bodyguards, Madhukar Rao laughs when he says he is “waiting for death”.

Mr. Rao was one of the founders of the anti-Maoist militia Salwa Judum in Bastar — “a people’s resistance movement” — which was begun under his leadership in Ambeli village.

“If they can kill Mahendra Karma [another founder and face of the Salwa Judum in Bastar], then we are small players,” Mr. Rao said, pointing out that other Salwa Judum functionaries had either been killed by the Maoists or forced, like himself, to live under tight security. “At times, police deploy Road Opening Parties (ROP) for me,” says Mr. Rao.

Following allegations of human rights violations, the Supreme Court in 2011 declared the Salwa Judum illegal and unconstitutional and ordered that it be disbanded. Members of the outfit have been regularly targeted by Maoists for its “anti-tribal” actions. Mahendra Sadgul, who headed Salwa Judum in Bhopalpatnam area, was shot dead in 2008. Budhram Rana, another leader in Bijapur area, was killed some two kilometres away from his house. Chinaram Gota of Faresgad village was killed along with his bodyguards in 2011.

“But the biggest jolt to Salwa Judum was the killing of senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma last year,” says Ajay Singh, who headed the outfit in the Bairamgad area and has now been provided Z category security cover. Mr. Singh and another senior Judum leader Vikram Mandavi managed to escape from Jiramghati attack last year.

“We threw away our mobiles and identity cards to escape identification, but we are named as the main targets in their meetings,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu.

Chaitram Mattami, who actively participated in Salwa Judum activities in the Dantewada area, lives a secluded life and refuses to meet journalists. “He won’t meet you unless he is sure about your identity. He will be in Dantewada, but he would tell you that he is in Raipur or Jagdalpur,” said Bappy Ray, a Dantewada-based journalist.

Even Madhukar Rao has been attacked four times by the Maoists. The most recent attempt on his life was made on April 9 this year.

“ How long will we manage to escape? Only few of us are alive now,” rues Mr. Singh, who charges the Raman Singh-led Chhattisgarh government with being “opportunist”.

“There was a time when the CM shared the stage with us and said he would give complete support, but now we have been left to the mercy of God with a few bodyguards,” said Mr. Singh.

Read more here- http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/exsalwa-judum-members-face-maoist-threat/article6178294.ece

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Elections : AAP’s Soni Sori is the poorest candidate in Bastar

,TNN | Mar 23, 2014, 08.39 AM IST

 
Lok Sabha polls: AAP's Soni Sori is the poorest candidate in Bastar
Sori and her nephew, Lingaram Kodopi, were arrested in 2011 for her allegedly acting as a conduit between a business house and Maoists.
RAIPUR: With a bank deposit of a mere Rs 424 and Rs 95,000 collected through donations made for the party, AAP candidate, Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher from Jabeli village, Dantewada, is the poorest candidate in fray for the crucial Bastar seat that goes to polls in the first phase on April 10.

Sori, who was granted permanent bail by the Supreme Court last month, after almost two-and-a-half years of her arrest, has no immovable properties and the only movable asset that she has is her husband’s Bolero jeep, which too is lying in police custody.

The only other asset she has is Rs one lakh in fixed deposit in the name of her daughter.

Sori and her nephew, Lingaram Kodopi, were arrested in 2011 for her allegedly acting as a conduit between a business house and Maoists, a charge which they deny. She has alleged that she was brutally tortured, both physical and sexually, by the Chhattisgarh police while in custody. In fact she claims that the only reason for her joining politics is to “transform” the system, which caused her immense physical and mental pain.

Interestingly, Soni would also be fighting against her own niece, Vimla Sori, who has been fielded by the CPI. A lawyer by profession, Vimla is the daughter of former CPI legislator late Nandram Sori.

As compared to her aunt, Vimla is slightly better off financially with an annual income of Rs 3.54 lakh, as per her last year’s IT return. She and her husband have movable assets of just over Rs 13 lakh but have no immovable properties in their names.

With assets of nearly Rs 1.60 crore, BJP candidate Dinesh Kahsyap is the richest candidate in fray in Bastar. Kashyap, who has been re-nominated by the party, is a farmer by profession, with a yearly income of Rs 6.73 lakh. Besides cash in hand of Rs 12.96 lakh in his name and Rs 2.64 lakh in wife’s account, the couple has movable 71.05 lakh and immovable properties 72.69 lakh. Kashyap has an outstanding loan of Rs 21.91 lakh.

Samajwadi Party candidate, Shanker Ram Thakur, is the second richest candidate with assets worth Rs 1.31 crore. A farmer and a petrol pump owner, Thakur and his wife have immovable properties worth Rs 81.50 lakh and movable assets of Rs 42.40 lakh.

Congress candidate Deepak Karma, son of slain party leader and Salva Judum founder, Mahender Karma, has assets worth only Rs 24.64 lakh. A farmer by profession, Karma has a yearly income of Rs 8.78 lakh. He only has agricultural land worth Rs 10 lakh.

Read mor ehere — http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/specials/lok-sabha-elections-2014/news/Lok-Sabha-polls-AAPs-Soni-Sori-is-the-poorest-candidate-in-Bastar/articleshow/32530105.cms

 

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#India – Bastar’s ugly secret: 9,000 girls have been trafficked in the past decade #Vaw

Last November, 60 tribal girls from Chhattisgarh were rescued from a factory in Tamil Nadu. The episode put the spotlight on Bastar’s ugly secret: 9,000 girls have been trafficked in the past decade

2014-02-08 , Issue 6 Volume 11


Roll call Tribal girls from Chhattisgarh who were rescued from a factory in Tamil Nadu

Roll call Tribal girls from  who were rescued from a factory in 

Rajeshwari Salam smiles almost as a reflex action. It does not reach her damp, vacant eyes. Slightly built with common tribal features, the 29-year-old seems more a victim than a liberator who broke the biggest trafficking network of tribals in the country to rescue 60 girls from a slave factory in Namakkal. Sucked into the racket by another tribal, Tijuram Korram, she was sold to a vegetable processing unit where she slaved for 18 hours a day until she developed severe skin disease and acid burns. She escaped from the factory one day but returned determinedly to rescue the other inmates last November.

To meet Rajeshwari, one has to travel to Janakpur on foot for the better part of the day from the headquarters of Kanker district in  region, deep inside Maoist territory. The winter sun is too weak to penetrate through the trees. The slightest rustle of dried leaves can be heard yards away. But human greed knows no bounds as girls are being lured away from this idyllic region to be sold to far-off factories and brothels.

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Safe return A group of girls from Bade Jamhri who were rescued from the Namakkal factory, Photo: Shailendra Pandey
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Nowhere to hide In  region, the people are caught between the  and an indifferent State, Photo: Shailendra Pandey

It’s almost always someone the girl trusts who gives the final push. The domino effect that follows is also self-willed to the extent that the simpleton might construct it to be an escape from her misery in , a region synonymous with exploitation, either by the  or by the state administration (or the lack of it).

In the past 10 years, tribal girls have been vanishing from  at an alarming rate. Official records show that 9,000 girls have gone missing. In reality, the figure could be closer to 90,000, warn local social activists.

Some end up as slaves at factories in , working for as little as Rs 100 a month, a bar of soap and a bottle of oil. Others end up at houses in , Haryana and Punjab through a complex network of agents. The green forests, blue skies and warmth of a hearth lost forever in the acid drums and household chores. The girls are sold for anything from Rs 5,000 to Rs 50,000.

 

As Rajeshwari recounts her tale of horror, the contours of a major crime network built on deceit, allurement and exploitation becomes clear. A man she knew offered to take her on a trip to the Balaji temple in Tirupati and even convinced other girls to come with her. For Rajeshwari, who had never travelled beyond Kanker, the idea of going on a train journey seemed exciting.

However, the trip turned into a nightmare when she was taken to Namakkal and sold to a factory. She found other girls in captivity there and heard of several dozen similar stories of  girls held captive in sweatshops all over.

The districts of , Jagdalpur, Kanker, Kondagaon, Jashpur, Raigarh, Koriya, Sarguja, Durg and Bilaspur have emerged as trafficking dens. Girls from here are sold off in , Andhra Pradesh, , Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.

‘The guy promised to take me to the Balaji temple in Tirupati’

rajeshwari-salam

Rajeshwari Salam | 29 | Jhanakpur, Kanker District

Rajeshwari Salam had never imagined that a brief visit to her sister-in-law’s house in the-hit Bade Jamhri village of district would turn into the darkest chapter of her life. While there, she met Tijuram Korram along with a few other village girls. Korram told her that he was taking the girls on a trip to the famous Balaji temple at Tirupati, and she could join too. She was persuaded by the other girls to seize the opportunity.

Korram and a dozen girls began their journey on 4 August 2013. From Bade Jamhri, they reached Korram’s house in Nayanar and stayed for the night. The next stop was Benur village, located between  and Kondagaon, from where a van took them to Jagdalpur. Then started a long bus ride to Namakkal in . A Bolero ferried them to Gems Agro Exports, a local factory where they were turned into bonded labourers.

“When I asked what we were doing in a factory instead of going to the Balaji temple, he said the money was all spent and we would have to work,” recalls Rajeshwari.

She says there were nearly 100 girls at the factory. They were made to sleep in a single room and share a single toilet. Her chance of escape arrived one day when Korram brought a fresh batch of girls. She told Korram that she had got an allergy from working with chemicals at the vegetable processing factory and demanded that she be sent home. After much coaxing, he agreed to take her back to , but on the condition that she would arrange for at least 10 other girls. He promised to pay her Rs 500 for each girl.

When she returned home, Rajeshwari met the Women and Child Development department supervisor, Jagmati Kashyap, and recounted her tale. Before her return, Rajeshwari had chanced upon a factory manager’s visiting card while cleaning and kept it. With the help of the visiting card, the police tracked and rescued 60 other tribal girls from the factory.

Last November, 24 girls were rescued from another factory in Erode district.

 racket of placement agencies and local agents is operating actively in the region. Initially, it was thought that poverty and a dearth of employment opportunities in the area had resulted in a rising trend of immigration, providing ground for placement agencies. But a probe by TEHELKA has blown the lid off a trafficking network that subsists on luring girls with promises of pilgrimages and even marriage to local youth, who are hand-in-glove with the traffickers.

With the help of Hari Singh Sidar, 70, a social and religious worker who has been active in  for the past two decades, TEHELKA travelled to a dozen small hamlets in  and Kanker districts to meet families who have lost their daughters, and some who have welcomed back their loved ones, recording stories of endless horror and shame. The tragedy continues as the rescued girls face an unfeeling, cold-blooded administration unable to protect them, but unashamed to steal from their rehabilitation fund. This is the first real documentation from Ground Zero of the plight of the tribal girls trafficked, abused and dumped.

 

In Bade Jamhri village in  district, life revolves around the local church. Five local girls were rescued from Gems Agro Exports factory in Namakkal. Initially, they were reluctant to talk about their ordeal until the church permitted them to tell their story.

The girls fell for the machinations of an agent, a Bihari youth married to a local girl, which made him trustworthy enough. The tribal mind trusts easily and does not worry about the consequences. The girls tell their tale with such heart-wrenching simplicity that the dreadful lives they had to endure for a year seems almost pre-ordained and perhaps as easily accepted as destiny.

‘Some girls were made to sleep separately and raped’

Sigay Mandawi | 21 Bade Jamhri |  Narayanpur District

Sigay Mandawi | 21 | Bade Jamhri,   District

IN 2007, Sigay Mandawi passed the Class IX exams, becoming the most educated girl in her village. While she was studying at the Government Higher Secondary School in, she met Bijju. One day, Bijju introduced her to his elder brother Tijuram Korram, who said that he could arrange a job for her. Instead, Korram sold her to Gems Agro Exports in Namakkal along with Rajeshwari and others.

Sigay says that the girls had to pick gherkins and then soak them in chemicals to preserve them. The chemicals used in the process caused allergies and their skin began to peel off. They were not allowed medical treatment nor could they rest.

For all the hard work, the girls were paid just Rs 100 at the end of the month, which was spent on buying soap and oil. “A few girls were even made to sleep separately and raped almost on a nightly basis,” says Sigay. Some were sent back when they became pregnant.

At the factory, their job was to dip vegetables in a preservative formulation and then seal and pack them for export. They were required to cut, clean, peel and then dip them in a solution of salt first before preparing and dipping it in preservatives. The preservative caused an unusual amount of itching and skin burns for which they would be given oil and a bar of Lifebuoy soap.

“We were given two small meals and tea twice a day but the work was never-ending and no one was allowed to go out of the tin sheds where we lived for more than four months,” reveals one girl.

 

Most of the girls slept together but some were routinely segregated and raped repeatedly over days. This, of course, does not find any mention in the police report.

In Rajeshwari’s case, she was given an “all-clear” certificate by the Namakkal sub-judicial magistrate, stating that she does not owe any money to the owner of Gems Agro, Junaid Ahmed. The factory was raided after her escape and since then it has been closed down.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that  in India could be anywhere between 2.5 million to 90 million. Several credible international news reports and NGOs have estimated that almost 20,000 tribals vanish into homes and brothels every year.

The matter had been raised in the  Assembly several times but the state government has not taken any concrete action except forming an Anti-Human Trafficking Committee. Former home minister Nankiram Kanwar admitted in the Assembly last year that, on an average, five girls go missing from the state every day.

Statistics from the past five years reveal that 9,000 complaints of missing girls have been registered with the police, of which most cases were reported from Raipur. The government claims that the police have traced the whereabouts of 8,000 girls. However, almost 1,000 girls from  and adjoining districts are still missing.

‘Somebody had offered Rs 7 lakh to buy me’

Phutun Alias Phoolwant | 13  |  Jamaniyapath, Jashpur District

Phutun alias Phoolwant | 13 | Jamaniyapath, Jashpur District

Phutun fell victim to a trafficking gang masquerading as a placement agency, which brought her to  in 2005. She was held captive in a room with 21 girls. They were not allowed to go out. Phutun somehow managed to escape and reached home.

She reveals that three girls were sold when she was there. “Somebody had offered Rs 7 lakh for me but the traffickers were demanding Rs 10 lakh,” she reveals. Had the deal been struck, she could have never escaped. But as fate would have it, some neighbours alerted the police, who rescued her last November.

Her family had feared the worst and was happy to see her safe and sound. Now, Phutun has appealed to the police to save the other girls too.

The matter had been raised in the  Assembly several times but the state government has not taken any concrete action except forming an Anti-Human Trafficking Committee. Former home minister Nankiram Kanwar admitted in the Assembly last year that, on an average, five girls go missing from the state every day.

Statistics from the past five years reveal that 9,000 complaints of missing girls have been registered with the police, of which most cases were reported from Raipur. The government claims that the police have traced the whereabouts of 8,000 girls. However, almost 1,000 girls from  and adjoining districts are still missing.

 

The late Congress leader  had presented in the Assembly a list of 500 girls missing from Raigarh. He had alleged that more than 1 lakh tribal girls have been trafficked from the state.

“We consider  a serious issue. That’s why right after assuming office, I directed the police to take the strictest action against it immediately,” says new Home Minister Ramsevak Paikra. “It’s a long process but strict action is being taken to bring it under control.”

However, Paikra does not know whether the state has actively followed the cases against factory owners in  or raised the issue with the Jayalalithaa government. Junaid Ahmed, the owner of Gems Agro, is still at large with no charges against him.

‘By the time I was rescued, the chemicals had completely burned my face’

Yashoda Ouike | 20 |  Bade Jamhri, Narayanpur District

Yashoda Ouike | 20 | Bade Jamhri, District

Yashoda Ouike is one of five sisters. Financial troubles pushed her into agent Kijuram’s trap. She had come to know that companies in south India paid good salaries to workers, more than what the MGNREGA offered. She hoped this could help ease her family’s financial burden.

Like others, she too ended up at Gems Agro Exports in Namakkal. But even after four months of hard labour, she wasn’t paid a penny. “By the time the police rescued me from the factory, the chemicals had completely burned my face,” she says.

Yashoda recalls that once while opening the chemical container, she had received burns and fainted, but no one bothered to take her to the hospital. She was offered neither compensation nor any wages.

Now, she does not want to step out of her house.

Women and Child Development Minister Ramsheela Sahu assures TEHELKA that her department will try to regulate it at its own level. “Although, the matter falls under the home ministry’s purview, it concerns young girls. So, the department will perform its role,” she says.

missing_girlsThe government has accepted that female trafficking is a reality in the state, which is why four districts — Jashpur, Raigarh, Sarguja and Korba — were marked as  hubs in 2011. Apart from these, Mahasamund, Janjgir, Balauda Bazar and Bilaspur have also been listed as sensitive areas. But some areas of  such as , Kondagaon, Jagdalpur, Sukma, Bijapur and Kanker have been overlooked, providing traffickers and their agents a free run.

The government is taking action against placement agencies. In Jashpur alone, located near the border of  with the largest number of placement agencies operating, cases have been booked against seven such agencies. As per the official figures, the number of missing girls appears to be greater in Raipur, but TEHELKA’s investigation reveals that in tribal areas many incidents go unreported because of poverty and illiteracy and, of course, lack of faith in the non-existent system.

For instance, social activist Sidar estimates that more than 10,000 girls have vanished from the two districts of and Kanker in the past four years.

The police claims that it has been doing its bit in tracing, tracking and apprehending traffickers. Last March, two agents, Mani Ram and B Venkat Reddy, were nabbed at the Raipur railway station with 15 girls in the age group of 10-17 years, who were being taken to Nagpur on the pretext of getting them jobs. Their families had been paid Rs 1,000 each in advance. In Nagpur, the agents were to be paid huge sums by the traffickers. Both are now in jail.

Mani Ram is a resident of  and knows Halbi, the language spoken in the areas from where the girls came. In these areas, Hindi or Chhattisgarhi is not spoken. Only two of the victims could understand Hindi. Harma Markami, 10, had never been to school. She believed that girls could not study. She had ventured out in order to find work in Nagpur.

 

On 23 January, another youth was arrested on charges of . He was caught along with 20 locals, mostly minors of whom 14 were tribal girls. According to officials, Mrinal Nayak, 26, was arrested from Kunkuri, a tribal- dominated area located 400 km from Raipur. “We were on his trail for several weeks,” says police officer R Kaushik. “He was finally arrested from the Kunkuri bus stand. It was a case of. The agent nabbed was from Odisha.”

‘Sometimes we were woken up from sleep and made to work at night’

Satri Potai | 20 |  Bade Jamhri, Narayanpur District

Satri Potai | 20 | Bade Jamhri, District

Bade Jamhri, a village of 600 people, is in a-dominated area. To reach the village from , one has to walk down a narrow rocky path. Six of the girls rescued from the Gems Agro Exports factory in Namakkal belonged to this village and one of them was Satri Potai.

“There was no fixed time for work. We were not allowed to go anywhere. The factory in which the girls were kept had only one bathroom, which was shared among 60 of us. We finished work at 8 pm but by the time we had taken our baths, it would already be 11 pm,” she recalls.

“Sometimes we were woken up from sleep and made to work at night. We were not allowed to sleep the next day. We often had to work continuously for many hours. When we asked for permission to go home, we were told that we would get leave only after six months.”

Satri says that their employers used to converse in English or Tamil. It was only when they abused them that the girls understood they were upset with them. The girls were not even allowed to talk to each other.

On 30 December 2013, the police arrested Tarabai Chauhan, who was running a trafficking racket in the garb of a placement agency. Last February, Chauhan had sold Kishori in . She was hired as a maid in a posh colony in , from where she managed to call home and inform her family. On their complaint, the police arrested Chauhan and rescued the girl.

A careful study of the  map would reveal that while girls from southern parts of the state are trafficked into Andhra Pradesh and , those from the northern districts such as Raigarh, Sarguja, Jashpur and Bilaspur are taken to . Similarly, girls from Raipur, Durg and Balod in central  are sent to Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra.

The plight of girls such as Rajeshwari, Phutun and Singay, who were rescued from a factory in , is no less pitiable as their harrowing tales fail to reach the ears of those who matter in the state capital Raipur.

The state government has announced that each rescued girl will be paid Rs 1 lakh as part of a rehabilitation scheme, but the district officials in  region claim that they don’t have enough funds as it would run into crores for each district. Yet the rescued girls have been made to fill forms and applications and have been assured that they would get Rs 50,000 each. Half the promised amount has already been adjusted in their accounts by unscrupulous babus. In a region reeking with exploitation, helpless girls will continue to be traded like animals. Very few are aware and even fewer care.

Thousands of girls from  have been sold off in the past five years, says Sidar. The families are clueless about their whereabouts. The worst part of this agonising tale, says Sidar, is that both the trafficking agents as well as the NGOs that offer to help are profiting from their plight. Some NGO workers who played a part in rescuing the trafficked girls, trick them into believing that the money on offer is Rs 50,000 and pocket the rest.

There is information that agents have trafficked 250 girls from Darbha near Jagdalpur to a factory in , where they are working as bonded labourers. Similar reports are coming from Jashpur, Raigarh, Sarguja and Bilaspur. Girls from these districts have been rescued by the police in cities such as  and Mumbai.

“We have received information that some girls are in Hyderabad. We are going to conduct a survey at the panchayat level with the district collector’s help to find out how many girls are missing from each village,” says Visel Nag, the zila panchayat headman of . “Actually, these are -affected areas and we are unable to get directly in touch with the people. The agents are exploiting that. Earlier, they lured them by offering jobs. But now with MGNREGA and other such schemes, there is no dearth of employment in our villages. So, the agents have adopted different means.”

 

Read more here — http://www.tehelka.com/slaves-to-the-grind/

 

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Shah Commission wound up before it could probe illegal mining in Chhattisgarh #WTFnews

Author(s):
Issue Date:
2013-11-12

As environmental groups appeal against termination of commission, Supreme Court asks government to respond by November 18

Darbu along with other affected  
village residents made the rounds of Union Ministry of Mines; they want Shah  
Commission to probe mining in Bastar Darbu along with other affected residents of villages in Bastar made the rounds of Union Ministry of Mines last month; they want Shah Commission to probe mining in their region

It does not always happen that people approach the government for extending the tenure of a commission of inquiry. So, last month when Mehtu Ram Darbu from Antagarh village in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region and three other village elders from the region travelled to Delhi to persuade the Union Ministry of Mines to extend the tenure of Justice M B Shah Commission, it spoke volumes about the damage caused by mining to the region.

The commission, which has exposed hundreds of cases of illegal mining of iron ore and manganese in Karnataka, Goa [2]  and Odisha since it was set up in 2010, was supposed to visit Chhattisgarh around the end of this year. Bastar residents allege that state-run mining companies are dumping iron ore fines (waste) in adjoining rivers and are damaging their agricultural land and forests. They had pinned their hope on the commission. But on October 16, the Centre refused to give an extension to the commission. Worse, it did not state a reason for doing so.

For three days, Darbu and the other village elders tried to get past the corridors of power to reach the office of joint secretary of mines Naresh Kumar to understand the reason and submit their plea. While Kumar was not available, a ministry official informed that environmental and agricultural degradation due to mining did not fall under the purview of the commission. This is when the terms of reference of the M B Shah commission clearly stated that the commission would enquire into illegal acts of mining “in terms of destruction of forest wealth, damage to the environment, prejudice to livelihood and other rights of tribal people, forest dwellers and other persons in the mined areas”.

Government lie exposed

Upon enquiring about the reason, the Union minister for mines, Dinsha Patel, told Down To Earth that Chhattisgarh was the only major iron ore-producing state that remained to be probed by the Shah Commission. But more than 90 per cent of iron ore in the state comes from public sector undertakings and the presence of the private sector is negligible. State-controlled mining is not under the purview of the commission, he explained.

Patel’s claims, however, are belied by what is happening on ground in Chhattisgarh. In the memorandum submitted to the Ministry of Mines, Darbu and the other village elders have pointed out how the government-owned Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) is expanding its mining area, paving the way for private companies. For instance, on the one hand, BSP wants to open up mineral deposits in the Rowghat Hills in Bastar, claiming that it faces a shortage of iron ore.

But on the other hand, it is relinquishing its lease of the Kacche mines at Ari Dongri in neighbouring Kanker area to a private company, Godavari Ispat Limited, saying that the quality of ore in Kachhe is substandard and that the mine was unprofitable for BSP. This contradicts what the Indian Bureau of Mines’ (IBM) Regional Development Plan says. According to the plan document, the quality of ore in the Kacche mine is high grade hematite ore, which contains more than 65 per cent iron, and is compatible with BSP’s expansion requirement.

It seems the government is also promoting private miners in the state. Of the 21 iron ore prospecting licenses sanction by the government, 17 are for private companies, which include Tata, Essar, Sarda Energy and Godavari Power, according to the state’s Department of Mining.

Activists contest decision

Neither the state nor the Centre has been paying attention to rampant illegal mining in Chhattisgarh, says Alok Shukla, convener of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, a non-profit working on the environment and human rights in the region.

On October 21, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, along with Samaj Parivartana Samuday of Karnataka and Goa Foundation moved the Supreme Court, seeking further extension of the commission. The Supreme Court has asked the Ministry of Mines and the Union Cabinet to respond to the petition by November 18.

Prashant Bhushan, legal counsel of the non-profits, says, “The decision not to grant extension to the Shah Commission is clearly malafide since it had become clear that the work of the commission was affecting the interests of big corporations and mining barons, as well as of the top politicians and ministers in the country.”

Shukla cites the example of the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), which is illegally dumping thousands of tonnes of iron ore fines into the Indravati, Shankhini and Dankini rivers in Bailadila area in Bastar. It is also releasing effluents into the rivers. “In 1990, the Centre’s science and technology cell (now the Department of Science and Technology) reported that mining activities of NMDC had damaged not only the rivers but also affected 35,000 ha of agricultural and forest land around Bailadila,” says Shukla.

At present, 18 leases have been sanctioned for mining iron ore from 8,758 ha in Chhattisgarh. Twelve of these mines are in Bastar. Dantewada (which is part of the Bastar region) is the top iron ore producing district in the state, accounting for 69 per cent of the total output, say officials of the Mining Department. “For these mines, tribals have been displaced from their land illegally, in contravention of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 and the Forest Rights Act of 2006,” says Shukla. According to the Forest Survey of India, 62 per cent of Bastar is under forest cover. About 79 per cent of the region’s population comprise tribals, shows the Census of 2011.

Industry pressure?

In 2010, when the commission came into existence, Justice Shah and his team were supposed to visit seven states—Karnataka, Goa, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. So far, it has submitted final reports for Karnataka and interim reports for Jharkhand, Goa and Odisha, according to minister Patel. The reports unearthed cases of illegal mining worth crores of rupees in these states.

Activists allege that the pressure from the mining industry had been immense on the Shah Commission. Consider this: on February 26, the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI) filed a lawsuit against the Commission in Delhi High Court, days before Justice Shah was to conclude his probe into illegal mining in Odisha. FIMI alleged that the commission was conducting its inquiry in an “arbitrary and whimsical manner and without the authority of law”.

The bone of contention here was that the mining industry was not given enough time to present its case before the commission. So, on March 14, a special hearing for mining companies was organised at the commission’s headquarters in Ahmedabad on the alleged violation of Rule-37 under the Mineral Concession Rules, 1960. A battery of eminent lawyers, including Ram Jethmalani, Gopal Subramaniam, A K Divan, U U Lalit and Pinaki Mishra, representing various mining companies put forth their arguments, following which Shah Commission included their representations in its report.

A press note issued by the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan states that some of the commission members, including Justice M B Shah, have also indicated their frustrations in dealing with the Ministry of Mines. In three years, the commission perused thousands of papers from various state and Central departments. By its own admission, the Ministry of Mines while granting extensions to the commission twice stated that there were inordinate delays by various state governments in sharing papers related to the mining of iron ore and manganese. Yet, the one member commission has been questioned over and again in case of Goa, Karnataka and Odisha about its methodology to determine illegality of mining. The Shah Commission, however, meticulously brought the rot in the iron ore and manganese mining sector out in the open.

Be it state-sponsored mining or mining by private companies, the Shah Commission’s reports have wreaked havoc on illegal mining syndicates across the country. “The commission’s findings on Goa, Odisha and Karnataka has upset the applecart. By terminating the commission and not offering any rationale to do so, the government has shown that it doesn’t want some of the illegalities in mining to be exposed,” alleges  Xavier Dias, director of Bindrai Institute for Research Study & Action (Mines Monitoring Centre), Ranchi.

Probably, this is the reason the ministry did not specify reasons for terminating the commission. U V Singh, a retired forest official from Karnataka, who was the principal investigator with Shah Commission, had told Samantha Aggarwal of Chattisgarh Bachao Andolan that the Ministry of Mines granted two extensions, once on September 16, 2012 and then on July 16, 2013. Since the commission was yet to begin its investigation in Chhattisgarh, it was assumed that the ministry would give it further extension. Besides, Singh had informed that the termination of a commission of inquiry as per the Commissions of Inquiry Act (1952) can only be done if the ministry provides written reasons as to why the commission is no longer required. But neither the Union Cabinet nor the Ministry of Mines offered a sound reason to terminate the commission.

 


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The story of a principled chief conservator of forests in Bastar, Chhattisgarh

Author(s):
Issue Date:
2013-7-12

While the forest department has been busy working forests for timber, a single man in Bastar holds hope for the many villages that have lost their natural forests

BastarThe real story, which we have grown unaccustomed to,… is chemically free of explanation. The story is always about something unexplainable. The art of narration declines as explanations are added.

Cesar Aira, Buenos Aires (1988)

By way of introduction
Sarkar theen parkar
Narpitana,
Jiyam Noipitana,
Adei Tindana (A Durwa saying)
2

image [2]

 

Over the last decade or more, the mere mention of Bastar has evoked stereotypical responses. Most people – those who are concerned or pretend to be so – ask me whether “things” are any better there. When I tell them that nothing has improved, that matters are perhaps worse, the conversation peters out. Anyone who knows that there is unrest in a large part of India – the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs3 lists 33 districts as naxal-affected in Central India, 7 of them in Chhattisgarh – should wonder why there is so little news from there. National newspapers rarely mention anything from Chhattisgarh except the sporadic “encounter” or “blast”, the periodic allocation of coal blocks to companies or, at another level, the efficiency of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s approach to governance.

The usual words and phrases linked to Bastar4, in alphabetical order, are: abuse, ambushed, atrocities, attack, beheaded, BSF, burnt, camp, combing operations, Communist, CRPF, dense jungles, destroyed, flushed out, human rights, infested, Jungle Warfare College, kidnapped, killed, land mines, Mahendra Karma, Naga Battalion, Operation Green Hunt, police, raped, Salwa Judum, surrounded, thana, and so on. Why would anybody, other than the BBC, Médecins Sans Frontières or the UN, want to be there? And is it not strange that they are not there anymore?

It is in the context of this region –which evokes dejection, fear and loss of faith for any citizen who seeks to know what is actually going on – that the village described below is located. It is situated in the Bakawand block of Bastar district, about 45 km north-east from Jagdalpur5, the district headquarters.

The setting

Because a thing is difficult for you, do not therefore suppose it to be beyond mortal power. On the contrary, if anything is possible and proper for man to do, assume that it must fall within your own capacity. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Book VI.19)

Ever noticed how an adivasi moves in the forest? The easy stride, the bare foot placed confidently yet softly on the ground, a subtle swing of the hips? Any village with a good forest is reflected in the people who live in and around it, in their health and attitude to life, and in the way they walk and speak. Much of the following narrative is about the forests around a village in central Bastar, known as Sandh Karmari6.

This easy movement quite disappears when the forest is not one’s own, more so when the journey is to gather firewood or leaves or mushrooms from alien territory. Many strangers come into the Karmari forests and their walk is marked by stealth.

Sandh Karmari is a Bhatra village. Rice fields interspersed with sal and mixed forests mark the landscape. The village borders Odisha on most sides, the boundary being defined by the Kurundi stream along some parts and by a low ridge in others. Some fields are contiguous with no obvious demarcation. Karmari is spread out and has a mixed population of about seven to eight different communities. About four or five Bihari families settled in the village a generation ago, all owning a fair amount of land, tractors and a tribal mistress or wife. The presence of a few Bihari and Oriya Brahmin families in villages along the Odisha border is consistent. Buying trees from the villagers and selling them outside; running mahua bhattis and selling quarter bottles of spurious whisky; breaking a hillside for stone; organizing the smuggling of plants from the sacred grove; running a kirana shop; masquerading as doctors and peddling allopathic medicine – these are some of their regular business activities. Inevitably, there is a close relative in some government department, an aid to the family’s parasitic tendencies. The general calm that pervades a village with an all-adivasi population is not allowed to persist for long, and something always happens! I mention this knowing well the dangers of generalising; the option of remaining silent is worse.

In this part of Bastar and Odisha, the Alek Mahima sect (commonly known as buchia) is very popular. They wear saffron, apparently worship the formless, are vegetarians and drink no alcohol, eat before sunset, and often marry within their own sect. In tribal India, where all festive or religious occasions demand meat and drink, these people stand out for their sobriety. In addition, many of them, who also work just as hard as the others, suffer from anaemia, dizziness and low blood pressure, gastric ulcers and piles, perhaps a result of their lopsided diets.

Despite the extent of the rice fields, the village has many forest patches and is surrounded by numerous streams. From whichever direction one approaches the village, one encounters vast stands of mahua trees that dot and give character to the fields. During the spring and early summer months the strong fragrance of mahua blossom pervades the air. There are also hundreds of fish-tail toddy palms in the village and each morning the middlemen go from palm to palm, collecting their frothing fluid in large containers: much of the toddy drunk in the villages along the way to Jagdalpur comes from the palms of Karmari.

The monsoon months are synonymous with fishing – with nets, traps of various sizes, “bisar” (small platforms in the water where the fish climb up and are trapped), with hook and line. Every evening fish traps are laid in the rice fields, the spots chosen after studying the water flow. Before dawn the traps are retrieved to prevent the fish from being stolen. Stealing fish from other people’s traps is common in most adivasi villages and not looked upon as a serious crime. But it is terrible when a trap gets stolen, as one has to go without fish until a new trap is fashioned!

Fishing in the rice fields (left) and a  
mushroom collection (right)Fishing in the rice fields (left) and a mushroom collection (right)

A lot of fish is available in the season. Only a part of the catch is cooked and the rest spread out on large bamboo mats and smoke-dried. Almost everybody in the village fishes; even some of the buchia sect eat fish. As the rice-fields in Karmari are not contaminated by pesticides or fertilizers – these are used in the drier lands where hybrid maize is grown – the fish are abundant and tasty. The few greens gathered from the fields during the monsoon (chunchuniya, bhaji7 and various amaranths, colocasia) are also a regular part of the diet. Other greens include Bauhinia purpurea, Celosia, etc. The sal forests around the village supply mushrooms and boda8(various mychorriza with sal) and after sudden rains during a dry spell women go off to search among the leaf litter. About five kinds of yams (DIoscorea sp.) are gathered by most people seasonally, a practice that has declined in villages around the towns.

The legend of Kilwa Tarai

When a writer strives to present reality most faithfully he becomes convinced that untruth is at times the greatest truth. The world is so rich and so complex that the more one tries not to omit any part of the truth, the more one uncovers wonders that elude the pen.

Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind

The leading clan of the Bhatra people in Karmari came originally from Kangar Balenga, near Juna Bastar. The Raja of Bastar employed them regularly to get him victims for the annual human sacrifice in the palace temple. After serving the Raja for several years they got tired of this job and ran away to Tungapalli, near what is now Jagdalpur. For a few years the sacrifices stopped and the Raja became anxious and sent a search party after the Bhatra people who had fled Kangar Balenga. They were found and brought back and the sacrifices resumed. After a few years they fled again, this time to Jamguda, where the Melia Dev9resides, and hid there; the Raja’s people pursued them and brought them back.

Kilwa Tarai Kilwa Tarai Some years later the Bhatras escaped again and hid in Bairagiguda, a place now in the reserve forest. The Raja managed to trace them and made them do the job assigned to them. The Bhatras obeyed the Raja; they lived as Bairagis, with gourd vessels and coarse clothes to entice people, and brought sacrificial victims to the Raja for many years. Then they escaped to Jadopodar, near what is now Potiyawand; then to Tumaguda; then to Siyadiguda, quite close to what is now Karmari, and then finally to Bhainkaguda, the Jungle Cat Hamlet, where the first settlers of this clan now live.

After coming to Bhainkaguda, victims for the sacrifices were regularly procured and sent to the Raja. Many years went by. One day, when they were searching for the next victim, a clansman saw a young man wandering near their camp. They captured him and took him to their camp chief who had an unmarried daughter for whom it was becoming difficult to find a groom. The girl happened to like the stranger. The clansmen discussed the stranger amongst themselves – he seemed to be a suitable boy for the girl – and decided to get the pair married. Various rituals were performed and messengers sent to the Raja to settle matters permanently with him; the Bhatras would no longer do the work of finding human beings for sacrifice.

The clan girl was married to the stranger and lived with him. One day she left for the Kilwa spring in the outskirts of the village to bathe and wash her clothes. When she did not return within a reasonable amount of time her relatives went in search of her. They found her atop a banyan tree that grew near the edge of the water. When the relatives asked her to climb down she refused. She insisted that her people give her and her husband a place of their own to live; she wanted a forest patch, and an area that could be cleared for rice-fields, and she wanted their own water. Her clansmen promised to give her what she wanted. The couple were sent to the Potiyawand10 forest, to a spot formerly occupied by the Bhatra clan during one of their hiding-stints. They were given the Kilwa spring for water; they cleared the forest near Jadopodar and created fields up to the edge of the Kurundi stream.

Gradually, a new clan emerged and grew in Potiyawand. Their kinship with the Bhainkaguda clan was that of mama-bhacha11, they could give and take brides from each other. The Kilwa spring became a part of the Potiyawand people, the Bhainkaguda clan gave it up totally. However, over the last decade, this close relationship began to sour. The Potiyawand people finished off their forests and became dependent on the forests belonging to Karmari. Though their daily needs were tolerated, the Karmari people resented the felling of larger sal trees and the smuggling of timber, resulting in the present enmity.

Damodar

It is not at all infrequent to find the leader or chieftain of a tribe to be friendly, helpful, intelligent, trustworthy and dedicated; in fact, to encounter the opposite is a rare experience. The naturalist, interested in plants and animals… usually is immediately accepted with excessive collaborative attention. These leaders are gentlemen, and all that is required to bring out their gentlemanliness is reciprocal gentlemanliness.

Richard Evans Schultes, Where the Gods Reign

When I went to visit Karmari some years ago I stopped at the Karpawand Police Station to mark my hazri12, to comply with an unwritten code while travelling in Bastar these last several years. It was almost dusk as I walked in through the gates unnoticed and climbed up the steps to the veranda where a few policemen were chatting. My sudden appearance revved them into a panic and they grabbed their guns and pointed them at me, shouting Ruko, Ruko! Tum Koan Ho13? I realized that I’d only make matters worse if I told them who I was and so I said I was there to visit Damodar, the sarpanch of Sandh Karmari. It immediately settled everything, and I moved on.

Damodar had been the sarpanch of Sandh Karmari until 2009 when the seat was reserved for a mahila14. But he was still known as the sarpanch in the entire region. It would be strange if that wasn’t so, as he had held that position for an unbroken 35 years, the years when he transformed the village from a near barren landscape to what it is now.

Damodar is always dressed in a dhoti and a white shirt and until recently rode an old bicycle. He is a small man but has a quiet and dignified air of authority about him. His face is pock-marked, the sign of an encounter with small-pox during childhood. “They tell me I almost died then,” he recalls. “At another time I fell off a bullock cart and came under the wheel. And once a cobra bit me. I really shouldn’t be alive.” He usually speaks only when spoken to but never fails to amaze one with the range of information he has or the subjects that he has dealt with. Agriculture, fishing, law, religion, politics and the government are areas he deals with as a matter of course.

The giant siyadi climber and DamodarThe giant siyadi climber and Damodar

Near Damodar’s house is a huge siyadi15 climber, festooning the Ficus and sal trees around it. As it was the only siyadi I’d seen in the village I asked Damodar about it. I learned that as a young man he had visited a neighbouring village and brought back two seeds. One seed he had roasted, feeding the kernel to his little daughter; the other he had sowed behind the fence. Now, fifty years later, its shade called out to the children who played under it during the hottest days of summer.

As a boy in the 1950s, Damodar grew up in Karmari and went to the primary school in Jaithgiri about seven km away. The few boys who went to school walked through the dense sal forest, returning home just before sunset. After primary school Damodar was sent for further studies to Jagdalpur where he stayed in the hostel and returned home for good in 1971. This was unusual, as the trend, then as now, was for educated men to drift outwards from the village. In many villages they were the first generation of literates and became forest guards or schoolteachers. They settled in the towns they were posted in, coming home only for festivals or functions in their families.

On his return he was shocked to see that the forest which had infringed upon their backyard – deer used to come for the discarded leaf-cups after dinner – had now retreated far away. Most of the large trees in the forests had been felled in the forest department coups (the money from the sale of timber was split between the people and the FD in a 30-70 per cent deal) and the people had been reduced to digging up the roots for fuel-wood!

It is rather ironic that the forest department plays a prominent role in the unfolding saga of forest loss in Bastar, and almost none in restoration. The department’s ‘working plans’ are guides to the periodic extraction of timber and fuel-wood, and of bamboo. In all forest districts the onset of the dry season is awaited eagerly as the felling and loading, and the taking away, has to be done before the monsoon sets in again. Large climbers like the siyadi and the duma-dira16, which allow for movement of civets and flying squirrels along the canopy, are cut down to prevent them from strangling the timber trees. Many of the climbers are valued by the people who use them for several purposes – thereby unintentionally managing the timber – but there has been no effort to by the department to understand what the forest means to the people. There have been phases when all crooked bamboo in a tract of forest were cleaned up; the entangled and matted base around the clumps, where shrews and hares can hide, have given way to four or five erect lengths of bamboo, suitable for harvest and sale. Dirt tracks sufficient for jeeps have to be black-topped and black-topped roads have to be widened.

The impact of these “projects” of the Jungle Depart, as the adivasi unknowingly but correctly refers to them, has rarely been monitored. No part of the state is free from a project or potential projects whose logic defies the other stated purposes of the same department! Only the people living in and around such forests see and feel the effects such management. And it is obvious that the people of a place do not figure in the Jungle Department’s plans, neither in the premise nor the conclusion.

Damodar in Badla KotDamodar in Badla KotThis was the apathy that prevailed undivided Bastar when Damodar decided to take up the task of nurturing the forests around his village. It is a scene that prevails in many villages within a 40 km radius of Jagdalpur, the seat of power in the district. Of desolate villages without shade, of people who burn plastic cement bags to cook a meal or to keep warm, and suffer summer and winter in turns.

“This had happened even in the village nistar17 forests,” Damodar explained. Sab kuch bech ke kha diye18! Wherever he went he saw tree-stumps. He was troubled and decided to act. When the elections for sarpanch came by in ’76-’77 he stood and won and took up the task of restoring the landscape around the village.

“One of the first decisions was to appoint people to guard the forests around the village.” To pay for this, every household was made to contribute. People who had 10 or more acres (one acre equals 0.4 hectare) of land paid 5 measures of grain annually; those who had 6-9 acres paid 4 measures; less than 6 acres meant 2 measures; and those who had no land paid 1 measure. The degraded nistar forests were allowed to grow – it is now called badla kot, nurtured forest – and the people refrained from grazing their cattle there. Fortunately the seeds of most of the species in a sal forest were still available and in the protected environment they flourished and grew – mango, sal, mahua, bija, adan, amodi, chironji, bhelwa, shatawri, dhaul, jamun, amla, safed musli, kali musli, the whole lot of them! Today, after about 35 years, this 215-acre patch of forest shows what a people can do if motivated.

Inside badla kot the few large trees in the new forestInside badla kot the few large trees in the new forest

Another asset of Karmari people is the Mauli Kot, the large sacred grove of Mauli Devi, a 100-acre patch of old forest that hosts langurs and flying squirrels and a variety of birds. The range of plants includes many that are medicinal or rare. The sacred grove gives an idea of what the vegetation of the region would have been like in the past, before the administration eyed the sal, and the adivasi people levelled the forest to grow rice and millets. When Damodar took over as the sarpanch, the weekly haat (bazaar) was located at the edge of the grove. Though it was convenient – located centrally and near a pond – it also meant unnecessary disturbance to the grove. Outsiders who came there would take away plants, even harvesting them in large quantities for sale to traders. Gradually, a path emerged and cut the grove into two, joining different parts of the village. In front of one’s eyes the grove thinned and shrunk.

A ceremony that culminates at the Mauli KotA ceremony that culminates at the Mauli Kot

About 10-12 years ago Damodar made the difficult decision of putting an end to the haat. So when Damodar called the people together one morning and explained why he was making this move – to save their sacred grove – they were surprised but agreed with him. This was an unusual decision as adivasi people are proud of having a haat “happening” in their village. Other rules prevented further paths across the grove and any stealing of plants from that space. The people took turns to guard the grove until it grew in stature again. Over the last few years even the areas immediately around the grove have been left uncultivated for the grove to expand and regain its earlier size, the one that their grandparents had spoken to them about. The grove is the largest in all Bastar and probably in Chhattisgarh. On every occasion, whether to resolve disputes between people in the village or to discuss matters that concerned everyone, Damodar brought up the importance of the grove.

The edge of Badla  
KotThe edge of Badla Kot

Path in Mauli Kot leading to the shrinePath in Mauli Kot leading to the shrine

Day-to-day affairs

Why is it that our common language, so easy for any other use, becomes obscure and unintelligible in contracts and wills, and that a man who expresses himself so clearly, whatever he says or writes, finds in this field no way of speaking his mind that does not fall into doubt and contradiction?

Michel de Montaigne, Essays (Book III.13)

Being an ex-sarpanch of a large village like Karmari, Damodar is constantly on his feet. All village disputes that are difficult to settle require his presence19. As an elder he advises on religious matters and the setting of dates for festivals and ceremonies. Local officials of the various government departments – agriculture, forest, revenue – also meet him before they venture into implementing any scheme in the village. “I am still regarded as the sarpanch though officially I am not.” But what takes much of his time and effort today is the constant pressure on Karmari’s forests from the people of 15-20 villages in Odisha’s Nabrangpur district and a few villages in Bastar. These villages have eucalyptus or acacia plantations which are felled and the wood sold every five years. The women come into the Karmari forests for all their nistar needs. This is largely tolerated by the people of Karmari but every so often, there is pilferage of a much larger scale and a quarrel erupts. Large trees of sal or bija are felled and sawed into planks and are smuggled out in the night.

Degraded lands and herds of cattle along OdishaDegraded lands and herds of cattle along Odisha

Village along the border in Odisha with  
plantations and maizeVillage along the border in Odisha with plantations and maize

That is not all. Once, a group of thakurs from Bastar had begun to quarry the hillock between Karmari and Saloriguda, in Odisha, for the stone. Damodar rushed home from his journey elsewhere and prevented further damage; he retained the stones and had a bridge built across a seasonal stream. At another time a trader and his accomplices were in the sacred grove harvesting the akash bel20 and loading them in their vehicle. Damodar and the village people stopped that. They informed the forest department that had the plants confiscated and auctioned.

While mapping the forest boundary of Karmari, I came across a wizened old man along the Kurundi stream. He was attired in a scant pink loincloth and armed with a curved pickaxe with which he was attacking the Bastar edge of the stream. He attempted to broaden the stream into Bastar; as a result, more of the streambed on the Odisha side would remain dry and which the old man intended to cultivate. All one needs to change the shape of a country is a pickaxe and some patience. When I mentioned this incident in Karmari, the people said that it was nothing new: the old man does this each year and remains there until they chase him away. Despite these regular instances that have almost become routine, it is the incident with the people of Potiyawand that brought matters to a head and got Damodar thinking of a long-term solution to end the tension.

The Kurundi stream between Odisha and Bastar and  
a man altering the state mapThe Kurundi stream between Odisha and Bastar and a man altering the state map

As mentioned earlier, Potiyawand was the village that was established some generations ago to please a girl from Karmari. It had its own water and forests not long ago. But after the mid-’70s, by which time the zamindars, the forest department and the traders finished off the timber, nobody came forward to restore the forest. The departments on both sides of the border have been concentrating on exotic plantations and not the kind of reforestation that makes sense to the people. For more than 30-35 years the people of these villages have depended on Karmari’s forests and the feelings of kinship gradually withered and let in a growing animosity.

This uneasy situation was further aggravated by the forest department a few years back when it engaged the Potiyawand people to work in the forest protected by the people of Karmari. Small trees had to be cleared for a “plantation”. The people from Karmari were enraged, mainly as they had not even been consulted, and tried to prevent the Potiyawandias from entering their forest. People came to blows and a free-for-all ensued in which the Potiyawand people as well as the forest guard who was supervising the work were beaten up. A case against the Karmari people was registered21. The dismissal of the case required more than two years of appearances in court, bail applications, village-level meetings, bribes and other expenses. At the end of it all, nothing had really changed in terms of the forest, the pressure on it, for the people who look after it, or for the people who trespass upon it. Damodar was the backbone of the peace-making process between the villages that took place simultaneously with the procedures of the court.

The firewood trailThe firewood trail

The new face of Panchayat Raj

When a law is made, the cunning that finds loop-holes goes to work. One cannot deny that there is a certain slyness among younger players, a slyness which, when rules are written to prevent slyness, makes use of the rules themselves.

Yasunari Kawabata, The Master of Go.

The new methods of contesting the Panchayat elections, the reservation of a mahila seat in select areas, and the split in villages along regional party lines have all brought vast changes in village administration. The candidates in the fray are young, travel in SUVs and campaign aggressively. Bribes, liquor and promises are currencies used along with money. Few local leaders walk through their forests to ascertain the state they are in and what is available to the people. The poorest still depend for many daily essentials on the forest. What the new leader is interested in is the kind of schemes, loans and subsidies that come into the Panchayat. Where can new cement roads be laid? Where can another talaab22 be commissioned, even if the site chosen defeats the purpose.

A pond in an improbable area, dry even in the monsoon!A pond in an improbable area, dry even in the monsoon!

About three and a half years ago, the seat for the sarpanch for Karmari Panchayat was declared a “mahila seat” and Damodar’s long haul came to an end. We hardly know the lady who has taken over – as is the case in most of rural India – but we do see her husband in meetings and around the village, usually on his motorcycle. Much of his wealth can be traced to his years in the timber trade and more recently to his brick kilns, the two activities that directly deplete our forests – the new “acting” sarpanch lacks all moral right to stop them. He does not appear for any discussions concerning timber smuggling or for improving village forest protection. The few times he did attend meetings to resolve a conflict, he kept silent.

In most day-to-day village matters such as land disputes, elopement, theft and religious ceremonies for births or deaths, , it is the traditional village council that makes decisions. But the sarpanch today is essentially outward looking and concerned with government schemes that bring in money and its distribution. Many of them have pump-sets installed in their lands for a double crop; some buy vehicles; some tractors that are hired out to other farmers. One innovative sarpanch has bought himself an instant photo device with which he takes and prints pictures on the spot. With so many applications for so many schemes, all of which require a photograph, the side business flourishes! The big and obvious question is whether these young sarpanchs in Bastar can be convinced about the importance of forests, and whether they have the time to consider these matters; or whether we have lost them to the mainstream – along with its desires, appearances and business schemes – to the detriment of adivasi society.

The future

There was a possibility, moreover, that giving an inch meant giving a mile, and a possibility too that the slackening of spirit in giving the inch would mean defeat.

Yasunari Kawabata, The Master of Go.

One winter afternoon Damodar and a few of us were sitting in the kothar23 near the siyadi climber. We saw a long line of women appear from the forest with head-loads of firewood. As they passed by, I called out to them and asked them to sit with us and rest a little – they were from Saloriguda in Odisha – before proceeding. They were reluctant at first but Damodar put them at ease by saying, “We were just talking about how far it is for people from your village to come here for wood.”

They sat down with us, each by her pile of wood. The oldest among them spoke. “It is far, we left home after an early lunch.”

“How long will you keep coming to Karmari? Won’t these forests finish?” Damodar asked.

“I guess it will,” the woman replied. “But what can we do? It’s our job to go out and get wood.”

“What do you think we should do? Wouldn’t it be nice for everyone to have their own forest?”

The woman was obviously interested in the discussion. She said, “Where I grew up in Odisha, in Bolangir district, our village had a lot of forest. We had everything close by. Only after I was married into Saloriguda did I have to go to another village for firewood. It’s like that for many of us now – we grew up in villages with forest and get married into villages with nothing. The men say to us: Go get firewood! And we come to Karmari. Why don’t you ask the men what to do about this? They are the ones who created the problem, not us!”

We chatted awhile after that and the women left. Damodar was quite struck by the conversation and we stayed back in the kothar after our companions left. “She was right, we should call the men from the nearby villages together and talk to them.” The idea that was taking shape in Damodar’s mind was a plan to restore the forests and groves in all the surrounding villages.

Cooking preparations for the big meetingCooking preparations for the big meeting

Mohri-baja musicMohri-baja music

Whatever development projects and schemes are prepared and implemented by the government there is no substitute for the availability of proximate forests. The majority of people require firewood to cook; seasonal foods such as mushrooms and fish are collected without cost; wood for construction is a regular requirement. When people do not have their own forest they have no option but to stray into their neighbours’ forests. Much of the tension between adivasi villages in Bastar and elsewhere can be reduced to the fact of “strangers” exploiting a patch of forest conserved by the people of one or two villages. The increasing pressure on resources alters the dynamics and the relations between people. Usually, good forest patches are the result of an intact traditional system of forest use, often combined with a person or a community that is conscious of the circumstances and makes an effort. In journeys along the Odisha border near Karmari, I did meet a few such sarpanchs.

The idea that Damodar took forward was to bring together, in a larger meeting, the people of all the villages that came into Karmari’s forests. Over months he prepared the ground for such a meeting. He started by first taking the youth of the village to visit – in twos and threes – each village near Karmari to explain to the people what the planned meeting was about. Each village was asked to discuss and think about its specific problems and select representatives to come and voice them in the larger meeting. These initial interactions, started by Damodar through local youth, went on for about two months.

The first big meeting was held in Badla Kot in March 2013, and was attended by about 200 people and hosted by Damodar. The youth of Karmari made all the arrangements, including cooking for and serving the guests, along with providing local music. Each village representative got a chance to speak, there were some informal group discussions, and one could feel that it was an issue that evoked emotions. Some decisions have been made: all the sacred groves in the villages will be restored; there will be large scale planting of native trees; each village will raise and protect its plants. Saplings of useful and native species are to be made available locally as well as from a nursery run by the Legal Environmental Action Forum (LEAF) that has a centre in Jagdalpur. The meeting lasted most of the afternoon and it was obvious that the circumstances were more or less the same in each village.

The  
first meeting in Badla KotThe first meeting in Badla Kot

As the discussions came to an end, Damodar stood up and thanked everyone present. Then he asked them whether anyone could volunteer to host the second meeting. The sarpanch from Amdiguda agreed to do so and formally invited everyone to come and continue the discussions after three months. A trend has begun. Between meetings there will be efforts to plant, protect what is planted, exchange plants and seeds between villages, and carry out visits. It is hoped that the youth will learn much from their elders through their role in this ongoing process – it will take at least three years for all the villages to host at least one meeting – and that Karmari’s forest will merge with the forest of the neighbouring villages.

Is the forest department listening?

  1. http://bharatdiscovery.org/india/%E0%A4%9A%E0%A4%BF%E0%A4%A4%E0%A5%8D%E0%A4%B0:Bastar-District-Map.jpg
  2. The three qualities of the sarkar; to frighten, to make the heart ache, to beg.
  3. tribal.nic.in/index2.asp?sublinkid=480&langid=1
  4. Incidentally, the word Bastar comes from bans (bamboo) and basta (bamboo-shoots).
  5. See map; Sandh Karmari is about 7 kms further than Jaithgiri, along the border with Orissa.
  6. Sandh refers to the fact that it is located in “one corner” of Bastar to differentiate it from other Karmaris’.
  7. Marsilea quadrifolia
  8. Astraeus, Gaester, etc.
  9. Deity of people who look for sacrificial victims
  10. The term “Potiyawand” has its root in the Bhatri word “potey”, to send, referring to the clansmen “sending” their daughter to a new place. The couple in the story are the first people of Potiyawand village.
  11. Father-in-law son-in-law, as against kaka-bodu; giving and taking of brides was allowed in this relationship. Hindi: mama-bhanja
  12. attendance
  13. Stop! Stop! Who are you?
  14. Woman; certain positions were reserved for women to apparently encourage women’s participation in local governance
  15. Bauhinia vahlii; a giant climber with large velvety pods. The seeds are roasted for the kernel; some people also cook the kernels in porridge. The leaves are two-lobed and used for platters. (Hin: mahul; Tel: adda; Ori: mahuli)
  16. Derris scandens; a climber whose roots are used to stun fish. In Halbi, duma refers to spirit/ghost, dira means a climbing plant.
  17. Village community forests where people gathered daily essentials (leaves, datan, fibre, etc.; very often two village share a nistar patch between them.
  18. They sold and ate up everything!
  19. Many of these cases have been recorded in Nag.A., and Ramnath. M.,: Village Justice: Stories from adivasi Bastar, Chhattisgarh; Conoor Printing Press, 2008.
  20. Tinosporia cordifolia
  21. A fuller version of this incident is narrated in “Is it a Crime to Protect Our Forest?” published in Indigenous People & Forests in India: View From A Network; ed Madhu Ramnath; NTFP-EP-India Network Secretariat; 2010.
  22. Pond or tank
  23. Threshing ground

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#India -‘Tribals turn extremists because states are too busy making money from land’

 Down to Earth
Date:Jun 13, 2013

The world’s largest democracy is facing a surge in tribal uprisings. The recent killings of Mahendra Karma and other Congress leaders in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh  has prompted the government to address issues of land dispossession and socioeconomic deprivations of tribals. These are the key issues that have been precipitating recurring violence across various parts of the country. Union Minister of Tribal Affairs Kishore Chandra Deo speaks to Sonum Gayatri Malhotra about the obstacles hindering effective governance of tribal communities in Schedule Five areas and how to overcome them. Edited excerpts from the interview

Kishore Chandra DeoKishore Chandra DeoTribals of Bastar are protesting against the provisions of the Fifth Schedule. With elections nearing, they are demanding tribal autonomy in the district as provided under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Do you think the Sixth Schedule is working better in protecting tribal rights?

The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution has no dearth of laws in protecting the tribal rights. Bastar’s demand to introduce Sixth Schedule provisions in a Fifth Schedule area is not pragmatic and is definitely not well thought through.

Hypothetically, introduction of Sixth Schedule in Fifth Schedule areas would need a statutory amendment to the Constitution. This is an interminable process. Moreover, amending the composition of the Constitution is a process that first needs to be addressed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs is relatively a new ministry, which came into existence 12 years ago. Before that, scheduled tribes came under the purview of the home ministry. Unfortunately, not all powers have been transferred to the tribal affairs ministry yet. This is a problem. I have limitations as a Union minister. I can only guide the governors of Schedule Five states to evoke their discretionary powers and inform the President of the situation.

But there is confusion over the role of governors in Schedule Five areas. In 2009, then President Pratibha Patil said that the Fifth Schedule devolves special responsibility on the governors in administering scheduled areas and ensuring peace and good governance among tribal communities. But recently, Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) Fouzia Mirza in her submission to the Bilaspur High Court said that a governor under the Fifth Schedule has no discretionary power. Based on her submission, the court dismissed a petition challenging constitutionality of the Tribes Advisory Council and powers of the governor under this schedule. Tribal rights activists have now approached the Centre seeking Presidential reference to the Supreme Court on interpretation of the Fifth Schedule.

The case was recently brought to my notice in response to letters I had sent out to all governors holding posts in Fifth Scheduled states.

The powers exercised by the governor especially under the Fifth Schedule are discretionary powers. The governor is not only the administrative and executive head of the state but also represents the Centre at the state. Fouzia Mirza has got it wrong. I am sad that an ASG, a top government official, erred on such a critical matter.

Most scholars and opposition parties also think that governors are of partisan nature, considering they have never evoked their powers given under the Fifth Schedule. Former governor of Odisha M C Bhandare had said “governors’ role constitutionally exists on paper but actually there is no existing support on ground”.

It is time governors started taking responsibility and invoked the powers which have been conferred on them under the provisions of Article 244 under the Fifth Schedule. It is time for a wake-up call. We are talking about the most marginalised sections. If the government of a state is not directing laws to benefit scheduled tribes, it is the role of the governor to intervene and set things right. When the Constitution was being framed, it was decided that a representative would ensure equality for indigenous communities that would protect them from the burgeoning globalising expansions and secure their fundamental rights. That’s why the governor is not bound by the aid and advice of the Tribes Advisory Council but can direct executive orders in his own discretion.

M C Bhandare has done wrong by not doing anything for the tribal communities of Odisha, where mining has been a critical issue. Constitutionally, the governor is to administer, legislate and execute directives for Fifth Schedule areas. Implementation of development programmes are channelled through the state department, however, the governors can direct laws for areas inhabited by scheduled tribes.

I am ready to take charge of the Fifth Schedule states that have seen governors neglecting their duties. The nodal ministry can empower to assign themselves the powers that have been conferred under the Fifth Schedule for the peace and good governance in tribal regions.

Don’t you think the contentious conflicts between ministries have only imploded to create mistrust among the tribals towards the government? In the latest such instance, the Union environment ministry headed by Jayanthi Natarajan has sought dilution of power of the gram sabha

Today, the growing mining sector is the main threat in Schedule Five areas. This has shaken the confidence and faith of the people in these regions in our democratic system. In many cases, powerful lobbies are trying to encourage mining in a flagrant violation of Constitutional provisions. The variant ideologies of ministries seem to have stemmed from market incitement. Ministries are working at cross-purposes. This is a turf war, lamentably in a social sector which is the most unfortunate.

Fifth Schedule areas in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are governed by the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act. Such areas are meant to be lightly policed. But the government’s emphasis on policing and militarism is evident. Your comment

Deployment of forces in areas inhabited by tribal communities is sending out a message that can only provoke disorder other than what is desired. Sending military or paramilitary forces to these areas will not help contain the uprisings as these are not merely law and order problems. Having said that, one should address the core issue of these uprisings; these areas do not have adequate development. Basic human amenities like food, drinking water and healthcare are lacking. It is the duty of the state government to develop the regions responsibly in accordance with the communities’ requirement.

Most people from the tribal communities end up joining extremists’ movement because the state is too busy concentrating on how to use land in the most profitable way. Lashkar-e-Toiba is funding the Naxalite Movement. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has alleged that the biggest internal threats to the country are its tribal communities. Inevitable alien militant forces triggering hostility in Fifth Schedule Areas, especially bordering states, is bound to undermine the very national integrity.

Sonum Gayatri Malhotra works with Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

 

Interviewee:
Kishore Chandra Deo

 

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Maoists in the jungle, Bhagat Singh in the fields—welcome to India Burning

Spotlight | Sting operation

 via ‘Red Ant Dream’
Nandini Ramnath, Live mint 

A still from ‘Red Ant Dream’
A few days after a Maoist attack on a Congress party convoy killed at least 27 people, including the founder of the erstwhile militia Salwa Judum, a poll on the website of the television channel CNN-IBN asked: “Bloodbath in Chhattisgarh: Have human rights groups failed to strongly condemn Naxal violence?”
The options were yes or no, the assumption being that civil liberty activists are more worried about armed insurgents than civilians. That assumption is a familiar one for film-maker Sanjay Kak, whose documentaries Words on Water, on the struggle against the Narmada dam, and Jashn-e-Azadi, on the Kashmiri pro-independence movement, dispense with objectivity and take an explicit and vocal stand against the Indian state.
He has encountered his fair share of dissenters to his brand of dissent, but he sees the debate deepening over such prickly issues as the Maoist insurgency, with which he deals in his new documentary Red Ant Dream. “I don’t get asked any more if I am a Naxalite,” he says in a phone interview from Delhi, where he lives and works. “We have gotten past that one.”
Sanjay Kak at his Delhi residence. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

After screenings in Delhi and Punjab, the film will travel to Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad in the coming weeks.

Although Kak makes the case that tribal resistance goes back several decades, and that governments in states like Chhattisgarh are only new manifestations of systemic oppression, the recent killings makeRed Ant Dream a red-hot documentary. The film maps three troubled zones—apart from the Maoists in Bastar in Chhattisgarh, there are tribals battling industrialists in Niyamgiri in Orissa, and a culture of protest built around the memory of Leftist revolutionary Bhagat Singh in Punjab. Seen together with Words on Water (2002) and Jashn-e-Azadi (2007), Red Ant Dream is about India Burning, as it were. The three films are about “the idea of resistance”, Kak says, but he traces this resistance through its foot soldiers rather than its generals and ideologues.
“I am not interested in fundamental questions of power relationships,” Kak says. “The film does not try to be a Naxalism 101, just likeJashn-e-Azadi was not trying to be a Kashmir 101.” His films are about ideology, he says, but “not terribly concerned with party formations” or a “party line”. Words on Water inaugurated his attempt to move beyond being a visual stenographer of movements. “Words on Waterbegan as a campaign film and I tried to make it something else, but it eventually is neither,” Kak says. “In the Kashmir film, I was not particularly interested in what X or Y or Z was saying but in evoking another kind of space.”
Red Ant Dream is three films rolled into one. It is in the mould of documentaries like Amar Kanwar’s A Night of Prophecy (2002), which examines protest music, theatre and literature across India, and Anand Patwardhan’s Jai Bhim Comrade (2011), whose examination of caste taps a rich vein of Dalit protest music. The Punjab segment in Red Ant Dream, which follows groups inspired by Bhagat Singh’s pre-independence Marxist critique of colonialism and inequality, intermingles with on-ground footage of rallies against mining in Niyamgiri and a clandestine encounter with Maoist groups in Bastar.
Kak could have focused on the Maoists, but he chose not to. “The core material came from Bastar, but that’s not the film I wanted to make,” he says. “The most urgent thing was to say something that would start a conversation about the idea of revolution. There has been an effacement, an invisibilization of radical politics. But I don’t have an abstract nostalgia—there are real engagements and these are about real things.”
The Punjab chapter too could have been its own film. Kak first went there trailing the revolutionary poet Avtar Singh Sandhu, who wrote under the pseudonym Pash. “I asked a professor what remains of Naxalism in Punjab today, and he said culture and poetry. Of course, the connection between Pash and Bhagat Singh emerged, and I could see the mobilization around this constellation.” Some viewers have embraced the seeming digressions into Punjab, while others have been “baffled and annoyed” by it, Kak says.
The most talked about section, at least for the moment, is likely to be the one that gives the documentary its name. Kak travelled to Bastar with writer and activist Arundhati Roy for two weeks in February 2010. He shot Maoists speaking about their motivation to engage the government in battle and sharing a dietary secret—a paste of the eggs of red ants.
Although Kak spent a little over six weeks in Bastar, Orissa and Punjab, it took two years to sculpt a 120-minute film out of the footage. The documentary is packed with crisp, terse images of dissent that aim to provoke thought rather than emotion. “What you don’t want to show is long, vérité sequences of affect and consequence,” Kak says about editor Tarun Bhartiya’s approach. “You don’t want people to say, I loved that girl in the forest. But you do want people to see somebody for 20 seconds and never forget them. It’s a rhetorical or didactic assemblage of images—the idea is to engage people on a continuous basis. You are never trying to seduce them into a state of relaxation.”
The approach to editing pretty much sums up Kak’s larger perspective on the role of the documentary. He belongs to the strain of independent documentary film-making that developed in the 1970s in stark opposition to the broadly propagandist Films Division vision of an India on the up. The country spotlighted by these film-makers is an unequal and unjust place in which tribals are being kicked off their land, women abused by population control policies and slum-dwellers ignored by urban policies. The documentaries are diverse in style and ideology, but they are bound together by disagreement with the way things were.
Kak’s own practice has crystallized in recent years into tracking down ordinary practitioners of radical ideas. He didn’t formally study film-making, but learnt on the job while assisting on documentaries and on Pradip Krishen’s feature Massey Sahib. “It’s about footage and how you view footage—it’s why I am never interested in following a set of characters, or one family or one squad,” he says. “The examination of what is going on is an endless process. These three films are an exposition of a certain idea, formally too. One has tried to fashion for oneself, in the way the three films are edited, a language that is appropriate for one’s politics.”
However, even radical film-makers must make “pitches” at fund-raising conferences and festival marketplaces these days to get their films off the ground. Red Ant Dream was financed by funds given by an IDFA Fund grant and a prize from the Busan International Film Festival, South Korea. “I didn’t pitch for the film, we raised the money based on a trailer,” says Kak, who has strong views on the pitching process. “We are in the process of recouping not inconsequential sums of money from DVD sales—there is solid potential there.”
Part of the thrill, and stress, of making political-minded documentaries comes from raising money, ensuring distribution (usually free screenings at friendly venues) and the odd festival exposure. “You compensate for the fact that you don’t have a budget by doing everything yourself,” Kak observes. “Everything is done with people’s pyaar-mohabbat (love and affection). The economics are always exhausting, but this too shall pass.”
Red Ant Dream will be screened in Mumbai at the Alliance Française on 14 June, 7pm, and at the Films Division auditorium on 15 June, 4pm. Click here for details about screenings in other cities.

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Naxalism in Chhattisgarh is a fallout of Salwa Judum: Tribal Affairs Minister

naxalites

By ET Bureau | 30 May, 2013,

 

What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks - starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre - is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum, says KC Deo
What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks – starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre – is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum, says KC Deo
What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks – starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre – is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum, says Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo

Do you need to rethink the strategy against Naxalism after Bastar? 

All this is the fallout of Salwa Judum. I had opposed the movement since Shivraj Patilwas home minister. What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks – starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre – is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum.

Do you think the government should change its strategy? 

How? All along they have been taking police action. I have been saying that we need to take action wherever there is a law and order situation but the stress should be on developmental activities

The government has many schemes, like Integrated Action Plan… 

These have shown results in some areas but there is the need to involve people in decision-making. Present schemes put all power in the hands of DMs, district forest officer and the superintendent of police.

How should the government approach the Naxal problem? 

Development should precede combing operations. I come from a Naxal-affected area. One part of my constituency, Parvatipuram, had this problem. The only way we could tackle it was by first building roads, then supplying drinking water and then all other facilities followed. While constructing roads, you must provide security so that you can tackle the Naxals.

You seem to differ with your colleague Jairam Ramesh who termed Maoists as terrorists…

I wouldn’t go to that extent. They are extremists, yes. Their actions are of an extremely undemocratic nature.

Congress is talking about a nexus between the corporates and Naxals… 

That’s true. Some private firm employees were caught with money which had to be paid to Naxals. But after those news items we found nothing. Why was there no probe? Corporate houses pay protection money.

Interviewed by Nidhi Sharma

 

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Chhattisgarh – Carrying bodies, tribal women of Bastar lead protests against cops

Ashutosh Bhardwaj : Gangalur, Ehadsameta , Mon May 20 2013,
BasterAn injured outside Gangalur police station. (IE Photo)

Bastar has seen several protests but rarely have tribal women come out and beat their breasts, shouting slogans. Surprisingly, men tried to calm them down, pull them away but these women continued to scream and hurled stones at the Gangalur police station and nearby CRPF camp.Old and young women were protesting while carrying bodies of their husbands and sons, handed over to them around 1 pm on Sunday. They knew only Gondi and Halbi but managed a few Hindi abuses. “Wapas jao… wapas jao..,” they shouted at the CRPF camp as they laid down the bodies at the thana gate and tried to break open its lock. Two old women rattled barbed fencing of the CRPF camps and threw stones at the personnel on guard, forcing them to run for cover. “Raman Sarkar murdabaad, murdaabaad.” Some of them hurled utensils inside the thana. “Stop killing tribals; kill us now, if you dare.”

All the deceased were men; two of them father and sons — Karam Joga and his son Badru (13), Karam Pandu and his son Guddu (14). The other minor boy killed was Punem Lakhu (15).

The agony did not end with their death. The bodies were lying in open field, under 45 degree sun, decomposing, badly swollen and emanating unbearable smell. CRPF men, face covered, guarded them with X-95, AK-47 with an Under Barrel Grenade Launcher.

“Jara pet par chira laga,” a doctor said. He too had his face covered. A man, Suklu, came forward and cut open a naked body. Red worms protruded out from stomach. “Dead bodies become like balloon. When you cut them, they produce fart like sound,” a CRPF cop explained. Relatives of the deceased held the bodies as the doctor examined the bodies with a stick, from a distance.

“Don’t you have another blade, a new one,” Civil Surgeon Dr B R Pujari asked his colleagues. Only two blades were used so far, and five bodies had been cut open from various sides, the doctor thought of changing the blade. But there was none. Suklu did not change surgical gloves through the process.

Pujari admitted that it’s against the law to conduct postmortem in open, that too in police presence, and the entire process was probably illegal. “Under certain conditions, an officer with rank of SDM and above can give permission to conduct it otherwise,” he tried to explain.

SDM Virendra Bahadur Panchbhai said: “The only requirement for postmortem is of adequate light. Other things can be relaxed in special situations.”

An hour later, their women relatives were protesting outside the thana for justice. They had arrived here on Saturday evening when police forcibly brought the bodies along, but now after nearly 24 hours men convinced them to take the bodies back home. The administration arranged for a tractor, but the terrain was difficult and it left them in between. And then began a two-hour-long journey to carry the bodies on shoulders.

Two bodies, father and son Joga and Badru, were kept on the same logs and cremated together. “It’s not unusual among tribals. When a person loves someone a lot, we cremate together,” said a tribal.

– See more at: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/carrying-bodies-tribal-women-lead-protests-against-cops/1118025/0#sthash.5gBvcRXp.dpuf

 

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