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The recent attack on Soni Sori and now harassment of her family members that was followed by eviction of Lawyers and Journalists from Bastar is undoubtedly part of a strategy to weaken Adivasi Resistance movement against Police atrocities in the Region. It also coincides with recent campaigns of #MakeinIndia #MakeinChhattisgarh that undermines constitutional rights of Adivasis such as PESA, FRA.
— Dr Raman Singh (@drramansingh) February 23, 2016
It has become quite evident that state with largest Adivasi population in central India is ready to trade off Adivasis’ rights over Jal JangalJameen. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing investment of Rs 24,000 crore in Bastar last year and the incidents of violence in past one year are linked to the same chain.
Chief Minister Raman Singh’s silence on each and every incident of violence in Bastar region shows a clear picture of State’s policy. Moreover, when CM holds such opinion –
— CMO Chhattisgarh (@ChhattisgarhCMO) February 17, 2016
In December, 40 women confessed officially (of course real numbers could be higher) of being sexually harassed by Policemen and Army personals. Not even few days had passed that another group of women alleged of being sexually harassed through ‘Naxalite Test’- another soul cringing incident where women’s breast were tested for milk to verify if they are married or un-married, giving the rationale that Naxals don’t pro-create.
Meanwhile CG government was ready with amendments to the Forest Rights Act bill that further diluted Adivasi rights over land and forest, thus providing safe passage for land acquisition and development project for Adani group. In January, Hidma- an adivasi was killed by Police in an encounter who claimed of him being a Maoist. It was later when stories emerged about this fake encounter and how Police tried to suppress it by bribing money to family members of Hidma. Soni Sori has been vocal about Hidma’s fake encounter as well as earlier incidents of Rape.
In 2013, SRP Kalluri was conferred President’s Police Medal for Meritorious Service, just like Ankit Garg (accused of rape in SoniSori’s case). The anti-Maoist movement has taken a new turn after arrival of Kalluri in Bastar region as IG. While JagLag lawyers, Soni Sori and many villagers in their testimonies have pointed out the authoritarian rule of the IPS officer. Therefore it is important to peek into history of the man and introspect on what’s ahead for Adivasis of Bastar.
The recent outcry
After the attack on Soni Sori, she had alleged that when she was attacked by three unknown men near her hometown of Geedam, she was warned “not to speak against the IG, and let the issue of the Madum encounter go.”
She was continuously threatened by Police, first when she received an abusive letter and then a day before attack on her, where she confessed of being threatened by officials that her House is going to be destroyed. She claimed that Bastar IG SRP Kalluri is behind her harassment as he doesn’t want the truth of Bastar to come outside. She had constantly spoken about threat to her life and tried to file case against IG Kalluri under SC/ST POA but was sent back on the grounds that Kalluri himself belonged to ST community (a lie told by Police). It is being consistently stated how Dandkarnya has become a Police state-cantonment, of which Kalluri is a dictator.
Later on March 11, in a letter by JagLag lawyers to the DGP, regarding harassment and intimidation of SoniSori’s family. They wrote, “Today, concerned family members of Mr. Markam, including Mr. Mundra Ram Sori (Ms. Sori’s father and the father-in-law of Mr Markam) and Mr Markam’s mother Ms. Pali Markam, and his sister JyotiSori went to speak with the IG of Bastar Range, Mr. SRP Kalluri, to express their concerns about the well-being of Mr. Markam and to seek information about his detention. However, Mr. Kalluri treated them with utter disrespect, spoke to them in vulgar, abusive language and openly threatened and intimidated the family members that he (Mr. Kalluri) will destroy all of Ms. Sori’s family. He specifically mentioned that he will ensure that Mr. Markam will be not be released from police custody, and the rest of Ms. Sori’s family will also be made to suffer for her indiscretions in questioning Mr. Kalluri. He specifically threatened Mr. Mundra Ram Sori that his daughter, our client, Ms. Soni will be killed and that his grandson, Mr Lingaram Kodopi will also be jailed. This type of grossly offensive and threatening behavior towards an old, invalid person, who is also an ex-sarpanch and a victim of Naxalite violence, and other women family members, by a senior police officer is utterly shocking and painful.”
The very next day, Soni Sori’s nephew Lingaram Kodopi has announced that he will end his life on March 23 alleging that he was fed up with continuous harassment and victimization by Bastar police in Chhattisgarh. He wrote, “I am tired and sick of routine threats. I am being tagged as Maoist sympathizer, my phone is constantly on surveillance, and I am being tracked and followed everywhere I go. I have lost the freedom to live and earn. Now, I have decided to end my life on March 23.” “Let me decide the date of my death myself. I won’t allow Bastar IG (Kalluri) to decide that. It’s better to kill yourself instead of being shot at by police’s gun who would consider me a Maoist or attacker of my own aunt.” He added.
Gang Rape of Ledha Bai of Surguja, Chhattisgarh
‘Ledha Bai, a tribal woman was married to Ramesh Nagesia, a member of the CPI(Maoists). Under advice from the police, she convinced her husband to surrender himself to the police. But, the police team, led by the then-SP of Sarguja, Mr. SRP Kalluri, went to the pre-assigned meeting place and shot the unarmed Ramesh Nagesia dead, in front of his wife Ledha. Ledha was allowed to live, but with the caveat that she would not tell anyone about this episode. However, a few days later, Ledha, her 2 year old child and her parents were rounded up and taken to the police station. There, Ledha was stripped and raped by Mr. Kalluri, and green chillies were inserted into her vagina in front of her parents and daughter. Under orders from Mr Kalluri, SPO Dhiraj Jaiswal and others gang raped her in police custody for about 10 days. All this has been documented by several fact-finding teams and was also corroborated by Ledha’s statement in front of a magistrate.When Ledha tried to lodge a complaint against Mr. Kalluri, she and her father were intimidated to the extent that they had to withdraw the complaint, and instead, false charges were filed against the lawyer who had helped her file the complaint.”[i]
Ledha Bai in her personal statement said– “My aya (mother) sent a message to my sister’s house that the Shankargarh police had taken my father into custody. Then I returned home. I reached my home in the evening. Soon after, the policemen from Shankargarh police station came in three vans and took me to the Shankargarh police station. When I reached Shankargarh police station, I saw Kalluri sahib who, upon seeing me, asked if I knew who he was. Then I said, “You are Kalluri Sahib. I made my husband surrender before you and you got him shot.” Then Kalluri slapped me twice. I was carrying my daughter. I fell on the ground with my daughter. Kalluri asked me to take off my clothes. When I refused, two policemen twisted my father’s arms and made him stand up, and started beating him. They beat my father mercilessly. Then Brijesh Tiwari unfastened my saree and took off all the other garments. When I was resisting the taking off of my clothes, they started hitting my father forcefully. I took off my clothes. They completely stripped me. They stripped me. My child was wailing uncontrollably on the ground. Then Kalluri said, “Take her inside the room, I will interrogate her.” In my nude condition, they took me inside the room in the police station. Then Kalluri raped me inside the police station. He brought me outside after an hour and got green chillies shoved into my vagina. Before leaving the police station, Kalluri told the policemen to rape me every day. In the Shankargarh police station, the policemen used to rape me every day. Dhiraj Jaiswal came with the policemen three times to rape me and once Brijesh Tiwari raped me. For ten days, my father, my mother and I were detained in the police station.” Her full statement can be accessed here.
Sudden eruption of ‘Fake Arrests and Surrenders’
SRP Kalluri took charge of Bastar Region as IG in June 2014. ‘The Indian Express noted that between January 2012 and May 2014, a period of two-and-a-half years, the seven districts of Bastar had seen just 29 Maoist surrenders. This number shot up to 377 surrenders in less than six months starting June 2014. “A scrutiny of police records and meetings with these ‘surrendered’ Maoists show that at least 270 of the 377 are actually ordinary villagers or routine criminals not eligible to be termed ‘surrendered’ Maoists,” the paper said. “Not one of the 377 surrendered with a weapon, and no one has got the post-surrender relief or rehabilitation.”’[ii]
According to another report of The Indian Express, out of 327 surrender cases in 2015, “91 cases were rejected, 36 approved, with the rest still pending clearance”. Even by the record of the last two years, what happened in Sukma district over the last three months is unusual. Starting December 2015, nearly 140 surrenders have taken place on the 50-km stretch between Dornapal and Chintalnar in Sukma district.
In 2014, between July and September there was a sudden spurt with 148 people surrendering. Though, IG Kalluri tried justifying it by pointing at higher monetary rewards being paid now. However, it has to be pointed out that during Salwa Judum there were hardly any surrender, then suddenly at a (relatively) peaceful time how can there be so many? Activist Sudip Srivastava, too, suggests there may be more here than meets the eye. For starters, “Of the surrendered Naxals, only three to four are senior people. The rest are merely villagers who helped Naxals,”
As the report points out, “the State Intelligence Bureau has rejected many of these cases because they don’t qualify under “the surrender policy of the state government”. The real story, however, lies in the comparison from 2014 onwards, when the present police dispensation in Bastar took over. In 2013, out of 39 applications, 28 were cleared, while in 2012, 23 out of 39 were cleared. Cut to 2014, when the present IG took over, and the year saw the police claiming 421 surrenders, 316 out of which were rejected by the panel. In 2015, out of 327 cases, 91 have been rejected, 36 approved, with the rest still pending clearance.”
Last year, Amnesty India brought up issues of fake surrender and arrests. While initially Chief Minister Raman Singh was in denial on the issue, IG Bastar SRP Kalluri was summoned to report in Police Headquarter on the issue by CM. (though as usual nothing happened)
A senior IPS officer, R.K. Vij- ex ADG of police (Naxal operation) Chhattisgarh had questioned cases of 200 out of total 800 surrendered Maoists. Vij who had rejected the surrender of people in masses, was soon transferred.
In a recent article Nandini Sundar, after visiting the region in January wrote,‘at least 32 of the 70 ‘surrenders’ by Maoists which were proudly announced by the Bastar police at Chintalnar on December 24, were ordinary villagers. At least two were police informers who fled to safety after the villagers discovered their activities. Even in the matter of fake surrenders, the police discriminated against adivasis, giving them only Rs. 1000 while the UP traders who ‘surrendered’ got 10,000.’
Among the most recent case of ‘Naxal encounter’ and Bastar IG Kalluri’s claims of “eliminating” more than 40 Maoists in the first two months of 2016, Naxal leader Ganesh Uike said only eight of those killed belonged to his outfit. In a press statement, Uike, who is the secretary of the South Regional Committee of CPI (Maoist), claimed the Bastar police killed 40 people including seven women, in the name of anti-Maoist operations. He said, “Seventeen people were killed in Bijapur district, 12 in Sukma district, three in Dantewada, five in Kondagadon, and three in Bastar. Out of these 40, only eight were members of our People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army. Rest of them were innocent villagers.”
Fake Encounters and the “Clearing” Operation-2016
In a recent interview Shalini Ghera, one of the evicted JagLag lawyers had pointed out that “the recent streak of evictions of journalists, lawyers and documenters is part of this new design. It seems that there is going to be an increase in human rights violations signs of it are already visible and they want to make sure that there are no witnesses left. They don’t want any news to come out; they don’t want fact-finding teams going there to document what they are calling a “clearing operation.” In the first 22 days of November alone, there were 18 encounters. Now, the number is 56. These are large numbers. We are talking about 56 deaths that nobody has been able to go and investigate except for the one in Mardum that SoniSori brought to light. That was the point when all this hell broke loose.”[iii]
Chhattisgarh Home Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam on the other hand says,“In the last six months, since the rains have ended, there have been 56 Naxal deaths in encounters. This is a record in itself. We begin to count these numbers from September 1, 2015, since in the rains, operations are slow given the conditions in the forests. Since we started again in earnest, we are breaking our own records all the time and pushing them back. In November, there was a record, and then in January (23 Naxals killed), that record was broken,”
Discussing the conversation with IG Kalluri, JagLag lawyers in their interview had pointed out, “in July 2014. He said that he had recently met with a secretary from the ministry of steel, and that they are planning on setting up an Ultra Mega Steel Plant, or UMSP. He said that this area is really well positioned for industrial development- we have the ore nearby, we have a rail connection, water supply and so on. And he said that the only reason we haven’t been able to develop magnificent industries here is because of this trifling problem of the Naxalites. He told us that he was appointed to clear up this area so we can have another Bhilai or Raipur in Chattisgarh. Since then, he has repeated this on several occasions.”[iv]
This Clearing Operation was also substantiated by a senior officer who told The Indian Express,“By 2017, save for small incidents, we want to bring an end to Naxal violence in districts such as Kanker, Kondagaon and even Jagdalpur,” says a senior officer. It clearly shows that anti-naxal operations are becoming a way towards annihilation of Adivasis, further alienating people from the state and creating a situation of vulnerability.
From 5th Schedule region to a Military Zone
In 2014, the Centre had sanctioned the deployment of 10 more battalions in Bastar (though Raman Singh had sought 26). The 10 additional battalions approved by the Centre were to be deployed in Bastar, taking the total to 39. As each battalion comprises around 780 personnel, nearly 30,000 paramilitary personnel (people to army ratio of 47:1) were available to take on the Maoists in the region. To bring a pro ‘development’ set up of Police establishment, top police officials were transferred in Bastar. Specially, senior IPS officer SRP Kalluri, considered an expert in anti-Maoist operations, was appointed the new Inspector General (IG) of Bastar.
“Kalluri is credited with driving the rebels away from Sarguja district in northern Chhattisgarh, making it a Maoist-free zone. On the flip side, he earned the ire of human rights activists who accused him of being responsible for the burning down of 300 tribal homes in Tadmetla and Morpalli villages in Sukma district in 2011. The activists also alleged that he was behind the attack on Swami Agnivesh when he was on his way to visit Tadmetla after the arson” stated a Tehelka Report.[v]
Are District Reserve Group (DRG) the new SPOs?
DRGs are dubbed as “son of soil” because its personnel are recruited from among local youth and surrendered Naxals in Bastar division. Explaining their strength Kalluri says, “They are emotionally attached to the region as they belong to this place. They are familiar with the culture, ethos and language of people. Having a bond with the tribals, they are better mentally-conditioned to handle them. They are fighting Maoists efficiently because of their inherent motivation for doing so.”
Last month Economic Times reported that “the DRG carried out 644 anti-Naxal operations in 2015, both individually and in coordination with other state forces and paramilitaries, during which they gunned down 46 ultras. This year so far, 25 Maoists have been killed in 144 operations carried out by DRG alone as well as jointly with other forces without any casualty to the security forces. The DRG was raised over different periods of time in seven districts of Bastar spread in an area of around 40,000 sq kms, to fight the menace of Left Wing Extremism ongoing from over past three decades.
The DRG has a strength close to 1,700, including officers. Many of the recruits in DRG are surrendered Naxals and having served with the outlawed CPI (Maiost), they are aware of the movement of the ultras in forests, their schedule, habits and the operational pattern. Lower rung cadres of the Maoists like sangham, dalam, militia and chetna natya mandli members are also known to them, making it easy for the DRG to track their activities and strategies, the IG said.”
Previous Charges on Mr. Kalluri
In September 2015, Home Minister Rajnath Singh made a statement that police officials initiating action against Maoists should not worry about reactions from human rights bodies. It was reflected on the developments in Bastar wherein, Police officers like SRP Kalluri was promoted as the IG of Bastar range despite a dark human rights record and a pending inquiry.
‘In 2007, civil liberties groups across the country had taken up the case of Ledha Bai, a tribal woman in Balrampur, who had accused Kalluri of killing her husband first and raping her when she tried to get legal redress. In 2009-2010, Kalluri exhibited similar brutality when he was posted as senior SP in Dantewada. In March 2011, a group of SPOs and CRPF men had burned down the three villages of Tadmetla, Timmapuram and Morpalli in Chintagufathana, killing three villagers, sexually abusing three women, burning over 300 houses and granaries in the three villages, allegedly under Kalluri’s orders. A public uproar ensued when details of this incident became known, following which a judicial enquiry into the incident was ordered and Kalluri was transferred out of the area, in order to ensure independence of this enquiry. The Tadmetla judicial inquiry is still underway, but Kalluri was posted to the area again- and this time, at an even higher position as the Inspector General.’[vi]
Swami Agnivesh who blamed Kalluri for attack on his convoy had alleged last year that, “Between March 11 and 16, 2011, the security forces committed arson, rapes and murders at Tarmetla, Timmapuram and Morpalli, in which Mr. Kalluri is one of the accused. His presence in Bastarjeopardises the fairness and objectivity of the two inquiries into the attacks,”
After Kalluri was transferred to Dantewada as Senior Superintendent of Police, he continued his authoritarian rule where local tribals and activists were continuously harassed. First Himanshu Kumar, an activist opposing SalwaJudum was forced to leave Dantewada. Then in a press conference, Kalluri had announced that international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders, were helping Maoists.
‘In another press conference, he announced that LingaramKodopi, a 20 year old journalism student in NOIDA who had addressed public meetings in Delhi talking about the reign of terror in Dantewada under SalwaJudum and Operation Green Hunt, was in fact a spokesperson for the CPI(Maoist) and had masterminded a Naxalite attack in Dantewada while sitting in Delhi. Linga’s aunt, SoniSodi, another outspoken tribal woman, was harassed by having multiple false cases lodged against her, and her husband arrested in another false case.’[vii]
Politics behind Samajik Ekta Manch
Samajik Ekta Manch, an Anti-Maoist group was established last year in the region. In February when home of journalist Malini Subramaniam in Chhattisgarh’s Jagdalpur area was stoned, hours after a group identifying itself as Samajik Ekta Manch, protested outside her house and asked her to leave Bastar.
“Critics of the police administration in Bastar speak of the SamajikEktaManch as being part of the process of ‘intimidation’, with the connection between the manch and police undeniable, they say. The two have been known to jointly organise the wedding of at least one surrendered couple.
Manish Parikh, local BJP leader and member of the Samajik Ekta Manch, says intent is what matters. “We are not from one organisation or party. There are lawyers, journalists, political people from different parties who believe that Bastar has had enough of Naxal violence. Naxals destroy schools, roads, all sources of employment. Our job is to tell people of their activities, in a peaceful, democratic manner. We do not and have not indulged in violence. We even met MaliniSubramaniam and, maybe she should correct her work a little, but there was no violence. Now tell me, if I am holding a janjagran in a colony, and shouting slogans against Naxalism, why is it that someone should have a problem? We did not throw any stones, but we have been attacked needlessly,” says Parikh.
Asked about their connections with the police, he says, “I want you to write this: we believe that the police, Mr Kalluri, Raman Singh and Narendra Modi are doing a great job. And that in 2016, we will rid the area of Naxals. Bastar ka aadmi jag gaya hai (The people of Bastar have woken up), but we don’t need someone from outside telling us what to do.” [viii]
The same Samajik Ekta Manch has been active on Facebook, and is reportedly tracking activities of people’s dissent over ongoing violence in Bastar. It has also been argued that attackers of Soni Sori were none other than members of Samajik Ekta Manch that (as is quite evident) is backed by Police.
The series of events that have unfolded in last one year also cautions and recounts the horror of Salwa Judum- a movement started by state under the guise of ‘people’s movement’ in 2005. The repressive apparatuses of state have been used for land acquisition, suppressing dissent and establishing a new colonial order in Adivasi region. Moreover presence of Maoists in Dandkarnya has further given scope for the state to justify military presence.It is quite visible that the purpose is way beyond the intimidation and harassment of Activists and people, and police state of Bastar is trying to isolate the region from ‘outsiders’ so that counter-naxal forces won’t be accountable to any checks-balances .of a democratic polity, also paving the way for high civilian cost to already bloody conflict.
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