PUCL, November 2005

16 November 2005 Appeal from the Chhattisgarh Lok Swatantrya Sangathan (PUCL)

Suppression of human rights in Chhattisgarh by the state

-- By Dr Binayak Sen, General Secretary, Chhattisgarh Lok Swatantrya Sangathan (PUCL), and National Vice President, PUCL.

Also see, Review of human rights in Chhattisgarh in the second half of 2004

[Dear Friends, The author of the report below is my elder brother, who is a paediatrician and human rights activist with the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Raipur, the capital of the state of Chhattisgarh in east central India. The purpose of this e-mail is to solicit your support in spreading the message here as widely as possible among any of your friends who may be in a position to publicize the violations of ordinary life (never mind civil liberties) that are being inflicted on people in my country by their own government.

If you do a Google on "Salwa Jurum", you are likely to find nothing. This means that there is probably no mention in the Indian media online of the state terrorism that masquerades as a popular anti-Maoist campaign. This is a dangerous situation, not only because the state is apparently at war against its own people, but also because the media are failing to highlight what is happening in the name of anti-terrorism . This perpetuates the illusion that the Maoists are a bunch of marauding anarchists who deserve to be put down with the full force of the state.

Indian democracy is sufficiently vibrant to ensure that we have enough laws to protect the ordinary citizen from the abuse of power by state functionaries and others. But without a sufficiently vigilant press and media that hold the state to account for its failure to obey its own laws, these statutory protections may as well not exist.

The world is just beginning to find out what the complicity and silence of the "free embedded media‰ has led to in Iraq. A similar pervasive media silence is suppressing the widespread distress in the villages and slums of India. Internationally, the corporate media like to project India as the latest economic powerhouse in Asia. The report below is yet another inadequately publicized account of what is happening to the people who are paying the price of this so-called progress.

While the Indian state now seeks the US and Israel as partners in the war on terror, its methods at home have always displayed an uncanny similarity to the methods of these two global paragons of democracy and civilization that have so horrified the world. When virtually the only position that is represented in the media on the issue of Maoism (which was regarded as a spent force by the end of the 70's) is that of the state, the state acts with impunity. As in Iraq, so in India.

In friendship, Gautam Sen]

Appeal from the Chhattisgarh Lok Swatantrya Sangathan (PUCL) regarding ongoing suppression of human rights in Chhattisgarh by the state power.

Chattisgarh Lok Swatantrya Sangathan (PUCL) (A-26 Surya Apartments, Katora Talab, Raipur, C.G. 492001. Ph. (0771-2422875) e mail- sbinayak@gmail.com


PUCL Chhattisgarh would like to appeal to all human rights organizations in the country as well as to intellectuals and all democratic forces in the matter of the deterioration of the human rights situation in the state of Chhattisgarh. The situation is fast reaching an explosive point and we request your support and urgent response to this appeal .

In the recent past, the people of Chhattisgarh have faced a continuous onslaught on their human rights through displacement in the wake of several Œdevelopment' projects like dams, factories and express highways, and through the blatant loot of natural resources like forests, minerals, land, water and natural resources. Thermal Power Plants and Sponge Iron factories have destroyed the once pristine environment, and peoples' legitimate protests about such invasive policies have been brutally suppressed. Workers are forced to work in subhuman conditions in the many older and new industries of the region like the Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP), National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), Bharat Aluminium Corpn (BALCO), and Jindal Steel and Power (JSP).In all these industries, there is widespread prevalence of the contractual system, and deaths and injuries in industrial accidents are extremely common.

Land Mafiosi and industrial concerns violate the rights of indigenous communities; ordinary people are victims of malnutrition, police excesses, and shrinking life and livelihood opportunities. In the forest areas, people are also routinely subjected to harrasment, questioning and torture by the CRPF and state police in the name of anti Naxalite operations, and the DK Basu protocol with regard to the norms for arrest and questioning is violated every day.

PUCL Chhattisgarh has been in communication with some of you on many of these issues in the past, and will continue to keep you posted about the situation in Chhattisgarh in the future as well. The objective of the present communication is to acquaint you with the extremely serious situation arising out of the 'mass awakening' campaign being carried out in the Bastar region under the banner of the 'SALWA JURUM',a supposedly spontaneous peoples' uprising against Naxalite violence, and to seek your support in carrying out an investigation about the real nature of this so called peace campaign .

The Salwa Juroom campaign has been underway in Chhattisgarh for the last several months. It has been described as a spontaneous peoples' uprising against Naxalite Violence, and it enjoys the joint patronage of the state government, the state unit of the BJP, the leader of the opposition in the State Assembly, sections of the Congress party, the State Police and the Central Reserve Polkice Force (CRPF). It is officially described as a non-violent peace campaign to put an end to the problem of Naxalism in the state, and is currently being carried out in the Bijapur and Bhairamgarh areas of Dantewara (South Bastar) District. There is talk of extending the campaign to other areas. However, the information and reports coming out of Bastar in recent weeks, raise several concerns about the nature of this campaign and its implications for human rights. We would like to share these concerns with you.

  • There has been a phenomenal increase in the Police and CRPF presence in Bastar including Dantewara in the recent past, and the latest addition to this force is a contingent of the Naga battalion, notorious for its excesses on the civilian population in the North-East. This raises questions about the non-violent nature of Salwa Juroom.

  • Reports on the Salwa Juroom in the media, instead of being based on independent investigative journalism are based on police sources. In itself this is a cause for serious concern about the nature of our democracy, polity, and the role of the media.

  • Some independent reports like the one conducted by Shri Manish Kunjam, former MLA, and currently President of the Dantewara district unit of the CPI, and reports published in the Jansatta as well as corroborated by an NDTV journalist contradict the mainstream media reports of the Salwa Juroom as a spontaneous peoples' movement. According to these reports, people are being compelled to join the Salwa Juroom rallies by brute force, and the homes of those refusing to do so are being burnt and their crops destroyed. Youth are particularly being terrorized into consent, and any young person refusing to join the Salwa Juroom rallies is being assumed to be a Naxalite supporter, and being terrorized and tortured accordingly.

  • According to an independent report, even unmarried young women are being forced to wear 'sindoor' in order to lay pretence to a male protector. There was a heartrending story of an Anganwadi worker named Sonia, who was beaten by the jawans of the Naga battalion, tied up with ropes at the ankle, dragged in this condition to the police station and forced to spend the night in the lock up along with men, all on the suspicion that she was a Naxalite supporter. Similar stories of excesses committed on women by Police, CRPF, and Naga forces have been recounted by NGO activists from Dantewara.

  • According to one one estimate, more than 12,000 villagers, participants in the Salwa Juroom campaigns, have been displaced from their villages and lodged in police protected camps in the name of security. Conditions in these camps are sub human. One family is given one tent to live in. Sleeping arrangements are on a wet ground, protected only by a rubber sheet. There is no adequate arrangement for drinking water, no lighting, no health facilities, and food is provided by the police department. There have been several outbreaks of diarrhea, and several children have succumbed to these.

  • There are reports that indicate that anyone who is suspected of being a supporter of Naxalites or a Sangham member is brutally tortured, beaten and in many cases killed.Through a combination of a carrot and stick approach, many people are being prodded into playing the role of informers for the Police department. In this way, there are indications that normal democratic and civil right have ceased to exist in the Bijapur, Bhairamgarh, Nilasnaar, Kotrapal and Gangalur areas.

  • Several villages in the areas where Salwa Juroom is going on are reported to have become devoid of males, who have either run away or have been forced into camps. The meagre seasonal agriculture of the adivasis is severely compromised in this way, and with the breakdown of economic life, life and livelihood seem to be seriously threatened.

Many of the observations outlined above are in direct contradiction to the proclaimed peaceful, spontaneous and voluntary nature of the Salwa Juroom. It is our perception that the Salwa Juroom 'campaign' needs to be seen in the context of the overall situation of the tribal areas of the state, notably Bastar, including North and South Bastar, Raigarh and Surguja. Many of these areas are extremely rich in mineral and forest wealth, at the same time as the people living in these areas are poor, malnourished, and exploited. One of the stated priorities of the present state of Chhattisgarh is the exploitation of these resources for industrial development and for export.

In the last few years, a sum of over Rs 60 thousand crores (USD 13.3 billion) has been invested for the development of mining and transportation in these areas. In Bastar alone, MOUs for an investment of Rs 17 thousand crores (USD 3.8 billion) have been signed this summer for the proposed Tata and Essar Steel Plants. Many of these development projects are achievable only at the cost of the destruction of tribal livelihood systems and as such tribal resistance is only to be anticipated. As such, the establishment of an 'enabling' environment for these investments, devoid of any resistance, seems also to have become the priority of the government .The deployment of police and other armed personnel in these areas should be interpreted in this perspective. The fact is that for the ordinary person, these forces become major agents of repression, as many earlier reports of Chhattisgarh PUCL have highlighted.

Our Proposal

The Chhattisgarh PUCL has always maintained that the questions of Maoism and Naxalism in the tribal areas of the state cannot be seen as a law and order problem but must be seen in the overall social, economic and political context. However, the state government continues to view it as an administrative and police problem, and attempts to seek solution through policing that today amounts to a civil war like situation. In this crisis, we appeal to all democratic forces, all human rights organizations to join hands in investigating the reality of the Salwa Juroom. This is an urgent appeal, since, in view of the mainstream media's present role of propagating the government view point only, an ordinary investigation into the reality does not seem any longer fruitful. We propose that a national level investigation team, consisting of members drawn from the widest cross section of democratic forces in the country be constituted, and we together conduct an investigation at an early and mutually convenient date.

We look forward to your positive and early response, so that the task of constituting the team, drawing up terms of reference and other logistical matters can be taken up in the shortest possible time.

With greetings,

Dr Binayak Sen, General Secretary, Chhattisgarh Lok Swatantrya Sangathan (PUCL), and National Vice President, PUCL.



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