Want To Hunt Adivasis?, Pay only 8 Lakhs Per Head!

Statistic was chillingly simple. 8 Villagers shot dead, including 3 minors. One jawan of the CRPF’s elite CoBRA unit too dead. CoBRA is elite because it is “specially” trained to “hunt” Maoist insurgents in the jungles of Central India. Security forces described it, as they usually do, a “fierce encounter” with the Maoist rebels. They do this whenever there are bodies with bullet wounds to account for. Place: Ehadsameta village of Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh state of India. Date: The intervening night of 17-18 February 2013. Proof of encounter: Death of CoBRA jawan, who allegedly died at the hands of insurgent fire. Even mainstream media, which earlier used to dutifully print official handouts or press-notes issued by security agencies as eyewitness account of their intrepid reporters, has started showing signs of “indigestion” in swallowing the bloody falsehoods. Earlier truth used to eventually emerge due to the courage and honesty of a few journalists, and used to find place in “special report” section.
This Express photograph tells it all. The abject debasement of an Adivasi person, as in life so in death, where all high moral ground talk of a great tradition of respecting even an enemy in death is treated with contempt. Here an alleged “Maoist’s body” is carried like a prized trophy of a ferocious beast hunted by some Colonial masters or erstwhile Maharajahs of pre-independence days. Masters have now changed, but not their ways. The masters in Delhi have already declared a war on what PM Man Mohan Singh called the gravest threat to India’s security.  His lieutenant, Chidambaram, had dutifully launched operation Green “Hunt” to encounter that threat. The masters in Chhattisgarh led by chief minister Raman Singh are prosecuting that war vigorously with abundant aid of arms, ammunition and paramilitary soldiers from center. Everything is fair in war, isn’t it? No! Villagers of Ehadsameta are screaming no, it is not an encounter. They are forcefully contesting the official narrative that “There was an encounter, and an exchange of fire from both sides. Some villagers have died. A probe is on,RK Vij,Addtnl Director General (Naxal Operations), Chhattisgarh Police, said“. Villagers however, “denied any links with Maoists and claimed that the forces started firing while they had gathered to celebrate the local Beej Pondum festival“. This Beej Pondum festival is turning out to be bloody killing festival for them. Just in June last year, in the same Bijapur district 17 people were killed by security agencies in another “encounter” at Sarkeguda village; “While the forces had called it the “biggest Maoist encounter”, almost all the dead later turned out to be innocent villagers“. The latest Friday-night encounter pressed 1000 men of heavily armed CRPF and Chhattisgarh Police into aggressive patrolling and combing operation. Such overwhelming numbers that too heavily armed must make a terribly menacing sight in the sparsely populated jungle areas, where locals are already broken by grinding poverty. CRPF sources in Delhi said, as they always do to justify their “actions”, that the operation had led to the “discovery” of a training barrack. They had also naturally cited the death of a CoBRA personnel, Deva Prakash, to claim that those killed in Friday night’s encounter had to be Maoist. How could their soldier take a bullet in the head if not from Maoist’ fire? Villagers have a simple explanation – “friendly fire” according the Indian Express report. ““While firing was on, we suddenly heard them shouting, ‘firing roko, humare ek aadmi ko goli lagi hai (stop firing, one of our men has been shot)’,” said Karam Manglu, who lost his brother and nephew in the incident“. While Postmortem reports confirmed villagers’ allegations that some were shot at close range and local security forces in Gangalur admitted that they could “recover” only a “bharmaar” (a locally made gun); the CRPF sources in Delhi-HQ continued with their fantasy that explosives have been recovered and a Maoists camp has been busted.

If Maoists have actually been killed as security forces continue to pretend, then their masters in the State and Center should have announced rewards to their loyal foot soldiers. Instead, they have announced “compensation” to the family of killed Maoists. This would surely demoralise the security forces. Raman Singh has announced the princely sum of Rs. 500 thousand per head, Man Mohan Singh’ government has boosted it to Rs. 800 thousand (whether this money eventually reaches the hapless families or not is another story). Ashutosh Bhardwaj of Express, whose reports I have quoted above, wrote in Express: “Rs 64 lakh is now expected to arrive in this tiny village in one go, presuming there isn’t the customary leakage through a labyrinthine channel of government officers… Even with the narrow viewpoint of this amount — which exceeds the total income of the last 80 years of a family here living in the forest“.  Imagine, Rs. 800 thousand equals 80 years of income of each Adivasi family in that hamlet. So, is this largesse a lofty recognition of the fact that a Maoist too has a family, which state should care for; or is it a shamefaced admission of guilt that indeed unarmed, innocent villagers have been killed? State government has also ordered a judicial probe, but it may be of little significance. Wasn’t a judicial inquiry ordered in the last year’s Sarkeguda massacre too? This is probably the first the time that even officialdom had to admit the truth and that too within days of the alleged encounter. 
What pleasure one wonders would security forces derive in killing innocents belonging to the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of Indian society? When tens of thousands of armed to the teeth security men are deployed in the midst of the poor in the country side ostensibly to fight Maoist insurgency, when they are asked to keep the people “disciplined” and cut off Maoist from their sustenance sources, and when they have orders to evacuate specified tracts of forests to handover to mining and power companies for exploitation; then is it really so difficult to understand why such killings take place with sickening frequency?  Can one believe that a comparatively small state like Chhattisgarh has 27 districts? Out of which 9 districts were added just last year, and 2 districts six years back. That shows the kind of intense administrative saturation taking place. Would formation of these additional districts, which government claims are for the benefit of Adivasis and who are already at the receiving end of a callous and often cruel administration, really help? Or are they created to “manage” Adivasi lands for the betterment of industries and corporates?

Recently I had a visitor, who is well versed with the political-economy of Chhattisgarh and knows the state well as he is resident there. He said in a tiny district like Janjgir-Champa the state government has signed over 50 MOUs for thermal power plants. This district has one of the most fertile and well irrigated lands in the country. Coal based plants are highly polluting and fly-ash they generate destroys soil fertility in no time. What would happen to the agricultural economy and environment of this tiny district if even half the power plants become operational? Wikipedia describes Janjgir-Champa thus, “Janjgir–Champa district is a major producer of food grains in the state. It is a major hub for agricultural trade and a major local market for fresh farm supplies and the district is also famous for lime stone“. In the same breadth it adds, “Janjgir–Champa district is one of the fastest growing district of India, as 52 power plants are being opened in the district. Janjgir is going to become the “power hub” of our country, which will supply 15 to 20 thousand megawatt electricity. Wardha Power Plant(6 x 600 MW) which is 2nd biggest upcoming private thermal power plant of Asia is one of the major thermal power plant of the district“. The district may become the power hub, but would turn into an ecological graveyard as well. Massive acquisition of land will be the order of the day, and fertile agricultural land will have to make way for collieries and power plants. Resultant conflict over land alienation would be a bloody affair. Now if one imagines this story repeating again and again in other districts, one would begin to grasp the colossal  conflict over land and resources staring down at us. That is why so many heavy boots on the ground are needed in Chhattisgarh. That is why “encounters” like this are not going away anywhere, but on the contrary one may see exponential rise in them. Make no mistake, both the BJP in the state  and Congress at the center are one in this like hand in glove.
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