COURT SAYS PARAMILITARY APPROACH IS A PROBLEM NOT THE SOLUTION
ALL SIDES AGREE ON NEED FOR HIGH LEVEL MONITORING COMMITTEE – DIFFER ON ITS COMPOSITION
PRESS RELEASE ON HEARING OF SALWA JUDUM MATTER
7th January 2011
The Salwa Judum matter was heard in Court 9 of the Supreme Court today by Justice Sudershan Reddy and Justice SS Nijjar. This time all the main parties to the court were present – the last few times, the Solicitor General had asked for adjournments. The petitioners were represented by Senior Counsel, Mr. Ashok Desai (who is arguing the case pro-bono), the Centre by the Solicitor General, Mr. Gopal Subramanium and the State of Chhattisgarh by Mr. Harish Salve and Mr. Manish Singhvi.
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by Sandeep Pandey
Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 26, June 13, 2009
Akin to George Bush in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack who, while declaring his war on terror, proclaimed that if one is not on the side of US Government then one is with the terrorists, the Chhattisgarh Government thinks that if one is not with the Salwa Judum, the state sponsored tribal militant group meant to counter the Naxalites, then one would be considered a sympathiser of the Maoists. Binayak Sen paid the price for criticising the Salwa Judum. Now, it the turn of Himanshu Kumar. Encouraged by the recent success of the Sri Lankan Government against the LTTE, the local administration moved in three JCV machines and 500 police personnel on the morning of May 17, 2009, to finish off the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, the centre painstakingly created by Himanshu over the last 17 years in Kanwalnar village of Dantewada district.
Himanshu Kumar was presently engaged in a very important task of resettling tribals who had left their villages amidst violent confrontations between the Naxalites and Salwa Judum since 2005. Some of them were living in camps run by the Salwa Judum, under strict para-military supervision, and some of them had escaped to as far as neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. People of Lingagiri in Bijapur district have returned from Cherla in AP after three years. Similarly, people of nearby Basaguda have returned from a Salwa Judum camp across the river from their village, a river which nobody dare cross for the last three years due to fear of violence from both sides. The government-backed Salwa Judum wants people in camps, most of them on the roadside, but there is a Supreme Court directive that the government must help people resettle in their original villages. Around three lakh people were internally displaced during these violent years, of which 56,000 landed in the camps. But now their number has come down to less than half. More people yearn to return to their villages. The reason is simple. How long can one be dependent on government dole and live under armed security? Life has to start again in villages. That is where the agricultural fields and cattles are. Himanshu, who like the common people, is equidistant from both the Naxalites and Salwa Judum, was helping the people realise their dream of returning to normalcy. The government is certainly not in a position to undertake this perilous and arduous task at the moment.
The government, instead of being grateful to Himanshu, has been vindictive because Himanshu has been raising the cases of human rights violations of tribals by the security forces, SPOs—the 3500 adhoc tribal police force—and the Salwa Judum, the most recent being the killing of 19 innocent people in Singaram who were declared to be Naxalites in January, 2009, in a false encounter by the police. The government and the local administration were obviously not happy with him. They gave him a notice a day before the demolition to vacate the land, which they claimed the VCA was encroaching upon. The land was obtained by the VCA from the Gram Sabha based on a resolution in its favour. Even though it is a tribal area the government refused to recognise the right of the Gram Sabha.Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh
Dear Mr. Singh,
As an elected representative sworn to uphold the Constitution, we would like to ask you why you support the illegal burning of houses and property, displacement of villagers as well as the killing and rapes that have been carried out by the Salwa Judum and security forces in Dantewada district, Bastar. Now that it has been clearly established by the NHRC and accepted by your government as shown by your own affidavits to the Supreme Court that Salwa Judum is an armed organization which has burnt houses and destroyed property, how do you continue to publicly justify and praise the Salwa Judum? Is it constitutional to support a vigilante movement which has caused such destruction? Naxalite illegality does not justify state illegality.
Since October 2008 we have been waiting for your government to fulfill its promise to the Supreme Court that it would rehabilitate all villagers who had been affected and displaced by Salwa Judum and Naxalite violence. The SC had asked you to act on the NHRC recommendations to compensate and rehabilitate all victims of Salwa Judum and Naxalite violence, to ensure the safe return to their villages of all displaced persons, whether in camps, Andhra Pradesh or elsewhere, to remove security forces from schools and civilians buildings, to identify the large numbers of missing persons and freely register FIRs on complaints. At first you cited the excuse of the election code in the assembly elections for not giving compensation, even though this did not prevent you from promising rice at Rs. 3. Later, you used the excuse of the parliamentary elections to avoid replying to the Supreme Court and managed to get the hearings postponed after the monsoons, despite knowing that if people are unable to come home and cultivate during the summer, they will lose another year. For almost a whole year, you have tried to evade your responsibility to the affected people and to the Court. The affected people are among the poorest in the country. You talk of development but have no concern for those whom your own government has rendered destitute.
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The demolition of Gandhian Himanshu Kumar’s 17-year-old Vanvasi Chetna Ashram in Dantewada on May 17 shocked everyone acquainted with its work in the backward tribal area of Chhattisgarh. Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey, who led an all-India fact-finding team to Dantewada, tells Jyoti Punwani what his team found:
Why was the Vanvasi Ashram demolished?
Himanshu had become an irritant for the Chhattisgarh government. He was doing a lot of development work, which is really the job of the government. In fact, the SP himself told us that they used to take Himanshu’s help on various occasions. But the ashram was also providing legal aid to the adivasis oppressed by Salwa Judum. In the last two years, Himanshu has filed 500 FIRs on their behalf. His most recent activity was to help resettle in their original villages, those adivasis who had been forcibly displaced by Salwa Judum.
as told over the Phone to Kavita Srivastava
As many of you are aware Himanshu and Kopa of VCA managed to escape Lingagiri in the early hours today through the forest area of that region and got into Bhadrachallam AP more than a hundred kilometres away. The distance between Bhadrachallam and Dantewada is a good two hundred and fifty kilometres.
The moment he got into range he called up his family, his colleagues and friends and supporters and said that he had escaped to Bhadrachallam and would be soon getting back to Dantewada. This is great news and we are glad that Himanshu and Kopa managed to escape the wrath of the local police and Salwa Judum although there are many concerns that still remain. He has addressed the press in Bhadrachallam with Bal Gopalji of HRF who reached late afternoon.
Himanashu gave me a long dictation over the phone of what happened and wanted people to know about what happened in the last four days. I think there are some facts that we need to act upon urgently.
MEMORANDUM GIVEN TO DANTEWADA SP RAHUL SHARMA AND THE COLLETCOR OF DANTEWADA ON DEMOLITION OF VANVASI CHETNA ASHRAM ON MAY 17 2009 BY FACTFINDING TEAM
- The Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) was implementing various government schemes in the area including Mitanin health programme , watershed development, water and sanitation programme in villages and Salwa judum camps and Himanshu Kumar was also on various government committees including district legal aid committee. It is inexplicable why an ashram run by him should have been demolished.
- We think the government should have been grateful to him as he has been doing this constructive work in the region for the last 17 years, without any vested interest.
- As the matter of land is subjudice the action of the demolition of the ashram by the district administration was unwarranted.
- The authorities’ contention that the land which was earlier agricultural land in government records was changed to revenue forest land , is unprecendented, We think that the due process was not followed in this case.
- The VCA was engaged in the important task of resettling the internally displaced persons in their original villages which no government agency had undertaken inspite of the Supreme Courts instruction to the CG government.
- The team spoke to various persons ( villagers, civil society activists and local media persons ) in Kanwalnar, Lingagiri, Basagudha, Kamaram, Bijapur and Dantewada.All of them confirmed and acclaimed the constructive work that the VCA has been doing in the region
- The resettled villagers need immediate provision of facilities like PDS, primary health, primary education and ;public transport and also to meet their immediate needs for foing agriculture We hope the government would do the needful in this regard without delay.
- We sincerely hope the authorities would take remedial measures at the earliest to mitigate the problems of the VCA and enable to it continue its constructive work in the area.
- Magasaysay award winner, Social Activist- Dr Sandeep Pandey, Lucknow
- President Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha ( CMM), former MLA-Janak Lal Thakur, Dalli- Rajhara
- Senior Journalist Editor Mainstream- Sumit Chakravartty, New Delhi
- Human Rights Lawyer and Women Rights Activist- Adv Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Mumbai
- Editor Combat Law- Dr Harsh Dobhal, New Delhi
- PUCL Chattisgarh- Vijendra – Raipur
THE DETAILED REPORT WILL FOLLOW
Noted human rights activist Dr Binayak Sen has said most of the land in Chhattisgarh was acquired at gun-point for big industrial houses. In the packed confines of the historic Students’ Hall in College Square, Sen, released recently on bail from the Raipur Central Jail after two years, made his first public appearance at a seminar on public health on Saturday.
When asked about his acting as a mediator if the Chhattisgarh government and Maoists come to the talking table, he said, “I am willing to promote peace and I want a political solution to the conflict,” Sen said.
From Tehelka Cover Story “Binayak & The Tragedy Beyond”
Activist Himanshu Kumar could not be swayed by the State’s wrath. SHOMA CHAUDHURY speaks to this Gandhian
|Unbent Himanshu kumar, daughters Alisha and Haripriya, wife Veena and father Prakash kumar|
You have two daughters. Does that not make you feel vulnerable?
My father was part of the freedom movement. My uncle was a senior colleague of Nehru’s. I knew men like the scientist Dayanidhi Patnaik, who came back with a PhD from America but gave up everything to join Vinobha Bhave’s Bhoomidan movement. I didn’t even notice when their values were stamped on me. From them, I came to believe that the material world is immaterial. Why should I compromise for my girls? What would I achieve? Two more girls — among lakhs of others — would be brought up to lead a cloistered life. Veena could have pulled me back, but she has never done that. She herself was terrified of wearing bangles and synthetic clothes and being trapped in a marriage that would shut her behind closed doors. She was a social worker before she married me.
What is at the heart of the State’s neglect and abuse of tribals?
I don’t think either the State or the police see them as human. How many officials have even bothered to learn their language? One day a CRPF officer was complaining to me about them. He said, “Oh, these ULFA-Nagas-adivasis — whatever they’re called…” That’s how faceless they were to him. There is such an arrogance in the way the State approaches them. They will not consult them, not communicate with them.
|We are not picking up the gun but are
asking for justice within the system.
Why does that rouse the State’s ire?
P Chidambaram has said he will militarily destroy the Naxals, then bring development in the region.
He can do that. He can kill thousands of his own countrymen attempting that. He has greater might, he is a superior race. And as one Naxal leader said in an interview to TEHELKA, “We do not control all areas. Why don’t they bring development to places we don’t control?”
From Tehelka Cover Story “Binayak & The Tragedy Beyond”
His political concerns are well known. Activist Binayak Sen shares insights into his detention with SHOMA CHAUDHURY
How did your loss of freedom affect you?
(Long pause) As a civil rights worker, never being in jail was a hole in my CV (laughs). But I thought it would be 10- 15 days. If I’d known it would last two years, I’d have been less sanguine. You cannot access any privilege in jail; you are an equal in a way you can never be in the outside world. This may not always be very pleasant, but for me, it was interesting. The physical circumstances were obviously not pleasant, but everyone is coping with the same thing — hot winds, mosquitoes, terrible food — so that didn’t bother me. The jail system runs on corruption. In some ways, this corruption is almost positive because it brings a kind of humanising intervention that the system has completely shut out. So though it’s illegal, almost every inmate has a stove and at six in the morning, you’ll find everyone making dal.
But as you realised you were in for a long haul, did you go through an emotional graph?
Your mind becomes soggy. After a while I couldn’t remember names, familiar words. That used to panic me. We have seven dogs — I couldn’t remember their names. That is how the absence of familiar intercourse impacts you. I was depressed quite often. There were interesting ideas in my head, but I just couldn’t write. There’s an infinite variety of human nature and circumstance on display in jail. This made me think very deeply about categories. You think section 302 is 302 (murder), but it could range from an entirely fabricated case to self-defence to a gang war to a supari (ransom). Yet this range of crime is subsumed under the same legal category. One of my closest friends in jail was a 25-year-old boy who had been arrested when he was 19 for stabbing his father. He had done it as a last resort to prevent his mother from being beaten to death by his drunk father. He’s been convicted to life imprisonment. What’s horrifying is that the authorities are consumed by active contempt for these inmates. Even the most basic human dignity is denied to them. Every evening I saw lambardars beating inmates with lathis and chappals — 10 to a man. There were much worse things as well. But if I complained the authorities looked at me as if I was soft in the head. There are so many people in jail who are innocent, or at least, who carry the idea of their innocence in their heads. And there is nothing ahead for them but this systemic brutalisation. So I had this feeling of helplessness. It was like living through a neardeath experience, watching yourself and your loved ones from a distance — [my wife] Ilina traveling every week by train to meet me for half an hour and then traveling back.
Tehelka Cover Story “Binayak & The Tragedy Beyond”
Far from the national gaze, the establishment practises a dangerous malevolence when confronted with its anti-people policies, reports SHOMA CHAUDHURY from Raipur and Dantewada. Photographs by SHAILENDRA PANDEY
|Old threshold 2.30pm and Binayak Sen finally closes the door of his home to the stream of visitors who have come to see him after his release|
ONE YEAR ago, before the campaign on his behalf had gained m o m e n t u m , TEHELKA did a cover story on Binayak Sen — doctor and human rights activist, jailed on false charges under the draconian Chhattisgarh (People’s) Public Security Act (See TEHELKA: No Country for Good Men). On May 25, when Supreme Court judges Markandeya Katju and Deepak Verma took just sixty seconds to undo an injustice that had been wilfully perpetuated by the State for two long years, it should have been an occasion for another cover story, more celebratory, documenting among other things, Binayak’s wife, Ilina’s Herculean legal struggle for his release. But Binayak and Ilina’s story is merely symbolic of a much bigger, on-going and faceless struggle. And so, even as the human rights community exploded in joy with the May 25 victory, 400 kilometers from Raipur, another big battlefront was being opened.
It is two days after 59-year-old Binayak Sen got to go home. May 28, scalding, red dust everywhere, a hot loo blowing. A man in a white lungi and kurta sits under a leafy tree, listening to ten Gond tribals tell their story of how two nights earlier their village was looted. Every ration burnt. Every goat taken, every hen kidnapped. Not even a little chick left behind. The tribals have trekked from faraway Kamanar village in the hope that this man in white will help them access the ear of the State. It is a difficult proposition because it is the State that has looted the village: How do you lodge an FIR with the police when it is the police that have stolen your chickens?