At around 5 in the morning of 17th May, 2009, a huge force of around 500 CRPF, STF, Chhattisgarh Police, and SPOs (the contingent included 100 policewomen), landed at the campus of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (which is being continually harassed by the government for standing up against the Salwa Judum)at Kanwalnar and began cordoning off the entire area by posting para-military personnel in every direction. All these actions were part of the demolition of the VCA office and residential premises, which was to follow in the next few hours. A day before (Saturday, 16 May) a notice dated 13th May had been served to VCA by the SDM, which mentioned a period of five days (13-17th May) during which time the Ashram would need to be vacated since they deemed the Ashram to be “an encroachment” over government forest land. The notice and VCA’s reply can be found here.
Having cordoned off the area, the SDM, Mr Ankit Anand, then informed Himanshuji (at 7 am) that he and his family and staff had one hour to remove all their personal belongings, official papers, etc. At 8 am around 4-5 bulldozers began rolling into the Ashram premises and within the next few hours they had razed the entire campus (including training halls, staff quarters, the main office building, and residential area) to the ground not even sparing the tubewells and an open well which had been constructed by the Government. The boundary fence of the Ashram, the boards on the road leading to the Ashram, were also twisted and uprooted. All this continued for four hours.
Besides destroying the buildings and all Ashram effects (including official files which could not be removed in time, cupboards, etc.) the police and armed personnel manhandled four of seven visitors of VCA including a freelance photojournalist; two PHD research scholars from IIS, Bangalore; one woman student intern from Symbiosis, Pune and Himanshuji’s nephew who was there on a personal visit and a health worker of VCA. These people were released after two hours after an interrogation, taking down their statements, and a cursory medical checkup of those who were beaten.
Though the SDM and his forces allowed the press to go into the VCA premises during the demolition drive, they made all VCA staff and supporters sit a km away on the road leading to the Ashram saying that they could not allow any outsiders while the demolition was going on. As of now all VCA staff, Himanshuji’s family (including his wife and two children), visitors and supporters of VCA who were presently in residence are camping under tress in the Ashram premises. The District Collector had a brief meeting with Himanshuji and those who were picked up and manhandled at his office. The Collector has offered the use of a hall and room in the Government Circuit House as temporary shelter and storage.
- VCA’s press statement of 16th May 2009 about the impending demolition, just one day prior to the fateful day can be found here.
- One of the persons roughed up by the police is photo-journalist Javed Iqbal whose scathing exposes of police brutality, police encounters, and Salwa Judum earned him the wrath of the State Government and Police. Two of his journalistic pieces can be found here and here.
- Another person detained by the Police was Veronica Kalpana Gautam whose report on the seizue of rations meant for tribals of a rehabilitated village by the police, can be found here.
At present everyone here is too shocked to think of any protest action but once things settle down such action will be planned. Regular updates will follow.