Press Note based on Reports in the Local Languages involved, Fact-finding Reports of teams of Democratic and Civil Rights Organisations and the Statements issued by the CPI (Maoist)
The last quarter of 2009 has been quite significant in the annals of history of the Indian subcontinent with the much publicised war, euphemistically called as Operation Green Hunt, of the Government of India on the Adivasis-the poorest of the poor- of the region ostensibly to usher in, what is being time and again termed as Progress, Prosperity and Peace. The tragedy unfolding behind the smokescreen of this media blitz of the Government of India should be brought to the notice of one and all for its alleged intentions, and the real, concrete fallout of this campaign that is taking place under the direct guidance of the learned, erudite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the lawyer/politician/finance minister turned Home Minister P Chidambaram.
An unprecedented military offensive
If the total number of government forces presently engaged in this operation is taken in its entirety (including the paramilitary forces and the state elite police) it comes close to a quarter of a million. This is more than double the US forces presently deployed in the occupation of Iraq-approximately 120 thousand in September 2009-and bigger than the armies of Australia, Netherlands and South Africa put together. The preparations speak volumes about the real intentions of the government as Indian Air Force helicopters turned into gun ships are being used against adivasis, airstrips constructed in Raipur and Jagdalpur, jungle-warfare schools opened to train the forces in special operations, new barracks and bases to station armed forces are established all over the war zone, public buildings including schools and panchayat houses are converted to paramilitary and police camps and torture chambers. To top it all, army commanders are overseeing the war operations while US is providing ‘advisors’, military intelligence, satellite surveillance and ‘guidance’-in one word called logistic support.
Contrary to the claims of the government, to secure the land against “the single largest internal security threat”-Naxalism-to this country, what is unfolding to the concern and anguish of every democratic and progressive mind is the calculated assault on the tribal people inhabiting the forests of Jharkhand, West Bengal stretching from Paschimi Midnapur-Bankura-Purulia in West Bengal to Srikakulam-Vishakhapatnam-Vizianagaram-East Godavari in North Andhra Pradesh and Khammam-Warangal-Adilabad in North Telangana as well as the eastern districts of Maharashtra – Gadchiroli and Chandrapur. The war zone under the blue-print of the Operation Green Hunt slated by the Government of India includes the Southern districts of Orissa – Koraput, Gajapati, Ganjam and Mulkangiri.
This has added yet another sordid chapter to the continuing assault on the tribals of the subcontinent in the form of Destruction, Destitution, Displacement and Death (four dreaded Ds of the Indian state’s policy). Thus the campaign for Prosperity, Progress and Peace by the Government of India under the UPA government is bringing in untold miseries to the adivasis in the form of Destruction of their lives and livelihoods, growing Destitution among them, massive Displacement running into hundreds of thousands due to increasing atrocities of barbaric dimensions by the paramilitary and security personnel, and last but not the least Deaths and Disappearances of tribals who have refused to leave the forest areas which are their natural habitats. Thousands of paramilitary, CoBRA, Greyhounds, C-60 and other elite armed police forces reared for this purpose by the state governments are being deployed in each and every part of Dandakaranya and other regions under this operation. These forces are entering forests, hills and village settlements unleashing immense brutality on unarmed and defenceless adivasis.
Adding intrigue to this murderous exercise, the Home Minister, who has been, and is still travelling the length and breadth of this country, announcing the various facets of this US inspired war on the poorest of the poor of this land, is the sudden and audacious denial by the minister himself about the presence of any such operation termed as the Operation Green Hunt. What provokes any discerning mind into consternation is the total blackout in the media of continuing atrocities on the tribals while P Chidambaram who had earlier graphically explained the various manifests of the Operation goes on a denial mode of such a massive military exercise-with the paramilitary belonging to the CRPF, BSF, CoBRA, Grey Hounds, C-60, SPOs and what not deployed in the forest tracts of Central and East India-unheard or untold in the history of this region.
The terror of development
While this massive operation is taking place in the rural interiors of Central and Eastern India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke with a forked tongue at the Chief Minister’s Conference on Implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006, on 4 November 2009 in New Delhi. To quote: “There has been a systemic failure in giving the tribals a stake in the modern economic processes that inexorably intrude into their living spaces. The alienation built over decades is now taking a dangerous turn in some parts of our country. The systematic exploitation and social and economic abuse of our tribal communities can no longer be tolerated.” But the Prime Minister was quick to add while stressing the need to make tribals “the primary beneficiaries of the development process”, the need to win the “the battle for their hearts and their minds”.
What is worth mentioning here is that the geographical terrain, where the government’s military offensive is planned, is very well-endowed with natural resources like minerals, forest wealth, biodiversity and water resources, and has been the target of systematic usurpation by several large, both Indian and foreign, corporations. So far, the resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has prevented the government-backed corporates from exploiting the natural resources for their own profits and without regard to ecological and social concerns. As hundreds of MoUs have been signed by the various state governments under the auspices of the Central Government and the foreign and domestic corporations the government is deliberately hiding the truth behind this unprecedented military offensive as an attempt to crush democratic and popular resistance against dispossession and impoverishment. Significantly the Prime Minister himself is on record talking about the need to make way for the vast mineral and other forest wealth in these forest lands to be exploited to facilitate the march to progress. This is corroborated by the statement of the Home Minister about the need to ‘secure the whole area’ first so as to usher in ‘development’. Operation Green Hunt thus is unequivocally a calculated move towards facilitating the entry and operation of these large corporations and paving the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and people of these regions.
Operation Green Hunt-a euphemism for genocide of the tribals
Of significance is the number of killings that has happened ever since the commencement of the Operation Green Hunt, say from the third week of September under the gaze of the ‘Reality Show’ driven sensation hungry media wherein more than 4000 CRPF and 600 anti-Naxal CoBRA commandos entered Dantewada’s Chintagufa area. People resisted this intrusion by the government’s armed forces, and in the battles six soldiers, including two commanding officers were killed.
To avenge the death of the armed forces, the troops ‘managed’ a massacre of adivasis while resorting to arson of their villages, in which at least nine villagers were murdered in cold blood and four villages got totally gutted leaving nothing behind. The government claimed that all those killed were Maoists, while the eye-witness accounts, local media reports and independent fact-finding visits have confirmed that it was yet another stage-managed genocide of adivasi villagers, who were picked up and killed. Starting from the incident of 9 August 2009 in Vechhapal under Bhairamgarh police station (Bijapur district) to the one near Kistaram (Dantewada district) on 10 November 2009, all have been fake-encounters. Seventy adivasis in total have been killed in these fake encounters in this period. It should be noted that not a single one among them was a Maoist!
The government’s claim of killing 7 ‘Naxals’ in an encounter on the 10th of November 2009 near Kistaram is incorrect as the CPI (Maoist) issued a statement stating that none of their cadres died in the incident. It must be registered here that even if one of their cadres get killed, the CPI (Maoist) declares it openly apropos the normal conduct of CPI (Maoist) is observed. On 9 December, more than 500 paramilitary and policemen entered the area under Kistaram police station from Cherla Dommaguda police station area in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh. They reached Tetemadgu village through Dokpad and Kurigundam, and encircled it. From morning to evening of that day, the police burnt down houses, women were particularly targeted through sexual violence while the rest of the villagers got brutally tortured. They took away four persons from the village. Two more villagers from Dokpad who came to visit their relatives in Tetemadgu were also abducted in this manner. After spending the night in the forests, the police force reached Palodi village in the morning of 10 December; they detained yet another adivasi while completely burning down the village. The police then took all the seven captives near Kistaram and riddled them with bullets. The government is quick to claim this to be an ‘encounter’ with the Maoists. The police took away a few more adivasi villagers with them. Till date they are untraceable.
Between 7-9 November hundreds of CRPF, CoBRA, SPOs and police forces unleashed a reign of terror in the adivasi villages under Chintagufa police station. They attacked the villagers of Burkapal on 7 November, Elma Gonda on 8 November, Minpa on 9 November, and forcibly abducted 24 persons. Their whereabouts or their fate is still unknown even after two months. Given the track record of the security personnel operating with impunity there is every reason to apprehend that the police has murdered many of them and disposed of the dead bodies.
At least seven adivasis were murdered by the paramilitary-Salwa Judum forces in different villages under Kistaram police station between 9 and 10 November 2009. Of them six were abducted from Tetemadgu and Dogpadu villages on 9 November while the other was picked up the next day from Palodi village. As the recent Tehelka field investigation with eyewitness accounts confirms, the two villagers from Dogpadu-Madkam Budra and Vando Mangdu-were dragged from their villages and shot dead. Similarly, eight adivasi villagers were killed on a single day on 9 January 2010 to be branded later as ‘Maoists’. While four were murdered in Sarpanguda under Jegurgonda police station in Dantewada, the other four were killed in Farasgaon under Benur police station in Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh.
The body count of the adivasis is mounting day by day with intensification of the Operation Green Hunt. According to the government’s own admission 107 ‘Maoists’ have been killed during the joint operations under Green Hunt till mid-January. As more and more information pour in from local reporters and facts collected by activists braving heavy repression and threat to their lives, there are reasons to believe that as much as four-fifth of them were unarmed and defenceless adivasi villagers who have been killed in cold blood in fake encounters.
Operation Green Hunt has replaced the Salwa Judum-one of the worst murderous campaigns on the adivasis-with much more brutality as is evident from what is unfolding in the poor tribal hamlets in this mineral rich forest tracts. If in Salwa Judum more than a thousand adivasis lost their lives in Dantewada and Bijapur districts alone, in the hands of the 4500 SPOs created by the government, the present onslaught reaching fascist proportions is adding to those statistics of the growing casualties of adivasis. More than 700 villages were burnt down and close to three hundred thousand people were displaced from their homes in the worst days of Salwa Judum. In all the places where the Operation Green Hunt is on, the police, paramilitary and SPOs are resorting to large scale arson, rape, torture, illegal detention, destruction of property, burning down of villages apart from regularly gunning down adivasis in so-called encounters claiming them as Maoists. The print media has reported that an additional two hundred thousand adivasis have left their homes and took refuge in the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh in the last three months fearing atrocities during Operation Green Hunt. Moreover, the Chhattisgarh government is planning to make strategic hamlets out of the displaced population forced to live in government-run camps, thereby permanently dispossessing them of their ancestral land.
In Maharashtra, Operation Green Hunt was launched in the second week of October from the Gadchiroli district, in which 10,000 troops took part. M17 helicopters of the Air Force gave surveillance and logistical support. 18 bases have been established by the paramilitary forces from where they are launching combing operations and extermination campaigns. Large scale repression of people are reported from in the eastern districts of the state, where the police and Anti-Naxal forces like the C-60 have a long history of committing atrocities and terror on the adivasi people in the name of curbing Maoism/Naxalism. In March 2009, policemen from the C-60 force gang-raped a 13 year old girl in the Pavarvel village in Dhanora tehsil. In the Kosimi village of the same tehsil, policemen from Gyarapatti police station raped and killed Mynaben, a 52 year old adivasi villager in May last year. In the latest assault on the people, the paramilitary forces are given a license to kill and torture by the government.
In Jharkhand too, the initial rhetoric of peace talks and negotiations by the newly-elected chief minister Shibu Soren has now taken a u-turn for support to the Operation Green Hunt. The government has stepped up the mobilisation of its armed forces by bringing in CRPF battalions from Asom and Tripura. The unleashing of state terror on the people of Jharkhand is not new, particularly on those sections who have resisted the state-sponsored corporate attack on jal-jangal-jameen. In fact, the police and paramilitary forces along with the vigilante gangs propped up by them like the Nagarik Suraksha Samiti, Tritiya Prastuti Committee, Sunlight Sena etc. have long been a byname for repression, torture, rape and murder. Like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, Jharkhand too has recently raised a special ‘anti-Naxal’ force called the Jharkhand Jaguars in order to crush any voice of dissent against the government’s policy of destruction in the name of development. Anyone and everyone who dares to stand up against the attack on the lives and livelihood of the oppressed, is branded as a Maoist or a Maoist sympathiser, and persecuted. Various people’s movements against the displacement of adivasis, civil rights organisations, etc. are facing state repression for a long time in Jharkhand, the scale and brutality of which is going to go up during the fascist extermination campaign of Operation Green Hunt. We can already see the inevitable fallouts of this war on people as exemplified by the murder of Rajendra Yadav who was picked up on the night of 31st December 2009 by Jharkhand police, tortured in the name of interrogation, and killed in custody. Similarly in Orissa there are several cases of rape, arson and killing reported from Narayanpatna ever since the commencement of the operation. In fact the president of the Chhasi Adivasi Muliya Sangha was shot dead while in a demonstration before the police and the paramilitary.
Draconian Laws and blanket ban on any form of dissent
Despite the rhetoric of the battle for the hearts and minds from none other than the Prime Minister the manner in which the security and paramilitary forces have wreaked havoc in the lives of the adivasis stand testimony to the utter disregard for the laws and procedures of the land. In fact several laws like the UAPA and the Chhattisgarh Special Areas Act are being conveniently used on anyone and everyone who dares to raise the voice against the policies of the government. The recent arrest and booking of KN Pandit, veteran trade unionist and anti-displacement activist in Ranchi and Gananath Patra, former professor and veteran communist leader who is also the official advisor of Chhasi Adivasi Muliya Sangha of Narayanpatna at Bhubaneswar are fresh examples of the increasing lawlessness of the police and paramilitary in their desperate attempts to browbeat the people into submission. In fact any effort to make independent fact findings into these areas have become next to impossible with the police and the murderous goons of the local parties join hands to humiliate and assault the civil rights activists and intellectuals who took care to visit these areas. The recent case of the humiliation and assault on the all women fact finding team that went to the villages in Narayanpatna to record the testimonies of the rape victims in the police stations let alone in public by the police and the goons speaks volumes of how the Government of India would want to browbeat the hearts and minds of the people into submission. Another case was the detention of the 30 member fact finding team that was trying to visit the areas of atrocities in Dantewada and Bijapur districts.
What is evident from the increasing arrests, incarceration of activists of people’s movements fighting for the rights to lives and livelihoods is a clear cut case of the government bringing in ‘development’ through the barrel of the gun. As is evident from the protests and various submissions made to the governments at the Centre and the states it is evident that these talk about development is nothing but a total loot and plunder of the local people and their resources. The fact that all these areas that are under the cross hairs of the war machine of the government come under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution has hardly deterred the local administration, police and the paramilitary to break laws and provisions with impunity.
Despite the heavy militarisation and the terror unleashed by the governments the protests from the people against such anti-people pro-corporate/multinational policies of sell-out have only increased. The efforts of the centre and the states to handle the situation as a pure ‘law and order question’ have further deteriorated the situation. The Indian government’s proposed military offensive will repeat that story all over again. Instead of addressing the source of the conflict, instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the marginalized people the Indian state seems to have decided to opt for the extremely myopic option of launching a military offensive. As conscious citizens of this country and sensitive to the questions of inclusive growth, justice and equality for all we strongly demand the government at the centre and the states to immediately stop this extermination of the adivasis reminiscent to the days of the US genocide of the Red Indians.
[This is a note that was released to the International Press in a Press Conference held in Foreign Correspondents, Club, New Delhi on the 5th March, 2010 at 3 PM]