The adivasis regard the Maoists as their friends for it is these rebels who have stood by them. All the normal channels of redress are closed for them. The police beat them. The political parties – be they the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party – are with the Salwa Judum. The courts do not give them a hearing. The media does not care. Where else will they go except to the Maoists? When the police attack them, it is the Maoists who save them. In the past 30-40 years (Naxalbari movement started in 1969) many intellectuals, professors, human right activits and peace activists have been in Dantewada and they have seen how the Naxalites have worked among the adivasis. This is the violence resulting from the fight of the poor. If the centre thinks it can crush these people, it is mistaken. Sometimes extreme oppression can embolden those who are fighting.
Seventeen years ago Himanshu went to Dantewada following Gandhiji’s belief that the real India lies in the villages, and young people must go there to rejuvenate them. The villagers gave him land to build his ashram. Under the Fifth Schedule, the gram sabha was empowered to do so. But the government demolished the ashram this year, sending a force of 1,000 policemen, anti-landmine vehicles…That is when the adivasis finally acknowledged that Himanshu was like them! His home could also be demolished. It is not just a single experience of Himanshu, it all most the same experience with majority of human right activists, who have been to Dantewada. In the forests of Dantewada, people live like aboriginals used to, in tune with nature. Natural justice prevails there. In the jungles, there is no police, no crime.
In 2005, the Chhattisgarh government started feeling the Maoists in Dantewada were a danger. It started the Salwa Judum, which means Collective Peace Campaign. They knew the Maoists had support among the adivasis, so they decided to empty the villages. They forced the villagers out of their villages and tried to shift them into camps near police stations, at the edge of the village road. They got together a force of goondas who along with the police, would pounce on the villagers and force them into camps.
But adivasis are used to living in the midst of nature, near a stream, on top of a mountain. Each adivasi house is far away from the other. Here, the government had built sheds; you step out of one and face the next; behind yours is another one. When the adivasis tried to run away from these sheds, this “patriotic” force would shoot on them, catch them and put them in jail, rape them.
At one point, there were 54,000 people in the camps, from 1,000 villages. The government claimed it had “sanitised’’ 644 villages. Fifty thousand adivasis had run away to the jungle. That is when the Chief Minister (CM) Raman Singh declared that those who have come to the camps are with us, and those who have run away are with the Naxalites.
Human right champions like Late Shri K. Balagopal wrote an Open Letter to the CM – as the chief of the state, you are saying that those citizens who choose to stay in their own homes are Naxalites! And will you give orders to shoot them? That is exactly what he did. There would be attacks on the same village again and again. The adivasis would try to come back and cultivate their land; every time they would be caught and terrible atrocities inflicted on them. Their harvests would be burnt. In such a situation, it was the Naxalites who supported the adivasis. That is why they regard the Naxalites as their friends.
The Salwa Judum forces want liquor, chicken, mutton, women; and they want these every day. They take these from the adivasis. We are blind to that. But when the adivasi picks up a lathi to oppose the police, we cry foul.
The State talks of the violence of the Maoists, but it is the State which is violent. The home minister keeps on talking about peace. But how can peace come when you are all the time attacking the adivasis? Then you expect the Maoists to stop violence. The situation has now reached a point where every outsider is looked upon by the adivasis as an enemy. The State has created a situation in which the adivasi looks upon his own fellow countryman as an enemy.
The Supreme Court has ordered the government to rehabilitate the villagers, compensate them. Not one village was rehabilitated, nor one adivasi compensated. On 10 June 2008, the Supreme Court gave instructions that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) investigate the conditions in Dantewada in the wake of Salwa Judum. NHRC activists took tribals from Dantewada and some of those who had fled to Telangana, region of Andhra Pradesh (AP) to meet the NHRC team. On 11 June, when the villagers of Nendra were returning, some Salwa Judum people stopped the jeep and beat up the tribals. NHRC phoned the director general of police, asking, is it a crime to talk to the NHRC? Nothing happened. Those adivasis were made to sign a paper saying that they were forced to give statements to the NHRC.
(Part 2 will soon be followed)