Pleading for justice
IN June 2005, a movement known as the ‘Salwa Judum’ was launched to combat the Naxalites in Dantewada district in the state of Chhattisgarh. It was a deliberate government sponsored strategy to counter the Naxalites in the district. In raids on villages carried out jointly by the Salwa Judum activists and the security forces, suspected Naxalite sympathizers (sangham members) were beaten and brutally killed, their houses torched, and livestock looted. In several instances, the raids continued till the entire village was cleared and all the villagers were compelled to move into Salwa Judum camps. The purpose, as outlined clearly in the district collector’s ‘Work proposal to make the Jan Jagran Abhiyan successful,’ 2005, was to remove the support base the Naxalites had created in the villages and isolate them.
Far from being a peaceful campaign, as the government claimed, Salwa Judum activists were armed with guns, lathis, axes, bows and arrows. Up to January 2007, 4048 ‘Special Police Officers’ (SPOs) had been appointed by the government under the Chhattisgarh Police Regulations. They formed the backbone of the Salwa Judum and were given military and weapons training by the security forces as part of an official plan to create a paramilitary vigilante structure parallel to that of the Naxalites. These gun-wielding SPOs were either unemployed tribal youth and minors, or former Naxalites. These armed Salwa Judum activists, who were initially in civil dress, were also involved in illegally checking and taxing all vehicles passing through their area. The police and security forces carried out widespread arrests of sangham members, often without informing their family members. Brutal atrocities, complaints of extreme sexual violence against women, including rape, gang-rape, maiming and beating, and even killings committed by the Salwa Judum activists and security forces went unrecorded since the police refused to register First Information Reports (FIRs).
As of January 2007, according to official figures, 47,238 people were living in 20 Salwa Judum ‘relief camps’, or base camps as they were popularly called. Out of the 1354 villages in Dantewara district, a total of 644 villages were affected by Salwa Judum. The conditions in these camps were initially sub-human. Since several government schools had been converted into camps for security forces, or into Salwa Judum camps, and Maoists had blasted schools to prevent this, an entire generation of children has gone without schooling.
State sponsorship of the Jan Jagran Abhiyan (later called Salwa Judum) was evident in several ways, apart from providing security: (i) attendance at rallies, and promises of all assurances; (ii) funding of Salwa Judum activities; (iii) creating a blueprint for the functioning of the Jan Jagran Abhiyan (Salwa Judum). There would be nothing wrong in state sponsorship of any movement if it was legal and peaceful. However, as the state government itself later conceded, the Salwa Judum is neither legal, peaceful nor voluntary, and by arming civilians as Salwa Judum activists and later as SPOs, the state abdicates responsibility for law and order. For example, NHRC Annexure G-1, (Monthly returns from the DC, Dantewada from 26.2.02 to 25.12.07) shows that:
28.6.05: Mahendra Karma took part in the Jan Jagran Abhiyan at Basaguda.
1.7.05: Jan Jagran Rally was inaugurated and led by Mahendra Karma i n Kotrapal… During this period, not a single resident of Kotrapal was to be seen. Everyone had locked their houses and left.
3.7.05: Nankiram Kanwar (Minister) toured Dantewada, Bhairamgarh and Naimed and met Jan Jagran Abhiyan villagers and assured them that government is with them and will fulfil all their needs.
5.7.05: Under the leadership of Mahendra Karma, a Jan Jagran rally was organized at village Keshkutul, block Bhairamgarh. 2500 people from 40-50 villages set off in procession for the seven kilometres from Bhairamgarh to Keshkutul. There they met 50 villagers trying to escape after locking their houses.
24.7.05: Kedar Kashyap, Prabhari Mantri (Minister in charge of the area), attended the Jan Jagran rally at Bhairamgarh. This was also attended by Lachu Ram Kashyap, Chitrakoot MLA, Rajaram Todem, member of the CG Scheduled Tribe Commission and the Army Welfare Board Member, Vijay Tiwari.
The Collector’s monthly returns for the period 26 May 2005-25 June 2005 (NHRC Annexure G-1) mentions that a ‘Jan Jagran Abhiyan meeting was held at Matwada on 18.6.05 and attended by 5000 people from 32 villages. No one from Kotrapal came to this meeting. Next day on 19.6.05, villagers decided to assemble and go to Kotrapal and make them understand.’ Kotrapal is one of the villages where a number of people have been killed by the Salwa Judum, SPOs and security forces.
It is clear from these entries that not only were the Salwa Judum rallies attended by senior ministers, politicians and officials, but that the villages in which meetings were held were unwilling to participate, and were scared of thousands of people descending on their village. These rallies were therefore coercive. Many villagers who went to these rallies have also said that they were told by their sarpanches that they would be fined if they did not attend.
In short, from 2005 onwards there has been a complete breakdown of the civil administration and the rule of law in Dantewada district and Salwa Judum activists and SPOs have become vigilantes who assert the right to control, intimidate and punish anyone they suspect of being a Naxalite, with full government support. The Salwa Judum movement has thus only increased support for the Maoists, even according to official figures. The situation, as we note in the conclusion, has not changed – the only difference is that the current Operation Green Hunt is being conducted under the official mandate of the state, rather than under the fig leaf of a so-called ‘people’s movement’.
The PILs before the Supreme Court: In May 2007, three citizens filed a writ petition titled Nandini Sundar & Ors vs. State of Chhattisgarh (WP 250 of 2007) in the Supreme Court based on four fact-finding reports, including one in which they themselves had been involved (Independent Citizens Initiative, ‘War in the Heart of India’). WP 250/2007 was followed by another writ petition (WP 119 of 2007) titled Kartam Joga & Ors vs. State of Chhattisgarh & Union of India, in August 2007, filed by three residents of Dantewada (Kartam Joga, Dudhi Joga and Manish Kunjam) who had personally suffered beating, arson, looting and intimidation by the Salwa Judum. The facts and incidents in both petitions were based on accounts from the victims given directly to the petitioners, as well as the personal experience of the petitioners at the hands of the Salwa Judum activists and SPOs. In WP 119/2007, testimonies from 111 villages were annexed, on the basis of which lists of over 500 villagers killed, 2825 houses burnt and looted, and tens of women raped, had been prepared.
The petitioners asked the court to direct the Chhattisgarh government to refrain from supporting or promoting, in any manner whatsoever, the activities of the Salwa Judum movement, and for an independent and impartial enquiry (and subsequent prosecution) under the aegis of the Supreme Court into the incidents of killings, abductions, rapes, arson and gross violation of human rights by the security forces and the Salwa Judum activists. The petitioners also asked for an independent enquiry into killings by Naxalites, and compensation to the victims of Salwa Judum violence on par with that provided to victims of Naxalite violence, rehabilitation of those displaced and so on.
In its response, the Chhattisgarh government denied any violation by the Salwa Judum, claiming that it was a ‘peaceful movement’, and ‘any peaceful movement which resists the violent methods definitely gets support of States (sic); and that the villagers are never forced to join the camps.’ It also resisted any independent enquiry, saying, ‘There is no failure on part of state of Chhattisgarh and therefore independent investigation is uncalled for and unwarranted.’
Corroboration of rape, arson and killing by Salwa Judum subsequently came from the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which carried out investigations in Dantewada in December 2007. The NCPCR report based on a fact-finding by Shanta Sinha, J.M. Lyngdoh (former CEC) and Venkat Reddy, which involved visits to camps and public hearings at Cherla and Kirandul, noted that ‘many people shared accounts of family members being killed and women raped by the Salwa Judum’ (Cherla), as well as, ‘There were numerous accounts of family members being killed for resisting the Salwa Judum’ (Kirandul). The NCPCR forwarded its complaints to the NHRC to investigate, which in turn forwarded them to the state government for a response. The petitioners (Nandini Sundar & Ors) had also represented to the NHRC, but to no avail. Hence, they appealed to the Supreme Court.
On 15 April 2008, the Supreme Court assigned the task of forming an independent fact-finding committee to the NHRC: ‘After hearing both sides, we feel that in view of the serious allegations relating to violation of human rights by Naxalites and Salwa Judum and the living conditions in the refugee settlement colonies, it will be appropriate if the National Human Rights Commission examines/verifies these allegations. We leave it to the NHRC to appoint an appropriate fact finding committee with such members, as it deems fit and make available its report to this court within eight weeks. We request the state of Chhattisgarh and the Union of India to render all cooperation to the NHRC and the committee appointed by it. List after two months.’
The ‘appropriate fact finding committee’ that the NHRC deemed fit comprised entirely of police personnel, drawn from its investigation wing. The NHRC team did not have any representative of the local adivasi communities or any independent ‘non-police’ observer, despite a request by the NGOs who were part of the NHRC core group to be allowed to accompany the team. In some cases, the NHRC team went to villages in a convoy of ten four-wheel drives and an anti-mine tank, preceded by road clearing exercises. No wonder that they reported finding deserted villages in which people had run away. During the course of the investigation, IDPs from Andhra Pradesh who had come to depose before the NHRC team were intimidated and threatened at Konta by the Salwa Judum leaders in collusion with the Konta police. The NHRC team also used SPOs and Salwa Judum activists as translators.
The NHRC filed its report in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court on 26 August 2008. However, on the morning of August 26 itself, before the court had seen the report, the Economic Times published a report by Devesh Kumar headlined, ‘NHRC gives thumbs-up to Salwa Judum movement.’ The selective leak is disturbing since the reporter claimed that his source was not the NHRC, thereby implying that someone else had access to the report before it was filed before the court. Incidentally, the Union of India, represented by the Home Ministry, which is the nodal ministry for the NHRC, is also a respondent in this case.
Despite the limitations of the NHRC fact-finding, especially when it came to the testimonies of murders and rapes submitted to them, there was sufficient corroboration of the petitioners’ complaints for the court to ask the Chhattisgarh government to file an Action Taken Report on the NHRC recommendations by 30 January 2009.
Detailed Commentary on the Action taken Report by the Chhattisgarh government (March 2009 affidavit by Nandini Sundar and Ors): The ATR filed by the Chhattisgarh government is completely silent on any mechanism that will ensure the safe return of the displaced people from camps or from Andhra Pradesh to their villages. While the government has provided some facilities to camps, no action has been taken on the condition of the refugees in Andhra Pradesh, people whose houses were destroyed but have continued to stay in shelters in the forests around their villages trying to cultivate, or those who have returned from camps.
According to the NHRC report (para 6.15), ‘Many of the tribals who were previously staying in the relief camps have already gone back to their villages. At present the relief camps are occupied mostly by the leaders/activists of Salwa Judum, ordinary villagers who support Salwa Judum and SPOs family members.’ In other words, by providing rehabilitation and facilities only to camp residents, the government is providing rehabilitation only to Salwa Judum members and SPOs and not to victims of Salwa Judum. Even in this respect, there are serious doubts about their commitment, since Dainik Bhaskar on 2 March 2009 reported three deaths in Errabor camp, possibly due to dysentery.
However, the situation of displaced persons in AP and in and around the villages is far worse and has reached alarming levels. A representation by a group of NGOs in Andhra Pradesh to the Director, Women Development and Child Welfare Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh, based on a survey of 482 children conducted in refugee settlements of AP, shows that 76.6% of the children are in various stages of malnutrition, with 27.2% suffering from third grade or severe malnutrition. The NCPCR in December 2007 had also noted that, ‘All the people, adults and children, looked emaciated. The children had protruding bellies, a telling sign of malnourishment. One two-year-old girl looked hardly older than a three-month baby.’
Despite the fact that, according to the NHRC report (para 6.15), many villagers have returned home from the camps, there is no attempt at rehabilitating them in their villages. The administration is not providing services to people living in villages and only serving those in camps. These villages have no PDS, handpumps, schools, health workers or anganwadi workers, and the administration has completely withdrawn from the area. NHRC has noted that rations are available only in camps (see para 1.50 of the report).
This is also substantiated by NHRC annexure C (Information collected about temporary relief camps), which notes, for example, that in Maraigudem camp, ‘government has diverted the ration quota of the affected villages to those camps.’ The population of Maraigudem camp according to the NHRC investigation is 2000 persons, while the population of the 15 villages from which the camp residents have come is much higher. According to the 2001 Census in nine of these villages alone, there is a population of 6569. This means that rations meant for some 7-10,000 people are being restricted to 2000 people in camp.
The NCPCR report also states that, ‘A big problem is that schools and anganwadi teachers have been shifted from the villages to the camps leading to a concentration of service providers in camps and no services available to those who are still living in villages.’ This means that those who are resident in the villages are not getting any basic services whatsoever, leave alone being rehabilitated in any way.
Rehabilitation would mean rebuilding houses, giving them seeds, implements and irrigation to reclaim their cultivation, giving them livestock, chickens, pigs, goats to replace the ones which have been stolen, giving them vessels to cook and eat, clothes, blankets, compensating for their stolen jewellery and money, and other basic necessities. This is in addition to restoring basic services such as drinking water, rations, schools, anganwadi and health workers.
Compensation to those who have suffered property damages irrespective of perpetrators (NHRC recommendation 3): The Chhattisgarh government in its response to the NHRC report, Annexure R 5 dated 17.10. 2008, had agreed to compensate property damages to victims of Salwa Judum and security forces and to rehabilitate displaced persons, whether in camps or elsewhere. But till date (February 2010), there has been no announcement of the rate of compensation, and no survey of the extent of damages within Chhattisgarh. There has been no attempt to survey refugees in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere with a view to bring them back and rehabilitate them.
Registration of FIRs, speedy enquiry and independent investigation of killings by SPOs/security forces (NHRC recommendation 2): Within the cases investigated by the NHRC, 114 cases of killing out of 145 or 78.6% required further investigation. This itself was only a sample of the 537 names listed by the petitioners. FIRs have been registered only with respect to six villages in which burning/looting has taken place as against the 16 villages listed by the NHRC, and the over 100 villages listed by the petitioners.
In all the villages the NHRC visited, it found allegations of arson substantiated, including some villages like Bheji which were not even on the petitioner’s original list, showing that the petitioners’ allegations themselves pertained to only a sample of the total destruction. In other words, the petitioners had only touched upon the tip of the iceberg, the NHRC investigated a sample of these, and the ATR is a minuscule response to even this sample.
The NHRC findings which minimize the heinous crimes committed by the SPOs and security forces, do not fully reflect its own evidence, especially the testimonies that were submitted to it by relatives in the case of killing by Salwa Judum, or the statements based on cross-examination of relatives, even though these are on record in the NHRC annexures (Annexures B-1 to B-4 of NHRC report). For example, in the public hearing at Cherla, testimonies submitted by the relatives of the victims include 60 cases of killing, (though those taken on record in NHRC Annexure B-4 pertain only to 37 deaths). Similarly in Annexures B-1 to B-3 of the NHRC report, there are many testimonies which show that villagers were forcibly taken to Salwa Judum camps, their villages were burnt and looted by Salwa Judum, SPOs and police forces, and people in the village were killed.
The shortcomings of the investigation carried out by the NHRC-police investigation team are evident from a comparative look at our allegations (list of names submitted in WP 119/2007), the police verification list (NHRC annexure E-1.1), and NHRC findings in the case of a few names in two villages alone, Kotrapal and Hariyal Cherli. The NHRC-police investigation team relied selectively on the version provided either by the local police or the administration, without questioning discrepancies between the two, or questioning discrepancies between statements given by the villagers and official records, or even coming to the same conclusion when two people are said to have died in similar circumstances.
Similar contradictions are observed in villagers’ statements, the police FIR and NHRC findings in the case of village Hariyal Cherli. In WP 250/2007, we had alleged, on the basis of our fact-finding (Independent Citizens Initiative Report, ‘War in the Heart of India’) that 10 villagers of Hariyal Cherli had died on 2.9.05 in suspicious circumstances, which needed investigation. The DG Police had issued a press release which was reported in Hitvada on 6 September 2005 saying that 10 armed Maoists were killed in an encounter during Operation Green Hunt.
According to FIR 13/05 (NHRC annexure D1), the police party from Mirtur surrounded a Naxalite camp in the jungles between Okenar and Kondapal, as part of Operation Green Hunt. There was an encounter and taking advantage of the darkness, the Naxalites ran away. Because of the dark, the police could not search the area, but the next morning they found three bodies: Ojji Meshram (Masaram) s/o Sukda, Kadti Kamlu s/o Pandu and unnamed/Kadti Bhadru s/o Butta. The police registered an FIR saying they were killed in police-Naxalite crossfire.
According to FIR 10/05, filed on 3.9.05 around the same time (12.35-12.40 pm), villagers had come in with five bodies found in the same jungle, reportedly ordinary villagers who had been taken away by Naxalites for a meeting a day or two earlier. These include Kadti Bhadru, Kadti Chinna, Kadti Sannu, Ojji Jayaram and Kadti Kumma. The Police FIR says they were killed in the police-Naxalite crossfire on 2.9.05. In other words, all eight people died in the same manner, and their bodies were found on the same day, as per the police records.
The district administration subsequently gave eight people compensation, and listed them as having been killed by Naxalites, which includes the above five (Bhadru, Chinna, Sannu, Jayaram and Kumma) as well as three others, Kadti Aitu, Kadti Rama and Hemla Sukka (not mentioned in the FIRs).
The question then arises, were they killed in crossfire between police and Naxalites, or were they killed by Naxalites? Why was an FIR not registered in the case of three people, Aitu, Rama and Sukka? And why were only the first three bodies found (Masaram, Kamlu and unnamed/Bhadru) shown as Naxalites? These discrepancies should raise concern. Far from raising these questions, the NHRC investigation team has uncritically accepted the government version that eight of them were killed by Naxalites (on the basis that compensation was given), and two were Naxalites killed in the encounter.
We see both in this case and the case of Kotrapal that compensation, when given only to victims of Naxalite killings and not to victims of Salwa Judum/SPO/security force killings, has influenced the truth.
From 16 April 2009, when the Chhattisgarh government succeeded in buying time from the court, hearings have been postponed for lack of a suitable ‘non-miscellaneous’ day in which the case can be properly heard. In the meantime, rather than addressing the court’s orders, the Government of Chhattisgarh and Union of India, launched Operation Green Hunt in the summer of 2009. The mode of operation is the same, involving a combination of SPOs and security forces, engaging in combing operations in villages, arresting people, killing others randomly, burning houses and looting. Several thousand more security forces have been poured into the district.
The main difference between this and the first phase of Salwa Judum is that mass forced evacuations of villagers to camps are not happening, though many people are fleeing to Andhra Pradesh. New areas have been opened up, which were unaffected in earlier phases of Salwa Judum, such as Kistaram, close to the AP border. The SPOs now have guns and uniforms, and refer to themselves as ‘Koya commandos’. The villagers, however, continue to call them ‘Judum’. The state continues to flout all legality, and has, in fact, turned vicious against anyone who dares to expose what is happening. Manish Kunjam, one of the petitioners, has been told to watch out for his life.
* Nandini Sundar has been actively involved in the campaign against the intensification of conflict in Chhattisgarh. In this article she has extracted sections from a petition and affidavits filed by her, along with others, in court, which give a detailed sense of the entire Salwa Judum operation.