No escape for tribals from Maoists, forces

The latest outrage against the security forces flows from the stinging indictment by the NHRC.

The impoverished tribal majority of Bastar in Chhattisgarh could probably be better off without its two ‘benefactors’. The Maoists and the security forces — who claim to guard the interests of the tribal population in the vast insurgency-prone forests — have turned out to be their worst exploiters. Ironically, the welfare of tribal community was the avowed objective behind carving out the state from Madhya Pradesh 16 years ago.

The latest outrage against the security forces flows from the stinging indictment by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) last week. The NHRC found several security personnel guilty of raping and physically assaulting at least 16 tribal women in five villages.

The Commission was still waiting for the recorded version of another 20 alleged victims of similar sexual violence. The inci­dents took place in October-November 2015 and the NHRC to­ok suo motu cognizance of news reports after spot investigation.

The Commission questioned the police’s refusal to invoke the provisions of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act which could have afforded them urgent monetary relief. The Act also mandates investigations to be completed within 60 days and stringent punitive measures against the offenders.

The NHRC asked the state go­vernment on why it should not recommend interim monetary relief of Rs 37 lakh to the victims. It directed the state government to probe the incident within a month and pay compensation to the victims and asked the DIG (Investigation) to record the statements of the 15 victims who could not testify before the commission or a magistrate.

The police, however, say the investigations could take a few months as tracing the victims who live in remote forests and bringing them to the court to re­cord their statements, is a daunting task,” said CID Inspector-General H K Rathore. He cited security concerns about tracing the women in remote forests. The police’s helplessness is a me­asure of the rot in the system.

Chhattisgarh Home Minister Ramsewak Paikra was stoic in his response, claiming that he was aware of the NHRC investigation. He said the Crime Investigation Department (CID) was already on the job. "Let us wait for their report. Strict action will be taken if anyone is found to be guilty," said Paikra. Such promises, however, carry little conviction with people who have grown up hearing of the Naxalite atrocities in the Bastar region for almost 50 years now.

The BJP government has for over 12 years tried to come to terms with the Naxalite problem. But the results are far from encouraging. While the Maoist nuisance shows no sign of ending, the police menace is on the rise. Successive failures have frustrated both the civil adminis­tration and the police. The state along with neighbouring Jharkhand accounts for more than 65% deaths in Maoist violence.

The Security forces face charges of extrajudicial killings, sexual assault and arson, while Maoists are accused of recruiting children, resorting to extortion, kidnapping and killing vill­agers suspected of being informants. Maoists had set up base in the region to fight the exploiters of the tribal community. Now, the community is coerced to feed them and harbour them to guard against security forces.

The first instance of Naxalite violence was reported in composite Madhya Pradesh in 1967. For half a century, the problem had been allowed to fester. In 1991 when Chhattisgarh was still a part of Madhya Pradesh, a tribal leader — Mahendra Karma — organised civilians against the Maoists under the banner of Jan Jagaran Abhiyan.

Strong reprisals
This movement was backed by traders and businessmen. But it failed in the face of strong reprisals by the extremists and the Abhiyan volunteers had to seek police protection. In 2005, Karma tried to revive the movement as Salva Judum (hunt for purification in local Gondi dialect) a counter–insurgency operation against the Maoists, by enlisting some tribal volunteers as special police officers (SPOs).

Subsequently, the BJP government deployed Salva Judum militia which only escalated violence with hardly any tangible success in countering the extremists. By 2011, the poorly-trained volunteers had caused a spate of human rights violations and embarrassed the government.

In July 2011, the Supreme Court ordered the disbanding of the Salva Judum militia and asked the government to investigate allegations of criminal activities by the militia members. Significantly, the Salva Judum volunteers were trained by state police personnel. The ruling party has also been accused of using the police to settle scores with political adversaries.

On May 25, 2013 the Maoists attacked a Congress campaign group killing many senior leaders of the party. They included former Union minister V C Shu­kla, former chief minister Mah­endra Karma among 25 others. Karma, who was earlier singled out for excessive brutality.

In May 2015, his son Chhavindra Karma sought to revive the anti-Maoist campaign under the banner of Vikas Sangharsh Samiti. Chhavindra says “this is a war we have to fight. The government can’t win it for us.” The Samiti has, however, not spelt out how it would deal with the Supreme Court ban on anti-insurgency militia.

(The writer is a Bhopal-based senior journalist)
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