Press Release by Independent Citizens Initiative, New Delhi 29th  May 2006

Citizens' panel warns of civil war in Chhattisgarh

Calls for end to 'Salwa Judum' campaign and judicial inquiry

An Independent Citizen's Initiative of writers, senior journalists and former civil servants visited Dantewara district of Chhattisgarh State between 17 and 21 May 2006. It traveled through the entire district talking to a wide cross-section of people - displaced villagers in camps, political leaders, government and police officials, social workers, journalists, and other citizens. It found that the situation in Dantewara district is extremely serious. There is an atmosphere of fear and a great deal of violence in which ordinary villagers, and tribals in particular, are the main sufferers. The violence by Maoists guerillas continues. On the other side, in several areas the Chhattisgarh administration appears to have 'outsourced' law and order to an unaccountable, undisciplined and amorphous group which calls itself Salwa Judum. The leadership of this group has passed into the hands of criminal elements who are not in the control of the administration. Violence is no answer to violence.

Our investigations show that the civil administration is on the point of collapse. Despite carrying letters from the Additional Chief Secretary and informing all officials of our visit, our movement was strictly curbed. We were prevented from visiting villages where serious human rights violations were reported. We were physically attacked three times by Salwa Judum members, manhandled, and our possessions stolen, with the police standing by.

We found that society has been deeply divided. Villages and families have been set against each other. Minors are being used as Special Police Officers (SPOs), and armed with lathis and guns.  An entire section of society is being criminalized by being made complicit in salwa judum's violence, and also made vulnerable to retaliatory attacks by Maoists and their village level supporters. Instead of bringing in peace and security, Salwa Judum has increased insecurity all around.

The Independent Citizen's Initiative found evidence of killings, the burning of homes, and attacks on women, including gang-rape. Only the killings by Maoists are recorded, while the killings and other incidents of violence by Salwa Judum have been ignored. Arrests appear arbitrary, and several people seem to be missing. All these incidents need to be thoroughly investigated. The press is tightly controlled and intimidated, and feels unable to report the truth.

Thousands of villagers have been forced to come and live in camps. Camp conditions are seriously inadequate. Beyond building some roadside houses, the government appears to have no long-term plans for the rehabilitation or safe return of villagers.
We believe that for the violence to end, and for the citizens of Dantewara to live peaceful and normal lives, the Government of Chhattisgarh needs to immediately take these corrective measures:

1.      The Salwa Judum must be stopped immediately, its members disarmed, and control reasserted by the state administration.
2.      To restore governance, the government must revamp all top level administration in the area and position those known to have empathy for adivasis.  The law-and-order machinery must be repaired and restored so that it is fully accountable and protects the lives, security and dignity of the citizens of Dantewara.
3.      The government must facilitate and enable the return to their villages of those in camps. For this, both Maoists and the government must come to a ceasefire.

We appeal to the Government of India, jointly with the Government of Chhattisgarh, to:

4.      Institute a full, impartial, credible and time-bound enquiry into the incidents of violence by Maoists as well as Salwa Judum in Dantewara in the last one year.
5.      Since the Maoists are not confined to Chhattisgarh, the Government of India must start a national dialogue with the Maoists.

We appeal to the Maoists to stop violence, to facilitate conditions of peace and normalcy, and enable the return of displaced people to their own homes and villages.

The members of the Independent Citizen's Initiative were:

Dr Ramachandra Guha (historian and columnist, Bangalore)
Mr Harivansh (editor, Prabhat Khabar, Ranchi),
Ms Farah Naqvi (writer and social activist, New Delhi),
Mr EAS Sarma (former Secretary, Government of India, Visakhapatnam),
Dr Nandini Sundar (Professor of Sociology, Delhi University),
Mr. B. G. Verghese (former editor, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, New Delhi).

For further information, contact:

Farah Naqvi  -- 98111-05521
Nandini Sundar -- 98680-76576

Executive Summary

For several months now, reports have been appearing in the national press of an impending humanitarian crisis in the Dantewara district of Chhattisgarh State. These reports have described the displacement of some 46, 000 villagers by civil conflict and their resettlement in camps along the main roads. They have highlighted escalating violence by Maoists including attacks on railway stations, transformers, police and paramilitary forces as well as civilians.  More recently, however, some news reports have mentioned killings of pro-Maoist villagers by armed groups of civilians, as well as the burning of their homes and villages.

Between 17th and 23rd May 2006, a team of independent citizens traveled through Chhattisgarh to make an objective, in-depth, on-the-ground study of the situation there. Its members were Ramachandra Guha (historian and columnist, Bangalore); Harivansh (editor, Prabhat Khabar, Ranchi); Farah Naqvi (writer and social activist, New Delhi); E. A. S. Sarma (retired Secretary to the Government of India, Visakhapatnam); Nandini Sundar (Professor of Sociology, Delhi University); and B. G. Verghese (former editor, Hindustan Times and Indian Express). We met a wide cross-section of people from different walks of life, and with different perspectives on the conflict. Among those we spoke to, at length, were hundreds of villagers, in camps, in their villages and in jail; many government officials, including the District Magistrates of Dantewara and Bastar, the Inspector-General of Police, Bastar, the Chief Secretary and Additional Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh; Mr Mahendra Karma, the leader of the anti-Maoist movement known as Salwa Judum; other leaders and activists of the Salwa Judum; other police officials; journalists; and other local citizens.

Our main findings and conclusions are summarized in this report:

Over the past two decades, Maoist revolutionaries have been making steady inroads in the tribal districts of Chhattisgarh, and in Dantewara particularly. Parts of the districts, such as Abujhmarh, have largely passed out of the control of the state administration.  As in some other states in India, the growth of Maoist influence is in part attributed to the neglect of tribal interests and aspirations by the formal political and administrative system. The government has been deficient in providing these areas and their residents with schools, hospitals, roads, and gainful employment. At the same time, the tribals have had their access to natural resources curbed. Forest, mining, water and energy management policies have consistently discriminated against them. However, the Maoist agenda for these areas goes beyond ensuring local development to achieving state power. They hope to make the contiguous tribal districts of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Chhattisgarh into a 'liberated zone' from which to launch a countrywide insurrection.

In June 2005, a movement was launched to combat the Maoists in the Dantewara district. Known as 'Salwa Judum', its prime mover is Mr Mahendra Karma, a Congress MLA from Dantewara district who is currently the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly. Mr Karma's initiative was supported by the BJP Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr Raman Singh.

Composition of Salwa Judum: The government describes Salwa Judum as a 'spontaneous', 'self-initiated' 'peace mission' to which ordinary villagers are flocking. While its structure is certainly amorphous, it clearly has full government backing. The majority of the local leaders we met in Bhairamgarh, Dornapal, and Kutru camps, were non-tribal. Several were traders and contractors and a couple were school teachers. One, by his own admission attended school sporadically 'beech beech main', and was described by a local tendu contractor as 'is area ka boss'. They were carrying guns and were accompanied by groups of armed youth, some of whom may have been Special Police Officers (SPOs). The government has appointed some 3200 SPOs but on the ground it is difficult to distinguish an SPO from an ordinary villager since none of them carry any identification. In the background are hundreds of ordinary adivasis, many of whom have been 'brought' to camps by the forces (such as those from Manikonta, Ettaguda, Mundpalli etc.). Some are forced to mark attendance morning and evening to prove they are not Maoists. For instance, in Padera village, the women continue to live in the village, but all the young men of Padera are forced to sleep in the camp at Cherpal. Once in camp, people become party to the violence enacted by the Salwa Judum, and become vulnerable to retaliatory action by the Maoists.

Divided villages: The creation and support of Salwa Judum has intensified the conflict in the district. The main victims of this civil strife have been the adivasis of the district. According to the Collector of Dantewada, 644 out of 1153 villages or nearly 56% were involved in the Salwa Judum (whether voluntarily or otherwise, we don't know), while 509 villages were not. Families and villages are split down the middle, forced either to choose the Maoists or the Salwa Judum. A cycle of retribution and revenge has been set in motion, with the Salwa Judum targeting villagers believed to be sympathetic to the Maoists and the Maoists in turn killing those deemed to be sympathetic to Salwa Judum.

The story of Manikonta village illustrates this tragedy well. We spoke to some nine widows from Manikonta, in the Dornapal camp. They said that one night some four months previously, the Salwa Judum and security forces had forcibly brought their families to Konta.  They were sent from there to Dornapal. Half the village (those in the sangham) stayed and half (neutral villagers) went to camp because they were worried that the Salwa Judum would burn their houses if they stayed. They were forced to leave behind their grain and household possessions and (on April 25) when they returned to the village to retrieve their implements, some 50 of them were kidnapped. The majority were released, while 13 were brutally killed. One woman said bitterly that 'we used to give them rice and now they kill us'. The Maoists have justified the killing as 'counter action' and said that the decision to kill these men had been based on a jan adalat. The brutality with which the killings had taken place was attributed to people's anger at what had been done to their houses and to them by the Salwa Judum and not to the 'party line' which recommended 'humane' killing. Whatever their husband's alleged crimes for which they were given a summary death penalty, these widows were hardly oppressors, pathetic defeated women, helplessly thrusting out their pass books without knowing what they contained or what they might do with the money, now that their husbands were gone.

Unrecorded Killings: The sangham members or Maoist supporters, who have become targets for the Salwa Judum are equally ordinary villagers. A number of them have been killed by the Salwa Judum/security forces, but none of these deaths have been officially recognized.  The villagers of Cherli (Hariyal), now in Mirtur camp, gave us a list of ten people who were killed in the village. It would appear from what they said that these men were killed in a cross-fire between the Maoists and the Naga Battalion. Those from Kondapal confirmed one killing. They had differing versions of whether SJ or Maoists were responsible for these killings. None of them have been registered in the government list of those killed by the Maoists, i.e. there is no FIR, no investigation and no compensation. In Konta, rumours abound of people being burnt inside their houses, of bodies being dumped on the roadside, and there is a general feeling of insecurity and abandonment since there is no one to complain to.

Summary Arrests and Lists of Missing People: We found evidence that ordinary villagers have been picked up and and kept in jails for extended period of time without clear charges. Villagers from Satwa are still looking for several missing people. One man was arrested and jailed for 8 months and then released some months ago. He does not know why. We also met one woman whose husband had been arrested in December. She had last met him in the Dantewada jail but had no idea under what charges the police was keeping him. We tried finding him but could not locate him in either Dantewada or Jagdalpur Jail. Among the so-called Naxals we met in Jagdalpur were men who have been locked up for nearly one year, charged under various sections. No one from the families dares to visit for fear of reprisal by Salwa Judum.  The prisoners do not know what has happened to their villages or their families.  One villager who had been picked up while guiding some Border Roads Organisation men to the thana told us, when we asked about family visits: "They haven't ever seen even Dantewara. How will they come to Jagdalpur?" There appears to be an atmosphere of total state impunity to pick up and lock up people at will by claiming they are Naxals (The Citizens Initiative Team experienced this first hand and came close to being arrested as Naxals - see section Collapse of Civil Administration below). There are no lists of missing persons, no formal mechanism through which families can lodge complaints and try to track down family members, and no attempts to make this information available.

Violence against women: We were told by local citizens that there had been many cases of rape but that they would be difficult to find. We were unable to document particular cases from the camps. We managed to speak to one woman in jail who said she had been picked up while accompanying her brother on a cycle, to visit their sister. Her brother had been shot and she had been gangraped allegedly by the CRPF and then sent to the thana where she had been held and gangraped for another ten days. The other women corroborated that she was so swollen that she could hardly walk when she came to the jail. A woman in Padera showed us how Salwa Judum made women lie on the ground and then beat them on the soles of their feet.

Burnings and lootings: Hundreds of homes have also been burnt or destroyed, mostly by the Salwa Judum and some by the Maoists in retaliation. We personally spoke to one Salwa Judum activist from Dubbatota who admitted to burning villages in Arlempalli and Palemadgu, and were also told by camp inmates of a number of burnings by the Salwa Judum and security forces in Gaganpalli, Asirguda, Arlempalli, Regatigatta, Neelamadgu villages (all in Konta Tahsil). We were, however, prevented by the Salwa Judum from visiting some of these villages. Despite this, we managed to see one house in Asirguda (Konta), 10 houses in Padera (Bijapur) burnt by the Salwa Judum, and confirmed from the villagers that five houses were burnt in Kondapal. The stories of who burnt these were conflicting. We also saw one house burnt by the Maoists in Dubbatota village (of the Salwa Judum activist mentioned above).

SPOs, using minors : Many of the Special Police Officers (SPOs) are tribal youths, both boys and girls, who have joined with the expectation of money (Rs 1500 pm) and the hope that they will get absorbed into the regular police force. Thus far, some 3200 villagers have been made into 'Special Police Officers'. Armed with rifles, bows and arrows, and lathis, they man check-posts on the roads, and go on search parties along with the para-military. Although they do not carry identity cards, several looked to be under-age, not more than fourteen or fifteen years. They are also untrained. Yet they are asked to maintain law-and-order while thousands of so-called professional, uniformed forces stay bunkered in their stations. An SPO civilian who is killed gets 1 lakh (being raised to 2 lakhs), while a policeman killed in the line of duty gets 10 lakhs. A couple of SPOs in Mirtur, who had evidently gone through some training, complained that they had not been paid for months.

Forced Relocation and the so-called Government Relief Camps:  Thousands have been forced to leave their homes and fields and come to live in shanties along the roadside. On our way back from Dornapal to Sukma, where search parties of the CRPF and Salwa Judum in Nelwada village had just culminated in the death of one young adivasi militiawoman, we saw a long line of people from Nelwada and surrounding villages streaming into Dornapal camp, carrying their small possessions in baskets and small boxes.

While the Government lists these as "relief camps", they appeared to provide nothing to the displaced villagers - no food, no education and no alternative employment. People are surviving by doing occasional coolie labour on government works under a food for work programme. In some of the older camps on the Bijapur-Bhairamgarh side, where people were moved in the first phase of the Salwa Judum (June 2005 - Feb 2006) temporary dislocation has been made into a permanent reality. On May 18th, the team encountered villagers from Belnaar on the road moving from temporary shanties to what is called the 'Salwa Judum Relief Camp, Nelasnaar', inaugurated that very day by the Chief Minister. The colony has rows of small structures with asbestos roofing, no replacement for the more spacious homes that villagers have been forced to leave behind. We discovered that these 50 families from Belnaar had been living in an abandoned 'haat' for six months. They have not received government rations even once. Other residents of the Nelasnaar colony, which includes villagers from Belnaar, Satwa, and Chinger, are on the verge of starvation. They get barely one square meal a day. Young 9 year old girls are forced to seek work under the food for work programme.

In some cases, names which appear on the Government list of 'relief camps', such as Bangapaal, are misleading, for the Bangapaal camp no longer houses any villagers. The camp in fact houses 170 SPOs (official figure 969 villagers, 350 SPOs). There is no information on where the villagers have dispersed.

In the camps in Konta tahsil which are relatively recent (since February 2006 when the Salwa Judum was extended to this area), people are still getting rations. A few whose villages are close to the camps go back during the day to look after their houses and livestock but a large number have had to abandon their fields, and their cattle. It is unclear what they will do when the sowing season starts. The government has no long-term plans for people. Around Dornapal, we saw several people cutting trees to rebuild their homes in the camp, and several spaces where only stumps were visible. The forest department seems to have abandoned all marking and control here. An inordinate number of those in the Dornapal camp seem to be those villagers who hold posts of authority in the existing system, such as mukhiyas, sarpanches and patels (headmen and panchayat officials). Right now, the habitations are merely bamboo and thatch, but some houses being built looked to be brick and mud, with thatch or tin roofing.

There is complete lack of transparency on the part of the State Government as far as budgetary expenditure on relief camps is concerned. Despite sending the State Government an advance list of information required by the Citizen's Initiative Team, we were unable to get any concrete information or even copies of government orders (Gos) mandating certain minimum relief provisions in the so-called government camps, or any details of compensation and rehabilitation packages. All we could ascertain is that wherever the government has chosen to set up its 'permanent rehabilitation colonies' they are giving a package ranging from Rs 12,000 - 10,000 to build houses. Of this total amount, only Rs. 3,000 is given as cash and the rest as material. People were so desperate to survive that most of them have compromised on the quality of the shelter and are using the Rs. 3000 to buy food.

Collapse of civil administration:  In several parts of Dantewara, whatever parts of the district were left in the control of the administration have now passed into the hands of the Salwa Judum. At least along the roads, the Salwa Judum is allowed a more or less free hand to stop and intimidate anyone deemed to be not on their side. Our team members were stopped at several places. Despite carrying letters of authorization from the Additional Chief Secretary we were prevented from traveling to several affected or burnt villages where we wished to make our own independent enquiries.  At one place the driver of our car had a knife thrust next to his neck and his CDs snatched. This happened while jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) looked on. A young boy acting as our guide had a rifle butt smashed on his finger in Dornapal, making it bleed. On another occasion, outside the Bhairamgarh Police Station on our way back at night, we were stopped by Salwa Judum activists.   As the mob gathered, one 'witness' 'identified' one of us  - who had come to Dantewada for the first time - as a Naxalite whom he had seen at meetings in specific villages.  Inside the thana, the thanedar was drunk, and the place completely overrun by Salwa Judum activists. No-one was willing to look at our letters of authorization or even to attend to a call from the SP. Finally, we were allowed to proceed only after the Salwa Judum leader gave permission, but after our camera was snatched.

Pervasive fear and terror: The administration, led by the present District Magistrate, has lent its full support to the Salwa Judum. Villagers are told that if they do not join Salwa Judum they will be deemed to be Naxalite supporters. They are encouraged to spy and report on movements of civilians. Even shopkeepers are not spared. A small tea shop owner in Dornapal told us that he was forced to go on Salwa Judum rallies, "nahi to hum ko itna peethte hain ki saha nahi ja sakta"  (they beat one so much one can't bear the pain).

Several people expressed unhappiness with the Naxalites for not allowing development in the area, for forcing them to attend meetings, making them give away land and cattle which the Naxalites deemed excess or cultivating lands on behalf of the armed squads. It must be noted, however, that we were unable to talk to the villagers still supporting the Maoists, and we were told by a senior official of rumours that the number of Maoist recruits was increasing.

Curbs on the Press: Local journalists described how they were unable to investigate and write the truth. Their activities were limited to reporting the statements issued by the police, and in some cases, the statements issued by the Maoists. Some of them had been harassed and intimidated by the administration, and one has had to leave his home in Bijapur, and is in severe hardship.

Attitude of officials: Several (but not all) of the officials we met displayed remarkable insensitivity to adivasis, who they variously described as 'primitive and promiscuous', and 'very lazy'. Some of them conceded that 'there may be' some incidents of indiscipline by the Salwa Judum, but 'these happen in any movement'. On the other hand, senior officials noted that while the political leadership wished to extend the Salwa Judum to new areas, the government had decided to consolidate in existing areas since they could not cope with large numbers in camps.

Conclusions and Recommendations

We believe that as a method of combating revolutionary violence the Salwa Judum movement has been a failure. The State cannot outsource law-and-order to underage, untrained, and unaccountable civilians. In the year since Salwa Judum started, civil strife has increased, and the administration is on the verge of collapse. As Mr D.R. Kaartikeyan, former DG CRPF, said to the team, "the Salwa Judum represents an abdication of the responsibility for governance. It will lead to the militarisation and criminalisation of society. It will result in civil war and the nation will pay for it for a long time."

o       The movement must be stopped immediately, its members disarmed, and control reasserted by the state administration. The real and long term challenge posed by the Salwa Judum is not to the Naxalites, as Mr. Karma and his supporters claim, but to the idea of government itself.

o       To restore governance, the government must revamp all top level administration in the area and position those who are known to be good officers, who understand adivasis and have empathy for them.

o       Our conversations with camp residents made it clear that the majority of them wish to return to their villages. Those who wish to leave these camps to return to their homes-to their fields, livestock, shrines, and collective memories-must be allowed to do so. To facilitate this, both sides must come to a ceasefire. We appeal to both to create conditions which will allow the villagers of Dantewara to resume their normal lives.

o       The Government of Chhattisgarh jointly with the Government of India (since the area is governed by the 5th Schedule under which the Governor, as a representative of the GOI, has full powers) or an independent body like the National Human Rights Commission must institute a full, impartial, credible and time-bound enquiry into the incidents of violence by Maoists as well as by Salwa Judum in Dantewara in the last twelve months. Those found guilty of violence, of murder or the destruction of property, must be tried and punished according to the law.

The four points above are aimed at addressing the specific situation in Dantewara district. However, at the same time, a national dialogue must be initiated on the most humane and effective means of combating revolutionary violence. Since Maoist revolutionaries are active in several states, any policy to combat them must be national in character, and must be attentive to at least two different, if equally crucial dimensions: first, the need to punish, by legal means and by legitimate public bodies, the perpetrators of violence whichever side they belong to; second, the need for a greater, more focused and more sincere effort to make the tribals of India true partners in the political and economic development of India.

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