Jharkhand – CDRO fact-finding report on the situation in Saranda forest area

May 24, 2012

Jharkhand is fast becoming a military state. Similar to operation green hunt which was started three years ago in mineral rich forest areas resided by adivasis, brutal operations are being carried out continuously in Jharkhand as well. ‘Operation Anaconda’ was launched as a special operation in August 2011 in Saranda forest area of West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. Reasons for speeding up of such military operations by the state can be viewed in a twofold context. One the one hand mining activity in Saranda has been on the rise. Saranda is Asia’s largest mineral reserve and holds immense economic importance. On the other hand, contrary to the government claim that the area has been cleared of Maoist activity, infact it is far from being crushed.

In order to gather first hand details of the manner in which the state has reacted to the changing conditions on ground, an all-India team from the Coordination for Democratic Rights Organisations(CDRO) was set up constituting members from human rights organisations of Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand. The team conducted an investigation in Saranda and the adjoining areas between 20th and 22rd May 2012.

What follows is a brief summary of the observations made by the team. In Puraiyahaat, in January 2011, hundreds security forces entered Kamaay village. They beat up people and arrested four of them called Marshall Bhuiyaan, Nelson Bhuiyaan, Premanad Bhuiyaan and Pinky Bhuiyaan. The first two are still imprisoned while the other two have to appear regularly at the Thana. They are all falsely implicated in helping the Maoists. The CRPF also destroyed property, and mixed food grains in this village.

On the 20th of May itself, a security operation was conducted in Pandua village. Around 500 jawans entered the village at around 5.30 in the morning. Hallan Huttar was taken away blindfolded and handcuffed by the forces. Villagers now fear his death. Abraham Munda’s property was destroyed, and 3500 rupees were taken away. 15 year old Mithun Bhuiyaan was beaten black and blue. Munda’s wife and her year and half old son were also beaten up by a high rank police official. One villager was looted of Rs. 10,000 which she had kept aside for buying ox for her fields. Also, a para-doctor here is frequently oppressed with the accusation of treating Maoists. According to the villagers this destruction continued in the village for almost three hours during which the forces also consumed liquor and marijuana. Few villagers were even forced to flee from their village on that day. In the same village, on the 10th of this month when the forces attacked the village, they also misbehaved with the women here. It was shocking to know that there were no women in the force while women were tortured brutally.

The team also visited 4 villages of Manoharpur block: Tirilposi, Raatamaati, Deegha, Tholkobaad. In all of these villages, forces converted whole villages into their base camp for an entire month. Villagers had to hide in the jungles and many ran away to their relatives in nearby villages to escape oppression. Of those who were left in the village, men were held captive separating them from the women. They were tortured and even had to relieve themselves wherever they were locked up. Old people who couldn’t run away were beaten up so badly that some of them even died. Houses were burnt and people jailed. Most of them are still in Chaybaasa jail, and according to their families they are not even sure of the offense of which they are accused. In Tirilposi alone 17 people have been imprisoned. Economically dented, these villagers are totally unable to follow legal proceedings to get relief. In one of the copies of charge sheets observed by the team, a villager was implicated in UAPA, CLA, and in addition also blamed of sedition and waging war against the state.

Additionally, it was observed that under the IAP, contractors from outside were given work which is against the rules of IAP.

Right after operation Anaconda was completed, the government started a development project in the name of Saranda Action Plan(SAP) under which villagers have been given solar panels, clothes, utensils, and sewing machines as short term trust building measures. The government also plans to introduce long term measures like livelihood options, building of check dams, and training for employment among others. Simultaneously, in and around these villages security forces are also in the process of constructing permanent camps. Saranda will be home to 20-25 camps soon.

Certain questions come to the fore. How has the state suddenly woken up to the development needs of the tribals here after so long? Is it only a coincidence that Operation Anaconda, the SAP, and private mining project leases are falling in line together here in Saranda? Why has the government cracked down so hard all of a sudden on the people of Saranda?

A trajectory can be spotted in the actions of the government in Saranda. It is clear that the government has failed to estimate the real needs of the people. And with the maoist activity refusing to fade away, the government with the fear of losing ground has reacted frantically by launching brutal operations on the people. By terrorizing the tribals, the state is simply trying alternatives to sustain a larger foothold over them.

It is therefore that we demand, the following:

1. All CRPF, military and para-military camps be removed from the state

2. In the context of mining and SAP implementation, PESA and the 5th Schedule be implemented according to which decision making rests on the tribal communities.

3. All private mining activity be stopped immediately.

4. Justice for those who have been beaten up and exploited, and release of all those people who have been imprisoned and implicated in false cases. The perpetrators, the CRPF instead must be booked for the oppression meted out by them.

5. After this attack on their identity and existence, the autonomy of tribals should be left unaffected.

Members:

Shashi Bhushan Pathak, Aloka Kujur, Mithilesh Kumar, Santosh (PUCL Jharkhand); Puneet, Social Activist, Naushad, Journalist (Jharkhand)
Gautum Navalakha, Shruti Jain, Megha Bahl(PUDR, Delhi)
Chandrashekhar, Narayan Rao, Rajavindam, APCLC, Andhra Pradesh)
Pritpal Singh, Narbhinder (AFDR, Punjab)
Rajeev Yadav, Shahnawaz Alam (PUCL, Uttar Pradesh)
Chandrika, Prashant Rahi (Independent journalists)