Chhattisgarh – Statements against the killing of villagers during alleged encounter in Bijapur

July 10, 2012

Statement from PEOPLE’S UNION FOR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS

July 7, 2012

PUDR condemns the cold- blooded and cowardly murder by security forces of 19 villagers of Sarkelguda in Chhattisgarh including five children in age group of 12-15 killed with bullets, axes and knife wounds, as well as sexual assault of four teenaged girls The incident once again exposes how dispensable and inconsequential is the life of the adivasi people of Chhattisgarh for the Indian state. The sheer brutality and complete impunity with which the forces have acted, is matched by the doublespeak of the political class. We have the Union Home Minister naming three “hardcore” Naxalites only to find that there is no person named Mahesh among the dead; Nagesh is a 17 year old student of class 10 and another Nagesh is a ‘dholak’ player.; Somulu the supposed ‘hardcore naxalite’ was a marginal farmer. The Union Home Secretary claimed that no children were killed, not even bothering to explain the five children among the dead. Clearly in the eyes of the political class the men, women and children who were killed did not deserve to be the recipient of the development and progress that the political leadership keeps tom-tomming.

What is also shocking is the concerted attempt by the bureaucracy and the executive to cover up the massacre. The arrogance of power drove the CM of Chhattisgarh to defend the killing by claiming that villagers got killed when they were used as ‘human shields” a fact unequivocally denied by villagers. The state home minister calims that if people are present at any meeting with Naxals then it is alright for soldiers to kill them. Read together with the Union Home Secretary’s remarks to the Standing Committee of Parliament that his orders are to troops to “arrest or kill” then it becomes clear that the war against people who are resisting corporate takeover of their land, forest and water is being stepped up to scale new heights of barbarity. It is no less alarming that senior officers of this force say that forces are justified to open fire no sooner they ‘come under attack.’ In this case, even that is dubitable and has been clearly denied by the villagers. This signals an open acceptance that what is being done is not any “police action” where restraint is the operative word but a war in which soldiers go on a killing spree. The very fact that some of the villagers were killed after these soldiers had taken physical control of the villages corroborates this.

All these facts suggest that there’s a war on in Chhattisgarh. Not a war in which the people of Chhattisgarh are collateral damage, but a war in which the adivasis of Chhattisgarh are indeed the enemy.

Noticeably not only are all these rationalisations post the hulla, horrifyingly enough they are also seen as self-explanatory. No need to establish identity, investigate or prove a crime; and after the killing, no requirement to follow due procedure and uphold fundamental rights, no need to conduct post-mortems, to make the reports of these public, or to explain the axe marks. Nor any requirement to establish their own veracity- Pellet injuries as the government doctor says, or AK 47/ SLRs as jawans and officials claim? Who cares – not the government certainly?

The slow decimation that the tribals of Chhattisgarh were experiencing in the 60 years following partition- no medical facilities, malnutrition, displacement- has been speeded up in the last few years first through Salwa Judum and now through Green hunt. It has today reached a point where the state doesn’t even feel the need to at least maintain a veil of accountability. Its pursuit of loot of the mineral wealth of the state in the interests of corporates at the cost of the life and liberty (dignity it never bothered with) of the people of Chhattisgarh is now brazen reality. To turn a blind eye is to now become complicit with the state in the ongoing war against the people of Chhattisgarh.

We appeal to all democratic people to come out in protest. The only way in which we can stop this savage war against our people is by bringing the criminals of CRPF, Cobra and Chhattisgarh Armed Force (and their masters in the bureaucracy and the executive) to justice and demand accountability of the government at the state and the centre..


Paramjeet Singh
Preeeti Chauhan
(Seceretaries PUDR)

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Statement from Peoples Union for Civil Liberties Chhattisgarh

Dated: 1st July 2012.

PRESS RELEASE

The reports of independent journalists have now prima facie established that 20 persons killed recently by the police and security forces ostensibly in an encounter in the Kotteguda Panchayat of district Bijapur in Bastar region were all local residents of the village. The dead include school going children and a woman and several members of one family. That this fact could be brought to light despite statements of the police authorities and even the Union Home Minister that hard core Naxals were killed in an encounter, underlines the repeated assertion of the PUCL that a free and independent press in conflict areas is vital to the protection of civil liberties.

We are extremely dismayed by the statement of the State Home Minister Shri Nankiram Kanwar, issued in response to the Congress party forming a fact finding team into the incident, that, half the Congress leaders are Maoists, showing the extent to which all dissent is sought to be viewed with suspicion and is even criminalized in the State.

The National Human Rights Commission, through its guidelines issued on 29.03.1997 and revised guidelines issued on 02.12.2003 have made very clear that in these circumstances the following should be done:-

(a) Since in this case an allegation of crime has been made against the security forces, an FIR must be registered to this effect and the investigation into the allegation must be conducted by an agency independent of the concerned police, such as the State CBCID.

(b) Though the State has already announced a Magisterial Enquiry, that is mandatory in all cases of death in police action, however it should be ensured that the next of kin and the villagers who were witness to the incident are associated with the Enquiry. While the Guidelines clearly state that the next of kin should be invariably associated, most magisterial enquiries in the State, such as recently in the case of killings of Meena Khalkho (Sarguja) and Gautam Patel (Mahasamund), have been merely empty formalities.

(c) Prompt prosecution as well as disciplinary action has been mandated against the delinquent officers in the Guidelines which have also explicitly stated that no out-of-turn promotions or gallantry awards should be bestowed on the concerned officers soon after the occurrence.

Chhattisgarh PUCL demands that the guidelines of the NHRC be followed by the State meticulously in letter and spirit in respect of the fake encounter of 28th-29th June in the Kotteguda Panchayat, district Bijapur of the Bastar region.

Sudha Bharadwaj
General Secretary

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A statement by All India Forum of Forest Movements (AIFFM)

The infamous green hunt continues to rage in the jungles of central-eastern India, and the utterly unacceptable war which the home ministry and several state governments imposed upon its own citizens continues to claim more victims. In what can be termed only as an act of senseless insane butchery, the security forces gun down 19 adivasi villagers including women and children in Sarkeguda , 30 kilometers south of the district headquarters of Bijapur, molests and torture more, and yet the home minister praises the bravery of his security forces, and the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh follows suit. There was not even the remotest admission anywhere that the security forces committed a heinous crime; innocent civilians were targeted and killed in cold blood, despite even a senior cabinet Minister in the Government of India calling the act inexcusable. Ignoring all evidence to the contrary, chiefs of security forces and ministers repeat the by now cliched macabre witch-hunting litany of killings-necessary-in-national-interest.

Along with the rest of the country, we at All India Forum of Forest Movements strongly condemn this massacre of innocents and states increasing war against its own people. We demand that all security personnel involved in the Sarkeguda killing of innocents are immediately punished, and adequate compensation is reached to all victim families without further delay. We further demand that all security forces are withdrawn from the forests of India, and ensure that no forest dweller of the country has had to face inhuman torture, indignity and death any more. The uncalled for, unjust and atrocious war in Indias forests must stop immediately.

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Statement from Campaign for Survival and Dignity

July 5 2012

The mass killing in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh, last Saturday by central and State police forces has highlighted one simple fact. The security forces and their Central and State heads have declared war on the adivasis of this area. Only this can explain the extraordinary callousness with which they have responded to Saturday’s massacre.

Indeed, even the number of those dead is not clear. Some reports say 16, some say 17, and others say 20. As for how many “dreaded Maoists” (to use the media’s favorite words) were killed, there too the government is not particularly bothered. According to the Chhattisgarh government on the first day, there were “two”; according to Home Minister Chidambaram, there were “three”; the CRPF DG says there were “four or five”; now, according to some reports, there were seven. The most likely answer is that of the local community, which is that there were none.

What no one from the government has even bothered to explain yet is why so many people are dead – even if all the government’s claims are true. Why were the villagers gunned down? Why were bodies mutilated with axes? Why were women molested and men shot the next morning? These basic questions are something that the CRPF – which calls itself a “police force”, not an occupying army – needs to answer. The claim that the CRPF was fired upon, even if true, is no justification for machine gunning a village meeting. Such mass slaughter of innocent people is not even legal under the laws of war. Indeed, US troops are facing prosecution after their massacre of 25 people in Iraq was exposed – they too claimed they had opened fire in “retaliation” after a bomb blast and a “firing.”

But in the “world’s largest democracy”, the question of prosecution does not even arise. Home Minister Chidambaram nauseatingly refers to Operation Green Hunt as intended to “restore the rule of law” – but now all he has to say is that he is “deeply sorry”, that too “if” innocent people died. In his view, the specious claim that three of those killed had “criminal records” justifies them being shot. He and the establishment he heads are not even bothered by the questions and demands of numerous mainstream parties, including his own, or for that matter those of his fellow cabinet Minister KC Deo. Meanwhile, the CRPF DG has told a news magazine that “it is not our job” to consider who a person is before killing them. The DG, too, shares Chidambaram’s view of the world: “If, by bad luck, innocents were hurt, it is a matter of regret.”

Is this what the government believes about adivasis – that they can simply be killed at will when convenient for its “counter insurgency”? Is this the definition of the “rule of law” – where any protest, armed or unarmed, is met with massive force, while massacres of people are met with expressions of “regret”?

The DG let slip the deeper logic of what is happening when he compared the situation in Bijapur to that of Saranda, saying “What is required is what is happening in Saranda.” But, out of 800 acres in Saranda Forest Division, 500 are being sought for mining, while 24 police camps are being built. So this is what is “required” – use indiscriminate firepower, kill innocents, wipe out resistance by calling every protest “Maoist”, and deploy thousands of police – so that the area can then be mined to destruction.1

The sheer brutality of this vision is the best testament to the collapse of the Indian state’s democratic credentials in India’s forests and tribal areas.

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Press Release from Revolutionary Democratic Front

July 3, 2012

When the adivasi peasants of Sirkegudem, Kothagudem and Rajupenta – adjacent villages separated by not more than a kilometre in the Bijapur district of south Chhattisgarh – gathered in hundreds on the night of 28 June 2012 to plan the performance of the traditional festival Beej Pandum (seed festival), they least expected to be surrounded by six hundred armed forces personnel of the Indian state. At least 18 adivasis lost their lives in the cold-blooded massacre that followed. Two other villagers were likewise killed near Jagargunda village of Sukma district the same night, and predictably, were shown as casualties of an ‘encounter’ between the Maoists and the armed forces. As the testimonies of the eyewitnesses coming through the media, activists as well as the statements of the CPI (Maoist) now confirm, the killing of the adivasis was a heinous massacre committed by the Cobra battalion of the CRPF and the Chhattisgarh police under the command of top police officials including CRPF Director General Vijay Kumar and Chhattisgarh Inspector General of Police T G Longkumar. It is also clear that this massacre is a part of Indian state’s extermination campaign against the Maoist revolutionary movement and the adivasis of central and eastern India under the rubric of Operation Green Hunt that was launched with a media blitzkrieg in September 2009.

To cover up this massacre of genocidal proportions and to defend this indefensible act, the puppets of the ruling classes, be it the chief architect of Operation Green Hunt, central Home Minister Chidambaram or Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh, have tried in vain to colour it as a ‘major military victory’ against the Maoists! Chidambaram even went to the extent of propagating the lie that three important Maoist leaders were killed in this ‘encounter’. The top-brass of the CRPF and police too are shouting from rooftops about gunning down ‘armed Naxalite leaders and cadres’. They are patting themselves on their backs for carrying out a ‘daring night attack’! They have claimed that 6 men belonging to the armed forces have sustained ‘injuries’ during the so-called ‘firing in self-defense’. The cock-and-bull story of terming this gathering as a big ‘Maoist meeting’ attended by ‘senior Maoist cadres’ has also been floated. A section of the corporate media has shamelessly echoed the sadistic celebration of this bloodbath by the ruling classes and their mercenary armies.

However, such theatrics and white lies have utterly failed to hide the truth behind the Sirkegudem massacre. The fact that hundreds of heavily armed ‘security’ personnel commanded by top CRPF and police officials encircled and indiscriminately fired upon a village assembly with an intent to kill as many of them as possible, and that the trail of this massacre was continued till the next day leaving a total of at least 20 defenseless adivasi villagers dead – including five children – has been laid bare. At least four instances of sexual assault on adivasi women, a number of serious injuries and the reign of white terror through arrests and brutalities against the villagers during this ‘daring operation’ have also come to light, exposing the fascist fangs of the Indian state and its loyal armed forces.

The seed festival is an important event in the agrarian cycle of the adivasi peasants of Bastar, observed during the onset of Monsoon. The rituals connected to this festival are believed to be necessary for enhancing the productivity of the seeds and for ensuring a good harvest of crops. This festival, apart from marking the commencement of the agricultural season, is also crucial for making collective decisions regarding the utilisation and distribution of agricultural land and means of production. Given the import of such meetings ahead of the seed festival, it is hardly surprising that several hundred villagers from the three villages were present in the meeting called for planning the upcoming festival. The meeting included the old and the young, men and women. Like many of the meetings, ceremonies and festivals of the Bastar adivasis, the meeting at Sirkegudem village on 28 June too went on till the small hours of the night. The same night, three teams consisting of two hundred CRPF Cobra commandos and police personnel each, commanded by a CRPF DIG, set out for Sirkegudem from Jagargunda, Chintalnar and Basaguda CRPF camps (the first two are located in Sukma district while the last is in Bijapur). By 1 o’clock in the night the gathering at Sirkegudem was surrounded by the government forces and was fired upon indiscriminately. As per the testimonies of some eyewitnesses published in newspapers, the villagers shouted at the armed personnel to half fire but the firing was not stopped, and the bloodbath continued for several minutes. Later some of the dead bodies were loaded in a tractor by the armed forces and taken away from the killing fields.

The old trick deployed by the government armed forces of killing adivasi villagers and branding them as ‘Maoist/Naxalites’ can no longer fool the people. The dead have once again exposed the lies of the Indian state. A 9 year old girl and an 11 year old boy are among the dead, while three more children of 12 to 15 years of age have been also killed by the CRPF in the massacre. Kaka Saraswati, 12 years of age, was one of the children killed. Vijju, an adivasi woman of around 65 years, lost two of her sons in the massacre. She told reporters, “My sons were not Naxals”. Sabka Mitu, 17, died of a wound caused to his throat by a sharp object. Irpa Chottu, a 14 year old adivasi boy of Sirkegudem told that he was caught by the armed forces, interrogated and subsequently shot in his leg. The next morning the forces shot dead Ramesh, an adivasi youth, in front of his father Irpa Raju while trying to go out of his house. These mercenary gangs subsequently broke open Raju’s house and looted Rs.5000. These are only a few instances of the atrocities which have come to light so far.

Villagers who survived the massacre have testified that no Maoist was present in the gathering and the government’s armed forces did not even care to check the purpose of the meeting before opening indiscriminate gunfire, presuming that it was a Maoist meeting. In two separate statements, Vijay Madkam, Secretary of the South Bastar Committee, CPI(Maoist) and Jagan, Spokesperson of North Telangana SZC clarified on 30th June that all the people killed in the massacre perpetrated by the Central and Chhattisgarh state police on 28 June were adivasi villagers and that no leaders or cadres of the Maoist party were killed. They also said that there was no firing from the side of Maoists as they were not present at the site of the massacre. Gudsa Usendi, the Spokesperson of Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of CPI (Maoist) in a telephonic interview to ABN-Andhra Jyothi has condemned the statement made by Central Home Ministry that top Maoist leaders Somulu, Nagesh and Mahesh were among the killed. He also clarified that Irpa Suresh, claimed by the government to be the commander of Bijapur and Dantewada PLGA, was also not among the killed. The Irpa Suresh who was killed was in reality a tribal peasant visiting his relatives in the village.

Rather than being brought to book for executing this heinous crime, the armed forces and their commanders are being hailed as heroes by the political crooks running the country – whether it is Chidambaram, Raman Singh or Nankiram Kanwar. These criminals in uniform enjoy so much of protection and patronage from the state and the ruling classes for faithfully carrying out their anti-people agenda that a soldier who took part in the massacre boasted by declaring that “We did not use any area weapons such as grenades or rocket launchers. If we really wanted to, we could have razed the entire village”. As if more was left to be done even after carrying out this macabre execution and brutality!

Indeed, razing of villages after villages, killing civilians suspecting them to be Naxalites, fake ‘encounters’, custodial murders, rape, torture and arrests have become the ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ of the mercenary forces operating under the direction of Chidambaram fascist gang running the country today. If more than 650 villages of Dandakaranya were burnt down – many of them repeatedly – by the Salwa Judum during 2004-2008, the latest phase of Indian state’s war on people under Operation Green Hunt has resulted in hundreds of cold-blooded murders and brutalities perpetrated against revolutionaries, political activists and adivasi villagers in Chhattisgarh alone. The Indian state has used unrestrained coercive powers – often legalised through draconian laws such as AFSPA, UAPA, NSA, CPSA, etc. – apart from deploying its military might against the people of the country who have chosen to resist the unbridled exploitation by the ruling classes.

This is why the struggling people led by the Maoist revolutionaries have become the ‘biggest internal security threat’ to the feudal and comprador ruling classes of India. To crush this movement and to prevent the people from seizing political power, these rulers have unleashed a brutal war under the direct command of the imperialist powers against the growing revolutionary movement in central and eastern India. The Sirkegudem massacre is the latest episode in this all-out class struggle. With the Indian Army lurking in the outskirts of Maad in North Bastar with the fig-leaf of ‘training’, such brutal massacres and genocide of adivasis in the hands of the government’s forces threaten to become much more frequent in the coming days, unless we rise up and collectively resist this fascist onslaught. RDF appeals to all the democratic and pro-people organisations and individuals as well as the people at large to demand punishment of the police personnel, police officers and their political masters who are directly responsible for perpetrating the Sirkegudem massacre, including the CEO of Operation Green Hunt, P. Chidambaram and his aide Raman Singh.

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Press Release by Students for Resistance (SFR)

SFR condemns the cold blooded murder of 20 innocent tribals of Bijapur, Chattisgarh by the fascist Indian State. The Chhattisgarh police and the Central Reserve Police Force claim to have killed 20 guerillas of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). About six hundred troopers from the Central Reserve Police Force and the Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) commando unit conducted an operation in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district. The Chattisgarh police claimed it to be the biggest encounter in the recent period, the villagers are offering totally a different description of the incident. According to the villagers the security forces fired at the peaceful gathering of villagers killing 20 of them, including five children aged 12-15, and sexually assaulted at least four teenaged girls during the encounter. The ten among those killed were in the age group of 15-28 years. “We had gathered to discuss the upcoming seed festival, which is held every year before sowing begins” said Madkam Ganpat of Rajpetta. He said the meeting continued for several hours, when the participants were suddenly surrounded by a large contingent of the security forces. “The forces immediately opened fire, all of us tried to run away but many were shot in the legs, back and chest,” he said. The firing lasted several minutes, the villagers said, after which the forces radioed for a tractor that took away a number of bodies. “The force then camped in the village and dragged me into the fields,” said a 14-year-old girl in an interview. “They threw me on the ground, beat me, kicked me, tore my clothes and kept threatening to rape me.” She said three other girls were similarly molested. “The force remained on the fields till the next morning,” said Irpa Raju. “My son Ramesh stepped out of the house to go to the toilet when he was shot by a policeman. Ramesh ran to the house, shouting ‘Ayo, Ayo [Mother, Mother,]’ but the force followed him and killed him in our house, in front of my eyes.” Raju also accused the policemen of breaking open the family treasure chest and stealing Rs.5,000.

Yesterday, Home Minister P Chidambaram said three important Maoist leaders, Mahesh, Nagesh and Somulu, had been killed in the encounter. There is no Mahesh in the official list of those killed. There are two Nageshes. Kaka Nagesh, also called Rahul, was a 17-year-old student of Class 10. The other Nagesh, Madkam Nagesh, was a 32-year-old professional dholak player who was called in to play during festivals, villagers said. None of those killed in the encounter had any criminal record at Barsaguda police station, in whose jurisdiction the three villages fall namely Sarkeguda, Kotteguda and Rajapetta. Policemen at the station said they knew nothing about their being Naxalites.

All the alleged “hardcore Maoists” seemed to have been living with their families in the three villages. The thana is virtually next door, and a large CRPF camp stands only three kilometres away. The CoBRA team alleged faced “heavy firing” from them for three hours — but could recover only one bharmar (countrymade gun) along with the 19 bodies. The media (Sunday Express) reported the statement of the Commander of Basaguda Area Committee of the CPI (Maoist) statement, “if they (security forces) killed 21 Naxals in one encounter, do you think we would not be able to kill at least some of them? Have they ever killed so many of us in one go?”

It is very much clear that the way the whole massacre was conducted is nothing but Operation Green Hunt intensified through Operation Vijaya and Operation Hakka. It is quite evident that after the phase of “Salwa Judum” and the phase of “Operation Green Hunt”, anti-Naxal operations have entered a new phase variously called “Operation Haka” and “Operation Vijay”. This Operation took place in the Abujhmaad/Maad area fairly deep in the forests; a large number of joint paramilitary forces about 3000 in number participated. While the police reports speak of Naxalite camps destroyed, Maoists encountered and arrested, the reality is that houses were burnt down, adivaasi villagers were beaten, including beaten to death, and those arrested have not been produced before courts. During the phase of “Salwa Judum” about 500 deaths were documented on affidavit in a part of South Bastar alone. Another list of 192 extra judicial killings, alleged to have occurred in Dantewada during Operation Green Hunt, between 2009 and 2011. This is the official number. The actual number is more. Chattisgarh is not the only place where the brutality of the security forces got exposed. All over the country the security forces and police is engaged in killing tribals and dalits. Under the garb of ‘terrorism’ the Indian State is heavily engaged in minority witch hunting. And for tribals it is the ‘maoism’. The names may be different, but the agenda of the Indian State is to silence the dissenting voices against the corporate loot, caste atrocities and communal violence. The security forces are facing a militant resistance from the people of Kashmir and North-East. The story everywhere is same. Therefore the narration propagated by the security forces regarding the killing of 20 tribals in Chattisgarh is nothing but a farce lie. Even if they were Maoists, it does not give any licence to the State to kill them. Maoism does not emerges out of the fantasy but from the State Repression in various forms. So it is the structural violence that is responsible for its emergence. Once again we condemn the massacre. Down with State Repression!