The Adivasis of Chhattisgarh:
Since the launch of Salwa Judum, an anti-Naxalite campaign, in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh in June 2005, the Adivasis, who constitute 78.51% of the total population of Dantewada, have become victims of the conflict between the Naxalites and the State government of Chhattisgarh. Though majority of the cadres of the Naxalites are Adivasis, they are not the decision makers. “Commander” Kosa, the secretary for the Naxals in Chhattisgarh hails from Andhra Pradesh. The apology by the Maoists for the killings of innocent Adivasis on 28 February 2006 at Darbhaguda was also issued from Andhra Pradesh . Similarly, the Salwa Judum campaign has been taken over by the State as a full-pledged counter-insurgency programme. The Adivasis are the pawns of both the parties of the conflict. They are also the perpetrators as well as the victims of the undeclared civil war.
In 1980s, the Naxalites, the ultra-left wing armed opposition group, made inroads into Bastar region from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Then Madhya Pradesh government had little semblance of presence in the Bastar region. The plight of the dispossessed and exploited Adivasis provided the classical situation for starting a communist revolution. As the Naxalites took over the tasks meant to be done by the State and provided protection to the Adivasis against exploitation by the corrupt officials, police, forest department officials, timber mafia, money-lenders etc, it was not difficult for the Adivasis to relate to the ideology of the Naxalites. The Naxalites gradually increased their influence day by day. At present, at least nine out of 16 districts of Chhattisgarh i.e. Kanker, Dantewada, Bastar, Surguja, Balrampur, Rajnandgaon, Koriya, Kawardha and Jashpur are affected by low intensity armed conflict with the Naxalites.
However, the Naxalites also came with the baggage associated with communist armed insurrections - execution of petty bourgeois amongst the most impoverished, extortion, and other harsh punishments. The Adivasis became victims of gross violations of human rights such as “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; taking of hostages; outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; and passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples”, at the hands of the Naxalites. Some of those who were injured in the landmine blast on 28 February 2006 at Darbhaguda village were allegedly stabbed and clubbed to death by the Naxalites.
The policy of the Naxalites of forcibly recruiting one cadre from each Adivasi family compelled many families to give the female members to the Naxals. Hence, traditional Adivasi social taboos were challenged and destroyed by the Naxalites and resentment against the Naxalites grew. But, any rebellion against the rebels was quelled with brutality. In 1992-93, a rebellion against the Naxalites was silenced after the Naxals killed 70 Adivasis.
Since June 2005, episodic resentments against the Naxalites took organized shape under the leadership of Mr Mahendra Karma, the Member of Legislative Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the Chhattisgarh State Legislative Assembly. Mr Karma christened it as Salwa Judum, Peace Initiative. It soon received the State sanction and became part of Chhattisgarh government's experiment with counter-insurgency operations to tackle the Naxalites. The civil war began in earnest.
The Salwa Judum has been far from a peaceful campaign with hundreds of the cadres being given full military training as Special Police Officers. It has created a civil war where one is either with the Naxalites or with the Salwa Judum . As the Naxalites followed the policy of forcibly recruiting one cadre from each family, in numerous cases, members of the same family have been pitted against each other. The Adivasis do not necessarily share the Naxalites' dream of surrounding “ Delhi one day with Red Army”, but they want their plight to improve and bring an end to exploitation by the corrupt government officials, police, money lenders, contractors etc. Instead, they find themselves in the midst of a civil war.
The Naxalites responded with violence against the Salwa Judum cadres irrespective of whether they are joining on their own volition or by force. Between 5 June 2005 and 6 March 2006 , at least 138 Salwa Judum activists have been allegedly killed by the Naxalites.
Even the children of the Salwa Judum cadres were not spared. Swayam Mala , Ex-Sarpanch of Darbhaguda village told Asian Centre for Human Rights, “On the night of 23 February 2006 , Sangham people (Naxalites) came to my residence searching for me on the accusations that I was initiating development projects in the village. Not finding me, they killed my son Swayam Kanna, who was studying in class eight.”
Although the Naxalites have been responsible for more killings, the response of the State government to involve the civilians directly in the conflict and recruiting children as Special Police Officers is morally and legally untenable.
As on 4 March 2006 , a total of 45,958 Adivasi villagers from 644 villages in 6 blocks of Dantewada district have come under Salwa Judum programme. The security forces and Salwa Judum activists have been responsible for gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws including torture, killings and rape especially during joint operations to bring scattered villages under the Salwa Judum. But the police do not register such complaints of atrocities as they also commit these crimes. Those who are victims of violations by the security forces and the Salwa Judum activists therefore are not given any compensation. Only the alleged victims of Naxalite violence are given compensation.
The displaced Adivasis have been living as inmates in temporary camps. Many have been living in the houses, roofed with the leaves of trees. The camp conditions are deplorable and no provisions are provided except for a square meals with watery dal.
There are also no educational facilities in the camps but the government claims that it is providing business education! Many government schools including Government Higher Secondary School at Konta, Girls High School, Janpad Middle School, Girls Ashram and Boys Ashram at Dondra have been converted into relief camps. Students who have been appearing for the High School and Higher Secondary School Board examinations in March 2006 have been badly affected.
The temporary relief camps have been turned into centres for military training and anti-Naxalite indoctrination education. As on 4 March 2006, 3,200 Adivasi boys and girls have been recruited as Special Police Officers (SPO) in Dantewada district alone at a fixed honourarium of Rs 1500 to each per month. Many SPOs have not been paid any honourarium. Many have joined in the SPO with the promise of regularization in the State Police Force.
Both the security forces and the Naxalites have been responsible for the recruitment and use of children in hostilities. ACHR interviewed 9 SPOs at Bangapal Relief Camp within the Bangapal Police Station who claimed that they were below 16 years.
As on 4 March 2006, there were 1999 surrendered Naxalites in Dantewada alone. Many of them have been kept in chains and they do not have the right to freedom of movement.
As many as 227 persons have been killed between 5 June 2005 and 6 March 2006 including 47 security personnel and 30 alleged Maoists, 150 civilians out of which 138 at the hands of the Maoists and 12 at the hands of security forces and Salwa Judum activists. Out of these, 63 persons including 33 security forces and 30 civilians were killed in landmines planted by the Naxalites. There is an urgent need to bring an end to the armed conflict in Chhattisgarh and the suffering of the innocent persons caught in the conflict. All actors of the conflicts i.e. State governments and the Naxalites must find peaceful solutions.