‘Meltha’ means ‘justice’ in Koya language but it means nothing to the tribals of Dantewada and Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh
‘We know what we do here is wrong sometimes, but what am I supposed to do? Bharti ho gayi, aur duty karna parta hai.’ Says Prashant (name-changed) of the Chhattisgarh State Police from Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh. He has been in Dantewada district for more than 12 months now and like a majority of those he is serving with, he’s from a Scheduled Caste. The exceptions in his platoon belong to Other Backward Castes. The SPOs meanwhile, are mostly Muria tribals.
Prashant’s compatriots from the CGP, like him, have MA degrees or BSC degrees. They could not find any jobs back home and Bharti ho gayi. Nowwith a pay of Rs.10,000 a month, they’re put into the risk of indiscriminate Maoist IEDs and landmines, – their jan adalats or ‘People’s Courts’, and their ambushes, where the police are fired upon by the weapons of their long-fallen comrades, and bows and arrows.
Official sources state that around 125 security personnel were killed in the year 2009. Adding to it are the figures that 113 Maoists and 124 civilians were also killed. Out of the 125 security personnel killed, one of those killed was SPO Suresh from Dharmapuram village of Basaguda Block in May of 2009 – an event that was not reported in any national daily but was merely destined to be a part of the above-mentioned statistic.
He was abducted by the Maoists from Timapuram village in Basaguda Block during a ‘pudum’ (festival) and kept in detention for a few days. The police frequently combed the area to locate him but to no avail. His body was found a few days later near Basaguda police station. He was in his early 20s and was a father of one year old child.
The Maoists from the Jagargonda Area Committee left a ‘People’s Court’ or ‘Jan Adalat’ statement justifying their execution of SPO Suresh, claiming that he was present during the widespread arson and looting of the villages of Basaguda block, where over 2000 villagers had left their homes in 2006. They also claimed that he was involved in the killing of two villagers from Sarkinguda.
‘Any SPO or undercover officer that conspires against the people shall be given similar punishment.’ The Maoists had written on paper in red and left next to his body.
Of course, as the Maoist ‘judiciary’ and sense of justice is only accountable to itself, in the state of Chhattisgarh, the law is the police.
Kopa Kunjam, human rights activist shall be brought to court on the 20th of January, 2010. He has barely been a month in jail yet he is already a broken man. He has been allegedly hung upside down and beaten repeatedly in jail, and been openly told that he has been framed.
The very legal system that he tried to upheld has now condemned him – he had helped to file complaint after complaint to the National Human Rights Commission and the High Court, against the alleged atrocities of police and the Salwa Judum and all that he ever got out of it was imprisonment and torture.
It was even reported by the local press that one of the accused in the Konta rape case, was throwing eggs and mud at a visiting Medha Patkar from within a Salwa Judum demonstration allegedly orchestrated by the police, and according to some sources, from Delhi itself. There is a warrant for his arrest yet he’s absconding right in front of the police. The ‘Ruchikas’ of Dantewada, from Samsetti, Arlampalli and Bandarpadar have been cut-off from their lawyers, from activists and the press.
The Superintendent of the Police, Amresh Mishra frequently visits Kopa Kunjam in jail, and it has been confirmed that the police met him the day before he was arrested, had ‘requested’ him to leave the VCA, and become a police informer.
‘I have seen with my own eyes, what it is that you do,’ he had allegedly told his tempters. Now his three wives break into tears as they meet him in Dantewada jail. The NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram has all but ceased to exist. His NGO director and mentor Himanshu Kumar clandestinely left Dantewada, out of fear of arrest. So the Muria gets beaten in jail, the Brahmin escapes.
Giving him company in Dantewada jail, are numerous adivasis from the interior areas who have no idea of their rights. For instance, there is Lachinder from Gangaloor village of Bijapur District, who has been in Dantewada jail for more than a month and a half, booked under section 436 (arson) of the IPC, and section 25 and 27 of the Arms Act. He’s also thirteen years old. His school card stating his age isn’t indicative enough of his age. A mentally-handicapped mother comes to court and looks at her 13 year old son and says he might be 60 years old, or 30 years old or 13 years old. He stays in jail, and not a juvenile home, a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act.
Meanwhile, a RTI application filed by concerned citizens had uncovered that 14.8 hectares of land from the village of Goomiyapal in Dantewada district is part of a land acquisition proposal with Tata Steel Limited. Six villagers from Goomiyapal were also allegedly gunned down by the police in December as alleged Maoists. No one in the local press reported the encounter even as the village is just four kilometers from the industrial town of Kirandool.
Similarly, Medha Patkar and activists had visited the village of Kuper on the 7th of January to investigate into the matter of four missing boys. The police had refused to lodge the FIRs and refused to inform the parents of the whereabouts of the missing boys. Disappearances and abductions are widespread in Dantewada, and the rule law continues to be a myth.
(This article has been written for The New Indian Express)