Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar

21 07 2008
Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi July 20, 2008, 0:26 IST

The collector of Dantewada has agreed to give 10 quintals of paddy seed to restart farming in Nendra. Nendra is a village in Konta block in Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh which has been lying deserted for the last three years after multiple attacks by the government-backed anti-Naxal militia, the Salwa Judum, and the police. The collector’s gesture was in reciprocation of a rehabilitation effort by an NGO called Vanvasi Chetna Ashram to facilitate homecoming for the villagers who were living either in jungles fearing reprisals from the Salwa Judum and the police, or in neighbouring villages of Andhra Pradesh. Some of them are in camps set up by the state government.

The effort started this month, with 11 members of the ashram turning into a human shield and escorting the fugitive tribals to their village and staying with them.

There has been little support from the police. There were firings on the villagers. The first incident made them run for their lives to their familiar hideouts in the jungles.

Two boys, Madkam Bheem and Vetti Pojja, both about 16 years old, were caught this week while returning from the markets in the villages of Andhra Pradesh and are currently in Dantewada jail.

The police fired in the village a second time this week. But this time, the villagers did not flee and the police returned without harming anyone.

Himanshu Kumar, who has been running the ashram for the last 16 years in the Bastar area, says more villages are seeking their human shields to revive life in the abandoned hamlets.

People who have fled from about 25 villages are meeting in Nendra to extend the human shield initiative to their villages.

The human shield members, who took with them 15 quintals of paddy and a lot of clothes for the 100 families returning to Nendra, are currently helping the people cultivate their abandoned fields.

The collector’s gesture was to support this effort.

The Supreme Court ruled recently that the government of Chhattisgarh was acting in an illegal and unconstitutional way in arming civilians to fight the Naxalites. A report of the Planning Commission seconded this and said that Salwa Judum was a terrible mistake and had no place in a democratic and free country.

The Planning Commission report on Salwa Judum and Naxalites was presented yesterday before the home ministry’s task force.

What will take the powers-to-be to change their mind and understand that people have to live in their homes and cannot be held fugitives in their own country?

The human shield initiative is, meanwhile, preparing to leave for another deserted village, Vechapad, in Bhairamgadh block in Bastar’s Bijapur district. Himanshu Kumar says he has informed the police but they are asking them to wait saying an operation was going on there.

What is the guarantee that people returning from the Salwa Judum camps, usually identified with the atrocities attributed to the Salwa Judum, would be let off by the Naxalites and the people hiding in the jungles?

Himanshu Kumar says he has been speaking to the villagers outside the camps and they say there is no danger from them. He says Naxalites are also promising that they will not make reprisal attacks on the villagers and the SPOs if they come home.

At a time the government is introspecting about the Salwa Judum and does not know what to do with the Naxalites, the worst thing it can do is to sever ties with the civil society. It can begin by looking at activists like Himanshu Kumar and Binayak Sen as just that rather than conspirators against it, and instead use jails and police against criminals rather than activists.


Roots of the Problem


During last one month the Maoists have killed nearly 60 security personnel belonging to the Greyhound force, constituted specially to counter Naxalite actions in various states. They trapped a boat carrying 40 jawans of the Greyhound who were on their mission to Orissa from Andhra Pradesh and killed them. A few days ago they killed 20 jawans in Orissa’s Malkangiri district in a mine blast. Even the Mine Protected Vehicle in which the cops were moving failed to protect them. Significantly this vehicle costing Rs 55 lakh was developed to suit the needs of paramilitary forces operating in Naxalite areas. Unfortunately this vehicle could not withstand the Naxalite attack. In fact the attack did not come suddenly. The general secretary of the CPI (Maoist), Mr M Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapathy had warned that they would intensify their actions against the state machinery, as destruction of the enemy forces was on their immediate agenda. In fact the Maoist targeting the enemy is not confined to Orissa or Andhra Pradesh, but it is happening also in Kiul in the eastern parts of Bihar. They have been blowing rail tracks and killing security forces and also innocent people. Though the government has been promising to take on the Naxalites so far it has not resulted in any significant reduction, except for deployment of some well-trained police personnel. Significantly on the eve of the meeting of chief ministers of Naxalite-affected states in Hyderabad last September, the Prime Minister had suggested to the states to evolve a concrete socio-economic action programme to counter the Naxalite challenge. But so far the central government or the concerned states have not chalked out any such programme and instead continue to follow the old path of meeting force with force. Look at the modus operandi of the Naxalites. They have selected the backward areas of eastern and central India and indoctrinated poor people. The resurgence of Naxalism in these areas owes to the callous administration of the state governments in these regions. The government ought to realize that it cannot counter Naxalites with force. It must reach out to the poor of the regions and give them real empowerment. It must realize that India is home not only to middle classes, but also to 70 per cent of people who are poor.

10 worst actions (attacks ) by NAXALISTES

The recent daring Naxal attack in Nayagarh, raised questions on the effectiveness of government’s intelligence system and the strength of police force to face the Maoist menace. States like Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal are worst-affected by an unprecedented spur in Naxal activities.

People’s struggle has unfortunately transformed into a power struggle. We have listed the 10 deadliest naxal or Maoist attacks in India in the past five years. They are listed in a chronological order. Here you go:

1) Attack on N. Chandrababu Naidu (Oct, 2003)

The TDP chief and then Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu had a narrow escape, when one of the Naxalites, failed to intimate his team about Mr. Naidu’s exact movement. A few seconds delay in triggering the claymore mines, saved Naidu’s life. Naidu, his colleague, B. Gopalakrishna Reddy, legislators R. Rajasekhara Reddy and Chadalavada Krishna Murthy, and security personnel were injured in the attack. Naidu was on his way to Tirupati on October 01, 2003, when the attack was carried out by a special team of Maoists at the foothills of Tirumala.

2) Naxal Attack in Koraput (2004)

In a daring attack, over 1000 Maoists attacked Orissa’s district headquarter town of Koraput and looted 2000 sophisticated guns and other weapons worth Rs 50 crore. There was a panic in the town, as the Naxalites continued their operation for 6 hours. They looted the district armory, five police stations, Koraput jail, SP’s office and the OSAP battalion. One sentry and two CRPF jawans were killed and 11 others injured in the attack. Over 500 Maoists were involved in the operation.

3) Jehanabad Jail-break (2005)

On November 13, 2005, over 1,000 Maoists laid virtual siege to Jehanabad town on the night of November 13, 2005 and freed over 375 prisoners including 130 Naxalites. The Naxal operation continued for seven hours and security personnel could do nothing to prevent this. They killed several Ranvir Sena men and police personnel. The Maoists looted 185 rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition.

4) Naxal attack in R Udayagiri, 40 Prisoners freed (Feb, 2006)

On March 24, 2006, Maoists lashed with arms and ammunition, attacked the Orissa State Armed Police camp at R Udayagiri in Gajapati district of Orissa, killing three policemen. The looted arms and freed around 40 prisoners. There were more than 500 Maoists involved in the attack.

5) Chhatisgarh Naxal Attack (2006)

At least 25 people were killed and 80 others injured, when over 800 armed Naxalites attacked a village in Dantewada district of Chhatisgarh on July 17, 2006. Some of the villages were hacked to death with sharp weapons, while few were charred to death. The attack took place at Errabore relief camp where more than 4000 people had taken shelter. The Naxalites also kidnapped more than 20 people, while 200 others fled from the spot.

6) Naxalites kill JMM MP Sunil Mahato (2007)

Armed Naxalites shot dead JMM MP (Lok Sabha) Sunil Kumar Mahato, his bodyguards and a party colleague while they were watching a football match at Bakuria village near Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. The incident took place on March 05, 2007.

7) Naxalites attack Police Outpost, kill 55 Security Pesonnel (2007)

The Naxalites attacked a police outpost in Chhatisgarh’s Rani Bodli village in Chhatisgarh, killing 55 police personnel. 24 of the deceased belonged to state police, while 31 others were Special Police Officers (SPOs). It was an irony that the security personnel were unable to even defend themselves – forget about the counter-attack. Most of the policemen were asleep when over 500 Naxalites carried out the attack. They used sophisticated weapons, lobbed grenades and bombs on them.

8) Naxal attack in Dantewada, 303 Prisoners freed (2007)

The Naxalites attacked the Dantewada jail and freed 303 priosners. Over 100 of them were Naxalites. They also snatched weapons of prison guards. The incident occurred on December 16, 2007. It was a major blow for the state government. It was reported that most of them fled to the jungles of Orissa. Although 25 prisoners, were recaptured, none of them were Naxalites.

9) Naxalites kill Babulal Marandi’s son (2007)

Former Jharkhand CM Babulal Marandi’s son Anup and 17 others were killed in a Naxal attack at Chilkhadia village in Giridih district of Jharkhand. The Naxals opened indiscriminate fire and exploded bombs when a cultural program was being held. Marandi’s brother Nunulal, who was also present at the function, escaped unhurt.

10) Nayagarh Naxal Attack (2008)

The Naxal attack in Nayagarh on the night of February 15, 2008, was called as the mother of all Naxal attacks. Hundreds of Maoists came in buses and trucks, and laid seize of the district headquarter town of Nayagarh in Orissa. Nayagarh is only 90 minutes away from the state capital, Bhubaneswar and no Naxal activities were reported in that area in the past.

A large group of Naxalites attacked the police stations in Nayagarh, Dashpalla and Nuagaon. They killed 14 policemen and one civilian. They also torched the Police Training School. The Maoists looted a huge number of arms and ammunition (worth crores of rupees) from the armoury.

The Orissa government launched the biggest anti-Naxal operation in the country to track down the Naxals. Over 700 state police personnel, CRPF personnel, SOG Commandos, Special Greyhound Force from Andhra Pradesh and IAF Helicopters launched massive offensive on the Naxals by encirling them at Gasma mountain. However, the Naxalites either managed to flee or mixed with the local people, making the task of the security personnel more difficult.

A CRPF Assistant Commandant (one of the co-founders of SOG) and two other security personnel were killed, while over 20 Maoists were reportedly killed. Over 50 percent of the looted arms and ammunition were recovered from the forest. The Orissa government has extended the operation to different parts of the state and it’s still going on.

Chronology of Naxal attacks in recent years
September 7, 2007 Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Janardhan Reddy and his wife N Rajyalakshmi, escaped unhurt while three Congress workers were killed in a Maoist attack in Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh.
July 10, 2007 Naxalites attacked a police team with light machine guns and mortar bombs in a dense forest area of Chhattisgarh, killing at least 24 security personnel.
July 1, 2007 Nine persons, including five policemen, were killed and as many were wounded as CPI-Maoist rebels carried out simultaneous attacks on a police station and an outpost in Sasaram in Bihar’s Rohtas district and fled with arms and ammunition.
April 28, 2007 Five security personnel were killed in a landmine blast triggered by Maoist rebels in Michgaon village of Kanker district, about 175 km south of Raipur in Chattisgarh
Mar 16, 2007 Maoists attacked a police post in the remote jungles of in Rani Bodli in Chattisgarh with gunfire, hand grenades and gasoline bombs, killing at least 49 people
March 5, 2007 Naxalites shot dead Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Lok Sabha MP Sunil Kumar Mahato. Two of his bodyguards and a party colleague were also killed in the attack when they were witnessing a football match organised to mark Holi at a village in Jamshedpur in Jharkhand
July 17, 2006 At least 25 people were killed and 80 injured, 32 of them seriously, while about 250 people were missing following an attack by some 800 armed Naxalites in Dantewada district of Chattisgarh
February 9, 2006 Eight Central Industrial Security Force personnel were killed and eight others injured when Naxalites raided a godown of the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) and took away explosives from a village near Bailadila in Jagdalpur in Chattisgarh
1 March 2005 In a major attack, Naxalites shot dead eight villagers and blew up a forest rest house, injuring a CRPF constable in Andhra Pradesh
November 13, 2005 Hundreds of activists of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) attacked the police lines in south Bihar’s Jehanabad district

(With inputs from PTI and IANS)



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