"There is no Constitution in Chhattisgarh anymore"

Anybody can be picked up, branded as Maoist and jailed, beaten up, smashed, charged with dubious cases, ordinary people are killed, tribal women get raped and assaulted, no peaceful protests are allowed, journalists, academics and filmmakers are followed, terrorised and not allowed to go inside villages, a general reign of fear stalks this poverty-stricken landscape
Harsh Dobhal Dantewada/Delhi

Nobody knows the whereabouts of Sodi Sambho, a 28-year-old tribal lady who was brutally attacked by CRPF jawans of the Cobra Battalion, SPOs (special police officers) and members of Salwa Judum (State-sponsored militia against the Maoists in Chhattisgarh) when they descended on her village Gompad in tehsil Konta of Dantewada district on October 1, 2009. "An 80-year-old visually handicapped man was stabbed on his back, a 70-year-old woman, unable to walk, was killed, along with a 25-year-old youngster and two girls of 8 and 12. Four people who were passing by were shot dead. Nine people were killed that day," said Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian activist involved in social work in Dantewada, currently hounded by the police, his life in constant danger.

Sodi Sambho was in her house, cleaning the courtyard. Two of her four children were at home when she was asked to stand with another woman who was carrying an infant. Sodi fell as they shot at her leg; her children started crying. Left to bleed, Sodi filed an application with the police with the help of activists, but, predictably, there was no response. She was taken to a hospital in Delhi for treatment where she became a petitioner in the Supreme Court along with 11 others on the infamous 'Gompad killing case'. Later, when she was again coming to Delhi for treatment, she was stopped at Kanker by the police, 300 km from Dantewada, as she was on her way to Raipur to board a train. She was taken into custody without any arrest warrant.

She had been missing, but the Chhattisgarh police later claimed that she was in Jagdalpur hospital and anyone could meet her. When three days later two journalists went to see her, they were manhandled by the police. The Supreme Court then ordered that she should be brought to Delhi for treatment. She arrived in AIIMS but was kept in 'prison-like' conditions by the Chhattisgarh armed state police. Arundhati Roy and women academics from JNU, Jamia and Delhi University tried to meet her, but the police bluntly refused. Why? Is she a terrorist? And why can't she meet people, including her lawyer?

When the SC again ordered that Sodi's advocate could meet her, they it was shockingly found that she had been "discharged". In police custody at the hospital, Sodi simply disappeared. At the time of writing, nobody knows where she is, while the Chhattisgarh police and administration refuse to divulge any details. Her legal status remains uncertain as she is in police custody but the same has not been admitted.

If this is not a viciously undemocratic Police State in BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, then what is it? The armed assault against the Maoists has been corrupted into organised State terrorism anybody can be picked up, branded as Maoist and jailed, beaten up, smashed and charged with dubious cases. Ordinary people are killed, tribal women get raped and assaulted, no peaceful protests are allowed, journalists, academics and filmmakers are followed, terrorised and not allowed to go inside villages, a general reign of fear stalks this poverty-stricken landscape. If the state government and the Union home ministry are targeting Maoist guerrillas, who are anyway inaccessible in deep forests, then whey are they hounding non-violent tribals, Gandhians, activists, lawyers, journalists, students and academics from all over the country? Why are they blocking all constitutional and legally legitimate processes? What are they afraid of? What are they hiding?

Lingaram is a 24-year-old youngster from village Sameli who was picked up and kept in a bathroom for 40 days without any charge. He was pressurised to join as an SPO, and tortured mercilessly upon refusal. The police had to produce him in the Bilaspur High Court after a habeas corpus was filed; the HC ordered his release. "I was told by the police not to speak the truth in front of the judge, or else I would be killed," he said. Lingaram obliged, and fled for his life. He is in Delhi now and is desperate to go back. The police has since picked up his brother, father and other villagers asking them to produce him.

Activists Medha Patkar, Sandeep Pandey, Kavita Srivastava and others were pelted with eggs, stones and sewage by an organised mob of non-tribals on January 7 when they were on their way to meet the SP of Dantewada. "Maowadi wapas jao, Medha Patkar wapas jao," they shouted. The police watched with silent delight. Clearly, this was stage-managed  because none of these leaders has even any remote links with the Maoists.

Four victims raped by the SPOs are still awaiting justice. Their complaints were filed after six months and warrants issued against the accused. "But the victims were again picked up by the same accused from their houses and kept in custody for five days," said Himanshu.

A young lawyer, Alban Toppo, who had accompanied a social activist Kopa Kunjam to the police station, was detained and tortured before he was released next day. Kopa has been falsely charged with murder and is languishing in jail.

"Operation Greenhunt goes on. I have just received the news that six persons were killed in yet another village," said Himanshu. All his Gandhian associates have been arrested and his ashram demolished. "There is no democracy or Constitution in Chhattisgarh anymore," he said.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2010

#Tags: