Bastar’s controversial IG Kalluri asked to go on long leave by government
In an attempt to restore its credibility and regain the confidence of the citizens of Bastar, the Chhattisgarh government has asked Bastar IG SRP Kalluri to go on a long leave. The senior police officer cuts a controversial figure in the region as he has been accused of human rights violations, attacking civil liberties and sponsoring vigilante groups in the past, but is also credited with weaning tribals away from Maoists and pushing the number of Maoists surrendering in the area.
In a series of decisive administrative actions, the state government announced the appointment of P Sundararaj as DIG of the newly-created Dantewada Range. These actions follow on the heels of the appearance of senior state government officials before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on January 30. The NHRC had summoned these officials for a response on the apathy of the state government in responding to the egregious violations of human rights and attacks on human rights defenders perpetrated by the police and police-sponsored vigilante groups encouraged and supported by Kalluri.
The senior cop’s tenure, starting from July 2014, was marked by the arrest of four local journalists and a series of threats against a number of local and national journalists. AAP leader and activist Soni Sori was also attacked with an acid-like substance in February last year.
Taking cognisance of media reports and multiple complaints and submissions from an organisation called Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) and other human rights groups, the NHRC conducted its own investigation in March 2016 into complaints of mass rapes and sexual violence against Adivasi women by police forces during search and combing operations in the remote villages of Peddagellur, Bellam Nendra and Kunna. The NHRC investigation team met and recorded the statements of 16 women who had filed FIRs for rape, sexual assault and physical violence. The team also looked into the systematic hounding and intimidation of activists, lawyers and media professionals who were bringing these incidents to light by the police and vigilante groups under the direct patronage of Kalluri. A follow-up investigation in January 2017 recorded the statements of 20 more women who had also filed FIRs for sexual violence, ranging from mass rapes to sexual assault of minor girls and pregnant women.
In its landmark order of January 7, the NHRC held that the state government was responsible for human rights violations in Bastar. The order validated the argument that sexual violence was being used as a weapon in the state’s “war against Maoists” in Bastar. The NHRC order also pulled up the state government for its failure to provide the mandatory compensation to the complainants and for not registering cases under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
An English national daily quoted sources as saying that after the recent mob attack on the house of activist-scholar Bela Bhatia received widespread coverage in national media, it had become difficult for the government to shield Kalluri. A mob of vigilantes believed to be backed by the police barged into Bhatia’s house on January 23 in Parpa village, 8 km south of Jagdalpur, and gave her 24 hours to leave the village. The activist had been instrumental in helping Adivasi women file complaints of rape against security forces in the troubled region.
However, there is also speculation about the possible return of the controversial cop because of the government’s decision to appoint Sundararaj as a DIG and not an IG. If reports are to be believed, the government’s decision to send Kalluri on a long leave could be a temporary one.
Meanwhile, in view of the allegations made against Kalluri, the NHRC has made a case for handing the investigation over to an independent agency like the Crime Branch, Crime Investigation Department or the Central Bureau of Investigation.