CBI report on Dantewada

Nailing a lie

Print edition : November 25, 2016

Policemen and members of security forces in Chhattisgarh burning effigies of activists who have questioned the use of terror against Maoists, on October 24. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The horrific aftermath of the March 2011 anti-Maoist operation in Dantewada. Photo: Aman Sethi

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh. Faced with criticism from several quarters, his government has ordered an inquiry into the effigy-burning incidents. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

The Central Bureau of Investigation’s reports pin the 2011 violence in Dantewada on the police and other security forces.

The Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) reports on the burning of more than 250 houses in Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram in Chhattisgarh between March 11 and 16, 2011, have demolished the police version of the events. The final reports on the violence in these villages during so-called “combing operations” in Dantewada by Central and State security forces were submitted to the Court of Special Magistrate for the CBI, Shantanu Kumar Deshlahre, in Raipur on October 17, 2016.

The Supreme Court had ordered a CBI inquiry into the violence on a petition filed by the academic and activist Nandini Sundar. The CBI’s reports were made public on October 21 when a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court ordered that they be shared with the petitioner, Professor Nandini Sundar, and senior counsel Ashok Desai, who was representing her. Contrary to the local police’s claims that houses in Timmapuram, Tadmetla and Morpalli were burnt down by fleeing naxalites, the CBI found that security forces including the police were culpable.

In what is seen as an incrimination of the Chhattisgarh Police in dealing with the Maoist insurgency in the State, the CBI charge-sheeted eight policemen or former Special Police Officers (SPOs). It held that 323 SPOs and 114 CoBRA (Command Battalion for Resolute Action) and 95 CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force)/CoBRA personnel were involved in the violence as a reinforcement party for the police team. The CBI maintained that 160 houses in Tadmetla, 59 in Timmapuram and 33 in Morpalli were burnt; three men were killed and three women were raped. Thereafter, when the social activist Swami Agnivesh tried to deliver relief to the affected villagers, his convoy was pelted with stones and not allowed to proceed beyond Dornapal by a mob of over 50 people, largely comprising erstwhile members of the outlawed civil militia Salwa Judum. During the past year, under the patronage of Inspector General, Bastar Range, S.R.P. Kalluri, attempts were made to revive the Judum under the leadership of former Judum members through fronts such as the Samajik Ekta Manch (SEM). The SEM was disbanded, and the latest strategy is to have several smaller vigilante groups such as AGNI (Action Group for National Integration), where the names keep changing but the members are the same.

In July 2011, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI inquiry into the violence while hearing additional petitions to the 2007 public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by Nandini Sundar, the historian Ramachandra Guha, the bureaucrat E.A.S. Sarma and others that led to the court’s banning the Salwa Judum on July 5, 2011. In Agnivesh’s case, the CBI found 27 people culpable and charge-sheeted them under various Sections of the Indian Penal Code (147 & 149, 323, 341, 427, 440, 34) covering unlawful assembly, voluntarily causing hurt, mischief and causing damage. Taking cognisance of the CBI report, the bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Adarsh Kumar Goel counselled the Central and State government representative, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, to initiate peace talks with the Maoists to end the violence in Chhattisgarh. The bench invoked the example of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize given to the Colombian government for brokering a peace deal with FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), indicating that governments in India too could get the prize if they helped end the conflict in the region.

The policemen named in the CBI reports were suspended and the Chhattisgarh government led by Raman Singh agreed, in principle, to initiate peace talks with the Maoists. The CBI reports have been hailed as significant at a time when reports of state-sponsored violence against Adivasis under the garb of anti-naxal operations are on the rise. But the people connected with the case stressed that charging a few constables who were after all carrying out orders from above was meaningless if the conspirators in high posts were allowed to go scot-free.

The CBI reports forced I.G. Kalluri, under whose watch the 2011 incidents occurred, to admit, for the first time, the police’s role in the violence and take responsibility for the operation. He said that the violence was carried out under his guidance. He claimed that he was facing deadlines from the National Human Rights Commission for inquiry into some encounter cases, and this was what forced his hand. In a press conference on October 23 in Jagdalpur, he said: “I am not a coward.... I was an SSP [Senior Superintendent of Police] at that time.... It was a huge operation and we sent 421 men.... In Tadmetla in 2010, 76 of our men had died.... When such a huge force goes into that area, war is bound to happen, bullets are bound to be fired, and bombing will also take place. It was the summer season and in [such heat] the huts are bound to catch fire. Yes, the huts burnt during police action... but the police didn’t set fire to them.... Our personnel also laid down their lives.... Now after all this, to demoralise the forces is not fair. In fact, it is anti-national.” Kalluri’s statement at the press conference unwittingly contradicted the police first information report (FIR) filed after the incidents, which stated that the Maoists had set fire to the huts. He said that perhaps the police were unable to properly present their case before the CBI. When the CBI was conducting investigations in Chhattisgarh in February 2012, its officers were reportedly attacked by SPOs. Kalluri also said that naxal sympathisers in Jawaharlal Nehru University and elsewhere in Delhi were under police surveillance and would be arrested soon.

The CBI reports sparked a chain of violent reactions from the police forces in Chhattisgarh. The day after Kalluri’s press conference, uniformed men marched through the streets of Jagdalpur, Dantewada, Kondagaon, Bijapur, Sukma, Narayanpur and Kanker and burnt effigies of social activists and political leaders, who, according to them, had misled the courts. Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Manish Kunjam, social activists Bela Bhatia and Himanshu Kumar, Aam Aadmi Party leader Soni Sori, Nandini Sundar and the journalist Malini Subramanian were name-tagged on the effigies. Slogans accusing them of being anti-national, traitors and naxal sympathisers were shouted and parchas (leaflets) distributed against them. Most of the uniformed men were former SPOs, who were earlier members of the outlawed Salwa Judum and are retained in the police force as the Armed Auxiliary Force assigned the paramilitary role.

Condemning the protest, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) said: “This show of strength by state forces against civilians was the latest and most brazen example of the patronage extended to them by the government and the systematic fostering of a police raj in Bastar. All the public figures whose effigies were burnt... are members of civil society who have faced violence and intimidation earlier as well for exposing and resisting the ongoing war against the Adivasis in Bastar.”

Faced with criticism from several quarters, the State government ordered an administrative inquiry into the incidents.

On October 26, a press conference organised by Manish Kunjam in the CPI office in Jagdalpur was disrupted by more than a dozen goons belonging to vigilante groups. They shouted slogans against Kunjam and asked him to leave Bastar. They demanded an apology from Kunjam on his allegedly derogatory comments on the goddess Durga. When Kunjam refused to apologise saying it was a closed chapter, they damaged the furniture in full glare of the electronic media and in the presence of the police. In September, Kunjam had shared a forward message on WhatsApp explaining the Dalit and tribal perspective on the Hindu festival of Navaratri. In this alternative view, Mahishasur was a brave Santhal king in Bengal. When the Brahmin invaders could not defeat him by fair means, they sent a beautiful Durga to entice him with all forms of trickery. On the ninth day, Durga saw her chance and killed him, thus ensuring victory for the Brahmins. Henceforth, every year, she is worshipped and the mud for her idol is brought from the homes of sex workers, as she was one, too, in this view. The post urged people to think rationally about such myths and addressed the moolnivasis (indigenous people), asking them to discard the Brahminical versions of their mythology and reclaim their own stories.

Taking umbrage at this interpretation, a Youth Congress worker and member of a vigilante group called Dharma Sena Sushil Maurya filed an FIR against Kumjam. Traders in Sukma district, mostly Hindu Baniyas and Durga worshippers, also called a bandh over the issue. Kunjam’s effigy was burnt and demands were made for his arrest.

The Durga-Mahishasur debate is as old as the myths themselves and several communities have started reclaiming their culture by observing Mahishasur Shahadat Divas all over the country, including the Other Backward Class (OBC) Yadav community who rear buffaloes, the form taken by Mahishasur. But each time a non-Hindu version is expressed, it is countered with repression and violence. However, in the face of extreme threats, Kunjam has been steadfast in standing by it. He says: “Mahishasur was the king of tribal people and Dalits. I am a tribal person and his descendant. Just as the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] and the Manuvadis feel hurt by comments against Hindu gods and goddesses, we are also pained by the wrong projection of the image of asurs in religious scriptures. There are many tribal gods in Bastar like Mahishasur. I worship all of them.”

Meanwhile, the demand for Kalluri’s ouster is getting louder. Comparing Kalluri to Uganda’s dictator Idi Ameen, former Union Minister Arvind Netam warned that if he was not removed forthwith, he would create a Kashmir-like situation in Chhattisgarh soon. State Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel also demanded Kalluri’s suspension on grounds of human rights violation against social activists in the State. An online petition to be submitted to Chief Minister Raman Singh, demanding Kalluri’s immediate removal and action against those who participated in the effigy-burning, got hundreds of signatures.

A peace march was taken through Raipur by the Bastar Bachao Sangharsh Samiti and a memorandum submitted to the President of India demanding the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s ouster. AAP leaders Soni Sori and Sanket Thakur participated in the march.

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