STATE VS NAXALS
The war on Maoists in Chhattisgarh is beginning to turn on civil society, reports Shivam Vij
The large number of protests by the civil society, both in Delhi and Raipur, over the arrest of a Human Rights activist in Raipur is the most significant sign yet of the Chhattisgarh government’s troubles over its policy against Naxalism. While the Intelligence Bureau has asked the Chhattisgarh government to explain why Binayak Sen was arrested, the Union Home ministry is considering cutting down funding for the controversial Salwa Judum project. The Supreme Court, acting in response to a pil, has also issued a notice to the Chhattisgarh government over human rights atrocities committed in the name of Salwa Judum or “peace movement”, which is supported by the government.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has been bringing to light cases where the police has claimed that it killed Naxalites, when in fact those killed were ordinary tribals whose only fault was that they did not join the Salwa Judum. Such cases are difficult to bring to light because they often take place in the remote interiors and the tribals often do not speak Hindi. The PUCL has been at the forefront of exposing these killings and other activities, wherein entire villages have allegedly been ravaged for not joining the Salwa Judum. Unfortunately for the Chhattisgarh government, the PUCL has been able to rally civil rights groups and the media across the country against the Salwa Judum. The arrest of Binayak Sen on May 14 is a result of this effort to put the truth out, says PUCL Chhattisgarh president Rajendra Sail.
The police also searched Sen’s organic farm without a search warrant in what, Sen and his family feared, was an attempt to plant evidence of Sen’s involvement in Naxalite activities by linking him to a jailed senior CPI (Maoist) leader, Narayan Sanyal. Sen often met Sanyal in jail and exchanged postcards with him, but this was all with the knowledge of jail authorities who were privy to these conversations. The PUCL says that Sen met Sanyal to enquire about his health and help him get medical attention. The immediate cause of Sen’s arrest was a letter found with Piyush Guha, a businessman, which was to be handed over to Sanyal. Guha has also been arrested and the police refuses to divulge the contents of the letter.
On May 21, the police searched Sen’s house and is now trying to use whatever they could lay their hands on as evidence. This includes CDs pertaining to five fake encounters, a computer cpu, books and pamphlets by or about Naxalites or Salwa Judum members.
Sen has not been arrested under the ipc or provisions of the crpc, but under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The CSPSA, which was passed after pota lapsed, is said to be even more draconian. The Act has a provision that makes punishable verbal or written communication and representation or publication or broadcast of anything relating to Maoist activities. A number of local journalists have been threatened and silenced using these provisions.
Sen’s arrest came just when the Chhattisgarh administration was facing charges of having fake encounters conducted by the Salwa Judum. On March 31, seven tribals were killed in an “encounter” in Santoshpur village. Civil society activists say that the Chhattisgarh Police and Salwa Judum officers took the seven from Ponjer village to Santoshpur to kill them. The police claims they were members of the Sangham, the Naxalite wing composed of local tribals. An autopsy confirmed foul play but the state government has only ordered a police inquiry. Home Minister Ram Vichar Netam has gone on record saying that no action would be taken against the police officials. The police officials investigating the case say that the killings were committed by Naxalites dressed as policemen. However, an anonymously shot video shows the spo sarpanch of Santoshpur spilling the beans (available at cgnet.in/santoshpur).
It is feared that Sen’s arrest may be followed by arrests of other activists in Raipur. Activists in other parts of the country could also be targetted. In Mumbai, the police have arrested one Arun Ferreira, who wanted to be a priest, for his alleged involvement in Naxalite activities. In February this year, the Union Home ministry was on the verge of acting against overground Naxalite symapthisers including academics and former bureaucrats, for statements they had made in a seminar in Delhi.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has issued a notice to the Chhattisgarh government asking it to explain its support to the Salwa Judum. This was in response to a petition filed by Nandini Sundar, Ramachandra Guha and EAS Sarma demanding an end to government support for the Salwa Judum; an independent inquiry into all killings, rape and arson whether by the Salwa Judum, security forces or Naxalites; registration of FIRs and prosecution of those found guilty; compensation to those affected by the Salwa Judum on the same lines as victims of Naxalites; rehabilitation of those who wish to leave the Salwa Judum; and preventing the state government from appointing minors as Special Police Officers.
But the Salwa Judum may die with a whimper even before the apex court passes a judgement. The Planning Commission, the Tribal Affairs ministry and the Panchayati Raj ministry have requested the Union Home ministry to stop funding the Salwa Judum and divert those funds towards development activities.