In Raipur, most conversations revolve around the new malls mushrooming every other day or the new world class stadium. However, the moment you take a detour on the road to Bastar, the narrative changes to the very existence of human survival and a conflict of a state with the state. Bastar is a representation of everything that is wrong with the process of governance and the discourse on development.
While the basic question of development, for whom is still to be resolved, the mighty Indian state has found a new way to answer in its own way- by converting the zone into a black hole.
Chhattisgarh has of late been converted into Police Garh –A Police state. Police in its attempt to clean Bastar of naxals is also cleaning up democratic voices, threatening fearless journalists and harassing the lawyers and activist fighting to establish constitutional ideals in Naxal affected areas. An atmosphere of terror prevails in Bastar. Administration is treating democracy as a challenge to development. People’s hopes are being sacrificed at the altar of a mighty Police system.
These democratic voices are not only obstructed but are forced to leave the area. Eminent social scientist Bela Bhatia was declared a Naxal stooge and pressure is mounting on her to leave. Tribal rights activist Soni Sori was attacked in February. Former head of the International Red Cross in Chhattisgarh, Malini Subramaniam, a journalist who covers the region for Scroll.in was forced to leave under intimidating circumstances. The lawyer’s collective group Jagdalpur Legal Aid group who have been at the forefront of fighting battles for undertrials in the region have also had to leave. BBC journalist Alok Prakash Putul had to leave Bastar as well after having received threats to his life.
Over the last six months, 4 journalists have been arrested on frivolous charges of circulating obscene material on a Whatsapp group, entering an examination hall (while he was there to report on alleged cheating), and false charges of having association with Maoists. The situation in the region in so terrifying that it has been flagged by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Editors Guild of India.
The alleged police action in these incidents has been highlighted by civil society groups and the victims of high handed Police action. The man at the centre of this is IG Police of Bastar region, S.R.P.Kalluri.
Kalluri is a controversial man. He is held responsibe by many for the alleged human right violations and barbaric Police action in the name of clearing the area of Naxals. Kalluri has been accused of custodial rape, and social worker Swami Agnivesh has even pointed towards his alleged role in an attack on him.
The protests highlighted above are being led by Samajik Ekta Manch (SEM), a vigilante group which the administration claims is a social group. The forum, according to its members, was formed to “counter Naxalism in Bastar and support the police in its work.”
Police is using organisations like SEM to suppress democracy at work. SEM allegedly has the full backing of local police and its members have often shared stage with top police officials including IGP S.R.P. Kalluri.
Not surprisingly, the high handed police action in Bastar region finds its reflection in a sudden spike in number of encounter and fake surrenders.
Kalluri took charge of Bastar Region as IG in June 2014. Between January 2012 and May 2014, the seven districts of Bastar had seen just 29 Maoist surrenders. This number shot up to 377 surrenders in less than six months starting June 2014. State Intelligence Bureau has rejected many of these cases because they don’t qualify under “the surrender policy of the state government”.
There has been a definite change in strategy after visit of Ajit Doval and the administration has justified its actions under Mission 2016-of clearing the area of naxals. Jagdalpur Legal Aid group in an interview to Caravan said :
“SRP Kalluri told us that he was appointed to clear up this area so we can have another Bhilai or Raipur in Chhattisgarh. He has certain kind of immunity, and we don’t know where it is coming from. He also said that he had been appointed by “Modiji himself.”
As Arundhati Roy points out, the biggest secessionist movement in India is being spearheaded in the very heart of India. While a new buzz of 'Make in Chhattisgarh' is being promoted, this seems an attempt to improve Bastar’s rank in ease of doing business by removing all the other 'distractions'.
Politics has failed the aspirations of people. While Raman Singh led BJP government in the state has turned a blind eye to such violations, Congress has often been accused of tacitly supporting such actions. So much so that a top Congress leader from the region was often termed as 15th member of Raman Singh Cabinet, owing to his proximity to Government.
Tribals in the region are stuck in the cross fire. The original inhabitants are waiting to be heard. But the police are systematic as they make every effort to closing all the outlets and avenues through which their story can reach the outside world.
Democracy, dissent and constitution ends at the very road leading to Jagdalpur. Red lines are being drawn. But we fail to see them. After all, Dantewada is not Delhi and Bastar is not Bombay.