Monday, Aug 15, 2022

Bastar Yearns For Peace

The Maoist insurgency has exposed the people of this region to such a spiral of violence that now nobody wants to go back to it. People want to look beyond the struggle between the government and Maoists.

A CRPF unit during an area domination patrol in Sukma, Chhattisgarh
A CRPF unit during an area domination patrol in Sukma, Chhattisgarh Getty Images

Chhattisgarh has been affected by the Naxal movement for a long time. In the Dandakaranya region, the shadow of the Naxal movement first appeared in the 1980s and it gradually took over most of the region. At one point, these areas came to be known as Lalgarh (Red Fortress), where the local government mechanism had negligible presence. The Naxal movement rapidly spread across the entire region and managed to attract Adivasis to their cause. 

Soon Naxal violence intensified and reached its peak in the first decade of the millennium. Many common Adivasis were killed over allegations of being police informants, and several major attacks were carried out against security forces, in which apart from those in uniform, civilians also fell victim to the violence and widespread damage was caused to public property. This resulted in the common people fearing for their security. Schools or hostels were shut down or shifted elsewhere. The battle between security forces and Naxals adversely affected people’s daily lives and the region lagged behind by decades in terms of development. 

In such a backdrop, on April 14, 2017, Maoists ambushed a patrolling party of security forces in the Burkapal village of Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, killing 25 jawans, who were patrolling a road construction in Jagargunda area. In retaliation, the security forces took action against a large number of people from six villages close to Burkapal, and 121 local adivasis were jailed over allegations of helping Naxals or being Naxals. They faced charges under several sections including the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The accused adivasis remained in prison for five years. Investigative agencies were unable to present any evidence against the accused, which led to these adivasis being acquitted. 

Jagargunda is situated at the far end of the Bastar division’s Sukma district. Before the Naxal movement spread in the area, there was a major market here, which completely shut down once the movement grew strong. People from several nearby and distant localities depended on this market for their daily and domestic needs. In 2005, the Salwa Judum was launched in Bastar to end the Naxalism, and soon the Jagargunda road was closed down. 

Once the Jagargunda market was shut down, the roads fell out of use and became deserted. The entire area came under the dominance of Maoists. 

After the recent decline in violence, the reopening of the road was a major challenge for the government. This necessitated the road repair work and these jawans had been deployed in the security of the construction agency. But the Naxals believe that once the road reopened, it would lead to increased presence of the security forces. This is why most attacks are carried out by ambushing road opening parties during construction of roads or patrolling. These attacks result in security forces and police retaliating against a large number of adivasis on mere suspicion. On the other hand, the Naxals also kill many villagers on the suspicion of being police informers. The villagers are being crushed between the police and the Naxals. 

The probe against the arrested accused in Bastar is so slow that it takes years to get a verdict. Many accused often get acquitted for the lack of sufficient evidence. These tribals first end up serving long jail time without any reason and then bear the brunt of being tagged as a Naxal even after their acquittal. The attitude of the government, police and investigative agencies remains callous, as they do not have any plan to remedy it. Thousands of adivasis remain behind bars in Bastar, as the speed of investigations is disheartening. 

Due to Naxals making inroads into Bastar and the government agencies failing to provide security to people, there has been a widespread migration to neighboring states in search of a secure life. They were forced to leave their lands and villages. The migration has also led to problems of employment and education. Many children were forced to drop off, and many were forced to work as laborers to feed their families. 

The fight between the government and Naxals has not only made the locals witness inhuman violence, it also forced them to give up their own lands and homes. An entire generation grew up deprived of school education. To top it all, a large number of people lost their family members to the violence. The Maoist insurgency has exposed the people of this region to such a spiral of violence that now nobody wants to go back to it. People want to look beyond the struggle between the government and Maoists. 

This violence has destroyed several generations. The common adivasi now wants a speedy probe and resolution of such cases, so that the people languishing in jails can come out and lead a normal life. Adivasis want a happy and prosperous Bastar, without even a shadow of violence. 

Mangal Kunjam is a Dantewada-based journalist.