Sunday, November 15, 2009

Operation tribal hunt?

Madvi Mukesh, 18 months, is missing three fingers, lost when security forces allegedly killed his mother

Those who haven't read today's The New Sunday Express please read this.

Operation tribal hunt?
Javed IqbalFirst Published : 15 Nov 2009

DANTEWADA(CHHATTISGARH): The authorities call it Operation Green Hunt, going by the conventional wisdom that the Maoists being chased — in Chattisgarh in this case — fight from thick jungles. But many of the victims appear to have nothing to do with the insurgency.

Witness accounts, in one instance among others, show that security forces killed seven people in Goompad village of Konta Block in Dantewada district in the concerted action that began six weeks ago. Two more people were killed from the neighbouring Bandaarpar village the same day.

In Goompad, Madvi Yankaiya (age 50) was hacked to death with an axe, his brother Madvi Joga said. Madvi Bajaar (50), his wife Madvi Subhi

(45), their daughters Madvi Kanama (20) and Madvi Mooti, (8) were killed, as their home was closest to the approaching forces. Also killed were their neighbours, Soyam Subaiya (20) and Soyam Subhi (18). They had been married only for a year.

The Adivasis of Bastar have little or no use for the Roman calendar; so it is hard to calculate the date of the attack, or the exact age of the victims. But surviving witnesses put it around the first week of October — which was the time that Green Hunt commenced. The Dantewada SP said an encounter took place at Goompad on October 1. They produced no bodies of alleged Naxalites at the police station. It was claimed that the villagers carried away the bodies of the dead.

On the day of the attack, most of the villagers fled when they heard gunfire and screams. Few looked back to see what was happening. But they did see that the attackers wore ‘punjaar gadu’, which, translated from Gondi to Hindi, means ‘phoolwale kapde’ — an adivasi way to describe jungle fatigues.

Many villagers left for the Andhra Pradesh border with just the clothes on their backs and a few other items. A few returned after the security forces left to assess the damage. Two homes were burning. And lying before one was 18-month-old Madvi Mukesh, covered in blood, crying next to the remains of his aunt, Madvi Mooti (8).

He was missing three fingers. His mother lay in a pool of blood — as also his maternal grandparents.

The villagers who returned to bury the bodies claim they saw numerous stab wounds on the bodies of most victims. One said Mukesh lost three fingers in an attack with a sharp object on his 20-year old mother. He was spared.Mukesh’s father was in another village that day and would meet his first born again only when they’d crossed the state border to enter Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh. More than half the villagers of Goompad are now internally displaced persons (IDPs), living in fear of the AP authorities. They don’t mean to return home. Interestingly, only the villagers of the Dorla tribe fled. The Muria tribals have remained at Goompad.

All the dead are Dorla. Their ‘para’ or section bore the brunt of the assault — the rest had time to escape into the jungle.

At Goompad, villagers claim there are an equal number of Muria and Dorla families. The first Muria family came around 25 years ago. Now the ratio is almost equal. There have been no inter-tribal tensions in this village.

“We go to their festivals, they come to ours,” said one IDP in an undisclosed village in Khammam district.

“What about the Naxalites? Have they done anything to you?” I asked.


“Have they done anything good for you?”


“Then what?”

“Sometimes they come and take us for meetings and sometimes they ask us for food when we barely have enough, but they mostly leave us alone.”

Goompad is in the interior. It is off the road, devoid of government services, always seen as a ‘Naxalite supporting’ village by the security forces. Villagers never openly criticise the Naxalites for fear of informers lurking in their midst. But I often speak to them alone. I asked another villager, ‘Have the Naxalites ever beaten anyone here in this village?”

“Once, when a man didn’t want to go to a meeting.”

Union Home minister P Chidambaram may be right when he says Green Hunt is a media creation — for a version of it has been happening in Chhattisgarh over the last four years.

The security forces have indiscriminately killed non-combatants in areas not

under government control. The victims are termed as Naxalites. The press in Chhattisgarh is harassed and reporters imprisoned for talking to villagers, so few are willing to enter these areas. There are reports that villagers were also punished for talking to reporters and outsiders. The pattern persists — the security forces comb an area, claim they killed Naxalites, and villagers speak of atrocities — provided someone listens.

Many have migrated to Andhra Pradesh, Others do not leave Chhattisgarh but retreat further into the jungles. Those who do go to AP tend to return because of harassment from the authorities and the local populace. Their new settlements are often burnt down.

Meanwhile, 315 new families from Chhattisgarh have migrated to AP. Each police station has a list of local tribals. Anyone not on the list is a suspected Naxalite. Intra-village tensions often take place over land — in Maamillavaye village of Khamam district, the resident tribals burnt the settlements of the Chhattisgarh arrivals. They also burnt the settlements of IDPs living for the last four years. Some have been there for over 10 years.

Eventually, a compromise was reached with the help of local activists. The villagers of Maamillavaye promised to rebuild the IDP settlement.

At Kamantome village, also in Khammam, a recent alleged Naxalite encounter saw nine villagers detained for six days. Seven were released without charge. Two, Madvi Hidma and Sodhi Oonga, are still in Warangal jail. Kamantome is a village of the Muria tribe. Most of them have been there for four years — escaping the Salwa Judum-Naxalite conflict. They have neither ration cards nor voter Ids. Each villager possesses two to three acres of land and is in constant dispute with the neighbouring native Muria villagers.

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