Why does the media refuse to report this from Chhattisgarh?
It is predictable but shocking that “security analysts” would respond to the July 9 encounter between police and Maoists in the Elampalli-Regadgatta forests with calls for more force, more troops and more deaths all around. But any question of security requires one to ask: whose security, at what cost, and by what means.
We can no longer blithely assume that the security of the State automatically translates into the security of its people. It certainly does not seem that way to 15-year-old Jaya (all names changed) who had to leave her village midway through her 10th class board exams this year because of the Salva Judum. Having heard that the Salva Judum and police were burning houses and raping women three km away in the neighbouring village, there was only time to climb into a tractor with the rest of her family and flee. Jaya now lives in a bare hut somewhere in Andhra Pradesh, two km away from the nearest water source. She wants to study further, but how can she? There are no Hindi schools where she is, and she has to work if she wants to eat.
That more forces will be posted to Dantewada is hardly likely to make Shanti, the young mother of a two-year-old, feel more secure — not after the Salva Judum and police invaded her village, raped her, cut off her hair and dressed her in a uniform to make her look like a captured Naxalite. Shanti was ill which is why she was in the village — everyone else had run away.
We are repeatedly told that the Salva Judum is a peace movement, but even a brief visit this summer resulted in dozens of accounts of villagers killed by the Salva Judum, none of whom had anything to do with Naxal violence. The actual numbers are likely to be over a thousand. On the bus to Dantewada, a co-passenger who had been in the police briefly, told me that he left the job because his life had been miserable. “In three months last summer we shot 60-70 people on patrol in Bijapur,” he said. “Were all of them Naxalites?” I asked. “None of them were Naxalites,” he replied. “Sometimes an SPO would point out someone and tell us to shoot, sometimes we shot simply because the villager was running away and refused to stop when we called out.” “Did you record these deaths somewhere?” I asked. He looked shocked. “Our jobs would be in trouble if we did. We left the bodies in the jungles. We recorded it as an encounter only if someone was actually wearing a uniform or carrying a weapon.” Perhaps this is what explains an internal Chhattisgarh police report, which lists 325 encounters in 2006, 250 Naxalites killed but only 69 bodies recovered. According to the Home Minister of Chhattisgarh, between 2005-2007, only 119 Naxalites were killed.
What is particularly remarkable is the degree to which the media has cooperated with the government in blanking out the scale of State terror in Chhattisgarh. What the newspapers report creates an impression of endless one-sided violence. The hundreds of murders of civilians perpetrated by the security forces and Salva Judum vigilantes do not figure at all. Some of this might be explained by the threats issued by Salva Judum activists and the paramilitaries to independent observers and journalists, including physical attacks on local journalists (most recently, Salva Judum activists at Errabor camp attacked the ig, Bastar, and a Sahara Samay reporter after the July 9 incident).
The Maoists have said they will engage in dialogue and ceasefire. The government says it is willing to talk if the Maoists give up violence. The government’s claim to a monopoly on legitimate violence would be far more convincing if the government did not itself support certain kinds of private violence, arming renegade militants (like the Tigers and Cobras in Andhra Pradesh) to kill human rights activists or granting license to kill in the name of Salva Judum. No doubt, one day, there will be peace and perhaps even “security”, but it is not clear to me who among the indigenous inhabitants will be left to enjoy it.