Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Letter to editors on power blackout in Bastar,India

(Nandini Sunder-Fighting for the cause of people on the right)

15h June

The Editors


Nai Duniya

Dainik Bhaskar

Highway Channel


Daily Chhattisgarh


and others

Dear Sirs

This is not a press statement, but a personal letter to each
of you.I hope you will publish it.

I was in Dantewada recently in order to depose before the
NHRC investigating team, which has been ordered by the Supreme Court to
investigate into Salwa Judum. Apart from one interview to ETV, which I gave
regarding the illegal detention of victims who had come to depose before the
NHRC team, by the Salwa Judum and police in Konta, I was neither asked for any
statement by the press nor did I give one, either on Salwa Judum or on the
Naxalites; One newspaper has correctly reported that I refused to speak to the press.

However, I find that the newspapers in Chhattisgarh have published stories questioning why human rights groups who were in Chhattisgarh during the blackout did not mention it and have accused us of being one-sided.Therefore, as one of the petitioners before the Supreme Court, I would like to respond to this.

If I were to issue statements every time the Maoists did
something I disapproved of, I would do nothing but issue press releases. I am a
full time teacher and researcher and do not have the time to respond to every
violation whether by the Maoists, the Salwa Judum or the security forces.
However, on several occasions, which are publicly documented through my
writings and whenever I have spoken on the subject, I have condemned the
violence of the Salwa Judum and security forces as well as the Maoists.

As far as the power blackout goes, there is no doubt that it
is a serious violation of the rights of people, especially those who are in
hospitals, or otherwise dependent on power for basic essentials like water. I
do not know why the Maoists have done this. One theory is that it is part of a
plan to cripple urban infrastructure and industry; while another theory is that
they want people in towns to suffer in the same way as villagers are suffering
under Salwa Judum. Either way, the logic is warped. Indeed, the second is
similar to the logic used by the Indian Mujahedeen who bombed Jaipur ? that
because enough citizens had not protested against the genocide in Gujarat,
everyone of them was a combatant, and therefore liable to be killed in war. If
they must engage in war, it is essential that the Maoists observe the Geneva
conventions and make a distinction between activities that affect civilians and
others. Further, they should realize that rather than awakening urban non-adivasi
residents to the sufferings of the adivasi villagers, this kind of activity
simply alienates them further.

At the same time, when the Chief Minister and police top
brass highlight only the blackout as a human rights abuse, and remain silent on
the rest, it can only further alienate the villagers and drive them into the
arms of the Naxalites. The right of urban residents to electricity cannot be
seen as a more fundamental right than the right to life of hundreds of adivasis
who have been killed, women who have been raped, or villagers who have had
their houses burnt, and on all of which the government is completely silent. On
the contrary, it actively covers up all violations of rights by the Salwa Judum
leaders, SPOs, police and security forces.

For nearly two decades now, I have been observing the complete polarization of adivasis and non-adivasis in Bastar. The towns are dominated by non-adivasis; officials,
shopkeepers and traders, journalists and others. Their derogatory attitude
towards adivasis is evident in many ways, including the Bastar government
website, which describes them as savages, who are only interested in drinking
and sex. One journalist in Dantewada proudly told me that he knows no adivasi
language. Under such circumstances, how can you expect fair reporting on what
is happening to adivasis? Of course, I recognize that the media faces many
constraints, but attitudes are also an important part of why certain groups,
especially the poor, are neglected.

The power blackout is, of course, condemnable, but so is the
media blackout on the truth of Salwa Judum. The power blackout is wrong, but so
is the darkness in which the majority of adivasi villagers live. Leave alone
electricity, they lack access to food, education and health. Salwa Judum has
made this worse. The team of students which visited recently, came across
several villages where people are unable to show serious cases to the doctor or
get salt from the haats, because the SPOs and Salwa Judum have blocked
their way.

I appeal to the media and to all concerned citizens to wake
up to the seriousness of the situation and investigate what is happening in
Dantewada for themselves instead of relying only on the police or government
version. If this kind of indifference to violence continues, the problem will
inevitably spread. The Government has failed in providing security to its
people, especially since it refuses to see that Salwa Judum is part of the
problem and not the solution. On the other side, the Maoists are also hurting the
cause of the very people they claim to be fighting for.

Ceasefire, dialogue and peace are the only way out, and the
sooner both sides realize this, the better for the country as a whole.

Yours sincerely

Nandini Sundar

cc: CG NET

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