A 17 member team of civil liberties and democratic rights organisations from Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Manipur, UP, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Jharkhand visited 3 districts Latehar, Garhwa and Palamau from March 25th to 29th 2012 to investigate some recent cases of violations as well as do a follow up of some of the cases from the past.
Jharkhand has been in news for both peoples’ struggle against water, forest and land grab, and operation green hunt. There has been a proliferation of security forces, police pickets, CRPF base camps, specifically in places where people’s struggles are growing.
This is only indicative of the forms in which state is trying to suppress mass struggles against anti-people development policies. The cases that were investigated highlight the lopsided development policy, in the wake of which a number of issues get highlighted.
The team did an on-the-spot investigation of ten cases, of which some are as briefly described below:
- Case of Sanjay Prasad, Barwadih market, Latehar: Just as we were leaving to visit the spot of the first fact finding, the father and brother of one Sanjay Prasad came to meet us to narrate what had just befallen him. He was called by the police on the 21st of March as part of some ongoing investigation. For four days he remained in custody while police claimed he was left the very first day. Two days later he was shown arrested from a forest area between Mandal and Chemu Sanya. On 26th morning when the press reported of his disappearance, the police said that they have arrested Sanjay and charged him of being a Maoist and planting a bomb somewhere between Mandal and Chemu Sanya. The important thing to note is that no bomb explosion in this area occurred in 2012 at all.
- Case of Jasinta Devi, Laadi village, Latehar: After an encounter between the Maoists and the CRPF in Laadi village of Latehar district on 27th April 2010, the CRPF in their post-operations search, alleged the Maoists to be hiding in Jasinta Devi’s house. The CRPF threatened to set the house on fire if the occupants didn’t step out immediately. Jasinta Devi requested the police to allow her to fetch the old charwaha who was then in the backyard of the house. As she moved towards the main door along with the charwaha, Jasinta devi, mother of three, was shot down and the charwaha suffered injuries. Bullet marks can even today be spotted in the house and call for justice remains unheard. Since she died at the hands of the police she was entitled to 5 lakh rupees as ex-gratia payment and a job, but the promise still remains unfulfilled as the family has got only one lakh rupees till date. As far as the guilty police officers are concerned, no action has been taken. Not even the FIR could be prepared against the victim’s complaint.
- Case of Lucas Minj, Navarnago village, Latehar: Lucas Minj, a deaf and dumb resident of the Navarnago village, was shot in cold blood by the CRPF on 1st February 2012, while he was out with his cattle for grazing and failed to respond to the police’s questions. His description was found by the villagers at Dhol Parwala in Koel river after five days of his killing. No compensation has reached the family till date. And no action has been taken against the police personnel.
- Baligarh and Homea Villages, Garhwa: In Baligarh and Homea village was witnessed a matter of land grab involving corporates like Essar and Jindal with the connivance of feudal elements. It was found that Ram Narayan Pandey alias Phullu Pandey and some others had surreptitiously sold tribal and dalit land to these corporate houses in the past one year, including Bhoodan land which cannot legally be sold or purchased. Fake documents of land ownership were fabricated in the name of Pandey for land on which the annual rent was regularly being paid by the rural poor since long. A total of 115 acres in Homea and 338 acres in Baligarh had already been transferred in this way, leaving the poor owners, who had struggled for almost 25 years for this very land, in the lurch. Villagers also added that Phullu Pandey was responsible for a number of rape cases in the village but not in a single instance was punitive action ever taken against him. Thanks to the changed balance of power following the arrival of corporate companies and police and paramilitary reinforcements, 10,000 villagers in the area now face the threat of life, livelihood and security.
- Case of Ramdas Minj and Fida Hussain, Garhwa District: On 21st of January 2012, Ramdas Minj, the adivasi mukhiya, and Fida Hussain, a fakir, of Bargad Village of Garhwa district were taken into police custody along with 3 others on being accused of serving food to some Maoists. On the same day, the villagers had held a peaceful protest against the construction of a Health Sub Centre (Up Swaasthya Kendra) in their Gram Panchayat at a site used by them for selling forest produce. People from Tehri, Bargad, Paraswaar, also a few neighbouring villages from Chattisgarh use this market. Just when these 5 villagers were at the police station, a landmine blast was triggered by Maoists at Bhandaria. Now, the police accused the five who were already in their custody of diverting their attention through the peaceful protest so as the help the Maoists trigger the blast. They were beaten black and blue. Three were later let go, while Ramdas Minj and Fida Hussain still languish in prison under very serious charges. This, we found, was a glaring instance of how popular struggles of the rural poor are suppressed under the garb of fighting the Maoists.
- Case of Kutku-Mandal dam, Sanya village, Garhwa District: Sanya happens to be the native village of Nilambar and Pitambar, the legendary heroes of Jharkhand who became martyrs in the struggles for land that they led against the British. Today it is one of the 32 villages which are threatened with submergence and 13 others which are considered adversely affected by the Kutku-Mandal dam project. The terms of compensation in lieu of rehabilitation of the oustees were framed on the basis of a survey conducted several decades ago. Over the years, the original settlers have multiplied many times over. Yet only a few of the families tilling the land today are considered entitled for compensation. Rehabilitation has been offered at Marda, an area known to be most unfit for cultivation. This happens to be one of the most severely affected areas targeted by the repressive campaigns of the CRPF and the state police.
- Case of Rajendra Yadav, Police Station Chhatarpur, Palamau: Rajendra Prasad was picked up from his house early morning on December 30, 2009 by the police and beaten to death at the then SP’s residence. The reason for having targeted him is not clear even today, and prolonged investigations by higher police officials have yielded no result. Meanwhile, Rajendra’s widow has, after consistent struggle, been compensated with a job, but the administration still refuses to even admit the guilt of the police personnel and senior officer, let alone punish them. Instead, the family and friends of the deceased are subject to intimidation, and obstructions posed when they gather each year to commemorate his death in public.
- Case of Behra-taand near Saryu pahad, Latehar: On 6th February 2012, 9 people including Gram pradhan Beefa Paraihiya from Behra-taand village were picked up and tortured by the CRPF, as a result of which the pradhan had his right eye injured. They were beaten up following the unsubstantiated charge of having served food to some Maoists. It became clear that it took mere suspicion on the part of the police to cause bodily harm to villagers as long as the operations continued against the Maoists.
- Case of Birju Oraon, Murgidih village, Latehar: In Murgidih village, a young man named Birju Oraon was caught at Chhatwa Karam by the CRPF while he was returning from a family ceremony in February 2012. He was beaten up by the police, and all his fingers chipped, apparently with a cable-cutter, for no rhyme or reason. Later when the issue received media attention, he was compensated in the presence of local journalists with a sack of grain by the police, itself an act of admission that the wrong had been done. Subsequently, when the news of this incident spread, the police forced Birju to state at a press conference that he could not have recognized the assailants as he was drunk at that time.
- The fact-finding team found that in recent years a number of cases of indiscriminate killings by the police and the CRPF had come to light, and there was no progress till date in terms of justice to the victims and the affected families. It shows how impunity prevails in this area, which in the eyes of the public tends to reduce a number of officials from the plethora of security agencies to the likes of mere anti-social elements.
In the course of our rural investigation, we could have an unscheduled meeting with a squad of the CPI (Maoist). We got to know their version of the dire situation in Jharkhand, the details of which we shall share in our final report.
Nevertheless, we would like to draw attention here towards the issue of government-sponsored militant groups [TPC, JPC, PLFI, JJMP, JLT, etc.] who are in reality sheltered by the police, but are passed off as naxal groups, thus giving the false impression that it is an internecine fight between the naxalites.
This seems to be the new form in which Salwa-Judum like operations are being conducted by the police in Jharkhand.
According to the CPI (Maoist), these are vigilante forces being employed not only to annihilate them, but also to hold naxalites responsible for anti-social activities sponsored by the police themselves. It is interesting as an observation that the use of CLA 1908 and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) has enabled the government to treat Naxalites or Maoists as ordinary criminals, whereas notwithstanding the strategy and tactic they may employ, they remain at the head of a political movement.
While we are pleased that the CPI (Maoist) showed the willingness to meet and interact with us, it was rather unfortunate that the senior police administration, when approached, did not show much interest in meeting and interacting with us.
In the course of our investigations the underlying reality of various issues also emerged. One was regarding the manner in which the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) was being implemented, the other being about the threat of submergence which hundreds of villagers faced due to the Kudku dam project. The problem in Sanya village is that although the project has de facto been stalled, yet for government agencies, the project still remains effective.
The 32 affected villages are thus no more beneficiaries of any of the government’s welfare programs, such as aanganwaadi, schools, primary health centers and the like. Another problem that they are now facing is that their fertile land which used to yield two crops a year is now yielding only one because of the decrease in the natural flow of water as well as ground water, due to the partial construction of the concrete structure of the dam.
The team believes that a number of rights which the people should be entitled of, by virtue of the Chhota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) and Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Acts, and Wilkinson’s rule, have been ignored by the government. And now, with the state government’s move, backed by the Centre, to amend the CNT Act, it is only going to take away the land rights of adivasis which they had won after long years of struggle. The more recently enacted Forest Rights Act was also not been enforced, thus depriving the people of their legally sanctioned right of ownership of land and resources. This applied to the areas that faced the threat of submergence due to the dam project as well as those where land had been surreptitiously been sold to Jindal and Essar, as in Baligarh and Homea. Nowhere have the village committees that are supposed to be constituted under the Forest Rights Act been formed till now. Individual and collective rights of the community have been completely ignored.
Investigations of the above cases also highlight how peoples’ struggles over issues of land alienation, are suppressed by implicating these people into various false cases. Accusing people of being Maoist or supporters of the Maoists comes in handy for this very purpose. The police seemed to have become a lawless force under the cover of Operation Greenhunt, even as hardly any punitive action would be taken against them for the crimes they may have committed.
It is important to note that cases that we investigated appeared to be only the tip of the iceberg. There was an unfathomable demand from people in village after village to investigate atrocities and excesses by the security forces. Unfortunately the team, bound by the limitations of time and resources, felt at a loss to take up the innumerable cases. So even though this fact finding is just a random sample of incidents, they are surely representative of a general phenomenon. Even worse, the follow up of a few old cases showed that it was a hugely difficult and uphill task for people to get justice.
People with large landholdings, traders/contractors and large corporations seem to be thriving under the protection provided by forces such as CRPF which operates virtually as a lawless force. We are concerned that the problems are being compounded for the people by a variety of policies initiated by the government, both by centre and state. These are instances which point to where things are headed, apart from the concerns of people which have been ignored for all these decades.
We now find a situation where the presence and proliferation of pickets and CRPF base camps, some of them housed in schools & colleges, is turning these districts into a full-fledged war zone. There is a palpable fear among people that they will come under attack from this huge deployment of force amidst them when they go out for collection of mahua, tendu patta and other minor forest produce, which will affect both an important source of their livelihood as well as a very essential part of their way of life.
It is therefore, we demand:
- Operation green hunt should be stopped forthwith.
- CRPF should be withdrawn from these areas.
- CNT Act should not be amended.
- Forest Rights Act which provides individual and collective rights to forest dwellers should be implemented
- People’s opposition to various projects both pub and in the corporate sector should be looked afresh in order to that people’s opposition to them is given due priority that it deserves.
- All instances of CRPF & police brutality should be duly investigated into and action be taken immediately against the guilty personnel. Tribunal puts green nod to POSCO on hold