The Forest Rights Act

The Bijapur Killings

The inhuman callousness of the state on display

Friends,

The mass killing in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh, last Saturday by central and State police forces has highlighted one simple fact. The security forces and their Central and State heads have declared war on the adivasis of this area. Only this can explain the extraordinary callousness with which they have responded to Saturday's massacre.

Indeed, even the number of those dead is not clear. Some reports say 16, some say 17, and others say 20. As for how many "dreaded Maoists" (to use the media's favorite words) were killed, there too the government is not particularly bothered. According to the Chhattisgarh government on the first day, there were "two"; according to Home Minister Chidambaram, there were "three"; the CRPF DG says there were "four or five"; now, according to some reports, there were seven. The most likely answer is that of the local community, which is that there were none.

What no one from the government has even bothered to explain yet is why so many people are dead - even if all the government's claims are true. Why were the villagers gunned down? Why were bodies mutilated with axes? Why were women molested and men shot the next morning? These basic questions are something that the CRPF - which calls itself a "police force", not an occupying army - needs to answer. The claim that the CRPF was fired upon, even if true, is no justification for machine gunning a village meeting. Such mass slaughter of innocent people is not even legal under the laws of war. Indeed, US troops are facing prosecution after their massacre of 25 people in Iraq was exposed - they too claimed they had opened fire in "retaliation" after a bomb blast and a "firing."

But in the "world's largest democracy", the question of prosecution does not even arise. Home Minister Chidambaram nauseatingly refers to Operation Green Hunt as intended to "restore the rule of law" - but now all he has to say is that he is "deeply sorry", that too "if" innocent people died. In his view, the specious claim that three of those killed had "criminal records" justifies them being shot. He and the establishment he heads are not even bothered by the questions and demands of numerous mainstream parties, including his own, or for that matter those of his fellow cabinet Minister KC Deo. Meanwhile, the CRPF DG has told a news magazine that "it is not our job" to consider who a person is before killing them. The DG, too, shares Chidambaram's view of the world: "If, by bad luck, innocents were hurt, it is a matter of regret."

Is this what the government believes about adivasis - that they can simply be killed at will when convenient for its "counter insurgency"? Is this the definition of the "rule of law" - where any protest, armed or unarmed, is met with massive force, while massacres of people are met with expressions of "regret"?

The DG let slip the deeper logic of what is happening when he compared the situation in Bijapur to that of Saranda, saying "What is required is what is happening in Saranda." But, out of 800 acres in Saranda Forest Division, 500 are being sought for mining, while 24 police camps are being built. So this is what is "required" - use indiscriminate firepower, kill innocents, wipe out resistance by calling every protest "Maoist", and deploy thousands of police - so that the area can then be mined to destruction.1

The sheer brutality of this vision is the best testament to the collapse of the Indian state's democratic credentials in India's forests and tribal areas.

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

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1Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh's recent pious statements about private firms not being permitted to mine in Saranda are both irrelevant - he has no power over the issue - and disingenuous, for the devastation caused by mining is not in any way reduced when the mining is done by a public sector company.

 
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