Thursday, July 20, 2006

Errabore Massacre - Things to learn and things to do

This monday, on 17th july late evening, around 600 maoists attacked the Errabore relief camp. Apparently first a batch of 100 armed maoists attacked the crpf camp nearby and engaged the armed policemen in a bullet battle, and then 500, most of them armed with machettes, axe and knives, rained down on the relief camp killing anybody and everybody. Nobody was spared, not even a one year old kid who was thrown into the fire by the maoists or a 80 year old woman who was hacked to death. What prompted the naxalites and their supporters to unleash this kind of violence? What was the hatred all about? Why were they shouting that "all of them (tribals living in relief camps) deserve to die"?

I was in Dantewada district in the month of May. There was a fairly high profile independent citizens initiative, that went there to find out the truth about Salwa Judum, the so called anti-naxal movement. I have already written quiet a bit about it. The team visited villages, talked with people and government officials, politicians and local leaders and have come to a conclusion that Salwa Judum is massive failure of the state government. They have published a report criticising the "outsourcing of law and order to a ragtag bunch", resulting in a escalation of violence by both sides. They were highly critical of the impunity enjoyed by the cadres of Salwa Judum for virtually any action, the entire relocation of tribals from villages to roadside camps and almost everything that is going on in the district of Dantewada. The ICI were highly successful in getting national and international media attention to the plight of tribals in Dantewada, and it echoed in the parliament as well. The government went into a backfoot, and there was real concern over the issue.

Just when everybody thought that Salwa Judoom is into the last stages, the maoists do this. They attacked a relief camp located at Errabore village in Konta. Let's analyse the attack. There were around 3000 villagers (men, women and children) staying in that camp. The camp was around 200 metres away from the crpf police station. The crpf had huge arms with them and were engaged in a pitch battle with the attackers. 10 naxals were killed by the CRPF. While this gunbattle was going on, 500 supporters rained down on the camp which sheltered the unarmed tribals and started desparate mayhem. All the houses were burnt down with many tribals burnt alive, at least 15 others were hacked to death, a one year child was thrown to the fire, and a 80 year old woman was shot down. Nobody could really understand the brutality involved in the massacre. The method of killing was such that to cause maximum pain to the victim. The naxalites are usually very cautious over their image among the civil society groups, but such kind of actions robs away even the little sympathy that they have fighting an unequal battle for the sake of ideology. After the attack, in broad daylight the salwa judoom identified three villagers among those assembled to be sangham members, and lynched them to death. In front of tv cameras and government officials!!!

Who were the attackers? It will be naive to assume that all 600 (800 according to some reports), were active naxal cadres. They were not. It was a massive operation with the active and passive supporters of the extremists playing a major role. Nearly 25% of them were armed with guns. It will be safe to assume that the rest of them were ordinary tribals, maoist symphathisers, who were there to execute the command to kill everyone in the camp. These were the people who caused the maximum destruction. Doing some sociological study from newspaper reports, web, my experience of living in Dantewada district, and my recent visit to the conflict region, I have found a very disturbing trend. While the fact remains that Salwa Judoom has pitted tribal against tribal war, I have reasons to believe that this has grown into a tribe vs tribe war in that region. I am not a sociologist, and I might be (and I wish I am) completely off the mark here.

According to this report, almost all of the non-naxal attackers at Errabore belonged to Gothikoya tribe. Gothikoyas have an interesting, but sad history of their evolution as hardcore supporters of people's war. They are one of the poorest tribes, even by the sub-saharan standards of tribes in Bastar, in Chhattisgarh-Andhra Pradesh border. Faced with starvation death, many of them moved to nearby Andhra Pradesh during 1995 to 2003. The migration caused considerable friction between them and the tribes in Andhra Pradesh. (search "Distress migration" in the linked page) Gothikoyas have long been supporters of people's war and their migration to AP was facilitated to a large extent by the naxals. They are a fierce tribe and have a high homicide rate among them. According to other tribes, "they seethe with anger on small matters and take to arms" (See item #5). Decades (or centuries) of neglect by the official government of India has led them into the hands of left wing extrimists. A majority of tribals living in the salwa judum camps were Koyas or Dorlas. Bastar has historically been a wonderful amalgamation of different tribes, who lived in harmony with each other in the same village for centuries. Salwa Judum and the counter retaliation by naxals has changed all that. The tribes (and not the tribals) are identified now as "pro-naxal" and "pro-state". Between two extremely powerful forces, the tribal in Dantewada has entirely lost his/her own identity.

What is the future now? Will peace ever return to this once-pristine place? History shows that, once there is a schism put in between two communities sharing common land, conflicts become very common for all times to come. We have seen it in innumerable hindu-muslim riots in our country, or inter tribe killing wars in Assam in early 90s. How will the attackers and the attackees will learn to live in harmony with each other now? Will those tribes be able to forgive those who attacked and killed their children, without any initiative by the civil society and non-political groups?

No way, Iam absolving the Salwa Judoom campaign. They are equally guilty. Last month, on June 8th, the maoists called a meeting in Davarpalli village near Dornapal. Somebody leaked it to the CRPF. The crpf raided the meeting in its full force, and started heavy firing and greanade shelling. There is no confirmation on the number of civilians killed, which if some sources are to be believed, number upto 150. Calling several people from that area gave me no confirmed reports, with the same person saying different numbers on different days. The naxals claim that they didn't suffer any casualties, as they had somehow got the whif of crpf raid. But the fact remains that a large number of civilians were killed by paramilitary forces with nothing being done about it. Similarly a couple of months ago, sarpanch of a few villages decided to visit Raipur and ask the chief minister to stop the brutal Judum campaign for the sake of their safety and security. The administration got a whiff of it. The sarpanches were bought to Bijapur police station and beaten black and blue and sent back.

What can we do? What is our role as citizens of this country, as fellow human beings? How long can we remain silent, a mute spectator to the destruction that the state and the outlaws are causing in the very center of this country? Most of us have condemned the incident, but does our role end with mere condemnation? Will the maoists listen to us? Will the state listen to us? On feb 28th, the maoists blasted a truck of villagers near Darmagura. Their only fault was they were returning from a BJP rally. 30 tribals died in the explosion, and around 26 who survived were hacked to death by the maoists immediately. Everybody condemned that incident, and the maoists immediately issued an apology. Did they truly apologize. Within a couple of months their national leader, Ganapathi, issued a statement hailing the attack. Within 20 days, they kidnapped 42 villagers from Manikonta, made them (even the women) drink urine, and killed 15 of them. How long will we be demanding such fake apologies?


At 1:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that Naxalism has become a big menace - as big as terrorism- but still not unmanageable see points in your writing but what I fail to understand that even though you criticize naxal movt .to the core but you allow your writings to be posted on the web page hailing the naxalism as a great movt, fighting for a great cause. I am talking about the article by you critisizing Salwa judum, which has been linked to a Maoist supporter web page of Stalingam.
Frankly speaking I do not have much Idea about Salwa jadum. But I strongly feel if you can eliminate naxalites, then its reactionaries like salwa judume would automatically go. Salwa judum may be brain child of administration, police officials etc as you say in your previous writing . But you tell me don’t we fight violence by violence. The whole idea of police force, Army, Paramilitary is meant for fighting violence by violence albeit in the guise for “justice” and maintaining law and order etc. But you may call it “mindful violence” as you have previously called the violence by terrorist and naxalites as “mindless”. Any way the whole concept of “violence”, “justice” and “law and order” is highly subjective.
I just want to bring out that your stand is not all clear. You seem to be highly confused. You do not support Naxalite (not even in the dreams I guess), nor Salwa judum activist nor administration nor law enforcing agencies (like police action, paramilitary etc) or NGO’s working there ( you have accused them of partiality). So what’s the way forward? How do you think the peace and progress can come to the region, not just there but in other part of the country, which is no less affected by the naxalite? But don’t say to me that, the solution lies in making every section and stakeholders to work in tandem. Had this been the case there would have been no problem at all.

At 1:18 am, Blogger Anoop Saha said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for your comments. I was waiting for somebody to ask me precisely this question. How can I be fundamentally oppossed to two essentially conflicting trends, that of naxalites and that of Salwa Judoom? You have rightly undestood that I don't support naxalites even in my dreams.
In fact I have made a post in December on the same issue, at that time I was not at all critical of the movement. I saw Salwa Judum through the media's eyes, and being naturally oppossed to naxalism thought it to be a great idea. But further reports, fact finding teams to Bastar, incidents that happenned with friends and relatives, and my own visit to Bastar convinced me that Salwa judum is no peace movement. It is attrocious to the adivasis living in and around Dantewada. Iam not against, and have never been against, our police and army fighting the armed maoists. But the state cannot give a rusted 303 to a tribal, and send him/her to fight with the ak-47 wielding maoists. The state cannot force people to leave their villages and live in camps. The state cannot systematically destroy the adivasi way of life, in what is essentially a war to reclaim lost land.
The state cannot be a party to victimisation of its own citizens.
Finally, my article was linked by both pre-naxalite naxalrevolution blog, and anti-naxalite naxalwatch blog. As long as they credit me, and don't misrepresent the contents, I should not have anny issues.


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