Voices From Chhattisgarh Echo in D-School.
The Department of Sociology of Delhi School of Economics, on 31st January 2017, organized a public meeting on the issue of Bastar.
Three people, who have lived in Chhattisgarh, were there to share their experiences. These were activists Manish Kunjam, Soni Sori and researcher Bela Bhatia.
Mr. Manish Kunjam, an adivasi himself, has been fighting for the rights of the Chhattisgarh people for a very long time now. He talked about his experience of the Salwa Judum operation. Salwa Judum is a militia that was mobilized and deployed in 2005 to counter the naxalite violence in the Chhattisgarh region. Manish Kunjam and a lot of other people have been fighting against it. They took out rallies against it and held public meetings. Schools and Ashrams were turned into police camps and they kept protesting it till the Supreme Court finally gave an order to remove them. This fight has not been easy for Mr. Manish and others. He said “Our meetings were interrupted with slogans like 'Naxalwad Murdabad' and also our effigies were burnt in a lot of places.” But he is positive that these efforts will bear fruit. He remarked that no private company has been successful in establishing itself in Bastar.
Soni Sori, another such activist, has been fighting this tough battle for a long time now. She began by saying that she was happy to be amongst the youth as she considers this as a win. It is a win for her because it was a battle in itself to come out and talk about what she has gone through or what the people of Bastar have been going through. She said, “Our freedom fighters fought against the British so that all of us can live peacefully in the future.But sadly, that has not happened. We are fighting amongst ourselves, killing our own people, loathing each other.” She went on to say that she has always wanted to live a normal life with her husband and her children. And that she was never able to do that. She was tortured in police custody and just the mention of the physical and mental trauma that she went to, gave us chills.Formerly a teacher, she has always been respectful to the Indian Constitution and the laws laid down in it. According to her, if the government feels that somebody is doing something wrong then s/he should be tried under the procedures laid by the law. She says “I was a normal woman, living a normal life but now I have been forced into this battle and I have to fight it if I want to stay alive. And the same is the case for a lot of other people in my region. I request all of you to not ignore what is happening to the people of Chhattisgarh because we all are one. I request you all to interact more and more with the people from ground zero and try to help because you people are our people.”
Bela Bhatia, a researcher, has also been a part of this struggle which is against the inhuman treatment of these people. She has been living in the Parpa village near the Jagdalpur city, in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh. Last year, on the 23rd of January, a bunch of vigilante busy bodies attacked her residence, threatening her and asking her to leave the place immediately. Bhatia was firm to not leave Bastar and she managed to bring the situation under control for the time being while the Chief Minister Raman Singh assured her of her safety. She spoke about all this in great detail. She said that her story could come out because she was able to speak about it. But there are many other stories of Bastar that don’t come out. The problem there is nothing less but a crisis of democracy.
According to her, the truth is known. Everybody knows who is doing what. But no action is taken to resolve the matter. The civilians are tortured and killed in the name of countering the naxalite issue. Cases of civilians being tortured are reported but never looked into. Murders, rapes,kidnappings are all happening on large scales and yet no measure is taken to punish those who are responsible for them. Also, the surrendered militants are now a part of the District Reserve Guards (DRG) force, which in no way brings down the violence inflicted by them earlier when they were militants fighting against the same authorities that they are working for now. And if you raise your voice against it, you will be labeled with things like ‘Naxal-dalal’‘Naxal-Samarthak’ etc. And she has gone through this all, just like Manish Kunjam, Soni Sori and other brave hearted activists and civilians fighting against these inhuman practices.
As students, stories like these should not only trouble us but also inspire us to take the responsibility to do our bit to solve such crisis so that the people of our country could lead what Soni Sori imagines to be a ‘normal life’.