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Journalist Lingaram Kodopi narrates tales from the warzone of Bastar

A local adivasi turned independent journalist residing in the Bastar Region of Chattisgarh, Lingaram Kodopi — nephew of renowned tribal activist Soni Suri — has managed to spread awareness about the ongoing atrocities being committed by police personnel on adivasi villagers, by means of various Youtube videos.

As he visited Mumbai to attend a public meeting on Saturday hosted by the Bastar Solidarity Network to discuss the ongoing situation in Bastar, mid-day managed to catch up with the young journalist and talk about Mission 2016 being implemented in the region, his history with IG Kalluri, and differences in Bastar under the UPA and NDA regimes. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Lingaram Kodopi. Pic/ Sameer Markande

What is your purpose of visit to Mumbai?
I have come to take back to Bastar, the earth/soil from August Kranti Maidan (Central Mumbai), a spot from where Gandhi began his Quit India Movement; we are planning on having our own non-violent movement in Bastar on August 8.

What’s it like to be a journalist in Bastar?
No child in the region would want to grow up and be a journalist—we are repressed at every turn. The treatment is different for different journalists. For example, if an international news agency comes, they don’t run into much trouble. But if you’re a local, or a reporter doing ear-to-ground reporting like Prabhat Singh (Patrika), then you’re in trouble. Furthermore, if you happen to be an adivasi AND a journalist, it gets worse. There must be a total of not more than 150 journalists in the region.

SRP Kalluri (IG) and you have quite the history. When did it all start?
It began in 2009, when I was kept in custody for 35 days. Kalluri at the time was Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) in Dantewada. On his orders, I was beaten up in my village of Kuakonda, and then taken to Dantewada Police Station, where he gave me two options: become a Special Police Officer (SPO) or die in an encounter. He gave his personnel all the liberty to torture me in various ways, by giving electric shocks, to putting a rod smeared with mirchi into my anus. During my tenure in custody, they made me sign a form saying that I am fed up with Naxals in my village and want to become an SPO. They also made my salary Rs.3,700 for that entire month!

Is Mission 2016 the new Slawa Judum?
Yes, definitely so. And this time, it’s more dangerous than the Judum. The police, now being headed by Kalluri at the IG post, have been given more of a free role. Rape by police officials is the biggest epidemic plaguing Bastar right now, under the leadership of Kalluri. He has the full power to do whatever he wants. He tells his people to kill, loot, and rape, because he knows that the case will be stagnant in court for tens of years. To top it off, he has the backing of the entire state machinery, the same machinery that promoted him to the rank of IG for his “merits” in the region, just like the way they a presidential award was conferred on Ankit Garg in spite of the atrocities been committed by him.

How have things been different in Bastar under the UPA and NDA regimes?
When Chidambaram was the Home Minister, The INC weren’t as cruel as the BJP is now. As soon as the latter came into power, they not only reinstated Kalluri back in the region, but also promoted him to the rank of IG, whereas the SC had clearly said that Kalluri should not be brought back into Bastar as long as the Sure. The Congress too made a blind decision of forming Slawa Judum during their tenure, but Mission 2016 is open about its objectives—the elimination of adivasis, masked by the farce of war against Naxals and Maoists. After all, the authorities and government are only after the land. The fight is FOR the land. It is not a war against the Naxals for the welfare and safety of the local adivasis—they (government) want the land and the minerals it comes with.

What is the Bastaria Battalion?
The District Reserve Gurad (DRG) that keeps vigil at night, is also known as the Bastaria Battalion. It comprises of ex-members of the Salwa Judum, who now have no option but to work for the government. They live off a government salary of Rs. 10-15,000 per month since they cannot go back to their fields in villages, as they had committed atrocities upon their own people during the days of Judum; they will be killed if they go back. That is why he joins Salwa Judum-II i.e Bastaria Battalion.

What is the starting point for a solution in Bastar?
Any individual, be it an adivasi, police officer, or a Naxal, who breaks the law, must be given a punishment. The law must hold the same for everyone, irrespective of who they are.

Is there a silver lining to the ongoing situation in Bastar?
In 10 years, there will be peace in the region. We will fight this war in our own democratic way. Even during Gandhi’s time, people who endorsed violence such as Bhagat Singh, existed. Yet, Gandhi won the war by walking the path of non violence. Our aim is similar. Let the Naxals and police fight their own war, we will fight ours. In the last year and a half, we (Soni Suri and I) have won the support of a fair few adivasis who know that our cause is just and right. For the first time, we feel like we are not alone…that we have the support of the people in Bastar. Locals themselves have begun to stand up against repression by the police authorities. In fact, On Saturday for the first time a market-bandh was called for by the locals in the entire region of Bastar, a sign of protest against the atrocities being committed by the police. This shows that our movement is picking up momentum and that we are bringing about slow but steady change in Bastar.

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