“Aap log aise karenge to hum aapko jaane hi nahi denge ..mere reference se aap gaye the…,” (If you all do like this, we will not let you visit …you went with my reference to Bastar),” an angry Kalluri told Ritesh Mishra.
Mishra had asked him for a comment after local residents in Bastar’s Nama village–where tribal man Samnath Baghel was killed–told HT that they had nothing against Sundar, who was booked for murder along with 10 others.
Kalluri’s words had an ominous ring as journalists have been at the receiving end in Bastar for what activists say are persistent attempts by the local police to intimidate the media. Four local journalists have been arrested since last year while a visiting BBC newsman was forced to leave the district. Another was forced to flee the region after being accused of having Maoist links.
The spate of arrests and the resultant outcry forced the Chhattisgarh government to curtail police’s powers to arrest journalists.
However, the police in Bastar set a precedent last month when they publicly burnt effigies of activists critical of them.
Bastar is among the worst-affected regions of insurgency-hit Chhattisgarh where both Maoists and the police face accusations of rights abuses. Access to interiors of Bastar is largely controlled either by the police and its sponsored local vigilante groups or the Maoists.
Insisting that the police had enough evidence against those booked, Kalluri told Mishra that he would not entertain him any further. “You write whatever that comes to your mind. We don’t care a damn. For you, Bastar is a mazaak (joke).”
Mishra had called Kalluri after visiting Nama where Baghel, a member of a local anti-Maoist resistance group, was killed on November 4. Police subsequently booked Sundar and the others for the murder, saying the Delhi University professor had visited the village as part of a Maoist delegation some months earlier and threatened Baghel not to support the police in their campaign against the insurgents.
Mishra, who had informed Kalluri about his plans to visit Nama, was told by villagers that they had not seen the killers of Baghel and had no complaints against Sundar, an author and activist who had moved the Supreme Court against police excesses in Chhattisgarh. They also disputed police claim that Sundar had visited as part of a Maoist team and said she had introduced herself as a rights activists.