What’s worse than Kashmir?

Bastar is worse than Kashmir. I’ve given up hope. A place where the IG of police calls meetings of judges and magistrates, of newspaper proprietors, and of IAS officers; where lawyers are hounded for representing adivasis who are being arrested en masse… Who can it turn to?”

The dystopia is how journalist Kamal Shukla describes Bastar, where he is from. In Mumbai on Saturday to talk about the situation in the Maoist-affected district in Chhattisgarh, he was speaking at a meeting organised by the Bastar Solidarity Network at Dadar.

“Earlier, we were under pressure from both Maoists and the police,” says Shukla. “But for the last two years, it’s the police who are after us.” Two journalists have been killed recently in Bastar by Maoists while two were arrested on the charge of being pro-Maoist, one of them under the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act, says Shukla. Ironically, the two who were killed had earlier been arrested on the charge of being Maoists. Two others have managed to get anticipatory bail.

He cited another instance of persecution of scribes. Bastar Inspector General (IG) SP Kalluri had openly threatened Prabhat Singh, from Hindi daily Rajasthan Patrika, at a press conference a month before the Dantewada-based journalist was arrested.

Journalists who try to investigate “encounters” or write about the assault on adivasi life and culture by corporates are the ones singled out by the police, says Shukla.

He alleges he was also threatened by the IG in 2014 and hasn’t since spent more than a few days at a place. He travels across the state rallying journalists to pressure the government to pass a law for their protection. Chief Minister Raman Singh had promised such a law last year, but a coordination committee comprising journalists, police and IAS officers formed to monitor persecution of journalists till the new law was drafted, hasn’t met once.

“This entire war-like situation is for Bastar’s mines. The security camps, the encounters, the so-called surrender by Naxalites, the rape of adivasis — all this is happening where the mines are situated, so adivasis leave their villages,” says shukla, who brings out Bhoomkal Samachar magazine.

It’s not just the press. The judiciary faces similar duress from the authorities, said Sukma’s former chief judicial magistrate Prabhakar Gwal, who was dismissed from service in April by the government “in public interest”.

“There is no independent judiciary in Bastar,” says Gwal, narrating how after a meeting called by the police with magistrates and judges, a resolution was passed saying the judiciary is with the police in its anti-Naxalite campaign. Last December, 920 of 950 adivasis picked up were let off after Gwal’s intervention. In his 10-year-long career as magistrate, Gwal convicted influential people, from engineers siphoning off public funds to associates of state cabinet minister Amar Agarwal. After he convicted five people in the Vyapam scam last year, he was threatened by a BJP leader.

The most severe reports of lawlessness in the Red district come from a young adivasi, Lingaram Kodopi, who left Bastar for Delhi to get training as a reporter. Detained illegally in 2009, he was released after his family petitioned the court. But when he returned to report the atrocities committed by state forces on the villagers in Bastar, he was re-arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Public Security Act. He got bail two-and-a-half years later, in 2014. That is when he joined his aunt, the tribal activist Soni Sori, in uniting adivasis to work toward their cause. Sori, too, is out on bail after she was arrested on similar charges and tortured brutally. Their efforts culminated in a bandh called by adivasis in Bastar last Saturday, the first in the region.

Narrating instances of rape, killing and mutilation by security forces which have been investigated by human rights bodies, Kodopi, 30, says, “In a few years, there may be no one left to say, ‘I’m an adivasi from Bastar.’ Security personnel get promotions and rewards for every Maoist killed. So they catch adivasis as Maoists.” Kodopi said earlier he could persuade adivasis raped by security forces to file complaints, but the women prefer to keep mum now, even though they are victimised regularly, he alleges. “If the women had any hope of getting justice, they’d speak.” Shukla backs him up.

Bastar’s adivasis have planned an ‘August Kranti’ to bring their plight to the nation’s attention. “I’ve come to Mumbai to take a handful of earth from the maidan where August Kranti began,” says the 30-year-old Kodopi, referring to the ground in the city where Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India movement against the British in 1942. “I appeal to you to come to Bastar and help us,” the adivasi urges.http://www.mumbaimirror.com/mumbai/others/Whats-worse-than-Kashmir/articleshow/53259163.cms