Bastar’s Battle: Militarisation and ‘Unaccountable Killings’ Remain Rife

Bastar is notably characterised as one of the heavily militarized regions among tribal areas in the country, experiencing frequent “uprisings” and police “encounters”.
Representational Image
Representational Image

New Delhi: Chhattisgarh’s Bastar, known for its significant Adivasi population, is one among the heavy militarised zones in the country that keep witnessing frequent instances of gun battle and clashes. This militarisation trend extends to neighbouring regions like southern Odisha, exacerbating tensions and encounters over an extended period.

According to Dr Saroj Giri, who is a professor at the Delhi University, multiple jan andolan (people’s movement) have been taking place in the region against rampant militarization. “The protests are happening in a democratic manner and anyone can be a part of it,” he said.

Ajit Nuruti, who is an activist working for the Bechaghat Anti-Camp movement in Bastar, talked about the situation in the tribal dominated region.

“For the last 3-4 years, Adivasis have been protesting for their rights over jal-jungle-zameen (water-forest-land). The state recently witnessed a change in government, and the BJP is now ruling here. But no one has been listening to our plight,” said the activist.

He alleged, “The new government has been trying to put to rest the constant demonstrations by terming many of us as Naxals (Maoists insurgents). They know it is the easiest to use against us. Apart from that, being beaten up with sticks is nothing new for our community.”

The activist recounted a recent incident that occurred in October 2023 in the Kanker district of north Bastar. A group of Adivasis had to travel 40-50 kilometres to access government-provided rations. While returning home with the rations, three women and two men were allegedly separated by the security forces and subsequently shot dead. The following day, newspapers reported that two Naxals had been killed.

The women, lacking means to challenge the system, according to him, found themselves voiceless and without advocacy. 

“Unfortunately, such occurrences are increasingly common in the region. Media outlets often label the deceased individuals as Naxals without verifying their identities, neglecting to acknowledge whether they were indeed Naxals or simply Adivasis,” said Nuruti.

Sharing another story, the activist said a village community found themselves embroiled in protests in February 2022 against a road widening initiative. Amidst these demonstrations, members of the District Reserve Group, a paramilitary force of the state government, photographed the women bathing in a nearby water body. “These photos were intended to be used as leverage against the protestors,” he added.

The villagers’ resistance to development projects like mining often sparks debate among observers who argue that such endeavours could potentially alleviate unemployment in the region. However, the community’s opposition stems from the adverse consequences they have experienced as a result of similar development initiatives in the past.

Instead of fostering economic growth and empowerment, these projects often lead to the establishment of additional security installations, which exert control over the local populace and allegedly perpetrate violent acts against them.

Furthermore, the villagers highlight a crucial distinction between opposing development outright and objecting to the manner in which development is executed. In the case of road widening, for example, they argued that such projects primarily serve the interests of corporations rather than addressing the genuine needs of the community.

The expansion of roads to accommodate large trucks, despite the fact that the villagers lack the financial means to afford such vehicles, underscores the skewed priorities that prioritize corporate profit over the well-being of the local populace.

Maini Kachlam, an activist from Bastar, reiterated to The Mooknayak that the Adivasi community in the region have been facing violence for many years now, but the government in power never listens to their demands. She further stated that currently, there are 34 spots in the region where active protests are happening.

She talked about how women in the region are “exploited sexually”. The activist ended up asking, “If someone is rumoured to be a Naxal, law should take its course and they should be put behind bars. But why is it important for the forces to rape and kill the accused?”

Recent Incident in Bastar

On March 19, the police reported that two individuals (one of them a woman) suspected to be Maoists were killed in an exchange of fire with security forces at Dantewada within the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh.

The encounter occurred as a joint search team, comprising personnel from the DRG, Bastar Fighters, a newly formed counterinsurgency unit of the Chhattisgarh police, and the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force), came under attack in a forest near Purangel village.

Adivasi activist Soni Sori claimed that the body of the woman was received after many days of “violence”. According to her, there were marks made by a sharp object (probably a knife) in and around the victim’s private parts which raised doubts on the treatment by the forces.

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