Jan Jagran Abhiyan-Maoist Face-Off In South Bastar May Lead To Gross HR Violations: HRF, OPDR

An eight-member team of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) and Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR) visited Bijapur police district of Dantewada district of Chattisgarh as a Fact-Finding Committee (FFC) on 16-17 July, 2005. The visit was undertaken in the context of the widespread reporting in the Press that the CPI (Maoist) has been killing a number of Adivasis in the area because they have organised themselves in the Jan Jagran Abhiyan and are opposing the dicta of the Maoists. In particular there was news of a massacre of 13 Adivasis on 19th June 2005 at the village of Kotrapal which perturbed us and compelled us to constitute the FFC.

The area in question is topographically close to Andhra Pradesh but very difficult of access, since communications to Chattisgarh from the South and the West are poorly developed. From A.P, one has to cross the Pranahita and Indravati rivers, both of which remain unbridged on this stretch. For this reason, the team could not spend as much time as it hoped to in the area. However, the team visited the townships of Bhoopalpatnam and Bijapur, two affected villages, namely Kutru and Jangla, and spoke to a number of people, both tribal and non-tribal, including the tribal upa-sarpanch of Kutru, the Station House Officer, Kutru, and leaders of the anti-Maoist Jan Jagran Abhiyan stationed at Bhairamgarh, who were on a visit to Jangla when the team went to that village. While the team could not meet the leaders of the CPI (Maoist) or the activists of their Sanghams in the villages, we had the benefit of perusing the full text of a note issued by them in the name of ‘Sadhana’ explaining their side of the story. We also spoke in detail on phone to the S.P of Bijapur police district.

This is a very brief report of the Fact-Finding Committee.


The CPI (Maoist) has been active in the old Bastar district (now divided into three districts, namely Kanker, Bastar and Dantewada) for at least 25 years. This is a thickly forested area populated mainly by Gond tribes. It is widely acknowledged that the Maoists have an extensive support base among the tribal people and that the tribals have benefited in many ways from the activity of the Maoists.

However, from June 2005 anti-Maoist activity in the name of Jan Jagran Abhiyan has emerged in the villages, especially in the Bijapur police district of Dantewada district. The Jan Jagran Abhiyan is not an organisation but a movement. It appears to be concentrated in the road-side villages and is supported by the political parties, especially the Congress party, which has the maximum number of MLAs in the three districts. It consists of not only Adivasis but also non-tribals of the road-side villages. The Press has reported that in the Jan Jagran meetings, opposition has been expressed to various polices of the Maoists, namely (1) the ban on collection of tendu leaf in the summer months of this year, (2) the ban on the weekly shanties in the tribal areas, and (3) obstruction to laying of roads, etc.

It has been reported that the Maoists have reacted with intolerance to the Jan Jagran meetings and have assaulted and killed a number of persons, mostly Adivasis, for participating in the meetings.

The Killings

We must first say that the news of the killings is true but exaggerated, in some cases highly exaggerated. In particular the news of the massacre of 19th June at Kotrapal in which 13 Adivasis are said to have been killed by the Maoists is not true. While the Press has reported a large number of killings off and on, the Jan Jagran Abhiyan leaders whom we met on 16th July at Jangla told us that from the beginning of June 2005 till that date, 7 persons had been killed by the Maoists.

Very briefly, what is happening is that the Maoists are kidnapping a number of people whom they perceive as being active in the Jan Jagran Abhiyan. Every such kidnap is immediately reported as a killing. But while some times the abducted person is killed by the Maoists, often he is beaten and released. To take the case of the Kotrapal incident, it is true that on 19th June a gathering of the Jan Jagran at the village was attacked by the armed squads of the Maoists armed with fire-arms and their Adivasi supporters armed with bows and arrows. The Jan Jagran people counter-attacked with bows and arrows and escaped. There was a stampede as they turned and ran away. Two Adivasis died in this attack. Later, the Maoists abducted 10 persons from the villages of Kotrapal, Bardela and Matwada. This abduction was reported as massacre but nine of them were severely beaten and released while the tenth, a non-tribal by name Bhuvaneshwar Singh Thakur of Jangla who was kidnapped from Kotrapal, was killed. Even the police acknowledge that the ‘Kotrapal massacre’ is no more than this, but it is they who spread the wrong story in the first place and they have made no effort to correct it.

The Press reports have also not spoken of the retaliation that happened later, wherein the police and Jan Jagran Abhiyan activists attacked Kotrapal the next day and set on fire the houses of four sympathisers of the Maoists and a lot of grain. Such counter-attacks by a combination of Jan Jagran and the police have taken place on more than one occasion. However, we think there is no doubt that most of the killings are committed by the Maoists. 

The Issues

The note released by the Maoists indicates that they see the Jan Jagran Abhiyan as a conspiracy of Congress leaders and non-tribal vested interests with whom the tribal elite is colluding. This is a simplistic picture. From what we could gather, a large number of ordinary Adivasis are also participating in the Jan Jagran meetings. The Maoists are reacting with an intolerance that is no different from the intolerance of the State. If they do not learn to distinguish between the opposition of ordinary Adivasis to some of their policies and methods of functioning they will do a lot of harm to the very Adivasis who are their social base.

Regarding the three issues listed above, the explanation given by the Maoists is not very convincing.

  1. In the matter of the allegation that they are opposing the construction of roads, they say in the same breath that they are not opposed to the laying of roads, and that they will oppose the laying of roads if that is for the benefit of multinational and imperialist capital. In an area that is already poor in communications, forcible opposition to the laying of roads can hinder the development of the ordinary people’s lives too, and not merely the spread of capitalist interests.
  2. Regarding the allegation that the Maoists have banned the collection of tendu leaf, the brief facts are as follows. Collection of tendu leaf for contractors is the main source of cash income for Adivasis and other poor in forest areas. The increase in the wage for collection of tendu leaf achieved with the help of the Maoists is one of the main benefits the Adivasis have got from the Maoist movement. The wage reached the level of Rs 85/- per bundle last year in Chattisgarh. This year, however, the Chattisgarh Government discontinued the practice of giving the collection of tendu leaf on contract and put it in the hands of a Cooperative Society, and reduced the wage to Rs 45/-. This strategy, meant to hit at the Maoists, is most reprehensible, since it cuts the income of the Adivasis from tendu leaf collection by about half. It is understandable that the Maoists wanted the tribals to protest against this, but the allegation is that they forced them to go on a total strike against their wish. It appears that this is a major cause of dissatisfaction among the Adivasis. The Maoists have denied this and said that it is the Government which is refusing to receive the tendu leaf even where the Adivasis have agreed to collect it at the reduced rate. It is difficult to see why the Government would do so. On the other hand, all the people we talked to said that it is this dictum of the Maoists that is the main cause for support to the Jan Jagran Abhiyan this summer.
  3. Regarding the ban on shanties, while on the one hand we were told that the Maoists have directed that shanties should not be held because the police are using the occasion to gather information and to buy provisions for their patrol parties, the Maoists in their note say that it is the police who are obstructing the shanties by insisting that tribals should not attend the shanties with their traditional bows and arrows. The true situation is far from clear, though there may be truth in both allegations. What is certain is that in many of the road-side villages shanties are not being held, which is causing immense hardship to the people.

Observations, Suggestions and Demands:

  1. The Maoists are periodically killing people in the Bijapur forests of Chattisgarh, and the majority of the victims are Adivasis. But the numbers reported are exaggerated. Every incident of abduction and assault is being reported as a killing, thereby giving an exaggerated and terrifying picture. In particular the widely publicised Kotrapal massacre never happened. The local press is mainly responsible for this. They should stop this practice and adopt a more responsible attitude. Killings and arson by the police and the Jan Jagran are not being reported at all.
  2. The Maoists are reacting to all opposition to their policies and actions with an unjustifiable intolerance. They should make a distinction between the dissatisfaction of ordinary Adivasis, and the politics of vested interests, whether of the tribal elite or non-tribals. In particular, they should see that when opposition to them is being organised as a mass movement, opposing mass mobilisation with mass mobilisation armed with bows, arrows and other weapons can lead to the death of innocents. The police should stop abetting one violent group against the other in the name of maintaining order.
  3. The Maoists should not use methods of intimidation to force the ordinary Adivasis to abide by their political dicta. The Government of Chattisgarh too should not hit at the basic livelihood rights of the Adivasis, as in the tendu leaf matter, to disable the Maoists.
  4. The methods of violence and counter-violence being used by the two sides has already led to a terror-ridden situation in the area, which is to the detriment of the human rights of the ordinary people. Both sides should realise this and check themselves. With the heavy deployment of paramilitary forces by the Chattisgarh Government and the evident determination of the Maoists to face force with force matters are likely to become worse. We request all Rights organisations in the country to respond to the situation in the manner they deem fit to protect the right to life of the ordinary people.

C Bhaskar Rao
OPDR general secretary

K Balagopal
HRF general secretary


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