Tuesday, October 21, 08
Saturday, September 20, 08
As you may be aware, that the Election Commission is in the process of preparation for the State Assembly elections which are to take place towards the end of this year. A delegation on behalf of Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh(CPJC) met the Chief Election Commissioner Sh.N. Gopalaswami and Election Commissioner Sh. Navin Chandra along with some senior officials of the Election Commission of India on 9th September 2008 to raise concerns regarding the preparation of electoral rolls and other matters relating to the forth coming elections in Dantewada and Bijapur districts of South Chhattisgarh.
Following were the main issues raised by the delegation:
Regarding discrepancies of Electoral Rolls:According to recent media reports, Government of Chhattisgarh claims that more than 57,000 people are living in these camps and their names are getting included in the electoral rolls for the camps and media reports indicate that the Government has initiated a process of including their names in the electoral roles for the camps. As per reports we have received from local civil society members and fact findings done by CPJC members, majority of people who were living in these relief camps have gone back to their homes in their respective villages. According to our information the number of residents in camps is not more than 10,000.
There are several other discrepancies existing in the preparation of Electoral rolls: many names in from the voter’s list have been dropped and in some cases names of children aged 13-16 have been included in the names. Moreover, names of several people who have fled to Andhra Pradesh and other neighbouring states have been added or maintained in the electoral rolls of Salwa Judum camps when they never lived there.
Government of Chhattisgarh has closed down most of Public Distribution System(PDS) shops in these villages. Therefore people have to come back to Salwa Judum camps to buy their ration.These details from camp ration shops have been shown to prove that 57,000 people are still living in these camps. This amounts to willfully misleading the Commission and the everyone else.
This means that while many genuine voters would be deprived of their right to vote, the free and fair nature elections itself would be affected due to these discrepancies.
Voting rights of those who have been forced to flee Chhattisgarh:Estimates of people who have fled to these states range from 50,000 to 1,50,000. As we have stated earlier, names of several people who have fled to Andhra Pradesh and other neighbouring states have been added or maintained in the electoral rolls of Salwa Judum camps when they never lived there. We are afraid that this will inevitably result in fraud voting while the citizens themselves are deprived of their right to vote.
Sh.Manish Kunjam, CPI leader and former MLA from Sukama, Dantewada has also written to the CEC raising these and several other issues.
The Election Commission made it clear that they were not in a position to make any arrangements for those who have been forced to migrate to other states unless they are in designated government camps in these states. Considering that all the neighbouring states have failed to recognise the IDPs, provide them with basics and even to protect them from harassment at the hands of the forest department officials, let alone enumerate them or establish government relief camps, this essentially means that thousands of people would be deprived of their basic political right to vote.
Regarding electoral rolls CEC said that electoral rolls have not yet been finalised and that they will look into and correct any discrepancies if they are pointed out in the draft electoral rolls that were published earlier this year. CEC was also of the opinion that since photo identity cards are to be issues this year, the chances of fraud voting would be minimised.
However, most worrisome was the Commission’s response to the issue of inclusion of names of people who had returned to villages in the electoral rolls of Salwa Judum camps. We were told that if the villages and the camps are in the same constituency then it should be no problem if there names were included in the camp lists as they will be polling in the same constituency. The delegation raised our fears that people will inevitable be coerced if this happens, but we did not get a response from the Commission. The delegation also appealed to the Commission that they must recognise the tense situation in CG and make special arrangements. There are precedents like the Commission’s intervention Kashmir. However, the Commission was of the opinion that the situation was markedly different because in Kashmir they at least had access to areas which is not the case in CG with its ‘liberated zones’. Both these positions of the Commission are worrying because they seem to be blindly going along with the position taken by the Chhattisgarh government without making an independent assessment of the situation.
Members of the delegation:Sumit Chakravartty, Editor, Mainstream Weekly, Vijayan MJ, Pravin Mote and Sridevi Panikkar.
Saturday, September 20, 08
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Commission report painful; it says the self-defence group is armed and committing atrocities . The Hindu reports.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Chhattisgarh government to implement some of the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission, which went into the activities of the Salwa Judum (self-defence group) set up by the State to tackle naxal menace.
Earlier, the NHRC submitted, in a sealed cover, a report to the court, which had asked it to probe the allegations that the Salwa Judum, which had been provided with arms, was committing atrocities on innocent people.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices P. Sathasivam and J.M. Panchal was hearing a petition filed by Nandini Sundar, Ramachandra Guha and E.A.S. Sarma. They challenged the setting up of the Salwa Judum which, they alleged, was indulging in killings and committing atrocities on tribals in the guise of countering the naxal movement.
The Chief Justice, who perused the NHRC report, told senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for Chhattisgarh, that the commission “has done a meticulous work. It has given a series of recommendations. It is very painful to read the report. It says there is arson and looting, people are armed and they [Salwa Judum] are committing serious offences. It says people who are subjected to serious problems are still afraid of coming out.”
The Chief Justice observed: “When somebody [Salwa judum] is given arms, he claims to be a pseudo police. Once he is given arms, he will commit an offence though he has no right to do any such act. Some remedial measures have been suggested in the report and the State may consider implementing them. Whatever is urgently required to be done, do it.”
Mr. Venugopal assured the court that the government would implement the recommendations “which are of immediate concern.”
The Bench asked the Registry to supply copies of the NHRC report to the parties and asked them to file their response, and posted the matter to October 23.
The petition said the Salwa Judum was launched to combat naxalites but in reality these activists conducted frequent raids on villages and attacked and killed suspected sympathisers of naxalites, torched their houses and looted livestock.
In defence of Salwa Judum, the Chhattisgarh government said: “It is not state-sponsored, but a people’s initiative to combat the menace of naxalites. The State is committed to resolving the problem of naxalism, and any peaceful movement which resists violent methods definitely gets support of States.”
Additional Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam appeared for the Centre and counsel Nithya Ramakrishnan, for the petitioners.
Tuesday, September 2, 08
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Ahead of the coming assembly polls, the Communist Party of India (CPI) has urged the Election Commission to depute its own team to make an assessment about the present situation in ‘Salwa Judum’ camps in Naxalite-infested areas of South Bastar, alleging that the inmates were being forcibly enrolled as voters of the polling centres to be set up at the relief camps.
“A large number of people, who were staying in the relief camp for the last three years, have already returned to their respective villages. Their names have been deleted from the electoral rolls of their native villages and have been added in the voters’ list of the relief camp area”, CPI leader and All India Adivasi Mahasabha President Manish Kunjam said in his letter to the Election Commission.
“Its not proper to deprive the people, who have returned to their respective villages, an opportunity to exercise their franchise in the polling stations close to their native villages”, he said and claimed that CPI had raised this issue with Dantewara and Bijapur district collectors, who have expressed their ‘inability’ to do anything to enlist them as voters in their villages.
Pointing out that those who became eligible to cast their votes for the first time have been enlisted as voters of relief camp areas,
Kunjam said in such a situation free and fair polls were not possible both in Dantewara and Bijapur districts, particularly in the relief camps, which are “controlled” ‘Salwa Judum’ activists.
Kunjam, a former CPI legislator, told The Indian Express that the Commission should depute its own team to look into the matter as such ‘manipulations’ in the preparations of electoral rolls clearly indicated towards the possibility of bogus voting and even rigging in the assembly polls.
Kunjam said he had also written a letter to the Election Commission, pointing out that the staff, engaged in the revision of electoral rolls, did not visit more than 50 out of the total 187 polling station areas falling in the Konta (ST) Assembly segment in South Bastar.
However, the state’s Joint Electoral Officer Gaurav Dwivedi told The Indian Express that the list of relief camp inmates, eligible to cast votes, were being prepared and tallied with the electoral rolls of their respective villages.
[Source:Indian Express, September 01, 2008. Available at http://www.indianexpress.com/story/355817.html as of September 02, 2008]
Monday, August 11, 08
Human Rights Watch conducted research in Khammam and Warangal districts of Andhra Pradesh, and Bijapur, Dantewada, and Bastar districts of Chhattisgarh between November 2007 and February 2008. A report based on this was released by HRW in July 2008.
Saturday, June 21, 08
Campaign for Peace & Justice in Chhattisgarh
c/o F-10/12, GF, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi
An team of research scholars and students from various Universities across the country and independent researchers visited Dantewada and Bijapur districts of Chhattisgarh from 6th to the 10th of June 2008. The initiative was taken by the Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh a campaign group formed by individuals and organisations who are deeply concerned about the gross violation of human rights going on in Chhattisgarh.
During the four days, we visited a number of villages and a few camps and documented the testimonies of victims who recounted horrid stories of violence they have witnessed and experienced since the start of the Salwa Judum in 2005. As a team, our observations of the area are frightening as cases of killings, sexual crimes, destructions of villages and food stocks and gross human rights violations on a large scale are rampant. We believe that contrary to the Chhattisgarh Government’s assertion of Salwa Judum being a peaceful, spontaneous and autonomous movement, it is in fact a part of well concerted, militarised strategy on the part of the officialdom.
The Adivasis have narrated gruesome incidents of violence against them. Raids by the Judum members resulting in the loss of lives and property in the villages are a regular phenomenon. Loot, arson and torture as a means to coerce people to go to the Salwa Judum camps. In some cases, arson has been used as means not only to coerce people to go to Salwa Judum camps but also to prevent them from returning to their villages. We documented numerous instances of girls and women being raped and subject to other forms of sexual violence by Salwa Judum and security forces.
The atrocities don’t however end at the borders of the camps and in fact several cases of torture and murder have been reported from these camps. Basics such as food, water and sanitation have been denied to those in the camps. Those who stayed back in villages or ran away from Salwa Judum camps live in constant fear of yet another raid by the Judum. Their mobility and access to basics such education, health and weekly markets are severely restricted .
Acts of intimidation and violence by the forces in the pretext of protecting villagers and justifying it by branding them to be Naxalites seems to be a thought out strategy. The level of militarisation and criminalisation in Dantewada and Bijapur is frightening. Constant surveillance has insecurity and has created a tense, war like atmosphere. Our grave concern is that arming civilians as a counter insurgent strategy will eventually create a criminilised society where jungle raj will be the rule of the day.
You may be aware that the NHRC, pursuant to the Supreme Court order on 31st March 2008 has constituted a fact finding team which after a preliminary visit in May, had organised a public hearing on 10th June 2008 in Dantewada. Several people from various villages from across Dantewada and Bijapur attended this hearing and deposed before the commission. Our observations are presented to the National Human Rights Commission that arrived in Dantewada on the 10th of June 2008.
Our fear that the people who have been courageous enough to voice their discontent and give testimonies to NHRC being harassed and threatened by the militarized network. A group of IDPs who had fled Chhattisgarh to Andhra Pradesh due to the violence unleashed by Salwa Judum and had come to depose before the NHRC were detained and harassed at the Konta Police station on there way back to AP. We fear that people from villages within Chhattisgarh may also be harassed and tortured by the Salwa Judum.
[These are preliminary observations by the team presented at a press conference in Raipur on 11th June. We are in the process of preparing a detailed report which will be circulated shortly. ]
Team members: Kamal Nayan Choubey – Ph.d Scholar, Univ. of Delhi
Ranjay Kumar – Univ. of Delhi
Vikas Kumar – Univ. of Delhi
Preeti Chauhan– Univ. of Delhi
Sanchita Bakshi – Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
Aditya Swarup – NALSAR Univ of Law, Hyderabad.
Contact details: Praveen Mote-09313879073; Sridevi Panikkar-09868099304
Monday, April 14, 08
The Indian government should stop forced eviction and relocation of tens of thousands of men, women, and children from their forest settlements in Andhra Pradesh where they sought safety from the violence in neighboring Chhattisgarh state, Human Rights Watch said today.
In the latest crackdown against displaced persons, the Andhra Pradesh forest department on April 5, 2008, destroyed homes of displaced indigenous persons residing in Kothooru village to forcibly evict them. Since January 2007, the Andhra Pradesh forest department has made about 10 attempts to forcibly evict displaced persons from Kothooru.
“Many thousands of men, women, and children fled to Andhra Pradesh from the conflict in Chhattisgarh,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior researcher for South Asia at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of providing them with safe sanctuary, the authorities are tearing down their homes and putting them in harm’s way.”
Since June 2005, between 30,000 and 50,000 people have fled to Khammam and Warrangal districts of Andhra Pradesh following escalating tensions in Chhattisgarh between Naxalites, an armed Maoist group, and a state-supported vigilante group called Salwa Judum. Although the Indian federal, and Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh state governments describe Salwa Judum as a “spontaneous uprising against Naxal abuses,” Human Rights Watch found that police routinely participate in violent Salwa Judum raids against villages suspected of being pro-Naxalite. According to Human Rights Watch investigations in November and December 2007, most villagers fled to Andhra Pradesh because of attacks by Salwa Judum and police.
Once in neighboring Andhra Pradesh, many of these displaced persons settled in reserved forest areas. Saying these settlements are illegal, the authorities have without prior notice or due process repeatedly burned down the hamlets of hundreds of displaced persons, forcibly evicting them from forest lands. In some cases, Andhra Pradesh forest department officials have forced them into trucks and dropped them close to the Chhattisgarh state boundary.
A Human Rights Watch investigation in November and December 2007 found that Andhra Pradesh authorities have also failed to provide the displaced persons with basic assistance including food, water, shelter, medical services, sanitation, and livelihood opportunities as set out by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The Andhra Pradesh government denies existing government welfare benefits to those displaced on several grounds, including that they are not residents of Andhra Pradesh.
“The Indian federal and Andhra Pradesh state governments have done nothing in nearly three years to address the massive displacement of people from Chhattisgarh,” Ganguly said. “Thousands of people need help, and the government has utterly failed to respond to their needs. Instead, they try to force them back to areas where they are even more vulnerable. It’s unacceptable.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Indian government to immediately draw up a plan to address the specific protection and assistance needs of displaced persons in Andhra Pradesh. The government should take immediate steps to prevent the Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh governments from unlawful forced relocation and extend all government welfare schemes to displaced persons without discriminating against them.
The Indian government should also develop a comprehensive national policy for internally displaced persons in consultation with displaced persons, governmental, non-governmental, and inter-governmental organizations, and in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.