Himanshu Kumar has refused to pay the exemplary cost of Rs 5 lakhs imposed on him saying it would imply that he had indeed given out a fake narrative. I met him in Mumbai on the penultimate day of the deadline for payment and he provided a comprehensive background to the events in Bastar surrounding the killings, why the adivasis had turned to him in their access to justice and the challenges India’s most marginalized citizens face when it comes to securing justice, especially when the perpetrators are state agencies.
It is a night that Kamla Kaka will perhaps never forget. A mitanin (health care provider) trainer she had returned to her village in Bastar, Chhatisgarh, after a visit to Bijapur, some 52 km away where she had gone for a delivery case. “I had eaten my meal and was listening to songs when the loud burst of firing startled me. Many of us rushed out from our homes. We wondered why the forces had entered our village and were firing continually. It went on and on and later there were flare bombs that illuminated the area. A vehicle arrived later and picked up our dead but many of the armed personnel stayed on,” she told me when I met her earlier this year.
Among the dead were three relatives and her nephew Rahul Kaka, the 15-year-old-son of her father’s brother (chacha). “A class nine student he was so special to me,” she added.
On the 4th of March, 2019, a 16-year-old girl was found hanging from a tree just outside the village of Rouni, nestled in the Sal-forested hills of Jashpur in Chhattisgarh, India. Manita had chosen not to accompany her parents to a meeting on caste certificates held in the village the day before, saying she’d rather stay home and study for her exams. After a few hours at home, she took the cattle out to graze, found a tree at the edge of the village, and hanged herself; the cattle returned alone.
Soft winter light bathes the fields in a glow. But the pastoral idyll of Pandu padda, Sameli, Dantewada district in Chhatisgarh is deceptive. Dark shadows lurk. I am shown the tree from which a 17-year-old Adivasi girl hung herself on the intervening night of 29/30 December, some four months after she had charged security forces of sexual violence.
In a country where more than 91 per cent of news coverage on the Maoist conflict in Chhatisgarh is state-driven, particularly in the national English media, there were no accounts or voices of the Adivasi inhabitants of Nalkatong in whose village the encounter took place. Nor was there any follow-through or accounts of the women who ran behind the tractor that was carrying the dead bodies, unceremoniously stuffed into black plastic bags. The women went first to Konta and then to Sukma where the post mortems took place. Who were the dead and who were these grieving families who milled around the roads of Sukma?
Ajin Thomas reviews BEARING WITNESS, a report on sexual violence in South Chhattisgarh
Security personals sexually harassed and assaulted more that 40 women and gang-raped at least two during an anti-Maoists operation in the villages of Pegdapalli, Chinnagellur, Peddagellur, Burgicheru, and Gundam in Bijapur, South Chhattisgarh between October 20 and October 24, 2015.