The war against Maoists is getting brutal, and most tragically so for ordinary tribals caught in this vortex of violence. In mid-March, Special Police Officers (SPOs) in Chhattisgarh went on a rampage in three villages in Dantewada district. The testimonies of affected people confirm that hundreds of homes and granaries were burnt, three people were killed, and several women were sexually assaulted. Two people are reported missing. Once again, this incident raises the issue of Salwa Judum, the state-supported militia that has a glaring record of human rights violations in the name of fighting Maoists. The state government has been denying that it still exists, but this assault in Dantewada shows that it does—it’s just that many of its members are now SPOs.
Not only that, a few days after the incident was reported, activist Swami Agnivesh, the Centre-appointed interlocutor for a proposed dialogue with Maoists, was manhandled by a group of people that allegedly included plain-clothed SPOs. Several journalists with him were roughed up as well. The state government has been doing its utmost to prevent journalists from reporting the incident. Though the manhandling was portrayed as a popular rejection of activists like Agnivesh, the facts are not so plain. “The attack on me was orchestrated by senior police officer SRP Kalluri, and the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister has to take moral responsibility,” says Agnivesh. On the day he was attacked, Agnivesh’s friend and activist Himanshu Kumar—who was forced to flee Dantewada and has been camping out in Delhi for months in fear of police repression in Chhattisgarh—said he had called Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. “But he said I shouldn’t be talking to him but to officials, and put down the phone,” says Himanshu Kumar. Though Kalluri has been transferred since, activists remain incensed. “Transferring him from one area to another hardly makes any difference,” says Agnivesh, “I demand a judicial probe into the incident.”
Dantewada, meanwhile, remains grim. Even Congress workers were prevented from taking relief material to the affected villages. Making matters worse, the state home minister blamed Maoists for the arson, claiming that they burnt down the houses while fleeing the police. It is shameful enough that the state government did nothing to prevent SPOs from wreaking such wanton violence. Thwarting relief efforts, under the circumstances, is well nigh criminal. Hopes of justice, then, must rest on that last resort: India’s Supreme Court.