Travelling through Bastar to Reclaim Democracy and Freedom
Malay Tiwari, CPI(ML) activist from West Bengal, and Anupam Roy, artist and CPI(ML) activist, participated in the August Kranti- Tiranga Padyatra from Dantewada to Gompad in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. Here are their notes from the Yatra, accompanied by photographs by Anupam Roy.

IN the backdrop of massive state repression – as witnessed in murders, rapes, illegal detentions and custodial tortures – that defines Bastar today, a spirited ‘August Kranti- Tiranga Padyatra’ was organized in Bastar this August. Various political parties and groups as well as concerned individuals are part of the Bastar Bachao Sanjukt Sangharsh Samiti which had organized the padyatra, including AAP, PUCL, CMM, JMM and CPI (ML) Liberation. From 9-15 August, several adivasis, representatives of various groups, social activists and individuals marched across Bastar. Throughout the padyatra, they proclaimed loud and clear that the values of democracy and freedom enshrined in the Constitution are today conspicuous by their absence in Bastar, and that the padyatra was an attempt to reclaim these precious values guaranteed to each and every citizen.

The padyatra started from Ambedkar Park in Dantewara at 5 pm on 9 August. At the start of the yatra, Soni Sori garlanded Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s statue and delivered a short speech. She held the unnamed newborn baby of Hure in her lap and described how the pregnant Hure was harassed and tortured by security forces and ultimately died delivering the child. Soni Sori called for ending the tyranny in Bastar and declared that the padyatra would defy all the hurdles put by the administration to reach Gompad on 15 August at any cost. About a hundred activists then began the padyatra. Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi, Kawasi Hidme and Sukal Nag led the way. Among others present were Brijendra Tiwari, Chhattisgarh state secretary of the CPI(ML), Sanket Thakur of the AAP, cultural activist and leader of CMM Kaladas Deheria, Bela Bhatia, Ishwar Nirmlkar and Basant of the JMM as well as several other activists, leaders and organisers of political parties. Trade unionists, cultural activists, documentary film makers, advocates, journalists, artists and school teachers participated in the padyatra.

From Dantewada, the padyatra moved through Kumhar Ras, Nakulnar, Mailawara (where 7 CRPF jawans were killed in a blast last March), Bhusaras, Korra, Gadiras, Sukma to Ramaras. At Ramaras, a Telugu-speaking Muslim couple served us breakfast with much warmth and respect. Ramaras is the place where 15-year old Kawasi Hidme was picked up by the SPOs in 2008 and tortured most brutally in several lock-ups and jails. She was finally released after 7 years. Kawasi Hidme was present throughout the padyatra, and when the padyatra passed through her village, some villagers met her to inform her that her grandfather had expired. From Ramaras, the padyatra moved through Kairlapal to Dornapal. Dornapal used to host a notorious Salwa Judum camp, which has now been transformed into an ashram for adivasi boys. Around 700 boys now reside here and on 12 August the participants of the padyatra halted for the night at the newly-built large community hall in this campus even as outside the campus, heavily armed DRG commandos roamed about throughout the night.

The padyatra then proceeded to Errabore and Injaram. Injaram was where Soni Sori’s fact-finding team to Gompad was stopped by the police and the local administration in June this year. At that time, Soni had had to come back to Sukma from Injaram to launch an indefinite hunger strike for justice. From Injaram, the padyatra proceeded to Konta (located 157 km from Dantewada, and most violent counter-insurgency block), Bonda, the Murligora CRPF Camp and Belposa. The padyatra finally reached Gompad on the evening of 14 August. This padyatra thus traversed through the villages which have till now been symbols of terror, symbols of state oppression. And in the process, the padyatra emphatically declared its intension of reclaiming these spaces, reclaiming control over values of democracy and freedom which have been violently snatched away.

Throughout the yatra, personnel from the Intelligence Bureau, LIB and SIB followed, video-recording every movement. The yatra was stopped several times, and the participants were thoroughly questioned by CRPF officers in front of the camps as well as on the roads. The participants had trouble in getting places to stay at night. Local people repeatedly informed the participants that they had been threatened and warned not to provide any kind of help to the padayatris. It was difficult to rent loudspeakers anywhere. Even in Dantewada town, suppliers politely refused and explained that they dare not help the padyatris in any way. However, in many places some people expressed support to the yatra on their own. The yatra also had to suffer from direct threats on its way. On 11 August, Soni Sori left for Jagdalpur Court as she had to present herself there as per a court order. On the way, near Kodenar where a chemical attack on Soni Sori had taken place on 20 February earlier this year, her car was attacked. Three cars in a row tried to push Soni’s car out of the road.

On the evening of 14 August, the entire village of Gompad warmly welcomed the padyatris. Around hundred fifty villagers gathered in front of the grave of Madkam Hidme, along with fifty padayatris at about 8 am on 15 August. Flowers and rice was offered at her grave. Soni Sori appealed to the whole nation through the media persons to ensure justice for Madkam Hidme and to stand in support and save the adivasis of Bastar from the inhuman repression of state-armed forces. The national flag was then hoisted by Madkam Hidme’s mother Lakshmi at a nearby field. Speaking in Gondi, this brave woman said that the flag was a symbol of peace, that they were citizens of India, too. “Even when a dog goes mad, we think a great deal before ending its life”, she added. On the other hand, armed forces of the State were raping and murdering innocent adivasis and looting everything at their will.

At this function, where Madkam Hidme’s tragic story formed the backdrop – it being a symbol of Bastar today – villagers spoke about her. She was killed because she was supposed to be a Maoist. Yet, the villagers remember that when the armed forces came to pick her up on 12 June, they were escorted by a former Maoist Dalam member, Santosh. He had been expelled from the Dalam, and had since joined the armed forces. Santosh, when he was a Dalam member, had tried hard to persuade Hidme to join the Maoists, and when she refused, had even beaten her mother Lakshmi. It was this Hidme who the armed forces had killed for supposedly being a ‘Maoist’.

Family members of several victims from nearby villages who have been killed by the armed forces also tried to make their way to Gompad. They wanted to narrate their humiliations. While waiting for them, the padyatris and some villagers gathered again on a nearby field. Finally, the family members of victims came, and a list of 11 victims who were killed only in this current year was handed over to Soni Sori. A long conversation followed and it was decided that all these cases of murder will be filed as a single case in the Bilaspur High Court. Soon, more family members of recent victims came and added to the ever-growing list of victims. In fact, on the very next day, 16 August, news of yet another fake encounter came to light. On this very Independence Day Arjun Kashyap, an adivasi boy of Chindgur village of Bastar was picked up and killed by police forces and declared to be a Maoist guerrilla.

In official celebrations around Independence Day conducted by the government, there is of course no mention of the ongoing war against adivasis. The ‘Sarvajan Adivasi Samaj’ (backed and sponsored by the state government) organized cultural programs on 9 August, where Soni Sori was even barred from addressing the gathering!

The Tiranga Yatra unfurled the national flag to shame the repressive State – to reclaim the values of the Constitution that the State is formally bound to defend but which it betrays and crushes. It was indeed a cry exposing the reality of repression in Bastar, and the defiance against it.

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