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Monday, June 09, 2014  
Life between Cry and Agony: Facts from the Red Corridor
"If Maoist movement has become the greatest internal threat to India, the operation started by the government to curb the armed rebellion has endangered the communities living in the forests and the so called Red Corridor. The situation is becoming worse than before as the forces deployed to curb Maoist rebels have become the major troublemaker to the innocent people. The civil rights and opportunities to live life peacefully are almost seized. Anybody raising a voice to safeguard the rights is outright termed as a Maoist Rebel or a supporter. Either by the Maoist rebels or the Security forces, reign of terror continues to suppress the voice of people and communities living in the Naxal affected areas."
Gladson Dungdung
   

After arrival of the Monsoon, the city dwellers are enjoying the cool weather; farmers are busy preparing their paddy fields for a proper harvest. But, situation in the red corridor is more or less the same with anxiety, uncertainty, fear, pain and shock rule over the region. Perhaps, one could hear the non-ending cry in the clustered village of Sosokuti, an Adivasi (Tribal) dominated village comprising five hamlets – Barulata, Hesahatu, Kochasindri, Sosohatu and Sosokuti in the middle of Balanda, Mosanga and Sosokuti forests in Arki block under Khunti district in Jharkhand. These forests are also known as the abode of the Maoist Guerillas. Interestingly, Sosokuti is merely 75 kilometers from Ranchi the capital city of Jharkhand and the state has utterly failed to content the discontents here. Consequently, the Indian State has included the village as a part of its red corridor map and a camp of the Security Forces has been set in the Primary School at its neighbouring village Mosanga. Now both the parties – the Security Forces and the Maoists have been exploiting the innocent villagers who can do nothing except shouting, weeping and crying.

It is obvious that the Security Forces have terrorized all the villages. Frankly speaking, when a vehicle enters into a remote village, it becomes fun for the children. They start running behind the vehicle. However, the situation is just opposite in Sosokuti village. Whenever, a vehicle enters into the village, all the villagers including children, women and men run away to hide, shield and protect themselves. These days, the police visits the village all most everyday and humiliate, beat and torture the innocent villagers, destroys their food and shelter. Therefore, they assume that each vehicle entering into their village belongs to the Police. However, there is some special rule, which only few people know that if anyone blows the vehicle’s horn before entering into the village that means the vehicle does not belong to the police therefore the villagers have nothing to worry about. Once a vehicle enters into the village blowing horn, the villagers gather nearby the vehicle immediately assuming that some one is there to hear them in the village. Once you start hearing them, all most everyone wants to tell you the painful, shameful and heartbreaking experiences, which they face almost everyday in the red corridor.

Creating livelihood crisis:

There are about 2500 people live in Sosokuti village, whose livelihood is based on agriculture, forest produces and daily wage. However, there is a huge livelihood crisis in the village after launching of the anti-Naxal operation widely known as the ‘operation green hunt’. Earlier, each and every family used to earn Rs. 100 to 150 per day by selling firewood, leaf and other minor forest produces in the local markets. Now the villagers have stopped going to the forests in fear of losing their lives while collecting the forest produces. According to Sufal Muda of Sosokuti, who used to sell the firewood, the police exploit the villagers in the forest. He says, "Police can catch us, shoot and project it as a case of encounter with armed Maoists, Therefore we can not dare to roam in the forest".

35 year-old Etwari Devi of Sosokuti village is a daily wage labourer. She lives in the village with her husband Arjun Lohra (40), mother-in-law Sokhi Devi (70) and 14 year-old son Rajan Lohra. Her family earns the livelihood through daily wage and selling of the firewood. Presently, she has been working in the road construction scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA). On July 8, 2010, when she was at the road construction site, the Security forces entered into her house breaking the locked door, poured the cooked food (rice and vegetable) into the wood-burning stove and ransacked the utensils. In the evening when Etwari returned home with the hungry stomach, she was stunned to see the broken door, scattered utensils and spoilt food in her house. She says, "I knew that the Police must have done this. However, to confirm I asked my neighbour Ambika Devi who was present in the village when the incident took place. She told me that the police had come and entered into my house". Suddenly she became angry and says, "Ask the police to give us food, cloth and shelter. We’ll desert the village if living in the village makes us the Maoists. She questions, "The police torture us in the day and the Maoists in the night, what is our crime we want to know?"

A meaningless war between the State and the Maoists has created an atmosphere of terror in the village, which is resulting in migration of youth to the cities for a livelihood and a life in peace. Three youth of Kochasindri, a hamlet of Sosokuti village, migrated to Panjab. Earlier, there was no such case of migration. A brave woman of Kochasindri, Shanti Devi, who fights against the police torture says, "The police humiliates, exploits and tortures the innocent villagers after branding them as the Maoists. Therefore the youth think that it is better to ensure livelihood from the outside of the village rather than facing the police torture while collecting the firewood in the forest". She questions, "Why don’t the police go to the forests and fight with the Maoists instead of exploiting the innocent villagers?" Indeed, the villagers are facing the livelihood crisis, which seems to be increasing day by day. And, the failure of monsoon would just add fuel in the fire.

Happiness is a crime in the red corridor:

Can anyone be surprised to hear that the Security Forces do not want the villagers to lead joyful lives in the red corridor? The painful reality of Sosohatu - another hamlet of Sosokuti village - reveals the truth. 28 year-old Satnarayan Munda of Sosohatu and 20 year old Basanti Kumari of Nawadih village of Tamar block got married on 30 June, 2010. Thereafter, Satnarayan Munda returned to his village with his newly wed wife Basanti and the villagers who were part of the marriage ceremony in Basanti’s village. There was a reception party in Satnarayan’s village on July 1 therefore the villagers and Satnarayan’s relatives had gathered in Satnarayan’s house. They did the reception rituals thereafter ate, drank and danced till the late night.

Meanwhile, the Security forces assume the marriage function as a celebration party of the Maoists therefore they went to the village in hunt of the Maoists. It was 4’ O clock in the morning on July 2. Nearly 150 security persons blocked Sosokuti from every corner. Satnarayan Munda’s father Dhan Singh Munda was lying on the bed in his courtyard when a team of the Security forces entered into his house and asked him, "Is it the party of the Maoist? He was stunned to hear the question but replied humbly, "Today, there was a marriage function of my son". Perhaps, the security forces didn’t believe in Munda’s words therefore they continued their operations for hunting the Maoists.

Suddenly, few policemen entered into a bedroom where Satnarayan and Basanti were spending their first night. Basanti states about the nightmare saying, "I was shocked to see the Policemen entering into my bedroom without permission." She questions, "Can any one do this? Who has given them (the Police) the right to take away our personal freedom whenever and wherever they want?" The police dragged out Satnarayan Munda from his bedroom and severely beat him in front of his wife. Basanti says, "My husband started vomiting and he fell down into the ground. I asked the Police, "What is his crime?" They replied, "he is a Maoist." After a few minutes, the policemen took him with them." "I don’t know what is his crime but, of course, I know that the police blocked my life before the beginning of a new adventure", ‘She added and started weeping.

The police also arrested Dhan Singh Munda, Rekha Kumari, Sunita Kumari, Devilal Munda and another two villagers who were part of the wedding party alleging them of supporting the Maoists. Later on, the police released five of them but Satnarayan Munda and Rekha Kumari were sent to Jail. Ironically, Satnarayan was booked in 17 CLA though the FIR claiming that he was keeping the pamphlets of a banned Naxalite organization and was working for it. But the FIR doesn’t describe about using or keeping arms. The interesting part is, the pamphlet which the police found from Satnarayan’s residence is issued by a forum called "Operation Green Hunt Virodhi Nagrik Manch", which is headed by a pioneer Human Rights Activist Stan Swami and, of course, the pamphlet is also drafted by him only. In fact, the police has taken for granted that the every party, function and marriage ceremony organized in the red corridor is a pro-Maoist activity. The million-dollar question is, do the villagers have no right to enjoy their lives? The villagers are between the sword and the sickle but where will they go in this situation? Who is there to listen to their grievances? Do they have right to live with dignity too?

Dress code in the red corridor:

We have heard so many times about the dress code imposed on women by the fundamentalist groups, of course, which is counted under the purview of violation of the liberty of individual. More than it, anyone would be shocked to hear that the Security forces have imposed (unofficially) almost a similar kind of dress code in the red corridor. If a female member including school going girls dare to wear a dress like Salwar suit, it’s enough a fact for the security forces to brand them Maoists? 14 year-old Lalita Munda of Sosokuti village reveals about her terrible experience that she had undergone and, of course, there would be many more to undergo through the ordeal everyday.

Lalita left her school after death of her mother a few years back and now plays the role of her mother in the family. On July 8, 2012, about 100 security forces arrived at her village in the afternoon when she was boiling the paddy grains so that she could make rice out of it and cook it later. The security forces gushed into her house without permission (Remember, common men can not enter in the camps of the security force without permission. Are the forces empowered to do anything with the power of gun?). She heard a voice coming from outside of her house, "Take out her if she is in ‘salwar suit’ and leave her if she has worn school dress". Fortunately, Munda had worn her old school dress, which protected her for the moment.

She says, "The security forces brand those girls as Maoists who wear salwar suit and take them to the police station, torture, molest and even rape them and finally put them behind the bars. Therefore we can not wear salwar suit". After a few moments she gets enraged and says, "If police want us to be naked, just tell us we’ll go naked. We’ll throw our clothes into bay if clothes make us the Maoists". After seeing the rapid growth of anger, one should not be surprised if these girls and women of the red corridor decide to walk in the capital city of Jharkhand nakedly. Are we ready for that? The Indian State must respond to the question very seriously because the same villagers have given their mandate to protect their rights.

The peculiar thing about every village situated in the red corridor is, there are more or less the same terrible experiences of humiliation, torture, molestation, rape, and cold-blooded murder of the innocent villagers by the security forces deployed in the anti-Naxal operations. However, no one goes to the police station for filing an FIR against the perpetrators for the obvious reasons. If anyone dares to speak against them is coined as a Maoist and thrown them behind the bars. Xavier Soy of Shiyadih village in Kuchai block of Saraikela-Kharsawan district was thrown behind the bars for raising questions against the police atrocity. The Superintendent of Police (Khunti) Manoj Kaushik says, "The villagers speak against the police due to immense pressure from the Maoists, which is part of their strategy to use the villagers in their favour". The pertinent question is why are the people not favouring the police? Is it only because of fear from the Maoist menace? Does it mean the villagers are voiceless? If so, it is a shame for the Indian democracy, which could not yet empower the villagers in the last 63 years?

The most worrying factor is, the way discontent has been growing against the Indian State and victimization of the innocent villagers by the security forces is just multiplying the anger of the already angry masses. The villagers neither follow nor oppose the Maoists even though terrorized by the armed rebels, but the villagers are getting too much torture and atrocities from the armed jawans and police and their anger against the security forces is growing everyday, every moment. Therefore, one can only imagine what would happen if every discontent takes up the gun and joins the Maoist fold. In that case, the Indian State won’t be able to deal with the situation. However, India’s corporate sympathiser Home Minister P Chidambaram has publicly claimed that he would be eliminating the Maoist menace within next three years by serving the development cola and organizing the licensed killings in the red corridor. But the question that may remain unanswered is – will he wipe out the discontent of the innocent villagers without addressing the issue of injustice?

(Author is a Human Rights Activist and Writer from Jharkhand)

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