Aarti Dhar

NEW DELHI: The Centre and the Chhattisgarh government should hold the security forces and state-backed vigilantes responsible for having attacked, displaced and killed people in armed operations against Maoist rebels since mid-2005, Human Rights Watch has said. In a report released on Tuesday, it called for an end to all government support for unlawful activities by Salwa Judum vigilantes, and urged the State government to take immediate measures to protect the tens of thousands of persons displaced. It also called upon the Maoist rebels to end attacks on civilians and other abuses.

The 182-page report “Being Neutral is Our Biggest Crime: Government, Vigilante and Naxalite Abuses in India’s Chhattisgarh State” documents human rights abuses, particularly against indigenous tribal communities, caught in a tug-of-war among the government security forces, Salwa Judum and naxalites.

Human Rights Watch has found that since mid-2005, the security forces and members of the Salwa Judum — which officials describe as a spontaneous citizen’s anti-naxal movement — attacked villages, raped and killed villagers, and burnt down huts to force people into government camps. The report collected more than 50 eyewitness accounts of attacks involving the security forces in 18 villages in Dantedwada and Bijapur districts. At the same time, the naxalites carried out bombings and abductions, and beat up and executed civilians, particularly those suspected of supporting Salwa Judum. Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons are stranded in government camps in Chhattisgarh or in the forest land of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

The report is based on four weeks of on-the-ground research in the two States in late 2007 and early 2008, including 175 accounts from affected villagers, Salwa Judum leaders, government officials and police, and former naxalites.

At least 1,00,000 people have resettled in camps in Chhattisgarh or fled to Andhra Pradesh, says the report. Those living in the camps have little access to government healthcare or livelihood opportunities. Basic sanitation is often lacking and the government has failed to provide free food. Between 30,000 and 50,000 displaced persons have settled in the forest land of Andhra Pradesh and are doubly dispossessed as the government has described their hamlets as illegal and used excessive force to repeatedly evict or relocate them, without consulting them or giving them alternative housing.

The report also highlights the impact of this conflict on children’s lives. The naxalites have long used children, as young as six, as informers and those 12 and above in armed operations. The Chhattisgarh police have also recruited and used children as special police officers to assist security forces, often deploying them in high-risk anti-naxal combing operations. While the Chhattisgarh police have acknowledged this as an error, the government is yet to devise a scheme for systematically identifying, demobilising and rehabilitating the underage police officers.

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