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IG Kalluri's reign of terror: there's hardly a place left for truth in Bastar

Rajkumar Soni | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 6:03 IST

The authority

  • K Sivarama Prasad Kalluri is the Inspector General of Police for the Bastar region in Chhattisgarh
  • Kalluri is credited with quelling the Maoist insurgency in Surguja district, and was posted to Bastar despite his chequered past

The crackdown

  • In the last few months, there has been a crackdown on journalists and activists who have tried to highlight the tribals\' plight
  • Kalluri is known to be somebody who doesn\'t take kindly to dissent

More in the story

  • Voices from the ground pinning the blame on Kalluri
  • The government\'s empty promises on protecting journalists

"Sabse bada apradh hai

Is samay nihatthe aur nirapradh hona

Jo apradhi nahin honge, maare jayenge."

(It is the biggest crime

To be unarmed and innocent in our times

Those who aren't criminals will be slain.)

These words of noted Hindi poet Rajesh Joshi reflect the bitter truth. And they ring especially true in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. It's almost as if Joshi had written this specifically with the Adivasis of Bastar in mind.

Read- 'I will not leave Bastar': activist Bela Bhatia in an open letter

However, it's no longer just the tribals who are at risk. The wrath of the police has also turned towards journalists and social activists. As dissenting voices increasingly raise questions about the atrocities suffered by the people, the authorities have got an even bigger reason to repress these voices.

The current Inspector General of Bastar, K Sivarama Prasad Kalluri, is not known for taking kindly to dissent.

Chequered track record

Some people credit Kalluri with breaking the back of the Maoist insurgency in Surguja district. In 2013, he was even conferred the President's Police Medal for Meritorious Service. But, his style of functioning has repeatedly come under questioning from civil rights activists.

There were allegations that Kalluri had ordered the gangrape of a tribal woman when he was the SP of Surguja. He then allegedly terrorised the woman and her lawyer when they decided to file a complaint.

Bastar IG Kalluri is credited with breaking the back of the Maoist insurgency in Surguja district

Kalluri's earlier tenure as Senior Superintendent of Police in the Dantewada district was marred by attacks on three villages and social activist Swami Agnivesh. Bickering with seniors at the police headquarters and consistent complaints by tribals had led to his transfer as IG (Naxal Operations).

However, Kalluri's departure from Bastar was followed by a deliberate campaign in bureaucratic and political circles for his return. Word spread that only Kalluri was capable of taking on well-entrenched Naxals in this area.

The Raman Singh government ignored his chequered past to appoint him IG of Bastar Range in 2014. Maoist violence in the region was on the rise at that time, and Kalluri went after journalists and social activists with a vengeance.

Attacks on scribes

The past few months have witnessed a sudden spurt in this intimidation drive. The ham-fisted police has arrested several journalists, including Somaru Nag, Santosh Yadav, Animesh Pal and Yagya Dutt Kashyap during last six months.

Also read: Mr President, please ensure Lingaram doesn't have to kill himself

Another local journalist, Prabhat Singh, was arrested last Monday at Barsoor in south Bastar.

Prabhat was working for the Journalists Security Act, a law protecting journalists in the area. He had also been writing on the recent attacks on Adivasi activist Soni Sori and her family. Sori and her lawyers have alleged that Kalluri is behind the attacks.

Prabhat had reported extensively on the alleged fake encounters in Rewali and Nahadi. He had also visited these villages with Sori and her nephew and journalist-activist Lingaram Kodopi.

While sections 67 and 67(a) of the IT Act have been slapped against Prabhat for allegedly forwarding a message against Kalluri on WhatsApp, his fellow journalists Santosh and Somaru face more serious charges of criminal conspiracy, inciting violence and supporting the banned CPI (Maoist).

Cops have arrested five scribes in the last 6 months, with the latest being Prabhat Singh on Monday

According to Ramnath Nag, the former sarpanch of Darbha, Santosh was punished for helping the Adivasis.

"The police wanted to kill me in a fake encounter. One day, they took me to the jungle, but suddenly, Santosh arrived on the scene and I was saved. It happened not once, but twice," Ramnath narrates.

Clearly, the police officers did not like this intervention, and Santosh was branded as a Maoist. Ramnath believes the other journalists of Bastar are also paying the price for reporting the human rights violations by the security forces.

The local Patrakar Suraksha Samiti (Journalists' Safety Committee) has been fighting for the release of the arrested journalists. It has also demanded a tough law to protect the scribes. But, the government has so far refused to listen.

Senior lawyer Mahendra Dubey regrets that the state government's promise to look into these demands has proved to be hollow. He says it was only to deflect the pressure, as the arrests of the Bastar journalists had caused a nationwide outrage. He says nothing has changed on the ground.

Journalists have protested on the streets of Bastar as well as the capital Raipur. Yet, attacks on scribes in Bastar have not ceased.

Read more: World's biggest democracy a dangerous place for journalists?

The attack on the house of Scroll.in reporter Malini Subramaniam in Jagdalpur is another case in point. She has been writing on tribal issues, and was allegedly threatened on 10 January by some unidentified persons, who termed her as a Maoist. Last month, her house was stoned by a group of men.

Malini has accused the activists of the Samajik Ekta Manch for this attack. It is a local group that claims to be a forum against Maoists. The police has not acted against the outfit, despite condemnation from all quarters.

Resources more important than people?

The fates of Somaru, Santosh, Malini, Prabhat and their colleagues point towards the dilemma confronting the intellectual and upright journalists in Chhattisgarh. There is a concerted effort in Bastar to muzzle their voices.

"The authority of any state has a natural dislike for dissent. However, the efforts to crush even valid dissent only shows the desperation of the machinery involved in the plundering of people's resources," says Manoj Rupda, a renowned novelist based in Chhattisgarh.

The state government is apparently more interested in the rich natural resources of Bastar than its people. All of its efforts are concentrated on doling out these resources to the corporate sector. Anybody asking questions or demanding justice for tribals is automatically deemed as a Naxal by the administration.

The state govt seems to be more interested in the rich natural resources of Bastar than its people

And the journalists are not the only ones suffering. Nothing epitomises the suffering of Adivasi social activists better than the attack on Sori last month.

An acid-like substance was thrown on her face by unidentified assailants when she was returning from Dantewada's Bastanar town to her residence in Geedam town.

Sori was purportedly warned by the attackers to stop raising her voice against IG Kalluri and the fake encounters in the area.

Apart from social activists, several women lawyers associated with the Jagdalpur Legal Aid group have also alleged persecution at the hands of the police.

Lawyer Shalini Gera recounts: "I used to stay at a rented accommodation in Jagdalpur. At first, my landlord was tortured by the police. Then, I was hounded by the members of the Samajik Ekta Manch. The group is openly working at the behest of Kalluri."

Also read- Chhattisgarh: in the State's war against Maoists, truth is the first casualty

A retired police officer agrees with Gera. "The Samajik Ekta Manch is like a pocket edition of the Salwa Judum," he says on the condition of anonymity.

Social activist Alok Shukla adds: "The Samajik Ekta Manch enjoys police patronage, just like Salwa Judum. It ostensibly arranges the marriages of the surrendered Maoists and organises programs at various places. Its members proclaim they want peace in Bastar and openly offer support to IG Kalluri."

CM's criticism

The attitude of the state government over the state of affairs in Bastar worries many analysts. Chief Minister Raman Singh has criticised human rights activists on several occasions. According to him, they find fault only with the police force and overlook Maoist atrocities.

"The Chief Minister says he is committed to uprooting the Maoist insurgency. But, he has turned a blind eye towards the behaviour of the police. It seems he is silently supporting the increasing tyranny of the Bastar police," laments social activist Vikram.

There is hardly any place left for fearless human rights activists and journalists in Bastar. Nobody knows what lies in the future, but if everybody fears it, there must be something wrong somewhere.

Translated by Deepak Sharma

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 26 March 2016, 13:52 IST