A fact-finding team consisting of senior academics Bela Bhatia and Jean Drèze, and activists Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi visited Phulpad village of Dantewada district following the news that people were beaten up by Maoists. They found that villagers are caught between pressure from the Maoists, on one hand, and government authorities, on the other. A report on the team’s findings by Bela Bhatia and Soni Sori:
News of villagers in Phulpad village of Dantewada district being beaten by Maoists emerged a few days ago in the local media. We went to Phulpad on September 15 to ascertain the facts. Soon after we reached, the villagers assembled outside the local school and spoke to us about the incident. Most of them were very poor people who subsist mainly from farming.
We learnt that on the night of September 5, around 3 am, a large group of Maoist cadre went to two paras of Phulpad (Koyalanpara and Markampara) and woke people up saying that “sab ko jama hona hai”. Men, women and children all gathered at one place.
Meanwhile, the Maoists caught nine persons, including one woman who had tried to interpose when they caught her son. Some were beaten in front of the crowd, others some distance away. Many had their hands tied behind their back.
The beating was severe. Some of the victims showed us the marks of beating on their backs and legs, still visible ten days after the event. The young man who was most severely beaten is now in Dantewada hospital. We met him there in the evening. He said that he had been made to lie on his stomach with his hands tied behind his back.
One heavy person sat on this back while others beat the soles of his feet with hard sticks. Now, he is afraid of being killed, because the Maoists had told people not go to the hospital for treatment. He was taken to the hospital by the police, who had come to the village after hearing about the beatings. Other men had run away as the police approached, but he was unable to move because of his injuries.
Why were people beaten? The reasons were not easy to understand. From what the villagers said, it seems that the Maoists resented the fact that they had associated with the government in various ways: for instance, by building Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana houses; by going along with the construction of an approach road; and by participating in cricket-related activities organized in Phulpad by a local government functionary who is also a BJP leader.
Also, there is a CRPF camp around 4 km away from Phulpad. The CRPF come to the village off and on, causing further suspicion from the Maoists about where the villagers stand. The young man who is in hospital said that the Maoists had objected to his new motorcycle, saying that he must have made money through dubious means (they called it “looting”).
The villagers were very worried, because the Maoists had told them to leave the village and go and live in nearby towns. They had even been told not to harvest their standing crops. The villagers said that they had replied, that night, that they would not leave. In front of us too, they asserted that they would continue to stay in their village.
This is a shocking instance of brutality and coercion against powerless people. Unfortunately, this sort of incident is not exactly uncommon in Bastar. People are often caught in this kind of situation, individually or as a group.
Their greatest problem is that there is nobody they can go to in order to complain or seek justice. Instead of helping them, the government often takes advantage of the situation (for instance, by using people’s discontent to recruit Special Police Officers, or SPOs, appointed to fight Maoists) and create further danger for the villagers. We hope that the government will refrain from doing this in Phulpad and we demand from the Maoists that they not repeat such incidents and allow villagers the freedom to choose how they want to live.