Thursday, 17 December 2009

Blow the whistle, and be blown off!

Chhattisgarh is burning!
Mumbai buries itself in New Year's Eve planning!

The planned padyatra (peace march), satyagrah and jan sunwai (public hearing) in the Dantewada district of the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh was ready to take off, beginning from the paved roads of the town of Dantewada, leading into the dense forests of the state. Almost.

On December 10, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram's (VCA) tribal activist Kopa Kunjam and human rights lawyer Alban Toppo from Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) were illegally detained and badly beaten by the cops. Alban was released next day but Kopa was arrested on charges of being involved in the murder of Punam Honga who was abducted by Maoists on June 2, 2009, whose body was later found in a mutilated condition.

While I pen this, and until the time you read this, it is unlikely that Kopa would be free. His arrest is part of the same series of police crackdown, as was of Dr Binayak Sen in 2007, and many others who rose their voices in dissent.

The point is only one. If you disagree with the Chhattisgarh Government and try putting across another point of view then you will be removed from the scene. This is Chhattisgarh. And the Government of India? It will watch in silence.

Satyendranath Dubey was a National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) project manager, who was killed on November 27, 2003, in Gaya, when he had written to the Prime Minister’s Office complaining about corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral project.

If you dissent against the state
Death is your only fate

Kopa's arrest at such a crucial point of time explains the cowardly government's stance. The democratic set-up of the state knows it too well that the padyatra will expose the fact that today, there is hardly any family -- who were once residents of the villages of Dantewada but have now fled to the jungles to save their breath -- which does not have any of its love ones either raped, mutilated or murdered. The state has to hide such atrocities that its own security forces -- the state police, the CRPF and Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) -- have afflicted on its own people.

Below is some information about the wonderful man whose wings have been clipped and voice has been silenced, the case in which he was implicated wrongly. If you manage to keep yourself glued to this post until its end, and yet don't feel your intestine churn with anger, then perhaps you have flushed your heart into the commode, just the way the government assumes that it can flush down its own people.

© Javed Iqbal

Kopa has spent more than 13 years of his life with the VCA. A brilliant singer and orator, he was with the Gayatri mission where he motivated people through his songs to stop drinking alcohol. His strong vocal chords got him a job in VCA where he not only continued to spread his anti-liquor message, but he also began to organise kala jathas (cultural mobilisation campaigns on peace, unity and self-reliance). Armed with a strong baritone and tireless feet to walk miles without any trace of fatigue, Kopa and other workers started mobilising people to demand entitlements related to their Right to Food and Health, and saving and reclaiming their natural Resources. So it wasn't surprising when he managed to gather more than 750 community workers on these issues and more than 40 main trainers, in Dantewada and Bijapur districts.

Kopa became uncomfortable for the administration and police since 2008. As per a Supreme Court order, he began to initiate the resettlement and rehabilitation work of all those villagers who had left their villages due to the atrocities of the Salwa Judum and SPOs. He also exposed the Matwara massacre of March 18, 2008, where three tribals were brutally killed and their bodies mutilated in a Salwa Judum camp. Kopa helped the families initiate legal proceedings in the High Court; he also got the widows of the three to file a complaint in the police station, which never got converted to a FIR.

Kopa also exposed the Singaram massacre of 2009, where four girls were raped and murdered. Fifteen men were also murdered in this episode. Kopa got the families of the victims to initiate legal proceedings in the High Court and also got them to file complaints in the local police station. In 2009, he took cudgels with the district administration regarding corruption in the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), including non-payment of wages to tribals. He was constantly fighting for people's rights to get their share through the public distribution system (PDS) from ration shops, the only agency of the Government existing in the villages. No schools, no hospitals. Only the police and security forces exist as the face of the Government.

Villages bleed
The media misleads
Cities think tribals are rotten weed
The government doesn't pay any heed
Profits, power, position -- how many more Ps does the world need?
How many more wails before you put an end to this greed?

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