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Were there air raids on Adivasi areas of Bastar?

Many residents of the villages and the forests in Bastar allege that the security forces have mounted aerial attacks on farms and forested areas on four different occasions over the past three years. They are terrified and want to know what the government wants to prove by unleashing attacks on its own citizens. Manish Bhatt Manu reports

Chhattisgarh’s Bastar division is again in the news. The villagers and the Naxalites allege that aerial attacks mounted by the government have killed many innocent residents. In a press statement, Naxal outfits claimed that helicopters and drones dropped bombs on Mettaguda, Bhattigud, Kavurgatta, Jabbagatta and other villages in the Pamed area on 7 April. 

Similar allegations were made in April 2021, April 2022 and January 2023. The local administration and the security forces, of course, deny such claims. They say that the Naxal organizations, which are rapidly losing ground, are dejected and are making imaginary allegations to gain sympathy.  

Reports of aerial attacks on the Naxals are not new. Such reports have surfaced in the past, too. In 2013, then Indian Air Force chief N.A.K. Browne was quoted as saying that the IAF would station a unit of 12 choppers at Nagpur in Maharashtra by June of that year to conduct exploratory and relief missions in the Naxal-infested areas of Jagdalpur (Bastar). The IAF chief was quoted as saying that the unit would include MI-17 V-5 helicopters and six of them would be reserved for operations in Naxal areas. It was also said then that in view of the brutal attack by the Naxals in Sukma, air power would assist the paramilitary forces involved in anti-Naxal operations.  

At the time, too, many had expressed the apprehension that aerial attacks might be mounted on the pretext of exploratory and relief operations. Ten years down the line, the numbers of choppers and their bases have increased and so have the exploratory and relief operations. In January 2023, following allegations of aerial attacks in the area around the border between Sukma and Bijapur districts, the CRPF had claimed in an official statement that the Naxals had opened fire during an operation to move the jawans from the forward-base camp and they had been chased away by retaliatory firing by the security forces. No one knows whether the Naxals or the security forces were speaking the truth.

Adivasis protesting against the government

Many residents of the villages and the forests in Bastar allege that the security forces have mounted aerial attacks on farms and on forested areas on four different occasions over the past three years. And they fear that such attacks would continue. They are terrified and want to know what the government wants to prove by unleashing such attacks on its own people. 

It may be mentioned here that after the Bastar visit of the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) had issued a statement saying that it expected aerial attacks to follow. Amit Shah, who was visiting Jagdalpur on the CRPF Raising Day, said at an event that the battle with the Naxalites was in its last phase. He had claimed that the Maoists would be erased soon. To accomplish that objective, the informers’ network in Dandakaranya has been activated and preparations are being made to use choppers and drones to mount air strikes. The bombardment by the jawans on 7 April last was a part of this exercise. 

Bastar’s Inspector General of Police (IGP) Sundarraj P. however, insists that the Naxals are peddling misinformation. He says that keeping in mind the safety and security of the residents, no aerial attack has been mounted to date in Bastar. He says that the Naxals often make baseless allegations to defame the security forces and lower their morale.

Rich in natural resources, Bastar has long been witness to a battle between the Naxals and the government. Both have their own claims and pieces of evidence, which they keep on presenting from time to time. But it is also true that the stand of the people of Bastar – mostly Adivasis – has never been presented in an unbiased manner. Security forces are often accused of fake encounters, foisting false charges on Adivasis, sending them to jail for no reason, setting homes and crops ablaze, forcibly taking away cattle for food and raping girls and women. 

The government and the security forces, of course, reject all these allegations outright, terming them as false propaganda. But at the same time, judicial commissions of enquiry appointed by the government have confirmed many of these charges. A CBI investigation had also questioned the conduct of the security forces. It is very difficult to say with any degree of certainty as to who is saying the truth – the government or the Naxals. As for the Adivasis who live in the villages and the forests of Bastar, no one has the time to give them a hearing – neither the government nor society. 

(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)

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About The Author

Manish Bhatt Manu

Manish Bhatta Manu is a Bhopal-based journalist. He has been associated with the Hindi daily 'Deshbandhu' for a long time and has regularly contributed to other newspapers and magazines on issues concerning Adivasis

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