Fourth Drone Bomb Attack on Indigenous People in Bastar, Chhattisgarh
Indigenous (Adivasi) people in Bijapur district of Bastar, in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, have been traumatised by yet another aerial bomb attack from the security forces which have been using drones to carry out these operations. Although the Indian Air Force is not officially deployed for combat in Chhattisgarh, the repeated use of aerial bombardment on civilian populations suggests a new dimension to the state terror being inflicted on the Adivasi population of Bastar for years. This particular bombardment was carried on 7 April 2023 on four villages that lie in the Morkemetta hills.
Immediately following the bombing, which caused panic amongst the people, the government forces deployed three helicopters to discharge heavy machine gun fire on the villagers going about their routine activities. Fortunately, no casualties have been reported, however, one person is known to have sustained several injuries. The fact that there were no casualties may indicate that the purpose of the attack was to create terror among the Adivasi people and make them abandon their villages, thus making way for mining corporations to move in the area. As previously, the police has claimed that the allegations are false and an attempt is made to “mislead” the “native population.
“We had gone out early morning to gather mahua when suddenly from the top a drone came and showered bombs over us. We didn’t understand what was happening …”
“What does the sarkar want from us sir, … We are the people who live in the forests, … why is the sarkar doing all this to us? What will the sarkar do after driving us all away from here? We are now scared of going into the jungle. If drones attacks are going to happen from the sky, who will want to go into the forest? One is feeling scared of even living here in the village …”
[Translations of villagers’ testimonies to Inside Story Bastar. 9 April 2023]
This latest attack on the Adivasis is part of an ongoing operation called Operation SAMADHAN-Prahar, a genocidal military policy to break the people’s democratic resistance against corporate looting. This operation, started in 2017, is follow-up of its predecessor, the infamous Operation Green Hunt carried out by the police and central paramilitary forces, coupled with Salwa Judum, a government funded vigilante mercenary organisation set up against the Adivasi people. The Salwa Judum was discontinued after the Supreme Court of India declared it unlawful, but paramilitary operations against the Adivasi population have continued in different forms, including these latest cases of aerial bombing.
The attack on 7 April 2023 is the fourth such aerial attack in past three years. The one prior to this occurred on 11 January 2023 in the same district. A Fact-Finding Team put together by Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation (CDRO) was prevented by the administration from visiting the sites of the attacks later that month, but could finally visit the villages in March 2023 and obtained evidence and testimonies of the aerial bombardment. As noted above, military operations have been going on since over a decade with the specific aim of removing the Adivasi people from the jungles of central India, under the façade of eliminating the CPI (Maoist) guerrillas, otherwise known as “Naxals”, whom the Indian government terms as left-wing extremists.
What underlies this conflict with the Maoist insurgents in the forests of central India? Adivasis live in forests which exist over lands that often contain precious minerals underneath the earth. The corporate giants want to extract those minerals for fat profits. Unfortunately, the Adivasi are in the way. Rather than being bulldozed off their land, losing lives and livelihoods, which has all too often happened in the past, the Adivasis have learned to resist and defend their ancestral land. The conflict is between Adivasis and state-corporate nexus, with the security forces backing the entry of the mining corporations into these areas. This resistance has resulted in hundreds of Adivasi being killed in fake encounters, thousands ending up in prison as undertrials, and many instances of sexual violence against women.
Social activists who have been speaking out against this injustice have also ended up in prisons. Falsely accused and convicted Professor G N Saibaba, Pandu Narote, Mahesh Tikri, Hem Mishra, Prashant Rahi and Vijay Tikri are serving life imprisonment in Nagpur prison since March 2017. Pandu Narote has since died in prison as a result of the jail authority’s negligence. G N Saibaba devoted his life to defending the rights of the Adivasi to their land. Then there are the well known sixteen democratic rights activists falsely implicated in what has come to be known as the Bhima Koregaon case. These sixteen were locked in prison between 2018 and 2020 on the basis of an essentially fabricated case prepared by the notorious National Investigative Agency against them under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Since then, one of them, Father Stan Swamy, an ardent proponent of Adivasi land rights, died in prison due to willful medical negligence on 5 July 2021, and only three have managed to secure bail after huge legal battles.
For decades, successive Prime Ministers and Home Ministers have been driving the operations to displace the Adivasis from their lands and livelihoods under the garb of eliminating the Maoists. They have consistently failed because the Adivasis understand their intentions and continue to resist every Indian government’s policy to turn them into internally displaced migrants in their own country. The solution to these reckless policies in favour of the mining corporations surely does not lie in the government inflicting terror on the population it purports to govern. It certainly will not be found in the bombing campaigns that are currently being carried out against the people living in the forests of Chhattisgarh. The answer must be found in an understanding that puts the needs of the indigenous people before the profits of mining enterprises.
- Immediate halt to the aerial bombardment of Adivasi people in India
- Immediate halt to Operation SAMADHAN-Prahar and other such operations
- Immediate cessation of all mining projects in the Adivasi heartlands
- Promptly start open negotiations with the Adivasi people recognizing their right to life, land and livelihoods.
- Immediate release of all prisoners fighting for the rights of Adivasi people