The Silent Voices of an
Unrecognized Armed Conflict
The Naxalite-Maoist movement first emerged in the 1980s to challenge the state’s widespread neglect of Adivasi (indigenous) people and the destruction of their ancestral lands for multi-national extractive projects. Gradually, this movement took over the forests of Bastar, one of the poorest regions in India where Adivasis lived in inhuman conditions. In order to free the area from Maoist guerrillas (largely composed of Adivasis), the state government of Chhattisgarh created the Salwa Judum, a mobilisation also made of indigenous individuals, who where then converted into militants in the internal armed conflict. In the process of making Adivasi people murdering each other, innocent villagers continue to be caught in the cross fire while state authorities are allocated the largest security funding in the history of the country.
The accounts provided in this article were collected in 2020 during a fact-finding undercover fieldwork in the conflict area of Bastar. The goal of this operation was to highlight the impact of the long-standing armed conflict on the Adivasi villagers, in support of the Peace Process launched by local communities.
The Jheeram Massacre
On May 25th 2013, Maoist insurgents of the Community Party of India (Maoist) attacked a convoy that was believed to belong to political leaders. The attack killed 27 people, among them were innocent Adivasi villagers who continue to be caught in the crossfire until this day.
More than 20,000 people have been killed in the (unrecognized) internal armed conflict. More than 100 women have been raped, hundreds of villages burnt, and at least 100,000 indigenous people displaced from their homes, lands and forests.
Tarabati lost her only son Raj at the Jheeram Massacre. He was 17 when he died.
“Since the incident, I find it very difficult to sleep at night. I am constantly thinking about my son. He was so young and had so many years ahead of him.” the mother mourned.
Tarabati suffers from chronic stress and finds day-to-day life very hard to cope with in the absence of her son. “There are many days when I don’t feel like eating,” she said, glancing at her son’s portrait behind me.
Her relatives who live in a neighbouring village keep inviting her to visit, as they know about Tarabati’s daily struggles. But she always refuses.
“To go visit them I will have to cross the place where the massacre happened — and I can’t bring myself to do that,” she explained.
This picture shows the memoir that was erected in the place where the massacre happened — among the 27 victims was Tarabati's son.
Tarabati, who lives in a 10 sq ft. dwelling, was supposed to receive housing from the government as compensation for the death of her son. By law, she was also entitled to a compensation of $12,000. Instead, the government offered her a menial cleaning job in one of their air-conditioned offices for a salary of $2 a day.
Poetic in its irony, the government not only failed to alleviate Tarabati's suffering, but added to the stress of a mourning mother.
Adivasi children trekking through armed-conflict areas, on their way to school.
"I am trying to unite with other women who have suffered from this incident, so we can all stand up to demand justice for the souls of our children" — concludes Tarabita.
Remembering her only child, Tarabati smiled with melancholy,
“He was a very sweet boy... Raj was the one that picked and bought all my sarees. Now, I don’t even know what sarees to get. My son used to tell me that one day he would take care of me, so that I would not have to work in construction sites anymore.”
In the weeks before this tragedy, her son, who had just graduated high-school, submitted a few job applications in secret.
"I received multiple letters with job offers in the weeks following his death — I was proud and devastated at the same time".
Caught in the cross-fire
"They came during the night while we slept. I was lying down with my husband and four children when they kicked the door down."
Admi, mother of four, lost her husband to a group of Naxalites (Maoists) who attacked the village during the night. Admi was tied to a pole and made to witness the violent beating that took the life of her husband.
Fieldwork conducted in support of a peace process launched by Adivasi (indigenous) people
"The Maoists threw Maasa around. They beated him up until he was no more,” — Admi recounts the incident.
Admi screamed for help right after the Maoist guerrillas left.
But the villagers, fearing for their life, did not leave their homes until dawn.
At the time of this fieldwork, 13 people from Admi's village were on the Maoist hit-list — allegedly for maintaining connections with the police as informants. Four people had already been killed at the time of her interview, her husband was the most recent.
As a widow, Admi is now left to care for her disabled daughter and three young sons by herself. Without the help of her husband, Admi is not able to maintain her crops.
Today the labour that secured the subsistence of their children has become too hard to bear.
The young children try to help Admi as much as their physical strength allows them, but as the mother reflected:
“This is not the life I want for them. They need to go to school and carve a better and safer life for themselves. All I need is a job with a steady income to make this happen”.
However, as is the case with countless other families who have lost their family members to this conflict, Admi is yet to receive any compensation. Meanwhile, both parties of the conflict (the Maoists and the State) continue to receive insatiable amounts of funding for their operations.