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Don't conduct aerial attacks in Chhattisgarh, other Adivasi areas: Civil rights groups

Counterview Desk 

Thirty top civil rights groups, under the banner National Campaign to Defend Democracy (NCDD) have asked the Government of India and the Chhattisgarh government to explain the existence of craters and bomb remnants in the forests of Sukma and Bijapur,  citing ground reports of loud noises and flashes of fire from the forest in mid-April.
Alleging these appeared to be “aerial attacks, with drones or other platforms, in these areas”, a statement issued by NCDD, endorsed among others by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (V Suresh), National Federation of Indian Women, (Annie Raja), Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan (Bela Bhatia), National Alliance of People’s Movements, (Arundhuti Dhuru, Meera Sanghamitra), All India Progressive Women’s Association (Kavita Krishnan), People’s Union For Democratic Rights (Deepika Tandon, Shahana Chatterji) and New Trade Union Initiative (Gautam Modi), wonders under which law such bombardment was done.
Pointing out that “India is bound by customary international law prohibiting the indiscriminate use of ordnance”, the statement says, “if the government is claiming the aerial raid reports are Maoist propaganda, why does it not order an independent investigation or issue a white paper on this?”
Demanding that the governments at the Centre and the state not to conduct any aerial attacks in Chhattisgarh or any other Adivasi areas, it insists on the need to “engage in dialogue with villagers protesting against security camps, fake encounters, and mass arrests.”

Text:

We are extremely concerned about news reports that allege aerial attacks by indeterminate platforms on the intervening night of 14-15 April 2022, in the villages of Bijapur and Sukma districts including, interalia Bottetong and Mettagudem (Usoor block), Duled, Sakler, Pottemangi (Konta block).
Photos from the ground by reporters from Bottetong village, Mettaguda and other places show remnants of ordnance explosives and craters in the jungles, as well as forest cover destroyed. They quote villagers as saying that there were loud noises and flashes of fire from the forest.
It must be noted that the forests are not “uninhabited”. This is peak mahua collecting season when villagers, especially women and children, wake up early (3 am) to collect mahua before it becomes hot during the day. People are constantly going into the forests to collect non-timber forest products, graze their cattle, perform routine ablutions and so on. Given the extensive access to the forest by civilians, aerial attacks on forests amount to direct hostilities against civilians.
The police deny the use of drones to carry out the alleged bombing. However, they still need to explain the existence of craters and remnants of wires and other ordnance material in the forest. It is important that the authorities clarify the type of ammunition used and the reasons for this type of raid.
It may be recalled that in 2010 the then Air Chief Marshal had said “the military are not trained for limited lethality. The weapons we have are meant for the enemy across the border. Therefore, I am not in favour of use of air force in situations like the Naxal problem (The Hindu, 7 April 2010).”
Ironically, now the same appears to have happened, though it may not involve the Air Force per se. The dangers of innocent Adivasis falling prey to the use of lethal ammunition and sophisticated attacks cannot be explained as "collateral" damage. Such actions potentially targeting civilians need to be stopped immediately.

This incident raises the following questions:

  • Under what law are the Centre and State allegedly carrying out aerial attacks, with drones or other platforms, in these areas?
  • If there is evidence of air-dropped lethal ammunition, the Government can no longer deny that what is happening in Chhattisgarh is a ‘non-international armed conflict’ and not a mere ‘law and order’ problem. Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions which India has ratified prohibits inhumane treatment of civilians. Further, India must sign on to Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions which enhance civilian protection. In any case, India is bound by customary international law prohibiting the indiscriminate use of ordnance.
  • If the Government is claiming the aerial raid reports are Maoist propaganda, why does it not order an independent investigation or issue a white paper on this?
We demand that the Governments at Centre and State:
  • Do not conduct any aerial attacks in Chhattisgarh or any other Adivasi area.
  • Engage in dialogue with villagers protesting against security camps, fake encounters, and mass arrests.
  • Address human rights violations by security forces. Despite clear-cut findings by more than one Judicial Enquiry, CBI, NHRC and the Supreme Court that there have been grave violations of human rights in Chhattisgarh by the security forces, no action has been taken against them. To begin with, the Government must provide justice to the innocent victims of mass killings by security forces in Sarkeguda and Edesmetta and to the victims of mass arson, rape and killing in Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli. The cases of murder, sexual assault and rape by security forces that have been brought to the notice of the NHRC and Courts must be prosecuted.
  • Stop militarizing Bastar with additional battalions and security camps.
  • Disband the DRG (District Reserve Group) as directed by the Supreme Court in 2011 which banned the use of SPOs (Special Police Officers) and surrendered Naxalites in counterinsurgency operations against Maoists, under any name.
  • Engage in peace talks with the CPI (Maoist).

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