Innocent Jharkhand Tribals At the Mercy of A Violent State

About the Video: From his waist down to his feet, his body bears testimony in black and blue of police brutality and torture in the third degree. It’s the body of Barnabas Bodra, a young Munda tribal from the village of Sitiburu in West Singhbum, Jharkhand. He is one of the over 6000 tribals who have been locked up and brutalized in the prisons of Jharkhand on unsubstantiated suspicions of being a ‘Naxal’ or of just being sympathetic to the violent Naxal insurgency that plagues the jungles of Jharkhand. After three unending days and nights of mental and physical abuse, Barnabas thinks he is lucky that he is not among 550 innocent adivasis who have already been killed by the armed forces of the state since 2009.The government continues to deny the existence of the ‘comb and search’ witch-hunt through adivasi land. It terms ‘Operation Green Hunt’ as a media fabrication. What Barnabas has witnessed and experienced differs significantly from the government’s take on the issue.

On the night in the question, Barnabas was asleep after a hard day’s work at the field, next to his wife and infant child. Close to midnight, he awakened to the sound of the door to his house coming apart. Before he realized what was happening, armed police officers were manhandling him, shouting into his ear and accusing him of illegal possession of fire arms and of aiding the insurgent movement.He tried to protest but the lashings of the police lathis had already started falling on his hips and legs. The police started taking apart his house, going through his meagre possessions, destroying his granary, leaving an entire household torn and frayed.

Barnabas was taken not to the local police station but to the District Police Headquarters where the police persisted in their efforts to torture a confession out of the man. He was subjected to further beatings. He was kept without food for over 24 hours. When he was finally given food on the second day of his imprisonment, he claims that it was so full of salt that he threw up every bit of whatever little he had managed to eat. He was never produced before a magistrate as the law would require of a person being held in a police lock-up for more than a day. The alleged firearms were never found. It still took almost three days and efforts of the villagers of Sitiburu who had been pleading all the while for Barnabas’ release to return his freedom back to him.

Barnabas’ story is a common one in the so-called ‘Red Corridor’ of India, the adivasi jungle land that is rich in minerals and resources which the state industrial-military-corporate complex have set their greedy eyes on. Community Correspondent Xavier Hamsay from West Singhbum, district, Jharkhand who produced his first IndiaUnheard on Barnabas, says, “The continuing greed and oppression of the state has alienated adivasis. An alienated minority can tend to think that violence gives them a way to force their unheard voices and demands all the way past the deaf ears of the government. But they are people caught in a disillusion and more importantly, they remain a minority.But when the all-powerful state resorts to violence, it is a disturbing trend. Today, the adivasis of Jharkhand are afraid of their state. They sleep in fear.”

Community Correspondent Says: Community Correspondent Xavier Hamsay is a Munda tribal, a father of two and owns a local photo studio. While he is a bit disillusioned with civil society and organizations after years of close association, he continues to be a champion of human rights. The camera, he says, is his tool of choice. “The silence of the people is the biggest threat to their empowerment,” he says. “The oppression of the state, the violence of the Naxals, the witch-hunts, the violations all continues in the vacuum created by the fear and silence of the people.”

“Barnabas is one of the few who dare to speak. We live in neighbouring villages and he had heard from acquaintances that I was walking around town looking for an issue to make a video abojut. It was he who approached me with his story and asked me to make a video on it. Many of his friends, relatives and well-wishers cautioned him against speaking out to my camera but he was determined.”

“After the video was shot, I asked him to file a complaint against the police under the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Atrocities Act. But this is a sensitive area and no one is willing to step out and stand behind Barnabas. He has not done it as of yet but I am pursuing the matter with him and the village leaders and other organizations.”

Asked if he personally is afraid of the state, Xavier answered, I think it is fair to admit that we are all afraid. But silence is not an option. Not anymore. We have seen the results of this utter silence. It has not stopped the police from raiding our houses, illegally detaining us, torturing us and branding us as terrorists or as informants to the terrorists. The people across the country think that the police are conducting a ‘war against terror’. But the truth is it is the government and the corporate who are trying to steal our land and our rights. There are entire villages which are empty because the people have decided to remain silent and move away. It’s a shame.”

“This is our land. Our roots are here. Our culture and language is here. I am more afraid of losing such things than of the state and the police. This is the reason I speak out.”

Call to Action: Xavier asks the people who are watching his video to Call District Collector ,K Srinivasan on 09472710699/06582256422 and say that they have watched this video published on 30/05/2012 and are aware of the oppression of adivasis and innocents that goes on under the pretext of ‘security’. They are to inform the Respected District Magistrate that such violations are unacceptable, undemocratic and must not continue. He(The DM) must look into the matter personally and look to bring about a chance.

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