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‘Salwa Judam victims’ narrate tales of torture

Times of India, 29 Aug 2008

‘Salwa Judam victims’ narrate tales of zulm

HYDERABAD: For the last three years, Jagan (name changed) says he has tried hard to shrug off the memory of that one afternoon when many villagers were kicked from one end of a bridge to another “like a football.”
“Their clothes were torn, their bones broken. Men, women, children.. there were all thrashed in the same way,” he recollects the last few days he spent in his village Bhorguda in Chhattisgarh. Staring at the floor as if searching for a reason for the sudden atrocity in his otherwise peaceful village, he says it was perhaps because the villagers had refused to attend a Salwa Judam meeting.

In the city to narrate the plight of scores of people like him ever since the Salwa Judam ‘movement’ took off in Chhattisgarh in 2005, Jagan views the bridge incident in perspective. “My father refused to attend the meeting. The cops asked us to go to the Salwa Judam camp, we declined again. They then killed my father and sister,” he alleges.

Several such victims of police atrocities from Bijapur and Dantewada districts of Chhattisgarh , who crossed over to Andhra Pradesh and now live in villages on the AP-Chhattisgarh border, say that they lost their family, their land and livestock to Salwa Judam and have been living a life of uncertainty since then.

Over 40,000 families are estimated to have crossed the border over the last few years ever since the atrocities on villagers in the name of Salwa Judam intensified in the neighbouring state. Official estimates peg the number at 20,000 families.

Each victim has a story of torture to narrate. “I had 105 acres of land. But I was beaten up for days together by the Salwa Judam. I had no choice but to leave it all and run away,” says Nagababu (name changed), adding that the brutality continued for days until they chose to run away.

Mostly agricultural workers who lived off the produce of their fertile land, they now work as coolies and many find it difficult to get a square meal a day. A social organisation, Agricultural and Social Development Society working in Khammam district assessed the children in seven villages where these people had their settlements. It found over 60 per cent of them severely malnourished.

“We are asking the government to at least provide food and shelter to these people,” said S Jeevan Kumar of Human Rights Forum.

He further noted that the media focus on the Salwa Judam movement and the intervention of human rights organisation had brought about some peace in the disturbed parts of Chhattisgarh , but these displaced villagers are still not being viewed as victims. Human rights activists observed that the official line on them had remained that there were many naxalites in the garb of such villagers.

While most of these displaced people dream of a day to go back to their land and homes if peace is established and the armed movement withdrawn, Santosh (name changed) says he wants to go back for someone he loves dearly. “My cow. I am very attached to her and would go back once in a while to check her. I worry for her,” he says.