Chattisgarh's Undeclared War

A Correspondent

Mr Santosh Yadav is a resident of Darbha town of tribal Bastar district of Chhattisgarh. For the last 10 years he has been involved in the circulation of news papers and reporting of news for vernacular dailies from local areas of Darbha town of Bastar district of Chhattisgarh. He has been associated with regional Hindi news paper Dainik Navbharat as a "stringer" for almost 10 years covering Darbha block and Tehsil areas contributing regularly. For the past two years he has also been reporting for an evening daily Dainik Chhattisgarh published from state capital Raipur. Two months back Mr Santosh Yadav was made the representative or stringer of Rajasthan Patrika to report from Darbha and surrounding areas. He was given this responsibility immediately after the arrest of Mr Sumaru Nath, journalist of Rajasthan Patrika coming from the tribal community of Chhattisgarh. In truth he had been in forefront of reporting, whenever there was any incident in the region. Mr Santosh Yadav was one of the first reporters to reach the spot at Darbha valley during an attack by Maoists on a Congress party convoy at Keslur, 50 kilometres from Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh in May 2013 in which several senior Congress party leaders were killed including State Congress President Mr Nand Kumar Patel and Mr Mahendra Karma, a legislator and the creator of an anti-Maoist militia named Salwa Judum at the behest of the state government. Mr Santosh Yadav also reported when Maoists killed 14 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, including two officers in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh in December 2014. It is because of his fair and objective reporting Chhattisgarh police have targeted him by falsely accusing him to be in collaboration with the Maoists. In the last two years the police have been arbitrarily calling journalist Santosh Yadav to report to police stations and regularly threatening him with 'dire consequences'. The police have allegedly also put pressure on Mr Santosh Yadav to take Rs 5 lakh to facilitate the arrests of Maoists by the police but he refused to do so. In June 2015, the police took him to Darbha police station and stripped him. Journalist Santosh Yadav has been facing continuous police pressure, harassment and threats to act as a police informer but as a fearless reporter Santosh Yadav refused to relent to the police pressure.

According to sources, two police officials from Darbha police station, district Bastar, Chhattisgarh came to journalist Santosh Yadav's house on 29 September 2015 and forcibly took him away. The police officials told his wife that IGP of Bastar Range Mr SRP Kalluri had called Mr Santosh Yadav for a meeting. When journalist Mr Santosh Yadav did not return till mid-night, his wife informed his friends to look for him. According to sources journalist Santosh Yadav was preparing a report to be filed in his news paper regarding a programme organised by the police in Darbha on 29 September, 2015.

Darbha region is a Maoists' 'semi-liberated' zone. In order to eliminate Maoists Chhattisgarh police have adopted a new operational tactics. As part of this operation the policemen carry out search operations in villages and beat them mercilessly and threaten young people and even arrest them. And when the villagers approach the police to release their villagers, the police threaten the villagers and ask them to come to a designated location where they are presented before the media as Maoists or Maoists' supporters. The ordinary villagers are asked to take an oath in public not to support the Maoists in future. The events many times are publicised as surrender by Maoists.

Around 15 days before September 29, 2015 Chhattisgarh police had launched constant search and combing operations in village Badrimahu around Darbha and picked up some villagers accusing them of being Naxal supporters. When villagers went to the police station at Darbha, they were threatened and asked to come on September 29, 2015 at a place fixed by the police. Journalist Santosh Yadav was in touch with police on behalf of villagers to help them and he was also asked to come for the event. All the villagers reached at the place at 9 am and the programme of taking oath went on till 12.30. The programme saw a large police presence including high officials such as Additional SP of Bastar Mr Vijay Pandey. After the programme the villagers asked journalist Santosh Yadav to talk to the Darbha police station SHO Mr Durgesh Sharma for the release of arrested villagers. When Mr Santosh Yadav went to the SHO, he scolded him and threatened him. After that Santosh Yadav left and went home to file his report. He was forcibly picked up on the same day from his house.

According to sources journalist Mr Santosh Yadav was kept in Parapa police station which is 10 kilometres from Jagdalpur town. He was badly beaten and tortured in police custody. He was forced to sign a blank paper. On 1 October, 2015 Mr Santosh Yadav was produced before Jagdalpur Chief Judicial Magistrate and taken on police remand. Chhattisgarn police have booked Mr Santosh Yadav under sections 147, 148, 149, 341, 120B, 431, 307, 302 of Indian Panel Code and under "draconian" law, Chhattisgarh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam known as Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 (CSPSA).

Vol. 48, No. 19, Nov 15 - 21, 2015