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Travelling through Bastar to Reclaim Democracy and Freedom

Malay Tiwari, CPI(ML) activist from West Bengal, and Anupam Roy, artist and CPI(ML) activist, participated in the August Kranti- Tiranga Padyatra from Dantewada to Gompad in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. Here are their notes from the Yatra, accompanied by photographs by Anupam Roy.

In the backdrop of massive state repression – as witnessed in murders, rapes, illegal detentions and custodial tortures – that defines Bastar today, a spirited ‘August Kranti- Tiranga Padyatra’ was organized in Bastar this August. Various political parties and groups as well as concerned individuals are part of the Bastar Bachao Sanjukt Sangharsh Samiti which had organized the padyatra, including AAP, PUCL, CMM, JMM and CPI (ML) Liberation. From 9-15 August, several adivasis, representatives of various groups, social activists and individuals marched across Bastar. Throughout the padyatra, they proclaimed loud and clear that the values of democracy and freedom enshrined in the Constitution are today conspicuous by their absence in Bastar, and that the padyatra was an attempt to reclaim these precious values guaranteed to each and every citizen.

The padyatra started from Ambedkar Park in Dantewara at 5 pm on 9 August. At the start of the yatra, Soni Sori garlanded Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s statue and delivered a short speech. She held the unnamed newborn baby of Hure in her lap and described how the pregnant Hure was harassed and tortured by security forces and ultimately died delivering the child. Soni Sori called for ending the tyranny in Bastar and declared that the padyatra would defy all the hurdles put by the administration to reach Gompad on 15 August at any cost. About a hundred activists then began the padyatra. Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi, Kawasi Hidme and Sukal Nag led the way. Among others present were Brijendra Tiwari, Chhattisgarh state secretary of the CPI(ML), Sanket Thakur of the AAP, cultural activist and leader of CMM Kaladas Deheria, Bela Bhatia, Ishwar Nirmlkar and Basant of the JMM as well as several other activists, leaders and organisers of political parties. Trade unionists, cultural activists, documentary film makers, advocates, journalists, artists and school teachers participated in the padyatra.

From Dantewada, the padyatra moved through Kumhar Ras, Nakulnar, Mailawara (where 7 CRPF jawans were killed in a blast last March), Bhusaras, Korra, Gadiras, Sukma to Ramaras. At Ramaras, a Telugu-speaking Muslim couple served us breakfast with much warmth and respect. Ramaras is the place where 15-year old Kawasi Hidme was picked up by the SPOs in 2008 and tortured most brutally in several lock-ups and jails. She was finally released after 7 years. Kawasi Hidme was present throughout the padyatra, and when the padyatra passed through her village, some villagers met her to inform her that her grandfather had expired. From Ramaras, the padyatra moved through Kairlapal to Dornapal. Dornapal used to host a notorious Salwa Judum camp, which has now been transformed into an ashram for adivasi boys. Around 700 boys now reside here and on 12 August the participants of the padyatra halted for the night at the newly-built large community hall in this campus even as outside the campus, heavily armed DRG commandos roamed about throughout the night.

The padyatra then proceeded to Errabore and Injaram. Injaram was where Soni Sori’s fact-finding team to Gompad was stopped by the police and the local administration in June this year. At that time, Soni had had to come back to Sukma from Injaram to launch an indefinite hunger strike for justice. From Injaram, the padyatra proceeded to Konta (located 157 km from Dantewada, and most violent counter-insurgency block), Bonda, the Murligora CRPF Camp and Belposa. The padyatra finally reached Gompad on the evening of 14 August. This padyatra thus traversed through the villages which have till now been symbols of terror, symbols of state oppression. And in the process, the padyatra emphatically declared its intension of reclaiming these spaces, reclaiming control over values of democracy and freedom which have been violently snatched away.