Maoist Conflict

Harassed and arrested: Why Chhattisgarh remains a difficult place for both citizens and journalists

The arrest of a journalist who covered a contentious meeting between villagers and the police on September 29 proved yet again how vulnerable reporters are in the conflict zone.

A murmur of amusement rippled through the corridor in Jagdalpur court on October 1, as Joga*, a panchayat member of Bhadrimahu village, read out the headlines in the previous day's newspapers to a group of his neighbours.


"About 150 villagers from Bhadrimahu village of Darbha block descended 14 kilometres by foot to reach Darbha thana seeking security against the Maoists," one of the newspapers reported. The report went on to quote SRP Kalluri, the Inspector General of police, Bastar, as saying: "The population of Bastar is now wake. They are fed up with the Maoists, which is why the villagers reached Darbha thana." The Superintendent of Police, Ajay Yadav, was quoted to say : "The villagers want peace now... It was only after much persuasion and sufficient assurance of protection that the villagers left for their homes."


Listening to the reports, the villagers could not suppress their laughter, despite the grim circumstances that had brought them to the region's administrative centre. The policemen were lying, they said. They had trekked from their village on September 29 to secure the release of five village boys arrested by the police. A local journalist, Santosh Yadav, had noted their testimonies. Hours later, he too was arrested by the police. Now, the villagers had gathered in his support outside the courtroom where he was being presented by the police.


The case of the five missing boys


It all began on August 26, when five young men from Bhadrimahu village – Boti Sodi, Kuma Kawasi, Somdu Hunga, Deva Hura and Budra Muka – were picked up by the police from the weekly bazaar at Darbha, about 14 kilometres away.





When the boys did not return from the market, gathering news that they had been picked up by the police, the family members of the boys trekked to the Darbha police station to enquire about them, said Joga. All they got was a denial: the police said they did not have the boys.

Later, however, the villagers discovered the boys had been sent to prison on charges of rioting, criminal conspiracy and attempt to murder. The police claimed they had helped the rebels in laying an ambush on security personnel on August 21. An assistant platoon commander of the Special Task Force of Chhattisgarh police was killed in the ambush and a constable was injured.


A week after the boys were picked up, the police official heading the Darbha thana sent word to the families that they could collect them, on the condition that one member from each of the families came down personally to the thana.


A meeting was held in the village. It was decided that a group of villagers would accompany the family members to Darbha on Tuesday, September 29, as requested by the police. With the weekly bazaar falling on Wednesday, the villagers felt they could combine the visit to the thana with their weekly purchases.


On Tuesday, the villagers reached Darbha around noon. A couple of them went to the thana while the rest gathered on the ground near the school.


At the police station, the villagers were asked to wait. They were told that the boys would be released once the "bigger officers" arrived. As they waited, they were served lunch. They politely declined the food but the policemen insisted they eat. The villagers meekly ate the dal, vegetables and rice offered on plates made of leaves.


After a long wait, the Superintendent of Police of Bastar arrived. There was a brief hunt for a translator for the speech that was about to commence. "We are now friends," Ajay Yadav, Bastar SP, reportedly said. He assured the villagers that henceforth the police would neither chase them nor fire at them, and the villagers need not run when they saw security personnel approaching them. In token of the new friendship, the police gave a sari each to the women and a checked lungi and umbrella to the men.


The Inspector General of police in Bastar, SRP Kalluri, also addressed the villagers. They were then invited to talk about their problems. None got up to speak. "We didn't know what to say," said a young boy from Bhadrimahu, recalling the events. A panchayat member added: "We came as it was promised that the arrested boys would be released!"


As the evening set in, the villagers left the police station, clutching their saris, lungis and umbrellas. The police told them the boys would be released after a couple of days.


Ajay Yadav, the superintendent of police of Bastar district, however, denied this version of events. He insisted that the villagers had not been summoned by the police – they came of their own volition, seeking police intervention against Maoist harassment. "We have been interacting with the villagers for long over matters that cannot be disclosed to media," he told Scroll.


The arrest of Santosh Yadav


Twenty-five-year old Santosh Yadav, a local journalist, was among those who covered the event at the Darbha thana. Hours later, the police showed up at his residence. "The police came looking for him around six in the evening," said his wife, Poonam Yadav. She informed them that he was not home. Yadav did not come back home that evening. His family gathered that the police had picked him up from outside a shop.

The police has arrested Yadav on charges of rioting, criminal conspiracy, attempt to murder, association with terrorist organisation and supporting and aiding terrorist groups under the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act.

The superintendent of police denied that Yadav's arrest had anything to do with the Bhadrimahu event. "He was under watch for a long time," said Ajay Yadav, Bastar SP. "His arrest is the consequence of the close links he had with the Naxalites."

Yadav contributed reports and pictures to several Hindi newspapers. As a stringer in Darbha, he was widely sought after for news from the region which had seen a Maoist ambush in May 2013 that left 28 people dead, including senior Congress leaders. Many more ambushes and attacks followed, despite the presence of security camps in the area.

Although Yadav's reports were much in demand, working in the area came at considerable risks. The Maoist conflict has left the region's journalists vulnerable as both the police and the Maoists suspect them of working as informers for the other side.

Last year, Yadav told this writer about the ordeal he faced in August, when he was called over from his home in the middle of the night by policemen. He was taken to the forest guest house opposite the police chowki in Darbha. He was asked to strip and made to sit for five or six hours inside the cell before he was released.

Hurt and embarrassed, Yadav informed the Jagdalpur office of Navbharat Times where he worked as a stringer. Confirming this, Manish Gupta, the newspaper's bureau chief in Jagdalpur, said: "Had this harassment persisted we would have looked into the matter, but Santosh did not revert with any further complaints."

Sympathetic to people

As a young man who had grown up in Darbha, Yadav found the rate at which the police made arrests and detentions in the area disturbing. Several of his adivasi schoolmates had been detained by the police. Earlier this year, he reached out to the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, a collective of mostly women lawyers who fight cases pro-bono, to represent the case of an adivasi boy, Arjun Ram of Chandameta village. Ram had been picked up by the police while he was returning from selling his cattle in the local market on May 16.


The Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group immediately swung into action to challenge Ram's detention. Yadav went to the extent of getting the principal of the school to testify before the juvenile court to prove Ram's innocence. "He (Yadav) was genuinely affected by things happening around him and wanted to help as much as he could," said Shalini Gera from the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group.


Yadav regularly approached Gera and her colleagues for free legal aid for villagers. He intervened in the case of Somaruram Nag, another journalist who was threatened and harassed by the police in July. More recently, Yadav introduced the villagers from Bhadrimahu to the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group.


Gupta of Navbharat Times believes Yadav was picked up by the police because he crossed his professional line as a journalist by standing with the people who protested against police atrocities. In a place like Darbha, anyone who helps villagers, who are themselves under watch for being Maoist supporters, runs the risk of coming under police surveillance and being labelled a Maoist supporter, he said.


"The police is trying to send a message through Santosh’s case to journalists that they should remain within their limits," said Gupta. "The police is conveniently forgetting the many times when it relies on these very local stringers to negotiate with the Maoists to retrieve the dead or injured bodies of security personnel lying in the forests," he added, recalling the Pilmed encounter in Sukma district in April this year and the Puverti encounter at the Andhra border in April 2013 when local journalists had stepped in to help the police secure their colleagues’ bodies.


On October 1, Yadav was produced before the court in Jagdalpur. Not only were villagers of Bhadrimahu and Darbha present during the court hearing, so were his family members, including his father, who is employed with the Women and Child Development Department. His wife sat with their two-month-old baby, having left the older children aged 5 and 3 at home. The police argued for an extension of Yadav's custody, claiming it needed to question him further. The court granted the extension.

A public meeting of all working journalists has been called in Raipur on Friday to protest against the police harassment of journalists and stringers in Bastar.

*Name changed to protect identity

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and Logitech X300 Bluetooth Speaker at 58% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.