On January 23, a group of nearly 40 men barged into the home of activist and researcher Bela Bhatia in Bastar, threatening to burn her house if she did not leave within 24 hours.
The incident took place after Bhatia had accompanied a National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) delegation to record the statements of 14 tribal women who had filed cases of sexual violence against the security forces in the past two years.
“I’m not doing underground politics,” says Bhatia in the video below, made by the Indian Writer’s Forum as she narrates the mob attack. She asserts that her fight is for democratic rights of scheduled tribes who have been caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and the police authorities.
A PhD from Cambridge University, Bhatia has been researching the counter-insurgency in Bastar since 2007. She has said she has been receiving threats ever since she helped tribal women file police cases in 2015. Harassment and intimidation have been one of the tactics used by local groups.
Bhatia notes how the situation has turned more violent even in the absence of the now-banned Salwa Judum, a “people’s force” created by the the Chhattisgarh government in June 2005 to deal with the law and order situation in the Naxalite-heavy Dantewada district.
The mob who threatened her at her residence, she says, belonged to the Action Group for National Integration (AGNI) similar to the disbanded civil vigilante group calledSamajik Ekta Manch. She points out that their rhetoric had shifted from “joota maro” (beat them with shoes) to “goli maro” (shoot them).
“This is gundagardi (hooliganism) and we are not afraid of this…” she says. “You want to kick us out, the people of Bastar will kick you out.”