Report of Peace and Justice March -Raipur to Dantewada

In recent days the Naxalite violence has became a predicament of horrendous proportions in our country. The problem has grown to such an extent that our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has termed it as the gravest threat to our national internal Security.

On 6 April, 2010. The biggest Maoist attack took place in the forests of Dantewada where 76 members-of paramilitary force were ambushed and brutally done to death. The whole nation was stunned by this raw power of the Maoist. While the Central and State governments started flexing their muscles, Operation Green Hunt (media designated) was launched The Maoist justified the murder most foul as revenge for the ongoing exploitation and day to day violence being perpetrated by the Police and other state agencies. In fact they became bolder and huge cache of arms which they could lay their hands on made them even more formidable. It was in this context of a huge build up of Violence & Counter Violence, a People’s Tribunal was organised at the Constitution’ Club, New Delhi which brought out the root caused of this violence in sharp contours.

In an effort to address the root causes of this serious problem and to initiate the Peace building process in the violence hit ‘Dand-Karanya’ region Prof. Banwari Lal Sharma and Swami Agnivesh took out a Peace and Justice March from 5th to 10th May, 2010 from Raipur to Dantewada. The message of the march was very clear- An appeal to both the Maoists and the Government to stop violence and counter violence and discuss all the issues across the table in a democratic manner.

Before the March, Swamiji had met the Union Home Minister Shri. P. Chidambaram who proposed that if the Maoists abjure violence just for 72 hours, he would intiate the process of dialogue with the Maoists.

In the March the following Social activists and eminent Gandhians participated.

1.Prof. Yashpal (Chancellor J.N.U.)

2. Narayan Bhai Desai (Vice Chancellor Gujrat Vidyapeeth)

3. Thomas Kocherry (World forum of Fisher Peoples)

4. Radha Behan Bhatt (President, Gandhi Peace Foundation)

5. Amarnath Bhai (Ex. President, Sarva Seva Sangh)

6. Prof. Jagmohan Singh (Scientist, historian and Nephew of Bhagat Singh)

7. Prof. Navdeep Mathur (IIM Ahmedabad)

8. Rajiv Lochan Shah (Editor Nainital Samachar)

9. Dr. V.N. Sharma (All India Forum for Right to Education)

10. Prof. Banwari Lal Sharma (Azadi Bachao Andolan)

11. Manu Singh (Sarva Dharma Sansad)

12. Keyur Bhushan (EXMP)

13. Dr. Kamal Narayan Arya (Arya Pratinidhi Sabha Chhattisgarh)

14. V.B. Chandra Shekharan

15 Devashish Prasoon

And 45 others.

All these distinguished members of the Civil Society first gathered at ‘Dadabadi’ in Raipur on 5 May, 10. The Peace Marchers addressed a Press Conference at Raipur Press Clube in the afternoon and then assembled at the town hall to outline the issues that would be brought up during the March. The peaceful assembly was interrupted by misguided youth from various political students groups like NSUI and ABVP. The students unsuccessfully tried to disrupt the peaceful meeting and shouted vulgar slogans in front of these respected dignitaries. The meeting continued and Swamiji outlined the need to address the issue of a paradigm shift in the concept of development which is currently full of greed and violence. He also paid glowing tributes to a great Martyr and his friend Shankar Guha Niyogi who was killed by the nefarious nexus of politicians and industrialists. Swamiji also spoke about the proposal of the Home Minister and urged the Maoists to give up arms and help in the process of peace building.

Braving threats from various organizations, the peace march proceeded towards Dantewada after a short Prayer Meet in front of the statue of Gandhiji. in Raipur on 6 May morning. Peace March reached Jagdalpur where after having lunch a press conference was organized. In the press conference Swamiji reiterated his appeal regarding Union Home Ministers’ proposal and also described the grim situation of the tribals who have been marauded by this violent concept of development and the corruption in  the system. While a very volatile  press conference was going on inside the press club, a very violent protest had started brewing up outside the premises. The youth who came from ABVP, NSUI and ‘Vyapar Mandals’ were hell bent on disrupting the peaceful march. They even deflated the tyres of the bus in which we had to proceed to Dantewada the next morning.

Despite this abusive and stormy protest, the members of the peace march remained calm and did not get provoked At Swamiji’s insistence some of the members from the protesters were called inside for talks. The magic of dialogue worked and after a heart to heart sharing session, the Protestors (some of whom even initially had sticks in their hands) were pacified. Swamiji in his calming speech said how he had also encountered the Maoists throughout  his life, not with violence and bullets but through his ideas and actions. 

The ‘yatra’ then had a night halt at Jagadalpur, and the strategies for the next day were discussed. After some debate everyone agreed to continue the peace march come what may. The following morning the yatra commenced again with full enthusiasm. Just after an hour of travel the ‘Yatra’ was intercepted at ‘Geedam’ by petty political-cum- businessmen, who not only tried to stop the Yatra but also tried to create panic and terror. They hurled uncouth and vulgar abuses at the honorable civil society activists and threatend the driver with dire consequences. 

At this point it started becoming palpable that this might be an end to the peace march, but then suddenly- almost dramatically the situation changed and DSP (Dantewada) came and took control of the situation. We were now accompanied by police and CRPF and the angry protesters soon disappeared. We reached the temple of Danteshwari  at the confluence of the scenic ‘Dankani’ and ‘Shankhani’ rivers, where the peace activists prayed for Peace and Justice. After the prayer, a press conference was organized and the members of the Yatra also had an informative conversation with the locals, who narrated their problems due to Maoist violence After this we went to the state managed Astha Ashram’  where the children of the people killed by naxallites were being kept for education.. After having lunch we first went to a CRPF camp where everybody payed homage to the CRPF jawans killed by the maoist on April 06. It was a satisfying to meet a few jawans who were appreciative of Swamiji’s LSTV discussion ‘Vichar Manthan. The second and final halt after lunch was the village of ‘Chitalanka’ where 106 families were living – all there families had been forced to migrate from their villages due to maoist violence. It was our first encounter with what is know as the Salwa Judum- now renamed Special Police Officers-S.P.O. They narrated their experiences of Maoist violence. 

This was the culmination of the 3 day Yatra – the only lacunae being that we were not able to contact the other side of the violence- counterviolence battle- the naxallites. But this modest effort was just a beginning and several such initiaves to establish ‘Just Peace’ would follow in the future. 

Having finished with the Dantewada meetings, we had the satisfaction at least of reaching our destination. Given a more congenial atmosphere, we had Plans to go and spend some time with the villagers in near by villages to understand their point of view. But the situation did not warrant and the Peach March returned to Raipur via Jugdalpur and Kanker  by the late evening of 8 May. No sooner we reached Raipur, we learnt through the T.V. news that the Maoist had struck again around 5 P.M on 8th May near to Dantewada and some 5 police men got killed due to landmine.  

Was it a Maoist response to our invitation for talks, abjuring violence? Or part of a routine violence and counter violence? 

                                                                                                Manu Singh  

  Photos - Courtsey, Devasheesh Prasoon                          (Peace Activist with 

                      (Wardha)                                                       Swami Agnivesh   )