In the summer of 2006, a Jan Adalat, or kangaroo court, was conducted by a group of Maoists in Raiguda village, located in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar.
During the course of the proceedings, the group accused two locals – Singha Madavi, 42, and Mutta Madavi, 26 – of being “police informers”. Both Singha and Mutta were beaten and then shot with country rifles.
Mutta died on the spot. Singha survived. As he lay on the ground, two Maoists allegedly drove a wooden stake through his ear, gouged his eyes, and crushed his head with a stone.
This is the testimony of Samaiyya Madavi, a seven-year-old standing in the crowd that day. Mutta was his uncle, Singha his brother-in-law.
Soon after the deaths, Samaiyya and his family left their home, village and state – hoping to make a living far from the violence. They moved to Chintakunta village in Bhadradri Kothagudem district of what was then undivided Andhra Pradesh, now Telangana.
It should be remembered that Chhattisgarh’s Salva Judum movement in 2005 – a state-sponsored crusade against Maoists – affected thousands of Adivasis from present-day districts of Sukma, Bijapur and Dantewada. They escaped and settled in areas like Khammam, Warangal, Bhadradri Kothagudem and Mulugu in Telangana, and East Godavari and West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh.
Living in forest areas, these populations often survive without basic necessities like electricity, water or roads.
But 15 years later, their troubles restarted.
In 2020, the Telangana government began evicting displaced Adivasis from forest land in areas like Warangal, Khammam, Mulugu and Bhadradri Kothagudem, stating they weren’t authorised to live there as they weren’t, in Telangana’s definition, tribals at all.
Meanwhile, the Chhattisgarh government claims this displacement never took place.
As a result, thousands of families have nowhere to go.
Living between violence and neglect
Before they departed their village in Chhattisgarh, Samaiyya’s family of 10-11 people owned an undivided tribal patta of 100 acres. When they moved to Chintakunta village in then Andhra Pradesh, around 35 other families went along with them.
“We started farming in a forest area near Sarpaka and worked as labourers,” said Samaiyya, who is now 22. “I was cultivating seven acres of land. But from last year, the forest department has started seizing the land from us...They have taken half my land. I don’t know what we will do once they occupy all the land.”
He added, “We cannot go back to Chhattisgarh because there, we will again be bothered by the police and the Naxals. We have to live here only, even though we are left with limited sources of livelihood.”
Madkam Deva was 22 years old when he came to Telangana in 2005 from Dokapara village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma. He now lives in Devaiyam Gumpa village in Bhadradri Kothagudem.
Many of these families live without access to basic amenities like water and electricity.
“When the Salwa Judum movement started, clashes between Judum members and Naxalites became rampant,” he explained. “Killings, rapes, burning of houses, and assault became the norm in Bastar.”
Deva was also picked up by Maoists, he said, and “threatened many times”.
“That is when my father decided to move our family to Telangana because he feared for the safety of our lives,” Deva told Newslaundry. “He first sent us to a relative’s place in Bhadradri Kothagudem. For a year, the Naxalites did not allow my parents to come, stating they will leak information about the village.”
But finally, he said, his parents got away too.
According to him, “thousands of Adivasis” from Chhattisgarh currently live in Telangana.
“But now, the Telangana government wants to push us back to Chhattisgarh,” he said. “We have been farming in the forest for over a decade. But since last year, they have started seizing the lands which we have cultivated. The Telangana government says we are not tribals and so, they cannot provide us tribal land patta. We are Gonds. But over here, we are called Gutthi Koyas which are not considered tribal as per the state gazette.”
And going back to Chhattisgarh is impossible, he said, because Maoists “will not spare us”.
“We request you to help us,” Deva said. “If the Chhattisgarh government provides us land in an area without Naxals, then at least we can give it a thought. But the best would be if we can get tribal patta here only, in Telangana.”
A former employee with the Kothagudem district administration detailed to Newslaundry the lack of amenities offered to these displaced communities.
“Their hamlets don’t have access to roads, electricity and drinking water. The internally displaced people dug out water from dried streamlets. Locally, there is a lot of reluctance against them,” the source said. “Even the Telangana chief minister once told the state assembly that they are sympathisers of Naxals.”
He added, “They used to walk 10-20 km a day to work as labourers. But the locals opposed it, since they worked for less money than the locals. Everybody hates them. Local reporters hound them. They don’t get adequate rations. Forest officials threaten them, take away their things. Many times they are arrested on suspicion of helping Naxals.”
It is a life of abject neglect, he said.
Rampant malnutrition, medical issues
When Ganga Sodi was a Class 4 student in Sukma’s Kondapalli village, his school hostel was demolished by a group of Maoists.
Unable to continue his education, Ganga and his family moved to Bhadradri Kothagudem. Now 28 years old, he lives in Kranti Nagar village in Telangana.
“Electricity and water came to our village in 2019. The roads are still not there,” he said. “Earlier, we would walk two km to fetch water from a stream. Electricity and water came because of initiatives taken by the then collector Rajat Saini.”
Saini did a lot for them, Ganga said: he built a community hall, admitted children to ashram-run schools, arranged for Aadhaar cards and rations. “Such officials are very rare for displaced people like us,” said Ganga.
Ganga was arrested last year on charges of “aiding” Naxalites by distributing medicines to them. He pointed out that he had been working as a health worker with a local NGO at the time.
“I was kept in Khammam jail for 14 days and was released,” he said. “Sometimes, things are not fair. But still, life is safe here. But now I think the government does not want us to stay. The forest department has seized the land where we used to do farming. They tell us to leave our hamlets and live on the roadside. If we reason with them, they threaten us with false police cases. They should understand that we cannot go back to Chhattisgarh because the police and Naxalites will trouble us, or even kill us, on suspicion of being informers of the other.”
Similar stories were told by around 10 internally displaced people living in Mulugu, Khammam and Kothagudem. All of them have limited sources of livelihood. They have only one season of rain-dependent farming. Their agricultural produce is small and can be used only for household purposes. Otherwise, they are gainfully employed as labourers for just six months.
Additionally, internally displaced persons face a number of medical issues.
According to a doctor who works with these communities in Telangana, malnutrition, anaemia and tuberculosis are “quite common” among the Adivasis from Chhattisgarh
“The primary reason is the unavailability of a balanced diet,” he said. “Bad connectivity of roads to their hamlets make it difficult for them to avail basic health facilities. The unavailability of drinking water is another problem. They survive on rainfed crops which is not enough. The government provides them with takeaway rations from anganwadis but many of these settlements are inside the forests, so it’s difficult to reach them.”
A 2019 survey said, 'The only sources of water continue to be dried up rivulets and open mud pits, where water is manually collected by digging holes...'
The doctor said that pregnancy death rates due to anaemia are “five times higher than the national average”.
“The government needs to conduct special projects in these areas,” he said, “and start mobile medical vans to provide basic health facilities.”
In 2019, the district administration of Bhadradri Kothagudem conducted a survey of migrant Adivasis from Chhattisgarh living in the area. Newslaundry accessed the findings of the survey, which stated that around 15,000 migrant Adivasis from neighbouring districts reside in Bhadradri Kothagudem.
The survey found a high infant mortality rate and rampant anaemia and malnutrition, primarily affecting women and children. Eight out of 10 children had stunted growth. Living conditions were so poor so as to qualify as a human rights violation. The nearest primary health centre was roughly 15-20 km away from the Muria settlements.
“The only sources of water continue to be dried up rivulets and open mud pits, where water is manually collected by digging holes, which then is used for all purposes including consumption,” the survey said. “On average, 4-5 hours is spent daily for the procurement of water by each household.”
The survey identified the population as being “at constant risk of communicable as well as congenital diseases”. “With respect to women,” it said, “90 percent of the deliveries are non-institutional and conducted in unhygienic conditions, putting both the mother and the baby at risk of infection.”
Some members of the community had been issued job cards under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act but “most remain bereft of a sustained source of regular income”. “Many families do not have ration cards or Aadhaar cards...Neither are there any schools in their villages, nor are the existing government schools accessible through any roads.”
Adivasis, yet not
The Muria Gond community is a sub-caste of the Gond tribe, a legally recognised scheduled tribe in Chhattisgarh.
But in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, they are called Gutti Koyas, and receive no recognition and rights as a tribal community – even though the Gutta Koyas, with a minor difference in spelling, are recognised as a scheduled tribe in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Earlier this year, around 500 internally displaced persons from Chhattisgarh wrote to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, saying that the difference in spelling was depriving them of their rights.
Newslaundry repeatedly contacted Anudeep Durishetty, district collector of Bhadradri Kothagudem, and S Krishna Aditya, district collector of Mulugu, but received no response.
When Newslaundry contacted Christina Chongthu, the commissioner of Telangana’s tribal welfare department, she asked us to email our queries on her official email address. We emailed her a questionnaire but did not receive a response.
We contacted V Sarveshwar Reddy, the additional director of Telangana’s tribal welfare department, and asked about the denial of scheduled tribe status to these communities, especially the Gutti Koyas.
He said, “Not only in Telangana, but in any state if a tribal comes from another state, they will not be provided tribal status if they are not enlisted in the list of the state and will be treated as a person from general category. There is a strict guideline that even if a single letter or comma is different from the name mentioned in the list of tribes, then the person or that community should not be entertained.”
But the Gutti Koyas are members of the Gond tribe.
“Gonds are considered tribals here,” Reddy conceded. “But these internally displaced persons are called Muria Gonds in Chhattisgarh but Gutti Koyas here. The name on the list is Gutta Koya and it does not match.”
Reddy also claimed these communities “don’t love forests” as they “cut a lot of forests for their farming and habitats”. “Whereas local tribals love the forest,” he said.
As a concession, he added, “basic amenities” like health, education and rations are provided on “humanitarian grounds”.
“But if they want economic support given to tribals under state policies, they will not be entertained,” Reddy said firmly. “The government is strict as these people have migrated here. The government thinks they are looting everything and they are not listed. So, they will be treated under the general category.”
On the Chhattisgarh government’s part, this apathy towards these communities is even greater.
In March this year, during question hour at the Chhattisgarh Vidhan Sabha, MLA Lakheshwar Bhaghel asked state home minister Tamradwaj Sahu about the number of internally displaced persons from Bastar in other states. What plans did the government have for their rehabilitation?
No one affected by Maoist violence has migrated to other states, said Sahu.
This was just after Dantewada collector KR Pisda told the media that over 50,000 people had migrated to Andhra Pradesh after the Salwa Judum’s violence.
Sahu did not respond to Newslaundry's requests for comment.
Significantly, in July 2019, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes directed the Chhattisgarh government to survey internally displaced tribals of Bastar – citing 5,000 families – who had migrated to other states as a result of Maoist violence. The survey was to be done in three months with an eye to rehabilitating those affected.
Did the survey happen?
Chhattisgarh’s tribal development minister Premsai Tekam said, “Our department was doing the survey and it is still going on. The tribals displaced because of violence can always come back here. They are always welcome here. If they return, we will definitely rehabilitate them and provide protection. The government is very clear and firm regarding their rehabilitation.”
But for the time being, there is no solution in sight.
“Fifty years ago, the nation rehabilitated lakhs of refugees from Bangladesh in Dandakaranya in Chhattisgarh. Now, people displaced from Dandakaranya are one of the worst sufferers of this conflict,” said Subranshu Choudhary, a former journalist and activist in Chhattisgarh. “One would think that all would come together to help them. But it looks like all are ganging up to harass these hapless people.”
Newslaundry Events: From The Media Rumble to NL Chats and webinars, updates and details on latest Newslaundry events.