India: Chhattisgarh Government asks Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to stop providing health services to indigenous people
By Subash Mohapatra
The Chhattisgarh Government asked Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to stop its humanitarian and medical aid in the conflict hit rural villages of Chhattisgarh, a central tribal state of India. There are allegations that MSF is providing health services to Maoists rebels.
MSF (Doctors without borders) is an international, medical, humanitarian aid movement। The organization provides urgently needed medical assistance without discrimination. By stopping the MSF to work in the remote villages affected by the Maoist insurgency, the government denies the right to life to thousands of indigenous people. The government itself is not present in these villages and is not providing any medical health services.
The state of Chhattisgarh in the heart of the tribal belt of India has witnessed Maoist rebel activities since the 1970s। The Maoist rebels (also called Naxalites) are mainly active in the remote tribal regions of the state. The tribal population, the Adivasis, are the base of their recruitment. A dramatic turn in the conflict occurred in 2005 with the formation of Salwa Judum. This state-sponsored paramilitary movement was created to counter the Naxalite threat. Since then, tens of thousands indigenous people were forced to abandon their villages and forests and to settle in Salwa Judum run relief camps.
The Dantewada District Collector K.R. Pisda, speaking to the media, explained that the government has asked MSF to restrict its activities to the relief camps run by Salwa Judum. The allegations directed at MSF are based on the claim that the organization gives medical treatment to injured Naxalites in the remote areas of Dantewada. Further one of its volunteers, Kamlesh Paikara, is accused of assisting journalists with getting contacts and interviews with injured Maoist rebels. Kamlesh Paikara denies allegations.
As K.R. Pisda stated, the Chhattisgarh police informed him that MSF is supplying the Maoists injured in police encounters with medical services. MSF is no more allowed to provide medical aid to the Naxal affected villages.
"We maintain neutrality in providing medical treatment in the camps for the displaced people in Dantewada district, located in south Chhattisgarh। Medical teams also provide mobile health services and nutritional support to those in need in remote rural areas. Surprisingly, the situation in Chhattisgarh is only one of several armed conflicts occurring throughout India for years, with civilians caught between various belligerent parties. As a consequence, many people continue to live in an atmosphere of fear and violence with little or no access to health care", says a MSF spokes person. She further added, "MSF has been providing free medical services to conflict hit indigenous people in camps and in villages since 2006".
MSF is a well reputed organization and won the Nobel peace prize in 1999 for its exemplary service in providing healthcare across the world, especially in disaster and conflict affected zones (see box). In its own annual report, MSF termed the clashes in central India as one of the 10 most underreported humanitarian stories of 2006. It is also present in the states of Manipur and Nagaland and various other conflict zones such as the Kashmir region.
The government hopes strengthening the Salwa Judum movement could pose a major challenge to the Naxalites. As the Ministry of Home Affairs stated in its 'Status Paper on the Naxal Problem' in May 2006: "Keeping in view the importance of the Salwa Judum movement as a major bulwark in the sustained campaign against Naxals, and in view of the Naxalite attacks on innocent Salwa Judum activists, the State Government has been advised to enhance the deployment of security forces to provide effective area domination, ensure safety of Salwa Judum activists and strengthen security of relief camps."
Experts say that this latest move of the Chhattisgarh government is just one more step in a larger strategy that should force the remaining Adivasis in the remote villages to join Salwa Judum and their camps. Nearly 1400 villages in the remotest areas of Dantewada were never reached by governmental health services since 60 years of independence. The intention is to bring these villagers to the relief camps by denying them access to health facilities, water and nutritious food. Local sources confirmed that there never were any governmental health care facilities in many remote villages. Villagers accuse the government to push them out of their forests and into the camps by deliberately stopping the MSF activities.
Mr. K.R. Pisda confirmed that MSF has been barred after complaints that MSF were giving medical treatment to Naxalites were found to be true. MSF has been asked to work only in the 25 relief camps.
Sunil Kumar, editor of the Daily Chhattisgarh newspaper, which was the first to report about this development, reaffirmed: "We have enough evidence to substantiate whatever we have published. We also have more detailed information which we cannot publish as they were shared with us in confidence." He further added, "The restriction imposed on MSF is in contradiction to India's policy in other states". Nandini Sundar, a research scholar said it is a breach of the Geneva Convention to which India is a State party.
The Chhattisgarh government by banning MSF from providing medical assistance denies the right to health and medical treatment to injured armed rebel Maoists and innocent indigenous people.