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BackYou are here: NewsIndia Doctors Without Borders Banned from Chhattisgarh Villages

India

Doctors Without Borders Banned from Chhattisgarh Villages

In what is conceived as a counter-insurgency action, the government of the state of Chhattisgarh in central India, where Maoists are leading tribal peasants in armed rebellion, has told Doctors without Borders (Médecins sans frontiers - MSF) to stop providing medical and humanitarian aid to tribal villages, the Asia Tribune said on 8 August, following reports by the Daily Chhattisgarh newspaper. Instead, the authorities want the organisation to provide aid solely in the camps run by the Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored paramilitary movement.

The Communist Party of India (Maoist) has been active in the tribal (Adivasi) belt and elsewhere in India since the early 1970s. The growing strength of the armed peasant movement in the remote forest areas has been faced with a serious challenge since 2005 when the Salwa Judum appeared. Since then, tens of thousands of indigenous people have been forced to abandon their villages and forests to live in the squalid and prison-like camps along the roads under the watchful eyes of the authorities. This system is modelled after the "strategic hamlets" the U.S. used to try to "drain the ocean" of peasants where the Vietnamese revolutionaries "swam like fish" and drew much of their support.

The international medical and humanitarian aid movement Doctors without Borders provides urgently needed medical assistance to anyone who needs it in remote villages where the government itself is not present and is not providing medical or other services. This, apparently, is their crime.

The Asia Tribune said, "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 [Maoist-led revolutionaries] 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... MSF is no more allowed to provide medical aid to the Naxal affected villages."

Answering the state's charges, an MSF spokeswoman replied, "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." She explicitly denied that MSF, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, supports the peasant rebellion or takes sides in any way. "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. MSF has been providing free medical services to conflict-hit indigenous people in camps and in villages since 2006."

The Asia Tribune story explains, "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 1,400 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... MSF has been asked to work only in the 25 relief camps."

The newspaper quotes Nandini Sundar, a research scholar, who said this prohibition of medical care in a war zone is a breach of the Geneva Convention to which India is a State party.

A World to Win News Service, September 8, 2009