For the first time, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is willing to enter the Naxalite conflict zone to provide assistance to violence-hit people in Chhattisgarh’s backward Bastar region.
International humanitarian organisation Medicins Sans Frontieres — popularly known as Doctors Without Borders, it won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 — already has a presence in Dantewada district of South Bastar.
In the last three years, Naxalite violence in Bastar has claimed nearly 1000 lives, 250 security personnel included. Maimed and displaced tribals have been forced to seek refuge in relief camps or flee to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra.
“We can do the service that nobody else can provide in a conflict zone,” ICRC Communication Coordinator (South Asia) Philip Stoll told The Indian Express.
“If we have a solid agreement with the authorities — from the Centre and the state government concerned — we can stay for a longer period and provide all humanitarian assistance,” Stoll said, adding “if the ICRC steps in, it can provide facilities such as medical help to the needy, shelter, relief and rehabilitation of all those affected by the conflict.”
“Neighbouring Sri Lanka is the best example of what ICRC can do. The government there has accepted our presence,” he said. Stoll declined to disclose at what level has the ICRC held discussions regarding a possible intervention in Bastar, saying such negotiations always take a long time to materialise.
Asked about the possibility of having an ICRC presence in Bastar, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh told The Indian Express that his government would welcome all organisations which were ready to work for peace and help out with education, health, shelter and basic facilities in the region.
“Certainly, ICRC plays a vital role in mitigating the sufferings of people in conflict zones across the globe. With the kind of resources and expertise ICRC has at its command, its presence will benefit the poor tribals of the region where a huge population is suffering and hundreds of children have been orphaned in the conflict,” he said.
“We have no problem even if such organisations provide medical assistance to Naxalites injured in encounters with security forces,” said Raman Singh. “We also do the same thing. Whenever Naxalites are injured, they are hospitalised so that they can be punished by a court of law for their crimes.”
He reiterated that his government would provide adequate security and necessary assistance to all organisations, including the ICRC, if they come forward to help the people of Bastar.
Leader of Opposition Mahendra Karma, a former Congress minister who belongs to South Bastar and was the brains behind the anti-Naxalite Salwa Judum movement, has a slightly different take. “Should anyone invite organisations like the ICRC? I think they should come forward voluntarily. We will welcome the ICRC presence.”
Senior government officials, however, are not so enthusiastic about letting in the ICRC. The Centre and state, these officials said, would have to jointly consider the fallout before deciding on it. “The presence of ICRC can portray the Naxalite problem in the region as a major conflict, rather than a socio-economic and law and order problem as has been maintained so far by successive governments,” the officials said.