At around 2.30 am on 8 February 2016, Malini Subramaniam, an independent journalist who writes for the news website Scroll.in from Bastar in Chhattisgarh, heard the sound of a metal object hitting her house. In the morning, she discovered that her house had been vandalised. Large stones were strewn across the porch of her house, and the rear window of her car was shattered. This attack was not an isolated event. This sequence of events had first been set in motion on 10 January, when 20 men had visited Subramaniam’s home at 8 pm in the evening. Manish Parakah, the secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party’s Yuva Morcha, and Sampat Jha, a member of the Congress in Jagdalpur were a part of this group. The men identified themselves as members of Samajik Ekta Manch, an organisation in Jagdalpur that was recently founded by local businessmen and political leaders. The forum, according to its members, was formed to “counter Naxalism in Bastar and support the police in its work.”
Once the men were inside Subramaniam’s house, they wasted little time in interrogating her about her whereabouts and expressing their distaste for her stories on Scroll. This conversation was followed by a visit at 11 pm from the police personnel of the area, led by the city superintendent Umesh Kashyap. The team claimed to have come for a “routine verification,” but did not explain why the process could not be conducted the next morning. Over the course of the month, the police returned to Subramaniam’s house again, even though she had submitted the requisite documents at the police station.
On 14 January, a few days after the Samajik Ekta Manch’s first visit to Subramaniam’s house, the organisation featured in an unusual report in Eenadu India, a vernacular newspaper. The report stated: “There will be a unique event on 16 January in which the police band party will, for the first time, play songs for a wedding. The baraat will leave from the local police station for Hata Ground. The Bastar Samajik Ekta Manch will be present from the bride’s side and the police family will be there from the groom’s side.” The bride, Kosi Markam, who is also known as Shanti, and groom Podiyami Lakshman, were allegedly former Maoists who had surrendered themselves to the police in September 2015. Both of them had fallen in love, and were, according to the state police, feared members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). In an unprecedented gesture of goodwill, the police had decided to not just bless this union, but also organise the wedding.
The police did not have to bear this responsibility alone. The Samajik Ekta Manch was happy to extend its support for the event. During the wedding, leaders from the Samajik Ekta Manch and Inspector General SRP Kalluri, the chief of police for Bastar range, sat on the stage, adorned with the pink turbans that are usually reserved for the bride and groom’s immediate families. Kalluri had, in fact, led the baraat—the groom’s procession—to the venue. The symbolic significance of the alliance between Kalluri and the Samajik Ekta Manch was hard to miss. The local journalists and activists I spoke to said that Kalluri’s association with the vigilante organisation was not limited to such gestures. According to Lalit Surjan, the Chhattisgarh-based chief editor of Deshbandhu group of publications, there is a “nagging doubt” that the Samajik Ekta Manch and its activities are “orchestrated” by Kalluri. This sentiment was echoed by the Congress Party at a press conference in Delhi that was held day before yesterday. At this event, the party alleged that the "Chhatisgarh government, administration and police are using organizations like ‘Samajik Ekta Manch’ as instruments of oppression against adivasis and journalists."