#India – For the love of justice #Chhattisgarh #Salwajudum


naxalarea

Nandini Sundar   July 04, 2013

On July 5 2011, a Bench of Justice B Sudershan Reddy and Justice SS Nijjar of the Supreme Court delivered what is widely regarded as a landmark judgement, banning Salwa Judum by any name, and disbanding and disarming special police officers (SPOs) who had been responsible, along with security forces, for many human rights violations. 

The only activity that the erstwhile SPOs would be permitted was traffic and disaster management, and that too, only if they were innocent of any crimes.

The court ordered that criminal investigations and prosecutions be initiated in Chhattisgarh. Earlier that year, they had also directed that the security forces vacate all schools and ashrams, with the aim of restarting schools in the villages.

 

 

The Bench asked the CBI to investigate the March 2011 rapes, murder and arson in Tadmetla and neighbouring villages and subsequent events in which Swami Agnivesh was attacked while trying to deliver relief.

As Justice Reddy (now retired) said in a recent interview, had the Supreme Court’s orders been implemented, perhaps the May 25 attack could have been avoided. However, far from obeying the court, the governments in Chhattisgarh and the Centre have done everything possible to flout the order.

The Union of India attempted to have the order overturned through a review petition, but succeeded only in having it limited to Chhattisgarh. The government of Chhattisgarh responded by renaming all the SPOs, ‘armed auxiliary forces’ with effect from the date of the judgement, and giving them automatic weapons and higher salaries.

Schools are still occupied, no prosecutions have taken place, no victims of the violence perpetrated by Salwa Judum have received any compensation, and the CBI enquiry is still incomplete.

The CBI first visited Tadmetla in January 2012. In February, the Maoists killed one of the former SPOs, Kartam Surya, who had been accused of rape, and whom the state had been staunchly defending inside and outside court.

The SPOs then physically attacked the CBI team. They have now decided to conduct their enquiry out of Jagdalpur. In May this year, the villagers travelled 400 km to depose, including old men and breastfeeding mothers, leaving aside their annual tendu patta earnings.

The state government continues to stall all mention of a joint monitoring committee led by eminent independent persons, which alone can ensure that FIRs are registered, compensation given and some degree of normalcy restored.

In March 2012, the petitioners filed a contempt petition. There have been 13 listings since, but not one hearing. On six occasions, we sat in court but the matter was not heard because other cases before it took up all the time.

The matter was adjourned four times because despite asking and being given a ‘non-miscellaneous day’ by the court, the listing branch of the Supreme Court assigned it to a miscellaneous day. (Tuesdays to Thursdays are non-miscellaneous days, where matters can be heard properly while Mondays and Fridays are frenzied because a large number of fresh matters are considered for admission).

On three occasions, when everything was right — it was a non-miscellaneous day and our turn had come — Chhattisgarh’s counsel bought time on technicalities.

The only people to have benefitted from the Supreme Court litigation so far are the SPOs and the lawyers for the Chhattisgarh government, who have made lakhs in fees for delaying justice to starving adivasis.

Chhattisgarh’s litigation strategy is also to keep filing affidavits with the same data, but under different annexure numbers, in order to mislead the court. On the other hand, the lawyers for the petitioners, Ashok Desai and Nitya Ramakrishnan and their juniors, have put in years of pro-bono work (seven years already and still counting), at considerable personal cost.

Sumita Hazarika as the advocate on record (AOR) has gracefully filed endless affidavits. Our co-petitioner Kartam Joga suffered two-and-a-half years in jail on false charges, before being acquitted earlier this year.

My years of court observation have instilled an enormous respect for the judges whose daily workload involves reading voluminous briefs and listening to a series of complicated matters.

There has to be a system which is less cruel to them, as well as to PIL lawyers and ordinary litigants, such as more reliance on written documents and limited time for arguments, as is the case in other countries.

No litigant from outside Delhi can afford to keep coming for hearings. And no adivasis on their own could afford to fight such battles in the Supreme Court.

The security forces killed 25 innocent villagers, including several children, in two separate attacks — Sarkeguda in June 2012 and Edesmetta in May. The Maoists kidnapped Alex Menon, the district collector of Sukma, in March 2012, and killed 27 Congress leaders and workers in May.

Unless there is a breakthrough of some kind, there is no prospect of peace. Implementing court orders will not resolve everything but justice goes much further than anything else.

What is surprising is not that adivasis support the Maoists against the police. What is inspiring is how adivasis continue to believe in justice, to send letters to the court, to attend CBI hearings.

Hope is the hardest thing to extinguish in the human heart, and justice is the gossamer thread that binds people to the State.

Nandini Sundar is a litigant in the Salwa Judum case

The views expressed by the author are personal

#India – The Naxal, the Tribal, and the Doctor


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June 19, 2013 ,

 Recent news reports state that the Chhattisgarh government has asked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to suspend its operations in the Bijapur district where it had operated for the past two and a half years. ICRC had been providing medical help to violence hit people in the tribal dominated area. This order of suspension raises important questions about (a) the duty and ability of the state to provide medical services to the tribal population in that area, and (b) the willingness of the state to allow medical services to affected people in an area affected by Maoist violence.

 

Bastar district is a predominantly tribal area, with more than two-thirds of the population belonging to the Scheduled Tribes category. Ninety percent of the population is rural, more than 87% of the population is employed only seasonally, and literacy levels are among the lowest in Chhattisgarh. Two thirds of the Village Reports, or Jan Rapats prepared by the villagers themselves (Jan Rapats are prepared by all villages in Chhattisgarh, and reflect the needs and views of the villagers) state that health facilities in these areas are very poor.

“Most villages emphasise that the availability of medicines, appointment of health personnel, improvement in the quality of health care, Government aid, and the availability of clean drinking water are areas that require attention.”

 

Though 6.25% of Chhattisgarh’s population is based in the Bastar district, the area had 3 hospitals, no dispensaries, and 57 Primary Health Care centres as of 2001. Forty percent of the population had no access to toilet facilities, safe drinking water, and electricity as of 2001.

(Human Development Report Chhattisgarh, 2005. Available here.)

 

Bastar has also been in the news recently owing to the naxal attack on Congress’ Parivartan Yatra convoy on May 25, 2013, during which senior Chhattisgarh Congress functionaries and security personnel were killed.

ICRC first expressed its willingness to enter Naxal affected areas in Chhattisgarh in 2008, and was welcomed by Chief Minister Raman Singh (Sourced from here):

“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…”

Interestingly, he went on to say,

“We have no problem even if such organisations provide medical assistance to Naxalites injured in encounters with security forces…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.”

 

Since 2010, ICRC has run a Primary Health Care centre, mobile clinics, and a hand-pump rehabilitation programme to ensure safe drinking water for the tribal population. According to another Times of India story, international agencies have helped play a crucial role in providing essential health care facilities in the region:

“Last year, when a diarrhoea epidemic broke out in South Bastar, killing nearly 100 people, Bijapur administration had enlisted the support of MSF and UNICEF, apart from calling doctors from other districts. But in Dantewada, in the absence of such an intervention, and in the face of an acute shortage of doctors, a large unknown number of people died without medical support.”

Then why the order of suspension?

The order of suspension has ostensibly been given by the district administration because “…ICRC is yet to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the state government” regarding its work in the region. State government sources have said that since ICRC is an international organization, it needs “certain clearances from the centre” for carrying out its operations.

If ICRC has operated in Bastar since 2010, how was it able to function without obtaining clearances from the central and state governments for almost three years? How was it able to bring in medical equipment, and (presumably) foreign personnel into a security sensitive area, and operate without the required permissions for all this time? Does the state and district administration seriously expect people to believe that they allowed ICRC to work in a Naxal dominated area for close to three years without the proper paperwork?

 

News reports indicate that other reasons may also be at play here. In 2011, the police in south Bastar and Dantewada had alleged that ICRC, along with MSF (Doctors Without Borders) which had been operating there since before ICRC started working there, was facilitating the treatment of Maoist rebels. Two Maoist rebels who had been arrested claimed that they were being treated by ICRC and MSF.

“These two organisations are deliberately going to Maoist camps and spending weeks. The foreign doctors should know what they are doing. I am from an enforcement agency and can’t welcome them having extra love for Maoists, but not for people injured in Maoist brutalities.” – Senior Superintendent of Police, Dantewada (Sourced from here)

 

According to him, people from the two organisations could be prosecuted under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act that prohibits direct or indirect contact with Maoists.

 

The recent order of suspension, coming soon after the Maoist attack on May 25 can then also be seen through the lens of an overzealous state and district administration irked by the fact that ICRC is treating Maoist rebels. If in fact this is the case, several questions beg to be asked: What prevents doctors from treating Maoist rebels injured in conflict, especially after the Chief Minister himself expressly stated that he would be fine with such treatment? Does the duty of a doctor to treat injured people depend on whether a person is suspected of being an insurgent or terrorist? Does such treatment in itself make a doctor an accomplice in the crimes the injured is suspected of having committed? If yes, should lawyers representing suspected terrorists also be made accomplices to crimes committed by their clients?

 

The central government has repeatedly touted its plan of combining development with improving law and order as a solution to Naxalism in these regions. ICRC is one of the most reputed health care agencies operating in Bastar, an area with a clearly documented lack of health care facilities. The administration at all levels clearly needs to reconcile its twin goals of development and security enforcement in a transparent, and rational way. Essential health care for tribals in a conflict-ridden area, and the work of doctors cannot be left to the alternating prioritization of security enforcement and development. This is especially so when the Jan Rapats reveal how miserably the state has failed in meeting the expectations of the local population.

SOURCE- http://polityinindia.wordpress.com/

 

 

#India – More mines, fewer schools in former Maoist stronghold


 

Manoharpur (Jharkhand), June 17, 2013

 

Anumeha Yadav, The Hindu

  • Villagers in Saranda, West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, get their drinking water from the Koina river, which has high iron content. Photo: Manob Chowdhury
    The Hindu Villagers in Saranda, West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, get their drinking water from the Koina river, which has high iron content. Photo: Manob Chowdhury
  • A Google map of the affected villages in West Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, and the mines.
    A Google map of the affected villages in West Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, and the mines.

Deep inside the Saranda sal forest, Thalkobad lies at the core of what was a CPI (Maoist) “liberated zone” in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district along the Odisha border. Thalkobad, along with 24 other villages, was reclaimed by the Indian state after a massive military operation — Operation Anaconda-I in August 2011 to destroy the CPI (Maoist) Eastern Regional Bureau and several training camps inside Saranda. The village bears scars of conflict — a high machaan used by the then rebel government of the village is intact but the secondary school building the Maoists took cover in to return fire at the CRPF is gone. The rebels blew up the school before escaping.

Saranda is a “laboratory for how to consolidate on security successes,” Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development, in a recent interview. Mr. Ramesh launched the Rs. 250-crore Saranda Development Plan (SDP) in 56 villages here in 2011 and has since announced similar plans for rebel-controlled zones in Latehar and Bokaro districts recovered through recent paramilitary operations. Two years on, Saranda villagers are still awaiting schools and health centres, even as mining companies have lined up to invest in the newly secured forests.

In Thalkobad, the adivasi villagers recall the pitched battle that August: most families fled to Karampada 13 km away for a month, 18-year-old Munna Soya and his father were taken by the Central Reserve Police Force in a helicopter to Ranchi on suspicion, detained and beaten in several police camps and later released, 50-year-old Jarda Honhaga was beaten so severely that he died in the hospital. From the 25 villages, 37 persons were arrested, more than 100 were detained.

The CRPF returned six months later bearing sarees, blankets, and farm implements. In the last few months, the villagers have watched the construction of a security camp next to their village, and then a road connecting Karampada to Jaraikela. Some have found temporary work with the road contractor and in MGNREGA. Others fear new mines will be opened in the forest. “If mines open our land will be ruined. The river will have only red water. We are not literate. How many of us will find jobs?” said Binodini Purti who cooked meals at the secondary school that was blown up.

Red area to ‘Lal paani’

Almost all the villages in Saranda struggle for drinking water. The forest is the catchment of three large rivers — Koina, Subarnrekha, and Damodar, and several streams flow through it. But there are 12 large mining companies operating in 200 sq km of this 800 sq km forest which holds one-fourth of India’s iron-ore reserves. The Ho adivasi living in the forest first launched ‘Lal Paani Andolan’ against the pollution of the streams from effluents and surface-run off in 1978 at Noamundi and their resistance has continued. “All 56 villages are in need of potable water. There is a problem of high iron content in the water,” notes the Saranda Plan outline of October 2011.

Thalkobad, Tirilposi, Baliba lie downstream of Steel Authority of India (SAIL)’s crushing plant at Kiriburu where ore is washed and crushed into uniform pieces. At Kiriburu, SAIL’s Rs. 4.23 crore-slime beneficiation machine meant to extract ore from the water that is discharged back into the river does not work. “It has not worked even once since it was inaugurated in 2010. When the inspection teams come, the guesthouses are full and the orchestra comes from Jamshedpur,” says a SAIL official. SAIL’s mines in Saranda accounted for over 80 per cent of its 15 million tonne production last year.

Downstream, villagers dig shallow pits, a few inches deep by the river to collect drinking water. Farms in Thalkobad, Karampada, Navgaon, Bandhgaon, Mirchgada, Bahada, Kalaita, Jumbaiburu have been ruined by the ore-laden water. “I cannot say about the beneficiation plant but the Kiriburu plant is being modernised. The river is polluted because private mining companies wash 200-250 dumpers carrying iron, oil and grease everyday in the river. I check them when I spot them,” said Dilip Bhargava SAIL General Manager (Mines).

More mining leases

Since January, the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure headed by the Prime Minister has recommended clearance for opencast mining in Saranda forest in areas that form the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve to three private firms. JSW Steel owned by Sajjan Jindal got lease of 998.7 hectares in Ankua forest division, Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) led by Congressman and industrialist Naveen Jindal got 512 hectares in Ghatkuri forest. The approval of 138.8 hectares forestland in Ghatkuri to Rungta Mines Limited was nearly completed last month. There are 155 proposals on the anvil for leases in 500 sq km — nearly two-thirds of the forest.

On paper, the proposals must first be recommended from the state government. “We have little say in the recommendations,” says a senior forest official. “There are over 600 elephants in Saranda. More mining may disturb their migration intensifying their attacks on villages,” says state Principal Chief Conservator of Forests A.K. Malhotra in Ranchi. A proposal by the department of forest to notify 63199 hectares forest in Saranda as inviolate is pending since 2006.

Ironically, the recent approvals to private firms are riding on the back of clearance given to SAIL in February 2011 to mine iron ore in Chiria in Saranda by Mr. Ramesh. Mr. Ramesh, then Minister of State for Environment and Forests had overturned the Forest Advisory Committee’s decision to grant approval to SAIL citing the Public Sector Unit (PSU)’s “Rs. 18,000 crore IPO on the anvil”. Private mining firms have cited the proximity of Ankua and Ghatkuri to SAIL’s Chiria mines to argue they too be granted permits in the already “broken,” what is no longer pristine, forest. Mr. Ramesh in 2011 said that in Saranda, he was in favour of mining only by the PSU but there was no executive order to back this or grant it legal status.

As the government has issued a slew of mining permits, the Minister in interviews to the media asked for a 10-year moratorium on mining in Saranda. “A gap of 10 years will allow the situation to stabilise, will allow building trust among the locals, and allow time to train and educate local people to take advantage of the economic opportunities that mining throws up but there seems to be a desire on the part of the government to allow mining in Saranda,” said Mr. Ramesh to The Hindu. There has been no public reaction from the UPA to Mr. Ramesh’s suggestion.

No new schools, or health centres

While in Thalkobad where the secondary school building was blown up by Maoists, Surendra Purti, a high school graduate from the village volunteers to teach teenaged children in the primary school building. He is not paid any wages. The teachers stopped coming long back and the nearest high school is in Manoharpur, 45 km away. At Tirilposi, the next village 17 km away, there are 90 school-going children but no building. “CRP sahib broke the roof,” explains village munda Budhram Gudiya.

The SDP’s original outline proposed 10 residential schools. Now, that seems all, but abandoned. “There is a plan to build one ashram school at Manoharpur,” says the recently-posted District Collector Abu Bakr. Mr. Ramesh explained the conceptual change in the SDP as both the interiority of the villages and the fact that “education and health are different ministries.”

The plan lists building 10 Integrated Development Centers (IDCs) — each will have a hospital, besides an anganwadi, ration shop, banks — only one has been completed at Digha this April. To improve health services, a mobile health unit has deputed since last October to visit all villages. “The ambulance visits regularly,” say villagers in Thalkobad. But it has not yet been spotted in Tirilposi though a motorable village road exists. In January an eye-health camp was held by a private hospital. “More than a third of over 1000 villagers had pterygium — a painful inflammation which may lead to blindness — because of exposure to mine dust,” said Dr. Bharti Kashyap.

There is hectic activity in all villages to build new Indira Awas houses. This March as part of the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society’s efforts to provide long-term livelihood security, a team of trainers of Self-Help Groups from Andhra Pradesh visited Saranda. The team stayed 15 days in Thalkobad but no meetings have been held since it left. Villagers say they are unsure what to make of their visitors. “They said “hum se judiye”(join us). That is what the party (Maoists) used to say too, and look what followed,” said Binodini Purti. At Tirilposi, villagers explain it differently. “Most families earn Rs. 60 a day after selling siali leaves in the market in Barsovan in Odisha. What will we save?” asks Budhram Gudiya. Then there are families in debt to pay legal expenses. Guvida Honhaga (60) among those arrested by CRPF got bail last year after his son Bimal, a mine worker, spent Rs. 1,60,000 on legal expenses. “I borrowed Rs. 40,000 each from four people at 20 per cent interest. Now he is required to go Chaibasa court thrice a month and that costs Rs. 900 — a fourth of my salary,” said Bimal Honhaga.

Rubber stamp by gram sabhas

At Manoharpur block office, 40 km away, an official waved a sheet of blank paper with 40 signatures. “This is what the mining firms submit as gram sabha’s consent for mining. They call people to football matches and get them to sign anything,” he says.

Bilarman Kandulna, 25, a political science graduate from a Manoharpur college was elected panchayat representative in Digha in 2010. “Some manki-munda (community leaders) now roam in Scorpio SUVs, but a few boycotted the Electrosteel public hearing for Kudalibad mines last year. Last April, we held demonstrations in the villages. The company then shifted its public hearing in Bahihatu, 20 km away,” says Kandulna. “What is the use of forest pattas when they give mining leases in the same forest?” he asks. Of 812 claims for individual forest rights, 511 were accepted till April, the rest were rejected as they fell in mining lease areas. Though a significant number of community rights — over 1200 — have been granted under SDP.

At Jamkundiya at the house of Laguda Devgam, the manki of 22 villages, there is no Scorpio car, but there are three solar street light poles towering on three sides of his house — the only streetlights in the otherwise non-electrified villages in Saranda. They are inscribed as gifts from Rungta Mines Limited, Usha Martin Industries, and Tata Steel.

At Sonapi, one of the six villages that boycotted the public hearing, there is anger. “If anyone comes to your courtyard, something will be disturbed,” said Mary Barla. “We asked for a written commitment that the company will provide health, education, jobs but they did not do it. Instead they shifted the public hearing site. Now they are back again with blankets.”

 

#India – Tribal land is Eklavya’s thumb, Dronacharya, the State is demanding as the price for ‘development’


There can also be an alternative universe

PK Vijayan and Karen Gabriel
June 12, 2013, Hindustan Times
Mahendra Karma engineered Salwa Judum (SJ), a vigilante tribal group hired and armed by the State-corporate land and mining nexus to exterminate tribals resisting resource loot. Karma was responsible for the execution of thousands of tribals, and the torture, rape, displacement and destitution oflakhs. This is the man the Congress nurtured, protected and now mourns. The State has never regretted the lakhs of civilian deaths it has caused, whether through Operation Green Hunt (OGH) or otherwise.State and corporate-sponsored violence remains under-reported and frequently justified. The government urges Maoists to eschew violence but itself plans military attacks on civilians. Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s directives, SJ continues in its new avatar as the ‘Koya commandos’.  Abuse of State power, corporate loot and violation of human rights during OGH (and intensifying in Phase II of OGH) — all in the guise of ‘national security’ and ‘development’ — led to national and international protests and bad press. The State responded with news blackouts. The State’s right to violence is conceded only if the State is regarded as above the law, impartial and anonymous. We need to ask inconvenient questions like, ‘why has the State been violent, since when, and for whose benefit?’ ‘Why are the tribals retaliating?’ They are tired of being “collateral damage” in the intensely violent and unjust privatisation of resources (protected under the Fifth Schedule) and national wealth that is passing for ‘development’.

All areas designated Maoist are also areas in which memorandums of understanding amounting to trillions of rupees have been signed with many MNC’s for mineral extraction. When this looting is supplemented with the mythologies of ‘democracy’ and ‘progress’, the villain becomes the anti-development, non-progressive Maoist tribal. The D Bandhopadhyay report of the Planning Commission notes that the Maoists have undertaken development that the State should have. Genuine pro-poor development should enhance tribals’ productive relations with the land, not disposses them.

The tribals are asked to ‘eschew violence’ and ‘join the democratic mainstream’. But the electoral process that constitutes this ‘democratic mainstream’ is a cynical numbers game. The ‘first-past-the-post’ system has meant that parties need address the demands of only the voting populace of very specific constituencies, differentiated along lines of tribe, caste, religion, etc. And that too, only on the influential sections within them, who in turn will (often coercively) ensure the remaining votes. This has not only created  long-standing traditions of nepotism and inherited privilege, it has meant that, after six-plus decades of independence, the needs of the vast majority remain unaddressed. They have not opted out of the ‘mainstream’: they have been systematically excluded.

This exclusion has resulted in systemic, systematic and mind-boggling poverty, destitution, violence and deaths. This ‘political mainstream’ has failed so completely that even these deaths have no meaning for it. They are inconsequential, never on par with the individual deaths of the privileged who constitute the ‘political mainstream’.

The coveted tribal land is Eklavya’s thumb. This is what the Dronacharya of the State is demanding as the price for ‘development’. Why should Eklavya concede? Dronacharya and Eklavya are nowhere near equal, and well-intentioned if naïve calls for both to respect the Geneva Convention should understand this. The State denies that it is at war with its own people, and given their disparity in strength, the Maoists are hardly likely to endorse the Convention unilaterally.

If the Maoists have an alternative understanding of democracy and development that may prove more inclusive and sustainable, then perhaps it is time to listen to them, rather than banning and ‘encountering’ them. The post-May 25 suggestions to intensify police and military action in these regions will prove disastrous. The State must recognise its own strength and responsibilities, and make the first move toward peace by lifting the ban. It must allow transparent media coverage and observers in these regions. The question — whether one is for or against Maoist ideology —  trivialises, distorts and distracts from the central issues.

PK Vijayan is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Hindu College. Karen Gabriel is Associate Professor, Department of English, St. Stephen’s College
The views expressed by the authors are personal

 

#India- wake up to the mining-politician nexus wreaking havoc in our politics


 

On 25 May, the ghastly Naxal attack on a convoy of Congress leaders in Darbha, Chhattisgarh, jolted political leaders across the spectrum. Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh — who has been driving the development agenda in the tribal areas and is known to advocate a more empathetic response to the alienation in these parts — was reported to have called the Naxals “terrorists”. Did this mean a complete shift in stand? Did he — and the UPA government in general — now advocate a “security-only” approach to the problem? Excerpts from a conversation with Shoma Chaudhury
Shoma Chaudhury

2013-06-22 , Issue 25 Volume 10

Jairam Ramesh | 59, Rural Development Minister.
Photo: 

After the recent attack on the Congress convoy, you referred to the Naxals as terrorists. Does that reflect a radical shift in your stand? Do you also now believe the issue should only be tackled by a security-centric approach? Bring on the air force!
That’s a completely bogus debate generated by NDTV. What I said was that there are geographical areas that need more intensive policing and security operations, without which no political and developmental activity is possible. At the same time, there are areas today where security operations have de-esca-lated and development and politics have taken the front seat. For example, there’s Saranda in Jharkhand and Jangalmahal in West Bengal. Or, for that matter, some parts of western Odisha and central Bihar.

We have a four-pronged strategy to deal with the Maoists, which includes security, politics, development, and a sort of redressal of past injustices and ensuring a rights-based approach. Unfortunately, there are places where all four cannot go on simultaneously. For instance, clearly, the five districts of Sukma, Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur and Kanker in southern  are fundamentally different from the other areas. Here, you have large areas that are so-called Maoist “liberated zones” where the writ of the Indian State doesn’t run. Sarpanches, Block Development Officers, superintendents of police and local political activists cannot go in there. So it’s meaningless to talk of political engagement and developmental activity in these areas until circumstances allow it.

I also said that the Maoists operate on a fundamental principle of spreading fear and terror. The NDTV journalist asked me, “So aren’t they terrorists?” I replied, in my book, anyone who spreads terror is a terrorist. What’s the big deal whether you call them terrorists or not? The fact is, it was a carnage; carefully executed and deliberately planned. If we still romanticise these guys, we are barking up the wrong tree.

There’s no doubt that the attack was heinous. But the semantics do matter. It shapes the response.
No. Frankly, the semantics don’t matter. This whole debate — security versus development, Digvijaya Singh versus P Chidambaram — is completely bogus. As I said, in any multi-pronged strategy, the relative importance of each component will depend upon the specific geography and circumstance. Two years ago, development was inconceivable in Saranda or Jangalmahal, both of which were “liberated zones” for many years. Today, you are seeing both developmental and political activity there.

But you can’t treat southern Chhattisgarh on par with these areas. What sets it apart is that the Maoist-affected area here covers nearly 10,000 sq km. Within that, Bastar is not in the same category as Sukma or Bijapur. And the whole Abujmarh area is sui generis. This area also spills over to Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Khammam district and other parts of Andhra Pradesh. So it’s a tri-junction area.

In October 2011, the first time I went to Bijapur, only 80 out of 157 gram panchayats had MGNREGA activity and there were absolutely no roads. This year, I was in Bijapur two days before the massacre and work was going on in 111 gram panchayats and 12 roads are being constructed. So in two years, 31 gram panchayats that had earlier been inaccessible had come under the developmental radar. How did this happen? Fundamentally, because security operations had created an  that raised the confidence level of the people and reassured them that if they come out and participate in the activities, they will not be targeted.

This is not happening because I have been there five times or because the state government is doing something remarkable, but because the security operations have enabled the cycle to be completed.

But security operations have darker impacts too. Barely three weeks before the 25 May massacre, eight tribals — including three children — were killed by the forces at Edesmeta village in Bijapur, and 17 in Sarkeguda a year ago. Instead of greater militarisation, why is there no attempt for talks?
That’s not true. Talks take place on tracks 3, 4 and 5. You and I will not know whether talks are taking place. You can’t hold talks by saying like Swami Agnivesh that “Main talks kar raha hoon (I am engaged in talks)”. Look at Laldenga (of the Mizo National Front). He took on the Indian State for almost 25 years, but through a period of negotiations, the insurgents finally joined the political mainstream. So there could well be talks taking place with the Maoists just now.

Really? I seriously doubt it. I could say with fair amount of certainty it’s not. The last time there was even a semblance of it, Maoist leader Azad was killed off.
Frankly, I don’t know. In a sense, dialogue with them is impossible. If I show you a record of my conversations with Maoist ideologue Vara Vara Rao, you will see there is simply no meeting ground. It’s just entrenched ideological arguments. When P Chidambaram was home minister, he told the Maoists: don’t give up arms, don’t give up your ideology, don’t disband your cadres, just abjure violence and come for talks.

Yes, he said that in an interview with us. But what covert channels of talks did he set up?
As I said, we can’t know. In an interview to Swedish author Jan Myrdal, Comrade Ganapati put out two conditions: remove the ban on the CPI(Maoist) party and release all their leaders in jails, who can then become the interlocutors. The Indian government has three conditions, the Maoists have two. So, at what level should the talks take place? The only thing I do know is that the Indian State operates at multiple levels. To paraphrase former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, there are some known knowns, some unknown knowns and some unknown unknowns. We are operating in the realm of the unknowns here.

It’s quite possible some sort of talks are taking place, but the notion that if we address some of these issues, the Maoists will come on board — I think that’s a big question mark.

Instead, you may have an occasional Kameshwar Baitha (MP from Palamu, Jharkhand, and a former Naxalite) who says, okay, I have had enough; I will contest and go to Parliament. Alternatively, in Saranda, the villagers told me one of the sarpanches is a part of the Maoist cadre. What’s important in both cases is that the end result is they have become part of a political process. That’s good in my view.

The trouble is, in southern Chhattisgarh, absolutely no political process is taking place. I have been to Sukma and Bijapur three times; four times to Narayanpur. It’s only since last year that the Congress was beginning to even be visible on the ground, with hoardings, posters and rallies. We had a rally in Dantewada; the Parivartan Yatra was taking place; we went to Bijapur and Sukma. This unnerved the Maoists. This was the second attack on Nand Kumar Patel (the Congress president in Chhattisgarh) because for the first time he was challenging the status quo, engaging in intensive political outreach. The Maoists would have seen this as dangerous in the long run. How can we allow this to happen in our territory? So far, the Chhattisgarh government seems to have maintained a low-level equilibrium: you do what you want there; we do what we want here, and we don’t disturb each other. But in the past 14 months, Patel had challenged that equation. I’m not saying we would have won, but people were coming to the Congress rallies.

You have been driving the development process through your ministry. But that is not the only criteria. The big elephant in the room is mining. Does the Indian State have any new thinking on mining? There’s a sense that if the insurgency is curbed, rapacious mining will take over.
It’s always easy for a liberal crowd like you to find rationalisations for Maoist violence. You can always say the Forest Rights Act (FRA) hasn’t been implemented, or there is mining, so there is violence.

That’s a cheap shot! We have never rationalised the violence.
I don’t disagree with the substance of what you are saying. It’s true the Maoists are raising very serious concerns. In fact, the tragedy is that tribal issues have been brought onto our radar because of the Maoists. Our attention has been caught because of them. The Indian State has a track record of failures in the tribal areas. Laws have been enacted but not implemented. In fact, they have been brazenly violated. It’s also a fact that the tribal is caught between the devil of the Maoists and the deep sea of the security forces. But their methods are very wrong.

There’s no argument on that. Of course, their methods are wrong. But apart from the tribals sandwiched between the Maoists and the State, the dilemma is, there is only a thin layer of entrenched ideologues who make up the Maoist leadership. Our concern is for the foot soldiers, the tribals who make up their ranks. You yourself have said 40 percent of them are women. They are also the poorest of Indian citizens. Many of them have no desire to unfurl a red flag on Red Fort in Delhi. Their impulse is to defend their land, their chicken, their grain, their families, their huts.
They are still foot soldiers. They are coldblooded killers.

What was not cold-blooded about the security forces gunning down tribals while they were celebrating a seed festival in Edesmeta and Sarkeguda? We always get trapped in this dialectic of Maoist and State violence.
There are 15-year-old kids who kidnap people.

Should we not ask ourselves why then?
This root cause theory will get us nowhere.

I agree. By extension, one could argue the root cause of the Gujarat riots. But…
Root cause theories are very dangerous. I would say one has to completely and strongly reject the violence, yet address the symptoms. This is not to deny a lot of violence has taken place in the name of development. I often say that, but I’m in a minority. It’s true, mining is taking place; mining leases are being given, even in Saranda. I have written repeatedly to the prime minister saying we have had a security success and are striving for at least a moderate developmental success. Please don’t jeopardise it by opening up Saranda to the mining lobby. But it has happened.

In his farewell speech in 1961, Eisenhower warned America against the military- industrial complex. I think we have to wake up to the mining-politician complex in our country, which is wreaking havoc in our politics, in the tribal areas. These guys have absolutely no compunction, no social conscience. They are not doing it because it’s essential for economic growth. It’s just a sort of developmental theology. I’m against it. It’s not that mining has to be stopped altogether. But we have to do it in a calibrated, nuanced, prudent manner. We must ensure socially and environmentally responsible mining. It should not increase the misery of an already deprived community, but that is happening. So our track record has no doubt given ample ammunition and fodder to the Maoists. But still we have mining buccaneers masquerading in Parliament as political leaders.

How do you read what happened in Andhra Pradesh? It’s often cited as a success model.
I applaud what Andhra Pradesh did, but in a national context, we just exported the problem. In the past, Andhra Pradesh used to be the main theatre. Hard security measures over 30 years, as well as a process of development and political engagement helped sort out the state. But basically the Maoists spilled into the adjoining states. The forests of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra used to be a sanctuary for the Maoists. Now the sanctuary has become the arena.

This is why the Centre has a very important role to play in the tri-junction areas and quadri-junction areas: the Odisha- Chhattisgarh-Jharkhand border; the Odisha-Andhra-Chhattisgarh border; the Andhra-Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra border; the Bihar-Odisha-Jharkhand border; the Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh-Madhya Pradesh-Uttar Pradesh border.

But the lesson to learn from Punjab and Andhra Pradesh is that, within the state, unless the local police and local intelligence network is up to the task, there is no way pumping in 70,000-80,000 paramilitary forces will work. But the SP of Sukma in Chhattisgarh told me he has only 1,000 men when what he really needs is 3,000. This is the story in district after district.

There seems to be no fresh legal or constitutional thinking on this. Even in the British era, the tribal areas were seen as special zones. What is the thinking within the Indian State? The Fifth Schedule is almost toothless and Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act as you said has not been implemented.
Let’s not undermine what the Indian State has attempted to do. At least it did not adopt the American or Australian policy of extermination. The Gandhi and Nehru route was to bring them into the mainstream but at a pace that they determine. So, let’s not be self-flagellatory about what we have attempted to do. To bring 80 million people into the ‘mainstream’. It has no precedent anywhere in the world. Actually, I’d rather not use the word mainstream; it’s an abused word. We have tried to ensure their constitutional rights through a democratic process.

There are many reasons why we have had greater success in the case of the Scheduled Castes than we have had with the Scheduled Tribes — primarily it’s because they affect elections in far less constituencies. There are many obligations in the Scheduled Areas that have not been met. Land alienation has taken place on a large scale. Land transfer regulations have been violated. Non-tribals have usurped tribal land. There is no denying that, but we have to just keep moving forward and get it sorted now, instead of moping. PESA was passed in 1996. FRA was passed seven years ago, but even in a politically conscious state like Kerala, when I visited the Attapadi hills of Palakkad district — one of the most deprived tribal areas — only half of the tribals’ claims under FRA had been dealt with. But the answer to all this cannot be armed confrontation.

Ironically, an RSS man from a Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in Sarguja district in north Chhattisgarh told me part of the reason the forests in the area are intact is because of the Maoists. If not for them, the forests would long have been cut and cleared for development.
That’s an intellectually lazy argument. The forests are intact because of the Forest Conservation Act (FCA). The FCA has nothing to do with the Maoists. Having been the forest minister, I can tell you the FCA is seen to be draconian from the development point of view. But from the forest point of view, it has been the single most important reason why the forests have been intact. Had it not been legislated in 1980, many of our forests, Abujmarh, for instance, would not have existed.

You have been travelling constantly on the ground since you took over as rural development minister. How many  affected constituencies have you been to?
Out of 82 Naxal-affected districts, I have been to 47; some of them I have been to three to four times; some five-six times.

That’s pretty intensive. When you speak to people first-hand there, what are the issues they raise?
Harassment by the local forest administration, which is the first face of the government they encounter. They also complain about the police, lack of electricity, teachers, doctors, health centres, etc. After a visit to Bijapur district, I wrote to the prime minister. As an Indian, I felt appalled and ashamed that the only two agencies providing basic healthcare facilities in the district were Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Red Cross.

There is no explanation for this. After 66 years of Independence, why are we unable to assure basic health services? Why are the roads and power supply the way they are? Why don’t post offices and banks function? When I ask bank officials, they say they can’t recruit locally and others don’t want to serve in tribal areas. If you recruit locally, someone will take you to court saying it’s unconstitutional. There are all sorts of issues. But the fact is, if the Indian State actually wants to do something, it can do it. It has enough powers. I see that effort in Bihar and West Bengal; I don’t see it in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or Odisha. Some Congressmen were very upset when I praised West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. But supported by Suvendu Adhikary, Mamata did a political outreach programme in Jangalmahal. I took part in a rally there, it was unprecedented. The former CRPF DG told me, ‘Sir, the photo of Mamata kissing a tribal baby is equal to five CRPF battalions going there.’

But the point is, no matter how much one disagrees with what’s happening in some parts of the country, you cannot pick up the gun. Am I picking up the gun because I have been overruled on Saranda?

I agree. It’s just a slightly glib argument because in cities, people beat each other if they can’t find parking spaces or don’t have electricity for a few hours and then are judgmental about those who react to their houses being burnt, women being raped, kids being killed, grain being stolen.
Let’s concentrate on addressing the issues the Maoists raise but let’s not romanticise them. Let’s not justify the root cause theory. I’m all for concerted action on mining, displacement, forest rights, etc. I wrote to three chief ministers — Arjun Munda, Naveen Patnaik and Raman Singh — telling them how their own officers have told me there are literally thousands of tribals in jail without due process and on flimsy charges. Why can’t they be released? I have been bombarding them with letters. They don’t do it. But one has to persist. Remember, Bihar was once a hotbed of Maoist activity, but now only two areas of Jamui and Gaya are affected. So the democratic process can prevail.

shoma@tehelka.com

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 10 Issue 25, Dated 22 June 2013)

 

#India – The Dangerous word : Maoists or Terrorists ?


: Dangerous word

Thursday, Jun 13, 2013 Agency: DNA,

Semantics matters in politics; language, used judiciously, is both a prime tool and a potent weapon in the shaping of public discourse. That is why there has been an ongoing debate both within the Congress and between parties in the wake of the Naxal attack on Congress leaders and party workers in Chattisgarh on whether to call Maoists terrorists or not.

Rural development minister Jairam Ramesh was the first to ascribe the term to them; tribal affairs minister KC Deo disagreed, as, when the issue came up this week, did the left parties. Now, home minister Sushilkumar Shinde has followed the Ramesh line of thought and publicly dubbed the Maoists terrorists. It is a mistake —  a dangerous reduction of a multi-faceted problem in a manner that can trammel public opinion and the scope of engagement with the Naxals.

Was the Maoist attack a heinous act? Undoubtedly. And it was far from the first time they have attacked innocent civilians; anyone who harbours romantic notions about them needs to take a closer look at their interaction with the disenfranchised sections of the population they purport to fight for. But the fact remains that the Naxal movement was born in and has taken root in a particular economic and socio-political context. It is the context that is crucial — to the extent that internationally there are over a hundred different definitions of terror with none being legally binding.

There are very real grievances against the Indian state in vast swathes of the country. The term terrorist carries with it — particularly today — an emotional heft that means its use can push the context into the background entirely and de-legitimise those grievances.

Equally, it legitimises any and all state action to bring down those it has termed terrorists. That is a slippery slope when the Indian state’s human rights record is already less than exemplary, as attested to repeatedly by Human Rights Watch.

By all means, the Indian state has the right — and the responsibility — to protect itself and its citizens from security threats. But to do it effectively, it must show itself capable of nuance. There is a vast gulf between focusing on security measures to combat acts of terror by the Maoists — paired with dialogue and development efforts to tackle root causes — and terming them terrorists and thus not worthy of engaging with at all, as Ramesh has done.

And it must also focus on its own methods, given the tendency of its police forces — and in parts of the country, its military and paramilitary forces as well — to indulge in extra-judicial behaviour  up to, and including torture and killings. Such acts do far more to exacerbate the problem than to suppress it.

Shinde and Ramesh would do well to reflect on the fact that by several definitions — including one advocated by the UN secretary general’s office — the Indian state can be said to be indulging in state terrorism against segments of its own population.

 

Maoists deny links with Binayak Sen


Raipur, June 13, 2013

Suvojit Bagchi, The Hindu 

Human rights activist Binayak Sen during a function in Hyderabad. File photo
The Hindu Human rights activist Binayak Sen during a function in Hyderabad. File photo

Rebels term Shubranshu Choudhury’s book a “pack of lies, half-truths and scattered information”

For the first time, Maoists have denied links with social activist and paediatrician Binayak Sen.

The statement on Tuesday night came in the form of a rare rebuttal of a recent book, Let’s Call Him Vasu by journalist Shubranshu Choudhury. While Mr. Choudhury preferred to “stand by” his book, Dr. Sen said it is a “good development” for him.

Read review of Let’s Call Him Vasu.

Mr. Choudhury has also named other eminent activists of Chhattisgarh, who ostensibly are associated with the Maoists, in his book which deals with the day-to-day life of the rebels in the central Indian forest and the impact of the armed movement on the lives of tribals.

The State wing of the CPI (Maoist), Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC), called the book a “pack of lies, half-truths and scattered information.” The release said that “even the disseminated information is distorted… and true lies, especially, the episode on Dr. Binayak Sen and the so-called relationship between Jeet and Mukti [Guha Niogi] and our party.”

The party has also refuted the allegation that it has taken money from Essar Steel as claimed in the book.

Mr. Choudhury has quoted a courier, Anil, of a senior Maoist leader and claimed in his book that Dr. Sen, a respected doctor and social activist, who was arrested for his alleged links with the Maoists, was actually an intermediary between Sabyasachi Panda, erstwhile leader of the Maoists in Orissa, and Narayan Sanyal, a Polit Bureau member of the party.

While Anil told the author that Rs. 50,000 was “collected” by a tendu leaves financier of Bengal, Piyush Guha, to deliver it to Mr. Sanyal for his legal expenses, through Binayak Sen, it is not clear if the money actually passed through the hands of the beleaguered doctor.

“I asked him [Sabyasachi Panda] if he ever got the money back. Piyush had been arrested before he could deliver or return the money, he replied,” Mr. Choudhury wrote in his book. With the DKSZC’s denial of the “Binayak Sen episode,” the controversy involving the doctor and the Maoists took a new turn.

Dr. Sen told The Hindu that he believes Mr. Choudhury is a “promising, young journalist,” and added, “… I have been saying all along what he [Mr. Choudhury] has stated is not true. For me, it is a good development, what I have been saying has been finally confirmed by the other party involved in the alleged transaction.”

Jeet and Mukti Guha Niyogi, the son and daughter of legendary trade union leader Shankar Guha Niyogi, are also named in the book. Mr. Guha Niyogi could not be reached on the phone for his comments.

The rebels, however, have not threatened the senior journalist and the rebuttal is more of a discussion on the praxis of the Maoist movement in India.

DKSZC spokesperon Gudsa Usendi said Mr. Choudhury had not made any “serious attempt” to understand the Maoist movement. “He has claimed to have spent seven years with us but… he has not tried to understand the basic aspects of class war.” However, other than underscoring their objections regarding the claims made about the civilian activists, the release has not clarified why the Maoist leadership is critical about the book.

The allegation seems to be more on how Mr. Choudhury failed to understand the Maoist movement than a point-by-point rebuttal.

The spokesperson is more direct about Mr. Choudhury’s radio broadcasts, which, according to Mr. Usendi, are “baseless.” Media reports suggest that comrade Ramanna alias Ravula Srinivas replaced veteran leader comrade Khosa as DKSZC secretary recently.

According to the release, Mr. Choudhury claimed in a recent radio programme that “Maoists will [now] focus more on violence after a change in the leadership.” Mr. Usendi objected to this observation and said such “imaginary analyses” are “bunkum.”

Alleging that “false propaganda” is often spread against the underground party to negatively influence the people’s movement, the release said “… consciously or unintentionally Mr. Choudhury has become part of it [propaganda machinery].” Mr. Usendi has also denied that there is a “rift” among the senior leaders.

Refuting the allegations, Mr. Choudhury said he stood by his book.

“My book was written on the basis of research conducted within the Maoist dominated areas and after detailed interviews with many Maoists. I stand by what I have written,” he said.

 

Maoist violence is not a mere law and order problem: Tribal Affairs minister


Deo said the government needs to be sensible about development in tribal areas, rather than allowing industries to exploit the rich natural resources of these areas

Nupur Sonar

June 10, 2013

The mangled remains of a vehicle at the site of Maoists ambush in Bastar where the Congress partys convoy was attacked. Photo PTIThe mangled remains of a vehicle at the site of ambush in Bastar where the Congress partys convoy was attacked. Photo PTI

Speaking at a press conference  held on the occasion of the launch of his Ministry’s new website, Tribal Affairs minister  said that Maoist violence is a deeper problem and cannot be treated as a mere law and order problem.  “There is rampant exploitation of tribals and the lack of development is also a part of the problem,” he said. The lack of development in these areas is the reason for such attacks, he said, while laying emphasis on the need to get to the root cause of the problem.

In the wake of the 25 May Maoist attack on a Congress convoy in , Deo said that at a time when the tribals are caught between the cross-fire of the paramilitary forces and the Maoists, all tribals cannot be painted with the same brush.  “It is really unfortunate that today,  in democratic India a tribal has no choice. He has to choose between the security forces and Maoists,” he added.

Deo said the government needs to be sensible about development in tribal areas, rather than allowing industries to exploit the rich natural resources of these areas. “Where in India have tribals benefited from mining activities? The impoverished have only become further impoverished,” he said while stating that whether or not his cabinet colleagues were for this kind of development, he is strongly opposed to it.  “This kind of development is a clear violation of our social obligations.”

Tribals are not our enemy but civilians of the country and our paramilitary forces are the ones who are trained to fight the enemy. But Salwa Judum is the biggest threat to peace.  Keeping young tribals in concentration camps and depriving them of their rights is not the answer. It is the worst thing that can happen”, he said.

An all party meeting to fine-tune the state’s policy on tackling Maoist violence is scheduled for later today

 

India’s Maoist Insurgency Grinds On


naxalarea

By Chandrahas Choudhury Jun 1, 2013 3:20 ,BLOOMBERG

An outlawed revolutionary group, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), which has for more than three decades carried on a guerrilla war in the forests of central India, carried out a vicious strike last weekend. On the evening of May 25, a band of about 200 armed Maoists, both men and women, ambushed a convoy of Congress Party leaders that was on its way to a political rally in the state of Chhattisgarh. Almost the entire top rung of Congress leaders in the state was eliminated in the attack, in which 28 people were killed. Some of the victims were dragged out of their cars and shot dead at point-blank range.

The Congress, which holds power as the leading party in India’s UPA coalition government but is the opposition in Chhattisgarh, was unnerved by the attack. Rahul Gandhi, the party’s vice president, traveled immediately to Chhattisgarh, where he said that the massacre was “not an attack on Congress” but “an attack on democracy.” The Maoists, meanwhile, sent a four-page statement signed by a top Maoist leader to the BBC, which said that the attack was “necessary revenge against the UPA’s fascist Operation Green Hunt, which is being run in connivance with several state governments.”

The letter-writer granted, in the cold language that characterizes violent revolutionary movements worldwide, that “some innocent people and low-level Congress workers were killed. They were not our enemies but they lost their lives. We express regret over their death and offer our condolence to the bereaved families.”

The Maoists, known as Naxalites, were after one target in particular: the controversial Congress leader Mahendra Karma, whose killing was especially brutal (78 stab wounds were discovered on his body). Karma was the brain behind an organization fashioned to deal with the Maoist menace in Chhattisgarh: the Salwa Judum, or “Purification Hunt” in the local tribal dialect. This civilian vigilante force, made up mainly of tribal youth, was set up in 2006 with the approval of the government of Chhattisgarh to assist the local police and Indian paramilitary forces with their counterinsurgency initiative, Operation Green Hunt.

Members of the Salwa Judum were each given a gun and the status of “special police officer” by the state government, and asked to monitor other civilians. This was to invite upon the tribal peoples of the state a second rule of the gun to that imposed by the Maoists and put civilians in the crossfire. What Karma had achieved, as the Indian sociologist Nandini Sundar, one of themost perceptive observers of the crisis in India’s “red corridor,” was essentially a situation of “my militia versus yours.” As the writer Ramachandra Guha wrote earlier this week:

The combined depredations of the Naxalites and Salwa Judum created a regime of terror and despair across the district. An estimated 150,000 adivasis [tribals] fled their native villages. A large number sought refuge along the roads of the Dantewada district. Here they lived, in ramshackle tents, away from their lands, their cattle, their homes and their shrines. An equally large number fled into the neighbouring State of Andhra Pradesh, living likewise destitute and tragic lives.

In 2011, acting on a petition by Sundar and others, the Supreme Court of India judged the Salwa Judum to be unconstitutional and ordered the government of Chhattisgarh to disband it. By this time, however, the Judum already stood accused of several outrages. And Karma, a tribal leader who had challenged the Maoist claim over the tribals of Chhattisgarh, was already a marked man, surviving several attempts on his life.

This back story explains the reluctance of the Indian press, even as it condemned the attack, to endorse the opinion of Raman Singh, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, who said of Karma: “He was a great fighter against Maoists. His fight will always be remembered.” In the newspaper Mint, Sudeep Chakravarti, the author of an excellent book on the Maoist movement called “Red Sun,” wrote:

Mahendra Karma is dead. And I am here to write ill of him.

This may be construed as indelicate in the aftermath of the savage Maoist attack on 25 May in southern Chhattisgarh that left him and several others dead—unlike Karma, many innocent of human rights wrongdoing. But it certainly is not an act of hypocrisy. Karma wasn’t exactly a man of probity. For long, the Congress party’s point man in Bastar, sometimes called “Bastar Tiger”, Karma often resembled a wolf that preyed on the tribals of southern Chhattisgarh, many of them from his own tribe, with utter disregard for their livelihood and lives. While I abhor violence, including the revenge hit by Maoists that finally claimed Karma at 62, his death should not be used to whitewash his crimes against humanity….

The endgame in the battle against Maoist rebels is still to begin in earnest, but it will likely come sooner than later, precipitated by the 25 May incident. Meanwhile, the competitive hell that they and Karma & Co. created in Chhattisgarh festers. For now, Maoists remain here in force, intermittently fighting security forces.

It’s clear, though, that the Maoists won’t be rooted out any time soon. Long accused of havingcreated the conditions that enabled Maoism to flourish by its apathy and arrogance toward the region’s overwhelmingly poor population, the Indian state has been working belatedly on a double-sided approach to the counterinsurgency. The UPA government has allocated special funds to Indian districts — there are as many as 34 of them — affected by left-wing extremism, even as it has sent in almost 50,000 federal paramilitary troops to assist state forces in four states as part of Operation Green Hunt.

This project could require a few decades to take effect. Having entrenched themselves, the Maoists, who by some estimates number about 40,000, would now hardly be willing to give up the gains of their own “extortion economy” in mineral-rich Chhattisgarh, where several major Indian business have set up steel and power plants. The Maoist cadre unites around exercises in bloodlust, such as the gruesome beheading of a policeman in Jharkhand in 2009. And when the revolutionary leaders dismiss parliamentary democracy as merely imperialism by another name and seek nothing less than the overthrow of the state (anything can seem like light reading after half an hour perusing the Maoist document “Strategy & Tactics of the Indian Revolution“), it’s hard to see what the government could offer them that they would find acceptable. As Subir Bhaumik wrote in a piece in 2010:

The body count will rise as Operation Green Hunt intensifies. Unlike India’s many ethnic separatist movements in the country’s Northeast or elsewhere, who negotiate for political space and call it a day when they get their pound of flesh, there is very little ground for negotiations between the Indian government and the Maoists. The Maoists seek a structural change of Indian polity that’s unacceptable for India’s neo-ruling elite, who have developed a stake in globalisation, liberalisation and capitalism.

The best books on the Maoist problem — in particular works in the last five years by Arundhati RoySudeep Chakravarti and Satnam — are worth reading because they demonstrate how knotty the problem is, establish what historical and economic frames illuminate it best, and suggest what citizens can attempt to do to keep Indian democracy and the establishment honest. They give the Maoists a human face, something that the Maoists themselves have proved incapable of doing. These writers spent time in Maoist camps, and came back with stories about a cadre at once tremendously idealistic and committed, and pathetically doctrinal.

Indian democracy has many flaws. But when the reading of its failures is as uncompromising as that advanced by the “grim, military imagination” (Roy’s phrase) of the Maoists, the result can only be a cycle of revolutionary violence and state reprisals, doomed to repeat itself endlessly and to take down many innocents in the crossfire.

(Chandrahas Choudhury, a novelist, is the New Delhi correspondent for World View. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the author of this blog post: Chandrahas Choudhury at Chandrahas.choudhury@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this post: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net

 

#India – Villagers speak- The Maoists Support Us, But We Haven’t Joined Them’


In Odisha’s Koraput district, hardly a week passes without the police announcing the “surrender” of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) members. But what crimes did the Adivasis commit for which they had to surrender? That’s a question even the Koraput Superintendent of Police Avinash Kumar finds hard to answer. CMAS chief Nachika Linga, an Adivasi who is currently underground, has been named in every case filed against the CMAS or the CPI(Maoist) in Narayanpatna, Bandhugaon and Laxmipur blocks of the district. Linga spoke to G Vishnu from an undisclosed location

G Vishnu

G VISHNU , Tehelka

June 7, 2013

Nachika Linga

 | 44
Chief, Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha.
Photo: 

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

How many of your activists were arrested? How many are still in jail?
Till now, over 500 innocent Adivasis have been jailed. Most of them were members or sympathisers of the CMAS. There has not been a single conviction. When the cases reach the court, they have always ended in acquittal. More than 100 activists are still in prison.

Why are so many CMAS activists surrendering to the police?
Since 2009, there has been an aggressive campaign to loot Adivasi lands at gun point. Farmers are being told by the police either to surrender or face the bullet. Ordinary Adivasi villagers are being forced into police jeeps and later paraded in front of the media. Those who have asserted themselves and fought for their rights are being shown as ‘surrendered’ CMAS members.

What are the goals of your organisation?
I was a bonded labourer for a moneylender. Ever since I was a child, I have seen how alcohol is used as a weapon against Adivasis. Ours is a democratic struggle for our rights. Adivasis managed to acquire land only after facing great odds, but the liquor mafia and non-tribal landlords enslaved us on our own land. “Jameen MuktiMadhaMuktiGoti Mukti (Struggle for land, emancipation from alcoholism and bonded labour)”: that’s the motto of the CMAS. The CMAS aims to create awareness among Adivasis about their rights.

Though your movement was non-violent initially, the police say you are Maoists.
We are fighting for our rights, and anybody can support us. The Maoists, and even intellectuals in Bhubaneswar and New Delhi, support Adivasi movements. But it is wrong to claim we have joined the Maoists. The police victimise Adivasis by branding them as Maoists. This must stop.

When innocent Adivasis are killed, some people see it as ‘collateral damage’. Do you also think some sacrifices are necessary?
The ordinary Adivasi fights with the elements to grow crops. Where do your people get rice from? Adivasis and farmers provide that rice, but today they are the ones getting killed. On top of that, the establishment claims it can ensure the welfare of Adivasis. Adivasi blood is being shed everywhere, so it doesn’t matter whether or not I think sacrifices are necessary.

vishnu@tehelka.com