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

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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

 

#India- A warning to Prime Minister of India , think twice before jumping the gun


Mr PM, think twice before jumping the gun

Pushing in more troops to fight Maoists will only aid the onset of a full-scale insurgency
Prem Shankar Jha

15-06-2013, Issue 24 Volume 10

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Back to square one Demands for retribution after the Darbha hills massacre could prove to be counter-productive Back to square one Demands for retribution after the Darbha hills massacre could prove to be counter-productive

In September 2001, the US reacted to al Qaeda’s attack with an explosion of rage and declaration of a War on Terror that has so far cost more than a million lives and turned the CIA into what author and The New York Times columnist Mark Mazetti calls a “killing machine”. Has the US gained anything from this bloodletting? Has it destroyed al Qaeda? Has it made its allies in West Asia feel more secure? Has it won the hearts and minds of the people it set out to ‘liberate’? One has only to ask these questions to know the answers.

The Congress party has reacted to the  attack on 25 May that claimed the lives of its leaders in the Darbha hills of Bastar with a similar burst of rage and demands for retribution. The  government has promised to bring the culprits to justice and sent in 600 additional paramilitary personnel. Accusing the  of not being interested in talks or following the democratic process, MoS for Home Affairs RPN Singh has said there is an urgent need to review the policy on dealing with the . Echoing what former home minister P Chidambaram had said in 2009, he affirmed that there would be no talks with the  until they gave up violence.

The Centre has inducted the air force into the battle by making it agree to provide helicopters for search, rescue and surveillance missions against the Maoists. It has thus broken the cardinal rule of the armed forces — not to intervene in insurrectionary wars within the country.

All the signs are therefore pointing to another campaign against the Maoists. Will this meet with any more success than Operation Green Hunt, launched in 2009? Or will it leave behind a trail of bitterness that will further swell support for the Maoists in Chhattisgarh and elsewhere on the ‘Red Corridor’?

The answer, here too, is self-evident. In the past five years, the number of districts “seriously affected” by left-wing insurgency has increased to 56 and those seriously or moderately affected, to 83. These make up almost one-sixth of India. In the worst affected areas such as Dantewada and Bastar, as Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh conceded, the writ of the State has virtually ceased to run, and there has been no development for the past 20 years.

New Delhi and Raipur have placed the blame for the 25 May slaughter on a monumental intelligence failure and launched not one but two inquiries into this ‘lapse’. But this is no isolated incident. The failure was equally complete when the Maoists wiped out almost an entire company of CRPF personnel in Dantewada in 2009. It was highlighted, less tragically, a year later when the government discovered a road that the Maoists had built in the forest to spirit away hijacked trucks, entirely by accident.

Although it began decades earlier, the alienation of the  gathered momentum only after the pace of economic growth increased the hunger for land. When Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were carved out from Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh began to shower mining concessions on corporates like confetti. Neither he, nor anyone at the Centre, spared a thought for the , who would lose their traditional rights of usage in forest lands, their livelihood from selling forest produce and the herbal remedies on which they relied for their health.

What completed their alienation was the creation of the , an armed militia of tribal louts recruited mostly by Mahendra Karma in 2005, but quickly endorsed by the state government. Its main purpose was to drive the villagers off their land in the name of ‘development’. This was a rare example of Congress-BJP collaboration that somehow escaped Sonia Gandhi’s notice.

By 2011, the Salwa Judum had driven people out of at least 644 villages, killed almost a thousand tribals and displaced at least 1.5 lakh more. Of those it has killed, Maoist leaders in Chhattisgarh told Shubhranshu Choudhary, author of Let’s Call Him Vasu, no more than 200 were members of their Sangham. Human rights organisations brought 537 of these killings to the notice of the Chhattisgarh government, but so far the state has ordered only eight magisterial inquiries, of which only one has begun.

In 2011, when the Supreme Court banned the Salwa Judum in one of the harshest indictments of a state government on record, Raman Singh inducted 3,000 of its cadres into the police as Special Police Officers (SPOs) on a salary of Rs 1,500 a month. Since then these SPOs have been responsible for some of the worst massacres in the state. To the Adivasis, this is the democracy that the politicians are extolling. No wonder, they consider the Maoists their defenders and the State their oppressor.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must prevent another mindless resort to violence, for it will only accelerate the onset of a full-scale insurgency. The war that will ensue will be unwinnable for, unlike the US, which has won battles but is losing the War on Terror, New Delhi has been losing both the battles and the war against the Maoists. Green Hunt was a failure because the Maoists emerged from it not only ideologically but also militarily stronger. In 2011 and ’12, the scales have tilted further in favour of the Maoists because, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, while the security forces have killed 80 Maoists, they have lost 126 of their own people.

As for the battle for the people’s minds, it is already, irretrievably, lost. According to ‘Vasu’, Choudhary’s eponymous contact in the Maoist leadership, “Though we called the movement People’s War, it was the Salwa Judum that made it a real people’s war. The Salwa Judum left no room for fence-sitters.”

Before going further down the road to repression, the PM would do well to re-examine the assumptions upon which it has been based. The first is that the insurgency is being fed by acute poverty. The second is that this can only be alleviated by ‘development’ — roads, schools, hospitals and power supply. The third is that the tribals are the authors of their own misery because they are not interested in development. The fourth and most important is that the Maoists are against democracy and oppose development. Therefore, they have to be eliminated for good sense to prevail among the Adivasis once more.

Choudhary’s book, written after months of living with the Maoists and chronicling their lives, thoughts and aspirations, shows the superficiality and hollowness of these assumptions. Poverty does not feed the insurgency any more than it fed the French revolution. What feeds the insurgency is injustice. The government claims to have been elected by them, yet takes decisions that take away their rights, break the slender thread that binds them to nature and its bounty, and make their lives more precarious. Denied any voice in decision-making, when they protest, they have to face atrocities by the police or the Salwa Judum. Maoists spoke of these events as casually as townspeople talk about corruption. But the anger that burned in them accounted for the high proportion of women in the armed cadres. It also helps us understand why Karma was stabbed 78 times in addition to being shot.

It is true that the Adivasis are not interested in New Delhi’s concept of economic development, because this is the root cause of their misery. But it is most certainly not true that they do not want any development and wish to be left as noble savages. Choudhary describes the pains the Maoists take to procure medicines, attract doctors, create village schools, bring out ‘comrade’ teachers to teach in them, and enable the tribals to get better prices for their produce.

As for their goals and willingness to seek them peacefully, Rajanna, the Maoists’ chief armourer, has the following things to say: “The party has addressed, and to an extent alleviated, excessive poverty in Dandakaranya. People have access to the forest and the land now. A single Mahua tree yields an income of Rs 5,000 a year; people are not starving anymore. The fight should transform itself into a demand for tribal autonomy. We should demand that all Dandakaranya be able to decide its fate without interference from outsiders. Schedule Five of the Constitution gives these rights in theory, but we should work towards making them a reality.”

When people cite the Indian Constitution, it means that given the right circumstances, they are not averse to living within it. Rajanna is not a moderate or an aberration. So his reflections need to be treated seriously.

letters@tehelka.com

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 10 Issue 24, Dated 15 June 2013)

 

#India – Grassroots Democracy Gasps as Guns do the Talking


Over 70 local government representatives have quit their posts in Malkangiri, a district long under the Maoist shadow. G Vishnu visits remote villages in Odisha to gauge the despair
G Vishnu

G Vishnu , Tehelka

15-06-2013, Issue 24 Volume 10

Anguished Debe Madhi resigned as the Kalimela block chairperson, protesting government apathyAnguished Debe Madhi resigned as the Kalimela block chairperson, protesting government apathy.
Photo: 

There are no roads here. There is no pond in the village. No wells. No drinking water. What does the government want us to do?” laments Era Madkamy, 37, a small-time farmer who grows paddy, groundnuts and vegetables for a living. His wife Mamata Kobasi, 25, has recently resigned from her post as an elected village head. Kobasi is not alone. In the past two months, frustration over the State’s apathy towards the tribal dominated region has made 72 local body representatives quit their posts in a remote corner of , one of the poorest of the 28 states in India. Though the district collector refused to accept the resignations, the despair runs so deep that no one is willing to relent.

 district, 600 km to the south-west of the state capital Bhubaneswar, has always been in the news for the wrong reasons. This is one of the 60 districts in central and eastern India that the government considers to be ‘most affected’ by the .

Malkangiri hit the headlines in February 2011 when the Maoists abducted the then district collector Vineel Krishna. One of the rebels’ demands was the construction of a canal that would ensure drinking water to people across a large part of the district. Nearly two-and-a-half years following the release of Krishna — who currently works in the Union Ministry of Rural Development — there is no sign of the canal yet.

While pressure from the Maoists may have left little choice for the local body representatives but to follow their diktat, many of them say they are so fed up with the State’s apathy towards the tribals that they decided to quit.

The resignation of local body members at all levels — from wards (a part of a village) to blocks (a bunch of villages) — means more than just stagnancy in the local administration. It almost suggests a rejection of everything that the government has to offer.

People in every village that TEHELKA visited in the district seemed to share this sense of alienation.

Among those who have resigned are the chairperson and 21 village heads of Kalimela block. In Koyimetla, one of the villages in this block, it is a hot Sunday morning and the village head Kobasi tends to her kids while her husband Madkamy has breakfast. With no irrigation facilities, it is a tough task for the household to sustain their crops. Even collecting drinking water is a big problem.

This village was once connected by the main road that passes through Kalimela block. It was a pucca road once, but that is difficult to believe by the look of what remains of it. In fact, pucca roads cannot be seen in most parts of the district.

“What’s the point of being a village head when there is little you can do to improve the lot of the villagers?” asks Madkamy. Village head Kobasi and the other villagers too share the same view. But lest you thought it is a village that has been influenced by Maoists, the villagers are quick to clarify that it is not. No one claimed to support the Maoists in any way.

Indeed, it is difficult to reduce the villagers’ views on the Maoists to a binary of ‘support’ and ‘opposition’. So, at the same time as they insist they have nothing to do with the Maoists, some of them say they agree with a few of the rebels’ demands.

“The Maoists were right when they demanded the canal during the Vineel Krishna kidnapping episode… The government does not seem to understand our appeals,” says a villager on the condition of anonymity. Many villages do not seem to have been particularly shaken by the killing of an SPO by the Maoists in a nearby village just a day earlier, or by the killing of Bhagwan Kirsani, the elected head of Kurmannur village, in the same area a month earlier. However, in hushed voices, many villagers admit that Maoist pressure has worked in several villages. But not theirs, they point out immediately.

In another remote village, Undrukonda, where there is absolutely no support for Maoists, the frustration reaches another decibel. Most residents are Koya tribals, and they suffer from the usual problems of lack of drinking water, electricity and roads, besides little access to education and healthcare.

“Every time we have a medical emergency, it takes nearly four-five hours for the ambulance to reach us. There have been a number of miscarriages because of this,” says 24-year-old Wagi Kartami, the elected village head, who has studied up to Class XII. “How can we develop this village? There is no Primary Health Centre here, no high school, and no roads too.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Debe Madhi, who resigned as head of Kalimela block and is a supporter of the Congress party, articulates the problems of the villagers more vividly. “The nearest hospital is more than 25-30 km away from my village, Murbanpally,” she says. “It’s worse for the people in villages like Manyamkonda, Chintalvada, Bejangiwada and Bodigetta, which are in the hills.”

Madhi also points out that social welfare schemes like the MGNREGS — an ambitious Central government scheme that guarantees 100 days of wage employment to every household in rural India — have not been implemented effectively in the entire region. “Unless the government expedites implementation of the welfare programmes that we have demanded, we will stay away from office,” she says. “Though our resignation has not been accepted, we will not relent.”

Ambivalence in the attitude towards the Maoists is a common feature in several villages that TEHELKA visited. Most residents also shared similar views on the failure of the political parties to deliver good governance.

Many villagers point out that the PDS system in Malkangiri has been of little use to the locals. “The Adivasis here do not consume the rice provided through the PDS as they prefer other locally grown cereals. Also, most of them don’t use sugar and use firewood instead of kerosene,” says a volunteer in one of the biggest NGOs operating in the district. “No political party is keen to pursue the issues that matter, as it is not in their interest.” Among such crucial issues, the volunteer adds, is the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) — a key legislation that recognises the Adivasis’ rights to forestland.

“Just two months ago, there was not even a status-quo report on the FRA. Now, perhaps with the 2014 Assembly polls in mind, the officials have suddenly woken up and are handing out pattas (land deeds) to Adivasis,” says an activist. “But there is no effort to recognise community claims over forestland, which would give Adivasi villages complete control over the nearby forests. Nobody wants that.”

This idea of community rights is fuelling the rebellion elsewhere in Malkangiri too. Nilapari village in Kudumulu Gumma block is inhabited by the Didai tribe (classified as a ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group’). The elected head, Naka Mamudi, recently managed to stop the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF) from setting up a camp in the village. He did this by citing the rules for tribal areas under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which gives the village council the right to decide how community resources are to be used. He had learnt from the experience of villages like Chitapari-3 of the neighbouring Korukonda block, where the BSF has occupied the panchayat building.

While calls for further militarisation of Maoist-affected regions have become louder following the shocking Naxal attack on a Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh on 25 May, Malkangiri is a case study in why that alone may not end the problem. Unless it comes with a simultaneous campaign to strengthen institutions of local governance, so that local body representatives feel safe and are empowered to address the grievances of villagers.

Else we might end up with more Malkangiri-like situations. Already in neighbouring Koraput district, local body representatives in Narayanpatna block are readying to resign en masse to protest the arrest of over 500 innocent Adivasis.

vishnu@tehelka.com

 

Disinformation and Journalistic Ethics: A Letter from Harsh Mander


June 6, 2013
We are publishing below a communication received from Harsh Mander, a former member of the National Advisory Council, regarding misrepresentation of his position and his politics by no less a person than the editor-in-chief of the Indian Express. The misrepresentation could easily have been corrected, had the mistake been really a mistake but by not publishing the letter or even and editorial correction, newspaper and the editor seem to be acknowledging that the error was in fact, intended. In the language of the Cold War, acts such as these were called ‘disinformation’. 
Response to Mr Shekhar Gupta’s article ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013
 

In response to an article by Mr Shekhar Gupta ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013, I sent the letter reproduced below on 3 June 2013, which has not yet been carried by Indian Express. I try not to respond polemically to articles which disagree with my views on public policy or other issues, as these differences are perfectly legitimate in a democracy. And who is to be sure that I am right, and my critics are wrong? But this was different, because it utterly falsely described my ideological position on Maoism as sympathetic, whereas I have always been passionately and publicly opposed to all forms of violence, including Maoist violence. Moreover it linked this to my membership in the NAC, and through that by implication to the many pro-poor agendas I sought to bring into and support within the NAC in the two years that I was a member. Finally Indian Express did not check with me the full facts reported in the opinion piece. I therefore felt I should respond formally to the report. But since this response has not been carried, and on the other hand it is being publicly referred to by others as well, I felt it would be best to place this reply in the public domain. – Harsh Mander

———————————————————————————————————-

Dear Shekhar,

Greetings!

This relates to your article ‘The Bleeding Heartless’ in the Indian Express, June 1 2013.

In the article, you have mentioned that Padma, the wife of a leading Maoist Ramakrishna, managed an orphanage run by the NGO Aman Vedika with which I am associated. The facts of the matter are as follows. In several cities, my colleagues and I are helping run 45 residential homes for the education and care of around 4000 homeless street girls and boys. There are about 20 such homes for street boys and girls in Hyderabad. For running these homes, as house mothers and home managers, it is our policy to give preference to single women, women survivors of domestic violence, and homeless and destitute women, so that the children’s home also provides them a place of safety and healing. Under the name of Sirisha, a woman came to my colleagues in Hyderabad in the year 2008 saying she was estranged from her husband and only son and was in severe depression , and that she be given the chance to live among the children so that it would help her to heal. She requested initially for the chance to live in the home and volunteer her services. In time, when a position in the same home fell vacant, she was appointed as one of the home managers, because she performed her duties of child care well. No one had the faintest idea about her true identity. After more than 2 years with us, she applied for 10 days’ long leave for the first time. A few days later, we heard from the newspapers that she was Padma, second wife of a Maoist leader, and she was arrested by the police in Odisha.

On the larger question of ‘Maoist sympathies’, I have absolutely none. I have consistently written and spoken about my unambiguous and resolute opposition to all forms of violence, including Maoist violence. I have strongly and consistently disagreed with those, among them my liberal friends, who in any way romanticise or even indirectly rationalise their resort to violence, and those who suggest that their violence is justified because of the structural violence of poverty, exploitation and state violence. I feel that there is no such thing as altruistic violence. Violence, even when deployed in the name of the oppressed, ultimately brutalises all, and the oppressed suffer the most. The only legitimate instruments to fight injustice, in my opinion, are non-violence and democracy.

I would be happy to contribute a longer article to your esteemed newspaper to clarify the facts and my position on Maoist violence. Alternately, I would be grateful if you would kindly at least publish my clarification.

With warm regards,

Harsh Mander

Aman Biradari and Centre for Equity Studies,

 

#India- Dealing with Maoists


The Maoists want a military conflict as it brings more adivasis into their fold. The Indian state‘s best bet is in ensuring that it wins over the aam adivasis to its side.
CHITRANGADA CHOUDHURYAJAY DANDEKAR, Outlook

May 25th’s condemnable attack by the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, which ended up killing and injuring over 50 people from Congress politicians to migrant adivasi labourers, cannot be understood without recognising the Maoist party’s explicit political aims. These aims include zero tolerance for any competing political force in the party’s area of armed influence. Also, as stated often by male members of the party’s non-adivasi leadership, the polarising hardships created by military conflict are desirable since they hold the opportunity of swelling the party’s ranks.

But to make deeper sense of the attack, Indians must also acknowledge the routine stymieing of democracy and governance in adivasi India— the context that nurtures the current avatar of India’s four-decade-old Naxalite rebellion.

If the Indian establishment wishes to effectively end such attacks in the long run, it cannot sidestep a hard look at why it stands so discredited in the aam adivasi’s eyes across central and eastern India. If  “democratic values” are what are at stake, as leading politicians argued in the wake of the attack, their parties must also act to uphold and defend such values in numerous adivasi blocks where the Maoists neither challenge the writ of the state nor hold out the threat of political assassinations.

Here are some specifics dos and don’ts:

1. Implement land rights safeguards: From the adivasi bonded labour agitations in neglected western Orissa to the struggles against losing land and livelihoods for mining and industrialization across the bauxite, coal and iron ore-rich tracts of central and eastern India, land is at the heart of much of the ongoing violence adivasis suffer. This despite clear safeguards in the Constitution, dedicated land alienation laws and the atrocities act, all of which are meant to prevent and redress adivasi displacement and dispossession. Existing constitutional and legal provisions have to be seriously implemented to address this growing crisis.

2. Fast-track the Forest Rights ActFrom the adivasi perspective, the 2006 Forest Rights Act (FRA) was arguably the most meaningful legislation of independent India. It overturned colonial notions of the state as owner of the forest, and recognised adivasis and other forest-inhabitants as rightful cultivators of forest produce and key actors in forest conservation. But states have been reluctant to cede control— as per the government’s latest status report (April 2013), under 50% of land title claims filed by villagers in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Orissa have resulted in titles. On the ground, this translates into deliberate neglect. In a mid-May interview with one of the columnists, residents of a Gond village in Orissa’s forested coal belt said they had filed FRA claims in 2010 but there was no administrative action to process them. Instead, forest officials had been making rounds of the village with officials of a private mining company. The other important aspect of the law—giving adivasi communities the right to market their forest produce—has been implemented in only a handful of villages across India.

3. Stop criminalising legitimate spaces of expression and protest: A wide spectrum of non-violent adivasi movements today exist on the ground, agitating on multiple issues including forced displacement, the loss of access to natural resources, the absence of meaningful economic and social rehabilitation, below-minimum wages, government liquor shops and indebtedness. Many of these struggles get little public or media attention. The state’s common reaction is to throttle and intimidate such agitations, often through outright physical assaults or by filing criminal charges against protestors, including those of Naxalism. In Chhattisgarh, such non-violent movements have had to coalesce under a single banner hoping for strength in numbers, given the perennial fear of imprisonment under the state’s harsh Public Security Act.

4. Pay closer attention to justice: The criminal justice system as it exists today is loaded against the adivasi. On the one hand, there is little recognition for crimes—from police atrocities to cheating and forced displacement—committed against the adivasi. NHRC’s April visit to Chattisgarh reinforced this principle of zero culpability when it did not recommend criminal charges in any of the questionable encounters that killed adivasi villagers. On the other hand, adivasis are routinely picked up and imprisoned, spending years in a hostile system they can make little sense of. Court proceedings often take place in a language they do not understand, the official legal aid system takes little interest in them, and private lawyers who can get them bail are beyond reach. This April, a year after a committee was set up to examine cases of adivasi prisoners, its head and former bureaucrat Nirmala Buch said she did not know if the Chhattisgarh government had acted on the recommendation that prosecutors not oppose bail for 110 adivasi undertrials in the 235 cases the committee had examined. Undertake a dedicated review of adivasi undertrials, and act on its findings. Create a distinctive legal aid program for adivasis with funds from the Tribal Sub-plan budget. Institute criminal charges on adivasi complaints.

5. Hold businesses accountable: Among the leading violators of human rights in India’s adivasi belt are businesses, in particular mining corporations who have made an unparalleled entry into these areas over the past decade. This presence will only expand in the coming years, but there is alarmingly little attention by the state on the profound implications of this for vulnerable communities on the ground. Corporate misdemeanours range from intimidating gram sabhas, falsifying records, fixing public hearings, nurturing land speculation and alienation, bribing politicians, the bureaucracy and the district media to facilitate violations, sapping natural resources including groundwater, and polluting without any notion of having to pay for it. All of these are open secrets through various levels of government. Yet a blind eye is turned since the consequences of these violations are primarily borne by adivasis. Businesses operating in adivasi areas need to be held to a code of conduct with clear principles of responsibility and accountability.

6. Address the head-on policy collision between mining and adivasi rights: There is a nascent but overdue debate within government on how mining in its current form is incompatible with the constitutional provisions for adivasis. V Kishore Chandra Deo, the most engaged Tribal Affairs Minister India has seen in a long time, has repeatedly pointed to the crisis of confidence and trust in adivasi areas mining is causing. He took this position most strongly in a letter on April 4 to the governors of all adivasi-populated states, men of power who have routinely ignored their constitutional mandate of ensuring ‘peace and good governance’ in adivasi areas. Deo’s concerns over mining have been publicly seconded by his colleague Jairam Ramesh. It is no coincidence that these are the only cabinet members who spend time in adivasi areas and see the damage on the ground first-hand. What is the larger strategic plan for our mineral resources and where might we draw the line on the social and economic costs adivasis bear for our extractive industries? Give these questions the seriousness they deserve, even though they are difficult ones to ask, when spoils from mining enrich individual MPs and MLAs across party lines, and bankroll electoral campaigns.

7. Engage, don’t exclude: Through a series of executive orders, the current government has shrunk the legitimate powers of gram sabhas in adivasi areas to participate in decisions over matters that affect them, from developmental and mining projects to diverting and destroying forests. None of these rollbacks were run by locals or justified to them. They orders came in response to high-level lobbying, and often after explicit PMO directives. The effective message to adivasis is that their participation is irrelevant, or an irritant. Dedicated area development funds in adivasi areas such as the Integrated Action Plan are imbued with a similar scuttling of participatory norms. IAP funds, hundreds of crores of rupees, are entirely controlled by 3 district bureaucrats, violating the legal mandates of local communities and elected panchayats. What proportion of IAP money and energies were spent to engage communities in key challenges like creating accessible and meaningful healthcare in their area?

8. Don’t patronise the adivasi: Adivasis are not our ‘backward’ siblings but full and equal citizens confronted with, and living through enormous inequality and injustice. Recognize that adivasi societies are home to deep and distinctive traditions, which add to the diversity India takes pride in. They also possess an evolved ecological awareness, acquired over generations of managing their environments and livelihoods— knowledge systems that arguably rival those of the most celebrated “development experts”. If the rest of India has the humility to listen, adivasi communities might hold valuable policy insights on how we could avoid replicating the fate of China, which has gravely damaged its environment on the path to economic progress. Incidentally, adivasi societies also possess better sex ratios than some of India’s most developed areas including South Delhi and South Mumbai. Don’t look down on adivasis for “staying aloof from the meanstream [sic] of modern society”, as one government document on Malkangiri’s IAP put it. The fundamental issue seeking resolution is not adivasi difference, but mitigating the inequality and injustice that compromise democratic values for them at every turn.


Chitrangada Choudhury is Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Ajay Dandekar is Professor, Central University, Gujarat.

 

#India – Violence of the Oppressed


Vol – XLVIII No. 23, June 08, 2013

The chorus of righteous indignation against Maoist violence has made a comeback. The commercial media has returned to baying for the blood of the “left-wing extremists”. “Why are human rights groups not condemning the terror the Maoists unleashed?” screamed one of the TV news anchors. “Why has the government lost track of the fight against Maoist terror?” yelled another. In the safety of their studios, the big guns on TV have been booming! They cannot stomach a successful ambush by the Maoist guerrillas. “This is a major setback for Operation Green Hunt (OGH)” (the anti-Maoist counter-insurgency campaign). “Shouldn’t OGH be overhauled and intensified?” or better still, “shouldn’t the Army be deployed on the frontlines in Bastar?” Rather than be swayed by such hawks, maybe we should first try to put what has happened in its proper context and then weigh it all up.

The ambush on 25 May by Maoist guerrillas of a convoy of Congress Party leaders of Chhattisgarh with their retinue and the Z-plus and other category of armed security personnel has shocked the state apparatus in Raipur and New Delhi. The targets of the attack were the chief of the Congress Party in the province and a former home minister of the state, Nand Kumar Patel, and the founder of the state-financed and armed private vigilante force, Salwa Judum (SJ), Mahendra Karma, and the assassinations were on the dot, for the state’s security personnel accompanying the convoy were no match for the guerrillas in the two-hour long battle. The convoy was returning from a Parivartan Yatra (march for change) rally in Sukma in southern Chhattisgarh in the Bastar region and the Maoists not only knew that Karma and Patel were in the convoy, but even the route that it was to take.

The Congress now seems bent on intensifying OGH with the despatch of additional central paramilitary forces. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister of the state has however suggested that the union government go in for talks with the Maoists. It may be noted that the latter have always been open to negotiations, even as they have insisted that they will not give up on the use of force. Nevertheless, with the BJP fiddling to discover what may serve its politics of one-upmanship, the Congress must surely be pleased with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) politburo’s statement demanding “firm action” to put an end to “these Maoists [sic] depredations” and urging “all democratic forces to fight the politics of violence by the Maoists”.

We refuse to join this chorus of righteous indignation against Maoist violence. Why? The credentials of these so-called anti-terrorists are well known – in the eyes of the victims, whether ordinary adivasis in southern Chhattisgarh or Muslims in Gujarat, they stand convicted of terrorism on a scale that constitutes “crimes against humanity”. They have no moral right to talk about democratic values. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government sanctioned the “security-related expenditure” that funded the SJ. The state BJP government turned the other way when the funds for internally displaced person camps went into the personal coffers of SJ leaders. And, the mining companies contracted with the SJ warlords for “protection and ‘ground-clearing’ services”. The SJ which Karma led was “a land and power grab masquerading as a local uprising”, as
Jason Miklian, writing in the journal, Dialectical Anthropology (33, 2009, p 456), put it.

In Dantewada, Bastar and Bijapur districts in Chhattisgarh, in the context of large-scale acquisition of land by corporations in what is a mineral-rich region, entire villages were evacuated and villagers forcibly herded into camps, from which those who escaped were branded Maoists and hunted down. Indeed, SJ, which organised the evacuation and forced herding “was created and encouraged by the [state] government and supported with the fire power and organisation of the central forces”. No, this quote is not from a report of one of the country’s civil liberties and democratic rights’ organisations, but taken from chapter 4 of a 2009 draft report authored by Sub-Group IV of the Committee on State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms, set up by the Ministry of Rural Development, New Delhi. Without mincing words, this report referred to “the biggest grab of tribal land after Columbus” in the making as being initially “scripted by Tata Steel and Essar Steel who want seven villages or there­abouts each to mine the richest lode of iron ore available in India”.

The period from June 2005 for about eight months witnessed the depredations of the SJ backed by the state’s security forces – the murders of hundreds of ordinary Gondi peasants, the razing of hundreds of villages and the forcible herding of people into camps, the sexual atrocities against women, vast stretches of cultivable land lying fallow, the total disruption of the collection of minor forest produce, lack of access to the weekly haats (local markets), the schools turned into police camps, the complete trampling upon of the rights of people. It was only when the Maoists raised a Bhumkal militia and their People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army launched a series of “tactical counter-offensive campaigns” that the Indian state began to rethink its counter-insurgency tactics. It then launched OGH in September 2009, which has since been stepped up from January this year, the last major incident in Edesmeta village on the night of 17 May in Bijapur district where personnel of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action of the Central Reserve Police Force fired unilaterally and indiscriminately, killing eight ordinary adivasis, including four minors, none of whom were Maoists.

Where was the chorus of righteous indignation against Maoist violence when SJ was committing crimes against humanity and when OGH was (and is) doing the same? We know what decent political behaviour is, and certainly a lot better than the leaders of this chorus. But we owe it to ourselves to analyse what happened, but on our terms and for our purposes. Since the information at hand is, as yet, very imperfect, all we can do at this point in time is to pose a few questions. In the context and circumstances we have outlined, and given the fact that the Constitution and the law have failed to bring justice to the victims, wasn’t the violence of the oppressed, led by the Maoists, a necessity? Didn’t it serve the cause of justice? Wasn’t it morally justified? Hadn’t the oppressed been left with no other way but to challenge the violence that reproduces and maintains their oppression? But what about the dehumanising aspects of the violence of the oppressed? Shouldn’t the revolutionaries specify certain limiting conditions for its deployment, like the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and Protocol II relating to non-international armed conflict? Cruelty and brutality must never be a part of the means of revolution.

The Maoist guerrilla ambush on 25 May is a piece of the larger phenomenon of the violence of the oppressed, which is always preceded and provoked by the violence of the oppressors.

 

#India – Gandhian activist denied permission to fast over tribal issues


By Newzfirst Correspondent 6/3/13

 

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New Delhi – In a startling development, the Delhi Police on Monday refused permission to Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar to hold indefinite fast over tribal issues.

In a letter sent by the office of Deputy Commissioner of the Police to Himanshu Kumar, it is said that the permission to stage continuous fast for 10 days cannot be granted in view of security/law & order reasons.

Reacting to the denial of permission, Himanshu Kumar told Newzfirst that the Government doesn’t want people of the Country being educated about the tribal issues and problems.

The Government wants to project Naxalism as the only problem being faced by the country and does not want people to learn about the injustice meted out to tribals in the name of development, he said.

“This was my humble effort that we use this opportunity to ponder on this issue – how should the tribal people of this country be treated.” he said.

However, I will continue to fast, he added. “This is not just a question of the tribals but a question for all those who want to build a better society, where everyone gets justice because it is impossible to even think of peace without justice.”

Annoyed by the Government’s decision to deploy a large number of army troops in the tribal areas post Bastar incident, Himanshu Kumar has begun an indefinite fast- Aatmchintan- on 1 June calling upon the Government and the general mass of the country to do soul-searching over the treatment being meted out to the Tribal people.

24 people including senior Congress leaders were killed in an attack carried out by the Maoists in Bastar, Chhattisgarh on 25 May.

 

#India- Home Minister’s visit to Raipur hospital costs woman her life #Vaw #WTFnews


By Sahar Khan in Raipur, mailtoday.in

A woman, who was rushed to Ram Krishna Care hospital in Raipur following a massive heart attack, was detained at the hospital gate by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s securitymen.

Her relatives said they struggled to get medical attention for her failing which she died at the gate.

Shinde was in the hospital to visit the people injured in the Maoist attack in the Bastar district on May 25.

The family further alleged that they desperately made phone calls to whosoever possible to explain the medical emergency but they were turned a deaf ear.

Raipur superintendent of police O. P. Pal, however, said no complaint has been lodged yet in this regard. “ There is a clear instruction that no ambulance should be stopped during any VIP visit.

We will look into the issue if any complaint reaches us,” he said.

A local media report quoting the family of the deceased woman said there was no blockage of roads after the minister’s cavalcade reached the hospital but the security personnel denied the entry through the gate.

The hospital management, on the other hand said, since several VIPs are visiting the hospital after the Maoist attack special arrangements have been made to ensure that patients do not suffer.

Director of the hospital, Dr Sandeep Dave said the woman was already dead when brought to the hospital and no complaint was lodged.

In November 2009, kidney patient, S. P. Verma, died during PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to PGIMER hospital in Chandigarh to attend a convocation ceremony.

Verma’s family claimed he was denied timely treatment after securitymen allegedly kept diverting his vehicle.

In July 2011, injured policeman Dharmendra Kumar died at the emergency gate of Hallett Hospital in Kanpur, after being denied entry by the Special Protection Group deployed for Rahul Gandhi, who was to arrive to meet victims of the Kalka Mail derailment.

 

The convenience of labels: Who are the Maoists really?


 Sunday Guardian
Tanushree Bhasin  1st Jun 2013

Stills from the film At the Crossroads

he real terrorist in our country is the state. The Indian state needs to be put behind bars, not ordinary people,” said a visibly moved audience member at the screening of Deba Ranjan’s documentary about the oppressed tribals of South Orissa and their struggles with the state, At the Crossroads, at IHC recently. Focussing on this area specifically, Ranjan traced the journey of hapless adivasis and dalits who are caught in the crossfire between the state and the Maoists, rendering their existence completely unstable and miserable.

The Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh that killed Mahendra Karma and 27 others last week turned the media’s gaze back to the Maoist affected areas, filling news pages and screen time with uninterrupted talk about the Maoists and the threat they pose to the Indian state. And yet, one felt a certain gap in their analysis, or lack of it, of the situation in the red belt. Watching At the Crossroads seemed to bridge these gaps, offering an exceptionally critical and in-depth examination of the different realities that exist in these areas.

There is no dearth of information on how the state perceives the inhabitants of the mineral rich states of Orissa and Chhattisgarh. The mainstream media takes care of that, insisting that the adivasis protesting against the entry of private and foreign companies in the area are anti-national and anti-development and in their support for Maoist sensibilities, they also pose a grave threat to the safety and sovereignty of the Indian state. Alternative perspectives come by only rarely. Like Sanjay Kak‘s latest film Red Ant Dream, Ranjan’s film too seeks to understand the motivations of those who join the Maoist cadres but also those who don’t — ordinary tribals whose protests are not articulated through the gun.

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What emerges clearly through the film is how the state uses the labels of ‘Maoist’ or ‘Naxal’ to oppress entire populations so as to silence protests against neo-liberal policies.

What emerges clearly through the film is how the state uses the labels of ‘Maoist’ or ‘Naxal’ to oppress entire populations so as to silence protests against neo-liberal policies. “Just being inhabitants of these hills makes us Naxalites for the state,” characters often say. “By branding them Naxals, the state lets loose police and paramilitary forces who in collusion with local administrative officers and money lenders arrest anyone who raises his voice against unlawful land grab or corruption. Their only agenda is to hand over this land to corporates,” explained Ranjan after the screening.

Ranjan also traces how the idea of taking up arms on the one hand and selling off their land to ‘The Company’ on the other, started to appear attractive to different people. “When the state began inflicting such indiscriminate terror and violence on people, the youth particularly started joining the Maoists. Similarly, feeling cornered as a result of state pressure and lack of relief facilities, many ordinary adivasis began selling their lands in lue of paltry compensation,” said Ranjan.

The film also takes on the prevalent but problematic mindset that argues that tribals need to be accommodated in the mainstream which, it is believed, can only be done through industrialisation, even at the cost of destroying indigenous cultures and selling off minerals to foreign companies. “Most people believe that ‘The Company’ is absolutely essential for tribal development. As a result, guns are trained at those on the very margins in the name of this so called development. In Orissa, anyone who demands his/ her rights is a Maoist,” said Ranjan.

Such indiscriminate labelling affects those caught in the middle of this battle between the Indian state and the Maoists the most. When everyone living in a region is deemed a Maoist, it begs the important question — who are the Maoists really? The film seems to be saying, they are not as frightening as the government would have you believe; they are actually those disenfranchised and dispossessed citizens who were promised a very different future by the Constitution of our country, a text that no longer seems to hold any value to anyone.

 

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