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.

 

#India – The Bloodstained Karmic Cycle #Peru #Guatemala


PTI
Target of reprisal The late Mahendra Karma, with guards
OPINION
The Bloodstained Karmic Cycle
To end the Maoist conflict, look to Peru and Guatemala
NANDINI SUNDAR in Outlook

Any keen observer of Chhattisgarh could have foreseen Saturday’s deadly Maoist attack at Jeeram Ghat in Bastar, though not perhaps its magnitude. Mahendra Karma’s death was long expected, though politicians like him who flirt with the dark side usually have enough security to keep them safe. With a string of killings of Maoist leaders under its belt, the security establishment thought the Maoists could be written off. However, like insurgents elsewhere, the Maoists scaled back only to strike hard.

Calls for more concerted military action ignore what has actually been happening. In fact, in recent months, the security forces have ratcheted up operations, densely carpeting Maoist strongholds with CRPF camps. On the 46 km stretch between Dornapal and Chintalnar, there are now seven camps, with the latest two, Burkapal and Minpa, having come up in the last fortnight. Overnight, large stretches of forest were cleared in Burkapal, for a helipad on one side and a CRPF camp on the other, and the question of forest clearances for this, or any other security installation, is never even seen as an issue. The biodiverse forests of Bastar—which are national treasures—have been one of the biggest casualties of this war, which rages across trees, roads, transformers, schools and the bodies of men, women and little children.

Sceptical villagers argue that rather than reducing hostilities, the presence of the camps will mean constant skirmishes between the forces and the Maoists, following which the forces will take it out on them. They report that security forces steal chickens from their homes when they are out in the fields; and indeed, with camps close by, even going out to defecate, cultivate or collect fuel wood becomes a hazard, especially for women. In Chintagufa, where several buses are parked to ferry security personnel back and forth, the forces have taken over the primary healthcare centre and the school. The Supreme Court’s orders on keeping off schools mean nothing to them.

We are on a slippery path if we dismiss any citizen, whether a Congress leader or a Gond child, as expendable. The very raison d’etre of a democracy is lost if it thinks that way.

Simplistic morality plays may be good for the trps, but will not address the real issues. The Maoist ambush came bar­ely a week after an equally terrible attack by the security forces, again during an area domination exercise, on the villagers of Edesmetta in Bijapur, who were celebrating Beeja Pandum, the seed sowing festival. Eight villagers, including four children, were killed, while severely injured villagers were given medical aid only a day later after local media coverage. The Beeja Pandum is one of the most important festivals of the adivasi calendar. The only glimpse that non-adivasis get is when they are stopped at roadside blocks placed by women and children, and they assume it is just for some easy money. But the ritual significance is that anyone crossing the village during Beeja Pandum must be fined for taking the seed away with them. The equivalent of what happened there would be the police opening fire on a garba dance during Navratri in Ahmedabad, saying the presence of so many people at one place was suspicious. Yet, there has been little national outrage around Edesmetta. For once, the government has promised compensation, but as one CRPF jawan said about the 2010 killing of 76 CRPF personnel, “Nothing can recompense the loss of a loved one.” The adivasis have loved ones too. Unlike the CRPF, they did not even sign up to fight. If what happened in Edesmetta can be dismissed as “collateral damage”, then why not apply the same logic to Saturday’s ambush, where Mahendra Karma was the main target? This is, after all, a war. But once we dismiss any citizen, whether a Congress pradesh president or a Gond child, as expendable, we are on a slippery path. In particular, a democracy that holds this stand loses its raison d’etre.

As in Tadmetla March 2011 (where security forces burnt 300 homes, raped and killed), Sarkeguda June 2012 (where they shot dead 17 villagers during their Beeja Pandum last year) and Edesmetta 2013, the Chhattisgarh government has ordered a judicial inquiry into the Jeeram Ghat ambush. But since the Congress knows well what this means, they have preferred to enlist the NIA. Given a list of 537 killings by Salwa Judum and security forces, the state government has ordered magisterial inquiries into eight cases since 2008, of which seven are still pending!

The Chhattisgarh police claims it need SPOs for intelligence gathering, refusing to disband them as the Supreme Court ordered. But what kind of intelligence are they getting if they claim Edesmetta was a Maoist gathering, and could not predict the Jeeram ambush? Instead, the fortification of SPOs with better guns and more money as the renamed ‘Armed Auxiliary Forces’ only increases alienation.

Even if they support massive human rights violations, politicians are not combatants. The same is true for unarmed villagers who may support the Maoists ideologically. An attack on party leaders engaged in electoral rallies must be strongly condemned, and the Maoist’s expanding hit list is truly reprehensible. However, it is only partially true to say that what happened is an attack on democracy. In a democracy, someone like Karma would have been jailed long ago. Even when confronted with evidence of his personal involvement in the Salwa Judum atrocities, quite apart from a CBI FIR for his role in a major tree-felling scam, the Congress chose to retain Karma in the party. And despite declaring Naxalism the country’s gravest security threat, never once has the prime minister felt the need to visit the area himself to find out why people support them, or console grieving adivasis.

Under the Constitution of India, chief minister Raman Singh and the Union home ministry, who are as responsible for the Salwa Judum as Karma, should also be held accountable. At least 644 villages were affected, over a thousand people killed, hundreds raped, and some 1,50,000 displaced. Small children were bashed to death or thrown into ponds; old people who could not run away were burnt alive. Yet there has been no prosecution or compensation, despite the Supreme Court’s repea­ted orders. Indeed, there is a danger that, with Karma gone, the uncomfortable questions regarding official culpability for Salwa Judum will be closed. The Constitution and democracy are not terms of expedie­ncy, as the Congress and BJP seem to think—they embody difficult moral principles which must guide our collective behavior.

To respond with even more force now would be a grave mistake, for insurgencies thrive on government excesses. The combing operations under way must take great care to see that ordinary villagers are not harassed. It is unlikely that anyone will countenance calls for peace talks now, as the war has become a prestige issue on both sides. But eventually, there is no alternative to negotiations. If a country like the US with its military might could get bogged down in Vietnam and Afghanistan, what makes us think we can succeed militarily? A far better model would be the Latin American countries, like Peru and Guatemala, with similar histories of guerrilla war and exploitation of indigenous people which resolved their conflicts through Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. If FARC and the Colombian government can come to an agreement on land reforms after 30 years, what prevents a democracy like India?


(The writer, a professor of sociology at Delhi University, was a co-petitioner in a case that resulted in the Supreme Court’s 2011 ban on the Salwa Judum.)

 

Maoists in the jungle, Bhagat Singh in the fields—welcome to India Burning


Spotlight | Sting operation

 via ‘Red Ant Dream’
Nandini Ramnath, Live mint 

A still from ‘Red Ant Dream’
A few days after a Maoist attack on a Congress party convoy killed at least 27 people, including the founder of the erstwhile militia Salwa Judum, a poll on the website of the television channel CNN-IBN asked: “Bloodbath in Chhattisgarh: Have human rights groups failed to strongly condemn Naxal violence?”
The options were yes or no, the assumption being that civil liberty activists are more worried about armed insurgents than civilians. That assumption is a familiar one for film-maker Sanjay Kak, whose documentaries Words on Water, on the struggle against the Narmada dam, and Jashn-e-Azadi, on the Kashmiri pro-independence movement, dispense with objectivity and take an explicit and vocal stand against the Indian state.
He has encountered his fair share of dissenters to his brand of dissent, but he sees the debate deepening over such prickly issues as the Maoist insurgency, with which he deals in his new documentary Red Ant Dream. “I don’t get asked any more if I am a Naxalite,” he says in a phone interview from Delhi, where he lives and works. “We have gotten past that one.”
Sanjay Kak at his Delhi residence. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

After screenings in Delhi and Punjab, the film will travel to Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad in the coming weeks.

Although Kak makes the case that tribal resistance goes back several decades, and that governments in states like Chhattisgarh are only new manifestations of systemic oppression, the recent killings makeRed Ant Dream a red-hot documentary. The film maps three troubled zones—apart from the Maoists in Bastar in Chhattisgarh, there are tribals battling industrialists in Niyamgiri in Orissa, and a culture of protest built around the memory of Leftist revolutionary Bhagat Singh in Punjab. Seen together with Words on Water (2002) and Jashn-e-Azadi (2007), Red Ant Dream is about India Burning, as it were. The three films are about “the idea of resistance”, Kak says, but he traces this resistance through its foot soldiers rather than its generals and ideologues.
“I am not interested in fundamental questions of power relationships,” Kak says. “The film does not try to be a Naxalism 101, just likeJashn-e-Azadi was not trying to be a Kashmir 101.” His films are about ideology, he says, but “not terribly concerned with party formations” or a “party line”. Words on Water inaugurated his attempt to move beyond being a visual stenographer of movements. “Words on Waterbegan as a campaign film and I tried to make it something else, but it eventually is neither,” Kak says. “In the Kashmir film, I was not particularly interested in what X or Y or Z was saying but in evoking another kind of space.”
Red Ant Dream is three films rolled into one. It is in the mould of documentaries like Amar Kanwar’s A Night of Prophecy (2002), which examines protest music, theatre and literature across India, and Anand Patwardhan’s Jai Bhim Comrade (2011), whose examination of caste taps a rich vein of Dalit protest music. The Punjab segment in Red Ant Dream, which follows groups inspired by Bhagat Singh’s pre-independence Marxist critique of colonialism and inequality, intermingles with on-ground footage of rallies against mining in Niyamgiri and a clandestine encounter with Maoist groups in Bastar.
Kak could have focused on the Maoists, but he chose not to. “The core material came from Bastar, but that’s not the film I wanted to make,” he says. “The most urgent thing was to say something that would start a conversation about the idea of revolution. There has been an effacement, an invisibilization of radical politics. But I don’t have an abstract nostalgia—there are real engagements and these are about real things.”
The Punjab chapter too could have been its own film. Kak first went there trailing the revolutionary poet Avtar Singh Sandhu, who wrote under the pseudonym Pash. “I asked a professor what remains of Naxalism in Punjab today, and he said culture and poetry. Of course, the connection between Pash and Bhagat Singh emerged, and I could see the mobilization around this constellation.” Some viewers have embraced the seeming digressions into Punjab, while others have been “baffled and annoyed” by it, Kak says.
The most talked about section, at least for the moment, is likely to be the one that gives the documentary its name. Kak travelled to Bastar with writer and activist Arundhati Roy for two weeks in February 2010. He shot Maoists speaking about their motivation to engage the government in battle and sharing a dietary secret—a paste of the eggs of red ants.
Although Kak spent a little over six weeks in Bastar, Orissa and Punjab, it took two years to sculpt a 120-minute film out of the footage. The documentary is packed with crisp, terse images of dissent that aim to provoke thought rather than emotion. “What you don’t want to show is long, vérité sequences of affect and consequence,” Kak says about editor Tarun Bhartiya’s approach. “You don’t want people to say, I loved that girl in the forest. But you do want people to see somebody for 20 seconds and never forget them. It’s a rhetorical or didactic assemblage of images—the idea is to engage people on a continuous basis. You are never trying to seduce them into a state of relaxation.”
The approach to editing pretty much sums up Kak’s larger perspective on the role of the documentary. He belongs to the strain of independent documentary film-making that developed in the 1970s in stark opposition to the broadly propagandist Films Division vision of an India on the up. The country spotlighted by these film-makers is an unequal and unjust place in which tribals are being kicked off their land, women abused by population control policies and slum-dwellers ignored by urban policies. The documentaries are diverse in style and ideology, but they are bound together by disagreement with the way things were.
Kak’s own practice has crystallized in recent years into tracking down ordinary practitioners of radical ideas. He didn’t formally study film-making, but learnt on the job while assisting on documentaries and on Pradip Krishen’s feature Massey Sahib. “It’s about footage and how you view footage—it’s why I am never interested in following a set of characters, or one family or one squad,” he says. “The examination of what is going on is an endless process. These three films are an exposition of a certain idea, formally too. One has tried to fashion for oneself, in the way the three films are edited, a language that is appropriate for one’s politics.”
However, even radical film-makers must make “pitches” at fund-raising conferences and festival marketplaces these days to get their films off the ground. Red Ant Dream was financed by funds given by an IDFA Fund grant and a prize from the Busan International Film Festival, South Korea. “I didn’t pitch for the film, we raised the money based on a trailer,” says Kak, who has strong views on the pitching process. “We are in the process of recouping not inconsequential sums of money from DVD sales—there is solid potential there.”
Part of the thrill, and stress, of making political-minded documentaries comes from raising money, ensuring distribution (usually free screenings at friendly venues) and the odd festival exposure. “You compensate for the fact that you don’t have a budget by doing everything yourself,” Kak observes. “Everything is done with people’s pyaar-mohabbat (love and affection). The economics are always exhausting, but this too shall pass.”
Red Ant Dream will be screened in Mumbai at the Alliance Française on 14 June, 7pm, and at the Films Division auditorium on 15 June, 4pm. Click here for details about screenings in other cities.

#India- Tribal Affairs Minister cautions against deploying Army to tackle Maoist problem


New Delhi, May 31, 2013

PTI

 Tribal Affairs Minister V. Kishore Chandra Deo on Thursday dubbed anti-Maoist militia Salwa Judum as a “sinful strategy,” bringing to the fore apparent differences in the Congress over the approach to Maoists who last week wiped out party leadership in Chhattisgarh in a deadly attack.

Mr. Deo warned that the nation would witness “worse consequences” if the Naxalite issue was treated as a mere law and order problem, just days after Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh termed the Maoists as “terrorists” after the May 25 bloodbath.

The people “worst affected” by the Salwa Judum, founded by Mahendra Karma, Congress leader who was killed in the attack, were innocent tribals, who were “sandwiched” between security forces and Maoists and “this shadow is still chasing us,” the Minister said.

Talking to PTI, Mr. Deo, himself a tribal, cautioned against deploying Army to counter the Naxals.

“Air power and military are meant to fight the enemy and not your own citizens…. How do you differentiate a Maoist? …It will create a civil war-like situation,” he said insisting that the Naxal issue was basically a socio-economic problem.

Asked whether the Salwa Judum was a faulty or a failed strategy, he remarked it was a “sinful” strategy.

When P. Chidambaram was Home Minister, senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh opposed any strategy treating the Naxal problem as a law and order issue.

 

Naxalism in Chhattisgarh is a fallout of Salwa Judum: Tribal Affairs Minister


naxalites

By ET Bureau | 30 May, 2013,
READ MORE ON » tribal affairs minister | Shivraj Patil | Salwa Judum | Naxalism | massacre | Kishore Chandra Deo |Jairam Ramesh

 

What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks - starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre - is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum, says KC Deo
What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks – starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre – is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum, says KC Deo
What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks – starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre – is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum, says Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo

Do you need to rethink the strategy against Naxalism after Bastar? 

All this is the fallout of Salwa Judum. I had opposed the movement since Shivraj Patilwas home minister. What you have seen in Bastar over the last two weeks – starting with Sarkeguda and then this massacre – is nothing but chain reaction to Salwa Judum.

Do you think the government should change its strategy? 

How? All along they have been taking police action. I have been saying that we need to take action wherever there is a law and order situation but the stress should be on developmental activities

The government has many schemes, like Integrated Action Plan… 

These have shown results in some areas but there is the need to involve people in decision-making. Present schemes put all power in the hands of DMs, district forest officer and the superintendent of police.

How should the government approach the Naxal problem? 

Development should precede combing operations. I come from a Naxal-affected area. One part of my constituency, Parvatipuram, had this problem. The only way we could tackle it was by first building roads, then supplying drinking water and then all other facilities followed. While constructing roads, you must provide security so that you can tackle the Naxals.

You seem to differ with your colleague Jairam Ramesh who termed Maoists as terrorists…

I wouldn’t go to that extent. They are extremists, yes. Their actions are of an extremely undemocratic nature.

Congress is talking about a nexus between the corporates and Naxals… 

That’s true. Some private firm employees were caught with money which had to be paid to Naxals. But after those news items we found nothing. Why was there no probe? Corporate houses pay protection money.

Interviewed by Nidhi Sharma

 

#India – “Tribal autonomy answer to Naxalism’’ #Maoists


May 29, 2013 12:30:50 AM | By Pramod Chunchuwar

Mumbai : Killing Naxals is not the solution, says the Congress MLA from Gadchiroli, Dr Namdev Usendi, a medical practitioner.

On Monday, home minister R R Patil and Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray had demanded stringent laws and harsh action to crush the Maoists.

Strongly opposing the suggestion to kill Naxals by using armed forces, Dr Usendi said, “This will not end Naxalism. Till poverty and violation of fundamental rights of tribals continue, Naxals will manage to recruit villagers.’’

He also lamented that some decisions of his own government made tribals wonder whether the government was with them or with the capitalist forces. A case in point was the government’s decision about granting lease of forest land for mineral exploration.

‘’Autonomy in administration to Naxal affected area can ensure development and this will help curb Naxalism,’’ Dr Usendi said in an interview with the FPJ.

“Since 1978, twenty-two irrigation projects could not be completed due to the Forest Conservation Act. For these projects, a maximum of 1,500 hectares would have been used. But 6, 545 hectares were allotted to various corporate houses for iron ore exploration. Why does the Forest Conservation Act create hurdles in developmental projects and how this Act is not a problem for corporate houses? This has created a doubt in the minds of tribals in our district and they wonder whether the government is with us or with the corporates or capitalists?’’ Dr Usendi said.

“According to the constitution, Gadchiroli’s tribal dominated area falls under the Fifth schedule. According to article 244(1), the Governor has the authority to announce that any law will not be implemented or implemented with some modification or relaxation. We are demanding that the government should announce the relaxation of Forest Conservation Act which will help complete various developmental projects. This demand was made by us to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in the Tribal Advisory committee but nothing has happened,’’ the MLA said.

“The Tribal Advisory committee headed by CM and having more than 20 tribal MLAs as members should meet once in six months. But in the last one year, there was no meeting. In the last four years, the committee has met only twice,’’ Dr Usendi said.

“In North Eastern states, tribal dominated area have been accorded autonomy in administration. Like this, there should be two Zilla Parishads in Gadchiroli district. The main ZP will be elected by all voters and election for another will be only in tribal dominated area and only tribals will vote for their representative. These tribal representatives will suggest or design the developmental schemes or projects and the main ZP will implement it,’’ Dr Usendi stressed.

“Currently, there are 23 tribal members in the 51-member ZP of Gadchiroli. Non tribal members are influential and therefore all money originally meant for tribals development can not be spent. Unless tribals get autonomy in development administration, development can’s take place and till the development takes place, Naxalism can not be curbed,’’ Dr Usendi stressed.

Pramod Chunchuwar

 

PRESS RELEASE- Fact Finding Report ‘ Guilty Until Proven Innocent’ on Unlawful Police Activities in North Bastar


CHHATTISGARH LOK SWATANTRYA SANGATHAN

(PEOPLES UNION FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES, CHHATTISGARH)

___________________________________________________________________________

                                                                                                                                                                Date 20th May 2013

To: The Editor/ Chief Reporter

PRESS RELEASE: FOR FAVOUR OF PUBLICATION

A team consisting of eminent activists and lawyers went for a fact finding mission organized by PUCL-Chhattisgarh to the Edanar and Malmeta Villages of the Edanar Panchayat, Kanker District and the Anjrel Village of Khadkagaon Panchayat, Narayanpur District of North Bastar, on 18th and 19th April 2013.  The purpose of the mission was to investigate and document the unlawful police activities that were exposed by Edanar villagers during a statewide camp by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) conducted on 12th April, 2013 in Raipur.   The representation by Edanar village focuses mainly on a police rampage that happened in Edanar and Malmeta Villages in which six villagers were assaulted, two families were robbed, and one innocent man was arrested, and remains in jail till date, after being accused of aiding Naxalites.

However, the 23rd January incident is only a small part of a longer history of militarization and unlawful police activities in this region.  In the Edanar Panchayat (P.S. Tadoki), security forces consisting of CRPF and BSF, accompanied by local police and Special Police Officers (SPOs), conduct combing operations twice a month in which homes are looted and villagers are assaulted, threatened, labeled as “Naxalites”, arrested, charged with very serious offences and some of them even killed. In the Khadkagaon Panchayat (P.S. Narayanpur), villagers are routinely terrorized and even evicted from their homes by local SPOs, despite the Supreme Court order declaring SPOs unconstitutional.

The team documented over 20 such incidents of unlawful activities in both panchayats.  The report also examines the legal issues associated with and the overall context in which these violent attacks have occurred.  It gives special importance to the broader impact of the ongoing militarization of the region including the six BSF camps which are already stationed in Kanker, and the pending construction of 22 paramilitary barracks by the Bhilai Steel Plant to protect the functioning of its Raoghat iron ore mine.

The team releases the attached report,  Guilty Until Proven Innocent :  A Fact Finding Report on Unlawful Police Activities in Two Panchayats of North Bastar, Chhattisgarh with the hope that the media would highlight the situation of the people living in these areas, understand the larger political and economic context of the ongoing violence, and strike a well-educated public discourse around the issue.   We strongly urge correspondents to visit the area and write firsthand accounts of the issues faced by the local villagers.

Team members include: Shishir Dikshit (Lawyer, Janhit Legal Center), Lakhan Singh (People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh), Somdutt Upadhayay (Lawyer, Bilaspur Social Forum), Tathagata Sengupta (People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh), Samantha Agarwal (Sanhati), Pinki Verma (Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha-Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti), and Keshav Sori (Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan). The following report has been jointly prepared by the members of the fact finding team.

For further information contact: Adv. Sudha Bharadwaj (9926603877)

Sincerely,

Sudha Bharadwaj

General Secretary, PUCL-Chhattisgarh

The continuing tragedy of the adivasis


 

Ramachandra Guha, May 28, The Hindu 

 

The killings of Mahendra Karma and his colleagues call not for retributive violence but for a deeper reflection on the discontent among the tribals of central India and their dispossession

In the summer of 2006, I had a long conversation with Mahendra Karma, the Chhattisgarh Congress leader who was killed in a terror attack by the Naxalites last week. I was not alone — with me were five other members of a citizens’ group studying the tragic fallout of the civil war in the State’s Dantewada district. This war pitted the Naxalites on the one side against a vigilante army promoted by Mr. Karma on the other. In a strange, not to say bizarre, example of bipartisan co-operation, the vigilantes (who went by the name of Salwa Judum) were supported by both Mr. Karma (then Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly) and the BJP Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh.

‘Liberated zone’

From the 1980s, Naxalites had been active in the region, asking for higher wages for tribals, harassing traders and forest contractors, and attacking policemen. In the first decade of this century their presence dramatically increased. Dantewada was now identified by Maoist ideologues as the most likely part of India where they could create a ‘liberated zone.’ Dozens of Telugu-speaking Naxalites crossed into Chhattisgarh, working assiduously to accomplish this aim.

The Naxalites are wedded to the cult of the gun. Their worship of violence is extreme. They are a grave threat to democracy and democratic values. How should the democratically elected State government of Chhattisgarh have tackled their challenge? It should have done so through a two-pronged strategy: (i) smart police work, identifying the areas where the Naxalites were active and isolating their leaders; (ii) sincerely implementing the constitutional provisions guaranteeing the land and tribal forest rights of the adivasis, and improving the delivery of health and education services to them.

The Chhattisgarh government did neither. On the one side, it granted a slew of leases to industrialists, over-riding the protests of gram panchayats and handing over large tracts of tribal land to mining companies. On the other side, it promoted a vigilante army, distributing guns to young men owing allegiance to Mahendra Karma or his associates. These goons then roamed the countryside, in search of Naxalites real or fictitious. In a series of shocking incidents, they burnt homes (sometimes entire villages), raped women, and looted granaries of those adivasis who refused to join them.

In response, the Naxalites escalated their activities. They killed Salwa Judum leaders, murdered real or alleged informers, and mounted a series of daring attacks on police and paramilitary units. The combined depredations of the Naxalites and Salwa Judum created a regime of terror and despair across the district. An estimated 150,000 adivasis 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.

It was to study this situation at first hand that our team visited Chhattisgarh in 2006. We travelled across the Dantewada district, speaking to vigilantes, Naxalites and, most of all, ordinary tribals. We met adivasis who had been persecuted by the Naxalites, and other adivasis who had been tormented by the Salwa Judum vigilantes. The situation of the community was poignantly captured by one tribal, who said: “Ek taraf Naxaliyon, doosri taraf Salwa Judum, aur hum beech mein, pis gayé” (placed between the Maoists and the vigilantes, we adivasis are being squeezed from both sides).

We also visited the State capital, Raipur, speaking to senior officials of the State government. They privately told us that Salwa Judum was a horrible mistake, but added that no politician was willing to admit this. Then we spent an hour in the company of the movement’s originator, Mahendra Karma. He told us that he was fighting a dharma yudh, a holy war. We asked whether the outcome of this war was worth it. We told him of what we had seen, of the homes burnt and the women abused by the men acting in his name and claiming that he was their leader. He answered that in a great movement small mistakes are sometimes made. (The exact words he used were: Badé andolanon mein kabhi kabhi aisé choté apradh hoté hain.”)

I was immediately reminded of a politician in another country, George W. Bush. In his holy war, too, there was no thought to the collateral damage that innocent civilians would suffer. Admittedly, the jihadis that Bush was fighting were as bloodthirsty and amoral as the Naxalites. But did a democratic government have to reproduce this amorality and this bloodthirstiness? Should it not fight extremism by saner methods? The tortures, the renditions, the displacement of thousands upon thousands of civilians — in all these respects, Dantewada seemed to me to be a micro version of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Palpable indifference

From Raipur we went to Delhi, where we met the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and the National Security Adviser. Their indifference to the unfolding tragedy was palpable. So, in 2007, we filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court asking for the disbandment of Salwa Judum. Four years later, the Court issued an order chastising the Chhattisgarh government for creating “a miasmic environment of dehumanisation of youngsters of the deprived sections of the population, in which guns are given to them rather than books, to stand as guards, for the rapine, plunder and loot in our forests.” By arming poor and largely illiterate adivasis, the State government had, said the Supreme Court, installed “a regime of gross violation of human rights in a manner, and by adopting the same modes, as [have] done Maoist/Naxalite extremists.”

The strictures of the Supreme Court were disregarded by the State government, which recast Salwa Judum under another name and form, and by the Central government, which continued to put the interest of mining magnates above those of the suffering adivasis of the land.

The killings of Mahendra Karma and his colleagues are the latest casualties in a bloody war that began a decade ago in Dantewada. What will the State and Central governments now do? The knee-jerk reaction, doubtless encouraged by editorial writers and TV anchors in Delhi, will be to call for the Army, and perhaps the Air Force too, to launch an all-out war on the Naxalites, regardless of the consequences for civilians. One hopes wiser counsels will prevail. The times call not for further retributive violence, but for a deeper reflection on the discontent among, and dispossession of, the adivasis of central India, who are in all respects the most desperately disadvantaged of the Republic’s citizens, far worse off than Dalits even.

In the winter of 2006, after my experiences in Dantewada, I gave a public lecture in Bhubaneshwar. The State’s Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, was in the audience. I urged that the rash of mining leases being proposed by the State government on tribal land be stopped. As it happened, foreign and Indian mining companies were invited into the State, without any attempt to make adivasis stakeholders in these projects. The consequence is that Orissa, a State once completely free of Naxalites, has seen them acquiring considerable influence in several districts of the State.

The social scientist Ajay Dandekar, who has done extensive research on the subject, observes that the rise of extremist violence is a consequence of “the complete mismanagement of democracy and governance in the tribal areas.” The latest bout of violence, he says, should come as a wake-up call to those “who place still some hope in the rule of law and constitutional governance.”

I entirely concur with Dandekar when he writes that “if even now the policy makers are willing to take the issues of justice to the tribals head-on the extremists will definitely be dealt a bodyblow in the process and their own legitimacy would stand questioned.” A first step here would be for the top leadership of the present government to reach out directly to the adivasis. The Prime Minister and the Chairperson of the UPA should together tour through the strife-torn areas of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa, promising the full implementation of the Forest Rights Act, a temporary ban on mining projects in Fifth Schedule Areas, and a revival of the powers of gram panchayats. That would be a far more effective strike against Naxalites than sending in fighter planes or massed battalions.

(Ramachandra Guha’s books include India after Gandhi. He can be contacted atramachandraguha@yahoo.in)

Keywords: Mahendra Karma killin

 

#Odisha – In Malkangiri, losing the fight for hearts and minds #Tribalrights


May 15, 2013

Niranjan Patnaik

Last month, 65 representatives of panchayati raj institutions in Malkangiri, Odisha, resigned en masse protesting against the apathy of the State government. All Adivasis, their principal demands have been the extension of an irrigation canal, road repair, and the supply of drinking water to villages. They had been making representations to the State Government and meeting officials but to no avail. Even after they resigned, Bhubaneswar has hardly taken note of the grave constitutional and governance crisis this has caused. What would the reaction have been had this happened in say Jammu and Kashmir?

Tackling Naxals

Panchayat raj institutions are integral to our constitutional edifice. No minister or bureaucrat from Bhubaneswar has decided to visit the district to establish an interface with the elected adivasi leaders. What can be more insensitive?

In early 2009, the Central Government decided on a significant initiative to deal with rising Maoist violence. Here, the deployment of Central forces was increased and States given support to add to their capability in coping with Maoist violence. The expectation was that a grid pattern of deployment of Central forces, supported by special forces with deep penetration capability, would facilitate developmental and governance initiatives. Affected districts were provided assistance under the Integrated Action Plan (IAP), which was one more method of gap-funding after the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRFG). Besides, the districts were given additional funds under various Centrally-sponsored schemes. The strategy has worked wherever State governments have been able to benefit from Central assistance. Where the State administration is disinterested, the Central effort has yielded limited benefits.

Neither money nor security forces individually or together can win the hearts and minds of people, if money remains unspent and all that people see are large numbers of heavily armed personnel. This is precisely what happened to Malkangiri four years later. The State Government has been unable to create capacity or improve governance. Development schemes can hardly be implemented. Ministers and bureaucrats are unwilling to visit the district to personally take charge, review implementation or assuage the frustration of the Adivasis. There is a case for a rethink on our strategy to deal with what the Prime Minister has termed the biggest internal security threat to India.

Underutilised funds

During a recent visit to Malkangiri I met the Adivasi leaders. They were simple and straightforward in talking about the issues that affected them and expressed a great sense of helplessness at having been cheated by the government. They no longer trust it. Ironically, Malkangiri is among the top three Naxal-affected districts of the country with 60 per cent Adivasis and 81 per cent people below poverty line. The district gets generous funds under Central schemes as well as under BRGF and IAP yet fares poorly on all development indicators besides reporting extremely poor utilisation of Central funds. Malkangiri’s misery is being perpetuated by the insensitivity, inaction and neglect of a callous State government. Unfortunately, civil society has little time for the Adivasis. Innocent children are dying of diseases, youth are unemployed, women are vulnerable, farmers do not have access to irrigation and there is an atmosphere of bedlam and unprecedented institutional decay.

Poor infrastructure

Under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the district has received Rs.35.39 crore till February this year, but only Rs.14.78 crore has been spent. Out of the 3,024 units sanctioned under the Indira Awaas Yojana housing scheme, about 30 houses have been built. Under the IAP, the district has received Rs.85 crore out of which Rs.30 crore remains unspent. Malkangiri has as many as 36 health centres apart from the district headquarters hospital. But they remain non-functional as at least 40 posts of doctors, including specialists, are vacant against the sanctioned strength of 87.

Roads are in bad shape and people have been repeatedly blocking them to voice their anger, but to no avail. Road projects worth Rs.460 crore, of the Public Works Department, and Rs.630 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) are yet to take off. Only 35 per cent of the funds under PMGSY have been used. Ironically, the Chief Minister holds the Works portfolio, which is supposed to maintain all major roads and look after the Water Resources department. Political executives from Bhubaneswar hardly ever visit the district. When they do, they never spend a night even at the fortified district headquarters. When Ministers, secretaries and bureaucrats are unwilling to visit the district and senior police officers move around in helicopters provided by the Central Government for security reasons, we cannot blame the district officials for their unwillingness to visit the interiors, particularly after the kidnapping of two Collectors from the Bastar region. The State Government has failed to build a bridge across the Gurupriya river that separates the cut-off areas from the mainland of Malkangiri district. The cut-off areas are essentially the eight gram panchayats of Kudumulugumma block separated from the mainland district by the Balimela reservoir constructed in 1977. The dam project separated some 33,400 people in 151 villages from the Odisha mainland though they are connected on the other side to Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh.

Rights violations

In 2001, the Collector and Superintendent of Police “ran away” from the district. On the Chief Minister’s request, the Central Government sent four battalions of Central forces as well as a helicopter. Money has also been provided for the modernisation of the police force. The State Government meets the entire expenditure on fighting Naxalites under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme of the Central Government. To this, the Central Government has now sanctioned two engineer battalions to attend to road work in areas where contractors are not taking up work. Instead of providing security cover, the security forces have become the only government agency present or visible. There are repeated allegations of human rights violations. This when the purpose of security cover was to implement development work and sort out governance issues.

The Centre has poured in funds and deployed huge numbers of security personnel. But, what does one do if the State administration fails to implement and tackle governance issues? What if Ministers and bureaucrats do not carry out routine reviews and inspections? Since the kidnapping of Collector Vineel Krishna, governance has more or less collapsed. No development has taken place, fuelling the current crisis that has forced elected Adivasi leaders to resign.

The Adivasis are simple people, who have for long tolerated the highhandedness of the administrators and the police. Now, they have been left to face armed Maoists.

To me, this is a grave constitutional crisis and all efforts must be made to restore grass-roots democracy here.

(Niranjan Patnaik is president of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee.)

Panchayati raj representatives in the Naxal-affected district have resigned

en masse to protest the apathy to their development needs, but the Odisha government remains unmoved

 

Surrendering naxals to get a red carpet: Fast trials, legal aid and more money for weapons laid down by Maoists



12 Apr, 2013, 0551 hrs IST, Aman Sharma, ET Bureau


Surrendering naxals to get a red carpet

naxalarea
NEW DELHI: The home ministry has asked state governments to consider not prosecuting surrendering Naxalites and set up fast-track courts for speedy trials as part of a strategy to woo extremists to lay down their arms and join the mainstream.

The Centre has also asked states to consider providing free legal aid or the services of an advocate to surrendered Naxal cadre to help them with court trials. These measures are part of the ministry’s surrender guidelines for Naxals, which kicked in from April 1 and in which the monetary incentives for surrenders of cadres and weapons was sharply increased.

These guidelines seek to advise states on how to deal with pending court cases of surrendering Naxals. “Trial of heinous crimes committed by the surrendered Naxal may continue in the courts. The states may also consider withdrawal of prosecution on a case to case basis depending upon the antecedents and merits of the individual surrendered person. For minor offences, plea bargaining could be allowed at the discretion of the state authorities,” say the guidelines that have been sent to Naxal-affected states.

The ministry, which has been encouraged by a sharp rise in the numbers of Naxal surrenders in the last few years, also wants the states to consider providing free legal aid or an advocate to those who have surrendered “Fast track courts may be constituted by states for speedy trials against the surrendered Naxals,” the guidelines say.

This is part of the carrot and stick policy of the ministry, which has been spearheading the offensive against Naxals in various parts of the country.

Under it, it aims to provide gainful employment and entrepreneurial opportunities to the surrendered Naxals so that they are encouraged to join the mainstream and do not return to the Naxal fold.

“The objective is to wean away the hardcore cadres who have strayed into the fold of the Naxal movement and now find themselves trapped in that net,” the norms said.

Surrender cases involving Naxals hit 440 last year, up from 394 the year before and in line with a general trend that has seen a steady rise since 2009. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has in the past called the Naxalite threat one of the most serious internal security threats facing the country, with vast swathes of the hinterland in several states outside government control.

The ministry has said that along with making it easier for Naxals to lay down arms, it should also be ensured that those who surrender do not find it attractive to rejoin the movement. It has told the states that “tactical surrenders” should not be permitted at any cost. The guidelines therefore stipulate that surrendering Naxals must make a “clear confession” of all criminal acts committed by them, including the names of Naxal planners, financiers, harbourers, couriers and the details of organisations they are familiar with.

Experts also caution against adopting too lenient a strategy against the Naxals. “A naxalite must not be allowed to have the best of both worlds. I do not think we should become too liberal and the surrendering Naxal must face the music for his criminal acts. Giving legal aid is fine but prosecution should not be dropped,” said Prakash Singh, a former BSF chief and an expert on leftwing extremism. Enthused by the sharp increase in surrenders in the last few years, the home ministry has also sharply raised the monetary incentive for surrendering Naxals from April 1.

 

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