Archive for the ‘Civil War’ Category

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Where Individuality Means Waging War Against The State

September 29, 2011

The Curious Case Of Lingaram Kodopi

Testimonies from the burnings of the villages of Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram were also collected by Lingaram and can be found on youtube here.

This article first appears in abridged form in DNA on the 26th of September, 2011.

I got a call around midnight in the Delhi summer. It was Lingaram, the young Muria adivasi from Sameli village in Dantewada, then studying in Noida’s International Media Institute of India. Linga’s misfortunes never seem to end: first he was accused of helping the Maoists, then tortured in the police station toilet, forced to be a Special Police Officer, then released with the help of a habeas corpus petition. In a few months, he would be dealing with encounter killings in his village that left three dead, to only add to the targetting of his family members by the Chhattisgarh police, and then to be accused in a press conference by Senior Superintendent of Police Kalluri of being a mastermind of an attack on a Congress leader, and that Lingaram would be the sucessor to Maoist leader Azad.

‘Javed bhai,’ He asked me that night in Delhi, ‘do you know where I can get a Che Guevara t-shirt?’

Silence.

‘Linga, you wear that T-shirt in Dantewada, you’d be the first man in jail.’

Lingaram chuckled uncontrollably.

Prankster.

A young man who is repeatedly targetted by the state of Chhattisgarh wants to wear a t-shirt with a face of a revolutionary while he traipses around the forests as a newly-trained video journalist, with the clearest of intentions of trying to help his people.

That alone, is his first crime against the state. Lingaram wants to help the adivasis, his own people, which means, to ensure them a fair stake in their forests, their lands, and their rights, which is completely against the policies of the state of Chhattisgarh. That alone, is a crime. That alone, makes him a Maoist sympathizer.

A simple idea, enshrined in the idea of the dignity of the human being: that he should not be shot, that she should not be raped, that they should not lose their children to war, that they should not lose their forests and their way of life to the profit margins of companies, and the idea of economic growth.

Lingaram was arrested again on the 9th of September, 2011 from his village of Sameli in Dantewada, for allegedly facilitating Essar Steel’s payment of protection money to the Maoists.

He was arrested along with B.K Lala, a contractor.

That Essar Steel pays the Maoists is a fact that was well-known in Dantewada. In 2009, when the Maoists blasted the 267km pipeline that carried iron ore slurry to Vishakapatnam, one local journalist was quick to quip: ‘It’s collection time!’

Essar Steel pays local journalists too to keep their mouths shut. That also everyone knew. Local journalists need to collect their own advertising revenue and they get that from companies.

As for Essar Steel paying the Maoists, this is no new phenomena. Contractors and companies have paid the Maoists in almost all the districts where they have a ‘liberated zone’. You don’t cut a single beedi leaf or mine a single rock of ore without paying the Maoists.

Lingaram, would’ve been one of the rarest breeds of journalists in a district of Muria and Koya adivasis: he would be one who knew Gondi, who spoke the language of the people in the furthest hills, with the quietest whispers.

His story on the Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram burnings is available on youtube, and his story quotes adivasis who want justice, who want ‘karvai’, nor ‘kranti’, they want investigations, not anything else. It is there for everyone to see, called ‘Dantewada burning 1.mov’

Linga knew his district too and what his people would tell you. He would tell you that the development by the Essars and Tatas is not development for his people. He would tell you how even though the National Mineral Development Corporation and the Bailadila mines have been around since the 1960s, it has not brought any upliftment to the hundreds of adivasi villages around it.

But why is he really in jail?

The state of Chhattisgarh has an unwritten set of rules about how an adivasi is meant to behave. You don’t organize, you don’t agitate, you don’t protest human rights violations, you don’t protest against the state, and you certiainly don’t protest against industrial development, which the drafters of the new Land Acquisition bill will tell you in the introduction to the bill, that ‘urbanization is inevitable’….. and these adivasis better understand that.

Lingaram joins all the other adivasis who stood up for their rights and started to ask questions about the kind of development that was thrown onto them without a choice: Manish Kunjam, an ex-MLA was given death threats and has been living on borrowed time, Kartam Joga, Supreme Court petitioner against the Salwa Judum who is in jail on absurd charges, Kopa Kunjam, human rights activist who refused to be bought by the state.

They’re all guilty of trying to help their people.

The Maoists too, claim to help the Adivasis. And while some people would like to ensure that those two things, ‘the Maoists’ and the ‘adivasis’ are the same thing, there’s also another adivasi voice dissenting amidst the dissenters that says, ‘but they kill our own people.’ Lingaram, the so-called Maoist sympathizer, would last call me when he needed help to ensure his uncle could get treatment after the Maoists shot him in his leg.

Linga also had that voice, the voice to profess his complete independence: free of being called something. I still remember the one thing he said with most emphasis, the first time I met him: ‘I just want to be my own person.’

Individuality, according to the state of Chhattisgarh, is also called Waging War Against the State now. Individuality would mean, that a young boy who is being forced by two warring parties to come to their side, doesn’t need to choose his allegiances but can be his own person.

A Brief Note on Kuakonda Block: Lingaram’s Testimony

One day in Kuakonda block: a mother and her child look on as security forces who commandeered their vehicle return to base camp, about thirty minutes after an IED blast that injured three security personnel and led to the arbitrary detention of four adivasis, including a young boy. The incident took place on the 2nd of May, 2009.

Lingaram had given a testimony in the Independent People’s Tribunal in Delhi on the 9th of April, 2010, three days after the Tadmetla killings that left 76 security personnel dead. The entire testimony is here:

“My name is Lingaram, from Sameli,  Dantewada.  I am a driver and my family has a car, in which I can ferry people.  We  have  some land on which we farm.  I am not very literate.

I was watching TV at home, around September last year.  Five  motorcycles came, with 10 people, who were holding AK 47s. They took me to Koukonda. They asked me questions such as “where did you get the bike from?  How do you go about in style?”  My family is fairly comfortably off, but they accused me of being a Naxalite.  They  tortured me and wanted me to become an SPO.

In the meanwile, my family members filed a writ of habeus corpus. I should have been released. But they kept threatening me that I would either be killed by them—in a fake encournter, or by the Naxalites.  Finally, I  agreed to be an Special Police Officer. They took me for the Court hearing and kept me in a fancy hotel—but before the judge, I said that although I have come here of my own will, I now wish to return to my family and village.  So the police had to let me go.

But on the way back, while I was being accompanied by my family and villagers in cars, the security forces stopped us again, and arrested me again and were trying to force me to go back to the police station.  However, I managed to flee, but my brother was taken by them instead.  A few days later, they again came for me. And have been threatening my father also.

I have been living in hiding since. The police are still looking for me.

Who is not grieved by the killings of 76 people? But I feel that even though the stated target of the police is the naxalites, the real target is somewhere else? Why are we (adivasis) being harassed by the police because of what the Naxalites do?  Why can’t we adivasis wear a good watch, drive a car without being picked up by the police?

Our village has 1800 people, the block has 30,000 people.

I fear that because of what has happened recently (the killing of 76 security forces), the entire town of Chintalnar will be razed.  Just because of coming here to testify, God knows what will happen to me.  But I have to die in any case, how long can I live in hiding?

There is news that some mineral has been discovered in the hills close to our village. And I think that is the real reason that the police is there, not because of the Naxalites.

We have a Gram Panchayat but it has no meaning.  It is full of Marwaris and non-tribals.  If we write and send them something, they bury it and make sure that it doesn’t reach any of the authorities.  We have no education, no health, nothing.  Calling us Naxalites is simply an excuse to terrorize us.

We have a school in our village upto the 5th class.  The teachers come for only one day in a month, and collect a full month’s pay. We want real education.

The only time the politicians come is during the elections.  No one comes to our areas except the police force. We complained about the teachers—but to no avail.  We are told that till Maoists are there, we can’t get any relief. When we tell the Maoists we want education, they tell us that they aren’t here for us, adivasis, but for a ‘class war’.

There is no NREGA in our region. We were organized under an organization to collect forest produce, but were told that we are Naxalites. How is it that the Marwaris can come and steal our forest produce and make high profits, but when we, adivasis try to collect it, we are called Naxalites?

We get enough from our land to feed us.  What is development?  NMDC has operated in our area for 52 years but has only caused destruction. Naxalites don’t help us, but they don’t hurt us either.  If having a company nearby could give us development, then considering that Bailadila (NMDC mines) is 20 km from us and has been there before the Naxalites, then we should have had a lot of development. What is the reason that we still have no education and no hospital? Not one hospital in 52 years!  When our Adivasis go to Bailadila for treatment, they humiliate us and don’t admit us to their hospitals.”

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The War Dogma

July 8, 2011

This article appears in the July issue of Agenda/Infochange for the theme on the ‘Limits of Freedom’.

“So what is this in my contract? What does it really mean that I need to fulfil my role as a reporter?” I had asked my editor a week before I headed back to Dantewada, not as a freelancer anymore but as a reporter for The New Indian Express. “That you have to show some level of professionalism,” he replied curtly. “And that means?” I shuddered. The word ‘professionalism’ had strong leanings towards corporatism in my mind. “That you need to just write the truth,” he said. “Marry me,” I said, overjoyed. That’s all I wanted to do.

I left his office, went home, packed, took the first bus to the ‘jungle’, and wrote a story about the aftermath of a combing operation in the village of Gompad. The story would be printed a few days later as the lead story. The photograph showed Katam Suresh, an 18-month-old baby whose fingers had been cut off by members of the security forces. That was my first published story. It was November 15, 2009.

Dantewada 2009 was a very different place from Dantewada 2010. In 2009, Dantewada wasn’t yet the place where 76 jawans were killed, where a civilian bus was hit by an IED, where Arundhati Roy had gone walking with comrades, where the ‘army had to be sent in’, or where the media pundits had anything much to say about the place. In 2009, the emptying of 644 villages, the displacing of an estimated 60,000-200,000 people, the burning, the looting, murdering, raping of adivasis, the fratricidal violence of the Maoists and the Salwa Judum, and the daily anxiety of existing in a civil war for four years wasn’t news. That a young baby had been shot dead by the CRPF in Cherpal wasn’t national news even though the local press picked up the story.

It was January when I first reached Dantewada as a freelancer. Nineteen adivasis had been murdered at Singaram, a fair distance from the forest guest house where I was residing in Bijapur. It was news in the local newspapers, and in Andhra Pradesh’s Telegu media, and in Tehelka. That’s where it ended. Maoism and tribal issues were out of sight and out of mind for the blind and mindless mainstream media. Much later I would learn that a group of anthropologists and human rights workers had gone to Delhi to attend meetings with the editors of numerous media, on the realities of Dantewada and the atrocities of the Salwa Judum. Their response was silence.

I was hoping to take enough pictures to help bring the ‘truth’ to the public consciousness. But before I was allowed into the more sensitive areas of Bastar district, I was warned that I’d need a little ‘get-through-the-checkpoint’ press card. “Many cadres of the Maoist party are illiterate, and they don’t take kindly to strangers. But they have been taught to identify P-R-E-S-S,” said a local journalist. Large areas of the district were out of bounds for the general public and the press. However, in 2009, anyone with a press card could go almost anywhere. The truth was instantly available, provided one was willing to give it time and a good pair of boots.

I spent months in Dantewada running my boots into the ground.

I know there are no universal truths, no feeble ideologies, no nationalist dirges, development gospels, human rights, no individual glories. The one simple basis to hold the entire knife’s edge of ‘stepping into’ a war is a faint humanism that exists when you sit quietly and look at the woman whose face has been slashed with a knife, and wonder why. You end up sympathising with fathers who cut the necks of their adult sons after they’ve had too much to drink. You wonder if that’s the whole story. You know it’s not. You ask why a teacher who asks, ‘Why are you killing innocent people’ is stabbed by the Maoists. You ask why an orphan is now a feared soldier; you ask why his village is now desolate, unlived in and empty. You ask why the Maoists killed a young woman’s father…

The more I delved, the more I realised that nothing is what it seems. The black-and-white binary certainties are like landmines that naïve idealists and careerist apologists for the status-quo tend to tread. What certainties? That the Maoists are bad? Or the state is only driven by corporate interests? Or that the Maoists do good, and the government has never done any good in 60 years? Or that the Salwa Judum are just state-backed vigilantes whose sole purpose is to uproot the tribals from their lands?

To look at Dantewada clearly one has to look through a myriad shattered crystals.

A lot depends on where you stand. Are you standing between a crying mother and the barbed wire across which state officials are conducting an autopsy on her son whom they shot dead? Or across from a young boy whose leg was filled with shrapnel from a Maoist grenade? Or in a police van getting beaten up by the police for reporting on the burning of a village?

You report the details, caring little for abstract politics or the power struggles in the upper echelons of society that are so cut off from the realities of human suffering. Every time a politician opens his mouth, his statements reek of irrelevance when set against the bloodshed. And the war goes on; the unimaginable terror in central India does not fuel anti-war sentiment in anyone but a small minority of citizens. The mainstream media happily propagates war. A mention of the burning of villages to a senior sub-editor of a newspaper is met with citations of the Jnaneswari massacre or the killing of 76 jawans. Do atrocities justify atrocities? Is war the only solution to atrocity? The state and media do not allow you to humanise any aspect of conflict. War is a business, and business is devoid of sentiment. Dead jawans don’t appear on TV to say war is bad, yet we need war to avenge our dead jawans.

While state atrocities are overwhelming, the justifications for Maoist terror appear shallow especially when read in the context of the dynamics of power. Yes there is indeed structural violence, and the breakdown of democratic space contributes to the downward spiral of violence and counter-violence. But power is structural violence too.

The word ‘revolution’ is as casually used and as ambivalent as the term ‘democracy’. We notice quite easily that for millions of Indians neither has ever existed, for the country has never quite rid itself of its colonial past. All this is clearer in central India, and in the actions of the state against islands of popular resistance in places such as Narayanpatna, Lohandiguda, Kalinganagar, Kashipur, Jaitapur, Jagatsinghpur and Sompeta where police firing and arbitrary arrests have been and continue to be perpetrated with impunity.

A journalist has few choices. Write what the state wants you to write and stay alive, especially if you’re a local journalist who lives in the war zone. Write the truth, publish the report and believe that the government and the rest of the country will be sympathetic to the concerns of the people; after all, we are a democratic nation. Dissent, if voiced sharply enough, will draw in opposition parties, generate public debate, and lead to an eventual victory for the people. Or else the journalist believes that if there is no democracy then there is no such thing as journalism. Then the rulebooks become pointless and have to be thrown out.

In 2010, when the central government finally started to pay attention to what the state of Chhattisgarh was doing to its people in Dantewada, it initiated Operation Green Hunt — a consent-seeking name for the actions of the Chhattisgarh state over the past five years. All attempts to bring the truth to the public consciousness, and to the attention of the powers-that-be, culminated in a minister declaring that he’d wipe out the Naxalites and then bring development.

It’s done wonders for my career though. Thank you, Mr Chidambaram. After Operation Green Hunt I became one of the first English daily journalists working in the area.

After months of reporting on atrocity after atrocity committed by both sides, I have found myself witness to one of the greatest crimes in the country. Of course, I had always questioned the myth of conflict journalism — the belief that news of atrocities would lead somebody far away, in a position of power and motivated to stop them, to intervene, to help end the war. That is pure fantasy. The war continues…

After a point it’s not about writing the truth but living with it.

I have been documenting the end of an entire community in the name of profit, development and the big (fake) picture: the so-called greater good of superpower India. Human suffering is all too real and inevitable, but to go through life without realising that much of it is unnecessary is tragic.

The adivasis don’t have to lose their forests, and the soldiers don’t have to die.

As a journalist, you’re supposed to walk away, go home, chew on the fat of life, and call ‘it’ — death, war, destruction and bottles of beer — nothing but a job. That’s very convenient especially if you don’t want to challenge the status-quo. Is that what conflict journalism is supposed to do? Or are those the natural demands of the nature of truth?

Journalism’s only been around for a couple of hundred years or so. Truth and the demand for truth are older. They belong to the first time a caveman wondered why another caveman was stealing his food and calling it ‘development’. As for mainstream corporate journalism, prostitution has been around longer and is a more legitimate profession with more ethical constraints. What may we say of the ethics and norms enforced by the Time magazines of the world, who use the photograph of a girl with a severed nose to propagate a war? Are these the ethics required of journalists working in the ‘developing world’? The same ‘developing world’ that is trying to exist against the very forces whose wars they propagate? The photograph of a defaced Aisha Bibi, unsurprisingly, won the World Press Photo award for Photo of the Year even as photographs of children blown apart by predator drones don’t seem to win awards. An ethic to vie for.

To them, the Third World is a vicarious frenzy, the ultimate downer, humanity’s hellhole. Go to the Congo, go to Rwanda, write about a million rapes, murders, and every detail of bloody mayhem and unimaginable poverty. Fit all this into a narrative that says the Third World can never govern itself without the help of the West, the World Bank, the IMF, the UN, and foreign intervention. They’ve been saying that about the Middle East since the Balfour Declaration. Now, thanks to one street vendor who burnt himself on the streets of Tunisia, they are eating their words.

Our media hasn’t the maturity to think about whether adivasis can govern themselves or not, but they happily follow the inherited ethics of corporate journalism without much ado: neutrality, distance and objectivity. And that is a joke because they’re not neutral, they’re too distant from the ground, and they’re definitely not objective. Nowhere in the press are the causes of the insurgency ever spelled out to the world. Nowhere are the combatants on both sides (by both media) looked at as human beings.

I can’t live with the truth that journalism is a bullshit profession if truth has been transgressed. When war is the message of the messengers, in a world that is already stricken with terror and fear. And we are at love-war with ambivalent language — there are those who call murders encounters, pogroms riots, genocide development, and hatred patriotism; and there are those who call revolution social transformation. Truth is too often packaged as propaganda. One becomes only too aware that reports on atrocities are used by the ‘other’ side to propagate their war, and they call it a people’s war — this is the strangest contradiction of anti-war reporting.

Does a journalist only subsist within words and images? When we need not words but actions to ensure that a spade is called a spade, that a rose is a rose is a rose? In a world where acts of terror are far more vitriolic than words of love, is the message the only purpose of a journalist? To write, to protest, to write and keep writing?

Truth is, I don’t know.

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The Non-Nation

April 16, 2011

The Non-Nation

And A Short Story Of Racism

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
-Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), French economist

‘But are the tribals doing anything with that land?’

‘We need the steel, the adivasis need to be compensated for their land properly. And in my experience, I have seen the companies pay handsomely but the money is lost in the lower levels of governance.’

‘How much money would be enough for your land?’

‘The tribals are the ones responsible for destroying the forests.’

The above statements are some of the most common observations/insights made by non-tribals about tribals and the ‘largest land grab since Columbus.’ But before we get to them, I’d like to write about another story of murder in Dantewada.

On the 23rd of January, 2011, a Special Police Officer Ismael Khan was shot dead in Dantewada, as he watched a murgga fight at the market. It was not a gunfight, it was a targeted assassination by all accounts. And while it was nothing new to Kalluri’s Dantewada, there was something that troubled me about this one particular SPO’s demise. I knew his name, I knew something else about him.

There is a story untold: the story of Ismael Khan is the story of Kottacheru, and the story of Kovasi Dhoole, and the story of Dantewada and the adivasis of Bastar – the danger of a single narrative is the danger of the constant narrative – of violence,  and counter-violence. Yet the single narrative needs to be repeated as a vain elegy for every passing statistic that shall appear at the end of the year by the Home Ministry, about the Maoists killed, or those the Maoists have killed, or the Security forces killed in ambushes or assassinated, on the great canvas of the gaping divide between the rich and the poor, the fat and the dispossessed.

But what is the story of Kovasi Dhule and Kottacheru?

‘‘Nine of our people were killed in our village,’ Said Maala (name changed), another IDP from Kottacheru. But when I asked him for the names of the killed, he only gave me five names – the five people who were killed by the Salwa Judum. Then another woman, reservedly gave me the name of ‘Kovasi Dhoole,’ a young woman who was coming home to Kottacheru. And she wasn’t clear about how she died.

‘Did she die when the Salwa Judum raided the village?’ I had asked.

‘No.’

‘Did the Maoists kill her?’

She was quiet.

Eventually, over the course of six months, after interviewing over 14 villagers of Kottacheru in three different locations in Khammam district, including Kovasi Dhoole’s sister, I managed to piece together the story of Kovasi Dhoole and the story of Kottacheru.

In 2007, Kovasi Dhoole was a young woman on her way from Nagaras to her village of Kottacheru. She was stopped at Errabor police station and allegedly detained against her will. She only reappeared two months later, as a SPO, married to another SPO, a ‘turrka’ or Muslim, according to the rest of the villagers of Kottacheru. They also alleged that she was forced to become a SPO, and there was no ‘consent’ in the marriage.

A while later, on the 9th of July, 2007, a combing operation was ambushed near the village of Gaganpalli by the Maoists. 25 security personnel were killed via the use of IEDs placed in the trees and small arms fire. The security personnel retreated out of the jungle and it would take them three whole days to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades. Kovasi Dhoole was one of the injured who was abandoned to the Maoists who found her bullet-ridden body. She was still conscious and breathing. Yet there was no mercy killing. For some reason, the Maoists took her injured body and left it at the road, hoping someone would take her to the hospital.

No one did.

Kovasi Dhoole from the village of Kottacheru, bled to death.’

The SPO, or ‘turrka’ who had married her was Ismael Khan. Before Salwa Judum, he was a dukaandaar at Errabor.

Death comes a full circle.

Every story without heroes ends simply with the death of the antagonists.

Yet why do I write about just another story of a dead soldier and a dead adivasi in Dantewada and what does this have to do with racism?

The story of Ismael Khan, is a manifestation of a cultural hegemony when it is armed – ‘join us,’ at the point of the gun. That the Salwa Judum is populated by young men, tribal and non-tribal with a state-as-god-given right to power is not a myth.

War has now become a way of life for a group of men living together in society. And they have created for themselves, over the course of the last few years a legal system that doesn’t need to work, and a media without any moral code but empty nationalism that glorifies their actions.

And when everyone from the Collector to the dukaandaar is an amateur anthropologist who knows what the tribals need and how they should live, one needs to wonder when it is openly evident that Operation Green Hunt, in its many forms, was a long way coming.

And why? Let us go back a bit and put things into context.

The furthest, darkest heart of central India is not where civilization or development hasn’t completely trickled down, it’s the place where the post-colonialist face of India is still stark-naked, where the mass delirium of India’s token democracy has not brainwashed people who’ve been very conveniently erased from national consensus.

The administration, when it functions, can only acted as an anodyne for a superstructure that is almost entirely exploitative.

One of the most apologetic analysis of the situation in the jungle is that the people need ‘development’ or an administration that functions. Apparently if every village had electricity, a handpump, functioning ration shops and NREGA schemes devoid of corruption, there’d be no insurgency in the first place. Yet one thing that is missing in the entire narrative, is the explicit racism of the majority of the mainstream Indian population when dealing with the ‘other’ – a fascinating metanarrative of the mainstream believing that the adivasis don’t see democracy, or their rights, or their ‘development’ as ‘we’ do, just as the West believes about the East.

Firstly, both schemes, NREGA and the PDS, indirectly imply that the people cannot get work nor feed themselves. Yet why does that situation exist in the first place?

In the jungles, the state itself has been oppressive for decades. In many areas, the only face of the state visible to the tribal is the Forest Department that has routinely exploited, beaten, arrested and robbed the tribals of their land and forests not just for the last few years but for decades. The tribals would be happy as ever if such civilization never reached them. The Forest Department is a part of this same bureaucracy – IAS, IPS, IFS, all of the same crop of the most brilliant, brightest, minds or worst nightmares of the indigenous tribals of India – a  ‘collector’, a word that denotes a collector of taxes, a post-colonial colloquism, but more importantly, a part of that same super-structure that has kept the adivasis away from their forests.

Recently, a survey by the Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy put India’s bureaucracy as ‘the worst in Asia.’ What a surprise. But are our bureaucrats really such special beings or are they merely a manifestation of the culture and society that they are coming from?

This is what one of the members of the Constituent Assembly, Professor Shibban Lal Saksena had to say about the tribals in 1949, during the Constituent Assembly Debates,

‘That these brethren of ours are still in such a sub-human state of existence is something for which we should be ashamed…..I only want that these scheduled tribes and scheduled areas should be developed so quickly that they may become indistinguishable from the rest of the Indian population.’

That apparently, was a much common point of view during the debates of the Constituent Assembly that was elected to write the Constitution – the tribes were ‘sub-human’ and they had to be like everyone else. In other terms, that is called cultural genocide.

Even today the non-tribals will happily go to the Schedule Areas to cheat, manipulate and exploit tribals. I still remember a non-tribal contractor happily telling me that ‘you just come to Dantewada to make money in whatever way possible,’ and in the very next breath, he mentions how, ‘everything this Manish Kunjam is doing is all futile.’ Fighting for tribal rights, is apparently futile. And when half his party workers are in jail, and their hartals in jail are met with beatings, the state is doing its best to tell him it is futile.

A prominent journalist working in Dantewada who has often written about fake encounters and state atrocities had another interesting observation about industrial development: after spending his entire day with villagers from Lohandiguda, who spoke about false cases and state repression, who openly said they had no desire for the 35 or 50 lakhs of rupees for their fertile lands; he would turn to a foreign correspondent and tell him that this district needs Tata’s steel plant and development: so mining is okay if you don’t shoot the tribals?

‘What development?’ I had asked surprisingly, ‘how would Tata’s plant benefit the tribals here?’

‘That it won’t.’ He responded effortlessly.

Let’s not forget that Mr.Chidambaram had once accused a social activist fighting for tribal rights, for wanting to keep tribals as ‘hunters and gatherers.’ The intellectual bankruptcy in that statement alone is enough proof of Mr.Chidambaram’s utmost condescension of over 80-90 million people of the country. Adivasis are farmers, Mr.Chidambaram, and if they are hunting and gathering to survive, it’s because the Forest Department has kicked them out of the forests and built plantations over the land they cultivated.

But there is more, ‘Yes, we can allow the minerals to remain in the ground for another 10,000 years, but will that bring development to these people? We can respect the fact that they worship the Niyamgiri hill, but will that put shoes on their feet or their children in school?’ – Thus Spake Chidambaram.

‘Will that solve the fact that they are severely malnutritioned and have no access to health care?’

Apparently the massive exploitation and the dispossession of their forests doesn’t have anything to do with a tribal’s inability to feed his/her family. On the 22nd of March this year, over 64 tribals and Dalits from Bolangir, one of the hungry KBK districts (Koraput-Bolangir-Kalahandi) of Orissa, were rescued from virtual bonded labour at a brick kiln in Hyderabad. They had been working without pay for over five months and faced regular beatings by their contractors.

There are an estimated 600 brick kilns (2005 figures) populated with tribals and Dalits from Orissa in Andhra Pradesh, and there is an endemic debt-trap, brought on by advance payments by ‘sardars’ or middlemen – and the worker and his family has no choice but to work in the brick kiln until he can pay off the advance, and often faces abuse in an almost un-regulated industry thriving in the universe of unequal power.

On the 28th of March, 2011, 44 adivasis and Dalits from Bolangir and Nuapada had to be rescued from a brick kiln at Pattancheru Mandal after one of the contractor’s relatives tried to rape a tribal woman.

Apart from that, almost all the workers complained of meagre weekly wages, threats and beatings. The incident of attempted rape was merely the breaking point. The muslim husband-wife contractor-duo responded by calling it all lies, and that the adivasis were all just drunk.

The adivasis wanted go back home. The contractors wanted them to continue working.

After the perpetrator was taken away by the police, every conversation with the mistrys and contractors attempting to bring better working conditions for the people were met with responses like, ‘these people are all cheaters.’

‘they lie like this all the time.’

‘they don’t understand reason.’

Nearby contractors who also ran a brick kiln sat on the sidelines gave their wholehearted support to the Muslim contractor and his family. And class, the great equalizer plays its role.

One Matang couple who live in a village in Nandurbar in Maharastra without land of their own, and work in Brahmin fields for Rs.50 a day during the harvest season, had quite easily filled his shoes as a contractor-exploiter for the adivasis at brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh.

‘They were such nice people,’ She said, about the contractor-duo and their alleged rapist-relative, ‘these Orissa people had to ruin everything.’

Even their own workers caught up with me and told me that they weren’t treated well by them either. And while they went back to work, the 44 men, women and children from Bolangir and Nuapada were taken away by the government’s labour department and put on a train back to home – Bolangir, where droughts and hunger deaths had put the district in a spotlight, where all the recently-rescued said that they had no land, or if they did, there was no irrigation facility to help make it productive.

There are no figures on how many adivasis from the KBK districts migrate to work under adverse conditions at brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh. There are independent estimates in thousands while they’re almost invisible to the government.

And funny how the starvation deaths in Kalahandi, were used as arguments by Vedanta’s lawyers to justify the mining of Niyamgiri.

And yet ‘they’ – the ‘rulers of the country’, want an Adivasi battalion formed for the Dantewadas and Lalgarhs – like there hasn’t been enough fratricidal violence in the Red Corridor.

Instead of starving them, let them kill each other while we mine their mountains.

The state is not just oppressive, but the people have been for decades. The adivasis are seldom treated as equals by non-tribals and it’s not just ‘development’ or a corruption-free administration that the tribals need to rescue them (and themselves) from insurgencies.

There is more.

Insurgencies are symptomatic of the very idea of a nation-states. The fantasies of nationalism, these post-colonial hangovers, along with a bunch of elitist clowns with delusions of grandeur have drawn imaginary lines across communities where the majority literally drives minorities into the hole, and there will be identity-driven self-assertions of rights. A thousand times over, I’ve heard adivasis call themselves Muria, not Maoists, Kondhs, not Maoists, Muria, not ‘Indians’, Kondh, not ‘Indians.’ The Maoists from Andhra Pradesh in Dantewada had managed to build a base because they spoke Muria, they spoke Koya, they let the tribals remain tribals (to an extent) + (apart from entirely militarizing their society).

Now, has the Indian mainstream ever allowed minorities to be minorities? Have they allowed the tribals to at least decide their own fate?

Yes, we have. The Indian Constitution has one of the most progressive laws in the world – PESA or Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act, where the tribals are allowed to govern themselves with their own Gram Sabhas. The Supreme Court would not have the right to veto a decision of the Gram Sabha if it said it didn’t want Tata or Jindal or Essar to build on their land. And yet, these Gram Sabha resolutions have been violated by the administration repeatedly across the Fifth Schedule, with complete impunity, often in the favour of big business, as well as the upper caste landlords, thekedaars and non-tribals.

So now as I brought it up, I must ask, why is our administration routinely flouting PESA resolutions?

This is what one of the Collectors of Bastar, J.P. Vyas had to say to Anthropologist Nandini Sundar, in 1992 about a proposed Steel Plant being set up in Bastar and the displacement it would cause.

‘If the people were consulted beforehand and asked for permission, inherent in this, is the possibility that they might refuse. And then where would the government be?’

He had gone on to tell her that the people were ignorant and once the experts decided where the project would be, there was nothing more to be said – (from her book on Bastar, Subalterns and Sovereigns).

Today, there are state-organized public hearings, where the representatives of big companies often tell the tribals, ‘there are other things here that are too technical to understand.’

Another brilliant expert, I had encountered, worked in the ITDA (Integrated Tribal Development Authority) Badrachalam, who didn’t know who the Murias were, and he requested that I tell the tribals to leave the jungles and come and live closer to the road so the government welfare programmes can reach them.

All of it pretty much summing up that the ‘tribals don’t know any better,’ that they ‘need to do something with their land’, or that land, life and livelihood can be equated with money.

I wonder where that idea comes from.

What becomes only too evident, is that we have a social apartheid, where we have an invisible, un-written set of value-judgements upon an entire class of people who live out of sight and out of mind, and we’re aping the West who’ve colonized, butchered, enslaved, and murdered indigenous societies for centuries, and we are too far from evolving into a democracy they have never been, and could possibly never be – one that is egalitarian, just and equal, impassioned yet restrained, and where the words ‘development’ would belong to the people, and not politicians and their wanker-overlords.

To be a nation that is simply accepting of diversity, not just by shallow pretence but by substance. But we are just another half-democracy, half-republic and half-nation that needs to cannibalize itself to survive.

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Dantewada: Days of Rage

April 8, 2011

No, Minister

On the 2nd of April, the chief minister, Raman Singh, the governor Shekar Datt and the DGP Vishwaranjan had visited Tadmetla village which was burned down on the 16th of March, 2011. They did not visit Morpalli village which was burnt down on the 11th of March, and where Madvi Sulla was killed in cold blood and two women were sexually assaulted, or Timmapuram which was burnt down on the 13th of March, where Barse Bhima from Phulanpad was killed with an axe.

‘Six or seven helicopters had flown down,’ Said Madvi Mukka of Tadmetla who met the delegation. Eventually, the security forces started to find whoever they could as many had simply run away on sight of the security forces.

The government also distributed relief to the villagers of Tadmetla, while they had given nothing to the villages of Morpalli and Timmapuram. Yet even the people of Tadmetla aren’t impressed.

‘They gave us 17 quintals of rice,’ Said the former sarpanch Gondse Deva, ‘and that’s not going to last even a week.’

‘Every other house that they burnt down had that much rice.’

There are 185 families in Tadmetla and 207 buildings were burnt down and the government had given 105 sheets of tarpaulin. They had given 200 saris for the women, and nothing for the men. They had also given about 10 quintals of potatoes and 7 quintals of onions, 5.5 quintals of pulses, along with spices.

‘They gave us tea but no sugar.’ Joked a villager.

And it doesn’t end there. The chief minister’s delegation had also distributed volleyballs to the adivasis of Tadmetla, which no one seems to be very thrilled about.

And the villagers of Tadmetla allege, that while the chief minister was taking their testimonies and distributing ration, a group of SPOs who were part of their escort were stealing food at the periphery of the village.

Gondse Deva, the former sarpanch was told by Raman Singh that he’d be made a permanent teacher, while another SPO would threaten him later.

‘They said, they’d re-open the markets, but we told them to shut down the Salwa Judum first.’ Said Bhima Madvi (65), whose home was burnt down, along with all of his grain, his clothes, his vessels and even his patta (deed).

‘Yeh kiska sarkar hai joh ration le ke aata hai?’ aur yeh kiska sarkar hai joh gaon jalata hai?’ (whose government is it that gives us ration and whose is it that burns our villages?) said Madvi Mukka in his broken hindi – Madvi Mukka’s house was burnt down with over 15 quintals of rice. The above question was directed to Raman Singh, chief minister of Chhattisgarh, who apparently had no answer.

Other villagers also brought up the matter of the two men – Madvi Handa s/o Kosa, and Madvi Aita, who were taken away by the police.

‘Handa was sleeping on the cot,’ says his mother Pojje, ‘when the forces came and beat him up and took him away.’

‘They took us all away from our homes, and behind us, some other forces came and burnt our homes down.’

The families of the people who were taken away by the police had eventually gone to the police station to help release their loved ones. ‘It was holi, many of them were drunk,’ Said Hidme, Handa’s wife, ‘And they said they’d release them tomorrow, but the next day they sent them to Dornapal, and then later, to Dantewada jail.’

The chief minister apparently promised that they would be released in a few days. But four days after the visit, none of them have been released.  And the people are not surprised. Pojje’s husband, and Handa’s father Madvi Kosa had been taken away by the forces in similar circumstances five years ago, and had only come back after four years.

Hunger but no starvation

Madkam Nande w/o Bandi or Morpalli gave birth to a baby boy on the 3rd of April in a house without a roof. Her home was burnt down with all of her produce and her husband is in Andhra Pradesh working as a day labourer.

The Chief Minister has denied all allegations that there have been starvation deaths in Tadmetla even though local news reports and those from BBC Hindi had claimed that those reports had come from the village of Morpalli. The chief minister is half-right. There were no starvation deaths due to arson and the widespread burning of a self-sustaining communities food supply. But three people over the age of 65, Nupe Rajalu, Madavi Joga and Madkam Bhime  from the village of Morpalli had died of hunger/starvation/dehydration after they got lost in the jungle trying to escape the approaching security forces.

Their bodies were found on the 14th, 15th and 16th of March by villagers who buried them at the outskirts of the village.

The people of Morpalli have had to share whatever food they had managed to save from the burning of their homes and are aware that their supply might run out.

And this is not even the first time their village was burnt down by the security forces. The security forces had even burnt their village down along with all of their produce in April 2007.

It took them around fifty-sixty days to rebuild their homes.

The Perpetrators

Madkam Nande of Morpalli village with her children before the remnants of her home.

The state of Chhattisgarh has repeatedly told the Supreme Court that the Salwa Judum had been shut down and that they aren’t allowed on combing operations anymore.

Yet Bodke Mara s/o Lacha from the village of Morpalli had only become a SPO two or three months ago. The villagers of Morpalli, alleged that he only became an SPO after the Maoists threatened him with dire consequences.

‘He used to misbehave with girls in our village, and he even stole rice from some adivasis in Lachapur in Andhra,’ Said his ex-neighbours.

He would eventually lead the police to the village of Morpalli where one man would be killed and two women would be raped.

The villagers were also able to identify other SPOs who were leading the attack on their villages, including Madkam Bhima of Junagoda village in Penta Panchayat, who used to be known as Comrade Ramesh when he was with the Maoists. There was also Vanjam Deva from Sirpanguda, near Timmapuram who also used to be a Maoist.

Two more SPOs came from Timmapuram which was burnt down – Madvi Chona s/o Mandgroo and a female SPO Payke Barse who allegedly acted as the guide for the security forces.

The people of Tadmetla also identified the above mentioned SPOs along with the following – Ramlal Barse from Budgill village, Telam Nanda s/o Konda from Lakhapal, Telam Kosab, Aimla Mukesh s/o Deva from Nagaram, Aimla Manu s/o Deva, Karti Singha, Dasaru Sodi from Milampalli, Oyam Kapil from Gaganpalli who used to be a teacher, and Kiche Nanda from Dornapal, Surya from Misma – both who have warrants for their arrests, and have been declared as ‘absconding’, for what is known to be the Samsetti rape case.

A few weeks ago, Surya also allegedly led a group of SPOs who stopped trucks taking relief to the affected villages, even though the relief was sent by the collector of Dantewada.

Post-Script: A Case Against Forgetfulness

One year after 76 security personnel were killed in the Chintalnar area, with allegations of rape being used as a weapon of war soon after by the state, the latest attack on the adivasis of Bastar during a five-day long carnage has led to break the silence on atrocities that have been committed for over six years now, across the undivided Bastar region.

Last year in November, the security forces had burnt down Tatemargu and Pallodi village. Pallodi which was on route to Tadmetla has now rebuilt itself. There was no relief given to the people, there was no suo moto case filed by the National Human Rights Commission and there was no visit by the chief minister. There are at least 644 villages that lie empty and at least 300 of them had been burnt down at least once.

And for three of the villages that were attacked recently, this was not the first time.

Sodi Nanda s/o Adma  of Tadmetla was killed by the security forces in 2007. Two houses were burnt down that day.

Barse Lakma s/o Bhima of Morpalli was going for ration at Chintalnar market when he was picked up by the security forces last year.

Madkam Nanga s/o Aita was going to the sell his produce in Chintalnar when he was also picked up by the police and sent to jail over three years ago. None of them have been released.

From Phulanpad village where Barse Bhima and Manu Yadav were killed in the recent operation, around three years ago, Aimla Sukka (20) s/o Chola and Aimla Joga (20) s/o Choma were killed when their village was raided by security forces.

There are many people from Phulanpad who live in Andhra Pradesh as Internally Displaced Persons, as a part of the estimated 16,000 to 40,000 adivasis who have been completely forgotten by the state of Chhattisgarh.