Archive for the ‘Essar’ 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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Development for Dummies

April 21, 2010

This article appears in two parts in The New Indian Express on the 25th of April, 2010, here. And here.

Just as the NMDC mines are in Kirandul at Kuakonda block, a few kilometres away, the house of Bhima Mandavi in Badepalli was burnt down along with all of its produce in 2009 and 2006. Since the inception of the Salwa Judum in 2005, all healthcare services, schools and angaanbadi services were discontinued in his village.

‘I have always believed India is destined to emerge as an important industrial power. It is only through rapid industrialization that we can find meaningful solutions to the problems of mass unemployment and underdevelopment. Of course, considering that nearly 70% of our population lives in rural areas, we have to lay adequate emphasis on increasing agricultural output and agricultural productivity. Yet, since the per capita availability of land is less than 1.5 hectares, there are severe limitations to expanding employment opportunities in agriculture on a large scale. Therefore, we have to find ways and means to accelerate the process of industrialization and also to ensure that this process is sufficiently labour intensive.’ – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the 1st of May, International Labour day, 2007 in an inaugural speech for the Institute for Studies in Industrial Development.

 Young labour at work on a road in Dantewada, 2009.

We, the forest people of the world – living in the woods, surviving on the fruits and crops, farming on the jhoom land, re-cultivating the forest land, roaming around with our herds – have occupied this land since ages. We announce loudly, in unity and solidarity, that let there be no doubt on the future: we are the forests, and the forests are us, and our existence is mutually dependent. The crisis faced by our forests and environment today will only intensify without us. – from the Dehradun Declaration of June 2009, by the National Forum for Forest People’s and Forest Workers.

The villagers of Hiroli waiting outside Kirandul police station for the body of Channu Mandavi who was killed in an encounter on the 12th of April, 2009.

Lingaram Kodopi from the village of Sameli, of Kuakonda block of Dantewada district, as previously reported was locked up in the toilet in the police station for over forty days and forced to become an SPO. Through the help of activists and the court he was able to free himself, yet the harassment continued until it became impossible for him and his family to live in his village. A few months after he escaped, an encounter had taken place on the 23rd of January in his village of Sameli where four adivasis were killed. The violence never ends for his people yet this article is not about how his people die, but how they live.

He recently gave a testimony to a packed hall room in Delhi for an Independant People’s Tribunal on land acquisition, resource grab and Operation Green Hunt. He was asked by one of the jurors the billion dollar question – ‘What kind of development do you want? Where do you expect the government to get money for schools, education, etc. if they are not getting revenue from the mines? Do you want development, mines and all, or do you want to stay away from this whole process? How can you oppose the state’s developmental policies and still ask for schools, education, etc? Look at Delhi, don’t you think it is well developed, with superb streets and buildings? Don’t you want your adivasis to live like this, and become lawyers, doctors, etc?’

‘Who wouldn’t want that kind of education, sir?’ Lingaram responded, ‘But development around our state is poor, in fact it is pathetic. The NMDC mines have been there for years and they have not brought development. We don’t want that kind of development where the mines come and everything else is supposed to follow from that supposedly, when it hasn’t with NMDC.’

Lingaram Kodopi isn’t wrong. Taking the National Mineral Development Corporation in Bailadila in Chhattisgarh as an example, below are the details of an RTI query filed with the NMDC regarding one of the most direct so-called benefits of industrial development – employment generation:

Question: What is the percentage of tribals employed in executive positions of the PSU,NMDC? Answer: The total number of ST Executives in NMDC was 45 and the percentage is 4.82%, as on 31st Oct 2006.

Question: What is the percentage and number of Scheduled Tribes employed directly by the Bailadila projects (BIOP) of NMDC in non-executive positions? Answer: The percentage of the Tribals employed directly by the BIOP in non-executive positions is 31.41% and the total number of ST’s employed directly by BOIP is 935.

Contrast that number of 935 + 45 tribals to a conservative 40,000, or alleged 200,000 adivasis who hit the streets of Dantewada on the 14th of 2006, to protest against the Salwa Judum and the land acquisitions of Tata and Essar. If just less than a thousand tribals directly benefit from the mines that have existed in South Bastar for over 30 years, what are the estimated 475,975 adivasis (2001 census) supposed to do?

There is no secret for the adivasis that industrial development is a sham. Yet what about agricultural development?

This land is your land

Lakhmu, from the so-called ‘liberated-zone’ had once asked me what had happened in my village (Mumbai) on November, 2008. He heard a lot about it from the radio and the newspapers that came to his blacked-out, isolated village in the middle of Dantewada. I told him what I knew. I started with the VT station firing – Kasab and his partner gunning down commuters at will. I told him about the killing in the kitchens of the Taj. Lakhmu was appalled. He was horrified with every detail I offered him.

‘How could anyone do that?’ He asked me and I had no answer.

This exchange took place on the 20th of November 2009. Six days later, the country marked the first year after the Mumbai attacks. Just 9 days ago, Lakhmu’s village of Tatemargu was attacked, and security forces had allegedly killed four people, raped three and burnt down over 60 buildings with all of its produce. All in the name of development – ‘I will wipe out the Naxalites, and then I will bring development.’ Said Union Minister Chidambaram, a while ago.

And I asked Lakhmu, what he thought about development. He said, ‘We’re fine. Just give us a road so we can go to the market, and electricity. Everything else we can fend for ourselves.’

And I could see why. Tatemargu, was described as ‘the number one village in Konta block’ . And it was an agricultural success story. The ultimate irony for me was that I could only assess its success by sifting through its remains. There were homes that lost forty quintals or rice, there were homes that lost a hundred kilograms of corn, mahua and imli, and right there, all of it was ash. There were no noticeable signs of malnutrition amongst the infants, alcohol prohibition was in place, there were vast numbers of livestock, huge homes built with brick and cement, bought by the adivasis from Andhra Pradesh by the cash earned by selling rice.

‘How is there so much rice cultivated here?’ I had asked Lakhmu. And he replied that it is about water. And the village of Tatemargu has access to water – ponds were dug by all the villagers, by the instructions of none other than the Maoists themselves.

So now what about water?

The villages of Dhurli and Bhansi of Dantewada are famous villages by now. Essar Steel wants their land for a 3.2 million tonne steel plant: they want 200 hectares from Dhurli and 400 hectares from Bhansi.

All the meetings between the villagers and the company have taken place through the people from the Collector’s office, or the Sub-District Magistrate’s office. Mahendra Karma himself would drive down to the villages to convince the villagers to part with their land. Meanwhile, the Maoists have threatened to kill the villagers who accept Essar’s compensation packages and surrender their ancestral land. They have killed two people from Bhansi who had accepted their proposals in 2006, and allegedly acted as their agents. A majority of the villagers say no to compensation for land, aware that money runs out, while a few have asked for shares in the company, tacitly of course.

Now, let us consider the amount of water that the 3.2 tonne steel plant would need on a daily basis. The proposed Essar project would require around 80,000 meters cubed of water per day. This would also affect those living downstream from the plant. Now, consider that the average amount of water consumed per person in rural India is 100 litres per day. How much water is the steel plant going to be taking from the adivasis then?

‘The entire Sankani river is red,’ Says Mangal Kunjam of the village of Goomiyapal in Dantewada district. The river Sankani runs through Dantewada town, the Bailadila, the NMDC mines, and over thirty villages, ‘I’ve spoken to so many villagers and they all have the same complaints.’ Continues Mangal, ‘Those who depend on the river for fishing, say there are no fish. Those who depend on the river for cultivating their land, say their fields are suffering. This is not development for us.’

‘You’re an educated boy, you’re even going for training to work with the NMDC.’ I had asked Mangal, ‘I’ll still ask you, would you prefer industrial development or agriculture?’

Without hesitation, Mangal replies agriculture and the cruelest tragedy is that this choice is never left to the adivasis. Barring economic policies, MOUs and land acquisition decisions, ever since the Salwa Judum came into being, agriculture has more or less ceased to exist in a majority of villages. The idea of dragging and herding people from their villages into mismanaged state-run camps left the fields empty, left people without any alternative but to choose other professions, to become SPOs, landless labourers in other states, – the choice of agriculture, to till their own land, taken away from them.

‘We get enough from our land to feed us.’ Continued Lingaram Kodopi from Sameli, in Kuakonda. Kuakonda block didn’t suffer as much from the looting and arson of the Salwa Judum and only in 2009 has the violence really intensified in the block. ‘What is development?  NMDC has operated in our area for 52 years but only caused destruction.  Naxals 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 kilometres from us and has been there long before the Naxals, 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 people go to Bailadila for treatment, they humiliate us and don’t admit us to their hospitals.’

At the same time, near the Bailadila hills there are 14 extremely high grade iron ore deposits, worth billions yet there are again villages that have never even been surveyed by the government. This pattern shall now repeat itself as the Collector Reena Kangale has recommended 108 villages in Dantewada to be exempted from the census.

An activist once had a story about one of these villages where he met a young boy and asked him, ‘Has the government ever come to your village?’

The boy allegedly replied, ‘Yes, they came twice, once to burn it to the ground, and the other time they raped a woman.’

The story might be apocryphal yet for many villages it isn’t so farfetched. For these villages, it is easy to presume that there is absolutely no healthcare and no education. The same is reserved for villages beyond the Indravati, in Abhujmaad and the same is reserved for villages that once had access to both education and healthcare, but it was withdrawn by the government once the Salwa Judum went into full swing, on the grounds that these villages supported Maoists.

‘What happens in your village when someone falls really sick?’

‘We take them to the hospital in Badrachalam (Andhra Pradesh),’ Replied Lakhmu from Tatemargu, nonchalantly, ‘But sometimes, they just die.’

In 2006, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), a reputed humanitarian organization that won the Nobel peace prize in 1999, began to work in Bastar, to treat the adivasi victims of the civil war between the Salwa Judum and the Maoists. In 2007, they were accused by the government of Chhattisgarh of providing healthcare to injured Maoists. The government had asked them to restrict their activities to the Salwa Judum camps and not venture into the jungle.

And now as the state of Chhattisgarh has asked for 108 villages in Dantewada to be exempted from the census due to ‘inaccessible terrain’ and ‘prevention by the Maoists’, one wonders how the government can even send it a single paracetamol tablet.

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Chidambaram’s Omelette

November 10, 2009
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'It looks like murder, but it's poverty.' - A paralysed Baiga lady asleep in her village of Harra Tola, Madhya Pradesh. Her village has no access to healthcare nor clean water. It is about 50kms away from Kanha National Park.

Chidambaram’s Omelette: or why I’m left with a very bad taste in my mouth after swallowing your insane ideas of  development

Okay, what is development?

I have often had to ask myself this question over the last few years and I’ve so far, found it safe to conclude that it is one of the most ambiguous words used  in recent times. It’s more than a mere contradiction, and the fact that one word can affect whole communities, whole cultures and the very idea of subsistence is frightening. This is not merely an article detailing that development has contradictorily become synonymous with extinction for many people. I have written this to bring myself to understand the politics of a simple idea of development, whose contradictions I have often been confronted with during my travels through rural India.

 

One thing, however, is obvious. Development is dignity.

Development is thus, private property – land to the tiller. Development is the freedom felt in the hands of a once landless labourer who feels that mud in his palms, that hope. Development is knowing that he shall not lose his land, his meager acres for the profit margins of private companies. Development is knowing that he can feed his own children and work on his own land. Development is knowing that he shall not have to kill himself because of debt incurred on his shoulders so others can get rich, fat, grotesque and happy. Dignity is not profit. Dignity is not greed. Dignity is not wearing a $100 pure cotton t-shirt to impress your latest fuck-fad, as cotton-farmers commit suicide for being incapable of paying the $100 debt that falls upon them thanks to farming practices enforced upon them. Development is not the free market. Development is not a world where freedom means desire.

Development is, a mother knowing her children shall not starve to death.

Development is, knowing a mother shall not die giving birth to her children. Development is, knowing a family shall not have to have so many children for fear that most would probably not even make it beyond their 5th birthday – being victims to preventable disease like diarrhea, malaria and dysentery. Yet we rank 171 out of 175 in public health expenditure, according to WHO, and hospitals are so far away from the rural poor that it would take them a whole weeks wages just to travel to a hospital.

Development is not apathy. Why do we live in a world where cynicism is the religion of the urban middle class?

It’s not supposed to be noble to help someone, it’s simple decency. Unfortunately, it has no market value nor any impetus on the stock market. It has no existence in the free market, bought by the rich, held by the rich, over the dust and bones of the poor, with the invisible hand of the market, that is invisible simply because it does not exist.

Live and let live, they say, do we have any idea how much murder we have condoned by that stupid fucking excuse of a morality? Live and let live, we say to the rioting mob who has just burnt a man alive for his is a faith that is not our faith. Live and let live, we say, as we don’t care about justice for the many whose family was just burnt alive for their faith is not our faith. Live and let live, we say, and we accept war and death as natural orders of human civilization, as they’re mere inconveniences to us, so, so far away. Live and let live, we say to the man beating his wife to death.

Live and let live, we say, and we merely fail to protest the horrors of the human condition.

Live and let live, we say, as we destroy whole communities for profit for the few or the many – depends on who is doing the mathematics.

Let me try first.

Let’s take the equation of industrial development and it’s idea of ‘employment generation’. I shall take the National Mineral Development Corporation and Tata’s joint venture in Bailadila in Chhattisgarh as an example. Below are the details of an RTI  query filed with the NMDC regarding this issue:

Question: What is the percentage of tribals employed in executive positions of the PSU,NMDC?

Answer: The total number of ST Executives in NMDC was 45 and the percentage is 4.82%, as on 31st Oct 2006.

Question: What is the percentage and number of Scheduled Tribes employed directly by the Bailadila projects (BIOP) of NMDC in non-executive positions?

Answer: The percentage of the Tribals employed directly by the BIOP in non-executive positions is 31.41% and the total number of ST’s employed directly by BOIP is 935.

Contrast that number to the 200,000 people who hit the streets of Dantewada on the 14th of 2006, to protest against the Salwa Judum and the land acquisitions of Tata and Essar.

Then of course, there are the Dhurlis and Bhansis – two villages synonymous with the issue of land in Dantewada. Essar Steel wants their land for a 3.2 million tonne steel plant: they want 200 hectares from Dhurli and 400 hectares from Bhansi.

All the meetings between the villagers and the company take place through the people from the Collector’s office, or the Sub-District Magistrate’s office. Meanwhile, the Naxals have threatened to kill the villagers who accept Essar’s compensation packages and surrender their ancestral land. They have killed two people from Bhansi who had accepted their proposals in 2006, and allegedly acted as their agents. A majority of the villagers say no to compensation: aware that money runs out. Another majority wouldn’t sell their ancestral land for money for what their land means to them: it is their sacred mountain. To sell it for money, is to imagine Muslims selling off Mecca, or the Hindus selling off the Chaar Dhaams: Puri, Rameshwaram, Badrinath and Dwarka.

Whenever I think of this, I remember overhearing the superintendent of police of Dantewada saying: ‘we’d have peace here if the Adivasis were taught greed.’

I remember visiting Bhansi on April 2009, tentatively approaching a whole bunch of villagers sitting on their haunches, with axes, bows and arrows in their hands. They were mostly drunk. I remember these were villages where journalists were looked upon with suspicion and treated with scorn.

‘Don’t worry, I don’t work for a company.’ I said, with my hands up, and they all burst out laughing.

Now, let us consider the amount of water that the 3.2 tonne steel plant would need on a daily basis. The proposed Essar project would require around 80,000 meters cubed of water per day. This would also affect those living downstream from the plant. Now, consider that the average amount of water consumed per person in rural India is 100 litres per day. Therefore, the Essar steel plant’s thirst for water would equal the water needs of 80,000 people.

So what development are we talking about now? Policymakers of the country believe these sacrifices must be made for industrial growth, for a stable economy, for ‘development’ and the good of all.

Or what we can summarize as: a few eggs must be broken for Chidabaram’s omelette.

Development is truly, cannibalistic.

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The villagers of Hiroli, Dantewada, marching to the police station to demand the body of Channu Mandavi, 19, who was shot dead in an allegedly fake encounter on the 12th of April, 2009.

Development, is the greater good?

Now, industrial development has taken on a whole new form – it has become a gospel, out to build a new Jerusalem, a promised land, a Utopia that is forgiven for it’s imperfections and no one shall question it.

More people have been murdered, burnt at the stake, and marched into concentration camps over the idea of progress and the greater good – than the idea of senseless slaughter itself. There’s a huge difference between a psychopathic serial killer out on a shooting spree and the McNamaras of the world. One of them, has the grandest excuses to justify mass murder – take patriotism, take ideology, take God, and take development and the progress of nations.

When did McNamara really realize that he was responsible for being part of a historical machine that killed three million Vietnamese civilians and over 60,000 Americans? I wonder. Camus was right when he said that murder punishes the executioner as much as it punishes the victim. The executioner just doesn’t know it yet. And as long as he has an excuse to justify murder, he’d be fine.

Meanwhile, development in India, under the flag of patriotism, is used explicitly to kill the citizens of our country, and we can do a better job at it, than other countries – and surely! THAT is a matter of national pride!

Development, allowing policy-makers to sleep peacefully after they just condemned thousands of people into poverty for the common good of the few. DEVELOPMENT ZINDABAD! Bhenchodd.

Development, the common good! – laying out IED’s and landmines to blow up off-duty policemen and security personnel, hacking to death police informants and dissidents as a matter of survival, attacking police stations and letting a mob gruesomely dismember policemen and policewomen to leave a symbolic message. Surely, a classless society is easier to build, by killing everyone. There isn’t a greater sin the Naxalites are guilty of, than the creation of executioners out of the victims of oppression.

A cycle repeated by the Chhattisgarh State government, by its support for the Salwa Judum.

And what have we done for the oppressed? How much has the legal system failed them? How much has the press failed them? How much as the political system failed them?

How much has ‘developed’ India failed them?

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An old lady of Pisepara, Bijapur district, waiting to return home to her village after three years. Just a few weeks after she was rehabilitated, the Naxalites would murder two people near her village at a village called Hirapur. Hirapur, recently rehabilitated, was once again abandoned.

If given the choice to sacrifice one man for the good of ten thousand, every rational thinking person would sacrifice that one man without much adieu – it’s simple mathematics. Of course, with a little more power and megalomania and you’d be sacrificing ten thousand people for what you presume are ten million people. This has been happening for centuries, from the Reign of Terror, to the  Soviet Gulag system, to the extremes – the Khmer Rouge, who killed for the greater good by killing everyone.

Yet I wonder, what happens if we don’t think rationally for once?

What happens if we don’t sacrifice one man for the good of ten thousand? For the good of a whole billion?

Let us hesitate, let us think about it, maybe the whole world will not fall apart, maybe this little naïve idea can actually change the way this world works.

One man’s life has value – just as every man’s life has value. Is it really simple mathematics? (And of course, let us not forget ‘national security’, where the credo is often: ‘to arrest a 100 innocent men to catch one guilty man who are capable of killing another thousand’ – a difficult choice to make, quite explicitly logical too.) Of course, these ‘difficult choices’ seem to be made by people who have absolutely no difficulty in making them. It has become so easy to condemn people over an idea. Every man is some raging psychotic about to hammer the firing mechanism of a nuclear bomb in the middle of the market, wearing hot-pants and singing Geeta Dutt songs.

Shoot him, please, someone says, it’s logical that he must die so millions don’t evaporate. Of course if this is Bombay, the crowd merely watches as some spurned Majnun is throwing acid onto the face of his beloved Laila.

Okay, bad example – the madman in hot-pants singing Geeta Dutt songs is not as dangerous as the Home Minister who proclaims that he will wipe out the Naxalites and then bring development. Firstly, the Naxalites are just like him, killing for the common good, or what they think is the common good. Secondly, he’d merely be contributing to the destruction of the Adivasis, whose development he should be considering but has yet to detail any plan on how he shall make their lives any better. He has ordered the use of brutal force to kill an enemy who has been made an enemy thanks to the complete failure of the Indian State to bring the murderous, atrocious Salwa Judum to justice, or to provide the tribals with the protection of their rights, a semblance of security, or what is actually Development.

Atrocities are symptoms of war just as apathy is a symptom of peace. They are inevitable. So we shall not argue about whether anyone can have a ‘clean’, ‘heroic’ victory over the Naxalites. Even if he orders the individual States to ensure minimum civilian casualties in their combing operations, one must not discount the fact that many of the people working in the administration have no sympathies for villagers, who they presume, are ‘Naxalite sympathizers.’ They probably are, because the government has done nothing for them but burn their villages, beat them up, or willfully given their support to the Salwa Judum, who has been given a free reign to do as it pleases.

Of course, it’s easy to imagine how the state supported the Salwa Judum when it first came to bloom in Bastar.

History has taught us, that in most situations, insurgencies die as they lose the support of the public – the anger of the oppressed. That’s how the insurgency of the Khalistani movement died out, as did the Islamist insurgency of Algeria. Both movements played out the historical imperative, and came to their logical conclusion – a general public horrified by violence who either turn indifferent to day-to-day killings, or in the exceptional case of Bastar, mutate into a ‘spontaneous’ amoral counter-insurgency backed by an invisible market desire for land.

The people of Bastar turned against the oppressors who once promised them deliverance, the state saw it’s golden opportunity – the Salwa Judum was the theatrical face of a public who had had enough – thousands and thousands of people attended Salwa Judum rallies, screaming anti-Naxalite slogans. It was a big show – and the show must go on. The state began to support it, officially and unofficially, as completely short-sighted as they often are. It was perceived as a peaceful Gandhian movement to everyone but those who were forced out of their burning villages, to everyone but those who were beaten, raped and murdered in cold blood. The same brutality that the Naxalites were known for, was now given state-support and a new moral right. Most of the SPOs as it were, were ex-Sangham members – Naxalites.

Now, we can look back and see the Salwa Judum as the monster it really was, back then, some people saw it as hope from Naxalite oppression. Before the Indian government entered some villages of Bastar for the first time, to burn it, and for the second time, to burn it again, the Naxalites were there. There are no secrets amongst the public that the Naxalites have helped in some ways – they ensured better wages for the villagers of Bastar and they did help stop the exploitation of the tribals by private contractors and the forest officials. But they are victims of an old human trait: the vanity of good – the illusion of it, they are the Robespierres and the Saint-Justes of India, violence begets violence, tyranny follows violent revolution, day follows night follows the day –  the Naxalites oppressed the very villagers they wished to serve.

The State meanwhile, was a victim of it’s short-sightedness by supporting the Salwa Judum and made a whole bloody mess by giving a whole angry community right back to the Naxalites. A short-sightedness, that they’re still suffering from, trying to bring parallels of the LTTE’s apparent destruction by the Sri Lankan military, to the Naxalite movement. Number one: if you do manage to weed out every red-book waving hardcore Maoist out from the mass of angry tribals fighting for their land and their rights, will you provide the mass of angry tribals with their land and their rights? Number two: what development are you talking about when you’re yet to detail any plans for healthcare, education, angaanbaadi, roads and yes, dignity for the Tribals by the protection of their land rights?

Development, is the Fifth Schedule.

Human rights, lest we forget, is also development. This is not the age of genocide, nor it’s consent, this is not the age of extrajudicial killings that leave families hopeless, or it’s consent. Tell weeping families that their children were accidentally killed in an encounter for ‘development’, for the ‘common good’.

I dare you.

Number four: development is justice.

If the Indian state wishes to bring development to the Adivasi people, then it should disband the Salwa Judum and indict and punish every individual responsible for the rape, killings, lootings and arson of the villages of Bastar.

* * *

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Special Police Officers (SPOs), on duty during a Salwa Judum rally at Bijapur on the 21st of January, 2009.

For the common good, murder is easy, almost consistently, beyond borders. Maybe it’s easy because it’s not about the common good at all – maybe it’s easy because it’s fun. And it’s fun because it’s about power. Power, is the porn of the inhuman. Compassion and mercy are not virtues for men in power. Why would they protest to murder?

People who protest to murder are often social workers, activists, journalists, the Gandhians and they are, the very people who’ve suffered from persecution for their dissent – ‘the human rightwallas’ as some policemen I met would call them. They are a civil society, the conscience. And we’ve obviously not forgotten about the Binayak Sens and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.

A little warning sign – the systematic destruction of a dissenting civil society as it has taken place throughout history has only led to one logical conclusion: a society that condones and commits genocide. Sudan’s systematic destruction of her civil society during the early 90’s has inevitably led to the consent to genocide in Darfur, and the recent outpouring of public support by the Sudanese public for their President Omar Al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, is evidence that dissent is dead. The same applies to Putin’s Russia. Human rights activists and lawyers who speak up about atrocities committed in Chechnya, are systematically assassinated. The forgotten war in Chechnya continues. After Beslan, it’s hard for anyone to question it. And the best example shall forever remain Nazi Germany.

When I was growing up, I chanced to come across one of the most potent photographs of the concentration camps. It was not a photograph of a myriad mangled corpses lost in the dichotomies of the scorched landscape nor any portrait of a man who was nothing but skin and bones and bloodshot eyes. It was a photograph that Margaret Bourke-White had taken of the citizens of Weimer asked to look at the atrocities of the Buchenwald Concentration camp. They, the citizens of Germany could probably smell the rot of corpses. Their faces were cringing and yet their expressions remained stoic. They had now become witnesses to one of the worst atrocities committed in recent times.

‘My God? How could we let this happen?’ I wonder if any of them had ever asked themselves that.

* * *

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Portrait of a mother and child in the village of Avapalli, Bijapur district, 2009.

All across the country today, farmers – especially Adivasis and Dalits are fighting against the land grabs for SEZs and development projects. It is not a matter of remuneration and compensation, at most times, that is not even adequate.

It is about a way of life.

As I mentioned earlier in this piece, development projects and SEZs mostly provide employment to the white collar worker, not the farmers. At times, the farmers are paid compensation and pushed off the land, and everyone is aware that the compensation money will run out. The farmers have spent their whole lives on this land, nurturing each tree, digging each pond, tilling each acre, weeping for every drought that destroyed their Kharif crop. There is a sentimentality that money cannot replace.

Economic growth, of course, is blind. Sometimes, I wonder how much growth is possible if the rural sector was allowed to grow. If small companies and small holders were allowed to grow.

Nevertheless, there will always be more Narmadas, Nandigrams and Singurs. There are around 68 SEZs notified in Andhra Pradesh alone and the villagers are not pleased. There is resistance. They have mobilized themselves, they have said: NO. Activists and lawyers take them across bureaucratic and legal hurdles and into the democratic fold, to fight peacefully for their rights. And what happens when that fails?

It has always been the responsibility of the civil society to bring the issue justice. And if we don’t care about what is happening to the Muria farmer, or the Irom Sharmilas of India, then India ceases to exist. There is an old saying, it is not about how deep you feel but how wide, and this has always applied to nationalism more than anything else – to live in a country where we care about every one of our citizens, rather than sending military battalions to deal with insurgencies to protect ‘national interests’ and our ‘sovereignty.’

That day, is the day, we will be a developed country.

* * *

Meanwhile, a MBA graduate with a goatee and the newest Blackberry approaches a semi-nude farmer sitting on his haunches, drinking salfi and waiting for the rain.

‘We’re here to claim your land for a new factory for rich people who think you smell funny.’ Says the MBA graduate, who I shall now, refer to as, the Developer.

‘Why?’ asks the confused farmer.

‘It’s called development. It shall be good for you.’

‘How?’

‘It will make us a superpower. Our GDP and our growth would increase and investors would come flocking to our country. It’s all economics, I don’t think you’d understand.’

‘What about me?’

‘You stop being a farmer who can barely pay your debts because of government policies and people like me, and you become a chapraasi for one of our CEOs.’

The farmer thinks for a second.

‘What if I say no?’ He asks.

‘Then we get our goons to come beat you up. And we always have the bureaucrats. Even the banks belong to us and you will never get another loan.’

‘What if I still say no?

‘Then we send the whole damn army after you.’

‘What if I still say no?’

‘We shall break your spirit.’

‘And if my spirit doesn’t break?’

‘We shall kill you all.’

(Now this is where I take some more creative liberties and shall try to draw out a logical continuation to the above scene.)

‘Okay, you can have my land, but you die first.’ Says the farmer to the Developer.

‘What?!?’

‘I read somewhere that development really follows a logic that Some need to suffer for the Many. And sacrifices must be made. I believe your friends, the Maoists, say the same.’

‘What? My friends?!’

‘So I will give you my land, if we can chop your arms off first.’

‘What? No!’

‘It’s development, why not?’

‘No.’

‘Come on, you and your CEO, you and your government.’

‘Are you mad? Get away from me.’

‘….you all should make sacrifices for development too!’

‘No!’

‘The world is a cruel place and difficult choices must be made.’ Says the farmer.

‘Get away from me!’

‘Okay, I’ll just chop off one testicle, is that okay?’

The farmer brandishes a rusty blade, the Developer runs away, the farmer sits on his haunches again with his salfi along with a harbinger. Tomorrow, a combing operation in the name of hunting Naxalites shall leave his village burnt, his crop destroyed and his children hungry.

‘DEVELOPMENT ZINDABAD! Bhenchodd!’ Says the farmer.

* * *

Once upon a time, a man holding his young daughter walked under the office of Robert McNamara, the architect of the Vietnam war. To kill a man, you can save millions? Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t work for people who wouldn’t even take a single life. This is the real protest to the human condition.

Norman Morrison was that man’s name. He lay his daughter down, and in protest to the Vietnam war, he doused himself in kerosene and immolated himself to remind the executioner of what he is doing to himself.

At Tiananmen Square, the man who stood before the tank was not the only hero of the day, there were many people who stood before tanks that morning who were systematically run over. The other hero of that day was the man who was driving the tank……… who hesitated, who stopped.