Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

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Invisible Cities: Part Twelve: Breaking The Sparrow

November 6, 2012

Months after the last demolition drive, a court order to construct a boundary wall in Sion Koliwada leads to tension between the police and protesting residents especially after a contractor illegally demolishes a home.

This article appears in two parts in Daily News & Analysis on the 6th of November, 2012. Photos of the day can be viewed here.

Residents of Sion Koliwada showed all the documents to the police officers at Sion Police Station, prima facie evidence of forged signatures on consent forms and proof that a few people who signed, died long before they apparently gave consent to the builder. Instead, the police had to pay heed to a High Court order asking for them to provide protection for the building of a boundary wall across the village and they showed up on Monday, the fifth of November.

This is irrespective of the fact that the protesting residents of Sion Koliwada have a number of cases against the builder in the High Court.

Meanwhile, residents still stayed back from work, and decided to protest against the construction. But ever since their experience with mass arrests last May, the residents made a tactical choice to let the builder construct his wall, provided he does that and nothing else. The case in question was filed by the previous society of Sion Koliwada (who the remaining residents accused of fraud) complaining about slow work against the BMC and the state, without making the protesting residents as a party in the case.

The construction of the walls resumed with one of the first actions of the police to direct the removal of a small tent at Sion Koliwada where most of the residents conduct their meetings, or watch TV, wondering how the few TV Journalists who visited them, documented their lives.

After that, through hurls of abuse, the demolition/construction crew started to break down remnants of homes already demolished, and then moved to the door of the home of 85 year old Rozi Francis Patil whose house was disputed between the BMC and the 85 year old Rozi and her family. While residents loudly protested against the demolition of the door, repeatedly asserting that the police has a high court order that only asks for the building of a wall, the contractors relented and moved away from her home.

However, once the wall was built around Rozi’s home, cutting off her neighbours from view, an overenthusiastic contractor ensured it turned into rubble.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police promised to file a case against him, while builder Sudhakar Shetty of Sahana Developers claims that the disputed building belonged to them as the BMC had sealed it, and handed it over to them.

Short silences in moments of chaos

The Sparrow: Lily Peso left her work today as a stenographer and came to look after her 85 year old mother Rosie’s home in Sion, afraid that it might be levelled for the wall. She sits alone by her door, quietly, watching the labourers build their walls in what used to be her yard.

‘Why are you sitting alone?’ I asked

‘I am like a sparrow. Do you know the story of the sparrow and the tree? Once a tree falls and all the sparrows leave the tree except one. And that sparrow stayed near her broken tree and cried and just refused to move. Then Goddess Indra comes and asks the sparrow what is the matter. The sparrow says that I grew up with this tree, she lived happily here, and ate her fruits, lived in her shade, how can I leave it? And then the Goddess made the tree again and all the sparrows came back.’

‘I am here now alone, just remembering the place where I grew up.’

The labour: More than three dozen labourers were picked up from the Nakas, promised 400 rupees for a days work. Nasirul, who lives in a slum in Mumbai Central says: ‘They lied to us.’

‘They told us we only had to do some fencing work, not that we had to barge into people’s homes to do it.’

‘This is all wrong, we shouldn’t be doing it.’

‘Have you done work for the government before, like this? Even during demolition drives?’

‘Yes, and they never tell you that’s the work they’re taking you for.’

The Sellout: Kalpesh Shivkar, screams at the crowd, at his angry ex-neighbours, at his friends, ‘I just took five lakhs, what have I done? What have you done for me?’

In May of this year 25 people went to jail trying to protect his home from being demolished. They were arrested for rioting when they lay down before the bulldozer that was menacingly crawling to break down his walls.

The journalists:  Journalist A: ‘A white girl got raped in Bandra today, I don’t think anyone will come to report what is happening in Sion now.’

Journalist B: ‘I work for ____ media, owned by the Pawars.’

‘And they will let you write about this?’

‘We already did before.’

There were only two journalists at Sion Koliwada today.

The Detained: Resident of Sion Koliwada, a young professor B. at a prominent college in Mumbai, abused Inspector More, calling him a servant of the builder and he was swiftly taken away and put in a police van.

Police Discourtesy: When things subsided, a group of young boys were gathering when Constable Tely started to scream at them: ‘Are you here to watch a film?’

‘Yes, they are,’ Said Pushpa Shivkar, defending the boys of her village, ‘You have shown them a wonderful film by doing what you did today.’

At this point, Constable Tely started calling Mrs. Shivkar, who is twice her age,

‘madharchod/behenchod.’

Pushpa Shivkar yelled back saying that he should just meet her in civvies and not in his uniform so she could teach him a lesson, and he continued to hurl abuses at her, until another woman took her away.

The Bad Policeman: ‘Are you happy that you don’t have to raise your lathi on anyone today?’ I asked a constable, sweating under his riot gear.

‘Yes.’

‘And how would’ve you felt if you had to?’

‘I would feel nothing.’

‘Ever felt bad for beating up someone?’

‘We usually give warnings, if they don’t listen, then that’s it. And it is my duty.’

The Good Policemen: In the middle of the afternoon, two policemen, one Tukaram Jadhav was more interested in sharing riddles, lively laughter and mathematical wisdom with two happy school-going girls, away from all of the arguments and the abuse that flowed between the residents and the police.

‘If you have to cut a long pipe into 2002 pieces, how many times do you cut it?’

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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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Season Of Encounters: Part Two

January 25, 2011

Kaliamani Jhodia’s eleven year old daughter was arrested as an alleged Maoist on the 14th of December, 2010 at Dhobasil village of Rayagada District.

Widow Hasmani Jhodia’s twenty-two year old daughter Sabita was also arrested on the same day.

This article appears in the New Indian Express on the 30th of January,2011.

To understand what happened in Khurigan(Basangmali), Rayagada district where nine alleged Maoists were killed in an ‘encounter/ambush’ on the 8th of January, one has to look into an incident on the 14th of December 2010, where in the village of Dhobasil in Kashipur block, five alleged Maoists, including two minors were arrested in what is described in the police FIR as ‘a meeting’ with ‘weapons training.’

According to the police First Information Report, the police had ‘prior information’ that a meeting was taking place near ‘Singamui jungle,’ so they had embarked on an operation, where they would eventually discover a meeting of 25-30 Maoists cadres along with 10 to 15 other supporters engaged in ‘weapons training’. Along with the five arrested, the FIR even goes on to mention the following names in the FIR as the ‘Details of known/suspected/unknown/accused’ – Rabi, Lenju, Mamata, Kamala, who’d all be killed in the encounter, along with Sabyasachi Panda, the most-wanted Maoist leader of Orissa, and then, Lado Sikaka, one of the Dongria Kondh leaders of the Niyamgiri movement, already featured in a farcical photo-op session with Rahul Gandhi, and even Bhagaban Majhi, an activist of the Prakrutik Sampark Surakhya Parishad whose movement has long struggled against bauxite mining and the Utkal Alimuna International Limited – a struggle that led to innumerable false cases and arrests, regular protests of over 5000 people, road blockades and it all culminated in a police firing at Maikanch on the 16th of December, 2000, when the police fired and killed three men and wounded another seven.

In the FIR regarding the 14th of December ‘encounter’, the Inspector-In charge of Kalyansinghpur police station claims that, ‘Most of them had put on olive green dresses. From the dress code and the firearms with them, I became confirm that they are the members of the banned CPI (Maoist) organization.’ The OIC then claims to have repeatedly asked them to surrender, after which the Maoists fired back to ‘kill and demoralize the police party’, and the police would fire two rounds, and the Maoists then ‘took to their heels in the jungle.’

Eventually the police managed to apprehend five people including two young girls. One girl, Koni Jhodia is aged 11, as per the ration card prepared on the 1st of August, 2010, yet in the FIR she is mentioned to be 16 years old.

‘On taking search of the kit bag of Kani Bijaya Jhodia,’ Continues the FIR, ‘it was found that the kit bag was containing 03 numbers of gelatin sticks,’ Yet according to the villagers of Dhobasil, she had run into the house when she saw the police approaching, and was dragged out from there. Sabita Jhodia (22 years old), was also sleeping in her house when she was kicked and dragged out of the village.

According to the villagers of Dhobasil, around 20 members of the police in civilian clothes had come to their village with two other men, and started to ask for Sabita Jhodia, a young woman/alleged Maoist who returned to her village, after leaving her abusive husband.

‘They put a gun to my neck and asked me where was Sabita.’ Claims Koni Jhodia’s older brother, Beladhara. At this point, the other two men were being kept by the police in the middle of the hamlet, along with Sabita’s younger sister Lalita. They only let Lalita go, once they had Sabita, who was dragged out of her house. Finally, they had gone to the Kondh hamlet of Dhobasil, and taken away Jodi Jhodia d/o Shyam (wrongly identified as Anjali), who was also ten years old, claims her older pregnant sister, who adds, ‘it was all Sabita’s fault.’

‘After they took them away, we thought they’d be killed.’ Says Kaliapani Jhodia, mother of Koni.

Dhobasil is a small village of two hamlets, one belonging to the Kondhs, and another to the Jhodias. The Jhodia hamlet has nine homes, and it is a hamlet where the people have ration cards, but they don’t get ration, where they have NREGA cards, but they don’t get work, where they have electric poles and wiring, but they don’t get electricity, and the families live on the edge of hunger, surviving on a little semme (beans) and some imli. Add to that, the Jhodias are not even recognized as tribals by the government, meaning: they can starve and die like the tribals, but they can’t live like them.

They are tribals living on tribal lands who are not entitled to the laws to protect them from land alienation.

The Anti-mining Activists

Bulika Miniaka, of Barigaon village in Kashipur block has been fighting against land alienation for over 15 years now. He, himself, was one of the Kondh leaders who was in jail for over four months in 2004-2005, when the police had come to his village on the 9th of December 2004. Today, combing operations often disrupt life in his village of over 180 homes.

‘This land is ours, this jungle is ours, these rivers are ours, these trees are ours, and who are these police people to come here? What do they want? Why are they here?’ Says Bulika Minika.

Three unmarried girls from Barigaon, Sunita Miniaka d/o Massi, Seboh Miniaka d/o Sapora and Phulkoh Miniaka d/o of Uchaba, were killed in the encounter on the 8th of January. The people of Barigaon were not informed of their deaths, and only discovered it once they saw the newspapers.

‘Who are the police to kill these people?’ Continues Bulika, ‘And those you kill, you should at least, tell us, you killed.’

The people of Barigaon held a feast in their honour, as per Kondh tradition. The three people killed in Maikanch led to the stalling of the UTKAL project, albeit unsuccessfully, and a judicial enquiry offered no justice to the adivasis. The three killed as Maoists opens the newest chapter to the adivasis of Kashipur who have been fighting the companies since 1993.

Meanwhile, Bhagaban Majhi was completely unperturbed by his name being mentioned in an FIR involving Maoists. For one, there has always been a reason why Bhagawan Majhi would be targeted. There is a song he often sings before every gathering or meeting for thousands of adivasis who protest against the companies who not only displace but cause irreparable pollution.

Hawa, Hawa, Company Hawa,

Wind, wind, company wind

Blowing all over Odisha.

 

Let us stand together for justice.

We will save our mother earth

And redeem ourselves.

 

We will not hand over our land to these companies,

Let us all stand together,

Don’t just watch us and wait.

Don’t you see the danger?

 

What we are facing today,

You will face tomorrow.

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Land Nor Freedom

August 23, 2010

Nahi denge zameen!’ (we won’t give our land) – said one villager of Lohandiguda, as over 150 villagers – Sarpanches and ward members with their families, stood up, and walked out of the meeting with government officials on the 12th of May of this year. In 2005, the villagers in Lohandiguda didn’t even know their land was up for acquisition by Tata Steel – they learnt about it after they read the newspapers.

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 22nd of August, 2010.

Villagers from Lohandiguda walk out of a meeting held with government officials on the 12th of May, 2010.

It is a known fact that the Adivasis have existed long before there was any idea of India. And there are estimates that there has been more displacement by development projects in India than by the Partition, and a majority of the displaced have been Adivasis.

It’s therefore not surprising that the Maoists don’t believe that India has attained independence. In a school in the liberated-zones of Dantewada, a lone poster of Chandrashekar Azad remains, there’s no sign of Gandhi or Nehru. In the Red Corridor, the Maoist squads go to schools in the middle of their Independence Day celebrations, remove the tricolour, holster up a black flag, distribute sweets or biscuits to the children and leave.

63 years after independence, the history of the tribals in Independent India has been wrought by promises never kept.

In 1955, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had addressed an All India Conference of Tribes in Jagdalpur, Bastar District of Chhattisgarh (Then Madhya Pradesh) and had said: ‘Wherever you live, you should live in your own way. This is what I want you to decide yourselves. How would you like to live? Your old customs and habits are good. We want that they should survive but at the same time we want that you should be educated and should do your part in the welfare of the country.’

Today, Rights guaranteed to the tribals by the constitution, embodied in the PESA are floundered routinely all across the Fifth Schedule areas. The PESA enables the adivasis to govern themselves through Gram Sabhas, and the state has no right to acquire lands, nor dish out mining leases without the permission of the Gram Sabhas. Yet the State of Chhattisgarh, is using a ‘Colonial-era law’, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, to acquire lands.

‘They asked us to hold a Gram Sabhas and there was police everywhere.’ Said one of the village-leaders of Sirisguda, in a meeting with the Express a few days ago, ‘And yet we said no to Tata!’

Nevertheless, the next day, all the local newspapers were reporting that the villagers of Lohandiguda had accepted Tata’s plan for acquisition. This pattern would repeat itself regularly throughout the years. A public hearing would be held, the villagers would say no, and the local press would print their assent.

‘We always say no! And you write yes!’ they screamed at the press at Lohandiguda.

Today, the discrepancies in numerous Gram Sabha resolutions and public hearings held in Chhattisgarh rarely find any report in the Chhattisgarh press, nor the national press, but only in a citizen-run initiative called CGNet Swara.

CGnet Swara is an innovative audio-based news service. One simply has to call 08041137280 from their mobile phones, and can either press 1 to record news, or 2 to listen to the news. After some cross-checking, the moderators release the recordings, which include reports on public rallies, discrepancies in the PDS, water issues, medical issues, arrests of activists, fake encounters, child labour issues, anti-liquor campaign issues, and every issue governing adivasi and village life.

Yet they have been particularly useful in bypassing a compromised local press and giving grass-root reports about public hearings. For instance, a public hearing held on the 5th of May, this year in Dantewada district, regarding the NMDC in Kirandul, was considered fraudulent as many of the villages who’d be directly affected by the project weren’t even present during the hearing.

‘The public hearing was held 50 kilometres away from the affected villages, and the people at the hearing were contractors and other lackeys of the NMDC.’ Said a news report from CGNet Swara, in Hindi.

Similarly, another public hearing was held in Raigarh district in Chhattisgarh on the 3rd of July organized by Hind Multiservices for a 15,000 TPA Ferro Alloy Plant, where the affected villagers weren’t even informed of the hearing.

‘Only 32 people showed up, mostly activists, and it is safe to say, there are no affected villagers here because they were not informed. This whole hearing was a farce.’ Said another news report from CGnet Swara.

Each report from CGnet Swara explicitly begins to highlight the muted voice of the adivasis in their own fate, whether it is the public hearing or the Gram Sabha. And this brings us to an interesting Censored Chapter.

The Censored Chapter

A recent study by the Institute of Rural Management, commissioned by the Panchayat Raj Ministry, on the functioning of Panchayat Raj highlighted the violations in the Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) act, or PESA. To quote:

‘The central Land Acquisition Act of 1894 has till date not been amended to bring it in line with the provisions of PESA and to recognize the Gram Sabha, while a newer bill meant to replace it is yet to be tabled in parliament. At the moment, this colonial-era law is being widely misused on the ground to forcibly acquire individual and community land for private industry.’

‘In several cases, the practice of the state government is to sign high profile MOUs with corporate houses (Government of Jharkhand 2008 and IANS, 2010), and then proceed to deploy the Acquisition Act to ostensibly acquire the land for the state industrial corporation. This body then simply leases the land to the private corporation – a complete travesty of the term ‘acquisition for a public purpose’, as sanctioned by the act.’

‘In some cases, administrations run through the motions of a PESA consultation, but in no instance has the opposition expressed by tribal communities to acquisition of their land resulted in a plan for industry being halted, suggesting the disempowerment of the Gram Sabha.’

There was no surprise that the chapter, aptly titled, ‘PESA, Left-Wing Extremism and Governance: Concerns and Challenges in India’s Tribal Districts’ was entirely taken out of the final report released by the government, for it is a damning indictment of the state’s pro-industrial policies. The report even goes on to mention, that the growing strength of the Maoist movement in central India is inextricably linked to the government’s ‘exclusionary’ policies:

‘Some analysts read the resurgence and spread of left-wing extremism as a phenomenon of tribal self-assertion. They point to the co-incidence in the rise of economic reforms and the deepening of the Maoist movement in India’s polity, the latter being a retort to the exclusionary nature of these policies. According to one senior politician, ‘If the state is neglectful and oppressive, as it  has been, it provides the water in which the guerilla fish swim.’ Another senior politician seconded, ‘PESA has not yet been honestly implemented in a single district yet. If it is, we will solve the Naxal problem.’

Lohandiguda also finds mention in the censored chapter of the PESA report.

‘Resident Mahangu Madiya has Rs 55 lakh in his account, but does not even own a mobile phone. He has no use for most such material possessions. Or even this significant sum of money, which he has not touched since it landed in a bank account this January as ‘compensation’ given by the state, in return for acquiring his 35-acre farm for a proposed steel plant. “I am concerned with farming. My land is important to me. What will I do with this money?” asked the middle-aged farmer’.

Eventually, resistance to the land grab began to accentuate. The Communist Party of India had no influence in Lohandiguda before Tata showed up. They only found footing as they’re openly anti-displacement and anti-corporate land grab.  Both the BJP and Congress have supported Tata’s project, but today only CPI party workers, or those explicitly anti-displacement work in Lohandiguda.

‘I remember telling people, that we need to protest first, we need to organize ourselves first, and then only will people come and support us.’ Said Advocate Girju Kashyap, who at some point, was also detained by the police and prevented to appear in court.

Most of his clients are villagers from Lohandiguda with cases slapped against them.

Yet even the CPI has not been able to hold off Tata’s project, and there is a severe sense of frustration with the villagers of Lohandiguda.

The Meeting

Lohandiguda is far from the theatre of war at first sight. Yet there’s a permeable tension that everything shall burn. On the 11th of May, the Naib Tehsildar of Lohandiguda PR Marghya had began a ‘bhoomi puja’ (inauguration ceremony) near the proposed project site for Tata’s steel plant, at Dhuragaon village. A few villagers of Lohandiguda would then beat him up, mistakenly believing, he was commencing with Tata’s project on their land.

The next day the administration decided to talk to ward members and Sarpanches of all the villages of Lohandiguda.

They had asked them to come at three in the afternoon.

On that afternoon, the villagers at Tarkeguda weren’t interesting in attending the meeting. They were busy with a family dispute. A forty-year old lady was being screamed at by her husband and her 20 year old son, as some twenty other villagers sat around them.

Hidmo Ram Mandavi, one of the leaders of Tarkaguda, was almost dismissive of the meeting with the government.

Meanwhile, the story of the family dispute would come to light. The Mother-Wife had apparently gotten drunk and slept with a man half her age.

At some point, her son charged at her in a fit of rage. His mother would scream back at him, asserting her rights. Eventually, she would leave with her young toy boy. Her family screaming at her to never come back.

That’s two more tribals out of Lohandiguda.

Yet eventually the meeting (that the villagers of Tarkeguda didn’t care for) commenced at five in the evening. The Superintendent of Police, the Collectorate and members of the local press arrived to meet villagers who had been waiting for two hours.

Machinegunned policemen spread across the area, surrounding the villagers.

The meeting commenced as the Upper-Collector Fulsingh Netaam stands up and speaks politely to the villagers. He started by speaking about everything the administration has done for the people and how much more they will be doing. The reaction is lukewarm. No one is interested.

‘We will give you land for land,’ he finally said.

‘Where is that land?’ Asked one villager loudly, ‘Show us the land.’

‘It’s there. Don’t worry.’

The meeting only lasted some two minutes after that. One man screams ‘nahi denge zameen’ (we won’t give our land) and the villagers got up raising their fists, screaming at the Collector, the Superintendent of Police and every other official.  An old lady with a baby tied to her chest, stood before all the officials, screamed vociferously, gestured violently and then only walked away.

The police videographed every loud protestor, every violent gesture, and eventually they all drove away.

Meanwhile, the local administration claims that out of the 1707 affected families, 1163 families have already accepted compensation. When asked about alternative land, the Upper-Collector responded, ‘we are ready to give land, but they don’t come to us.’

Many villagers still allege deceit and corruption, and the intimidation and arrests of village leaders who opposed Tata, some of whom were all forced to sign blank sheets of paper.

The most effective tactic employed was however, distrust – turning family members against family members, villagers against villagers.

‘Whoever took Tata’s money should be thrown out of the villages.’ Said an elder from Sirisguda.

Yet many people in Lohandiguda, have refused to withdraw the money that was put into their bank accounts. And no one knows who withdrew their money, and who didn’t. Everyone suspects the other village of accepting compensation, and the other home of taking money.

‘Some people went and took Tata’s money, and spent it, and now they’re back.’ Said the village elder, ‘It’s because of them, things are like this. Some people had to get greedy.’

Photography Post-Script

The meeting on the 12th of May, 2010.



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Dear Chhattisgarh Police, Are You Mad?

July 16, 2010

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 19th of July, 2010

The above photograph is of a bus that was hit by a Maoist IED in 2006. There were only civilians on the bus, no soldiers, and this mangled bus, was the first sign of war I had come across when I had taken the long road from Avapalli to Basaguda on a tractor a long time ago. It told me a lot about the Maoists.

A few months later, a colleague of mine had called me up on the 17th of May, 2010, about the IED blast near Sukma, Dantewada District, targeting a civilian bus, that eventually killed 31 people, ‘The Maoists are targeting civilian buses now?’ She had asked.

‘They’ve always done that, I’m not surprised.’

They’ve always killed civilians with impunity and they’ve also burnt down trains, hacked people to death, and executed unarmed soldiers. And it’s not so hard to have a critical view of the Maoists if you’ve spent enough time in the jungle. Your biases are based on facts.

And I’ve been going in and out for two years now, into ‘Maoist liberated zones’ finding quiet voices of dissent. Villagers who I’d speak to quietly, within their homes, who tell me about how the Maoists beat them, or how they need to keep secrets from them. But for a moment, let’s forget about violence. Let’s agree with Arundhati Roy for a moment – we don’t need a violence-based analysis of the Maoists – as it is, there is no freedom to think, to even express a view contrary to the official party line, in their ‘liberated zones’.  Is that freedom? Or is that tyranny? Aren’t the Maoist-Big Brothers watching you, making sure you don’t commit a thoughtcrime?

And of course, I have even documented atrocities committed by the Maoists on the adivasis themselves.

And a few days ago, to my surprise, the Chhattisgarh police branded me a Maoist agent. And I’m not the only one who receives this ‘honour’ from the police.

When another reporter from a reputed English Daily who works in Chhattisgarh, had called up the then DIG Kalluri about the Tadmetla encounter that left 76 security personnel dead, he was promptly abused.

‘You! You must be celebrating!’ He had screamed at the reporter.

A few days ago, when the same reporter had called up the now Senior Superintendent of Police Kallluri, he abused him again calling him a ‘Naxalite reporter.’

A High Court lawyer from Mumbai was in Dantewada a few days ago and had gone to the police station to speak to the police and understand the ground realities of Dantewada. SSP Kalluri accused him of being a Naxalite informer, and had him locked up in the police station. He was eventually let off the same evening, visibly shaken, after some frantic phone calls.

The very fact that the Chhattisgarh police would rather target civil society activists, opposition party workers and journalists than investigate the Maoists, is explicit proof of their incompetence. A kind of fascinating wife-beating syndrome, where they can’t get the Maoists, so the insecure, frustrated police will go after soft targets like journalists, activists and opposition party members.

They arrested CPI party workers for the attack on Audesh Singh Gautams home, and adivasi CPI leader Manish Kunjam confirmed the same. He, himself, has no police security. It was withdrawn by the police months ago even though there have been numerous threats to his life. He has been openly critical of the Salwa Judum that roams around Bastar, armed to its teeth, and has spoken up against corporate land grab, supporting and helping to organize the anti-displacement movements across Bastar.

Now, according to the police press release that implicated Lingaram Kodopi, Nandini Sundar, Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, I’ve been mentioned as someone who had gone with the Maoists, ‘videographing’ their failed assassination attempt on Audesh Singh Gautam.

Forget that they police don’t know the difference between a ‘photographer’ and a ‘videographer’. Forget that the police don’t know that at 1:00am there’s no light, and videography and photography is useless. And I believe the Maoists have infra-red cameras? Why? Because they’re ‘infra-red’?

Forget that the police allege that I have ‘videographed’ an incident where the Maoists had also injured a child. Why would I then take this photograph and write this article about a young boy whose ‘… right kneecap is filled with shrapnel, and his right shin bone is broken. There are large fragments of steel in his right ankle and a bullet in his left shin.’?

Forget that they accused Lingaram Kodopi of being the mastermind of the attack. Why? Because Lingaram is also from Kuakonda block where the attack took place? Hadn’t the police forced Lingaram to be a SPO a few months ago? And that he’s going to replace Azad now? Lingaram must’ve truly made an impression on the Politburo.

But yes, now the problem arises when a particular police contact of mine calls me up and asks me about my whereabouts on the night of the attack.

‘Why are you asking me these stupid questions? You know the accusations are bullshit.’ I had replied.

‘No, I want to know where you were, so when we’re interrogating you and pulling out your fingernails, we know what you’d say.’ He said sarcastically.

‘Very funny.’

Immediately I became conscious about my fingernails and realized they needed cutting. I’ve also become aware that the Chhattisgarh police, in their long years of dealing with the Maoist movement, have become their own worst enemy.

And if we need to deal with the Maoist insurgency, we need to deal with the police.

Post Script:

Dear, Chhattisgarh police, in response to your accusations about me being a Maoist Agent, I’d like to tell you about something called a ‘conscience’. It’s quite a fragile thing, it’s not an absolute. It doesn’t really control the world nor win anyone any fame or success. In my young naive head, it has no politics, it has no religion, but it says one small thing – that in no way, will I be responsible for the harm of any human being. Everytime I leave for the warzone, I’ve had all but one futile prayer:

a prayer before leaving

I pray that nothing I do makes anything any worse,

I pray that nothing I do makes

life miserable for anyone I leave behind

I pray that I know what the hell I’m doing,

and I pray that I don’t lose my soul.’

And you, the police, think I will accompany the Maoists while they shoot dead sleeping men and fill a child’s leg full of shrapnel? And I will be videographing it? Do you really think so?

That crazy silly little thing called conscience is really that crazy and silly that it ceased to exist? Of course, I’m not stupid enough to believe that what I write, document, or photograph, isn’t being used in a propaganda war by others. And I know, at times, I am being used to document your atrocities on the adivasis by people who don’t believe in human rights themselves.

But do you remember these words – ‘does keeping quiet make anything any better? If I don’t report a single killing, does it cease to exist? If I don’t take pictures of a burnt village, does it cease to exist? If I don’t report a disappeared 12 year old girl, does she cease to exist?’

I wrote that to you the last time you had attacked me for documenting your crimes.

And of course, you wish to use me too in your mad war. You call me up and ask me what Ramanna looks like. Why do you think I was left perturbed? As it is, I have never met him, and had no idea of what he looks like. And you ask me to manipulate another colleague of mine to gather information for you, so you can kill him? Why would I do that? Even though this man is a Maoist and is responsible for the deaths of countless CRPF jawaans, I would in no point feel comfortable about his death because of some stupid information about how tall he is, or how big his nose is. To me, that’s as bad as pulling the trigger myself. And I’d rather go to hell than compromise my conscience. And thanks to you and your kind, I probably will find it on earth.

If I ever had a chance to even sit down with Ramanna with a revolver to point to his head, or a pen, I’d pick the pen and I’d do what I do. Which is write. Which is to speak up. Which is to appeal to them. Which is to tell them that killing CRPF Jawaans isn’t going to make the world a better place.

They probably won’t listen to me. But they don’t listen to you either. You can kill all of them. History will not change anything. You will find a thousand more Ramannas.

We’re cogs in a machine, you do your job, and I’ll do mine, and if you think you’re going to tell me how to do mine(by intimidating me), I’ll return the courtesy. Although, I don’t think the words ‘human rights’, or ‘the constitution’ or the ‘rule of law’ are ever going to frighten you. I have two better ones, ‘police reform.’

Coming soon.

Yours truly,

Javed Iqbal

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Yes, Minister, My Sympathies

May 10, 2010

The parents of 19 year-old Channu Mandavi waiting for the police to release the body of their son. Channu Mandavi was shot dead in an encounter as an alleged Maoist in 2009.

This Op-ed appears in The New Indian Express on the 13th of May, 2010.

Sympathy • noun (pl. sympathies) 1 feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. 2 understanding between people; common feeling.3 support for or approval of something. 4 (in sympathy) relating harmoniously to something else; in keeping. 5 the state or fact of responding in a way corresponding to an action elsewhere.

— ORIGIN Greek sumpatheia, from sun- ‘with’ + pathos ‘feeling’.

Mahasweta Devi challenged Chidambaram to put her in jail for 10 years, in response to the centre’s newly found enthusiasm for using the UAPA to arrest so-called Maoists sympathizers. As of now, I truly sympathize with the home minister for being humiliated by a gutsy 84 year-old woman.

Yet sympathy is a thought-crime thanks to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and accordingly, ‘any person who commits the offence of supporting such a terrorist organization with inter alia intention to further the activities of such terrorist organizations would be liable to be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or with fine or with both.’

I like to place some emphasis on ‘intention to further the activities’ of the Maoists. Since we have brought public debate on Operation Green Hunt down to the ludicrous and the farcical, I’d like to ask one question: who has really furthered the activities of the Maoist any more than the exploitive economic policies of the state and their counter-insurgency tactics? I mean, what’s more useful to the Maoists, a Writ Petition filed by activists for the adivasis, or the state’s security apparatus that terrorizes the population on mere suspicion and suppresses dissent and civil society?

Maoist sympathizers, or supporters, according to the state, are simply anyone who stands up for the rights of the adivasi. Not long ago in the Supreme Court, an accusation was hurled at just-another-activist who was fighting for the rights of the adivasi, for being a Maoist supporter. The response by the judges was fitting. ‘Suppose somebody fights their (victims) case, so what does that imply? First you say they are Naxals, then you say they are sympathisers, then you say they are sympathisers of sympathisers… Why all these innuendos?’

‘Sympathy is fighting for their cause (victims). Nobody is advocating their cause. They are not saying their action should be condoned.’

And who is really advocating the Maoist cause? Anyone with even half a brain would know that even if the Maoists do capture state power, we’d merely be dealing with a whole bunch of clowns, who’d merely shoot the students at JNU, if there was even a single squeak of dissent.

And unfortunately I need to have yet another fashionable pot-shot at Mr. Chidambaram whose policies are single-handedly the greatest support for the Maoists to help ‘further their activities’. First, let’s start with the Salwa Judum, that was given unbridled freedom to do as it pleases – burn, rape, loot and murder in every place that was known to have a strong Maoist presence, and the Maoists had the last laugh – as recruitment was an all-time high. How much did the Salwa Judum help to ‘further the activities’ of the Maoists? Does the centre now know that the Salwa Judum had even burnt down villages that had no Maoist links? And killed people who had no grudge against the state?

That the same misguided counterinsurgency rationale is being used again with Operation Green Hunt, is indicative enough that the centre learnt nothing from the terrible experiment that was the Salwa Judum. COBRA battalions that are directly under the Union government have been singlehandedly responsible for a majority of adivasi deaths since September of last year.

Counterinsurgency isn’t really an exact science – it’s a methodology of killing, of keeping kill-ratios, of area domination. It’s really measured by ‘who is more effective to terrorize the local population’ – the insurgents or the state? And both the state and the Maoists are trapped in their own contradictions, they exist violently for the other is – the brutal killing of alleged informants by the Maoists as a deterrence, follows the same logic of the state that brutally cracks down on the local adivasi population that it considers ‘supporters’.

‘Agar woh Maovadi the ya nahi, woh unke supporter toh the.’ (whether they were Maoists or not, they were definitely their supporters)’, Said a forest official to me about the Singaram massacre of 2009, when 19 tribals were killed.

We know the home minister believes that the state has a philosophical right to violence, yet so does the right to fight back that is very easily propagated to the Adivasis of Dandakaranya. And the Maoist version of the truth, is truth to the adivasi who has no other option.

It’s almost impossible not to sympathize (emotionally) with everyone in such terrifying consequences.

‘Naxali hai bimari, hum hai dhulayi.’ Said an inspector to me at Kirandul, during a ‘casual chat’ outside the police station. We were all waiting for the police to release the body of a 19 year-old adivasi boy to his parents.

Adivasi women don’t weep – they cry in song, a rhythm of grief, and Channu’s mother ‘sung’ continuously for over two hours outside the police station. Fifteen feet beyond barbwire, an autopsy was being conducted on her son, in the open, shielded from the eyes of the passing world, by blue tarpaulin sheets. She sung across barbwire until two SPOs with masked faces yelled at her to get lost. That if she wants to cry for her son, she shouldn’t do it in front of the police station.

Meanwhile, the inspector would tell me his own version of ‘1084 ki Ma’. There was yet another encounter in Bastar and an old frail woman had come to the police station all the way from Andhra Pradesh to claim the body of her son.

After putting her son onto the bullock-cart, she stoically, turned towards the inspector and told him that this was her second son who was a Maoist, who was killed in an encounter.

The callous inspector had sympathized.

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Propagating Peace: draft 1

December 3, 2009

I have written this on the presumption that the leaders of our country and the Naxalite parties are really sincere about the idea of peace. This is, of course, a big presumption. It is also a big presumption that a war motivated by economic means can find a peaceful resolution.

Yet I had to write this, barring my naiveté, my own desperation, to bring myself to entertain a foolish hope, and obviously, to help clarify my position as a journalist, and my motivations as a human being.

Questioning the idea of peace talks between the Government of India and the Maoists

We’re constantly talking about ‘addressing the socio-economic problem’ that feeds the Naxalite base yet no one is yet to tell me how to address it, and to whom, and when?

Answer: if anyone is aware of what happened at Andhra Pradesh in 2004, peace talks between the Government of India and the CPI (Maoist) Party, as of now would lead to nothing. The government isn’t going to turn the entire system upside-down nor are the revolutionary parties ever going to lay down their arms considering what it really took them to gain them. Neither party has anything to lose as of now, nor anything to gain from peace talks. The further the military operation continues, the further the base of the Naxalites shall grow and the further the GOI manages to destroy the sustainable livelihoods of agrarian societies that have existed for thousands of years without outside interference, the further they can justify industrial development.

(On another note: Mr.Chidambaram, why can’t we allow the agricultural sector to grow to feed out GDP? Don’t you think, considering that more than 70% of this country lives in rural India, we’d have a phenomenal rate of growth if they, the poor, and not corporations, were allowed profit?)

Now, let us get back to the topic of peace talks, which at this present moment, seems as improbable as hell freezing over.

A few days ago, I met Shankaran of the Committee of Concerned Citizens. In all my time being confronted with the tragedies of the Naxalite issue, somewhere within the room with that gentle old man, I could sense one of the graver tragedies of this whole mesh of violence and counter-violence. He holds himself morally accountable to the failures of the talks, for he was in a position to do something. Yet the talks fell apart. Clause 7 was a monster. Both parties blamed the other for the failure of the talks. Violence erupts. Bloodshed. Silence. And the violence spilled over to other states.

Irrespective of how the Centre views the Andhra model of dealing with the Maoists, one shouldn’t discount the obvious truth that there is relative peace in Andhra because all the violence shifted to other districts. Most of the higher-up Naxalites in those districts are from Andhra Pradesh. And now things are a lot more complicated. This isn’t just about the peace talks between the Government of Andhra Pradesh and the Naxalites. Now, there’s the Salwa Judum, respective state governments, corporate interests, the Government of India and the international stage  – a spotlight for the Naxalites, for each and every one of those buses that they set alight in the last four years as a form of protest. And all of this, is for the poor, invisible, oppressed poor. This of course, is another big presumption.

Now, the issue has our attention. Now, we must talk. First, let us differentiate between ‘dialogue’ and ‘peace talks.’

Peace talks, as the Naxalites coming out of their hideouts to meet the GOI leaders, is an act of idiocy considering that the IB will be trailing every shadow and the reclusive Politburo members know that.

Peace talks are theatrical and we don’t need drama, we need an environment where dialogue is possible – where debate is possible – debate that is followed by sustainable action on the ground. We, firstly, obviously need a bilateral ceasefire. A cessation on the use of IEDs, the killing of so-called informants, and the targeting of off-duty policemen as a matter of sport. We need a cessation on the murder of SPOs, their families and members of the Salwa Judum. We need a cessation of fake encounters and combing operations that always seem to only further aggravate the general population who always believed that this war would never touch them. As I have said before, just because every fake encounter and burning of a village is not reported in the mainstream press, it doesn’t mean that it ceases to exist – it doesn’t mean that it fails to act as a stimulus to push grieving, desperate villagers over the edge.

This entire campaign against the free press and the ‘no access’ idea that the government is trying to impose onto brave and insane muckraking reporters and activists is also highly questionable. I think, this has to do with the idea of hubris more than credibility – as it is, the Indian government doesn’t have much credibility in the Red Corridor, and I don’t know why it’s trying to protect itself from the crimes it commits in the Dantewadas and Lalgarhs.

The adivasis are very well aware of who they kill, and it’s easy for them to know that, as they are the ones who are being killed. But it’s not the adivasis who the government wants to hide the truth from – it’s the higher-upper-middle classes. The government doesn’t care a hoot about what the adivasis think of them. The adivasis are not one unit – they do not possess a political unity as other groups do. This disunity does not seriously threaten them. The starvation deaths of the Birhors do not affect the Baiga who are being displaced, or the Muria who are being hunted down or turned against one another, or the Dongria-Kondh who helplessly watch their Mountain God chewed up by mining companies.

The state pays little to no attention to them and I don’t remember a single time in the recent past, that it’s even seriously considered their grievances. Mr.Chidambaram’s upcoming public hearing in Dantewada is a positive step, but it is a redundant public relations stunt unless it is followed up with serious policy changes. And it must address the people who live further in the jungles. These are tribes that have existed for centuries without outside interference and they can very well exist for centuries without them, provided their symbiotic relationship to the jungle is kept intact. And that is the very thing they’d be coming to him for – their jal, jangal, jameen – their lives.

Along with another very certain thing – they’d want security, thus they’d want a cessation of combing operations – a military ceasefire.

And along with a military ceasefire, it is absolutely imperative that we have a ‘cultural’ ceasefire – where there is freedom to express your views without a witch-hunt, freedom to resist the state, to portray dissent, without being branded off as a ‘naxalite sympathizer’, (yet what is a Naxalite sympathizer really? It is quite contentious as it is and some clarity is required. And of this, we shall get to, as well). Yet coming back to a cultural ceasefire, we need a guarantee that not all resistance movements are branded off as ‘Maoist fronts’, simply so the state can justify violence onto them. No one gave the Maoists a monopoly over resistance movements but the Government and the media itself.

Now, we need a guarantee that grievances are addressed and calling for more troops becomes unnecessary. Let all the men who scream for blood drink their own.

Of course, the greater emphasis is on the Maoists themselves for an initiative for peace. To an extent, they are morally responsible for the well-being of the people they represent. They can’t possibly take them through a brutal war for political power. The adivasi way of life is already under threat and the poor bear the brunt of police action. How many fake encounters and how many arbitrary arrests have taken place, one will never know. The pervasive environment of fear and suspicion has driven all sides to commit atrocities and this isn’t benefiting anyone but those who thrive in war and benefit from it. This environment of fear has further been exacerbated by the ‘no access’ policies of the administration. Hopefully, the upcoming Satyagraha and Padhyatra in Dantewada would help to negate this fear and help to create an environment for peace.

One of the reasons I talk to the villagers, is for this reason – for an environment for dialogue, for understanding, for truth.  For applicable dialogue, you need reality – a stone to shatter any idea of a status quo that defends itself with nothing but brute force. For dialogue, you need to shatter the myths – every policeman is a monster, every Naxalite is a monster, and death and murder is the only solution – no, it is not, no, they are not, and no matter how much we’re trying to demonize one another, I can guarantee to you that peace is possible. And this is not a war between gun-toting Naxalites and policemen and neat little terms for innocent civilians such as ‘collateral damage’. Mothers don’t call their dead children collateral damage, and orphans will never grow up to think their parents were just collateral damage. We must shatter the myths of a public that believes war is for heroism and the protection of good over evil. Let the people know what war is – visceral and brutal beyond words, it exists beyond abstractions, beyond concepts of nations, ideologies and heroism.

***

It shouldn’t be easy for the manufacture of consent to war in the country of Gandhi, even though it surprisingly is. It shouldn’t be easy for us to be complicit in the murder of peoples who did no wrong to anyone, even though it always has been. Let us leave our comfort zones and put ourselves on the front lines.

And this is why we need aggressive reporting. Why every drop of blood must be investigated. Why every voice must be heard.

In Sri Lanka, the murder of the free press made it easier for the general public to accept denial. The voices of dissent were systematically shot down. Because there was no real free press, the issue of atrocities and war crimes became a question of tit-for-tat violence and idiotically-justified eye-for-an-eye counter-violence; along with whether atrocities were taking place, or not – when in reality, there shouldn’t have been any question about whether they were taking place or not, and their legitimacy should be questioned – yes, so we’re killing innocent people, is this the best that we can do in this situation? Do they deserve it? Or is there an alternative? Can we have dialogue?

Now, dialogue is unimportant with particular Islamic fundamentalist groups who only call for the entire destruction of people.  The question of dialogue is important in this case, because the Naxalites claim to be representing an oppressed people whose oppression cannot, under any circumstances, be disregarded. To an extent, this claim to representation is entirely justified, and is further inevitable, every time the security forces enter villagers and behave as naturally as they usually do – taking the psychology of a soldier, out of fear and hatred, atrocity is inevitable.

The Naxalites, meanwhile are not stupid enough to believe that there will be no collateral damage every time they fire on off-duty policemen or blow up anti-landmine vehicles with landmines. The villages adjacent to these attacks often bear the brunt of state repression. Yet what do we see? We see state repression – not the fact that the Naxalites helped to manifest a situation where the biggest losers are the innocent people who had nothing to do with what happened.

Someday, I shall meet revolutionaries who fight for the people but don’t expect the people to fight and die for them. Someday.

Propagating a peaceful environment: step 1

The first thing we need to do is to get the Arnab Goswamis of the media to shut up. If that bigoted idiot even uses ‘Maoists’ and ‘Taliban’ in the same sentence, I’m going to personally take him into the red corridor and leave him to the hospitality of the so-called Maoist sympathizers – villages of the Muria where there’d be no electricity, no healthcare, no ration, no nothing and everyday they live in fear of being raided by the security forces – of losing their loved ones, their homes, their lives. And let him be fed their rice even when they have none for themselves, and let him try to write them off as ‘collateral damage.’

Most people often race to judgments as a matter of closure. No one wants to sit out and sift through all the details. Details make mediocre minds uncomfortable. One simple conclusion is enough – the Naxalites are bad and we must kill them, or the state and the police are working for corporate interests and it must be stopped. The media, of course, has the most blame for this. It plays by the nouns and it dies by them. People go off screaming bloody murder on the ‘naxalite sympathizer’ and does anyone have any idea what a ‘naxalite sympathizer’ is?

Semantically speaking, a majority of the so-called intelligentsia and general public are ‘tribal sympathizers’ and 90% of the Naxalites are tribals, fighting for their land, fighting for their homes, fighting for their families, and most have little to no option in securing another choice – it is a matter of geography – they live in areas where the state has never entered – places where they have grown up their whole lives, or have their land. As the women of Tatemargu would say: ‘if you want to live here, you need to bear a few beatings.’

And what sympathies do these people have for the Naxalites? Do they send Hallmark cards to the Politburo members for Chairman Mao’s birthday? They mostly, wish for the Naxalites to leave them alone. And pray not, all of the higher-up Naxalites, are evil gun-toting madmen. The late Anuradha Gandhi, Kobad Gandhi’s wife, is still spoken of affectionately by the adivasis of Kutroo block – one of the bastions for the Salwa Judum. The same people would still go about to insult other members of the Dalam or the ‘higher-ups’ whose atrocities they remain witnesses of. Yet she remains closer to their hearts.

This, of course brings us to a question for the Naxalites that I can also ask the Indian government: do you have a free press and a judicial system where you can be held accountable for the crimes you commit on the adivasis?

Now this also brings us to the other breed of the ‘Naxalite sympathizer’. The lawyers and the activists and the social workers who have bled their souls dry, trying to make this democracy, a democracy. After failure, after failure, after failure, they sit down and watch all their efforts go in vain. A failing judicial system, a failing administration and peaceful protests that accomplish nothing as the people who they represent lose faith in them and their courts, and their means. If the government fails these people, what other option do they have? What purpose do you serve by arresting the Chhatradhar Mahatos of the country? What purpose do you serve by brutally repressing peaceful resistance movements? By murdering soldiers/social activists such as Colonel Pratap Save and Gangaram Kalundia who were one of your own, who stood up for the poor, the oppressed?

‘Fine then, you don’t want to deal with us through the courts and peaceful protests, you can go deal with those fellas.’

Of course, a majority of the people who have those moments of weakness go back to sleep and wake up in the morning to continue in their absurd existences, their spirits unbroken, their throbbing hearts still yearning for the days where justice shall be something definable, something graspable. Of course, the world shall never change, we’d all keep fighting all our days, today, this government, tomorrow another. It’s the means to struggle that change, the ends remain the same – a distant dream.

Violent insurrection itself, is an absurd means. The only difference between the peaceful protest – the rock held in a fist and violent insurrection, is catharsis. Violence is catharsis. It is Fanon’s Wretched Earth. And if someone crosses over the line, they’re entering a world where the idea of justice will get far more convoluted, especially if you manage to keep your conscience. For the revolutionary with a conscience, the justification of murder can only be justified by the utopian dream. Yet what happens if there is no utopian dream? What happens to the justification of murder when the utopian dream gets more distant by the day, and all one is left with, is a compulsion to continue the violence, to continue the pursuit of the dream, justifying murder after murder after murder, for that is the only way out of the trap?

Today we have the Law, a bruised, battered abstract that is flouted and abused and left a toothless abstraction, and I see, some of them, chose the gun as a means for justice. Tomorrow, if they smash it all to bits, what shall I be doing? I shall still be documenting their crimes, I shall still be taking them to court. The struggle shall go on. Just the means shall change.

And right now, the guns need to be holstered, for they can be. You can fight your war with policy changes, with dialogue, by shifting back to a development-centric model that actually considers the grievances of the poor – a drought, a failing crop, encroaching corporations, land rights. To the poor, those are the ends – not the annihilation of the Maoists, nor the bringing down of the semi-bourgeoisie, semi-imperialist Government and all that yahoo.

The poor don’t want iron ore mines, nor do they want a market democracy. They want their land, they want their livelihoods, they want their environment. They want their handpumps and their roads. They want healthcare. And most importantly, they want their security and that can only be guaranteed by all warring parties yet someone has to take the initiative and declare unilateral ceasefire if the other does not.

War against your own people is an act of genocidal seppuku. Eventually, we shall reach a point where too many people shall be killed and there’d be no more turning back (if we haven’t reached that point already), and I shudder to know that there shall be a time, where the truth shall be, that violence is justified. And I know I am not just being a peacenik here.

During one of my visits to Bijapur in Chhattisgarh in January of this year, I met an experienced inspector who told me something very interesting. His superior, the Superintendent of Police had asked him what he’d need to deal with the Naxalites. He replied that even if he had ten battalions, he still wouldn’t have managed to do anything about the Naxalites. He was aware that there is no military solution to this insurgency and there never has been. The world is wrought with insurgencies today. And everywhere, where there is an insurgency, there’s a cruel repressive state machinery at place. This is the cause-effect-cause problem of our age. Terror breeds terror breeds terror. Action breeds reaction breeds reaction. Ad infinitum.

Unless there is dialogue. Unless there is restraint. Unless there can be an environment created that is capable of peace. This environment is impossible as the killings continue, and there are obviously two parties culpable. Rage and vengeance knows no dialogue, no words, no hopes – there’s an unfathomable darkness in that jungle that knows no politics, no human rights, no chairman Mao, no Chidambaram, no neo-liberalism: it knows nothing but sheer terror – death, the machine, hidden from the world, where people die and continue to die.

Of course, I met another policeman during that same period who told me something else, he said, ‘f— your human rights, and we can fix this whole problem.’

I think we know who among the two policemen, is having the last laugh now. Tomorrow, I shall f— my human rights and not call back. After all, who in this country is really being accountable for their actions?