Archive for the ‘Internal Colonialization’ Category

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Anatomy of a self-destructing system

September 2, 2013

(21 of 147)

This article appears in the Sunday Guardian on the 1st of September, 2013.

Another demolition drive at Sion Koliwada and the practice of claiming agency by the residents to prevent it has a lot to say about the way an administration has been co-opted by the market

The notice for demolitions at Sion Koliwada had arrived a day after Independence Day. It was in January of this year, that mass protests by slumdwellers across Mumbai led to the Principal Secretary, Housing, Debashish Chakravarti by direction of the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan to order a stay on demolition drives on six rehabilitation projects across the city where residents have alleged fraud and forgery by the builders.

But it was the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Ward Office of F North in Mumbai, who passed an ‘allotment’ notice (allotment is another euphemism for demolition) on the 16th of August.

From the moment the notice arrived, to the first brick that would fall in the coming days, the actions and practice of agency by the Kolis of Sion Koliwada, who marched from government office to office, to the reactions from police officials, and the administration, have a lot to say about a system where checks and balances are now completely flatlined, and the state is one homogenous monolith that has no space for the discourse of rights and it is time once again to acknowledge the role of the market as the new dharma of state officials.

The Core Committee of Sion Koliwada, comprising of young men and women, armed with prima facie evidence of forgery, countless documents acquired through the Right To Information Act, detailing discrepancy after discrepancy in the project, had one afternoon, on the 29th of April, sat with the Principal Housing Secretary, the Builder’s coterie of lawyers and armed guards, and members of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, and would finish their presentation at the hearing, leaving the builder’s lawyers with nothing to say, or respond. If that was an indication of the worth of a democratic institution, than their morale, their belief in the system that day, was justified. And would be further justified a few months later when Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte had ordered that the builder’s vast steel fence that had hidden Sion Koliwada from the world, to be removed.

Yet irrespective of that, and the constant delay of the publication of the inquiry report by the state, the demolition notice would arrive. A timeline from the 16th of August, to the 21st of August, has to be observed to reveal the schizophrenia of dealing with the state. The notice arrives, much to everyone’s chagrin and after discussions amongst the protesting residents, they realized they wouldn’t challenge it in court, as their matter is already under inquiry by Debashish Chakravarti, which was promised to have been finished by the 15th of May, and has not, till date.

They would decide to hold meetings with the Chief Minister, the Home Minister and the Chief Municipal Commissioner, but they did not take place initially, as no one was admitted to an audience with any state official on a Sunday.

Their first meeting would only take place on Monday, 19th of August, with the Chief Minister’s personal secretary, who quickly called up the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, and asked him on what basis did he issue an order on the Sion Koliwada case. Reportedly, the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Sudhir Naik, claimed he didn’t know there as a stay order, and the outcome of this conversation with the Personal Secretary and the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, in front of Sion’s protesting residents, was a verbal confirmation that there would be no demolitions.

The delegation of the residents then went straight to the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Sudhir Naik, and requested that they recieve a stay order in writing, and he confirmed that he would contact Assistant Commissioner Narendra Berde who passed the first notice and sort it out with him. They were told that they would get their written order by seven in the evening. They waited till 7:30. Nothing happened. It was only as they managed to catch Mr.Sudhir Naik as he was leaving office, that he said they should come the next day in the morning, as they still require the signature of Sitaram Kunte, the Chief Municipal Commissioner.

The delegation arrives the next morning on the 20th of August, and finds Sitaram Kunte in a meeting. They returned in the afternoon and they still found him in a meeting. In the evening, they saw the builder and his lawyers, along with the committee members from Sion, who had supported the builder at the BMC premises. They were then informed that they would receive a decision the next day, from Debashish Chakravati, the Principal Secretary of Housing, himself.

On Wednesday, 21st of August, they were given a written order by the BMC signed by Debashish Chakravati, that confirms demolitions. The letter, a jumble of strange logic, states that since a Writ petition 1184 of 2010 that asked for ‘the re-development scheme of this society should be declared illegal and cancelled, and the floors 8 to 14 of the re-developed building be demolished,’ filed by the residents was dismissed by the High Court in 2010, and that his own stay order of January of 2013, exempts demolitions as per High Court orders, then the demolitions would have to take place. He would further mention that that allotment letters were given to ‘not-cooperating’ tenants three times before his own stay order of January 2013.

The residents quickly went to the Mantralaya and got an appointment with Debashish Chakravati in the evening, who admitted to have a meeting with the builder and his lawyers, and refused to entertain the protesting resident’s concerns, stating that their case was dismissed by the High Court, while the residents asserted that the High Court never ordered any demolitions nor was there any order against the builder.

They spoke for over thirty minutes but the residents realized he wouldn’t budge.

Adding to this, it would be the attitudes of the police, the first face of the state to Sion Koliwada. Calls to every senior policeman on Monday, revealed the demolitions were cancelled, but the minute the turnaround took place, they enthusiastically decided to give police protection to demolition crews, once again highlighting that instead of investigating the matter of fraud and forgery, which should have happened years ago, the police is inclined to give protection to demolition crews.

A senior police officer at Sion, a veteran of the force, a tormentor as described by the residents, a self-described savior as much as his limits could take him, admittedly mentions that the system needs changing, is pessimistic about it, is too impatient for Dr.Ambedkar’s social revolution, and would ironically voice the CPI (Maoist), ‘that one needs to be in power to change the system.’ He feels that those protesting are not being practical, ‘saamne walla jaisa karta hai, tum bhi waise hi karo’ (do what everyone around you is doing); and one man can’t change the ‘system’, and if you fight it, the system will not help you, and they, the residents, should just take what they are getting, ‘that a person who can’t change their principles, can’t be successful.’

This is of course, is the free market.

And the free market, symbolized as four bulldozers, drove into the small colony in the middle of Sion, and while residents didn’t physically protest, due to the threats of further police cases against them, there was an incident that revealed the psychology of the police and the administration quite clearly. The elusive words, ‘stay order’ spread like wildfire amongst the residents around four in the evening on the first day of the demolition drive, and residents who were quietly watching their homes broken down, suddenly, empowered, began to protest, hurl abuses, and demanded that the state stop destroying their homes. The police and the BMC started to withdraw, without much hesitation, almost revealing that they themselves felt they had no right or authority to demolish. But when the elusive order was merely revealed as a fax of an admission of an emergency petition slated to be heard at 5pm at the City Civil Court, which was literally thrown down by one of the police officers, the police and the wrecking crews returned, but by then it was already five in the evening, and demolitions have to stop at that slated time.

The demolitions continued on the second day and 39 houses were demolished that even left one man injured.

A day after the demolition drive, a distraught people, congregated in hundreds at Walkeshwar, and had attempted to get a meeting with the Chief Minister who they felt had betrayed them. There was no meeting as they argued about the size of the delegation, and instead they would sit in front of his gates, until the police forcefully picked up the residents, and put them into police vans and drove them to Azad Maidan. It would be a point to mention, that anyone who looked like they belonged to the working class, were stopped by the police from even entering the road at Walkeshwar that leads to the CM’s residence of Varsha.

This self-destructing system is now catering to a general environment of gaping paradoxes where 13000 square feet high-end apartments worth a 100 crores are advertised by a financial magazine, where the working classes are quick to observe that the landscape of the city visible from the Virar Fast, is filled with towering buildings like honeycombs that lie empty, that the middle classes have a general perception that all slums are illegal and should be destroyed while they themselves can’t afford an apartment in most of the city and have neither the imagination nor the capacity to challenge the builder lobby; and where judges build their colonies on mangrove land, and pass orders that the poor cannot, where the land meant for the ‘dishoused’ is another judges colony, where the history of collapsing housing markets across the world, are not matters of polity’s concern; and social housing, which can reclaim housing from being an ‘investment’ to a ‘right to shelter’ for all, is a distant dream.

Yet this is one dream, that one can only imagine after the state can wake up from a nightmare it perpetuates.

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The New Songs Of The Murder Manual

June 17, 2013

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This article appears in the Sunday Guardian on the 16th of June, 2013

“Jump over Dilli, we jungle people

Even if you dont know how to sing.

Boys (chorus) : We don’t know how to sing!

Girls (chorus): How do you not know how to sing? Jump over Dilli jungle people!

in our villages we come,

we will go with our axes,

big feet police, we will jump in delhi,

with bows and arrows, we will jump in delhi,

with these arrows, we will kill the police,

loot the government,

we will snatch weapons and bring them.’

These are words from a Gondi song sung in Bastar by the adivasis in the interior forests. To some it would seem a seditious aspiration, a decades-old Naxalite lyricism mutating Muria songs, or a desire with twisted explicable joys, yet there are reasons why these songs are being sung in the forest. There is a bloodlust, a violence, even the translator of the song, whose village was burnt down by the Salwa Judum and who now lives as an Internally Displaced Person in Andhra Pradesh has a distaste towards its words, its new meanings. Yet to hear it, it is even melodic, haunting, and joyful; and it becomes an incongruous expression of rage, a rage in memory, a rage against the burning and looting, rape and murder by the Salwa Judum; elsewhere they sing, How it was before — in the earlier days/it was beautiful/It was wonderful/now there is so much suffering/the garlic skin police is harassing us.’

There is even a song sung in rememberance of the 2006 killings in Nendra village where at least 10 adivasis were murdered by the Salwa Judum, and their families would testify to the National Human Rights Commission. The killers would never be prosecuted. On the 29th of May, 2013, the Salwa Judum leader from Konta, Soyam Mukka who was implicated in the violence in many villages around Konta, was assassinated by the Maoists, just a few days after the Maoist ambush on the Congress party motorcade that left 29 people dead. Soyam Mukka was a man who had warrants for his arrest for numerous cases, including one where an adivasi woman would be gangraped in the police station, after he had kidnapped her and left her there. The police would declare him an absconder, even when there was explicable proof where he’d be photographed, standing right next to the police during a protest in January of 2010. Now he is another man who escaped the clutches of the law of the nation, but was claimed by the law of the land.

There are no songs sung about justice in Bastar. Those who have been with adivasi villagers marching to the police stations to demand the bodies of their loved ones, would’ve heard the haunting echoed, chorus of the harmonious crying, of hundreds of adivasi men and women. Mahendra Karma is dead. Soyam Mukka is dead. ASP Rajesh Pawar is dead. SPO Ismael Khan is dead. SPO Kartam Surya is dead.

There would even be a song of mourning during the funeral for Mahendra Karma, where elsewhere someone would probably be writing a song to celebrate it. Karma was stabbed 78 times, and in 2006, in Matwada village of Bijapur, SPO’s smashed stones into the eye sockets of three adivasi men. In 2004, Oonga Madkam of Kottacheru village, a friend of many of the leaders of the yet to be formed Salwa Judum, was shot dead on the road between Konta and Cherla, and the Maoists smashed his head, already void of life, with a small boulder. In 2012, the CRPF would be accused of setting Pudiyam Mada’s genitals on fire in the Sukma police station.

We will fight like red ants, jungle people,

for our land, we will jump,

We won’t give our jungle resources,

We won’t give our mountains and shrubs, they are ours,

We will keep our gold,

This is a loot government, we will not give to them.

Chorus: Dilli!

Charu Mazumdar’s murder manual always had it’s songs, and now these adivasi anthems of anger  sung in the jungles of Bastar are one man’s songs of resistance, and to another man it is sedition; and if you don’t know the lyrics, you’d believe they really are serenades to the forest, which they probably are to those who sing them. These are now the songs heard amongst the red ants, the butterflies, the frogs and the birds and they are songs of an anger that is seldom heard by the state, who preferably chooses to not listen – year after year, inquiry after inquiry, even after the Salwa Judum was banned by the Supreme Court, the state of Chhattisgarh invoked the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force Ordinance of 2011, and inducted the SPO’s into the regular police force. More killings and burnings in the villages would follow. On the 17th of May, 2013, in a repeat of last year’s encounter at Sarkeguda that left 22 dead, a police firing in Edesmetta during a seed festival, would claim eight people, including four children and one soldier. The mothers take the bodies to the Gangalur police station and throw stones at them.

Dilli’ – probably sang the stone.

The calls for warmongering continues with the dance of death, the other songs from the newsroom calling for the army which is also militarily idiotic as the essence of all armed conflict, is intelligence gathering, and the state in Chhattisgarh has done everything from torture to fraticide to try and get the adivasis to submit, and provide them with intelligence. A case in point would be a young adivasi journalist Lingaram Kodopi who is still languishing in prison even after he was forced to be a Special Police officer and was imprisoned in a toilet in the police station for over 40 days. That is how the police of Chhattisgarh acquires intelligence, a misnomer of a word that a hundred years of counterinsurgency across the world can’t find funny. You show them who is boss. We’re worse than the rebels, we’re more militarily equipped, so you better submit to us.

Even the Salwa Judum was an exercise in brutality and a temporary success in intelligence gathering. By forcing people, out of fear, to point out village level Sangam members who were instantly murdered, the Maoist hold in particular villages was weakened. Yet the Maoists rebuild their base and replaced their cadres, and it wasn’t so difficult as the Salwa Judum was involved in rape, murder and arson on a massive scale. And now, the Maoist’s are picking off the leaders of the Salwa Judum like flies.

More militirization is more of the same, and would play into Maoist hands.

Jump over them and kill them

We will jump like tigers in the jungle

Aim like the eye of the cat in the jungle

And the chorus sings: ‘Dilli’. The lietmotif is ‘Dilli’.

The heart of political conscience that could never even point out Bastar on a map, now hears the songs of death as a yearly massacre is committed by either the state or the Maoists. Death is Bastar’s muse. Yet there was another song being sung a few days ago in March of this year, a song seldom heard beyond the forest, when a rally of thousands of adivasis under the banner of Manish Kunjam’s CPI and the Adivasi Mahasabha, marched to demand the Sixth Schedule. They have been demanding it since the early 1990’s, and when the state violates the laws of the Fifth Schedule and the PESA act, the demands for the Sixth Schedule, which is more or less autonomy, are only going to get louder. The adivasis of Bastar are writhing with seething anger, from the decades of exploitation by the non-tribals, the inherent racism in the system, to the Salwa Judum, to the everyday tortures and encounters, to the burnings and killings by the COBRA to the CRPF. It will take the Central  Government an imagination it probably has never used since Independence, to placate such anger. But the question is, does it really want to?

Song – Ee Na Ve

Girls: You all sing along

Boys: We don’t know how to sing

Girls: How do you not know how to sing?

Boys: You are the singers here, you sing

Girls: What’s wrong with your voice? I can’t hear it

Boys – We dont know how to sing

Girls: How do you not know how to sing?

 Boys: I have a cold so my voice isn’t strong enough

 Girls: Adivasi people

 Boys: Sing on

Girls: The people live like this, big foot police

We live off the land, from farming

My people, where have you gone?

We are farmer people

We live of the land, farmer people,

Where will we run away to?

If we have to die, we will die here.

 

The Judum started and its over,

They lost, the people have won,

Everyone had run here and there,

And they all came back

The land, the trees, the mountains,

are ours again,

in our hands again,

the mango trees we planted,

our lake is there,
our land is there,

the house we built with our hands is there.

 

Our fathers and grandfathers in the village,

were caught by the Judum,

the Judum ate our house,

they drank the people’s blood,

they become bigger,

but at some point, they will die,

if they won’t die, so what?

that much will happen, let it be.

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How They Shut Down A City

August 5, 2012

A reprieve: villagers from Nagari in Jharkand have started to cultivate during a delayed monsoon, taking time off protests against land acquisition.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 5th of  August, 2012

The failure of the courts and the state to take cognizance of constitutional rights leads Anti-displacement movement in Jharkhand to shut down the capitol Ranchi on the 25th of July

Nagari village near Ranchi is facing the wolves of urbanization at the door. A town of congested roads and apartment buildings ends, and the lush green fields of Nagari begin.

‘In 2000 rupees a person can survive in Nagari,’ Says Arpana Bara, one of the young leaders in the village of Nagari of Oroan and Munda adivasis and muslims, who had contacted almost everyone in the human rights movement and the adivasi activists in Jharkhand about their village months ago, and who today is facing police cases herself.

The youth of Nagari village today sit down to attend meetings with the villagers, and make themselves heard and their contribution to the movement is seldom understood.

‘For months, Dayamani Barla and a group of women sat on a dharna, and the walls kept getting built, we kept losing land and they kept losing cases in the courts.’ Said a young man at Nagari, ‘And we were getting tired of it, and that’s when we decided to break down the wall.’

‘Let them put cases on us, we knew we had to break down the wall.’ Said another young woman.

Four months ago, the movement included a group of women who sat on a dharna under the auspices of activist Dayamani Barla. Two women would die of heatstroke. There was zero press coverage. And they lost their case in the High Court and with their review petition. Agricultural land, that too, on the Fifth Schedule, and in Jharkhand as per the Chotta Nagpur Tenancy Act, should not be acquired for non-agricultural purposes yet the courts took no cognizance of it’s own constitutional law, to side with the building of the National University for Study and Research in Law, IIM and IIIT on Nagari village.

15,000 people would march to the governor’s home to demand intervention by law and there was, again, little to no media coverage.

And finally, as the Supreme Court dismissed the villager’s petition, the boundary wall that was being built for the law university was partially broken down by the villagers on the 4th of July, 2012. The police retaliated. A section of the media would run frontpage articles on the police action with photographs of women protestors being beaten by policemen, and later of villagers blocking of the Ranchi-Patratu highway for the release of arrested villagers. The local media would then begin to give coverage to regular protests that followed the confrontation (while some newspapers continued to demonize the protest movement).

The movement had taken on a life of its own after the breaking down of the wall, and on the 25th of July, the city of Ranchi was shut down by the protests against land acquisition taking place not just in Nagari, and its 35 villages, but by organizations fighting displacement across Jharkhand.

And while a section of activists from different organizations resorted to arson, the police resorted to beating protestors and human rights activists.

A large number of factors were involved in taking a movement that was isolated by silence, by the media and the state, into the forefront of politics in Jharkhand today. Shibu Soren’s visit and his statement against displacement, the involvement of middle class adivasi activists, the Adivasi and Mulvasi student unions, the creation of the Jharkhand Alliance of Democratic Movements which consists of numerous people’s movements and human rights groups, the All India Progressive Women’s Association, the Adivasi Jan Parishad, the fact that a large number of people losing land in the villages are party workers across the political spectrum in Jharkhand, and the creation of a core committee of Nagari and 35 other villages facing displacement that works as a driving force. But it is commonly known in Nagari, that it all really changed when the youth decided to break down the wall, against the wishes of many ‘outsider’ activists and those who took faith in the courts and non-violence.

The police frantically lathi-charged villagers and in a state with a long history of police firings against protest, there was an anomaly: the police did not fire. They broke the arm of a woman who was the sole breadwinner of a family and they put cases on a large number of villagers, but there was no firing. The memory of the Islamnagar firings of Ranchi last year that claimed two lives, and the Dhanbad firings that claimed four lives were fresh in the memory of the villagers. Many activists and political workers were even veterans of the Jharkhand Movement and to them, there was the Gua firing in West Singhbhum on the 8th of September, 1983, when the police even resorted to firing into the hospital, killing 12 people.

In Nagari, Jitu, a young man on crutches would quietly mention, ‘The Superintendent of Police was also an adivasi.’

‘The only good thing the non-violent protest and losing cases in the court taught us, is that it convinced us that it doesn’t work.’ Said an activist who wishes to by anonymous.

Recently, a special leave petition filed in the Supreme Court by representatives of Nagari was dismissed citing that the land was already acquired in 1957-58 for the nearby Birsa Agricultural University for what would now be termed a pittance. Land that would cost Rs.1.5 lakhs an acre, were taken for Rs.7 a decimel, where each decimel is around 436 sq feet of land.

Across India today there are a large number of pockets from district to district, all facing displacement for industrial projects and non-agricultural purposes yet, to the fear of state policy, Nagari is the one movement whose struggle spilled onto the streets of the capitol of Jharkhand. Nandigram is invoked in Nagari today, with a growing fear of state response.

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A Short History Of Death And Madness in Bastar

July 8, 2012

A young boy outside Basaguda police station in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 8th of July, 2012.

The list of villages are endless. Operation Green Hunt was only the second phase, Operation Hakka and Vijay are only new names to an old war. But the names of villages touched by war can sometimes repeat themselves. Gompad, Singaram, Gacchanpalli, Lingagiri, Nendra, Rajpenta, Tatemargu,Tadmetla, Vechapalli, Gaganpalli, Kottacheru, Maraigudem, Pallecharma, Munder, Pollampalli, Kotrapal, Burgil, Bhejji, Goomiyapal, Hiroli, Jangla, Dhampenta, Hariyal Cherli, Karremarka, Mankelli, Sameli, Regadgatta, Pusnar: these are just a few villages where adivasis have been killed in the last 8 years in undivided Bastar district, with testimonies collected by journalists and anthropologists and political activists whose own list was submitted as petitions to the Supreme Court.

Since 2004-2005, the Salwa Judum rallies conducted themselves completely out of sight and out of mind like they did in Basaguda block.

From the testimonies of the villagers themselves, ‘On the 5th of December, 2005, the workforce of Salwa Judum and the CRPF visited Basaguda and stuck posters that said that a Salwa Judum meeting is going to be held at Avapalli on the 1st of January, 2006, and if the villagers do not turn up, they shall be called Naxalites. We attended the meeting on the 1st of January 2006. We were told that, if those who are members of the Sangam (village-level Naxalite groups) do not surrender right away, all of us will be killed. Nine of the villagers who were not members of the Sangam were forcefully made to admit that they were members of the Sangam. After this, we stayed till the meeting ended and came back to our village. After some days, on the 21st of February 2006, the Salwa Judum workforce came to Basaguda and asked us to deliver a speech against the Naxalites, and those who would not, would be deemed as a Naxalite.

Two days later, villagers from (names withheld) were made to carry out a rally at Lingagiri, Korsaguda, Sarkeguda, Mallepalli, Borguda, where many houses were burnt, people were beaten and many women were raped. Out of rage, a few days after the rally, the Naxalites came to Basaguda on the fifth of March, 2006 at 9pm. They attacked the villagers and killed four people. The villagers then went to the police station to file a report, and after the post-mortem of the deceased, they returned back across the river. Meanwhile, the Salwa Judum and CRPF came and beat us, grabbed us from our necks and took us to the camps on the other side of the river, where we were kept for two months, and the mistreatment continued.’

Three years after that, with the help of a Supreme Court order that gave the villagers the right to go back home, did the villagers from Basaguda block return back, to live in a tentative peace that was shattered by the killing of 18 people in Sarkeguda on the 28th of July, this year. In 2010, Basaguda block was hit by a ‘cholera’/dysentry epidemic that claimed more than sixty lives. Those who never went back to their homes in Chhattisgarh still continue to face violence in Andhra. Just recently, on the 2nd of July, another IDP settlement was destroyed by the Forest Department in Khammam.

The state has never shied away from geography of murder: everyone who lives beyond a certain village, further into the forests is a potential Naxalite and can be killed. The mandarins of the mainstream media can call it collateral damage when they’re confronted by overwhelming evidence of an unjustified killing. And at the same time, they’ve never taken themselves into the civil war whose brutality raged for six years in complete silence, until Herr Chidambaram would finally make his exhortations of development, and the Tadmetla massacre of 76 jawaans had journalists in newsrooms wondering where is Dantewada.

‘Did any journalist come to the village the last time it was burnt down? I had asked the villagers of Badepalli of Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh.

‘No.’ They said.

‘Did any human rights activists come?’

‘No.’

‘Did any lawyer, or anyone from Manish Kunjam’s party, (Communist Party of India) come?’

‘No.’

‘How many homes were burnt down that time?’

‘All.’ Said the Sarpanch, ‘But this time, only two survived.’

The above conversation took place in the village of Badepalli, in Kuakonda block of Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh in May, 2009, a few days after the village was burnt down by security forces for the second time in five years. The first time was in the summer of 2006 when it didn’t even make a statistic, while violence was perpetrated by both the state and the Maoists on a daily basis. The second time in the summer of 2009.

This too, in an area where the government exempted around 108 villages from the 2010 survey due to inaccessibility of terrain and ‘prevention by the Maoists.’

Its existence, forget its burning, did not exist as a statistic, nor did it exist as an complaint against the police in any charge-sheet, or in any of the petitions that were filed in the Supreme Court.

So how many villages were really burnt down in undivided Bastar district by the Salwa Judum or the security forces when there was a chance that some were never even counted, and many were burnt down more than once? How many people were really killed in those eight years?

What is rarely mentioned in mainstream debates is the extent of violence perpetrated against the local population, starting from the mass forceful displacement by the Salwa Judum where village after village was burnt down, and people were forcefully driven into ‘resettlement camps’. There are thousands of testimonies of the same, that are repeatedly and categorically denied by the state of Chhattisgarh, who once, in a moment of pride a few years ago, mentioned that 644 villages were ‘liberated’ from the Maoists and its inhabitants were now living in the camps supporting the Salwa Judum movement. That is 644 villages, whose villagers were driven away from their homes and taken into camps. Then there were the Matwada Camp killings where three men had their eye sockets smashes by SPOs.

And burnings preceded killings, and killings preceded burnings.

Fifteeen killed in Gaganpalli. Ten killed in Nendra. A man talks about his brother from Kottacheru who was killed by the CRPF. ‘He was shot in the stomach, his shit was all over the place.’

Of course, Salwa Judum backfired, Maoist recruitment rose. Then came Operation Greenhunt.

Nine killed in Gompad. Five killed in Gacchanpalli. Three killed in Pallecharma. Six killed in Goomiyapal. Two killed a few months later in Goomiyapal. One fiteen year old boy killed again a few months later.

Seven killed in Tatemargu. Two killed in Pallodi on the same day. Ask the villagers about what happened five years ago, and again they would talk about the dead and murdered.  Sarkeguda, the epicentre of Chhattisgarh’s newest atrocity of the year, was burnt down in 2005. Their memories don’t fade. Last year when Tademetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram was burnt down, it was not the first time they were attacked. Sodi Nanda s/o Adma  of Tadmetla was killed by the security forces in 2007.  Barse Lakma s/o Bhima of Morpalli was going for ration at Chintalnar market when he was picked up by the security forces two years ago.

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

The memory of violence in Chhattisgarh stays in the present tense. But how will the rest of the world beyond Dantewada remember something it never knew? Earlier there was silence, now the Murdochian media calls the dead collateral damage. When will the casualties of war be robbed of their gravestones, those nouns: Maoists, Maoist supporters, SPOs, Salwa Judum leaders, adivasis, CRPF jawaans, when will we start talking about killing itself as the war crime, and not who was killed? This is a war of attrition, a dance of death, a class war to some, yet the greatest inhumanity is to believe this is a war someone will win.

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Journalist Rito Paul from DNA has also visited the site of the latest killing with Kopa Kunjam, who worked to rehabilitate the villages in Basaguda block but would eventually be arrested for murder of a man who the Maoists had killed and who Kopa had tried to save. Rito’s report and the people’s reaction to meeting Kopa is here

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The Life Of A Witness

June 17, 2012

Photo credit: Tehelka photo

In memoriam: Tehelka photographer Tarun Sehrawat (1989 – 2012)

This piece appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 17th of June 2012. Another piece appears in Tehelka on the 30th of June.

I first met Tarun Sehrawat and the intrepid Tusha Mittal in January of 2010, when we both found ourselves with the duties of trying to investigate why the state of Chhattisgarh had kidnapped Sodi Sambo, a supreme court petitioner, and a woman who was shot in her leg during the combing operation of Gompad that took nine lives. She was there in Jagdalpur hospital, while we were outside the ward trying to get access to her, and Tusha Mittal would harangue every stubborn official with such gusto, that you were certain that war reporting was best left to women. Tarun and myself sat quietly, smiling at each other, joking and taking photographs of one another while Tusha did her job. He was an absolute delight to work with, or in this case, observe work. He had no malice and insecurity that most photographers had for their own. And his innocence was something that you were absolutely glad you could find in a place like Dantewada.

The next time we met, we found ourselves on the way to the village of Tadmetla, Timmapuram and Morpalli which was burnt down by the security forces in March of 2011. Tusha and I were this time, at each other’s necks like a bunch of Laurel and Hardy’s on steroids, regarding the best way to deal with the logistics of going into ‘the jungle’. Tarun, as usual would smile to placate our anger against ourselves. We all did do our jobs eventually, and Tarun’s images were an absolute justification of our profession.

Tarun was a witness to our state’s grand security operations in Central India. He has photographs of burnt homes, of widows whose husbands were killed by the security forces, of women raped by security forces, of fragile old men with country rifles who the state refers to the greatest internal security threat, and of Abhuj Marh, his final assignment, where few have ventured. But one of his most heartbreaking images would remain a photograph of a family in Dantewada sifting through their burned rice trying to separate the ash from what they could eat. That’s what he witnessed. That’s what only a few handful of people from the outside world have ventured in to see, some of the bravest and some of the most brilliant journalists and photographers I have had the honour to work with.

Yet it’s death from Dantewada that follows you around, as with each story of encounters, and killings. Just a few months ago, the controversial superintendent of police Rahul Sharma would take his revolver and shoot himself. Assistant Superintendent of Police Rajesh Pawar who I confronted about a fake encounter would be gunned down by the Maoists some years later. And now a tortured adivasi journalist Lingaram Kodopi would wish to die in jail, as there’s no way he feels he can get justice in this country. Each name jotted down in my collection of notebooks, of those killed, of sons named along with their fathers –Madvi Kesa s/o Bhima, Madkam Deva s/o Bhima, Madkam Admaiah s/o Maasa, and countless others. They add to a list that I don’t know sometimes whether they will have any meaning, when all that tends to happen, is that the war goes on. It’s the ghost of the conscience of the country that’s dead as each time the warmongers ask for helicopters to drop hell from above onto one of the darkest corners of the country.

A cellphone becomes the purveyor of madness and death. ‘There’s been an attack in your favourite village’ an activist once called and told me, and I went into a daze, and hated him – how many favourite villages did I have? Then came the final message about Tarun, ‘Pronounced brain dead.’ And this just a few days after friends would tell me that he was making a full recovery.

We all think we’re invincible. We venture into roads that could be mined with IEDs, as did one explode a day after two of us passed, killing three security personnel. We venture into the haven of the malarial monster, the killer of people that doesn’t discriminate like we do. In Basaguda, I remember the sight of a CRPF jawaan holding the hand and walking with another jawaan, whose body was sapped of energy, whose eyes lost of life, who would say the dreaded word: malaria. It was an absolutely tragic sight of watching these two towering men, pathetically walking down, broken down. A year later in Chintalnaar, a few days after 76 jawaans were killed in an ambush, the jawaans of Chintalnaar would exert, ‘You don’t even have to ask about the mosquitoes. Around 80% of us suffer from malaria at some point or the other’.Mosquitoes have killed one of the Maoist’s most iconic leaders- Anuradha Ghandy. And for the ordinary adivasis, their stories are left to statistics, sometimes to a world beyond statistics.

In Jharkhand, at the Roro mines of Chaibasa, an old adivasi miner left to die of asbestos exposure by the Birlas would talk to me, while three young children, slept behind him. All three had high fever. All three had malaria. In fact, a few months into the job, and it became standard operating procedure to not just document the atrocities committed on a whole people, but to finally ask about illnesses in the village. At one visit to an IDP settlement at Warangal last year, our investigation team very quickly became a medical team, and we had to take on the responsibility of taking people to the nearest clinic.

Some quarters mention how Tehelka should’ve guided Tarun with some precautionary measures but unfortunately those are never enough and some circumstances can’t be helped. Tarun had no option to drink pond water, in a place where water, even after boiling would turn yellow. A few years ago, my adivasi guides and a few other journalists and myself faced a similar problem. And we had to walk over 15 kilometres of hillocks in a summer that can blaze to around 48 degrees, and our water supply ran out. We had to drink from a miasmic river. And we all did and we were lucky.

The more water you carry, the more you’d tire, and the more you’d drink. And you can’t ration what is never enough.

I used to even take anti-malaria pills every week in my first forays into Central India, and ended up in the middle of nowhere with high fever, and find myself in the middle of a busy bus station, alone and wrapped in a shawl, shivering like my bones would be shattering, with my mind drifting away, waiting for a family friend to come and save my life. And I was lucky. Malaria was bombed out of my system. To most people in Central India, there’s little rescue. Where Tarun had gone, no doctors venture. In fact, in some of the areas in Dantewada and Bijapur where Doctors Without Borders did go to work, they were accused by the state of Chhattisgarh of ‘helping the Naxalites’.

The angel of death of Bastar made of iron ore, covered in flags and illusions of greatness, is touching and destroying everything that is beautiful. Tarun had a long way to go. Twenty three, the age of most SPOs and Maoists, is not the age to die.

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A Constitution’s Dead Army

April 9, 2012

Thirty years ago, a retired armyman’s body was being dragged by a police jeep as his adivasi brethren, armed with bows and arrows, helplessly tried to stop the convoy but were fired upon and chased away.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 9th of April, 2012.

Gangaram Kalundia was bayonneted in the police van, and then dragged across the village, for speaking for the rights of his people, and there was never any prosecutions against the police for his murder.

Gangaram was an adivasi of the Ho tribe, who joined the army when he was 19 years old, fought in the war of 1965 and the war of 71 as part of the Bihar Regiment, and had risen to the rank of Junior officer.

He voluntarily retired and returned home to find that his village Illigara in Chaibasa of West Singhbhum of Jharkhand (then Bihar), along with some 110 other villages would be submerged due to the Kuju dam project, that was funded by the World Bank.

He would organize his people to fight for their fundamental rights against displacement and the project exactly thirty years ago, to only be brutally murdered by the police early in the morning on the 4th of April, 1982.

‘This is where we placed stones to stop the convoy that had Gangaram,’ Said Tobro, then 14 years old, now pointing to a small woodland by the roadside, ‘and this is where we were, with bows and arrows, but the police fired upon us and chased us away.’

While Gangaram Kalundia was killed in 1982, a long agitation had still sustained itself, that had often driven people like Tobro underground, aware that the police were rounding people up. Surendra Biduili, 52, was a part of the agitation against the dam, and the eventual victory in 1991 when, ‘the World Bank withdrew the money.’

‘Their reports said that the dam would only submerge lands that had paddy,’ he continued, ‘but it was a lie, we were cultivating vegetables as well.’

It was much later when Gangaram had become a symbol for oppurtunistic politics, and his shaheed divas, would be attended by every other political party, or as Surendra would say, ‘First everyone used to be afraid to mention Gangaram’s name, now all the parties of contractors and dalaals come for his shaheed divas.’

In The Thousands

Gangaram Kalundia was not the only adivasi leader killed for representing the rights of people. Just a few kilometres away from Chaibasa, across the Sal tree forest, is the village of Bandgaon, where Lalsingh Munda was killed in broad daylight in the market on the 1st of November 1983. His concerns were that sacred grounds were being used by non-tribals and contractors as a waste dump.

‘You travel by bus to Chaibasa, well, back then, people used to get off the bus to piss into the sacred grounds.’ Said Phillip Kujur, a member of JMACC (Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee).

Phillip Kujur was also associated with Lalit Mehta who was brutally murdered in Palamau in May 2008, Niyamat Ansari who was killed by the Maoists in Latehar District on the 2nd of March, 2011, and on the 29th of December, 2011, Pradip Prasad was killed by PLFI extremists in the village of Mukka, Latehar.

Sister Valsa who fought for the adivasis in Pachuwara in Pakur District of Jharkhand was murdered on the 15th of November, 2011.

The roads in adivasi villages are punctuated with memorials for fallen leaders and activists.

The office for NGO Birsa in Chaibasa has a memorial stone with other names: Vahaspati Mahto killed in 1977 in Purulia, Shaktinath Mahto killed in 1977 at Dhanbad , Ajit Mahto killed in 1982 at Tiraldih, Beedar Nag killed in 1983 at Gua, Ashwini Kumar Savaya killed in 1984 in Chaibasa, Anthony Murmu killed in 1985 at Banjhi, Nirmal Mahto killed in 1986 at Jamshedpur, Devendra Mahji killed in 1994 in Goilkera. The memorial ends with the sentence, ‘anaam shaheed….hazaaron mein.’ (Unknown Martyrs, in the thousands)

‘When I was young,’ Said Phillip, ‘I was travelling with two veteran activists, who kept pointing to village after village saying, ‘here’s where another cadre of ours was killed’, and there I was, another man they trained to fight for people’s rights. Finally, I turned to them and asked, ‘you taught all these people how to fight, but did you teach them how to stay alive?’

In recent times, K Singanna, one of the first organizers of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh in Narayanpatna Block of Koraput District of Odisha was shot thrice in his back in a police firing incident on the 20th of November, 2009. Since then, another leader Nachika Linga has been living underground in fear of arrest, or death, as posters calling for him to be caught ‘dead or alive’ were posted all over Narayanpatna after the firing. Both individuals were responsible for organizing the Kondh adivasis to claim their rights as per the Fifth Schedule, to free themselves as bonded labourers on their own land.

In Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, Muria and Koya adivasis committed to taking the cause of their people via rallies, writ petitions, and organizing them to fight peacefully for their rights, have almost all been arrested as alleged Maoists. Manish Kunjam, an ex-MLA, has faced repeated death threats and his own cadre, responsible for working in the villages, have been in and out of jail.

On International Labour Day, the 1st of May, 2008, in Kalinganagar Industrial Park of Jajpur, Odisha, one of the leaders of the Anti-displacement group, Dabar Kalundia was attacked outside the gates of the Rohit Ferrotech Steel Plant and escaped, but Omin Banara (51) was killed.

In Memory of Gangaram

‘They all talk about Gangaram, but they don’t care about his wife.’

Birangkui Kalundia, widow of Gangaram, lost her only daughter when she was giving birth to her grandchild. She was widowed by the state, and her daughter would be another statistic to those 80,000 women who die every year due to childbirth.

Her brother-in-law, would also cut ties with her, often dividing the produce of Gangaram’s 15 acres for himself, leaving her out with nothing, and after his death, she moved out of the village his husband fought for, to move in with her new caretakters, her nephew and his wife, where she lives with a quiet pride to this day.

She still holds onto the medals won by her husband, the citation for his President’s Medal,  speaking in soft tones unforgivingly about the men who killed her husband, coming to terms with injustice in this life, to a hope for justice in the next.

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The Last Of The Asbestos Miners Of Roro

January 8, 2012

Ex-miner Dansingh Bodra with the corroded helmet of his deceased neighbour Vijaysingh Sondi at the village of Roro, Jharkhand.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 8th of January, 2012.

When miner Dansingh Bodra was asked about the people from his village who he worked with, in the asbestos mines of Roro, who have all died before their time, he slowly starts counting, first to himself, and then loudly: ‘gyaara…. Pooliya Sondi……….. baara………Rohto Gop……..taira….Bagan Sondi…….. chowda….. Vijay Singh Sondi…….. pandra……Gono Sondi….. sola….. Harish Sondi….. sattra, Sukmon Sondi…… atthra….. Rahto Samadh.’

Dansingh himself suffers from cancer, a huge protrusion grows out of his stomach.

It took him five minutes to remember the dead. A few seconds to denounce the company that laid them off one fine day when the mines shut down in 1983.

‘They gave us nothing, no healthcare, no pension, just these illnesses.’

‘I worked in the mines for 12 years, and from that day itself I used to cough, and slowly it started to get worse.’

A man with a lump growing out of his stomach remains a testament to the reality of internal colonization, of a company that currently earns aggregate revenues of over 800 crores, of industrial development and the idea that mining offers jobs.

Dansingh Bodra awaits death in a village where his three grandchildren sleep behind him suffering from fever.

The mines have long but closed down, but the dust and pollution that emanates from them, still spread across the fields.

Even today, as per law, especially as per section 22 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, all asbestos mines have to be closed but the Hyderabad Industry Limited of the CK Birla Group, did not close their mines at Roro village at Chaibasa, West Singhbhum, Jharkhand and the asbestos fibres that are blown into the wind, that seep into the fields and rivers, still exist 30 years after the mines shut down.

‘So many people died before they turned forty,’ Said Birsingh Sondi, who points to his neighbours house, ‘There lived Mangalsingh Sondi, who was 25 when he died and he never even worked in the mine, his father Sukmon worked there, and he died a few years ago too.’

Asbestos, whose use, manufacture and extraction is banned across the European Union, is still used widely across India and is part of a 4000 crore industry dominated by around 18 companies who justify the use of asbestos as a substitute for affordable roofing, who claim that chrysotile asbestos can be safely manufactured and used without risks.

The companies claim that the kind of asbestos used in India isn’t carcinogenic, even as all forms of asbestos are classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, and the International Agency For Research On Cancer, who mention in a report that was published in 2010: ‘Epidemiological evidence has increasingly shown an association of all forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite) with an increased risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.’ It would go on the mention that an estimated 125 million people are still exposed to asbestos in the workplace.

Yet the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association, one of the main lobby groups for the continued production and use of asbestos, has repeatedly claimed, ‘Some five hundred other products and industrial processes are recognized as carcinogens, but this does not mean that we must prohibit their use.’

While the Lobby has often reiterated that chrysotile asbestos is safe, and that proper safety standards and use of asbestos, justifies the industry, the chairman of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association, Abhaya Shanker, is also the Managing Director of Hyderabad Industries Limited, who says they closed the Roro mine, and that the mountains of asbestos tailings from the mine are not carcinogenic.

‘Roro is a finished chapter, a closed mine 30 years back, what’s the point of Roro? I don’t understand.’ He exclaims in a telephonic interview.

‘That is all an old story and that was all, an old type of asbestos and that is all done.’

‘The mine is safely handed over, and closed, and handed over to the government of India, and there is no danger to the public. It’s all bullshit.’

‘According to the Supreme Court directives in the CERC case, you have to monitor the health of your workers? Do you also monitor the health of your workers from Roro?’ I asked.

‘You can look at our world class health monitoring system, for our workers, …., for several years we keep calling them, for check-ups, for studying them…’

‘Even the Roro workers?’

‘The Roro workers are all finished, we would have done them (the survey) for a couple of years……and it’s been 30 years now, nobody would be alive now.’

A History Of Trying To Close The Mountain

Roro Hills at Chaibasa were first mined for chromite in the early 1960’s by the Tatas, and those mines were sold to the CK Birla Group, as the Tatas moved onto mining chromite at Sukinda, in Odisha, which itself, according to international environmental group Blacksmith Institute, is one of the 10 most polluted places in the world, where approximately 70% of the surface water is contaminated by hexavalent chromium, with 24.7% of the population living around the mines to be suffering from pollution-induced diseases.

When I had visited the village of Suanla in Sukinda in 2010, an old man scoffed at the media’s ability to highlight the issue and improve the lives of the people of his village. He claimed that over 30 people have died in the past few months. Some called the deaths in Suanla an exaggeration, but in the house of Markand Hembram, four members of the household had died within a year.

Quoting the report by the Blacksmith Institute, the government itself had gone on to say: ‘It is unique, it is gigantic and it is beyond the means and purview of the [Orissa Pollution Control] Board to solve the problem.’

Back at Roro, there were vocal attempts to close the mountain and clean up. Way back in 2003, a public hearing was held where villagers from 14 villages around the mines has spoken up about working in the mines and the health issues in their villages. The hearing was organized by Jharkhand Organization For Human Rights, and was paneled by a group of prominent doctors and advocates.

The report of the hearing was taken to the District Collector and Chief Medical officer who were given representations for conducting medical camps, to monitor health of workers and non-workers, and to detail a scientific closure of mines and to hold Hyderabad Industries Limited accountable to pay for health and environmental damages.

Yet till date, there have never been any attempt by any official body – from the Pollution Control Board, the Directorate General of Mines Safety, the Mining Department, the company or the local administration to remediate and clean up the mine tailings or do a proper mine closure.

‘Everyone wants the mines cleaned up.’ Said Birsingh Sondi, whose own fields run aground with asbestos dust.

At Roro, only three miners who worked with the Birla Group are left alive. But not everyone worked directly under the company as independent contractors had also taken on the responsibility of disposing asbestos dust, who paid workers Rs.1.50 per day, for working from eight in the evening to eight in the morning to do the work without any protective clothing.

‘there was no izzat in mining, we should never have allowed them here.’ Continued Dansingh Bodra, who had even worked underground, mining asbestos without any protective clothing, and there were accidents: Turam Sondi, Jida Sondi and Dausar Sondi were killed in the mines in a few years before the lockout and the closing of the mines.

‘No one should ever have worked the way we did.’

Photography Post-Script