Archive for the ‘Tata’ Category


Season Of Encounters: Part One

January 25, 2011

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

Winter in Orissa has seen a spate of encounters, starting with a now infamous incident in Bargarh district on the 27th of December, where two alleged Maoists were killed, who’d later be identified as a BJP block president, who was also an anti-mining activist, and his associate.

In Jajpur district, five more alleged Maoists were killed on the 1st of January, including three women and a 12 year old girl. And as the Supreme Court states that the ‘Republic can’t kill her own children’, while referring to the death of Maoist leader Azad, nine more of the Republic’s children were killed in their sleep on the 8th of January in Rayagada District, in what has been widely described as a late night ambush by the Special Operations Group and not an encounter – (a surprise tactic used by the police, right out of a Maoist handbook on ambushes.)

It has been the first time that encounters of this scale have taken place in both districts.

And again, two more alleged Maoists would be gunned down on the morning of the 12th of January, some 35 kilometres away from Jajpur, at Keonjhar near the village of Pancham. According to the police, Sadhu Munda (24) and a teenager from Mayurbanj district were shot dead early in the morning, even though the body of the boy started to reveal signs of putrefaction at 3pm, which only takes place 72 hours after death.

Sadhu Munda hails from Baligotha village, as did the 12 year old girl killed on the 1st of January in Jajpur, who was identified as Janga d/o Ramrai Jamuda.

Baligotha is a village on the forefront of the protest of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch against Tata Steel’s project in Kalinganagar Industrial Park, and has often been accused as a Maoist-front. No one from the village of Baligotha claimed the body of the 12 year old girl who was killed, yet within the next ten days of the encounter, over 10 alleged Maoists, including minors, would surrender to the police, including Saley Pallei, who also hails from Baligotha. Saley would be taken by his mother to the Tata Transit Camp at Sukinda.

And Sadhu Munda’s brother, Nitchandra Pallei, a resident of Baligotha, who now lives in Tata’s Transit Camp called a press conference in Jajpur, to plead with the Maoists to release his daughter and his son, who he claims are still fighting with the Maoists. The entire press conference was orchestrated by the police who refused to stand before the cameras. ‘I took a picture of Nitchandra, and the policemen stopped me. They told Nitchandra to hold his hands, and then I should take a picture,’ Said a local journalist who was a part of the conference. The next day, Sadhu Munda’s brother refused to talk to the press without police presence, or collect his brother’s body from the police station.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch have denied any links with the Maoists.

‘We are stupid then,’ Rabindra Jarika of Chandia village said, ‘If we wanted, we could’ve sent 200 men into the jungles. But yet we resist peacefully, and we’re dying here.’

Interestingly, Rabindra Jarika has also faced threats from the Maoists in the past, who he establishes have been functioning in the Sukinda mines area, far away from the villages protesting against Tata’s common corridor.

‘Have the Maoists threatened you?’

‘Twice.’ He replies.

‘Janshakti Maoist party of CPI Maoist party?’


‘Any idea why?’

‘They say I am doing dalaalgiri.’

Death By Development

Sadhu Munda, Janga Jamuda and Saley Pallei are one of the first direct instances of exclusive development’s contribution to the recruitment of Maoist cadre. In fact, the SP of Jajpur S. Kutte would release a list of 21 names from the village of Baligotha who he claims have joined the Maoists.

Kalinganagar Industrial Park had become infamous on the 2nd of January, 2006, when 12 tribals protesting against Tata Steel’s common corridor were killed in police firing. Since then, they have lived in a virtual prison, often facing arrests, attacks, and raids by police personnel as happened in April of last year when the police fired plastic rounds into protesting crowds, and pro-BJD and Tata-goondas had roughed up the BJP president Jual Oram’s convoy as well as journalists, as they tried to enter Baligotha to address the BBJM members.

While the gunning down of a 12 year old Maoist had gone almost unnoticed to the mainstream media, the fact that the Maoists are recruiting minors did not. In fact, three of the alleged children-Maoist-cadre come from families that have been torn apart. Nitchandra Pallei, who had given a press conference, asking the Maoists to release his children, had abandoned them in April at Baligotha village, when he had agreed to be rehabilitated by Tata, due to ill-health. The state demolished his house while his children still remained in the village afterwards, without any guardianship. Ramrai Jamuda, whose daughter Janga was shot dead, had also died two years ago. And Saley Pallei who surrendered to the police, lived almost unattended as his mother was injured in the attack in April 2010, and after her recovery in the hospital, she was also taken to Tata’s transit camp.


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.


Development for Dummies

April 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This land is your land

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now what about water?

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘We get enough from our land to feed us.’ Continued Lingaram Kodopi from Sameli, in Kuakonda. Kuakonda block didn’t suffer as much from the looting and arson of the Salwa Judum and only in 2009 has the violence really intensified in the block. ‘What is development?  NMDC has operated in our area for 52 years but only caused destruction.  Naxals don’t help us, but they don’t hurt us either. If having a company nearby could give us development, then considering that Bailadila (NMDC mines) is 20 kilometres from us and has been there long before the Naxals, then we should have had a lot of development. What is the reason that we still have no education and no hospital? Not one hospital in 52 years. When our people go to Bailadila for treatment, they humiliate us and don’t admit us to their hospitals.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kalinganagar: Development, Death and Despair

April 17, 2010

Balema Goipai (65) of Gobarghat village of Kalinga Nagar, died of suspected cerebral malaria on the same day that BJP state president Jual Oram attempted to enter the cordoned-off area of Kalinga Nagar. Her family couldn’t take her to the hospital for fear of being apprehended by the police or the BJD ‘goons’.

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 17th of April, 2010.

‘Welcome to Kalinga Nagar Industrial Park’

Balema Goipai (65) of Gobarghat village of Kalinga Nagar had been sick with high fever for three days yet her son Samsundar Gopei couldn’t take her to the hospital. ‘The BJD goondas were all outside, they’re waiting to pick us up.’ He said, ‘No one goes out anywhere. We were afraid if we’d go, they’d put us in jail as well.’

His mother died of suspected cerebral malaria in the early hours of the 5th of April, 2010. The BJP state president Jual Oram was thwarted to visit Kalinga Nagar by these very Biju Janata Dal goons on the same day. His convoy was attacked, his car was damaged and journalists who were accompanying him were roughed up and robbed. In the village of Baligotha, the adivasis and the members of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch were waiting for him under a large banyan tree, lying around on mats, with their bows and arrows, their lathis, wondering if he’d get across. Yet a pattern was repeated, it was a no show. ‘It’s okay,’ Said Ravi Jarika, ‘We can give ourselves speeches.’ And they do, right after they stand up, have a short prayer and a moment of silence for the 12 adivasis who were killed in police firing on the 2nd of January 2006.

Meanwhile, other villagers had decided to go pay their respects to Balema Goipai who would probably have been alive if she could’ve gotten to a doctor.

They aren’t too far away either. What’s left of tribal resistance to land acquisition in Kalinganagar is surrounded by four sides by a horizon made up of chimneys, conveyor belts and large factories. The sirens can be heard in the distance as does the sound of pounding rock, and bulldozers working less than a kilometer from the village of Baligotha. Yet the adivasis refuse to part with their land for Tata’s six million tonne steel plant and the common corridor road. And the repression is brutal. Twenty-four men of the villages opposed to Tata’s common corridor languish in jail with a number of cases against them. Most of them were apprehended as they stepped out of their villages and entered the main road, where policemen along with ‘BJD goondas’ or ‘Tata goons’ were out identifying anyone who belonged to the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch.

‘A lot of the people who work for the Tatas like this were once villagers, our neighbours,’ Says Dabar Kalundia, one of the leaders of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch, ‘They’re the ones who accepted compensation.’

Barring arrests, after the January 2nd firings in 2006, there have been at least two known cases of murder and attempted murder. Dabar Kalundia, himself was fired at by a contractor Arvind Singh along with three other unidentified persons in front of the Rohit Ferro Tech on the 1st of May, 2008, International Labour Day. He had narrowly escaped yet Omin Banara (52) couldn’t escape and he was killed. Similarly Joginder Jamuda was shot at, in close range by two unidentified men riding on motorcycles. He was with his mother when he was shot but managed to survive. Yet on the 27th of August, 2009, he was arrested as he was returning from a football match at Nakundai and there are a total of 13 cases against him. His third child was born just two weeks ago.

Recently on the 30th of March, a series of protests against the common corridor road led the police to fire rubber bullets against the protestors. Over 30 villagers were shot and even after a week, pellets were still lodged in their bodies. Mani Soya (55) of Bamiyaguta village has a pellet lodged in her cheek and another in her arm. Munna Munda (18) (named changed) of Chandiya village has around 11 pellets lodged in his body.

Only after retired Orissa High Court judge P.K. Mishra led a fact-finding team consisting of a doctor, into the area, did the adivasis receive treatment. One woman, Gurubari Gagarai (40) from Gadapur village was beaten by lathis and was admitted into the hospital on the day of the firing as it is. Five more people left the area and were admitted into the government hospital after P.K. Mishra’s visit. Yet firing rubber bullets at the protesters wasn’t all that happened. After the protestors were fired at, the police along with the ‘goondas’ entered the village of Baligotha, vandalized homes, destroyed a cycle shop, stole livestock, stole money, poured kerosene into a well and onto produce, and destroyed the memorial for villager Rangala Nundaya who was killed on the 2nd of January, 2006 firing.

The vandalized memorial of Rangala Nundaya who was killed in the 2nd January, 2006 firing.

After the attack, the police and the goons cordoned off the area to prevent all access to opposition political parties, journalists and more importantly, to restrict the movements of the adivasis who now live in a virtual prison, and almost every villager, from young children to old men, carry lathis, bows and arrows or blades, wary of another attack from whoever it may be. This is the situation, as of the 12th of April, 2010.

Development Means Jobs?

Rama Budra from the village of Tangorasahi worked at the Rohit Ferro Tech Plant at Kalinganagar along with his brother Pitambar. Yet in the first week of April, he along with his brother, were fired from their jobs for providing help to the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch, and according to him, it was done through the instructions of the Collector and the Superintendent of Police.

‘There is nothing for the adivasis in industry, everything is still in agriculture’ he says, sitting with over 40 other adivasis who all nod their heads in approval; ‘All the big jobs are given to outsiders.’

Recently, over 50 adivasis from Chandiya Gram Panchayat who were employed by Rohit Ferro Tech Limited were fired from their jobs. Chandiya Gram Panchayat is the heart of the Bisthapan Birodhi Jan Manch, and when this correspondent asked the leaders of the movement whether anything like this happened before, they responded as such, ‘Rohit company was the only one that even hired so many of our people, the others never did.’

And for many villagers, the adivasis never needed the work. In Gobarghat, Nati Angarai (45) has only five acres but manages to cultivate rice, pulses, brinjal and tomatoes. He claims to produce enough rice to earn around Rs.20,000 each season. Yet for a long time, he hasn’t been able to visit his market at Duburi due to the repression over the last 2 years. Almost all the villagers have been selling rice for only Rs.700-750, that is far below the market price. Only for a short time a few months ago, did they receive market price for the produce yet that was also discontinued.

Dabar Kalundia himself claims to be able to produce 30 quintals of rice per season and is one of the major landholders of the area with around 15 acres.

‘Almost everyone here has around five acres of land,’ continued Nati Angarai, ‘We’re dependent on rain for water and recently due to the dust and pollution, we’ve noticed that our cultivation is suffering.’

Development means dust?



A majority of the villagers of Suanla work to load coal onto the trains for a minimum of Rs.100 a day and many of them suffer chronic health problems. They have no healthcare insurance and no union.

A few kilometers beyond the cordoned-off Chandiya Gram Panchayat is the village of Suanla, Dhodiguda, where a majority of the villagers spend their time loading minerals, especially coal onto railway bogeys. They get paid to anywhere between Rs.100 and Rs.150 and live opposite the Jindal steel plant. Yet this access to labour, and proximity to industry and development has had one severe impact onto their lives. In the first ten minutes spent in Suanla, our motorcycle was already covered in a thick layer of black dust.

‘Almost everyone who works loading coal falls sick,’ Says Parmal Shana (46) of Suanla, who was sick for the last three days and is on his way to load coal again. ‘There are days when they do nothing but vomit, and the vomit is always yellow or white liquid.’ He continues.

None of the labourers receive any medical insurance and there has been no clear diagnosis of the illnesses suffered by the villagers of Suanla. Estimates wary, but over the last six months, some 20 to 30 villagers of Suanla have died from some illness or the other. The house of Markand Hembram is almost indicative to the severe health hazards faced by the villagers of Suanla, as over four members of the household have died over the last year, starting with Markand Hembram himself and his two daughters – Nooni (21) and Sutoni (19), and then his son Bapun Hembram. The symptoms included severe cough, blood in the vomit, swelling and thinning of the arms, weakness and loss of appetite, according to the villagers.

Another man, Mangal Munda (40) has been bed-ridden for the last year and a half. He suffers from severe pain in his spine and spends his days lying down. He used to work as a loader in the Jindal Steel plant and now receives no medical assistance from them.


…..And Justice For Anyone?

January 13, 2010

A Maoist 'Jan Adalat' statement attempting to justify the execution of an unarmed SPO.

‘Meltha’ means ‘justice’ in Koya language but it means nothing to the tribals of Dantewada and Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh

‘We know what we do here is wrong sometimes, but what am I supposed to do? Bharti ho gayi, aur duty karna parta hai.’ Says Prashant (name-changed) of the Chhattisgarh State Police from Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh. He has been in Dantewada district for more than 12 months now and like a majority of those he is serving with, he’s from a Scheduled Caste. The exceptions in his platoon belong to Other Backward Castes. The SPOs meanwhile, are mostly Muria tribals.

Prashant’s compatriots from the CGP, like him, have MA degrees or BSC degrees. They could not find any jobs back home and Bharti ho gayi. Now with a pay of Rs.10,000 a month, they’re put into the risk of indiscriminate Maoist IEDs and landmines, – their jan adalats or ‘People’s Courts’, and their ambushes, where the police are fired upon by the weapons of their long-fallen comrades, and bows and arrows.

Official sources state that around 125 security personnel were killed in the year 2009. Adding to it are the figures that 113 Maoists and 124 civilians were also killed. Out of the 125 security personnel killed, one of those killed was SPO Suresh from Dharmapuram village of Basaguda Block in May of 2009 – an event that was not reported in any national daily but was merely destined to be a part of the above-mentioned statistic.

He was abducted by the Maoists from Timapuram village in Basaguda Block during a ‘pudum’ (festival) and kept in detention for a few days. The police frequently combed the area to locate him but to no avail. His body was found a few days later near Basaguda police station. He was in his early 20s and was a father of one year old child.

The Maoists from the Jagargonda Area Committee left a ‘People’s Court’ or ‘Jan Adalat’ statement justifying their execution of SPO Suresh, claiming that he was present during the widespread arson and looting of the villages of Basaguda block, where over 2000 villagers had left their homes in 2006. They also claimed that he was involved in the killing of two villagers from Sarkinguda.

‘Any SPO or undercover officer that conspires against the people shall be given similar punishment.’ The Maoists had written on paper in red and left next to his body.

Of course, as the Maoist ‘judiciary’ and sense of justice is only accountable to itself, in the state of Chhattisgarh, the law is the police.

Kopa Kunjam, human rights activist shall be brought to court on the 20th of January, 2010. He has barely been a month in jail yet he is already a broken man. He has been allegedly hung upside down and beaten repeatedly in jail, and been openly told that he has been framed.

The very legal system that he tried to upheld has now condemned him – he had helped to file complaint after complaint to the National Human Rights Commission and the High Court, against the alleged atrocities of police and the Salwa Judum and all that he ever got out of it was imprisonment and torture.

It was even reported by the local press that one of the accused in the Konta rape case, was throwing eggs and mud at a visiting Medha Patkar from within a Salwa Judum demonstration allegedly orchestrated by the police, and according to some sources, from Delhi itself. There is a warrant for his arrest yet he’s absconding right in front of the police. The ‘Ruchikas’ of Dantewada, from Samsetti, Arlampalli and Bandarpadar have been cut-off from their lawyers, from activists and the press.

The Superintendent of the Police, Amresh Mishra frequently visits Kopa Kunjam in jail, and it has been confirmed that the police met him the day before he was arrested, had ‘requested’ him to leave the VCA, and become a police informer.

‘I have seen with my own eyes, what it is that you do,’ he had allegedly told his tempters. Now his three wives break into tears as they meet him in Dantewada jail. The NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram has all but ceased to exist. His NGO director and mentor Himanshu Kumar clandestinely left Dantewada, out of fear of arrest. So the Muria gets beaten in jail, the Brahmin escapes.

Giving him company in Dantewada jail, are numerous adivasis from the interior areas who have no idea of their rights. For instance, there is Lachinder from Gangaloor village of Bijapur District, who has been in Dantewada jail for more than a month and a half, booked under section 436 (arson) of the IPC, and section 25 and 27 of the Arms Act. He’s also thirteen years old. His school card stating his age isn’t indicative enough of his age. A mentally-handicapped mother comes to court and looks at her 13 year old son and says he might be 60 years old, or 30 years old or 13 years old. He stays in jail, and not a juvenile home, a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act.

Meanwhile, a RTI application filed by concerned citizens had uncovered that 14.8 hectares of land from the village of Goomiyapal in Dantewada district is part of a land acquisition proposal with Tata Steel Limited. Six villagers from Goomiyapal were also allegedly gunned down by the police in December as alleged Maoists. No one in the local press reported the encounter even as the village is just four kilometers from the industrial town of Kirandool.

Similarly, Medha Patkar and activists had visited the village of Kuper on the 7th of January to investigate into the matter of four missing boys. The police had refused to lodge the FIRs and refused to inform the parents of the whereabouts of the missing boys. Disappearances and abductions are widespread in Dantewada, and the rule law continues to be a myth.

(This article has been written for The New Indian Express)


Jan Sunwayi at Dantewada: shush now.

January 4, 2010

This article has been written for The New Indian Express.

Market day at Bijapur: the dichotomies and the many shades of greay.


Activists, social workers, ex-justices, ex-bureaucrats, policemen, journalists, intellectuals and citizens from all across India are descending into the jungles of Dantewada, Chhattisgarh for an independent public hearing held on the Salwa Judum, Operation Green Hunt and the Adivasi struggle for justice.

Home Minister Chidambaram had showed initial signs that he may also be present on the 7th of January public hearing, yet was advised by governor and former Director of the IB, E.S.L. Narsimhan  to reconsider his position. Meanwhile many observers claimed that he probably wouldn’t be expected for the very reasons the Jan Sunwayi was being organized.

For instance, in the summer of 2007, twelve-year-old Hungi Madkam, daughter of Kesha Madkam, disappeared after a workforce of the CRPF and SPOs had raided her village of Kottanendra at Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. The FIR on her disappearance was not registered at the local police station. A complaint was written to the National Human Rights Commission that would forward the complaint dated 22/09/2008, received from her brother Lakhmu Madkam to the Director General, CRPF on 25/10/2008.

The Director General recommends that the local police investigate into the matter. Instead, they threatened and beat up the petitioner Madkam Lakhmu and then claimed that he wasn’t co-operating with them in the investigation.

Case closed. A young girl who disappears ceases to exist.

Two years would pass and as is the story of the adivasis of Bastar, she is not where she belongs – for she is neither with her family, nor in her home, nor on her land. She was neither booked, nor taken to a juvenile home, nor a Salwa Judum camp. She simply vanished.

Her brother Lakhmu Madkam would probably want to have a word with Home Minister Chidambaram in the upcoming Jan Sunwayi.

‘Where is my sister?’ Of course, Mr. Chidambaram wouldn’t know, nor have any power to do anything about it. Nor would he know about Vanjam Deve’s 20 year old daughter Vanjam Jogi of the village of Arlampalli who was allegedly abducted by the Salwa Judum in January 2008. Nor would he even know about the whereabouts of 22 year old Kumari Baiko of the village of Dharmaguda who was abducted by SPOs in the summer of 2008. Nor would he know about the killing of her father Chinna Baiko at Errabore camp. This particular case was eventually taken to the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur by activists and family members of the victims.

The court has asked why it took eight months to register the first complaint against the police at the police station. As of now, the original petitioner of the complaint is hiding in fear of police/Salwa Judum reprisal. If he doesn’t resurface, the story would be eventually thrown out of the court.

Yet the pattern of hopelessness and threats to the lives of victims and their family members is widespread in the face of the complete lack of any semblance of a witness protection program.

Take the case of Madkam Madvi (name changed) of Bhandarpadar, Konta block, who was allegedly gang-raped by SPOs at Konta police station in April of 2008. According to her testimony, she claims that she was taken to the police station by the Salwa Judum, robbed of some Rs. 25,000, then kept alone in a room. She was first raped by a SPO in an isolated room in the police station, then blindfolded and gang-raped over two days at the station by three more unidentified persons.

Eventually, she was set free and after further harassment she escaped to Andhra Pradesh. She had hoped to start over and had even married.

At this point, members of the Salwa Judum traced her down in Andhra Pradesh and the harassment continued. According to her husband, they had threatened him saying, ‘we were going to sell this girl and earn some money but now that you married her, we have suffered a loss that you shall now have to payback.’ They then stole Rs.3500, one cow, three goats and two chickens to ‘make up for their loss.’ After further threatening them, they went back to Chhattisgarh, ensuring that Madvi would sleep in a different room in a different village every night, living in constant fear.

Finally, through the Gandhian NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, a complaint was written to the Superintendent of Police, Dantewada. There was no reply for months. The matter was then taken to the court as a private complaint. The case was shifted from Konta to the Dantewada sessions court on the 9th of March, 2009. Harassment began soon after. SPOs crossed the state border and searched her house on the 10th of April, 2009. And on the 2nd of December, 2009, Madvi’s father and a boy who shared her husband’s name were apprehended and taken to Chintur Police Station in Andhra Pradesh. There, the father was threatened and the boy was beaten. They were told to bring Madvi to Konta police station. At this point, she had gone into hiding, knowing that her next appearance at court was to be held on the 10th of December when she had to depose.

She would probably have a lot to say at the Jan Sunwayi as well, provided someone comes to listen.

And the stories would go on. No one in Dantewada has forgotten Ranibodli where 55 policemen were slaughtered. Those who survived the attack were protected by local tribals. That no one remembered.

No one has forgotten the forceful expulsion of villagers from 644 villages. No one has forgotten the issue of security from Maoist violence. No one has forgotten the attack on Errabore camp that was burnt down by the Maoists and 25 people, including a woman and her baby were killed. The Maoists claim that the majority of those killed were SPOs. And no one has forgotten that quite a few of the SPOs themselves are forced to join the service. The fact is, for the majority of the displaced the only option of employment and sustenance is the SPO service – Rs.2,100 a month. The villagers of Bastar have little choice in the face of the complete destruction of their agrarian way of  life – agriculture has all but stopped in the greater parts of Bijapur and Dantewada district.

Yet, disturbingly, a majority of the villagers were intimidated and threatened to become SPOs. And this continues even now.

Take the instance of Lingaram Kodopi, 24, from the village of Sameli, Kuakonda Block who was arrested on the 31st of August, 2009 and was being forced to join the SPO service. The rationale behind it is simple. Once Linga Kodopi is shown in close proximity to the police, the Maoists themselves might suspect him of being an ‘informer’, and thus he’d live in further fear of them. Once he’s an SPO, he can supply the security services a wealth of information of the ‘interior’ areas. Therefore he was allegedly kept in a toilet in the police station for over 40 days. First, Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra denies that he was in their custody, then eventually, they accept that they have an SPO by the name of Lingaram Kodopi.

Through activists, the family filed a Habeas Corpus petition in Bilaspur High Court, asking the police to present Lingaram Kodopi at Court. At Court, Linga told the judge that he did become an SPO but he would like to leave the service. The Court directed the police to release him, and he was released on the 7th of October, 2009.

On the way back home to his village, the police detained his older brother for petitioning the High Court and released him after two days. They also detained his father Joga Ram and had asked him to revoke the affidavit that was detailing custodial torture. He was released after a week.

Lingaram Kodopi, out of fear of further harassment, doesn’t live in Dantewada anymore.

Similarly, the police had also taken 17 villagers from Goomiyapal, Kutrem, Phirnaar, Hiroli and Darpa from Kuakonda block and kept them in forced confinement over a period of two weeks, forcing them to become SPOs.

Maybe they’d like to have a word with the Home Minister as well.


Chidambaram’s Omelette

November 10, 2009

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

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

Okay, what is development?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me try first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Development is truly, cannibalistic.

* * *


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

Development, is the greater good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much has ‘developed’ India failed them?

* * *


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Development, is the Fifth Schedule.

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

I dare you.

Number four: development is justice.

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

* * *


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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *


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

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

It is about a way of life.

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

‘Why?’ asks the confused farmer.

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


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

‘What about me?’

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

The farmer thinks for a second.

‘What if I say no?’ He asks.

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

‘What if I still say no?

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

‘What if I still say no?’

‘We shall break your spirit.’

‘And if my spirit doesn’t break?’

‘We shall kill you all.’

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

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


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

‘What? My friends?!’

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

‘What? No!’

‘It’s development, why not?’


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

‘Are you mad? Get away from me.’

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


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

‘Get away from me!’

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

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

‘DEVELOPMENT ZINDABAD! Bhenchodd!’ Says the farmer.

* * *

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

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

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