Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

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Development for Dummies

April 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This land is your land

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now what about water?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…..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)

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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.

JAN SUNWAYI AT DANTEWADA

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.

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Propagating Peace: draft 1

December 3, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Propagating a peaceful environment: step 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Aapke Gaon Mein Kya Hua Tha?”

November 26, 2009

I had spent the night at Tatemargu – the village cut-off from the mainstream – no roads go to Tatemargu. And there is no electricity – in the dark recesses of the night one can mistake a lone firefly for a shooting star.

News-wise, their only window into the other world was through the radio, through month-old newspapers that are sometimes carried there.

Considering that I spent two nights with a few villagers, we often spoke about things that weren’t related to Naxalism or Salwa Judum, or the attack that took place on their village. We’d often speak about our families, ourselves – our pasts. A particular favourite story was about how one of them would go to school before the Judum started. He apparently used to travel two days, just to get to school.

“Phir SDM saab ke saath mein mila tha ek din.”

And the district magistrate would listen to how he’d travel for two days to get to school and two days to get back home. This was the time when government did try to exist at Bastar and the Magistrate made arrangements for him to study closer to home.

Of course then one of them asked me about 26/11.

‘Aapke gaon mein kya hua tha?’

And I described it to them.

In vivid detail.

I told them how the gunmen got off and started to shoot at everyone and anyone. I told them about Victoria Terminas Train Station. I told them about the Taj.

And they were horrified. Genuinely horrified.  Why were they doing that? How can people do that?

I replied they ceased to be human beings.

‘Woh insaan nahi the.’ – that’s all i could say.

Interestingly, they didn’t know that there were many poor people among the dead. They knew little bits about it. They knew something happened but they didn’t know it like we did.

The story about VT affected them the most.  Throngs of travellers waiting to return home, being confronted with madmen who shot indiscriminately in every direction – at everything that moved.

One particular villager would softly gasp when I described the attacks.

Empathy.

Just ten days ago their village was attacked by the security forces and they lost their homes and four of their people, and yet they genuinely felt  sadness for what happened in Bombay.

I don’t grieve the human race.