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October 1, 2014

Dear all,

The site has now moved to www.moonchasing.com

To continue getting updates and new stories please subsribe to the new site.

Warm regards,

Javed

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Once Upon A Time In Jamua, A Caste War, Election Violence And A Land Struggle

May 4, 2014

(5 of 50)

Nakul Ram Turi of Dudhwatol village in Jamua block of Giridih, Jharkhand, was among four people hospitalized after Bhumihars from the neighbouring village attacked them on polling day on the 10th of April, 2014, resentful of them voting for CPI-ML.

‘Hum log maarne nahi gaye teh, hum log vote dalne gaye teh. (We went to vote, not to fight) Said Govardan Rai Turi of Dudhwatol village of Giridih, where members of the Bhumihar caste had violently chased them away on polling day on 10th of April, 2014.

It was at Booth Number 320 at Gardih village, in Jamua block of Giridih District, that comes under Koderma Lok Sabha Constituency, where on the 10th of April, 2014, the members of the Turi Dalit caste alleged that they were beaten up and chased away from voting by local Bhumihars, resentful of them voting for the CPI-ML.

In the 2009 elections, Babulal Marandi, strongman of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, won 1,99,462 votes, with runner up Raj Kumar Yadav from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) who gathered 1,50,942 votes. In this election, it is said that the fight is between JVM’s Pranava Kumar Verma and Rajkumar Yadav again, with a landscape littered with the red flag of stars of the ‘Maley’ as the CPI-ML is called in the districts, and the Bharatiya Janta Party, whose flags are on the larger more prominent homes off the roadside.

Dudhwatol, a Turi famlet of around 30 homes, is a mere eight to ten minutes from the block headquarters of Jamua and I met two local journalists from prominent Hindi-dailies who had yet to report on the incident of poll violence a whole 10 days after.

The village of Dudhwatol is a known bastion of the CPI-ML. In 1984, the villagers were moved to where they’re settled now after their liberation from bonded labour, which is still prevalent in parts of Giridih today. They recall with pride, one of their leaders ‘Basru’, who was with them in their agitations against bonded labour, and the right to land. ‘Basru’ or Ibnul Hassan Basru, was a member of the Communist Party of India who would eventually join the CPI-ML in 2002. He succumbed to cancer in 2009.

According to testimonies from the village, on polling day of the 10th, they all started from their village in groups, six at a time, or five at a time, none of them travelling alone to the polling booth at nearby Gardih. When they first got there, two Bhumihar men were already in the booth. The election officers were all sitting on the verandah outside. As the men stood in line to vote, they felt that their women should vote first, so they could go home earlier. Naghu Rai Turi and then Tulki Devi, Kunti Devi, Devanti Devi and Kinku Devi would vote without any trouble. When it was Uma Devi who went in line to vote, she recalls, that they had cut the power line as she didn’t hear her the beep from the EVM. She was then told by a man inside the booth, ‘Tum log button bol, hum daba lenge.’ (Tell us which button, and we’ll press it.)

As she would protest, the villagers allege that a Manoj Narayan Dev, a Bhumihar from the nearby village of Jiyotol, the Bhumihar para of Gardih, pushed Uma Devi away from the booth, apparently molesting her in the process. ‘Hum log agal bagal mein teh, aur woh chilane lagi, toh hum log bhagke aye. (We were nearby and she started shouting, so we ran to her)’Would say a witness to the incident. Just as an altercation started, a police vehicle arrived, where the villagers allege (was constable Ashok Narayan Dev, from the same village as Manoj), who started to lathi-charge the villagers from Dudhwatol. The villagers from the Bhumihar caste, both young and old, also began to attack the Turi villagers with sticks and stones. They started to beat Santoshi Turi, whose arms would be left swollen. And eight people would be injured, four would be hospitalized – Lakhan Rai, Nakul Rai, Govardan Rai and Rittal Rai, all with deep cut wounds on their scalps, that could’ve only been caused by stones.

According to Sunil Singh, a CPI ML party worker who witnessed the incident, their votes were then divided between Congress and BJP. When I asked which party the Bhumihars supported the response was ‘Any and all – sometimes BJP, sometimes Congress, sometimes JVM.’

The next day, on the 11th of April, a day after a polling, over seventy people from Bhumihar-dominated Jiyotol would again enter the village and start ‘gaali-galosh’, much to the anger and chagrin of the villagers.

The men gathered outside, confronting them.

‘Kya kya bole yeh log? (What did these people say?) I asked the group of villagers of Dudhwatol.

‘Ma-behen waale gaali!

‘Marenge salle ko!

‘Sab ka haath-perr todd denge, haath kaath denge!

‘Marenge madarchod ko!

‘Aurat ko pakkad pakkad ke pitenge!

The attackers would eventually leave after there were phone calls made to the CPI ML Block Secretary, Ashok Paswan who called up the Daroga, who went straight to a Mukhiya from Chorgotta Gram Panchayat, Upendra Singh. While Upendra Singh was unavailable to comment, Ashok Paswan recalls their conversation went on the lines of, ‘Hum aapne log ko samja lenge, aap aapke log ko samjalo. (We’ll handle our people, you handle yours) The mob would then withdraw, and have left an agitated and alert people on the lookout for further attacks.

The Election Commission, while taking cognizance of 6 other booths where there has been booth tampering and the breaking of EVMs, claims to not have received any reports of booth capturing from Gardih, and the Superintendent of Police Kranti Kumar has marked the incident as ‘a conflict between two groups with a rivalry,’ and in a report to the Hindu, he has apparently ordered an enquiry. Suryanarayan Dev, one of the Panchayat Samiti members of Gardih, whose family the villagers of Dudhwatol explicitly accuse concur that there was a conflict on polling day, but it was the ‘Maley’ people, who were booth grabbing, who were harassing election officials, and chasing away voters, before the police arrived and lathi-charged them. He did not file any complaint with the election commission, or call for re-polling.

An FIR was lodged in the Naodiha police station on the 11th of April of 2014, along with a counter-FIR by the Bhumihars. 100 young men from Dudhwatol were named to eight of the Bhumihars.

Caste is land

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Anup Turi points at land lying fallow due to conflict with the Bhumihars and the Forest Department.

Land is central to the dispute. Dudhwatol is a village afflicted with migration to urban centres, to Delhi, to Mumbai, with countless young men recalling stories of working across the country. Many still didn’t return to vote, and many were informed of the attack only a few days later.

Entering the village from Jamua one crosses vast expanses of grassland which is unaffected by farming, land that is apparently used by the Bhumihars as a grazing ground, and was abandoned from farming in 1984 once the Turi’s were settled there after their liberation from bonded labour. The other side of their village, is forest land devoid of any forests, except for a bamboo plantation, and land that was given to the Turi’s in the 1980’s; land whose ‘pattas’ (deeds), brown-tinted faded pieces of paper the villagers hold dear, but mean nothing to the Forest Department that has interfered with their attempts to farm repeatedly over the past few years. The Bhumihars claim that that was land given to them during the Bhoodan movement, and is still a Reserve Forest, although there is no sight of any trees, and the Turi’s point out cultivation in progress by the Bhumihars themselves.

Beyond this disputed forest land, is a river that has still not run dry.

‘Do you see that ditch?’ Said Anup Turi, ‘That was what the forest department dug to stop us from farming, and you can see that the ditch takes a turn at where the Bhumihar land is.’

Baldev Turi and his son Mantoo Turi and Ravinder Turi were in jail for 15 days, charged under Section 26 of Indian Forests Act in 2013. He was farming one acre and 20 decibel, and the Forest Department refused to acknowledge his patta. They sent him a notice to come to Giridih court again, by the 12th of April, 2014, and he refused to acknowledge the notice, saying it is too far and he doesn’t have the money and has to look after home.

They continue to work with CPI ML in a struggle for land, and to return their lost land over the past few decades, which has also been taken over by the Bhumihars. The few houses built in the village through the Indira Awas Yojana were built after the Panchayat took Rs.10,000 from the families, in contravention of its rules. Once a village that used to vote for the Congress, and once where the labour was worth two kilograms of rice, it is now evident to all of them that there is an excess of land in their vicinity.

Conclusion

(48 of 50)2

10 days after the incident, the village prepares for a wedding. Young boys run around in excitement, two old men play the dhol, while women sing songs, dancing slowly to the jhumka. The young men of the village set up scaffolds and cook in the centre of the village. Beby Turi, aged 18 from Dudhwatol met Rajnish Kumar Turi, aged 20, of nearby Kurobindo village, during ‘chowkidaar’ training, or police training, and are getting married on the 20th of April, 2014.

The threat of further attacks by the Bhumihar villagers has dissipated but a sense of anxiety prevails.

‘Hum log ka bharosa hai ki Maley walley hamare saath hai. (We trust that the CPI ML is with us)’Said one of the village elders. But it becomes quickly evident that they are all 30 minutes away, and that the villagers are on their own in the event something would happen. They all know about Bathani Toli, they know about Laxampur-Bathe.

‘Yeh Bhumihar log kabhi sudrenge? (You think the Bhumihars will ever improve?) I had asked after a tirade after tirade on tales and tales on daily abuse, threats, from all their Bhumihar neighbours.

The question elicited muted laughter and jitters, and a ‘Nahi sudrenge (Never) from amidst the crowd.

‘Party mein hai Bhumihar log? (Are there Bhumihars in the party?)I asked

‘Ha leader log hai, (Yes, there are leaders)said one, man. ‘Ha, aur Sunil Ji hai. (Yes, Sunil is there)Said a villager elder.

Everyone’s attention moved towards a middle-aged man with a crew cut, sitting quietly in the corner. His name is Sunil Singh, he is a Bhumihar from the same village Gardih and a cadre of the CPI-ML.

‘Aap samja sakte aapne logo ko? (Can you talk to your people?)’

‘Inko bhi target kiya hai. (They have targeted him too) Said a village elder for an embarassed Sunil Singh.

‘Yaha samanti ka takat hai, (This is the strength of feudalism)’ Said Sunil Singh, ‘Usko samanti ka takat nahi chalana chahiye. Mein bhi nahi chalana chahta hu, sab ka adhikar hota hai. Issi par samaj ka hota hai, jaati-vaad ka hota hai, hum kisi jaati ka nahi! Yaha koi jaat par nahi vote dere, yaha insaf par vote dere hai.’

(He shouldn’t use the power of feudalism. I also don’t want to use it, everyone has their rights. This is where society and casteism comes into play. We’re not from any caste. Nobody here is voting on the basis of caste, we’re voting on the basis of justice).’

‘Aur insaf peh yeh log roziroti, mazdoori kamane walle log he, aur aap ke pas kaam kar rahe hai, aur aap log ko job hai, das baara bigha zameen hai, aap paise walle hai, yeh log aapse takkar nahi kar sakte hai. Sau rupiye kamake yeh log kitna ladiaye karenge?

(And with justice, these are daily wage labourers, and they’re working for you, you people have a job, have some land, you have money, how will these people fight with you? How much can these people fight after earning a hundred rupees?)’

‘Aapke gaon walle aap ko kya bolte hai? (What do your fellow villagers say to you?)I asked Sunil.

‘Aap yeh Soodoro (Dalits) log ko kyu bhakaya, humne bola hum adhikar par kaam kar rahe hai.’

(Why have you incited these Dalits? I said that we’ll work for their rights and livelihood.’

On wedding day, most of those who lived on daily labour had returned mid-afternoon, the sounds of singing would mute as a loudspeaker would begin to blare popular songs. Lunch was served to all the visitors, journalist, Bhumihar or ‘Maley’. The conversations over voting were secondary, it was land, land and the marriage on everyone’s mind.

Election Result

At the day of counting on the 16th of May, 2014, the CPI ML’s Raj Kumar Yadav was trailing the BJP’s Ravindra Ray by a handful of votes throughout the day, but would eventually lose by a margin.

BJP won with 365,410 votes, with CPI ML coming in second place with 266,756 votes.

JVM came third with 160,638 votes, Congress came fourth with 60,330 votes, and AJSU with 25,522 votes.

Post-Photograpy

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Baldev Turi and Mantoo Turi who were imprisoned for 15 days under section 26 of the Forest Rights Act

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The villagers of Dudhwatol and Govardan Turi who was wounded on polling day

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Bhumihar grazing grounds leading to the Dalit village of Dudhwatol

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C For Cynicism

May 4, 2014

(80 of 138)The polling booth at Mayapur, Palamau District of Jharkhand on the 10th of April, 2014.

Constants seldom make election campaigns, and election results seldom challenge them. C for Corruption but then it is C for Caste, Counterinsurgency and Contrator-raj, that are constants in Palamau district of Jharkhand, and then there is C for cynicism: the language, religion, and soul of every voter, whether he believes in Modi or not, in Laloo or not, who knows things will seldom change in the village, no matter who will win the election, where this time an incumbent ex-Maoist is finding his challenge in an ex-cop and an ex-minister.

In Palamau district at Daltonganj, on the 8th of April, a Ram Navmi jhooloos would play a nationalist song calling for Hindu-Muslim-Christian unity, and the chorus would blare in a guttural voice, ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ repeatedly, with the next chorus including ‘Pakistan Murdabad’. The city was planted with red flags, Hanuman jhandas, and in the evening the administration shut off the power across the block to ensure no accidents could take place, such as the one on the 13th of April, 2000, when a flag procession broke off a 11,000 volt cable that would kill over 30 people at Kasab Mohalla at Daltonganj. Ram Navmi flags were even placed on the Ambedkar statue at Barwadih block, a statue built by supporters of the Rashtriya Janta Dal who didn’t find the sense of misplacement in the act. Over two decades ago, in the village of Balatola with a significant population of Brahmins and Rajputs, the caste system was described through cricket: ‘All the upper caste boys would just bat, and all the lower caste boys would only field and bowl.’

Palamau and Garhwa (Constituency Number 13) is meant for the Reserved Category. The sitting Minister of Parliament Kameshwar Baitha was once a part of the Naxalite insurgency, who won the 2009 seat on a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha ticket while serving a jail term. In the previous election he lost to Ghuran Ram of the RJD by a mere 22,327 votes. It is common knowledge that he joined the CPI Maoist (Party Unity) after the Arwal massacre of Jehanabad on the 19th of April, 1986, where 21 members of the leftist Mazdoor Kisan Sangarsh Samiti were killed by the police. But even by asking 267 questions in parliament, his popularity in the region had waned dramatically in the past five years. He was eventually ditched by the JMM and is currently standing with a Trinamool Congress ticket, after failing in his attempts to win the favours of the BJP, who would eventually field ex-Director General of Police, Vishnu Dayal Ram, a 1973 batch IPS officer, who was the Superintendent of Police during the infamous Bhagalpur blinding incident of 1979-1980, where 31 undertrials had acid poured into their eye sockets by the police.

Yet touring the districts of Palamau and Garhwa it is almost unanimously agreed that the battle is between the RJD’s Manoj Bhuyan and BJP’s V.D. Ram for whom the recent Ramnami celebrations on the 8th of April, and the Modi factor is helping to push votes towards him, especially amongst the landed, dominant and forward castes.

Manoj Bhuyan, has a mixed consolidation of Yadav, Bhuyan and Muslim votes.

When Palamau and Garhwa went to the polls on the 10th of April, 2014 in the first phase of elections in Jharkhand, 1,417,375 voters were meant to practice their franchise but a mere 59.3% showed up for polling. The M factor, wasn’t as much as the Maoist boycott as the Mahua factor, that during the last few days of the fruits falling onto the rich earth, adivasi villagers whose sole source of income for months would be Mahua, would only want to vote after they collected their quota of Mahua for the day, but polling ended at 4 in the evening, leaving many out of the process.

At empty polling booths, disgruntled security personnel were annoyed at how villagers would rather pick up mahua than vote, obviously missing out how the world’s largest democracy could be a farce.

‘Ka maloom kisko vote diya (Who knows who I gave my vote to?)’ Said an old man who came alone and walked away with sheer disinterest in the polling booth at Uldanda Panchayat at Palamau district. A young man, ‘a good samaritan’, held his hand to make him vote, and he wasn’t the only one to whom the act of voting is a mere habit, a connection to this invisible ‘sarkar’, and nothing else. Another man with his grandson under a Mahua tree in Chainpur block, would rather ask journalists who he should vote for, and who we think will save the nation. Suryabed Devi from the village of Dorami would find her name would not be on the list, and would visit the polling booth thrice in the day to try and vote for ‘sarkar ke niyaam’ (government schemes). When she was asked by an observer from Delhi if she knew the ‘Jhadoo wala party’, she responded that she knew what a ‘Jhadoo (broom)’ was.

Over 25 kilometres away, a BJP polling agent, sat around a coterie of 20-30 villagers near the empty Mayapur polling station in Chainpur block of Palamau, distributing election papers with their serial numbers, to make it easier for voters to find their names on the roster. On the first question about the ‘samasya (problems)’ of the village, ten people would all start to speak as once, talking about pani (water), bijli (electricity), ration and job card while the polling agent kept quiet. They were a divided bunch with no one clearly espousing support for any party, with some voices invoking the ‘Lantern’ and others ‘Phool’ (lotus), while there was unanimous mistrust towards their incumbent minister Kameshwar Baitha.

‘Aap abhi bharosa kaise rakhege? (How can you trust them now?)I had asked the group.

‘Toh kay karenge! (What do we do?), they said in a chorus. One man exhorts, ‘Vishwas peh jaahte hai mandir ko, mil jata hai tho mil jata hai! (We go to the temple in faith, if we get what we wish for, then we get it.)’

At some point during the cacophony of discussion, and hyperbolic cycnicism, the polling agent, finally called for order to speak, ‘Hamare Narendra Modi ke laksh mein saare vote jara he.(All our votes are going towards Narendra Modi).’He said, the man approaching fifty who spoke with absolute conviction and sombreness, ‘Woh pradhan mantri baneye, aur desh ka udhar karenge. (He’ll become the prime minister and make the country progress)

‘Gaon ke samasye mein badal aayega? (Will the village’s problems get fixed?)’ I asked.

Silence.

Then a cacophony again. Mostly saying no.

‘Koi bhi jeeta aase koi bhi umeed nahi hai. (Whoever wins, we don’t have any hopes like that). Said a younger man, ‘Aapna khandaan hi banate ha (They only help their own families). Garibo kya kar raha hai, kha raha hai, kapda penh raha hai, chhao mein bheta hai, usse koi matlab nahi hai (What the poor are doing, what they’re eating, what clothes they’re wearing, whether they have shade to sit in, none of that matters). Woh jieetne ke baadh woh bus aapna sochtha hai (Once they win, they just think of themselves).’

Another man spoke at the very instance, ‘Koi jeetega, garib ka dekhneka koi nahi hai , agar 100 ghar hai, yaha 50 ghar mein kuch nahi hai, koi card nahi, koi job card nahi. Aur kuch nahi hoga unka! (Whoever wins, nobody is going to look after the poor, if there are 100 houses here, there is nothing in 50 houses, no card, no job card. Nothing will happen for them). ’

The polling agent kept quiet. He didn’t wish to speak anymore.

Speaking to villagers after villagers, there was an obvious sense of abandonment, of the village, of the self, of the community amongst a majority of people who went to the polls. Yet there were some places where the issues were not issues, and the struggles were entirely their own.

Counterinsurgency

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Memorial for the dead at Barhania village  in Latehar District of Jharkhand.

Around 55 kilometers from Palamau, it was in Barhania village in Murvai Panchayat in Latehar district that on the 15th of April, 2009, a day before polling for the Lok Sabha elections that an IED blast on a polling party, would claim the lives of two CRPF personel and one civilian driver Vijay Kumar Prasad. And in an act (that is always disputed by the police), that can only be described as a revenge killing, the angry CRPF survivors marched to the nearest village and arbitrarily killed five people – Supay Bodra (18), Sanjay Bodra (20), Masi Soma Bodra (14), Pitai Munda (32) and Supay Bodra (55), and claimed they killed five Naxalites. The incident on the peak of the elections, led to a frenzy of accusations, anger, and promises, and the fact that the village, has contributed 17 people to the Army or the Border Security Forces or the Jharkhand state police or the CISF, and is then branded a ‘Naxalite village’, did not escape public scrutiny.

Army Jawaan Joel Budra, whose own family members were killed on that day, would eventually leave the Bihar Regiment a few years after the killings, and still remembers the day his own colleagues who saw the news bulletins, started to insinuate that he comes from a village of ‘ugravadis (extremists)’ .

‘Abhi bhi yaad aata hai unka (I still remember them).’ He says about his family members, he himself is almost half his size today, and spends his time working in the fields when there is work.

‘Police se gussa to aata hai, hum bhi police to the, aur mera bhai Martin bhi policewalla hai, lekin usko bhi gussa hai (We do get angry at the police, I was also in the police and my brother Martin is also a policeman, and he gets angry too).’

The site of the attack today is dotted with two memorials, one for the driver killed in the attack set up by the transport association, a statue of stone whose ankles are beaten down and another by the villagers of Barhania with the names of the villagers and details of the incident that clearly indicts the CRPF. Over the past few years the CRPF patrols have constantly erased ‘CRPF’ from the plaque, and the adivasis keep writing it again.

Jawaan Mangram Munda, who is part of the CISF categorically states, that the villagers were innocent and that the massacre wouldn’t have taken place if he was there in the village the day of the attack. He was himself at Chatra at election duty, and is visibly angry with the CRPF who acted rashly but has an entirely different relationship to the state than others in his village, and is openly espousing his support for the AAP in Latehar on the issue of corruption, even though there is no visible sight of the party across the region.

On the day of the killing, every political party from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, to the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, to the Bharatiya Janata Party, to the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the CPI(ML)-Liberation, and Communist Party of India, to human rights organizations and the national media would visit the village, whose lack of irrigation facilities had affected migrancy and livelihood as much as the massacre. In 2009, the families of the victims would never go to the polls, and five years later, their voices stand divided, with some still refusing to vote, and some believing they would vote for the Congress’s Dhiraj Prasad Sahu, who had given each of the families Rs.20,000 as compensation, and has promised to re-open collieries, re-open the Chirimiri railway line and to complete the Mandal Dam which will drown countless trees and submerge villages, to the chagrin of other adivasi groups. Their incumbent candidate, Inder Singh Namdhari, who ran as an independent, only visited the village once, and had called for a review into the incident, when the villagers was already cleared by then.

‘I didn’t vote last time,’ Said Gauri Budhra from Barhania, ‘And this time I have to spend my time picking Mahua, and I will probably be too tired to walk 2 kilometres in the sun to vote.’

‘What if there was a complete gaurantee that the water problems in the village would be solved if you voted?’ I asked.

She laughed.

‘I would still not go. Who trusts these people!’

Soni Mundoo, about 50 years of age, sister of Pitai Munda who was killed in the attack felt the same. ‘Why vote after they killed our people?’ While her family voted for the panchayat elections, further questioning led her to say, ‘And I am alone, why should I go? There is so much work.’

Contractor-Raj

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Migrant workers returning from Bangalore an evening before polling day.

During the Mahua season, the Munda, Oraon and Chero adivasis of Palamau-Chatra-Garhwa and Latehar collect as much Mahua as they can for their home, and sell what they can in the market. The markets are run by ‘Mahajans’ with whom there is no bargaining over price. It starts at Rs.30 per kilo, and over the next few weeks as more and more trees grow mahua fruits, the price goes down to Rs.25, to Rs.20. Then, in a few months, the Mahajans will sell the Mahua back to the adivasis at Rs.40 or Rs.50 a kilogram when there is none left in the forest. A system in place for there is no organized effort by the government to build godowns, or to protect adivasi interests.

In every village moving towards the interior, incomplete roads, incomplete government buildings dot the landscape. In every conversation, there was always someone or the other from Daltonganj or Ranchi, from anywhere but here, who built half of a road, or half of a building, or nothing at all. It was in Latehar, where on the 2nd of March, 2011, where the CPI Maoists, in collusion with a contractor had murdered Niyamat Ansari, an activist fighting for proper implementation of MNREGA, who built a pond through a government scheme in the panchayat, who repeatedly invoked the RTI act and the Forest Rights act. The local Maoist commander Sudarshan would accuse him of stealing land, stealing from the poor, ‘child sacrifice’ but would eventually be forced to ‘apologize’ by his leadership.

Another incident where the role of the contractors is pushed to an afterthought took place in Garhwa, when an IED blast on the 21st of January, 2012 had claimed the lives of 13 police personnel, who were accompanying the local Block Development Officer Vasudev Prasad to a protest site at Bargad, where villagers were protesting against how their health center, meant for the village Ghotoni was being built at Bargad by the contractors in collusion with the dominant castes. At the same time, the CPI Maoists had abducted Zilla Parishad member Shushma Mehta of the CPI-ML, her bodygaurds and party member Akhtar Ansari who were also on their way to the protest site, while the police lathi-charged the protestors at Bargad, refused to acknowledge that Sushma Mehta’s team was abducted and would go on to accuse that the attack on their polling party was planned by the CPI-ML. The team would eventually be released by the Maoists and Sushma Mehta herself is now vying for the Palamu-Garhwa Lok Sabha seat.

And the contractors never built the health center meant for Ghotoni.

The BJP campaign itself found its feet in Shyam Narayan Dubey, a contractor who also runs the teachers union through the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Manoj Singh, District President of BJP also a bus contractor with murder cases to his name, Parsuram Ojha, a contractor and social worker, Kiran Singh, another bus contractor, and from Ranchi, Harihar Singh and his brother Pancham Singh, who are into construction. For the RJD there is Girnath Singh who is a ‘zamindar’, Someshwar Sahu who is a bus contractor and Congress worker who is supporting the RJD this time around, and the family of political strongman Bishma Narain Singh, a once governor, minister and MLA, and many more. Ghuran Ram, a candidate from the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, is himself a contractor. This is an endless survey meant to be, on how each contractor and zamindar in every region moves towards some political party or the other, or both, to try and make use of the Minister’s fund.

Today, with the onset of neo-liberalism and the breakdown of unions, contractors in the region have now also found dealing in human beings a profitable business.

The evening before the polls, nine migrant workers from the village of Regeniya in Barwadih block had paid Rs.3000 to a tempo driver to drop them from Ranchi to Daltonganj, as there were no bus services available as they were all taken for election duty. They had just returned from Bangalore, and one of them believed that if you don’t vote, they cut your name out of the voting list. They were ambivalent about their reasons for returning, until the next day they called up to say that they had run away from Bangalore after two of them were almost killed in a construction accident. It was a local contractor from their village Rehnai Singh who had sent them with some money to work, at the JMC projects in Bangalore, where a contractor Munna Khan put them to work along with construction supervisor Rehnai Singh’s son, who had locked them up, abused them, and refused to hear their concerns of safety after the accident.

They escaped clandestinely but were caught on the road by the contractors who threatened them with dire consequences. ‘Hum bezati ka kaam nahi karenge (We won’t do work that dishonours us)’Repeated Prakhar Singh, a Cheroo adivasi, around 21 years of age.

On the day of polling, when one of the migrants said they had voted for the BJP, a group of villagers and activists started to chastise him, asking how they were treated by the locals in Bangalore in where they had gone to work: ‘Aap ne unka hi sarkar ko vote diya, (You’ve voted for the same government)Said Kanhai Singh, an adivasi leader and CPI-ML cadre, ‘Aap Bhajpa ko vote diye hai kyuki aap Hindu hai? (Did you vote for the BJP just because you’re Hindu?)’ He would ask them. ‘Ha, toh Kangi kaun cheeze hai? (Yes, so what is a Kangi?)’ said a worker, to jitters. It seemed nobody forgot that Babulal Marandi of the ‘Kangi’ was once a part of the RSS, but as the conversation grew more and more redundant, one worker expressed that he is ‘un-padh (uneducated)’ and doesn’t know these things.

In the evening, the contractor who ‘sent’ them to Bangalore to work, came to collect his dues. The visibly frightened workers had no choice but to accept that they have to return the debt they owed Rehnai Singh, but refused to file a case for what is legally bonded labour.

Caste

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Ram Navmi Flags on the statue of Dr. Ambedkar in Latehar district of Jharkhand.

Kachanpur village in Chhattarpur block in Palamau district is a village split between Dalits and Jadhavs, has access to a pond, an MNREGA office, with the ‘N’ rubbed out, and villagers who see the sense of humour in ‘marega ka kaam (the work of those who will die). Of 1,100 voters, only 30% would practice their franchise, since most of the village youth are also migrant workers in other cities, who did not return to vote. The villagers also recall with laughter at how the BJP was giving out Rs.4000 to the voters, and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha was first giving out Rs.500 and then was forced to give Rs.4000 due to competition, but eventually their party workers reached a compromise and realized they should both just give Rs.2000. The villagers unanimously voted for the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Rampati Ranjan, but those that belonged to the Paswan caste, had their votes split for the BJP due to Ram Vilas Paswan’s move towards them.

41 year old Raghu Ravidas is a teacher in a local school who has belonged to BAMCEF (All India Backward (S.C., S.T., O.B.C.) And Minorities Communities Employees Federation) for decades now, recalling how it was Baleshwar Bharti, now from the BSP who had worked with them for decades. Today, his school building ran out of funds, since a portion was paid to the contractors, another fee had to be paid to the CPI Maoists and when the anti-Maoist Tritiya Prastuti Committee would arrive to ask for their own ‘cut’ there were no funds left, and the work for the school was forced to shut down.

Raghu Ravidas, remembers the conflicts in his village over caste, and how his people were humiliated at a Jadhav wedding by being asked to clean their own plates. A matter that was settled when they threatened wholesale boycott and when the then Maoist Communist Centre had a meeting with the Jadhavs. He even cites the humiliation of a government teacher Alok Deo Ram, a Dalit who was forced out of the school at Nodiya Bazaar after the other teachers who belonged to forward castes couldn’t deal with their own resentment. ‘Chapal ka mala pina diya tha unko, (They made him wear a garland of slippers)’ Said Raghu Ravidas, who along with BAMCEF were on the forefront of the protest, with hunger strikes, marches and protests outside government offices. This followed another incident in nearby Tilliyadi in 2003, where the members of a Teli Caste refused to send their children to a school for the cook belonged to a lower caste. While the BDO had ensured a case was filed, the woman in question left her position due to further harassment.

‘At that time, Ghuran Ram, from the RJD, and a man from our own caste,’ Said Raghu Ravidas, ‘said that the other teachers who humiliated Alok shouldn’t be arrested.’ None of those who were part of the government machinery, who won the seats that come under a reserved category, had come to the protest and the struggle that was held by the BAMCEF. Further irritation was reserved for MLA Sudha Choudhary of the JDU, who herself from the Pasi caste had a ‘mixed marriage’, whose response to protests was also lukewarm.

When I had asked Raghu if the constituency being in the reserved category had done anything to annihilate ‘jaat-vaad (casteism), his response was an astounding no, since no party in power was a part of any of the grassroots work that was being done. It became obvious that caste plays a role in where the votes can go, but in a constituency that comes under a reserved category, the annihilation of caste is not a candidate’s primary concern.

Rajkumar Pichuliya, a man who has been to BSP rallies in Lucknow, but missed out on Mayawati in Ranchi (due to the Maoist strike) would pick up a piece of cow dung and say, ‘Jab tak log ise bhagwaan maan te hai, jab tak yeh desh meh koi development nahi hoga. (Till people think this is God, there will be no development in this country)’

It was more than evident that the BSP had given them a sense of self-respect that no party had done, an identity, and a voice, and it was clearly elucidated with how a tone of 30-40 women sitting in a mini-panchayat would change, as they talk with rigour, laughter and pride when there is any conversation about Behenji.

The opposite sense was with the Ansari Muslims of Chegona in Palamu Constituency, who had unanimously voted for the RJD since 2002 after the Loto massacre in their Panchayat where 12 people were killed, some say the perpetrators were the RSS, while others say the MCC, and some say by the Maoist-faction People’s Liberation Front of India. Both Rabri Devi and Laloo Prasad Yadav had visited the Panchayat (of Chegone, Loto, Arar and Khodi) on the day of the attack itself, and the memory and gratitude of a people who’ve never been organized, has turned votes to an afterthought.

They come under the Khodi Panchayat which is predominately Yadav, who were happy to tell the Ansari villagers of Chegona, ‘Hamare dono haath mein ladoo hai, RJD bhi Yadav ka party hai, aur BJP bhi Hindu ka party hai. (We have sweets [ladoos] in both hands, RJD is the party of the Yadavs, and the BJP the party for Hindus)’.Their own ‘Mukhiya’ would be a BJP party worker and a contrator, Ranjit Kumar Jaiswal. ‘Usne kya vikas kiya? (What progress did he bring us?)’ Asked a middle aged man in the mini-panchayat, ‘Usne hamara saab chawal bhej diya! Bahut vikas kiya! (He sold all our rice. So much progress!)’he said to laughing old women and young boys.

While they say there is no fear of Modi coming to power, to them and their village, there is a fear for over 40% of their young sons and brothers work as migrant workers in cities across the country.

The RJD to them, had not done anything to them, but they voted for them.

C for conclusion

There are political parties you vote for, and/or political beings you become.

Election Result

On the 16th of May, 2014, the results showed that at Palamau Lok Sabha Constituency, the BJP’s V.D. Ram won with 476,513 votes, followed by Manoj Bhuyan of RJD, with 212,571 votes, to JVM’s Ghuran Ram with 156,832 votes and Kamleshwar Baitha on a TMC ticket with 37,043 votes. BSP’s Rampati Ranjan had got 20,481 votes.

At the Chatra Lok Sabha Constituency, under which there is Latehar district, the BJP’s S.N. Singh won with 295,862 votes, followed by Dhiraj Prasad Sahu with 117,836 votes, followed by Nilam Devi of JVM with 104,176 votes.

Then there was  AJSU Party with 35,674, Samajwadi Party with 29,754, Communist Party of India with 21,261, Aam Aadmi Party with 17,980, Bahujan Samaj Party 14,929, Rashtriya Deshaj Party with 10,771,  Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)  with 8341, and All India Trinamool Congress with 7841.

Photography Post-Script

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The line at Mayapur polling station in Chainpur block of Palamau District at Jharkhand on the 10th of April, 2014.

(115 of 138)Security at the polling station at Checha Panchayat at Latehar District on polling day on the 10th of April, 2014

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Polling station at Gore Panchayat, closer to the town of Daltonganj at Palamau District on the 10th of April, 2014.

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Memorial for Vijay Kumar Prasad,  the driver killed along with two CRPF personnel in an IED blast on the 15th of April, 2009.

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Inside the polling booth at Uldanda Panchayat at Palamau district of Jharkhand on the 10th of April, 2014.

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The MNREGA office at Kachanpur village at Palamau district of Jharkhand.

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Abandoned government offices for the Mandal dam at Latehar district of Jharkhand.

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Scene from outside the polling center at Daltonganj, Palamau, at the end of polling.

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At the polling station at Dorami Panchayat at Latehar district on the 10th of April, 2014

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The New Songs Of The Murder Manual

June 17, 2013

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

“Jump over Dilli, we jungle people

Even if you dont know how to sing.

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

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

in our villages we come,

we will go with our axes,

big feet police, we will jump in delhi,

with bows and arrows, we will jump in delhi,

with these arrows, we will kill the police,

loot the government,

we will snatch weapons and bring them.’

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

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

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

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

We will fight like red ants, jungle people,

for our land, we will jump,

We won’t give our jungle resources,

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

We will keep our gold,

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

Chorus: Dilli!

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

Dilli’ – probably sang the stone.

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

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

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

Jump over them and kill them

We will jump like tigers in the jungle

Aim like the eye of the cat in the jungle

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

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

Song – Ee Na Ve

Girls: You all sing along

Boys: We don’t know how to sing

Girls: How do you not know how to sing?

Boys: You are the singers here, you sing

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

Boys – We dont know how to sing

Girls: How do you not know how to sing?

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

 Girls: Adivasi people

 Boys: Sing on

Girls: The people live like this, big foot police

We live off the land, from farming

My people, where have you gone?

We are farmer people

We live of the land, farmer people,

Where will we run away to?

If we have to die, we will die here.

 

The Judum started and its over,

They lost, the people have won,

Everyone had run here and there,

And they all came back

The land, the trees, the mountains,

are ours again,

in our hands again,

the mango trees we planted,

our lake is there,
our land is there,

the house we built with our hands is there.

 

Our fathers and grandfathers in the village,

were caught by the Judum,

the Judum ate our house,

they drank the people’s blood,

they become bigger,

but at some point, they will die,

if they won’t die, so what?

that much will happen, let it be.

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The stillness of rage

April 5, 2013

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‘Take a picture of my house’ before they demolish it

During the fifth demolition drive at Ganesh Krupa Society on February of 2012, Rajendra Mistry, a supervisor in a maintenance firm, pulled me away from documenting the demolishing of another house and asked me to follow him to his own house. I asked him why and he says he wants a photo of himself in his house before the ‘haramis’ (bastards) break it down. He sat down on his mattress, before his packed belongings, his idols and gods still hanging from the walls, with the solemnity of silence itself. I took the photos for him, and by the end of the day, it didn’t matter as much.

By five in the evening, the demolition crews left. His house survived.

That day.

On the 3rd of April this year, after the sixth demolition drive, it’s a field of rubble.

That too after the Union Ministry’s Principal Secretary of Housing, Ajay Maken wrote to the Chief Minister to cease from demolitions and evictions until the investigations into the numerous discrepancies in the project are completed.  ‘Your decision to investigate six of the proposed or under construction projects through the Principal Secretary (Housing) was conveyed to me, which is a welcome step. I however, would request you to ensure that wherever as in these six SRS projects under enquiry, there are prima facie illegality, no irreversible damage or eviction of residents should be permitted to be done with police force.’

This would take place after a demolition drive at Golibar’s Ambewadi on the eve of Woman’s Day when women were dragged off and allegedly molested by the police and unidentified persons, and nine homes were demolished.

And this time the state accomplished in demolishing 43 homes at Ganesh Krupa Society, most of whom, in an act of resistance, were rebuilt by the residents after the last demolition drives.

To the people of Ganesh Krupa Society, who’re predominately working class, even if they break down their homes, that is more than just a property, more than just shelter, they will put in money to rebuild, some having spent anywhere between Rs.10,000 to Rs. 40,000, as an act beyond protest, beyond the frustration of protest, beyond dharna after dharna, march after march, court case after court case. Yet this last demolition drive has been particularly brutal, ripping out foundations, leaving no trace of a home, just leaving landscapes of an exploding city.

Meanwhile, Ambewadi society, across the road, has been on a sit-in, and a relay hunger strike since the 20th of January, 2012, after a private security firm hired by the builder ended up in a violent clash that led to the hospitalization of two women from Ambewadi, where the police refused to lodge a complaint against the builder, and instead charged the residents.

Ambevadi is where stenguns are carried by the police and taken to the settlement for a welfare scheme.

Ambevadi, is where the ironies of dalit capitalism are clearer than ever, where the Budh Vihar, is where the residents swear on Babasaheb Ambedkar, and the nostalgia of the Dalit Panthers, and plan their strategies against the builder, himself from the Schedule Caste.

Ambewadi is where the Ashis Nandy controversy at the Jaipur Literature festival was a stupid joke. And where Mr.Nandy should shut the hell up. Santosh Thorat, a matang dalit, organizer for the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, laughed at his comments, standing amongst broken homes of working class dalits, looking at the tower the builder built, and commenting, ‘yeh toh brahmin hi ban gaye’(they have just become brahmins).’

Ambevadi society and Ganesh Krupa Society, are the frontlines in this war of attrition of profit, two of 46 societies the builder has to acquire for his township, the thorns in his plans. He so far, only has eleven. Most have still taken him to court.

Most still join the rallies against him, as they did during the ten day protest at Azad Maidan in January of this year, that had led the Maharashtra State Government to agree to conduct inquiries, through the Principal Secretary of Housing into six Slum Rehabilitation Projects including Golibar. It had put a moratorium on demolitions until the end of the investigations, except those where the High Court has precedence. But to both Ambevadi and Ganesh Krupa Society, thanks to questionable court orders,  they faced demolition drives.

And that brings us back to the judiciary, and the redundance of it all: the order that was once passed in the matter concerning Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society, where the Civil  High Court, ruled in favour of the builder, stating, ‘‘that no useful purpose will be served by allowing the petitioners to raise any dispute about the meeting which was held on 7th February 2009.’ A criminal case filed by the residents against the builder and the chief promoters of the project in Ganesh Krupa Society, led the court to order the police to investigate and chargesheet those accused of forgery and fraud, as the residents claim, there was never any mandatory 70% consent in the project, and the ‘disputed meeting’ never took place. Yet the police have only stalled their own investigations, and instead come for demolition drives.

The project and the builder has even been indicted by the Comptroller Auditor General report released in 2012, that the builder had grabbed public lands, and there was never any transparency in the manner in which the Slum Rehabilitation Authority or the builder acquired consent from the residents. Yet the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan remains a mute spectator.

And on the 30th of March, a few days before the coming demolition drive, resident, leader of people on Ganesh Krupa Society, tailor, mother, angaanwadi teacher, Prerna Gaekwad, asked the Deputy Police Commissioner why he was sending a police force to support ‘criminal’ activities, when the inquiry is yet to be finished, and his response was that he is helpless against a court order. Prerna was detained on the 7th of March, when she went across the road to help prevent the demolition drive at Ambevadi. There too, they were just following orders.

Thus the Judiciary is the hammer, the judiciary is the bulldozer, a judge might as well be driving it.

The anger against the courts, against the law, against a biased system, is palpable at Golibar.

It is the High Court orders that take the bulldozers into their living rooms, it is the High Court orders that annihilate any idea of equitable justice, and becomes the reason itself for injustice, the enemy of the people. It is an unstoppable movable force, a betrayal, the judiciary that is meant to protect the constitutional rights of people, is a market ally, a creation of the stillness of rage: a stillness of rage that is not impotence, it reaps a whirlwind, it destroys any idea of respect for the law, and then lawlessness will be justified, the anger will be rebellion, it will become the fist that fantasizes to smash the collector’s face, it will be the riot, the arson, it will become the irrationality of the stone thrown onto the moving local, it becomes to rage against those in the towers who sit quietly, it becomes the end of a citizen, the anomie, the culture that keeps reacting to violence with more violence, an informal violence, for those who destroyed their lives, the so-called police-builder-politician-nexus, are too far beyond for their reach.

Here is a dying society, where if the law itself does not follow the law, then everything is permitted

And even if the market and the prophets of the free market of the world may eventually win, whatever scraps of the earth that is left to them, for a brief moment in the history of time, of a million years of this earth whose stones told the lonely geologists the poetry of a world without men, there are the bricks of demolished homes of people who lived in the slums of civilization, who will speak about self-respect. Interviews with builder after builder, the question of respect for the residents is a joke, their only response is silence.

Instead, during the demolition drive, a builder wanted to watch each and every brick breaking from the house of Sudesh Paware, a railway employee and one of the residents who protested with resolve against the builder. ‘With a lot of pride, he watched them level his house to dust,’ said Shekhar Mirgule.

Yes, many residents don’t protest against the state, against the builder. The homes of those who supported the builder in the beginning itself, or those too wary to fight the Juggernaut of development were the first to go. Then there are those who’re bought off.

Yet there are those who refuse: there are those who hold onto their self-worth: their rights, their protest. Even after 43 homes have been broken down, not a single resident has taken the builder’s offer. And for a brief moment, it wasn’t the market, it wasn’t greed is good, it wasn’t aspirations of the working class to claim the towers of the rich without baying for their blood, it was simply a humility and a truth: that we want respect. The market respects respect as the machineguns the police bring into the settlements they want to destroy in the name of a welfare scheme. A welfare scheme that is nothing but the annihilation of community. Give us your riches, and we shall leave our home, maybe. We will betray our brothers, our neighbours. You spend more money trying to destroy our resistance, than you do in just giving it to us. The market is the ego of the rich, the market will not allow the working class to claim equality in profit. The market is the bulldozer of the stillness of nostalgia, it is the rubble of rage, and from that rubble, your streets will be filled with madness.

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Reporting The Grey Corridor: The Killing of Journalist Nemichand Jain

February 23, 2013

64591_588822274479301_909155306_nCopyright: source

The murder of a local journalist in Sukma is indicative of the fragility of the fine line local journalists have to work within to survive in the Red Corridor

This piece appears in the Sunday Guardian on the 24th of February, 2013

There has always been a line that has just moved into a downward spiral for the safety and integrity of journalists with the brutal execution of a journalist in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on the 13th of February, 2013. Nemi Chand Jain’s body was found on the road, his neck slit, with a note claiming that he was an informant. He was 45 years old and wrote for the Hindi-dailies Haribhoomi and Dainik Bhaskar and had over 20 years of experience in journalism, both as a distributor and as a journalist.

An initial note the police recovered from the site claimed that the Maoists have accused him of working as an informant for the police for the past three years, yet there have been questions regarding the authenticity of the note. It was signed by the ‘Kanker Ghati Darbha Division’ which many observers claim does not exist. Acccording to a report by Ashutosh Bharadwaj in the Indian Express, another note appeared a few days later where the Maoists denied responsibility, which was followed by another one that claims that he was indeed killed as he was an informant. The same report quotes the Superintendent of police Sukma, Abhishek Shandilya, who mentions, ‘Jain was very close to them. Why they would kill him is puzzling.’

Other claims exist that mention he was killed due to personal enmity with someone else in the area or that he was murdered by smugglers. Reports and local journalists have repeatedly indicated that Nemichand Jain had an argument with a group of villagers a few days before his murder.

In his blog, Kanker-based journalist Kamal Shukla has no doubts that the Maoists have been responsible for his killing, indicating that there was a Jan Sabha held a few days ago where Jain was instrumental if freeing the individual the Maoists were trying.

Yet while the question of why he was killed and who killed him is yet to be answered, certain mainstream reports have already blamed the Maoists, without really trying to understand the relationship the local media have with both the state and the rebels.

In the red corridor, there has always been an underlying reality that every local journalist who lives in the area, has to deal with the threats and violence of the police and the Naxalites, and sometimes has no option but to work as informants. A local journalist had once even informed the police of my presence in the area. And there is no way one can blame him for it, for he has to live in the district within a delicate balance, and try to keep his relationship as cordial with the police as well as the Naxalites. So if Nemi Chand Jain was killed for being an informant, then the Naxalites will kill all the local journalists in Bastar.

Another grey area is that a journalist is an informant by default, one simply needs to enter into a police station and find that the police are reading Arundhati Roy’s Gandhians With Guns. They now have photos of the young adivasi girl who liked to watch ‘ambush videos’. Or they can visit a well-known journalist’s facebook page and download his group photo with the rebels which he has as a profile picture. In 2009, when I asked how the police knew the man they gunned down was a Maoist, he showed me a photograph of a man I saw ten minutes ago on a gunny sack outside the police station, bullet holes in his chest, with dead brown eyes, now in a photograph posing with an AK47, looking straight into the camera, alive, once upon a time.

There are too many underlying grey areas in a situation where the burning of the villages of in Pidiya Panchayat in Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh, where 31 homes in over four different hamlets were burnt down by the police on the 21st – 23rd of January, 2013, and was never reported in the local press and barely even touched the mainstream media. Bastar is where the art of not writing was perfected, and where the morbid statistical out of context reports of every bus burning, ambush, and IED blast will find national airplay without any of the underlying questions of what the adivasis really want. There are local journalists whose editors have told them not to report on any Maoist-related issue. There are local journalists who can’t write anything negative about mining, as the companies provide them advertising revenue, which they have to acquire themselves, and at times is their sole source of income. There are local journalists who’ve been shot at by angry jawaans, when they were doing their duty and trying to report on another ambush by the Maoists that left two CISF jawaans dead. There have been local journalists who’ve been beaten up repeatedly by the Salwa Judum, and a few years ago, three prominent senior journalists were threatened with ‘a dog’s death’ if they continued to carry Maoist statements by a pro-state vigilante organization calling itself the Danteshwari Adivasi Swabhiman Manch. And yes, there are local journalists who misuse their privilege for profit, by blackmailing individuals with a promise to publish insidious lies in their newspapers, if they don’t pay up.

But whether there are journalists who’re informants, blackmailers, bullshitters, truth-seekers, careerists, philosophers, Arnab Goswamis, Hem Chandra Pandeys, Lingaram Kodopis, stenographers, or downright liars, like the rest of the human race, they don’t deserve to be executed.

Of course holding a presscard doesn’t give one the right to do whatever they please. A journalist can’t go around and blackmail individuals, can’t be party with the Salwa Judum and burn villages down, can’t act as a courier for the Maoists, or go with them while they’re about to ambush the police. The laws of the land apply to journalists as well, and abusing one’s privilege has to be dealt with, through the course of the law.

There are of course more grey areas concerning the neutrality of a journalist in what is also a class conflict. Most local journalists in Dantewada aren’t adivasis, most are outsiders, many are contractors. They are by default against the Maoists, but they’re again, not enemy combatants. But according to the Maoists, contractors have always been enemy combatants, if not their main source of income.

Then how does one work as a journalist in a state like Chhattisgarh when your sympathies are with the people? With the poorest, with the adivasis? Or how does one work as a journalist when your sympathies are with the ruling class? Is writing the truth enough? In Dantewada, it is the senseless loss of life of the police and of the adivasis, the tragedy of endless suffering, that shows there is sometimes no need to be neutral, but simply anti-war, anti-brutality, anti-failed economic policies, anti-structural violence. Journalism, the so-called fourth pillar of democracy, is not beyond the duties of the state towards its people enshrined in the constitution, but a journalist also has those duties towards the people.

To tell them their own myriad truths.

And many local journalists are aware of that, if only their editors, the state and the Maoists allow them to.

Update: Maoists say sorry for killing Bastar journalist

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Invisible Cities: Part Fourteen: Ramnagar: Schizophrenia And The City

December 11, 2012

A few homes remaining at Sinhgad Society before the rehabilitation buildings - photo for part 1

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis in three parts on the 9th, 10th and 11th of December, 2012.

Mangesh Khopde (31), was admitted to Ward 1 of Sion Hospital on the 14th of November. He was screaming, violently lashing out, and had to be strapped in, given electroshock therapy and sedated.

It all started when on the 9th of November, 2012, his house in Ramnagar, Ghatkopar was demolished for a SRA project called the Satra Hills by Satra Developers.

Mangesh, who had also been sober for a year and a half, was on anti-psychotic drugs, that were lost in the demolition as his family could not rescue all of his belongings.

He had confrontations with the police and the supporters of the builder, and was pushed into the police van, raving and abusing the whole time.

Eventually, over the next few days, without taking his medication whose prescriptions were buried in the rubble, he found himself wandering aimlessly, fighting with strangers, and screaming. After a year and half without alcohol, he had a relapse, that led to his breakdown.

Taken to the hospital with extremely high blood pressure, he was sedated with Lorazepam, given the anti-psychotics olanzepine, haloperidol, quetiapine, and pacitane, over the days, reacting to some medication, and not reacting to others. He now doesn’t remember the events of the ninth of November, but still disagrees with the idea of moving into a building, preferring to live in a slum which has low maintenance costs.

The dispute between a group of residents of the 18 societies of Ramnagar, all named after Shivaji’s forts, are the numerous allegations and discrepancies in the project, especially concerning forgery and the undemocratic manner of the decisions taken by the developer,.

Central to the dispute is the strange role played by a resident called Prabhakar Shetty of Sinhagad society.

In a letter dated 27th of July, 2009 that RTI activist Sandeep Yeole acquired from the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, he complained about the undemocratic manner the SRA project was being handled by the Developers, by the resident’s federation itself, and by numerous members of the federation, including Shankar Mahadik, a National Congress Party Worker and treasurer and Sanjay Shetty, who was the under secretary.

His letter itself originally in Marathi, hints to the highly spurious manner of functioning of not just the developer, but of numerous parties in the residents associations, and the complete absence of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority.

‘Shankar Mahadik brought in Satra property developers. To start with the development the developer needs to send a letter of interest to the federation and the societies involved. Mahadik however made no such insistence for the letter and allowed developers to begin the surveys without providing any letter to the federation or any of the societies. On the other hand, they made contracts with the developers and architects in a hurry. This contract was lacking and inconsistent, which I noticed and brought to the federations notice, but they did not take any proper action over it. Many of the societies in the area were coming together to sign the contracts despite the problems in it, so we too gave our contracts and all necessary documents to the federation. As the president of the Sinhgad Society, I had been in touch with the federation and had been asking for additional information regarding the developer’s plans, but never received any concrete replies or answers from the them. I got into numerous arguments with them due to this. One night in July 2006, Sanjay Shetty came to my house with a single contract which Shetty said was in favour of the societies and made me sign the papers. He said that he would give me a copy of the contract I signed in the morning, but did not give me one. Because I had no copy of this, I got into arguments with the federation. Because they were always on the side of the developers and not the people, I started avoiding the federation meetings. I even met with the developer and tried to get information from him as the President of the Sinhagad Society, but he too was always vague and non-committal.

So I sought this info under the RTI. Under the RTI act I was only able to access the contract signed with the federation and not the contract with the developer. With this I also received the necessary supporting documents submitted along with the contract, including power of attorney, registration of proposal, and documents which the society was never shown. When we showed these documents to other society members and workers, we collectively began fearing that in future our houses will be broken and we would become homeless.’

In another letter to the Ghatkopar Vibhag he stated, that ‘We also found an authority letter and letter for registration, which were typed in English and contained forged signatures. Our Society head, Prabhakar Shetty had been elected as Vice President of the Federation. However, when the proposal was presented to us, Shripad Pawar signed as Vice President and named Prabhakar Shetty as only a member, and forged his signature on the proposal.’

There is clear prima facie evidence that Prabhakar Shetty’s signatures do not match on many of the documents where he has allegedly signed. However, on the 9th of November, 2012, he himself was pushing people out of their homes, abusing them.

Prabhakar Shetty, a very suspicious and evasive man, claimed, when asked if he supports the project, that ‘it (the project) is for the entire Ramnagar, and it is a government project’. When asked, if he wrote any letter to the SRA, he claimed ‘phele tha aisa’, but refused to elaborate on record. Praful Satra, the developer, claimed that he always had a majority consent in the project, and the few people who were protesting earlier, slowly started to accept him as the builder.

Meanwhile, those residents now who still protest, claim Mr.Shetty was simply bought off.

‘He used to keep calling us on the phone since the day the notice came, and told us to take the cheque before our homes were broken down,’ Said Sheetal Kopde, ‘But once the home was broken down, he started to taunt us, saying we should’ve just taken the cheque.’

Mangesh’s mother Sunanda has been a domestic worker for 31 years and feels it is too early for her daughter-in-law to work as a domestic worker, worried that her son might never recover from his psychotic breakdown, leaving him incapable of looking after their three children.

‘We won’t leave without respect,’ She said, ‘Sar jhuka ke hum nahi hatenge.’

The Marked Man

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Sandeep Yeole, RTI Activist and a social worker, carries around a gigantic bundle of documents that he has acquired from police stations, the slum rehabilitation authority, the collector’s office, the MHADA, the environment Ministry, regarding each societies discrepancies in the project. One such group of documents details that the Letter Of Intent clearly states that the builder must get environment clearance before a commencement certificate, yet both papers show, he has a commencement certificate arriving six days before the clearance. On that, the builder claims that he had the Environmental Clearance in March of that year itself, but the notice reached them late.

Satra Hills is currently, literally being built by digging into a mountain where stand the homes of working class marathi folk, where now a few hundred shanties overlook a construction site as a gigantic hole next to a hill, with residents anxious about the rain and possible landslides.

Sandeep, however, still persists to point on the discrepancies in the project, where all he desires is that the builder should be removed and the people given a chance to develop themselves.

‘We are not against development,’ he says, ‘Vikas ke naam peh vinaash karenge, hum us builder ke development ke khilaf kaam karenge.’

‘In this scheme, there is no transparency, no democratic values, and it doesn’t work within anything close to what are co-operative values. It just plants a builder and that’s it.

‘All our self-development is based on environmental, social, economic, political and cultural values, and our fight is not to increase how much sq feet we get, or how tall the building is. We aren’t profit-oriented.  Our fight has substance.’

Armed men broke into a small room where he along with protesting residents held their meetings on the 30th of October this year. He was attacked by eight men in August of 2009. A large number of false cases of dacoity and extortion were put on him long before the SRA project, when he was instead investigating the role of a local Shiv Sena corporator and future MLA, Shantaram Chavan, who has now passed on, who was also involved in trying to bring a builder into Ramnagar.

On the 23rd of November, another resident Santosh Hinghe, whose house is still protesting against the demolition, complained to the apathetic police at Vikhroli Park Side Police station, that the construction of the building was damaging his home, but was instead beaten up by two constables.

Suspicion and violence is now a way of life in Ghatkopar’s Ramnagar.

A man was murdered on the 1st of October, 2012, yet all parties claim this has nothing to do with the project.

Dozens had even attacked those protesting against the project on the 1st of June, 2011, after the government agreed to investigate the project after Medha Patkar’s hunger strike.

The Slum Rehabilitation project in Ramnagar is one of 15 projects across Mumbai including Golibar and Sion, that the government had initially agreed to investigate after Medha Patkar’s 9-day hunger strike in May of last year. Since then the government relegated on its promise and the matter is now in the High Court.

Shailesh Gandhi’s petition in the High Court stated in 2006 itself that there around 89 SRA projects where there are ‘Forged  signatures  of  slum  dwellers  to  show  that  they  are  agreeable  to  the  developer’ and ‘Names of non-existent slum-dwellers being listed to increase free sale component’  (both allegations also exist in Ramnagar). The case led to the creation of the High Powered Committee whose record of offering relief to slum dwellers against demolition drives is an emphatic zero.

The government has claimed that all the controversies regarding SRA projects such as Ramnagar should be looked at by this committee which few slum dwellers have faith in.

‘The committee is completely anti-slum and pro-builder,’ Says Sandeep Yeole, ‘It exists so people don’t take all these forgery cases to the High Courts and stretch the project on and on, but to finish them then and there if they go to the committee.’

Sandeep believes in the long fight, and claims he is not afraid of any of the consequences. He is aware that he is a targeted man, but also knows that there is a quiet majority that sees the sense of self-development, considering that the SRA scheme has failed. His weapon, against those he claims the builder has: the police, the courts, the violence, is to inform people about what the SRA scheme really is. ‘Out of the 18 societies, Lal Kila society chased the builder away when he couldn’t answer their questions.’

 ‘What do I gain by committing forgery?

Praful Satra photo for part 3

Praful Satra, Managing Director of Satra Developers, responds to the controversies regarding the Satra hills project

Satra Hills, covers a plot area of 29,168 sq m, and is at an estimated cost of 275 crores. Five rehabilitation buildings will be built for the slum dwellers, while high-end apartments with swimming pools, a hi-tech gymnasium, and grand entrance lobbies will be built for free sale.

A few homes still unbroken, surrounded by the remnants of broken walls, are scattered around the construction site. It was here that Mangesh Khopde’s home stood, once upon a time, but now has literally been plummeled into rubble, along with his medicines to keep him sane, propelling him into a downward spiral that led him to the Sion hospital.

Praful Satra believes himself to be a veteran to Slum Rehabilitation Projects, referring to, and dismissing other builders in the city who failed to work at the few places in Mumbai where land is still available. In an interview lasting just under an hour, he reiterates repeatedly that he has the consent of the majority of the slum dwellers.

‘We have 98% consent, only 25 people are still protesting and they are all being misguided. In 2006, I had 75% consent, and today I have more than 98% consent.’

‘Can you tell me why there are allegations of forgery coming from some of the slum dwellers?

‘See forgery doesn’t even happen. It’s not possible. Andar ka shabd hota hai, see if there are 2000 people, and out of them 2 haven’t signed, and one think they will blackmail the builder, milenge, jayenge, then the one will say, the queries have been satisfied and will sign, aur usko bolega, I haven’t signed, both will fight, but he has!’

‘So this is a local problem?’

‘See if someone tells you there is forgery. Ask yourself, why does anyone commit forgery? And why do the forgery when you are getting an official majority? Do you have anything to gain from committing forgery?’

‘But there are documents available from the SRA, the complaints that have been written….’

‘See, no one has sent me any complaints, I have not gotten anything from any agency or anyone.’

‘There is a man who has four different kinds of signatures on four different kinds of documents.’

‘See, the society gives me the papers. The consent. I don’t know who is this, who is that, and it is attested in front of 10 or 11 people, not in front of me.’

‘Mr. Satra, if you have done everything legally, then let’s turn the question around. There are countless of projects in Mumbai from the SRA which are taken to the high court with instances of forgery. So why are people talking about forgery?’

‘We will talk about ourselves, And we haven’t done any forgery, and whatever consent we got from the Ramnagar Co-operative society, we got, we got the LOI, the CC, the environmental clearance and we have doing everything as per the rules. But there are some people, two-three, people, who’re misguiding other people. There is this one man, Sandeep Yeole, who is meeting everyone and he is telling people the wrong things. And just 25 people listen to him. He has never met me, never called me. And we replied to his letters asking what is his problem? And come and meet us, and what is your problem?’

‘Tell me more about Sandeep Yeole.’

‘See, I know, this man, he has an NGO, he just wants to give everyone a house. And that’s what I want to do. I want to give everyone a house too. See, you are an NGO, aap accha kaam karte ho, I love you, ok fine, aap bahut accha aadmi ho, aap paisa nahi kahte ho, very good. I am a builder and all builders have a bad name, but out of 2000 builders not everyone is the same.’

‘Can you tell me about the role of Shankar Mhadik of National Congress party. It is known that one needs the patronage of a political party to pacify the people. In your capacity, do you feel that this idea about forgery is in-fighting between different political parties?’

‘See I will speak about my own case. I will only talk about my case, nothing general. See like I said before, there are 2000 people, and people have been there for 70 years, and everyone is a legal tenant. And 98% is legal. There is very little controversy as everyone is legal. And I am a a builder, I have nothing to do with any political party. Internally, a slum is known as a political vote bank, and all parties are there, NCP, Shiv Sena, Congress, MNC, BJP, and on the hill, candidates from three parties are winning – MNC, BJP and Shiv Sena, what do I have to do with them?’

‘But if you have to work with the community?’

‘See in 2006, no one would go there. No one was interested. And because of will and experience, we went there, hum himmat kiya, and we were successful.’

‘Can you tell me why Mangesh Khopde who had a psychotic breakdown, is protesting against demolition and the project?’

‘There are some 20-30 who are protesting with this Sandeep Yeole. And this man Mangesh’s father, apart from him, all are ready to leave. His children, his wife. And we have the transit camp ready for them. We are giving 7000 per rent. And the cheque for 18 months is also there. And this is one of four such cases. And we did a meeting with them. And they want money. Unofficially. We refused. They want five lakhs, and if we give five lakhs to 2000 people, 100 crore ho jata hai. They wanted five lakhs, and I have never given anyone money. This is what I heard. Not directly. Through media.’

‘Now under 33-38 rule, those who still protest have to go through a process with the builder. And this man, who is protesting, is with Sandeep Yeole, and they want to develop the whole society by themselves. Sometimes they want a 500 sq feet home, and we can only go as per SRA rules where it is 269, and if tomorrow the government, gives 300, we will do it.’

Do you feel Sandeep Yeole is working for another builder?’

‘No, this man, he’s a good man. He wants everyone to have a house. So do I’.

‘I am not doing anything wrong. I am with people. I am working for them. And I have to make the tenements, and for those who are legal, I got to give them a house, and those who are illegal, I got to give the PAP to the government. What benefit is there for me?’

‘But you will have free sale flats? You are making very high-end apartments?’

‘And we have amenities. If we didn’t have them, we wont sell anything.’

‘And a swimming pool?’

‘See the first building I am making for the Slumdwellers of Ghatkopar will be the top building in Mumbai. I am giving them a flowerbed, a balcony, parking, and a swimming pool. For them.’

‘Different buildings for free sale and different for the slums? Swimming pools for both?’

‘No, different for slumdwellers and different for free sale. Tum aaj jhopad pati meh rehte ho, bahar jaa ke sandas karte ho, machar hai, nalla hai. And we are giving all the amenities and people are trusting us, and those who are protesting, they will come eventually.’