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Archive for November 2nd, 2009

The heart of India is under attack

Posted by ajadhind on November 2, 2009

source – arundhati roy

The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it’s as though god had been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It’s one of the biggest mining corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Agarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.

If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed, too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack.

In our smoky, crowded cities, some people say, “So what? Someone has to pay the price of progress.” Some even say, “Let’s face it, these are people whose time has come. Look at any developed country – Europe, the US, Australia – they all have a ‘past’.” Indeed they do. So why shouldn’t “we”?

In keeping with this line of thought, the government has announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the “Maoist” rebels headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in–the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They’re pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people’s land and resources. However, it is the Maoists that the government has singled out as being the biggest threat.

Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the “single largest internal security threat” to the country. This will probably go down as the most popular and often repeated thing he ever said. For some reason, the comment he made on 6 January, 2009, at a meeting of state chief ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only “modest capabilities”, doesn’t seem to have had the same raw appeal. He revealed his government’s real concern on 18 June, 2009, when he told parliament: “If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected.”

Who are the Maoists? They are members of the banned Communist party of India (Maoist) – CPI (Maoist) – one of the several descendants of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which led the 1969 Naxalite uprising and was subsequently liquidated by the Indian government. The Maoists believe that the innate, structural inequality of Indian society can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the Indian state. In its earlier avatars as the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Jharkhand and Bihar, and the People’s War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists had tremendous popular support. (When the ban on them was briefly lifted in 2004, 1.5 million people attended their rally in Warangal.)

But eventually their intercession in Andhra Pradesh ended badly. They left a violent legacy that turned some of their staunchest supporters into harsh critics. After a paroxysm of killing and counter-killing by the Andhra police as well as the Maoists, the PWG was decimated. Those who managed to survive fled Andhra Pradesh into neighbouring Chhattisgarh. There, deep in the heart of the forest, they joined colleagues who had already been working there for decades.

Not many “outsiders” have any first-hand experience of the real nature of the Maoist movement in the forest. A recent interview with one of its top leaders, Comrade Ganapathy, in Open magazine, didn’t do much to change the minds of those who view the Maoists as a party with an unforgiving, totalitarian vision, which countenances no dissent whatsoever. Comrade Ganapathy said nothing that would persuade people that, were the Maoists ever to come to power, they would be equipped to properly address the almost insane diversity of India’s caste-ridden society. His casual approval of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka was enough to send a shiver down even the most sympathetic of spines, not just because of the brutal ways in which the LTTE chose to wage its war, but also because of the cataclysmic tragedy that has befallen the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who it claimed to represent, and for whom it surely must take some responsibility.

Right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India’s so-called independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.

If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have – their land. Clearly, they do not believe the government when it says it only wants to “develop” their region. Clearly, they do not believe that the roads as wide and flat as aircraft runways that are being built through their forests in Dantewada by the National Mineral Development Corporation are being built for them to walk their children to school on. They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms.

Even if the ideologues of the Maoist movement are fighting to eventually overthrow the Indian state, right now even they know that their ragged, malnutritioned army, the bulk of whose soldiers have never seen a train or a bus or even a small town, are fighting only for survival.

In 2008, an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission submitted a report called “Development Challenges in Extremist-Affected Areas”. It said, “the Naxalite (Maoist) movement has to be recognised as a political movement with a strong base among the landless and poor peasantry and adivasis. Its emergence and growth need to be contextualised in the social conditions and experience of people who form a part of it. The huge gap between state policy and performance is a feature of these conditions. Though its professed long-term ideology is capturing state power by force, in its day-to-day manifestation, it is to be looked upon as basically a fight for social justice, equality, protection, security and local development.” A very far cry from the “single-largest internal security threat”.

Since the Maoist rebellion is the flavour of the week, everybody, from the sleekest fat cat to the most cynical editor of the most sold-out newspaper in this country, seems to be suddenly ready to concede that it is decades of accumulated injustice that lies at the root of the problem. But instead of addressing that problem, which would mean putting the brakes on this 21st-century gold rush, they are trying to head the debate off in a completely different direction, with a noisy outburst of pious outrage about Maoist “terrorism”. But they’re only speaking to themselves.

The people who have taken to arms are not spending all their time watching (or performing for) TV, or reading the papers, or conducting SMS polls for the Moral Science question of the day: Is Violence Good or Bad? SMS your reply to … They’re out there. They’re fighting. They believe they have the right to defend their homes and their land. They believe that they deserve justice.

In order to keep its better-off citizens absolutely safe from these dangerous people, the government has declared war on them. A war, which it tells us, may take between three and five years to win. Odd, isn’t it, that even after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, the government was prepared to talk with Pakistan? It’s prepared to talk to China. But when it comes to waging war against the poor, it’s playing hard.

It’s not enough that special police with totemic names like Greyhounds, Cobras and Scorpions are scouring the forests with a licence to kill. It’s not enough that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the notorious Naga Battalion have already wreaked havoc and committed unconscionable atrocities in remote forest villages. It’s not enough that the government supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the “people’s militia” that has killed and raped and burned its way through the forests of Dantewada leaving 300,000 people homeless or on the run. Now the government is going to deploy the Indo-Tibetan border police and tens of thousands of paramilitary troops. It plans to set up a brigade headquarters in Bilaspur (which will displace nine villages) and an air base in Rajnandgaon (which will displace seven). Obviously, these decisions were taken a while ago. Surveys have been done, sites chosen. Interesting. War has been in the offing for a while. And now the helicopters of the Indian air force have been given the right to fire in “self-defence”, the very right that the government denies its poorest citizens.

Fire at whom? How will the security forces be able to distinguish a Maoist from an ordinary person who is running terrified through the jungle? Will adivasis carrying the bows and arrows they have carried for centuries now count as Maoists too? Are non-combatant Maoist sympathisers valid targets? When I was in Dantewada, the superintendent of police showed me pictures of 19 “Maoists” that “his boys” had killed. I asked him how I was supposed to tell they were Maoists. He said, “See Ma’am, they have malaria medicines, Dettol bottles, all these things from outside.”

What kind of war is Operation Green Hunt going to be? Will we ever know? Not much news comes out of the forests. Lalgarh in West Bengal has been cordoned off. Those who try to go in are being beaten and arrested. And called Maoists, of course. In Dantewada, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, a Gandhian ashram run by Himanshu Kumar, was bulldozed in a few hours. It was the last neutral outpost before the war zone begins, a place where journalists, activists, researchers and fact-finding teams could stay while they worked in the area.

Meanwhile, the Indian establishment has unleashed its most potent weapon. Almost overnight, our embedded media has substituted its steady supply of planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about “Islamist terrorism” with planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about “Red terrorism”. In the midst of this racket, at ground zero, the cordon of silence is being inexorably tightened. The “Sri Lanka solution” could very well be on the cards. It’s not for nothing that the Indian government blocked a European move in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent offensive against the Tamil Tigers.

The first move in that direction is the concerted campaign that has been orchestrated to shoehorn the myriad forms of resistance taking place in this country into a simple George Bush binary: If you are not with us, you are with the Maoists. The deliberate exaggeration of the Maoist “threat” helps the state justify militarisation. (And surely does no harm to the Maoists. Which political party would be unhappy to be singled out for such attention?) While all the oxygen is being used up by this new doppelganger of the “war on terror”, the state will use the opportunity to mop up the hundreds of other resistance movements in the sweep of its military operation, calling them all Maoist sympathisers.

I use the future tense, but this process is well under way. The West Bengal government tried to do this in Nandigram and Singur but failed. Right now in Lalgarh, the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee or the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities – which is a people’s movement that is separate from, though sympathetic to, the Maoists – is routinely referred to as an overground wing of the CPI (Maoist). Its leader, Chhatradhar Mahato, now arrested and being held without bail, is always called a “Maoist leader”. We all know the story of Dr Binayak Sen, a medical doctor and a civil liberties activist, who spent two years in jail on the absolutely facile charge of being a courier for the Maoists. While the light shines brightly on Operation Green Hunt, in other parts of India, away from the theatre of war, the assault on the rights of the poor, of workers, of the landless, of those whose lands the government wishes to acquire for “public purpose”, will pick up pace. Their suffering will deepen and it will be that much harder for them to get a hearing.

Once the war begins, like all wars, it will develop a momentum, a logic and an economics of its own. It will become a way of life, almost impossible to reverse. The police will be expected to behave like an army, a ruthless killing machine. The paramilitary will be expected to become like the police, a corrupt, bloated administrative force. We’ve seen it happen in Nagaland, Manipur and Kashmir. The only difference in the “heartland” will be that it’ll become obvious very quickly to the security forces that they’re only a little less wretched than the people they’re fighting. In time, the divide between the people and the law enforcers will become porous. Guns and ammunition will be bought and sold. In fact, it’s already happening. Whether it’s the security forces or the Maoists or noncombatant civilians, the poorest people will die in this rich people’s war. However, if anybody believes that this war will leave them unaffected, they should think again. The resources it’ll consume will cripple the economy of this country.

Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country organised a series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what could be done to turn the tide and stop the war. The absence of Dr Balagopal, one of the best-known civil rights activists of Andhra Pradesh, who died two weeks ago, closed around us like a physical pain. He was one of the bravest, wisest political thinkers of our time and left us just when we needed him most. Still, I’m sure he would have been reassured to hear speaker after speaker displaying the vision, the depth, the experience, the wisdom, the political acuity and, above all, the real humanity of the community of activists, academics, lawyers, judges and a range of other people who make up the civil liberties community in India. Their presence in the capital signalled that outside the arclights of our TV studios and beyond the drumbeat of media hysteria, even among India’s middle classes, a humane heart still beats. Small wonder then that these are the people who the Union home minister recently accused of creating an “intellectual climate” that was conducive to “terrorism”. If that charge was meant to frighten people, it had the opposite effect.

The speakers represented a range of opinion from the liberal to the radical left. Though none of those who spoke would describe themselves as Maoist, few were opposed in principle to the idea that people have a right to defend themselves against state violence. Many were uncomfortable about Maoist violence, about the “people’s courts” that delivered summary justice, about the authoritarianism that was bound to permeate an armed struggle and marginalise those who did not have arms. But even as they expressed their discomfort, they knew that people’s courts only existed because India’s courts are out of the reach of ordinary people and that the armed struggle that has broken out in the heartland is not the first, but the very last option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of existence. The speakers were aware of the dangers of trying to extract a simple morality out of individual incidents of heinous violence, in a situation that had already begun to look very much like war. Everybody had graduated long ago from equating the structural violence of the state with the violence of the armed resistance. In fact, retired Justice PB Sawant went so far as to thank the Maoists for forcing the establishment of this country to pay attention to the egregious injustice of the system. Hargopal from Andhra Pradesh spoke of his experience as a civil rights activist through the years of the Maoist interlude in his state. He mentioned in passing the fact that in a few days in Gujarat in 2002, Hindu mobs led by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had killed more people than the Maoists ever had even in their bloodiest days in Andhra Pradesh.

People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that they sometimes seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked for the mining companies. People described the often dubious, malign role being played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people – anyone who was seen to be a dissenter – were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said that this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and join the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability to resettle even a fraction of the 50 million people who had been displaced by “development” projects was suddenly able to identify 1,40,000 hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special Economic Zones, India’s onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what brand of justice the supreme court was practising when it refused to review the meaning of “public purpose” in the land acquisition act even when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name of “public purpose” to give to private corporations. They asked why when the government says that “the writ of the state must run”, it seems to only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or even being left alone and free from the fear of the police – anything that would make people’s lives a little easier. They asked why the “writ of the state” could never be taken to mean justice.

There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings like these, people were still debating the model of “development” that was being thrust on them by the New Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model is complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to the Maoists agree on that. The only question now is, what is the most effective way to dismantle it?

An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the corporate world, had come along for one of the meetings out of morbid curiosity about a world he knew very little about. Even though he had disguised himself in a Fabindia kurta, he couldn’t help looking (and smelling) expensive. At one point, he leaned across to me and said, “Someone should tell them not to bother. They won’t win this one. They have no idea what they’re up against. With the kind of money that’s involved here, these companies can buy ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run their own NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole governments. They’ll even buy the Maoists. These good people here should save their breath and find something better to do.”

When people are being brutalised, what “better” thing is there for them to do than to fight back? It’s not as though anyone’s offering them a choice, unless it’s to commit suicide, like some of the farmers caught in a spiral of debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the feeling that the Indian establishment and its representatives in the media are far more comfortable with the idea of poor people killing themselves in despair than with the idea of them fighting back?)

For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal – some of them Maoists, many not – have managed to hold off the big corporations. The question now is, how will Operation Green Hunt change the nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting people up against?

It’s true that, historically, mining companies have often won their battles against local people. Of all corporations, leaving aside the ones that make weapons, they probably have the most merciless past. They are cynical, battle-hardened campaigners and when people say, “Jaan denge par jameen nahin denge” (We’ll give away our lives, but never our land), it probably bounces off them like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They’ve heard it before, in a thousand different languages, in a hundred different countries.

Right now in India, many of them are still in the first class arrivals lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly like lazy predators, waiting for the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) they have signed – some as far back as 2005 – to materialise into real money. But four years in a first class lounge is enough to test the patience of even the truly tolerant: the elaborate, if increasingly empty, rituals of democratic practice: the (sometimes rigged) public hearings, the (sometimes fake) environmental impact assessments, the (often purchased) clearances from various ministries, the long drawn-out court cases. Even phony democracy is time-consuming. And time is money.

So what kind of money are we talking about? In their seminal, soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and Felix Padel say that the financial value of the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is $2.27 trillion (more than twice India’s GDP). That was at 2004 prices. At today’s prices it would be about $4 trillion.

Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less than 7%. Quite often, if the mining company is a known and recognised one, the chances are that, even though the ore is still in the mountain, it will have already been traded on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis the mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life and faith, the keystone of the ecological health of the region, for the corporation, it’s just a cheap storage facility. Goods in storage have to be accessible. From the corporation’s point of view, the bauxite will have to come out of the mountain. Such are the pressures and the exigencies of the free market.

That’s just the story of the bauxite in Orissa. Expand the $4 trillion to include the value of the millions of tonnes of high-quality iron ore in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and the 28 other precious mineral resources, including uranium, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble, copper, diamond, gold, quartzite, corundum, beryl, alexandrite, silica, fluorite and garnet. Add to that the power plants, the dams, the highways, the steel and cement factories, the aluminium smelters, and all the other infrastructure projects that are part of the hundreds of MoUs (more than 90 in Jharkhand alone) that have been signed. That gives us a rough outline of the scale of the operation and the desperation of the stakeholders.

The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches from West Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, is home to millions of India’s tribal people. The media has taken to calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It could just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. It doesn’t seem to matter at all that the fifth schedule of the constitution provides protection to adivasi people and disallows the alienation of their land. It looks as though the clause is there only to make the constitution look good – a bit of window-dressing, a slash of make-up. Scores of corporations, from relatively unknown ones to the biggest mining companies and steel manufacturers in the world, are in the fray to appropriate adivasi homelands – the Mittals, Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and, of course, Vedanta.

There’s an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We’re talking about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And most of this is secret. It’s not in the public domain. Somehow I don’t think that the plans afoot that would destroy one of the world’s most pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it, will be discussed at the climate change conference in Copenhagen. Our 24-hour news channels that are so busy hunting for macabre stories of Maoist violence – and making them up when they run out of the real thing – seem to have no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder why?

Perhaps it’s because the development lobby to which they are so much in thrall says the mining industry will ratchet up the rate of GDP growth dramatically and provide employment to the people it displaces. This does not take into account the catastrophic costs of environmental damage. But even on its own narrow terms, it is simply untrue. Most of the money goes into the bank accounts of the mining corporations. Less than 10% comes to the public exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced people get jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do humiliating, backbreaking work. By caving in to this paroxysm of greed, we are bolstering other countries’ economies with our ecology.

When the scale of money involved is what it is, the stakeholders are not always easy to identify. Between the CEOs in their private jets and the wretched tribal special police officers in the “people’s” militias – who for a couple of thousand rupees a month fight their own people, rape, kill and burn down whole villages in an effort to clear the ground for mining to begin – there is an entire universe of primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders.

These people don’t have to declare their interests, but they’re allowed to use their positions and good offices to further them. How will we ever know which political party, which ministers, which MPs, which politicians, which judges, which NGOs, which expert consultants, which police officers, have a direct or indirect stake in the booty? How will we know which newspapers reporting the latest Maoist “atrocity”, which TV channels “reporting directly from ground zero” – or, more accurately, making it a point not to report from ground zero, or even more accurately, lying blatantly from ground zero – are stakeholders?

What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several times more than India’s GDP) secretly stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss bank accounts? Where did the $2bn spent on the last general elections come from? Where do the hundreds of millions of rupees that politicians and parties pay the media for the “high-end”, “low-end” and “live” pre-election “coverage packages” that P Sainath recently wrote about come from? (The next time you see a TV anchor haranguing a numb studio guest, shouting, “Why don’t the Maoists stand for elections? Why don’t they come in to the mainstream?”, do SMS the channel saying, “Because they can’t afford your rates.”)

Too many questions about conflicts of interest and cronyism remain unanswered. What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister, P Chidambaram, the chief of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta – a position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in 2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of the Vedanta group?

What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a case against Vedanta in the supreme court, citing its violations of government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court that he, too, had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to Sterlite to go ahead with the mining, despite the fact that the supreme court’s own expert committee had explicitly said that permission should be denied and that mining would ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the lives and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there. Justice Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the report of the supreme court’s own committee.

What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the brutal ground-clearing operation disguised as a “spontaneous” people’s militia in Dantewada, was formally inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with the Tatas was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in Bastar was set up just around then?

What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on 12 October, the mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel’s steel project in Lohandiguda, Dantewada, was held in a small hall inside the collectorate, cordoned off with massive security, with an audience of 50 tribal people brought in from two Bastar villages in a convoy of government jeeps? (The public hearing was declared a success and the district collector congratulated the people of Bastar for their co-operation.)

What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the “single largest internal security threat” (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them), the share prices of many of the mining companies in the region skyrocketed?

The mining companies desperately need this “war”. They will be the beneficiaries if the impact of the violence drives out the people who have so far managed to resist the attempts that have been made to evict them. Whether this will indeed be the outcome, or whether it’ll simply swell the ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.

Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance minister of West Bengal, in an article called “The Phantom Enemy”, argues that the “grisly serial murders” that the Maoists are committing are a classic tactic, learned from guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have built and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to take on the Indian state, and that the Maoist “rampage” is a deliberate attempt on their part to invite the wrath of a blundering, angry Indian state which the Maoists hope will commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That rage, Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be harvested and transformed into an insurrection.

This, of course, is the charge of “adventurism” that several currents of the left have always levelled at the Maoists. It suggests that Maoist ideologues are not above inviting destruction on the very people they claim to represent in order to bring about a revolution that will bring them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who had a ringside seat during the Naxalite uprising of the 60s and 70s in West Bengal. His views cannot be summarily dismissed. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the adivasi people have a long and courageous history of resistance that predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as brainless puppets being manipulated by a few middle-class Maoist ideologues is to do them a disservice.

Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in Lalgarh where, up to now, there has been no talk of mineral wealth. (Lest we forget – the current uprising in Lalgarh was sparked off over the chief minister’s visit to inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there’s a steel factory, can the iron ore be very far away?) The people’s anger has to do with their desperate poverty, and the decades of suffering at the hands of the police and the Harmads, the armed militia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years.

Even if, for argument’s sake, we don’t ask what tens of thousands of police and paramilitary troops are doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the theory of Maoist “adventurism”, it would still be only a very small part of the picture.

The real problem is that the flagship of India’s miraculous “growth” story has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now, as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home to roost. All over the country, there’s unrest, there are protests by people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources, refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it’s beginning to look as though the 10% growth rate and democracy are mutually incompatible.

To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85% of India’s people off their land and into the cities (which is what Chidambaram says he’d like to see), India has to become a police state. The government has to militarise. To justify that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (Is there a fraternity of fundamentalists? Is that why the RSS has expressed open admiration for Chidambaram?)

It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary troops, the Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade headquarters, the unlawful activities act, the Chhattisgarh special public security act and Operation Green Hunt are all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation Green Hunt, whether or not Chidambaram goes ahead and “presses the button”, I detect the kernel of a coming state of emergency. (Here’s a maths question: If it takes 600,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?)

Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested Maoist leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.

In the meanwhile, will someone who’s going to the climate change conference in Copenhagen later this year please ask the only question worth asking: Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?

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Mr Chidambaram’s War

Posted by ajadhind on November 2, 2009

source

Arundhati roy

The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it’s as though god has been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ?

Red terror?: A tribal woman with her children in Dantewada

Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It’s one of the biggest mining corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Aggarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.

If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack.

In our smoky, crowded cities, some people say, “So what? Someone has to pay the price of progress.” Some even say, “Let’s face it, these are people whose time has come. Look at any developed country, Europe, the US, Australia—they all have a ‘past’.” Indeed they do. So why shouldn’t “we”?

The Niyamgiri hills have been sold for their bauxite. For the Kondhs, their god’s been sold. How much, they ask, would god go for if he was Ram, Allah or Christ?

In keeping with this line of thought, the government has announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the “Maoist” rebels headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in—the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They’re pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people’s land and resources. However, it is the Maoists who the government has singled out as being the biggest threat. Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the “single-largest internal security threat” to the country. This will probably go down as the most popular and often-repeated thing he ever said. For some reason, the comment he made on January 6, 2009, at a meeting of state chief ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only “modest capabilities” doesn’t seem to have had the same raw appeal. He revealed his government’s real concern on June 18, 2009, when he told Parliament: “If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected.”

Who are the Maoists? They are members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist)—CPI (Maoist)—one of the several descendants of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which led the 1969 Naxalite uprising and was subsequently liquidated by the Indian government. The Maoists believe that the innate, structural inequality of Indian society can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the Indian State. In its earlier avatars as the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Jharkhand and Bihar, and the People’s War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists had tremendous popular support. (When the ban on them was briefly lifted in 2004, one-and-a-half million people attended their rally in Warangal.) But eventually their intercession in Andhra Pradesh ended badly. They left a violent legacy that turned some of their staunchest supporters into harsh critics. After a paroxysm of killing and counter-killing by the Andhra police as well as the Maoists, the PWG was decimated. Those who managed to survive fled Andhra Pradesh into neighbouring Chhattisgarh. There, deep in the heart of the forest, they joined colleagues who had already been working there for decades.

A concerted campaign has been orchestrated to shoehorn myriad resistances into a simple George Bush binary: if you’re not with us, you’re with the Maoists.

Not many ‘outsiders’ have any first-hand experience of the real nature of the Maoist movement in the forest. A recent interview with one of its top leaders, Comrade Ganapathy, in Open magazine didn’t do much to change the minds of those who view the Maoists as a party with an unforgiving, totalitarian vision, which countenances no dissent whatsoever. Comrade Ganapathy said nothing that would persuade people that, were the Maoists ever to come to power, they would be equipped to properly address the almost insane diversity of India’s caste-ridden society. His casual approval of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka was enough to send a shiver down even the most sympathetic of spines, not just because of the brutal ways in which the LTTE chose to wage its war, but also because of the cataclysmic tragedy that has befallen the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who it claimed to represent, and for whom it surely must take some responsibility.

Right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India’s so-called Independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.


Elections ’09: Ask not where the two billion dollars came from

If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have—their land. Clearly, they do not believe the government when it says it only wants to “develop” their region. Clearly, they do not believe that the roads as wide and flat as aircraft runways that are being built through their forests in Dantewada by the National Mineral Development Corporation are being built for them to walk their children to school on. They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms.

Even if the ideologues of the Maoist movement are fighting to eventually overthrow the Indian State, right now even they know that their ragged, malnutritioned army, the bulk of whose soldiers have never seen a train or a bus or even a small town, are fighting only for survival.

Schedule V of the Constitution, which provides adivasis protection & disallows alienation of their land, now seems just window-dressing, a bit of make-up.

In 2008, an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission submitted a report called ‘Development Challenges in Extremist-Affected Areas’. It said, “the Naxalite (Maoist) movement has to be recognised as a political movement with a strong base among the landless and poor peasantry and adivasis. Its emergence and growth need to be contextualised in the social conditions and experience of people who form a part of it. The huge gap between state policy and performance is a feature of these conditions. Though its professed long-term ideology is capturing state power by force, in its day-to-day manifestation, it is to be looked upon as basically a fight for social justice, equality, protection, security and local development.” A very far cry from the “single-largest internal security threat”. Since the Maoist rebellion is the flavour of the week, everybody, from the sleekest fat cat to the most cynical editor of the most sold-out newspaper in this country, seems to be suddenly ready to concede that it is decades of accumulated injustice that lies at the root of the problem. But instead of addressing that problem, which would mean putting the brakes on this 21st century gold rush, they are trying to head the debate off in a completely different direction, with a noisy outburst of pious outrage about Maoist “terrorism”. But they’re only speaking to themselves.

The people who have taken to arms are not spending all their time watching (or performing for) TV, or reading the papers, or conducting SMS polls for the Moral Science question of the day: Is Violence Good or Bad? SMS your reply to…. They’re out there. They’re fighting. They believe they have the right to defend their homes and their land. They believe that they deserve justice.


VT, 26/11: Odd that the Centre was ready to talk to Pakistan even after this, but is playing hard when it comes to the poor

In order to keep its better-off citizens absolutely safe from these dangerous people, the government has declared war on them. A war, which it tells us, may take between three and five years to win. Odd, isn’t it, that even after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, the government was prepared to talk with Pakistan? It’s prepared to talk to China. But when it comes to waging war against the poor, it’s playing hard. It’s not enough that Special Police—with totemic names like Greyhounds, Cobras and Scorpions—are scouring the forests with a licence to kill. It’s not enough that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the notorious Naga Battalion have already wreaked havoc and committed unconscionable atrocities in remote forest villages. It’s not enough that the government supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the “people’s militia” that has killed and raped and burned its way through the forests of Dantewada leaving three hundred thousand people homeless, or on the run. Now the government is going to deploy the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and tens of thousands of paramilitary troops. It plans to set up a brigade headquarters in Bilaspur (which will displace nine villages) and an air base in Rajnandgaon (which will displace seven). Obviously, these decisions were taken a while ago. Surveys have been done, sites chosen. Interesting. War has been in the offing for a while. And now the helicopters of the Indian air force have been given the right to fire in “self-defence”, the very right that the government denies its poorest citizens.

Fire at whom? How in god’s name will the security forces be able to distinguish a Maoist from an ordinary person who is running terrified through the jungle? Will adivasis carrying the bows and arrows they have carried for centuries now count as Maoists too? Are non-combatant Maoist sympathisers valid targets? When I was in Dantewada, the Superintendent of Police showed me pictures of 19 “Maoists” who “his boys” had killed. I asked him how I was supposed to tell they were Maoists. He said, “See Ma’am, they have malaria medicines, Dettol bottles, all these things from outside.”


Licence to kill: Greyhounds, Scorpions, Cobras…. Now the IAF can fire in self-defence, a right the poor are denied.

What kind of war is Operation Green Hunt going to be? Will we ever know? Not much news comes out of the forests. Lalgarh in West Bengal has been cordoned off. Those who try to go in are being beaten and arrested. And called Maoists of course. In Dantewada, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, a Gandhian ashram run by Himanshu Kumar, was bulldozed in a few hours. It was the last neutral outpost before the war zone begins, a place where journalists, activists, researchers and fact-finding teams could stay while they worked in the area.

Meanwhile, the Indian establishment has unleashed its most potent weapon. Almost overnight, our embedded media has substituted its steady supply of planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Islamist Terrorism’ with planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Red Terrorism’. In the midst of this racket, at Ground Zero, the cordon of silence is being inexorably tightened. The ‘Sri Lanka Solution’ could very well be on the cards. It’s not for nothing that the Indian government blocked a European move in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent offensive against the Tamil Tigers.

The next time you see a news anchor haranguing a guest, ‘Why don’t Maoists stand for elections?’, do SMS this reply, ‘Because they can’t afford your rates.’

The first move in that direction is the concerted campaign that has been orchestrated to shoehorn the myriad forms of resistance taking place in this country into a simple George Bush binary: If you are not with us, you are with the Maoists. The deliberate exaggeration of the Maoist ‘threat’ helps the State to justify militarisation. (And surely does no harm to the Maoists. Which political party would be unhappy to be singled out for such attention?) While all the oxygen is being used up by this new doppelganger of the War on Terror, the State will use the opportunity to mop up the hundreds of other resistance movements in the sweep of its military operation, calling them all Maoist sympathisers. I use the future tense, but this process is well under way. The West Bengal government tried to do this in Nandigram and Singur but failed. Right now in Lalgarh, the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee or the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities—which is a people’s movement that is separate from, though sympathetic to, the Maoists—is routinely referred to as an overground wing of the CPI (Maoist). Its leader, Chhatradhar Mahato, now arrested and being held without bail, is always called a “Maoist leader”. We all know the story of Dr Binayak Sen, a medical doctor and a civil liberties activist, who spent two years in jail on the absolutely facile charge of being a courier for the Maoists. While the light shines brightly on Operation Green Hunt, in other parts of India, away from the theatre of war, the assault on the rights of the poor, of workers, of the landless, of those whose lands the government wishes to acquire for “public purpose”, will pick up pace. Their suffering will deepen and it will be that much harder for them to get a hearing. Once the war begins, like all wars, it will develop a momentum, a logic and an economics of its own. It will become a way of life, almost impossible to reverse. The police will be expected to behave like an army, a ruthless killing machine. The paramilitary will be expected to become like the police, a corrupt, bloated administrative force. We’ve seen it happen in Nagaland, Manipur and Kashmir. The only difference in the ‘heartland’ will be that it’ll become obvious very quickly to the security forces that they’re only a little less wretched than the people they’re fighting. In time, the divide between the people and the law enforcers will become porous. Guns and ammunition will be bought and sold. In fact, it’s already happening. Whether it’s the security forces or the Maoists or non-combatant civilians, the poorest people will die in this Rich People’s War. However, if anybody believes that this war will leave them unaffected, they should think again. The resources it’ll consume will cripple the economy of this country.

Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country organised a series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what could be done to turn the tide and stop the war. The absence of Dr Balagopal, one of the best-known civil rights activists of Andhra Pradesh, who died two weeks ago, closed around us like a physical pain. He was one of the bravest, wisest political thinkers of our time and left us just when we needed him most. Still, I’m sure he would have been reassured to hear speaker after speaker displaying the vision, the depth, the experience, the wisdom, the political acuity and, above all, the real humanity of the community of activists, academics, lawyers, judges and a range of other people who make up the civil liberties community in India. Their presence in the capital signalled that outside the arclights of our TV studios and beyond the drumbeat of media hysteria, even among India’s middle classes, a humane heart still beats. Small wonder then that these are the people who the Union home minister recently accused of creating an “intellectual climate” that was conducive to “terrorism”. If that charge was meant to frighten people, to cow them down, it had the opposite effect.

There’s an MoU on every mountain, river, forest glade. What the media calls the Maoist Corridor—the Dandakaranya—could well be called the MoUist Corridor.

The speakers represented a range of opinion from the liberal to the radical Left. Though none of those who spoke would describe themselves as Maoist, few were opposed in principle to the idea that people have a right to defend themselves against State violence. Many were uncomfortable about Maoist violence, about the ‘people’s courts’ that delivered summary justice, about the authoritarianism that was bound to permeate an armed struggle and marginalise those who did not have arms. But even as they expressed their discomfort, they knew that people’s courts only existed because India’s courts are out of the reach of ordinary people and that the armed struggle that has broken out in the heartland is not the first, but the very last option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of existence. The speakers were aware of the dangers of trying to extract a simple morality out of individual incidents of heinous violence, in a situation that had already begun to look very much like war. Everybody had graduated long ago from equating the structural violence of the State with the violence of the armed resistance. In fact, retired Justice P.B. Sawant went so far as to thank the Maoists for forcing the establishment of this country to pay attention to the egregious injustice of the system. Hargopal from Andhra Pradesh spoke of his experience as a civil rights activist through the years of the Maoist interlude in his state. He mentioned in passing the fact that in a few days in Gujarat in 2002, Hindu mobs led by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had killed more people than the Maoists ever had even in their bloodiest days in Andhra Pradesh.

People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that in places like Orissa, they seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked for the mining companies. People described the dubious, malign role being played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people—anyone who was seen to be a dissenter—were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said that this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and join the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability to resettle even a fraction of the fifty million people who had been displaced by “development” projects was suddenly able to identify 1,40,000 hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special Economic Zones, India’s onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what brand of justice the Supreme Court was practising when it refused to review the meaning of ‘public purpose’ in the Land Acquisition Act even when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name of ‘public purpose’ to give to private corporations. They asked why when the government says that “the Writ of the State must run”, it seems to only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or even being left alone and free from the fear of the police—anything that would make people’s lives a little easier. They asked why the ‘Writ of the State’ could never be taken to mean justice.

There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings like these, people were still debating the model of “development” that was being thrust on them by the New Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model is complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to the Maoists agree on that. The only question now is, what is the most effective way to dismantle it?

An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the corporate world, had come along for one of the meetings out of morbid curiosity about a world he knew very little about. Even though he had disguised himself in a Fabindia kurta, he couldn’t help looking (and smelling) expensive. At one point, he leaned across to me and said, “Someone should tell them not to bother. They won’t win this one. They have no idea what they’re up against. With the kind of money that’s involved here, these companies can buy ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run their own NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole governments. They’ll even buy the Maoists. These good people here should save their breath and find something better to do.”

When people are being brutalised, what ‘better’ thing is there for them to do than to fight back? It’s not as though anyone’s offering them a choice, unless it’s to commit suicide, like the 1,80,000 farmers caught in a spiral of debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the distinct feeling that the Indian establishment and its representatives in the media are far more comfortable with the idea of poor people killing themselves in despair than with the idea of them fighting back?)

For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal—some of them Maoists, many not—have managed to hold off the big corporations. The question now is—how will Operation Green Hunt change the nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting people up against?

SEZ who: Is it development?

It’s true that, historically, mining companies have almost always won their battles against local people. Of all corporations, leaving aside the ones that make weapons, they
probably have the most merciless past. They are  cynical, battle-hardened campaigners and when people say ‘Jaan denge par jameen nahin denge (We’ll give away our lives, but never our land)’, it probably bounces off them like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They’ve heard it before, in a thousand different languages, in a hundred different countries.

Right now in India, many of them are still in the First Class Arrivals lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly like lazy predators, waiting for the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) they have signed—some as far back as 2005—to materialise into real money. But four years in a First Class lounge is enough to test the patience of even the truly tolerant. There’s only that much space they’re willing to make for the elaborate, if increasingly empty, rituals of democratic practice: the (rigged) public hearings, the (fake) Environmental Impact Assessments, the (purchased) clearances from various ministries, the long-drawn-out court cases. Even phony democracy is time-consuming. And time, for industrialists, is money.

So what kind of money are we talking about? In their seminal, soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and Felix Padel say that the financial value of the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is 2.27 trillion dollars. (More than twice India’s Gross Domestic Product). That was at 2004 prices. At today’s prices it would be about 4 trillion dollars. A trillion has 12 zeroes.

Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less than 7 per cent. Quite often, if the mining company is a known and recognised one, the chances are that, even though the ore is still in the mountain, it will have already been traded on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis the mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life and faith, the keystone of the ecological health of the region, for the corporation, it’s just a cheap storage facility. Goods in storage have to be accessible. From the corporation’s point of view, the bauxite will have to come out of the mountain. If it can’t be done peacefully, then it will have to be done violently. Such are the pressures and the exigencies of the free market.

For the adivasis, the mountain is still a living deity, but for the corporation, it’s just a cheap storage facility. The bauxite will have to come out of the mountain.

That’s just the story of the bauxite in Orissa. Expand the four trillion dollars to include the value of the millions of tonnes of high-quality iron ore in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and the 28 other precious mineral resources, including uranium, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble, copper, diamond, gold, quartzite, corundum, beryl, alexandrite, silica, fluorite and garnet. Add to that the power plants, the dams, the highways, the steel and cement factories, the aluminium smelters, and all the other infrastructure projects that are part of the hundreds of MoUs (more than 90 in Jharkhand alone) that have been signed. That gives us a rough outline of the scale of the operation and the desperation of the stakeholders. The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches from West Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, is home to millions of India’s tribal people. The media has taken to calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It could just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. It doesn’t seem to matter at all that the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides protection to adivasi people and disallows the alienation of their land. It looks as though the clause is there only to make the Constitution look good—a bit of window-dressing, a slash of make-up. Scores of corporations, from relatively unknown ones to the biggest mining companies and steel manufacturers in the world, are in the fray to appropriate adivasi homelands—the Mittals, Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and, of course, Vedanta.

There’s an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We’re talking about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And most of this is secret. It’s not in the public domain. Somehow I don’t think that the plans that are afoot to destroy one of the world’s most pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it, will be discussed at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Our 24-hour news channels that are so busy hunting for macabre stories of Maoist violence—and making them up when they run out of the real thing—seem to have no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder why?

Perhaps it’s because the development lobby to which they are so much in thrall says the mining industry will ratchet up the rate of GDP growth dramatically and provide employment to the people it displaces. This does not take into account the catastrophic costs of environmental damage. But even on its own narrow terms, it is simply untrue. Most of the money goes into the bank accounts of the mining corporations. Less than 10 per cent comes to the public exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced people get jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do humiliating, backbreaking work. By caving in to this paroxysm of greed, we are bolstering other countries’ economies with our ecology.

To get the bauxite out of the mountain, the iron ore from the forest, India needs to militarise. To militarise, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy.

When the scale of money involved is what it is, the stakeholders are not always easy to identify. Between the CEOs in their private jets and the wretched tribal Special Police Officers in the “people’s” militias—who for a couple of thousand rupees a month fight their own people, rape, kill and burn down whole villages in an effort to clear the ground for mining to begin—there is an entire universe of primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders. These people don’t have to declare their interests, but they’re allowed to use their positions and good offices to further them. How will we ever know which political party, which ministers, which MPs, which politicians, which judges, which NGOs, which expert consultants, which police officers, have a direct or indirect stake in the booty? How will we know which newspapers reporting the latest Maoist “atrocity”, which TV channels “reporting directly from Ground Zero”—or, more accurately, making it a point not to report from Ground Zero, or even more accurately, lying blatantly from Ground Zero—are stakeholders?

What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several times more than India’s GDP) secretly stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss bank accounts? Where did the two billion dollars spent on the last general elections come from? Where do the hundreds of millions of rupees that political parties and politicians pay the media for the ‘high-end’, ‘low-end’ and ‘live’ pre-election ‘coverage packages’ that P. Sainath recently wrote about come from? (The next time you see a TV anchor haranguing a numb studio guest, shouting, “Why don’t the Maoists stand for elections? Why don’t they come in to the mainstream?”, do SMS the channel saying, “Because they can’t afford your rates.”)

Not Quite PC: CEO, Op Green Hunt

What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, the CEO of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta—a position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in 2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of the Vedanta group?

What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a case against Vedanta in the Supreme Court, citing its violations of government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court that he too had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to Sterlite to go ahead with the mining despite the fact that the Supreme Court’s own expert committee had explicitly said that permission should be denied and that mining would ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the lives and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there. Justice Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the report of the Supreme Court’s own committee.


Salwa Judum: Inaugurated just days after an MoU with Tatas

What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the brutal ground-clearing operation disguised as a “spontaneous” people’s militia in Dantewada, was formally inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with the Tatas was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in Bastar was set up just around then?

What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on October 12, the mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel’s Rs 10,000-crore steel project in Lohandiguda, Dantewada, was held in a small hall inside the collectorate, cordoned off with massive security, with a hired audience of 50 tribal people brought in from two Bastar villages in a convoy of government jeeps? (The public hearing was declared a success and the district collector congratulated the people of Bastar for their cooperation.)

What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the “single-largest internal security threat” (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them), the share prices of many of the mining companies in the region skyrocketed?

The mining companies desperately need this “war”. It’s an old technique. They hope the impact of the violence will drive out the people who have so far managed to resist the attempts that have been made to evict them. Whether this will indeed be the outcome, or whether it’ll simply swell the ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.

Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance minister of West Bengal, in an article called ‘The Phantom Enemy’, argues that the “grisly serial murders” that the Maoists are committing are a classic tactic, learned from guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have built and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to take on the Indian State, and that the Maoist ‘rampage’ is a deliberate attempt on their part to invite the wrath of a blundering, angry Indian State which the Maoists hope will commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That rage, Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be harvested and transformed into an insurrection. This, of course, is the charge of ‘adventurism’ that several currents of the Left have always levelled at the Maoists. It suggests that Maoist ideologues are not above inviting destruction on the very people they claim to represent in order to bring about a revolution that will bring them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who had a ringside seat during the Naxalite uprising of the ’60s and ’70s in West Bengal. His views cannot be summarily dismissed. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the adivasi people have a long and courageous history of resistance that predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as brainless puppets being manipulated by a few middle-class Maoist ideologues is to do them something of a disservice.

Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in Lalgarh where, up to now, there has been no talk of mineral wealth. (Lest we forget—the current uprising in Lalgarh was sparked off over the chief minister’s visit to inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there’s a steel factory, can the iron ore be very far away?) The people’s anger has to do with their desperate poverty, and the decades of suffering at the hands of the police and the ‘Harmads’, the armed militia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years.

Even if, for argument’s sake, we don’t ask what tens of thousands of police and paramilitary troops are doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the theory of Maoist ‘adventurism’, it would still be only a very small part of the picture.

The real problem is that the flagship of India’s miraculous ‘growth’ story has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now, as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home to roost. All over the country, there’s unrest, there are protests by people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources, refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it’s beginning to look as though the 10 per cent growth rate and democracy are mutually incompatible. To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85 per cent of India’s people off their land and into the cities (which is what Mr Chidambaram says he’d like to see), India has to become a police state. The government has to militarise. To justify that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (Is there a fraternity of fundamentalists? Is that why the RSS has expressed open admiration for Mr Chidambaram?)

It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary troops, the Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade headquarters, the Unlawful Activities Act, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Operation Green Hunt are all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation Green Hunt, whether or not Mr Chidambaram goes ahead and “presses the button”, I detect the kernel of a coming state of Emergency. (Here’s a math question: If it takes 6,00,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?)

Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested Maoist leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.

In the meanwhile, will someone who’s going to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year please ask the only question worth asking: Can we please leave the bauxite in the mountain?

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indings of fact-finding team into Sep 17-Oct 1 murders in Dantewada

Posted by ajadhind on November 2, 2009

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights
Till now, no substantive information has been given in the media
regarding the Gachanpalli killings of 17th September 2009 (during
Operation Green Hunt) and 1st October killings at Gompad and
Chintagufa villages by security forces. Nor have any reports appeared
regarding detentions and arrests of several young men on 1st October.
Information regarding looting, burning and torture which accompanied
these operations have also remained unknown. Also, that people have
fled their villages, are living in make shift sheds in the forest has
gone unnoticed. The fact that on both these days, security forces
(Cobra, local police and SPOs and Salwa Judum leaders such as Boddu
Raja) went on a rampage stabbing and killing people, looting, burning
houses and forcibly picking up young men is the other side of
Operation Green Hunt which has been carefully kept away from public
scrutiny. In order to ascertain these facts, a 15 member fact-finding
team visited Dantewada area between 10th and 12th October 2009. The
team comprised members from PUCL (Chhattisgarh), PUDR (Delhi) Vanvasi
Chetna Ashram (Dantewada), Human Rights Law Network (Chhattisgarh),
ActionAid (Orissa), Manna Adhikar (Malkangiri) and Zilla Adivasi Ekta
Sangh (Malkangiri). The team was initially denied permission and was
repeatedly questioned and interrogated at Dornapal and Errabore police
camps on the way. The team spent a night in Nendra village (a
rehabilitated village) and met witnesses and victims from several
villages and gathered testimonies from them. Subsequently, the team
spoke to District Collector and Superintendent of Police, Dantewada.
While a detailed report is in the making, some of the important and
significant issues are given below.
17th September 2009
1. Gachanpalli murders: In the early hours of 17th September, 6
villagers were murdered by security forces in this village. Dudhi Muye
(70 yrs) who could hardly walk was murdered after her breasts were cut
off. Family members who had fled the scene on seeing the security
forces, found her lying dead in a pool of blood. Similarly, Kawasi
Ganga (70 yrs) who could barely see was stabbed and murdered in his
bed. He too was found by his family members who had fled from the
house and had taken shelter in the forest. Madvi Deva (25 yrs) was
tied to a tree and shot at three times and then beheaded. His
grandfather who was accompanying him back to the village was a witness
to this. The family hasn’t found his body. Three other villagers,
Madvi Joga (60 yrs), Madvi Hadma (35 yrs) and Madkam Sulla were
stabbed and murdered. The last two were killed in front of one
witness, the wife of Madkam Sulla. Madvi Joga was killed after being
stripped naked while ploughing his little plot of land. All the houses
were ransacked, broken and burnt down. Family members are either
living in sheds in the forests or have taken shelter with relatives.
Many others have also taken similar shelter as their houses were burnt
down by the security forces.
2. The case of Madvi Deva: This young man was a resident of
Singanpalli village and had gone out in the morning of 17th for some
family work. When he did not return his family searched for him. Two
days later, a Patel from another village informed the family that he
had been shot and killed by the security forces and his body was
buried in the compound of Chintagufa PS. The Patel was asked to
supervise the burial in the PS.
3. Burnt in hot oil: Muchaki Deva (60 yrs) of Onderpara was grazing
cattle on the morning of 17th September. He was caught, beaten and
dragged into the village by security forces. He was hanged upside down
from a tree and a pot of hot oil was lit below and he was dropped into
it. He was then pulled out and poured over with water. As a result,
the upper part of his body is severely burnt and he has developed
maggots in his wounds. He is still gravely ill and has no access to
medical aid. Needless to say, he is afraid to leave his village.
4. Tied and paraded: 6 villagers, including 3 women were tied and
paraded through Gachanpalli and other villages where the security
forces went. Fortunately, they escaped as timely rains made it
possible for them to flee.
5. Forced displacement and terror: families of those who were murdered
by security forces and those whose houses have been burnt down
vengefully, have fled the village and are living in make shift sheds
in the forest. The condition of the others is no better as the entire
village has been terrorized by security forces.
1st October 2009
1. Gompad ‘encounter’: SP Dantewada described the operations in Gompad
village on 1st October as an ‘encounter’. An encounter with a
difference: while 9 villagers were killed by security forces in the
village and their bodies were left there, no casualties were inflicted
on security forces. This too the SP confirmed. 4 members of one
family, Madvi Bajar, his wife, Madvi Subbi, their married daughter,
Kartam Kanni and their young daughter, Madvi Mutti were stabbed and
killed inside house. So too were two other villagers from
Bhandarpadar, Muchaki Handa and Madkam Deva, who were staying the
night over at Madvi Bajar’s house on their way home from Andhra
Pradesh where they had been working. Another couple, Soyam Subba and
Soyam Jogi were stabbed and killed inside their house. Yet another
villager, Madvi Enka was stabbed inside the house and then dragged all
over the village. Before leaving the village, the security forces shot
him and left his body. All 9 deaths, like the ones on 17th September,
were preceded by stabbing and the bodies were left in the village.
When the team asked the SP about recovery of bodies from the encounter
site, the SP stated that Naxalites had ‘taken them away’.
2. More killings: In Chintagufa, a 45yr old man, Tomra Mutta was
stabbed and shot inside his house. On seeing the sudden arrival of the
security forces, Tomra Mutta ran to protect his family. He was shot in
the process. The team confirmed 10 murders that had taken place that
day but there is apprehension that the total number of killings may be
much higher as many villages could not be contacted or accessed. The
SP confirmed that two sets of raid parties set off that day comprising
of Cobras and local police. Hence, the details with the team do not
give the entire and exact picture of how many villages were attacked
and targeted.
3. Travails of a 2yr old: Madvi Bajar’s grandson was not spared. He is
all of two and yet the security forces beat him, cut four of his
fingers, broke his teeth and cut off part of his tongue.
4. 8 arrested and 2 missing: Ten young men between 18-32 years were
beaten and picked up by security forces from Mukudtong and Jinitong
villages on 1st October. Eight have been shown as arrested in a case
that was registered on 3/10 at Konta PS under various sections of IPC,
Arms Act and Explosives Act. They are currently lodged in Dantewada
jail. However, two still remain missing. Female relatives who went in
search of those missing at the Konta PS were harassed, made to affix
their thumb impression on blank documents and driven away. When they
returned two days later, they were abused, told not to return and
informed that the men had been taken to an unknown place.
5. Looting and Burning of property and houses: As many as 9 instances
of looting and burning by security forces were reported to the team.
Unlike the 17th September killings which were followed by arson and
burning of the houses of those murdered, security forces on 1st
October looted homes. They took away paddy, pusles, brass pots and
poultry from many homes. Money, ranging from 300/- to 10,000/- was
stolen from these houses. Destruction of property, particularly
burning down of houses was carried out in as many as seven instances.
6. Harassment and torture: Witnesses reported several instances of
harassment at the hands of the security forces. In Gompad, one
villager was caught and interrogated and then shot at in his leg. He
managed to run away but still has the bullet injury and has had no
medical treatment. In Chintagufa, security forces tied another man and
made him walk to Injaram PS. They severely beat him and also attacked
him on his toe with a knife. He was finally let off in the evening.
7. Presence of SPOs and Salwa Judum leader with security forces:
Residents of Mukudtong village confirmed that the ‘raid’ party was
accompanied by known Salwa Judum leader, Boddu Raja of Injaram camp
and they recognised SPOs Pande Soma of Phandeguda village and Ganga of
Asarguda village. Residents of Gompad village were able to recognize
SPO Madvi Buchcha who belongs to their own village.
8. Forced displacement and terror: Several families are living in
makeshift sheds in the forest area as their houses have been burnt
down. Those who are unable to run and flee are living in terror in the
villages and residents and relatives have helped them to repair their
houses and have given them other support.
Conclusion:
While the team could only meet residents of some of the villages,
there is apprehension that a much larger number of people were killed
on both days in other villages. The same is true for instances of
torture, loot and detentions. The clamp down on information makes it
impossible to know what exactly is happening in distant and far flung
villages. However, what is clear is that the operations conducted by
security forces have compelled villagers to leave their villages, flee
into the forests and/or take shelter with relatives in other villages.
The condition of those who are residing in their villages is
precarious and vulnerable. Given that the government has not complied
with the Supreme Court order on rehabilitation of displaced families
(families which were displaced in the earlier phase of Salwa Judum
violence), the new and current phase of violence by security forces
has added to the crisis in these remote and inaccessible villages.
Instead of rehabilitating people, the government, in the name of
combating Maoism, is bent upon unleashing its lethal paramilitary
forces and evicting people from their villages. It is imperative to
immediately end to this policy of eviction and terror and enable
people to settle in their villages.
Demands
1. That the government must accept responsibility for murders
committed on 17th September and 1st October by security forces and
file FIRs against those responsible. Further, the government must
acknowledge all instances of torture, illegal detention and
destruction of property. FIRs must be lodged in each case and
compensation given in each instance.
2. That an impartial inquiry (comprising civil society representatives
and representatives of organizations working in the area) be conducted
into the incidents of murder and acts of arson, loot and torture on
17th September and 1st October by security forces. The focus should be
to bring out the truth behind these killings an also investigate the
extent of the operations carried out on both days.
3. That the government must immediately take steps and show its
conviction in the Supreme Court order on rehabilitation of villages
and implement it immediately. The above described incidents of 17th
September and 1st October have created fear and panic and compelled
villagers to flee. Unless the government implements the SC order,
villagers will not be able to live in their villages.
4. That along with the implementation of the above mentioned order,
there be an immediate end to cordon and search operation carried out
by security forces in these areas. Lack of rehabilitation coupled with
an ever increasing size of the paramilitary forces in such backward
areas with low population density raises fears of repeated incidents,
such as the ones described above.
Signed by
Sharmila Purkayastha
Asish Gupta
Himanshu Kumar
On behalf of fact-finding team

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A Pretext to Impose Brutal Repression: the Government’s “Offensive” Is a Formula for Bloodshed and Injustice

Posted by ajadhind on November 2, 2009

Posted by Radical Notes October 12, 2009 at 11:06 pm in India, Press Release, State Terrorism

The Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a national platform of adivasi and forest dwellers’ mass organisations from ten States, unequivocally condemns the reported plans for a military “offensive” by the government in the country’s major forest and tribal areas. This offensive, ostensibly targeted against the CPI (Maoist), is a smoke screen for an assault against the people, especially adivasis, aimed at suppressing all dissent, all resistance and engineering the takeover of their resources. Certain facts make this clear:

The government tells us that this offensive will make it possible for the “state to function” in these areas and fill the “vacuum of governance.” This is grossly misleading. The Indian state is very, very active in these areas, often in its most brutal and violent form. A vivid example is the illegal eviction of more than 3,00,000 families by the Forest Departments a few years ago. Laws have been totally disregarded; Constitutional protections for adivasi rights blatantly ignored and their rights over water, forest and land (jal, jangal, jamin) glaringly violated. Every month an increasing number of people are jailed, beaten and killed by the police. If this is the picture of what “absence” of the state means, people are terrified of what the “presence” of the state will mean. It can only mean converting brutalized governance into militarized rule, a total negation of democracy.

This is not a war over “development.” People’s struggles in India today are over democracy and dignityMeaningful development must contribute to strengthening the right of all people to their resources and their production, and thereby to control over their own destiny. For generations, adivasis have fought for their Constitutional rights and entitlements. More recently, mass democratic movements have fought for new laws and policies, such as the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), the Forest Rights Act, the right to work and the right to food, in addition to earlier laws like the Minimum Wages Act, the Restoration of Alienated Lands Acts, and land reform and moneylending laws. These laws make it possible for people to fight for greater control over their lives, their livelihoods, their lands and their forests. However these laws are respected more in the breach; if the government wants “development”, let it first stop the blatant disregard of its own laws. Let people determine the path of their own development, in accordance with their rights over their resources and the type of infrastructure they desire. The Constitution itself requires this kind of planning. The claim that “development” can be provided through military force is both absurd and ridiculous.

This war is not about “national security”; it is about ‘securing’ the interests of global and Indian capital and big business. Any government worried about security would send its troops against mining mafias, the forest mafias, violent vigilante groups like the salwa judum and others. Rather than being curbed, these killers are in fact supported by the police. Have the security forces ever been deployed to defend the people struggling to protect themselves, their forests, their livelihoods and their futures? The answer is no. The notion of “security” being advanced by the government clearly has nothing to do with the people. Rather, it is to enable big business to engage in robbery and expropriation of resources, which they have decided will be one of their main sources of accumulation. Hence, mining, “infrastructure”, real estate, land grabbing, all aimed at super-profits, are being projected as “development” needed by the people. Huge amounts of international and government money are being pumped into so-called “forestry projects” which displace people from their lands and destroy biodiversity (even while they are trumpeted as a strategy for climate change). The UPA is rushing into agreements with the US and other imperial countries to throw open mining and land to international exploitation. But where do the forests, land, water and minerals lie? They are found in the forest and tribal areas, where people – some organised under the CPI (Maoist), some organized under democratic movements, some in spontaneous local struggles, some simply fighting in whatever manner they can – are resisting the destruction of their homes, resources and their lives. The “offensive against the Maoists” is only a subterfuge to crush this citizens’ resistance and to provide an excuse for more abuse of power, more brutality and more injustice.

The government knows perfectly well that it cannot destroy the CPI (Maoist), or any people’s struggle, through military action. How can the armed forces identify who is a “Maoist” and who is not? The use of brute military force will result in the slaughter of thousands of people in prolonged, bloody and brutal guerrilla warfare. This has been the result of every “security offensive” in India’s history from Kashmir to Nagaland. So why do this? And why now? Unless the goal has nothing to do with “wiping out the Maoists” and everything to do with having an excuse for the permanent presence of lakhs of troops, arms and equipment in these areas. To protect and serve whom?

Hence the need for fear mongering and hysteria about Maoist “sympathisers” and their “infiltration” into “civil society.” The government has a very long history of labeling any form of dissent as “Naxalite” or “Maoist.” The Maoists’ politics are known; their positions are public; the only secret aspect of their work is their personal identities and military tactics. We who work in these areas do not fear this bogey of “infiltration” in our groups by Maoists, for the different stands taken by our organizations and theirs are clear, and in some areas there are open disputes. This scaremongering is just an excuse to justify a crackdown on all forms of dissent and democratic protest in these areas, a crushing of all people’s resistance, and the branding of any questioning, any demand for justice, as “Maoist.”

In the final analysis, peace and justice will only come to India’s workers, peasants, adivasis, dalits and other oppressed sections through the mass democratic struggle of the people. A democratic struggle requires democratic space. The conversion of a region into a war zone, by anyone, is unacceptable. In the forest areas in particular, there is now a need for a new peace, one that can only be achieved through a genuine democratic dialogue between the political forces involved. For this to happen, this horrific “offensive” must first be called off. If the government really wishes to claim that it is committed to protecting people and their rights, let its actions comply with the requirements of law, justice and democracy.

Bharat Jan Andolan, National Front for Tribal Self Rule, Jangal Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti (Mah), Adivasi Mahasabha (Guj), Adivasi Jangal Janjeevan Andolan (D&NH), Jangal Jameen Jan Andolan (Raj), Madhya Pradesh Jangal Jeevan Adhikar Bachao Andolan, Jan Shakti Sanghatan (Chat), Peoples Alliance for Livelihood Rights, Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Orissa Jan Sangharsh Morcha, Campaign for Survival & Dignity (Ori), Orissa Jan Adhikar Morcha, Adivasi Aikya Vedike (AP), Campaign for Survival and Dignity – TN, Bharat Jan Andolan (Jhar).

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The Sankrail episode: The story of the arrested women

Posted by ajadhind on November 2, 2009

Posted by indianvanguard2010 on October 28, 2009

Subharani Baskey in tears outside Midnapore Central Jail. She said she had gone out to see what was happening when police picked her up. (Samir Mondal)

By Partho Sarathi Ray. Oct 27 2009, Sanhati

On 20th October, 2009, Maoists attacked a police station in Sankrail, West Midnapur, West Bengal, taking the O.C. Atindranath Dutta as a prisoner, and demanding the release of fourteen women from police custody. This was a media sensation – the debate centered around whether this defined a hostage situation in India’s heartland, whether this was a repeat of Kandahar, and whether the action is an example of violent turf expansion by the Maoists. Subsequently, the women were released and so was the O.C., who has become somewhat of a media celebrity and, much to the wrath of the Government, not condemnded the Maoists.

What is being hidden under all the media blitz is the story of the fourteen women whose release from police custody was ensured by the Maoists.

These women had all been arrested from in an around Teshabandh village on 3rd September after the 2rd September “encounter” between the combined forces and “Maoists” near Madhupur (there is a previous report on this in Sanhati). The PSBJC had claimed that the encounter was really a firing by the combined forces on a rally of adivasis protesting against the rape of a woman. It had also condemned the arrests of these women from Teshabandh, who were subsequently charged with waging war against the state, as being arrests of innocent people.

A Lalgarh woman who was released on bail in exchange for OC Atindranath Dutta’s freedom weeps on the shoulders of another outside Midnapore Central Jail.

Today their stand has been vindicated. The public prosecutor didn’t oppose their bail plea at the Midnapore court, although the charges against them, which include rioting with deadly weapons, attempt to murder, waging war against the state, raising funds to wage war against the state, sedition and carrying illegal arms, are all non-bailable ones. This is an effective withdrawal of charges.

Now, the media has access to the stories of the women and people know who these “dangerous” people are, whom the Maoists were so intent on getting released from police custody.

One of them is Subharani Baskey, a grandmother of 55-60 (this correspondent knows her personally – she once treated him to a “nona“, a fruit very similar to the custard-apple, just saltier, from her tree). What she has told to the media now is that she was at her home when she heard a commotion outside as the police were arresting the village women. When she went out to enquire, she was arrested for “waging war against the state” and dragged to the Kantapahari police camp.

You can hear the real story from these women, Padmamoni, a mother of two children, Pratima Patra, Sumi Mandi and the others, about what happened that day. When the police had raided their village, alleging that the “Maoists” had taken shelter there, they had stopped whatever chores they were doing and come out and surrounded the police, not letting them enter the village. They were not protecting Maoists, they were protecting themselves, as according to what Pratima Patra has said, the police entering the village means they would go door-to-door, beating up people indiscriminately, breaking furniture and looting household goods.

The Lalgarh women released from jail walk to a bus stop in Midnapore town. Picture by Samir Mondal

Even women from surrounding villages, such as Sumi Mandi, joined them when the news about the raid spread, as is the standard practice in Lalgarh. All these women were arrested, beaten up brutally and taken to the Kantapahari police station where there were charged with the above-mentioned crimes. On the way back to Kantapahari, the police also arrested Ramdulal Mandi, who was walking towards Kantapahari bazar, and charged him with the same crimes. He was also released yesterday. This constant arrests and charging with false cases is the daily reality which Chidambaram- Buddhadeb has imposed in Lalgarh, and now wants to impose on the rest of the adivasi-populated region.

The other thing that we should understand about the reality in Lalgarh is that the adivasis think that the Maoists are their last resort, when everything else fails to protect them from exploitation and oppression, the Maoists are there. This is repeated by hundreds of adivasis when you talk to them, who express their confidence on the “bon-er party“, the “party of the jungles”. This confidence has now been reinforced by this action of the Maoists, where they have ensured the release of these innocent women, rather than their own party cadre, in exchange of the captured O.C.

Moreover, the action of the state which has consistently refused to release these women, and other innocent people who have been arrested in Lalgarh over the past four months, inspite of peaceful protests and demonstrations by the PSBJC and the civil society in Kolkata, but has bowed to the armed might of the Maoists, will further reinforce the idea that it is only a certain language that the state understands, and takes heed of.

 

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