peoples march

from the people against injustice in the society

Posts Tagged ‘tehelka’

Chhattisgarh has reached West Bengal. The forces, the rapes, the resistance, and the State response: it’s an eerie replay

Posted by ajadhind on July 26, 2010

BY TUSHA MITTAL, tehelka

image
Wary A village woman peeps at patrolling security forces in conflict-ridden Lalgarh, West Bengal

Photo: AFP

image
Pover Wars

IF MAYA had been born in a city, you would have heard her name by now. You would have heard a quivering voice describing how she was flung onto a bed by a jawan sent to protect her. You would have seen a delicate old woman holding up trembling fingers to her forehead — a description of how she was raped at gunpoint.

But Maya has lived in the forests of West Bengal for 50 years, in a village called Sonamukhi. That has turned her into a different kind of citizen, invisible, easily ignored. Perhaps that is why she will never stir a nation’s collective consciousness — the same nation that was outraged over accusations of an IG raping a schoolgirl, Ruchika, in urban Chandigarh. Perhaps that is why it has been left to another group to take up her cause — PCAPA (People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities), that began as a movement against state repression, but which the West Bengal government claims is now a front for the CPI (Maoist). And that is why — whether PCAPA is what the State thinks it to be — the group has secured Maya’s firm support.

One year since Operation Lalgarh began, it seems the zone of conflict has shifted, moving from Lalgarh towards Jhargram subdivision. Jhargram first came to the fore when the Maoists attacked a police station in Sankrail. Some months ago, Jhargram was declared a new police district, given a new SP, and additional troops were sent in. Jhargram could now be on its way to becoming the new Lalgarh.

TESTIMONIAL
image
MAYA*, 50
On June 30, I returned from grazing the cows. A jawan dragged me into my house and pushed me onto the bed. He put a gun to my head and said he would shoot if I screamed for help. He raped me. My husband was in a room above, but I was too scared to yell for him

The village of Sonamukhi too is part of this new battle ground. Until two months ago, the PCAPA had no presence in Sonamukhi. Nor had the joint-forces ever raided the village. Now, the PCAPA has already helped villagers build their own road here. The reason why Sonamukhi is significant is because it shows that then group continues to expand despite the State’s crackdown. The State’s strategy of rendering the committee headless has yielded little result. Its first president Lalmohan Tudu was killed in what TEHELKA reported was a fake encounter, and its secretary Chhattradhar Mahato has been in Midnapore Jail, booked under the draconian UAPA act since November 2009. Yet, the committee claims to have approximately 20,000 active members and have 80 percent of conflict zone Bengal as it base, stretching over the three worst affected districts — West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura. (Incidentally also Bengal’s poorest areas.)

The PCAPA runs a parallel government in the conflict zones with an astonishing ease. It is also fertile territory for the Maoists

This is further significant because PCAPA has been held responsible for the Gyaneshwari train derailment that killed atleast 120 people in West Bengal last month. The CBI has already arrested eight men including a mastermind named Bapi Mahato, a PCAPA member. It has named PCAPA spokesperson Asit Mahato and Central Committee member Umakanto Mahato as the other two most-wanted in this case. While investigators say that Bapi has confessed to his involvement in the incident, the PCAPA claims innocence. The Maoists have also denied involvement in this.

Last week, TEHELKA journeyed inside the PCAPA, visiting its strongholds and speaking to cadres. TEHELKA met PCAPA spokesperson Asit Mahato, 32, near his hideout in the forests of Jangalmahal. Before Mahato went underground, he was a supporter of the Jharkhand Party, which currently holds the Lalgarh assembly seat. Asit says his father was tortured by CPM goons in 1998 when he raised his voice against corruption by local CPM leader Anuj Pandey. That is what shaped Asit’s politics.

image
image
Rebels all
CBI most wanted Asit Mahato (Top) and Manoj Mahato (Bottom)

GREETING US in a pair of sunglasses, brown pants and a striped collar shirt, Asit laughed at his status as CBI’s most-wanted. “The PCAPA is not involved in the Gyaneshwari incident. We had no knowledge of this,” he said. “This has been done by the CPM to defame us. Everyone who has been arrested is a former CPM worker. Bapi was a CPM mole. The CBI has no evidence against me. They have declared Rs 1 lakh reward for me, so we have declared our own reward – 1 lakh each for 9 absconding CPM netas – Sushanto Ghosh, Lakhan Ghosh, Anuj Pandey, Prashanto Das, etc. We will also reward villagers who can bring us the real planners and perpetrators of the Gyaneshwari derailment.”

In many ways, PCAPA is at a crossroads, desperate to prove it has no links with the CPI (Maoist). The committee was formed in 2008 after the police tortured a tribal woman called Chidamani, almost blinding her, during anti-Naxal raids in Salboni. “Our primary demand was an apology from the SP. If he had done that, the andolan might have ended there. But now the public at large hates the police and the CPM. People want to live with dignity, for that we are ready to fight,” said Ajit Mahato, a PCAPA member who, like most, had to flee underground when the joint-operation began in June 2009.

As the joint operation flared up in Lalgarh and the Maoists offered to support PCAPA, there were several internal debates. Chhatradhar Mahato and Lalmohan Tudu walked the middle ground, meeting the Chief Election Commissioner before the general election, negotiating the release of an Assistant Sub-Inspector the Maoists had abducted.

After Chhattradhar’s arrest by policemen posing as journalists, Asit declared the group to be an armed militia. But now, he denies any use of arms by PCAPA. “We only declared that if needed we will use arms in self-defence, but have not done so yet,” he said. That may be a false claim since there are men with arms wandering around PCAPA strongholds.

Sources say there are differing schools of thought within the PCAPA. Some are in touch with Chhattradhar Mahato, letters have been exchanged, and the idea of a political party has been discussed. “We believe in democracy. We are not ruling out the idea of a political party,” Asit Mahato said.

While the hard line faction of PCAPA is comfortable with use of arms, the soft liners would rather that Chhattradhar Mahato contest an election, even if from within jail. That such a thought exists in the party could be seen in two ways. At worst, it could be a strategic move that has the backing of CPI (Maoist) while attempting to distance the PCAPA from them on the surface. At best, it is an indication that the CPI (Maoist) may have influence, but does not remote control the ‘front’. It is possible that the majority of the CPI (Maoist) recruitment in West Bengal is done from within the PCAPA. Yet, the PCAPA is not a banned outfit. The irony is that by treating it as such, the State is only pushing it further underground. “We are ready for talks. The State is not allowing us to come overground,” Asit said.

Even if Asit is caught, there will be new faces ready to take his place. Already younger, more confident leaders are emerging. During TEHELKA’S interview with Asit Mahato, the spokesperson said very little. All along, 26-year-old Manoj Mahato, a Central Committee member, sat by his side, whispering into his ear. He was only distracted when he received a phone call from Midnapore town. “What is my shirt size? Double XL? Or XL?” he asked other cadres before turning to us. “My lahver,” he grinned. “We will get married soon.”

image
Defiance
Residents of Sonamukhi village gather to protest the alleged rapes by security forces
TESTIMONIAL
image
LOKHI*, 35

Two men pressed me down. They wanted to rape me but I held my knees together. I didn’t want to part them. I’m a married woman. I have selfrespect and dignity, which they stripped me of. They also stole Rs 1,500. I will identify those bastards. I want them hanged

IN THE distance, PCAPA’s new flag swayed in the wind. White represents peace, green for the forests, and a bow and arrow symbol represents the Adivasis. PCAPA is the first Maoist-backed outfit to have a flag. Walk around this PCAPA stronghold and it is easy to forget one is in a conflict zone. There is a PCAPA-run kitchen distributing hot rosogallas and jamun, a vast open field with cycles, motorbikes and cows, and a make-shift thatched roof dining area where all PCAPA workers eat together. Nearby, workers are busy building PCAPA’s first state of the art health center. It will have an operating room, an outpatient room, an office, and a room for the MBBS doctors and surgeons PCAPA plans to recruit. Already the PCAPA says it is providing basic health care in 26 health camps across Jangalmahal.

In Salboni block, it has built 50 small dams or water reservoirs from where canals can extend to irrigate fields. It has also built about 20 km road at the cost of Rs 47,000. In the village of Belasol, another PCAPA stronghold, Pradeep Mahato can now cultivate his five bigha plot three times a year. Earlier, he could only grow rice and harvest once. For 40 years, he depended on rain. “The land is so fertile, but there was no irrigation facility,” he says. PCAPA installed a water pump in the village at the cost of Rs 16,000, covered by collection Rs 100 from each the joint-forces. In a matter of minutes, villagers say about 500 armed men had surrounded the village.

The State pushed the PCAPA underground. Now, it can use justice to pull them out. It still has more tools than it chooses to use

Police sources said they raided the village because they had specific “human and technical intelligence” that CBI most-wanted Umakanto Mahato was hiding there. During the search operation, gun shots were heard from Kajol Mahato’s house. Police claim they were fired at by Maoists and PCAPA members hiding atop her house. They say the rebels escaped, but left two jawans severely injured. Locals contest this version and say the police entered the same house from two directions. Both search parties ended up firing at each other, injuring the jawans in the process.

While search operations proceeded through the day, villagers say the forces told the women to collect in the courtyard. “They separated the older women, asking us to wait at a different spot,” says Shayoni Mahato, 55. “Utho, Utho, bheetar chalo,” Shayoni says she saw the forces pointing to a few younger women. “When they began calling the married women into a room, I suddenly realised what their intention was,” she says.

TESTIMONIAL
image
UMA*, 30

The forces halted outside my door. They asked me if anyone was at home. I said no. Three of them pushed me in. They laid down the charpai and flung me on it. After they began to tear my clothes, I lost consciousness. One of them pressed himself upon me and raped me

As the forces dragged the women in, Shayoni ran to her daughter-in-law Soma, encircled her and refused to leave. “They beat me with a stick and threw me to the ground,” Shayoni says. “It was only after I told them that Soma is 5 months pregnant that they let her go.” Maya was also dragged into the room, her cupboards opened, and belongings searched. She says a jawan pulled a cheek and stole Rs 10,000 from her drawer. Her husband, a contractor, sells Sal leaves in Orissa. He had just returned the previous night with the money. What saved her from being raped was perhaps a photograph of a police contingent that fell out from a notebook. The jawan let her go after realising that her brother-inlaw was a constable.

On June 6, the villagers of Sonamukhi – led by local PCAPA members — marched to the Jhargram SDO’s office, C. Murugan. They detailed the incident and asked him to order an inquiry. Murugan constituted a special medical board. The next day six women underwent a swab test at the Jhagram hospital. Hospital sources said the swab samples have been sent to the SDO office. Since the swabs were taken more than 24 hours after the incident, the medical board has recommended that they be sent to the FSL lab in Kolkata. However, no police case has yet been registered.

BUT A troubling revelation complicates this story of rape. In all, eight women in Sonamukhi allege rape. TEHELKA met five women, of which two said they had been beaten but not raped. Significantly, in hushed whispers one of them spoke of how villagers were insisting she had been raped. “I was taken to the fields, encircled by a group of men and beaten so hard, I can’t bend down to collect water. Maybe they had intentions to rape me, but they were called away. I’ve told the local PCAPA leaders that I have not been raped,” said Kajol Mahato. Yet, the PCAPA alleges otherwise. The local leaders took these women, Kajol included, to the SDO’s office. “We have no knowledge of such an exaggeration. This is the first we are hearing of this. We will look into it,” a PCAPA Central Committee member said when confronted.

While this could be read as mere propaganda from the PCAPA, it would be wise not to dismiss it as such. The villagers march into an SDO’s office is a window of opportunity for the State. If the government is able to order an independent inquiry into these rape allegations, it would strengthen those in the PCAPA who believe in democracy. If it doesn’t, it will give more ammunition to the hardliners. The State first pushed the PCAPA underground; it can now use justice and democracy to pull them out. A year into Operation Lalgarh, the State still has more tools than it chooses to use.

PHOTOS: PINTU PRADHAN

Advertisements

Posted in CHHATISGARH, GREEN HUNT, IN NEWS, NAXALISM, WESTBENGAL | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bullets. Bodies. Land. Corporations.

Posted by ajadhind on July 26, 2010

KUNAL MAJUMDER IN SRIKAKULAM, ANDHRA PRADESH, tehelka

A big firm zeroes in on farm land for a thermal plant, and the villagers resist because it’s all they have

THIS IS what happens when land, wetland at that, becomes the heart of battle, in this case the seaside village of Sompeta, 120 km from Srikakulam town. The Hyderabad-based Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC) picks 1,100 acres of wetland here to build a thermal plant. The villagers object. On 14 July, they come to protest. Facing them are 200 NCC workers with blue ribbons and wielding lathis. Around 200 police personnel wait with batons, shields and helmets. The slogans begin: “Go back NCC”. Curses rent the air. The police respond with a lathicharge, and the blue ribbons join them. The villagers retreat, and return after two hours. Men and women, young and old, with bamboo sticks and tree branches. Teargas shells are fired, which are useless in the water-filled fields. The villagers surround the police and come charging, destroying tents, tearing banners and thrashing the constables who cannot run. In their rage, the villagers snatch at media cameras and pounce on reporters. Then, suddenly, there is gunfire. Sub-Inspectors aim their service revolvers at the villagers. Joga Rao, a 40-year-old farmer, falls, shot by Sub-Inspector K Ashoke Kumar. The villagers around Rao start yelling for help. A cameraperson from TV9, Anil Kumar, tries to put Rao on his motorcycle. Just then, someone hits Kumar on his head. Another villager, G Krishnamurthy, 54, is also shot. Later, at the mandal hospital, where the injured are being treated, a man suspected of being a police mole is beaten up. The crowd now starts targeting the media, whom they accuse of siding with the NCC. The madness continues into the night — an NCC office is burnt, and local politicians are attacked. The next day comes the news: environmental clearance to the NCC plant has been withdrawn.

Posted in ANDHRAPRADESH, IN NEWS, peoplesmarch | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Hard Battles, Harder Lives

Posted by ajadhind on July 20, 2010

source

A week with the CRPF in the jungles of Chhattisgarh gives BRIJESH PANDEY a first hand view of what the forces are fighting in India’s bloodiest internal conflict

image

THE RAIN is coming down in uneven patterns, making an irregular rhythm in the middle of the jungle. It’s been three hours and we have been walking warily. Looking here, there, waiting for the enemy. Ramesh Kumar Singh, now a veteran with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), one of the world’s biggest paramilitary forces, hasn’t said a word for three hours. I’ve been trying to get him to talk; I now walk behind him, wondering. Oddly, the rain helps us focus. We are in the heart of Maoist territory in Chhattisgarh, where fierce Maoist squads have been slaughtering CRPF men. There are 16 men in Ramesh’s detail. We have walked 15 km through slush and we head for the shelter of a tree as the rain gets heavy.

Suddenly, Ramesh turns to me. “You can see the terrain for yourself. All of a sudden, a tribal comes before us and we don’t know if he is a Naxal. If we open fire and an innocent is killed, we are doomed and if we don’t open fire and let that person go, he could jolly well turn out to be a big Naxal leader who will plot our death and even then we are doomed. It’s not death per se that we are afraid of, but the ignominy after death, which hurts us. A Naxal’s death is covered properly and people want no Naxals to be killed. But what about us? We are the expendables, like 25 and 50 paise coins. We count for nothing, at least not in Delhi,” he says.

image

It’s my first moment inside the mind of the CRPF. For days, men like Ramesh have been written about, spoken about, trashed at length, and generally ridiculed for the beating they’ve been taking at the hands of the Maoists. Now it comes. Ramesh says he’s been in Kashmir, a sort of gold standard for the services. He has a wife, a son Shubh and a daughter Janki, barely 18 months old. “She was so soft that I was afraid I might hurt her when I hold her,” he says, breaking into a toothy smile. Many years ago, he applied to serve in the CRPF because his best friend was selected in the Indian Army. Both wanted to serve India.

image

“It was a very volatile in Kashmir but we knew who we were fighting. Most importantly, we knew that New Delhi was behind us. Here, in Chhattisgarh, it is different. We were dumped here. We are treated as if we are fighting a personal battle with the Naxalites.” Estimates suggest there could be a thousand militants in the Valley. There are several more in the Red Corridor. In Kashmir, the CRPF has 70 units on law and order duty. In Chhattisgarh, the CRPF has about 18 units. That is like 18,000 men to fight the Maoists and 70,000 to keep peace in Kashmir.

Almost always, Ramesh has to walk. Here, a walk can be risky. But using a vehicle could be deadly. The Maoists have been blowing up many CRPF vehicles and the force is wary of driving around its men. So they walk. And they brood. Their enemy hasn’t backed off yet. In the telling and retelling of the stories, the legends of the Maoists get bigger and the CRPF has fewer victories to talk of. “They don’t leave battles halfway. Once the fighting starts, they never back off,” says an officer who doesn’t want to be named.

‘One incident best defines our morale . Abour 5 km from our camp, the Naxals stole our rations. If we can’t defend our food, what can we do?’ asks a jawan

We have by now got back to a camp because the rain is heavy and won’t allow a long patrol. It is dark. The camp is fortified by Concertina wires, a type of barbed wire. There is a check post at the entrance, manned by four commandos, each armed with an assault rifle and finger on the trigger. A 32-year-old jawan is passing by. He too has served in Kashmir. “We never felt that we are the unwanted children of India. Here, in the jungles of Bastar, we are like destitutes,” he says.

It’s strange. The CRPF has three lakh personnel but it may be allowing the Maoists too much mindspace already. There’s a sense of resentment. The spirit appears to be low, not a good state to fight a war. “You tell me what I should concentrate on. Should I fight for the flag, or worry about food and water? I don’t know when I could be shot. I know that I earn my livelihood from the force and I should not talk like this, but tell me, what should I tell my wife who has become paranoid after the Dantewada massacre? Every time she knows I am going for a patrol or an area domination exercise, she goes hysterical.

“Seventy-six members of the 62nd unit died and all we heard was how incompetent we were. How we were not trained properly, how we didn’t know a thing about road opening drills and how we violated standard operating procedures. Do the higher-ups living in Delhi even know what they are talking about? Are they even remotely aware of the ground reality? The country is not behind us.” By now he is shouting with rage. He says the force doesn’t have enough units to secure a stretch of road once it has been cleared.

The jawans have heard of the report submitted by EN Rammohan, former Director General of the Border Security Force, on the “leadership failure” and “lack of coordination between the CRPF and the state police” that led to the massacre. “We are here to assist the administration, but there is no reciprocity on their part.”

RAKESH CHAUBEY, 27, from Bihar has spent six years in the force and was posted in the Northeast before this. His father died when he was 14 and he has since been responsible for his mother and two younger brothers. He says he would have quit a year ago if he didn’t have to feed his family. A year in the force can mean a lot. Now, the basics are haunting Rakesh. In sorties, it’s like he is in a zone. He has a sharp instinct for danger. His mates say he is like an animal, sensing threat a mile away. Curiously, all that vanishes when he reaches his camp. He can’t get a hang of how pathetic it can be. “Often, we drink water from a pond used by animals. We wouldn’t advise it to anyone. Half the time, our jawans are vomiting.”

‘Even if my father dies today, I will not be able to move out of my camp for days. You become more aware that nobody cares,’ says Mahesh Prasad, a veteran CRPF jawan

“Have you ever seen a war being fought like this? We don’t know if we are here to assist the state police on law and order or to flush out Naxals, or merely to oscillate between troubled territories, getting our jawans killed for no fault of theirs. If this is a war, please tell me why the whole of Bastar range has not been declared a war zone? If it is a disturbed zone, please declare so. If the Bastar region is not that, then please stop calling Naxalism the biggest challenge the country faces,” he says.

Fear stalks the CRPF. Small Naxal groups ambush whole CRPF units, using surprise to strike at a vulnerable target and then disappear into the jungle. It’s not as if the CRPF is not aware of the nature of combat: units deployed in Chhattisgarh undergo a two month “preinduction” or “conversion” training. They are taught the topography of the place and situation, jungle warfare, and how to survive in the terrain.

But no amount of training can work without adequate backup. Senior officers are angry that, even though a whole company was wiped out in Dantewada, the DG did not deem it fit to station another unit there. It would have come as a major morale booster and conveyed the message to the lowest rung that future strikes will lead to strong retaliation. But nothing of the sort happened.

Unlike Maoists, who have a precise conception of the political goal of war, the CRPF jawans are supposed to be apolitical, obeying orders without question. But whispers about political games being played and corrupt practices do infiltrate through the concertina wire that surrounds their camps. They know there are factors beyond their control that are not officially acknowledged. Like connivance between the local administration and the Naxals. They cite an incident when an MLA went to a Naxal-dominated area, which was heavily mined in his black Scorpion without security, and returned unscathed. Even when the Naxals declare a complete bandh, vehicles of the forest department move freely because they apparently help in exploitation of forest resources.

“One incident will best define how good our morale is and how powerful we feel while operating on the mined roads of Chattisgarh. We were posted in Chintalnar .There is only one bus which plys once a day. That bus was carrying ration for the whole camp. The bus starts at 6 am. Just 5 km before our camp, the Naxals put up a check post and took away the ration. The whole camp depended on that ration, but we couldn’t do a thing. When we can’t save our food, imagine the kind of morale we will be in, when it comes to saving our life,” Rakesh says.

image

The feeling is strong that the CRPF is discriminated against. For instance, the CRPF moves directly from one conflict zone to another, meaning that 90 percent jawans have spent entire careers in combat zones. In the army, three years of tough posting entitles one to a family station.

Then, before the army moves into position, proper barracks, mess and other facilities are prepared. Army supply corps move in to make proper arrangements for food and other essentials, which is not the case with the CRPF. A commanding officer of a regiment would identify much more with the welfare of his unit than the IPS officers posted as commandants of CRPF unit for three-year terms. Typically, they keep contact with CRPF jawans to a minimum.

IN A force known for its discipline, speaking your mind can lead you into serious trouble. But Mahesh Prasad, who has seen action in two other war zones, blurts out this is the worst he has seen. “For the last one and a half years, we have been dumped here with bare minimum facilities,” he says bitterly. “Several times, we had to eat rice with tamarind juice. Is this how we fight a war? Would they treat the Army the same way?”

‘Often, we drink water from a pond used by animals. We wouldn’t advise it to anyone. Half the time, our jawans are vomiting,’ says Rakesh Chaubey

“Even if my father dies today, I will not be able to move out of my camp for several hours and the agonising wait can extend up to four days. Where is morale after that? When you hear about the way the survivors of the Dantewada massacres were treated, you become all the more aware that nobody cares if you live or die. When these kinds of news circulate, it hurts. Even if I have to go on leave, there is no facility that I can be dropped to in Raipur, safe and sound. I am fighting with Naxals but when I go on leave or when I am on my way back from home, I travel that distance at the mercy of God or the Naxals. What morale are you talking about?”

More damningly, CRPF jawans feel expendable because they think Naxals are killing them only to exert the “right amount of pressure.” This is why, goes the thinking, Naxals are not targeting senior officers — no IG, DIG or DM — although they have the firepower and reach. “Even they know that killing us would not warrant a deadly reply. You start killing IPS officers and see what happens.” Such gloomy conclusions are incubated in despair. “By God, the layman reading newspapers or watching television must surely think a bunch of bumbling idiots have been sent to fight highly motivated and efficient Naxals,” says Prasad. The last straw, he says, was a DGP telling the world he can’t teach us how to walk.

“For the last one and a half year, the theatre of war has changed considerably, but no fresh assessment has been done”, says a senior CRPF officer. “Nobody asks how much additional force is required. No concrete plan is on board.” He says they need better communication system and an excellent intelligence network because the Naxals are becoming better armed by the day. It was still raining when I left for Raipur to catch my flight to Delhi. I couldn’t help a last thought: the CRPF might never win a war like this.

Posted in CHHATISGARH, IN NEWS, JHARKHAND | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Shooting The Messenger

Posted by ajadhind on April 4, 2010

Tehelka

SANDEEP PANDEY
Magsaysay Award winner

image
Photo: UB PHOTOS

IT IS a familiar plot by now. If there is an activist or an organisation questioning the government’s development policy (an euphemism for handing over precious public resources to corporate interests), or just exposes corruption — viewed as a necessary evil for the sustenance of mainstream political parties — the security agencies, at the behest of the government, will brand them as Naxalites. The latest victim is Akhil Gogoi of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Assam.

We’ve seen how Dr Binayak Sen spent two years in jail for allegedly being a Maoist. The Chhattisgarh government is yet to produce any concrete evidence, even though it has lined up over a hundred witnesses against Sen in the ongoing court case. Himanshu Kumar, the Gandhian activist working in Chhattisgarh for over 17 years, became an eyesore for the government, ever since he started taking up cases of human rights of ordinary tribals being violated by the security forces, Special Police Officers (SPOs) and the Salwa Judum. His ashram was demolished in May 2009 and all his colleagues, including Medha Patkar, were threatened. Similarly, the vicepresident of Karnataka People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Dr E Rati Rao, was charged with sedition by the Mysore police for editing Varthapatra, the Kannada bulletin of PUCL. Meanwhile, the UP police have arrested Seema Azad, a joint secretary of PUCL and editor of another publication Dastak — needless to say, for being a Maoist.

The KMSS is a peasants’ organisation fighting for the cause of ‘land to the tiller’. It uses Constitutional provisions to access benefits for ordinary people, and to help them assert their fundamental rights. For example, the KMSS used the RTI Act to expose corruption in the Indira Awas Yojana. A list of fake beneficiaries was obtained, and siphoning of funds exposed.

KMSS’ actions have mass appeal. They have grown from strength to strength, unearthing many a scam and forcing action to be taken against the guilty. KMSS and Akhil Gogoi were thus becoming a threat, not only to the corrupt and powerful, but also to the political parties, who used both threat and lure to try and contain him. But there was no stopping Gogoi or his band of activists, who are, meanwhile, also opposing the construction of dams in the Brahmaputra river basin.

USING STATUTORY PROVISIONS LIKE THE RTI, AKHIL GOGOI AND KMSS FIGHT FOR THE RIGHTS OF FARMERS AND EXPOSE CORRUPTION

The government has undertaken a huge expansion plan for hydroelectricity, in this ecologically fragile and seismically sensitive area. Clearances have been obtained without proper studies of downstream impact. A team of experts from IIT (Guwahati) and Guwahati and Dibrugarh universities have recommended in their interim report that the construction of the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Dam be stalled until the studies are completed. However, the government ignores this report, putting the existence of both human communities and wildlife at stake. The KMSS’ stand has been supported by the likes of Bhuban Pegu, MLA from Jonai — who too has been accused of having Maoist links.

That the political-administrative system is totally corrupt is an open secret. The people in charge of running it use violence to suppress dissent. But when it comes to countering Naxalites, the same system adopts a holier than thou approach. Suddenly, the government and the parties appear as non-violent, and Naxalites and terrorists the only violent groups. Thus, democratic people’s movements are accused of being hand-in-glove with violent illegal forces. Actually, it is a ploy to divert people’s attention from the misdeeds of the political-administrative system by tarnishing the image of those who raise uncomfortable questions.

Posted in CHHATISGARH, IN NEWS | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

A Struggle To Find New Memories

Posted by ajadhind on February 12, 2010

source – tehelka

In shocking testimonies, tribals from Chhattisgarh tell SANJANA how the Salwa Judum has driven them into Andhra Pradesh. Photographs by TARUN SEHRAWAT

Adivasis who had witnessed attacks by the Statebacked Salwa Judum in Ground Zero in Chhattisgarh talked to TEHELKA about the horrific nature of the violence unleashed. Despite the violence, they had decided to stay in their ancestral lands and pay the price for staying amidst the familiar.

Thousands others decided the price was far too high and walked many hours across to the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Civil society groups say that over 3000 people in the last four months alone have walked over to Andhra Pradesh . The villages they chose to walk to were very often names they had only heard from neighbours and family members who had left before them. For Adivasis, whose lives are intimately connected to their ancestral lands, the lack of connect with these villages is far more debilitating than the precarious condition they find themselves in. The Salwa Judum attacks left them with the clothes they were wearing —and stories of attacks they witnessed back home.

This week, we profile three Adivasis whose lives have been doubly scarred —once by the Salwa Judum attacks and the second time by the experience of being refugees in unfamiliar land. As Madivi Muthi, one of the refugees told us, “The struggle is not only to forget what happened back home but to find ourselves new memories

Posted in ANDHRAPRADESH, CHHATISGARH | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Kisenji Interview on Armed Struggle, Peace Talks and People’s Democracy

Posted by ajadhind on November 21, 2009

I Am the Real Patriot [Desh Bhakt]”

Tusha Mittal, Tehelka, November 13, 2009

In this interview, underground Maoist leader Kishenji speaks on issues such as peace talks, armed struggle, the party’s sources of funding, the difference between people’s democracy and India’s formal democracy, and the goals of the CPI (Maoist).

With unmistakable pride, he says he¡¯s India¡¯s Most Wanted Number 2. CPI (Maoist) Politburo member Mallojula Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, 53, grew up in the interiors of Andhra Pradesh reading Gandhi and Tagore.  It was after understanding the history of the world, he says, that he disappeared into the jungles for a revolution. During search operations in 1982, the police broke down his home in Peddapalli village. He hasn¡¯t seen his mother since, but writes to her through Telugu newspapers.  After 20 years in the Naxal belt of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, he relocated to West Bengal. His wife oversees Maoist operations in Dantewada [a district in southern Chhattisgarh] . Now, at a hideout barely a few kilometres from a police camp in Lalgarh, he reads 15 newspapers daily and offers to fax you his party literature. If you hold on, he¡¯ll look up the statistics of war on his computer. Excerpts from a midnight phone interview:

Tell me about your personal journey. What made you join the CPI (Maoist)?

I was born in Karimnagar in Andhra Pradesh (AP). In 1973, after a BSc mathematics degree, I moved to Hyderabad in to pursue law. My political journey began with my involvement in the Telangana Sangarsh Samiti, which has been pressing for a separate Telangana state. I launched the Radical Students Union (RSU) in AP. During the Emergency in 1975, I went underground to take part in the revolution. Several things motivated me: Writer Varavara Rao, who founded the Revolutionary Writers Association, India¡¯s political atmosphere and the progressive environment in which I grew up.

My father was a great democrat and a freedom fighter. He was also vice-president of the state Congress party. We are Brahmins, but our family never believed in caste. When I joined the CPI (ML),my father left the Congress saying two kinds of politics can¡¯t survive under one roof. He believed in socialism, but not in armed struggle. After the Emergency ended in 1977, I led a democratic peasant movement against feudalism. Over 60,000 farmers joined it. It triggered a nationwide peasant uprising.

The Home Minister has agreed to talks with CPI (Maoist) on issues like forest rights, land acquisition and SEZs [Special Economic Zones]? Why did you reject his offer? He¡¯s only asking you to halt the violence.

We are ready to talk if the government withdraws its forces. Violence is not part of our agenda. Our violence is counter violence. The combat forces are attacking our people every day. In the last month in Bastar, the Cobra forces have killed 18 innocent tribals and 12 Maoists. In Chhattisgarh, those helping us with development activities are being arrested. Stop this; the violence will stop. Recently, the Chhattisgarh DGP [Director-General of Police] called the 6,000 Special Police Officers of Salwa Judum a force of pride. New recruitment continues. These people have been raping, murdering and looting tribals for years. Entire villages have been deserted because of the Salwa Judum. The government can say whatever it likes, but we do not believe them. How can they change policy when they aren¡¯t even in control? The World Bank and America is.

On what conditions will you de-escalate violence?

The PM should apologise to the tribals and withdraw all the troops deployed in these areas. The troops are not new, we have been facing State terror for the last 20 years. All prisoners should be released. Take the time you need to withdraw forces, but assure us there won¡¯t be police attacks meanwhile. If the government agrees to this, there will be no violence from us. We will continue our movement in the villages like before.

Before it agrees to withdrawing troops, can you give the State assurance you won¡¯t attack for one month?

We will think about it. I¡¯ll have to speak with my general secretary. But what is the guarantee there won¡¯t be any attack from the police in that one month? Let the government make the declaration and start the process of withdrawing. It shouldn¡¯t be just a show for the public. Look at what happened in AP. They began talks and broke it. Our Central Committee member went to meet the AP Secretary. Later, the police shot him for daring to talk to the government.

If you really have a pro-people agenda, why insist on keeping arms? Is your goal tribal welfare or political power?

Political power. Tribal welfare is our priority, but without political power we cannot achieve anything. One cannot sustain power without an army and weapons. The tribals have been exploited and pushed to the most backward extremes because they have no political power. They don¡¯t have the right to their own wealth. Yet, our philosophy doesn¡¯t insist on arms. We keep arms in a secondary place. We faced a setback in AP because of that.

The government says halt the violence first, you say withdraw the troops first. In this mindless cycle, the tribal people you claim to represent are suffering the most.

So let¡¯s call international mediators then. Whether it¡¯s Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal or Maharashtra, we never started the violence. The first attack always came from the government. In Bengal, the CPM [Communist Party of India (Marxist)] cadre won¡¯t let any non-party person enter villages under their control. Police has been camping in the Lalgarh area since 1998. In such a situation, how can I press for higher potato prices and drinking water? There is no platform for me to do that. When the minimum wages in West Bengal were Rs 85 per day, people were being paid Rs 22. We demanded Rs 25. The Mahabharat [war] began when the Kauravas refused to grant the Pandavas even the five villages they asked for. The State refused our three-rupee hike. We are the Pandavas; they are the Kauravas.

You say violence is not your agenda, yet you¡¯ve killed nearly 900 policemen in the past four years. Many of them came from poor tribal families. Even if it is counter violence, how is this furthering a pro-people goal?

Our battle is not with the police forces, it is with the State. We want to minimise the number police casualties. In Bengal, many police families actually sympathise with us. There have been 51,000 political murders by the CPM during the last 28 years. Yes, we have killed 52 CPM men in the last seven months, but only in retaliation to police and CPM brutality.

How is the CPI (Maoist) funded? What about the allegations of extortion?

There are no extortions. We collect taxes from the corporates and big bourgeoisie, but it¡¯s not any different from the corporate sector funding the political parties. We have a half-yearly audit. Not a single paisa is wasted. Villagers also fund the party by voluntarily donating two days¡¯ earnings each year. From two days of bamboo cutting in Gadchiroli we earned Rs 25 lakh. From tendu leaf collection in Bastar we earned Rs 35 lakh. Elsewhere, farmers donated 1,000 quintals of paddy.

What if a farmer refuses to donate?

That will never happen.

Because of fear?

No. They are with us. We never charge villagers even a paisa for the development activity that we initiate.

What development have you brought to Maoist-dominated areas? How has life improved for the tribals of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand?

We¡¯ve made the people aware of the State¡¯s real face, told them how rich people live and what they¡¯re deprived of. In many of these areas the tendu leaf rate used to be one rupee for 1,000 leaves. We got it hiked to 50 paise per leaf in three districts of Maharashtra, five districts of AP and the entire Bastar region. Bamboo was sold to paper mills at 50 paise per bundle. Now the rate is Rs 55. But these victories came after we faced State resistance and brutality. In Gadchiroli alone, they killed 60 people on our side, we killed five.

The CPI(Maoist) also sends medical help to 1,200 villages in India almost daily. In Bastar, our foot soldiers are proficient doctors, wearing aprons, working as midwives in the jungles. We don¡¯t give them arms. We have 50 such mobile health teams and 100 mobile hospitals in Bastar itself. Villagers go to designated people for specific illnesses: for fever go to Issa, for dysentery to Ramu and so on. There is so much illness in these areas that there are not enough people to pick up the dead bodies. We give free medicines to doctors for distribution among the people. The government doesn¡¯t know that the medicines come from their own hospitals.

If the State sends civil administration to the Naxal belt, will you allow it?

We will welcome it. We want teachers and doctors to come here. The people of Lalgarh have been asking for a hospital for decades. The government did nothing. When they built one themselves, the government turned it into a military camp.

What is your larger long-term vision? Outline three tangible goals.

The first is to gain political power, to establish new democracy, socialism and then communism. The second is to make our economy self sufficient so we don¡¯t need loans from imperialists. We are still paying off foreign loans from decades ago. The debt keeps increasing because of the devaluation of our currency. It will never be repaid. This is what the World Bank wants. We need an economy that works on two things ¡ª agriculture and industry. First, the tribals want land. Until they own their land, the State will exploit them. The people should be entitled to a percentage of the crop depending on their labour. We are not opposed to industry; how can there be development without it? But we should decide which industries will work for India, not America, not the World Bank. Instead of big dams, big industries, we¡¯ll promote small-scale industries, especially those on which agriculture depends. The third goal is to seize all the big companies ¨C from the Tatas to the Ambanis, cancel all the MoUs [Memoranda of Understanding] , declare their wealth as national wealth, and keep the owners in jail. Also, from the grassroots to the highest levels, we will create elected bodies in a democratic way

But look at the history of communist governments the world over. They became as oppressive as the ones they overthrew. There are ample examples of coercion and absence of dissent in Maoist regimes. How is this in the best interest of the people?

These are all stories spread by the capitalists. People in the villages are dying by the hundreds, but all our doctors want to live in the cities. All our engineers want to serve Japan or the IT sector. They reached their positions using the nation¡¯s wealth. What are they doing for my country? The State cannot insist you become a doctor. But if you do, it should insist you use your skill for two years in the villages. How oppressive the State is depends on who is controlling the reigns of power.

We want to have a democratic culture. If there is no democracy, ask the villagers to start another revolution and overthrow us. In an embryonic form, we already have an alternative democratic people¡¯s government in Bastar. Through elections, we choose a local government called the revolutionary people¡¯s committee. People vote by raising their hands. There is a chairman, a vice-chairman, and there are departments ¨C education, health, welfare, agriculture, law and order, people¡¯s relations. This system exists in about 40 districts in India at present. The perception that Maoists don¡¯t believe in democracy is wrong.

What exists in India today is formal democracy. It¡¯s not real. Whether it¡¯s Mamata Banerjee, or the CPM, or the Congress party, it is all dictatorship. We negotiated the release of 14 adivasi women in Bengal to show the world who the State is keeping in jail; to expose their real face.

If you believe in democracy, why do you shun the democratic process that already exists? The Maoists in Nepal contested elections.

To create a new democratic State, one has to destroy the old one. Nepal¡¯s Maoists have compromised. What elections? There are 180 MPs with serious criminal charges. More than 300 MPs are crorepatis [someone who is worth more than 10 million rupees]. Do you know the US Army is already conducting exercises at a base in Uttar Pradesh? They openly said they can take the Indian Army with them wherever they want. Who allowed them this audacity? Not me. I am opposing them. I am the real desh bhakt (patriot).

What kind of nation do you want India to be? Pick a role model.

Our first role model was Paris. That disintegrated. Then Russia collapsed. That¡¯s when China emerged. But after Mao, that too got defeated. Now, nowhere in the world is the power truly in the hands of the people. Everywhere workers are fighting for it. So there is no role model.

When communism hasn¡¯t worked elsewhere, why will it work for India? China now admits Mao¡¯s theories were fallible. In Nepal, the Maoists are already seeking foreign investment.

What the Maoists in Nepal are doing is wrong. Following this path will only mean creating another Buddhadeb [the “Marxist” Chief Minister of West Bengal] babu. We have appealed to them to come back to the old ways. Wherever socialism or communism took root, imperialism tried to destroy it. Of course, Lenin, Mao, Prachanda ¨C all have weaknesses. After winning the Second World War, Lenin and Stalin replaced internal democracy with bureaucracy. They disregarded the participation of the people. We will learn from their mistakes. But capitalism too has had to stand up after being shot down. How can you say that capitalism has been successful? Socialism is the only way out.

But in power, you could be as fallible as the Nepal Maoists or the CPM?

If we change, the people should start another krantikari andolan (revolution) against us. If the ruler ¡ª no matter who ¡ª becomes exploitative, then the people need to stand up to demand their democracy. They should not have blind faith in a Kishenji, or a Prachanda or a Stalin. If any neta or party deviates from their own ideology, then end your faith in them and revolt again. The people should always keep this tradition alive.

Have you ever faced any personal dilemmas? Is violence the only way you can mount pressure on the State?

I believe we are trying to do the right thing. We are waging a just war. Yes, there can be mistakes along the way. Unlike the State, when we make mistakes, we admit it. The beheading of Francis Induwar was a mistake. We apologise for it. In Lalgarh, we are trying different strategies. We have recently made concrete development demands and given the government a November 27 deadline. We¡¯ve asked for 300 borewells and 50 make-shift hospitals. I have also knocked on the doors of Left Front parties ¨C Forward Bloc, RSP, CPI and even CPM. I¡¯m even in touch with ministers within the Bengal government. I¡¯ve spoken to the Chief Minister himself.

The CM office has rubbished this.

I have spoken to the CM. I told him to stop State brutality and said we have mailed our development demands. He said he is under pressure from his own party and from Home Minister Chidambaram.

Why isn¡¯t the police able to catch you?

In eight states, there are day and night search operations on for me. I¡¯m India¡¯s Most Wanted Number 2. In 1,600 villages in Bengal, people are currently on night guard to ensure the police can¡¯t find me. There are 500 policemen in a camp 1.5 kilometres from where I am right now. The people of Bengal love me. The police have to kill them before they can get me.

The Home Secretary recently alluded to China giving you arms. Is this true?

Clearly, he doesn¡¯t know the basics of our philosophy. To win a war, you need to know your enemy. Our position is diametrically opposite to China. I thought Chidambaram and Pillai were my competition, but never imagined I have such low-standard enemies. They are flashing swords in the air. Victory will be ours.

What is your opinion of the Lashkar-e-Taiba? Do you support their war?

We may support some of their demands, but their methods are wrong and antipeople. LeT should stop its terrorist acts because it cannot help accomplish any goals. You can only win by taking the people along with you.

Posted in Comrades, INTERVIEW | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: