Archive for February 1st, 2010

Better than the Enemy? : Stories from Lalgarh & Dantewada.

1 February 2010
Stories from Dantewada that one learnt while talking to a cross section of people come here first. Narratives differ based on the narrator’s circumstances and experience, but together they do approximate the truth as can be known now.  The fear of the Maoists and their active intervention obtained favourable terms of trade from the contractors for the forest produce that adivasis collect and depend on for their livelihoods. Naturally this earned Maoists gratitude of the adivasis. However the cadres of the Maoists have to live of the land and that meant surviving on the surplus that they could collect from adivasis. Since many adivasis live a hand to mouth existence, giving away meager surplus isn’t often a voluntary act. This caused resentment among some sections of adivasis who came to see Maoists as malefactor. This nascent disaffection was exploited by few clever tribal politicians for own pecuniary advantage to drive a wedge among the forest communities. It coalesced under their venal political leadership into Salwa Judum and then grew into a formidable lawless force with government’s guidance & encouragement. All kinds of stratagem like coercion, allurements, doubts, falsehoods were systematically used to swell the ranks of Salwa Judum. Violence on fellow Adivasis by Salwa Judum was abetted & aided `to make the divide permanent. When some Salwa Judum cadres realized that this internecine conflict would ultimately ruin their communities, they made a bid to return seeking forgiveness. VCA activists and others encouraged this process, which they saw would have positive fallout on their efforts to promote the interests of the adivasis by removing this wedge lodged in the heart of these people. But the Maoists killed some of these returning Salwa Judum cadres out of vendetta & may be strategy of inviting further reprisals from Salwa Judum & Security forces in the hope that it would swell Maoists’ ranks. Maoists claim that Salwa Judum brutality has indeed swelled their ranks and helped their cause (Comrade Savitri of the CPI (Maoist)). The path of reformation & return to their communities for Salwa Judum members is now closed forever. Salwa Judum knows that it is fight to finish for them and for the Maoists. Adivasis are the ones who are paying the price of this war between the parties to the conflict (State Forces & Salwa Judum Vs. Maoists), where both side claim they have interests of adivasis in their heart (‘We are caught in fear of people with guns, be they Naxals or Judum’). Only difference between the two sides is the amount of coverage both are receiving in press. Barring a few honourable exceptions like Tehelka, Outlook, etc, rest of the media is just unquestioningly reporting the stories released by the Union and State governments about the killings and atrocities committed by the Maoists, but acts totally deaf, mute & unconcerned when it comes to reporting killings and atrocities committed by the Salwa Judum and State forces. Basic journalistic tenet of researching the story by talking to all sides to the conflict is brazenly disregarded. Salwa Judum is now in the forefront of terrorizing the journalists, writers, activists, and concerned citizens, who want to investigate what is happening on the ground and report on it to the people at large. Idea is to turn Chhattisgarh and may be other areas where Operation Green Hunt is on into a black hole out of which no information can emerge save except the narratives that State wants to tell. Those who talk of State violence are dubbed Maoists sympathizers or anti-development brigade. Those who talk of Maoists violence are named lobbyists of mining interests or Government stooges. The ‘Anti-Maoists’ stance is winning the war of words with ‘Anti-State’ stance hands down. It is obvious that the State is hugely more powerful than the Maoists in terms of resources, weapons, and manpower. It is an unequal fight particularly pernicious to adivasis in whose interests it is being waged, since it is no holds barred contest. Atmosphere has been deliberately so vitiated and polarized that sifting facts from fiction has become an arduous task. Few realize that what is happening in the process is that “Anti-Tribal, Anti-Indigenous Communitiesstance is having an uncontested free run.

Stories from Lalgarh (Lalgarh: A People’s Uprising Subverted by the Ultra-Leftists) are equally disturbing. Santosh Rana begins by analyzing the demography, systematic denial of education opportunities mandated by law to ST & SC communities, and the state of agriculture in Jhargram sub division of West Midnapore district, where Lalgarh is situated. The landmine blast by Maoists targeting the Chief Minister of WB in the first week of November 2008, led to inhuman attacks by state police in midnight raids in the nearby tribal villages – a retaliatory strike that Maoists clearly anticipated and probably even desired. Santhals, joined by Mundas & Mahatos, rose in revolt led by “Bharat Jakat Majhi (traditional headmen) Marwah – Association of Majhis”. The movement was so strong and denial of access to state administration was so successful that government was forced to negotiate and settlement reached. According to Rana this success lured the Maoists to upstage the movement. Read this :

“…..Maoists wanted to utilize the uprising to create an area where the rule of the Maoist Party and their squads would be established, an area where there would be no opposition, not even any differing voice. So they tried to abolish all other parties and social organizations from the Belpahari and the Lalgarh blocks. ……the Maoists wanted to abolish all social and political organizations which would not abide by their dictates”.
“They issued orders that everybody living in the area of influence of the Majhi Marwah would have to join processions called by them. Some people under the influence of Majhi Marwah defied this order. Many of them were beaten and some were killed. The murder of Sudhir Mandi in the last week of November by the Maoists created a major split among the masses. Sri Sudhir Mandi was the Chairman of Belpahari Panchayat Samiti in 2003-08. He belonged to the Jharkhand Party. He was a poor peasant having one acre of Dahi (infertile highland). Even after remaining Chairman of Panchayat Samiti for five years, he lived in his traditional mud-house with thatched roof. On the day of his murder, he had gone to the market to sell Sabui grass, a grass used for rope making and gathered only by the very poor. But to the Maoists, he was a class-enemy. A poor tribal is a class-enemy simply because he refused to carry out their order”.
“…..But the Maoists have no respect for democratic processes or democratically elected Panchayats. They beat up the Panchayat members and stopped them from functioning according to their mandate. They set up “people’s committees” with people loyal to them. In many villages, this loyalty was extracted by coercion. To them, these “people’s committees” were the organs of people’s rule in the area and had been given the power to impose any amount of tax and punishment through beatings or murder. The “accused” had nowhere to go for a hearing or an appeal”.
“….the Maoists hold a grossly wrong understanding of the nature of people’s power. They hold that absolute power in the hands of their party is equivalent to people’s power. They want a system where there will be no election on the basis of universal suffrage and no opposition party. “People’s Committees” would be formed with people loyal to them and they would decide everything”.
What Rana has to tell doesn’t make a pretty picture for the Maoists who claim to be true saviours of the downtrodden masses. In fact, Maoists start resembling in miniature form the very State they are avowedly fighting, or worse. At least there is a Constitution to which State can be held accountable, there is a Judiciary to which appeal can be made against the excesses of the Executive, there are Elections when people get a chance to vote out the parties they don’t like – if not the policies that they don’t like, and finally there are Democratic Spaces that can be used to resist the tyranny of the State. Whatever the imperfections of this arrangement, it is better than having nothing. Maoist rule seems to extinguish totally all such possibilities. In such a situation, one would prefer the tyranny of the State to the tyranny of the Maoists. But that doesn’t mean a license for the State to start behaving like the Maoists under the pretext of fighting “Maoists-Violence”. State should and shall continue to be judged by the standards laid down by our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN to which it is a signatory, whatever may be the provocation. If these legal courtesies and human rights safeguards could be extended to Ajmal Kasab who is one of the perpetrators of  terror attacks on Mumbai, then they must surely be extended to Maoists. Moreover, poor adivasis caught between the devil and the deep sea must be spared & protected whatever the costs – not victimised.