Posts Tagged ‘Adivasi’

‘Salwa Judum-SPO’ Judgement Hurts. Why?

19 July 2011

Adivasis of Chhattisgarh have phantasmagorical tales to tell, like their brethren in other parts of India and world, of genesis and of other wonders in nature. Chhattisgarh’s politicians and bureaucracy seemed to have imbibed in full measure only the spirit of fantasizing from such tales bereft of their spirituality and innocence. The State’s officialdom lives in that make believe world of myths where Maoists are the demons and they are the avengers, pure of heart and deeds. Such is the genre to which belongs the ‘hurt’ of Inspector General of Police R K Vij fostered in him (An Order That Hurts) by the now much under attack Supreme Court judgement in the Writ Petition (Civil) no. 250/2007 along with Writ Petitions (criminal) Nos. 119/2007 & 103/2009. To his credit, Vij tells his myth with simplicity. It rests on:

  1. Salwa Judum owes its creation to spontaneous events. (In June 2005, villagers from Bijapur district had to abandon their land and flee from Maoist terror. Those who opposed the Maoists took shelter in nearby ashrams and schools and the village Kutru became the centre of the movement).
  2. Salwa Judum is not a State sponsored armed vigilante group. (The idea that Salwa Judum is an armed vigilante group supported by the Chhattisgarh state has been publicised by the Maoists and other groups, to the extent that the Supreme Court assumes this to be the case).
  3. Salwa Judum is separate from SPOs. (Though the Salwa Judum has lost its sheen in the last six years, its right to protest against Maoist atrocities should not be abrogated because a few SPOs or Koya commandos (a group of active SPOs) exceeded their limits. Salwa Judum must be viewed separately from the SPOs).
  4. SPOs understand fully their risks’ exposure and the role they have to play within the boundaries of law. (The court has also raised doubts over the informed consent of these SPOs, suggesting they do not understand the implications of counter-insurgency activities. This assumption, again, rests on the sense that they are inadequately trained, and not fully aware of the disciplinary codes and criminal liabilities that may arise on account of their actions. However, the fact is that they not only understand the temporary nature of the job but are also aware of the risks).

Some have alleged of a conspiracy between a leading business house of the country and a Congress leader to “launch” a “popular movement” on 4th of June 2005 to neutralize Maoists with tacit support of state government. Perhaps, Vij’s tale does have a tiny kernel of ‘truth’ around which many myths have been precariously held. The truth probably is that in June of 2005 there indeed was a spontaneous opposition to Maoists in Kutru village of Bijapur District. A story that appeared in National Security & Defence Magazine, Force, captures this event.

(source: http://www.forceindia.net/Naxalism5.aspx):

“In June 2005, a tractor carrying police ration was driving from Kutru to Bedre police station in west Bastar. Members of the Maoist Sangham (People’s Militia), who primarily were the local tribals, looted the tractor and disappeared in the jungle. When the police found out, it swooped upon the village where the actual looting took place, caught a few tribals, including senior, respectable members of the community and beat them up. A few were put behind bars. This angered the tribals no end. Curiously, this anger was not directed against the police who had beaten the senior members of the tribe, but against the Sangham who looted the police tractor, thereby forced the police to beat them up”.

“What seems more likely is that, when some tribals handed over a few Sangham members to the police, probably out of fear of the police, they had not bargained for the retribution from the Naxals. Once that happened, local political workers, including Karma’s brother who is one of the tribal leaders, must have seen the political advantage of fanning anti-Naxal feeling among the tribals”.

Mahendra Karma –a tribal, Congress leader, and leader of the opposition- was alive to the possibilities this incident offered, stepped in within days with offer of help to villagers, skilfully fanned the agitation, assumed its leadership, and named it Salwa Judum- “purification Hunt” in local language. Events moved very rapidly after this, almost on cue, as if the blue print of what was to happen was already ready. Just to give a feel for the atmosphere in the State, look at this story that appeared in the Indian Express of 6 June 2005: “DREZE ATTACKED AS HE LOOKED LIKE NAXAL: COPS- Sources said the attack was due to “mistaken identity” as “their style of holding meetings with locals was similar to that of Maoist rebels”. Chief Minister Raman Singh on Sunday ordered Balrampur SP S.R.P. Kalluri to “collect all details about the incident and take stern action against those responsible for assaulting the economist. They (police) ordered us to call off the meeting, but we continued it. Soon, they moved away only to return with more men, some carrying guns and AK-47 rifles. They wreaked havoc. They turned tables and chairs upside down, abused us and kicked us. They even rained lathis on some of us. I was hit on my back, legs, hands and shoulders,” Dreze told The Indian Express”. The fiction of “Naxal Looks” had already taken birth as early as 2005, even before Dr Binayak Sen and People’s Union for Civil Liberties were anywhere on the radar of Chhattisgarh Government. Another vital thing to note is that this incident happened in the jurisdiction of S R P Kalluri, who was associated with many such *incidences*, most not so benign, in later years including the attack on Swami Agnivesh this year again under his watch though Agnivesh had travelled to Dantewada with the *blessings* of Chief Minister.  On 25 June 2005, Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reported from Raipur: “Chhattisgarh to back villagers’ battle against Maoists- The Chhattisgarh government pledged Saturday to provide “ideological support” besides food and medicines to the villagers who broke out in armed revolt against Maoist guerrillas in the Bastar region last week…. We decided to send officers to go to battle field and see the real protest and fuel villagers’ outburst against the rebels…. Home Minister Ramvichar Netam added: We welcome the fight. These villagers are now holding the ultras responsible for blocking developing and pushing them to verge of starvation”. Raman Singh’s BJP government had come to power in end 2003 – just year & half old then, and therefore, it is interesting to know what *blocking of developing (sic)* Netam had in mind. Economic Times of 6 March 2006 succinctly summarized these developments: “Mine fields of Chhattisgarh– The experiment — launched by local Congress MP Mahendra Karma, blessed by the BJP-led state government and celebrated by sections of the national media — has only complicated matters. It has conferred political legitimacy on social violence”. Why was there such unusual convergence of interests among sworn foes like Congress & BJP? Could it be pure coincidence? More on this later.

BJP blessed this movement. Blessings express good wishes joined with prayers for wellbeing and prosperity. Did BJP’s blessings remain confined to ‘ideological support’; and may be at most to ‘food’ and ‘medicines’ that would keep body & soul together for ‘blessings’ to be meaningful as was reported by IANS? This is where the story of hands off approach of State in matters of Salwa Judum starts to queer. Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) in its report (http://tiny.tw/85n) stated: “Soon, the Chhattisgarh State government lent its support to the Salwa Judum led by the Leader of the Opposition in the State Legislative Assembly. In his Independence Day address on 15 August 2005, Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh assured the Adivasis that the government would abide by its commitment to provide full backup to people fighting the Maoists. On 25 August 2005, the State government announced that it had set up a Committee headed by Chief Secretary A.K. Vijayvargiya to provide direct support such as logistics, arms and funding to the Salwa Judum”. (Incidentally, Vijayvargiya, on retirement bagged the plum post of chief Information Commissioner of Chhattisgarh) But, are not these “Human Rights Wallahs” died in the wool Maoists, or at least Maoist sympathizers?  That is what Vij’s boss at the time he wrote his article but alas no more, DGP Vishwaranjan, went hoarse telling anyone who was willing to listen.  That is what Chhattisgarh government in sworn affidavits stated before SC bench hearing the petitions referred to at the beginning. That is what Chhattisgarh government kept repeating in Sessions Court and High Court in its case against Dr. Biyanak Sen and Piyush Guha. It was difficult therefore to trust ACHR’s version of truth. One fortunately found an unimpeachable source at the end of a long & frustrating search to corroborate the ACHR story. The Naxal Terror Watch website discloses upfront that ‘Naxalism is pure & simple TERRORISM, which disguises itself with terms like *Class Struggle* and *Social Justice*’.  This would make Man Mohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Raman Singh, Vishwaranjan, et al, put together, mighty proud. In its post of 26 August 2005, just a day later when setting of the committee was announced, it reports: “The Chhattisgarh government has set up a committee headed by the state chief secretary to provide direct support to tribes that raised an armed revolt against Maoist rebels in June this year. It is for the first time that the government has set up a committee with the basic purpose of providing proper guidance to those opposing the Maoists at the local level. It will provide all support, including monetary and logistical help as well as arms”. Since the Chief Secretary of the state, head of the state bureaucracy including Police, was entrusted with the job, it shows the importance attached to it by Raman Singh. It also nails the lie squarely and finally that Salwa Judum is not ‘sponsored’ nor ‘armed’ by the government. Can Vij be held in contempt of SC for saying, “The idea that Salwa Judum is an armed vigilante group supported by the Chhattisgarh state has been publicised by the Maoists and other groups, to the extent that the Supreme Court assumes this to be the case”? Just short of saying that Supreme Court is a Maoist sympathizer, he has said it all.

Vij, like his illustrious seniors P Chidambaram & Vishwaranjan before him, is at pains to *disabuse* the popular imagination that conflates Salwa Judum & Special Police Officers (SPO), and which according to official position even SC has bought into. This lie was once again nailed on 8 July 2011 (http://tiny.tw/8g5): “Ejaz Kaiser of Hindustan Times talked about the fate of SPOs, “Post-SC order, Maoist threat looms over SPOs”. He mentions, “The SPOs are now awaiting the state government’s decision on their fate. The *Sethia group of SPOs and Koya commandos chief Devdhar Sethia* and the Dantewada-based *Salwa Judum Sukma-Konta block president Soyam Mukka* plan a meeting soon to discuss their future course of action”. Now this is a curious statement indeed. The *Sethia Group of SPOs* gives a clear impression that they are all linked by some *umbilical bond*. That common bond obviously is Devdhar Sethia. This is highly suspicious. If these SPOs were *individually* selected and recruited –that is what CS government implies when it says SPOs have no links with Salwa Judum-; then how did they develop a supra-organizational loyalty other than one to the police force of CS? The obvious explanation is that section of Salwa Judum owing allegiance to Sethia was recruited en masse as SPOs. Next statement tells us that Sethia group of SPOs is meeting Sukma-Konta block president Soyam Mukka to plan the future course of action. Now why would a group of SPOs that has no links to Salwa Judum as per DGP-CS & Union Home Minister seek to meet a leader of Salwa Judum?”

When Government protégés, Salwa Judum & SPO, have openly declared their allegiance to each other, what worth do government’s baleful protestations have?

 

Coming to the ‘informed consent’ of SPO, less said the better. SPO were recruited from among the Salwa Judum, which itself had a core of Adivasis who had voluntarily joined, but its bulk was formed of people vacated from their villages under coercion or sometimes inducements of free rations & other freebies, and then settled in camps opened along the roads where state security apparatus dominated. Since guerrilla warfare that Maoists specialise in mandates them to operate like fishes in the water- inseparable from communities, the government wanted to use the scorched earth policy of draining out the water to kill the fishes. The recruitment of SPO during this phase commenced to serve local intelligence and to act as buffer between security forces & the ambushes or minefields set up by Maoists into which they ran.  Soon there was a widespread resentment in Salwa Judum camps over deplorable camp conditions, constant harassment, and broken promises. Many Adivasis ran away from Salwa Judum camps. Maoists killed some of them on suspicion being police spies or informers, punished some others as a deterrent lesson.  The Salwa Judum camp inmates and SPO now stood between the devil and the deep sea. That is where the *informed consent* of barely adult SPO’s stood. Of course, they knew that jobs were purely temporary to serve the expediency of the State. Of course, they got a *royal honorarium* of Rs. 1,500/month, which was later raised to a princely sum of Rs. 3,000/month. Of course, they were aware that they had little choice but to kill or be killed. Perhaps, in the exuberance of youth, they also got drunk on the feel of power that rose in their hearts with a gun in their hands. *Consent* of SPO was certainly *informed*. They were after all part of the soil. Though there is obvious difference between this *consent* and what SC said. The element of “true choice” to join or not to join based on appreciation of pros & cons of both options was missing. SPO are bonded labourers, in fact, double bonded. Driving into the arms of the state is spurious security, sense of power & chance for enrichment; and driving away from the Maoists is fear of torture or death.

Unintended truths, untruths & half-truths adorn Vij’s narrative. A careful reading bares them all.

  1. “Maoists who had never witnessed opposition from the *people whose support they enjoyed for almost three decades*”. This runs counter to the official narrative of State, which holds that Maoist always prey on hapless Adivasis and extract their support through coercion.
  2. “These shelters were loosely called Salwa Judum camps, though in real terms they were little more than relief camps, gradually upgraded with health and educational facilities by the government. These have now taken the form of any normal village of the region”. When the lands of villagers are not near the camp, how can they take a form of any normal village? Conditions of many camps by all accounts are deplorable, and some have even closed down.
  3. “….a few SPOs or Koya commandos (a group of active SPOs) exceeded their limits…. They have always accompanied the regular police force and worked under their direct supervision”. Now, what one considers *a few*, others may hold too much. But, what one should not miss is that SPO *exceeded their limits always under the direct supervision* of police. A high-ranking Police officer admits the culpability of his force in the excesses that were committed. Is it his grouse that SC should have blamed the police force instead of the SPO?
  4. “Though many were killed in action, they never raised any alarm of indiscipline”. That only shows how helpless their lot was. They have no safety until Maoists were finished. They have no future when Maoists are finished.
  5. “This can be corroborated from the fact that many joined the regular force against vacancies that arose”. Why wouldn’t they join when that gave both proper pay and tenure of service?
  6. “Many, while continuing to live in their villages, secretly provided intelligence and remained on the police rolls as SPO….*Providing information about crime* to the nearest police station is a statutory duty of all citizens. Such duties cannot be held unconstitutional only because the criminal activities happen to relate to the Maoists”. Such people would be known to few *handlers* even among the police force in view of the dangerous roles they play. Therefore, they were really off the radar of both petitioners and SC bench. Why call them SPO when they were spies or informers? That role can continue, and if Chhattisgarh government wants to act virtuous and play by the rulebook, then it can always ask SC bench for clarification.

Vij’s narrative stands thoroughly discredited based on both available evidence in public domain and its inherent contradictions. Yet one has to answer what caused this unusual & extraordinary convergence of interests between BJP, Congress, Chhattisgarh State and Central governments. Rumours had circulated that Corporates’ interest, especially of Mining & Metals companies, was ultrahigh when the talks of carving out small states out of both Bihar & Madhya Pradesh began in the 90s. Small states were to be carved out of regions, which had significant forest cover and were most backward. Adivasis had lived there for millennia. Their voices went unheard in bigger states. So a question arose, why shouldn’t they have separate states of their own? New states, where they would be free to decide how to order their lives according to their wisdom & needs. Usually, reorganization of states is a very thorny and divisive issue as is evident from the emotive conflagrations over separate Telangana or Vidarbha states. Creation of both Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in contrast was a smooth affair.  There was a remarkable consensus along the entire political spectrum- not just Congress and BJP. That itself should have raised suspicions. Moreover, such poorly developed news states would be revenue deficient and therefore, their viability would be in doubt. However, no such doubts arose. Adivasis were oblivious to the untold riches lying below their feet, but the Corporates were not. It was their *strong interest* in forging small states that *managed* the broad consensus vital to successful passage of bills. Corporates reckoned that new legislatures and executives would bring new faces. New administrations would be more *industry friendly* for *rapid development* of their states and for *enlarging the revenue resource base*. Small states would be more *amenable* to Corporate lobbying and would be cheaper to manage. All this saw a *great gold rush* to both these news states. Governments signed hundreds of Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with corporates, who were eager to get at the deposits of best quality minerals found anywhere and were easy to extract too; to produce metals; and to generate power from coal. The world minerals prices too had sky rocketed in the first decade of new millennia. The circumstances for super normal profits could not have been better. Chhattisgarh was on steroids.

  1. India Business Insight, 31 January 2004: “(ADB) has approved a $ 400 million loan for building 11,000 kilometres of all-weather roads in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as part of the Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Vikas Yojana. The loan will be used to set up management systems to ensure the sustainability of the road networks. ADB will also offer a technical assistance grant of $ 1 million financed by the government of UK to chalk out the second phase of the project”.
  2. Hindustan Times, 8 January 2005: “Jindal Steel & Power Limited has informed BSE that the Company has signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government of Chhattisgarh on January 07, 2005 for setting up clean-type Coke Oven, Sinter plant, Blast Furnace, Steel Melting Shop, Plate Mill, Rolling mill for manufacturing Rebar, TMT and Wire Road, Power Plant and other utilities and associated facilities at Raigarh in the State of Chhattisgarh. The total cost of these facilities will be Rs. 25,950 million”.
  3. Business Line, 11 February 2005: “The Vedanta  plans include increasing aluminium production from 1 lakh to 3.45 lakh tpa at Korba in Chhattisgarh”.
  4. Indo Asian News Service, 6 March 2005: “”Tata steel is keen to invest Rs.100 billion ($2 billion) in a phased manner at the Bastar plant, with an initial investment of not less then Rs.20 billion,” state Industry Minister Amar Agrawal said here. Agrawal said the project was likely to be firmed up by end of April. Managing director B. Muthuraman had last month shortlisted three sites in Bastar’s district headquarters Jagdalpur, 300 km from here”.
  5. India Business Insight, 6 June 2005: “Tata Steel has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Government of Chhattisgarh on 4 Jun 2005. The company intends to set up a steel plant with a capacity of five million tonnes at a cost of Rs10,000 crore”.

That would have meant lot of money –real heavy duty- sloshing around in the tiny state. The only thorn in the flesh of all these *lucrative investments* was the dreaded Maoists insurgency. Especially, in Bastar division, no land acquisition plans of state government to make over resources to corporate houses would have succeeded. One cannot acquire land in an area not under one’s control. Can one? All vested interests converged and became one to solve this vexed and seemingly intractable problem. Probably, in a moment of brilliant epiphany an idea took hold to make brother fight brother. An internecine war is best way to clear lands and forests. It has always worked since time immemorial. Salwa Judum was born. SPO came shortly thereafter.

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