Tag Archives: Maoist

Adivasis Need Speedy and Impartial Justice – An Open Letter

May 6, 2013

To: The Government of India,

Members of the Judiciary and All Citizens,

One of the most disastrous consequences of the strife in the tribal areas of central India is that thousands of adivasi men and women remain imprisoned as under-trials, often many years after being arrested, accused of ‘Naxalite/ Maoist’ offences.

The facts speak for themselves.

In Chhattisgarh, over two thousand adivasis are currently in jail, charged with ‘Naxalite/Maoist’ offences. Many have been imprisoned for over two years without trial. In Jharkhand, an even larger number of adivasis, possibly in excess of five thousand, remain imprisoned as under-trials. The situation is similar in many other states of central and eastern India currently affected by armed conflict between the government and adivasi-linked militant movements, namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal. The adivasi undertrial population may run into thousands in each of the states. Assessing the true scale of the problem is inherently difficult, given that none of the police or jail administrations are making comprehensive figures public, even after RTI requests have been filed by concerned citizens. This opacity adds to the injustice.

In each of these states, the adivasi under-trials, and particularly those arrested under special security statutes, face grave common handicaps that obstruct their Constitutional right to a fair, speedy trial, to justice.

One, language barriers. The vast majority of adivasi under-trials speak only adivasi languages, such as Gondi and Halbi. However, few if any courts have official interpreters/translators. This leaves the adivasis unable to communicate directly with the Officers of the Court or otherwise effectively make their case.

Two, the failure, in case after case, for evidentiary material, such as captured arms or explosives, to be promptly submitted in court by the security forces when they first produce the detainees before the Magistrate, as the Magistrate can statutorily direct the security forces to do when they level such serious charges. In the absence of prima facie proof, the grave risk of injustice being done to innocent adivasis is self-evident.

Three, procedural barriers relating to ‘Naxalite/Maoist’ and other security offences. Being charged with such offences, the under-trials are not produced in the courts for lengthy periods. Owing to this, the trial does not proceed for years together.

Four, other procedural barriers. Since under-trials charged with’Naxalite/Maoist’ offences are only held in Central Jails, many of them of them are transferred to jails at a great distance from their homes and families. In Chhattisgarh, for instance, nearly one hundred adivasi under-trials from Bastar have been transferred to Durg or Raipur Central Jails, a distance of over 300 kilometers. The great distance, coupled with the poverty of most adivasis, means that families are unable to regularly visit them or provide them with vital emotional support.

Five, the lack of proper legal defence. Lawyers who visit ‘Naxal/Maoist’ under-trials in Chhattisgarh are photographed by the authorities and their information listed in a separate register, making lawyers reluctant to visit their clients. In any event, many of the adivasi under-trials are dependent on legal-aid lawyers who rarely go to meet the client or seek instructions regarding the case. Often lawyers are careless in their conduct of cases and are amenable to pressures from the police or prosecution.

In addition to the humanitarian imperative, the prolonged failure to provide speedy and impartial justice to these thousands of adivasi under-trials is damaging the prospects for peace in India’s heartland – by leading adivasis to feel that the Indian government does not treat them as full citizens and by intensifying their generalised sense of alienation. It is telling that in the widely publicised “Collector abduction” incidents of Chhattisgarh and Odisha, one of the major demands raised by the insurgents was speedy and fair trial for these thousands of jailed adivasis, accused of being Naxalites/Maoists. Yet, virtually none of the efforts belatedly agreed to by the state governments – such as the ‘High-powered Committee for review of the cases of Adivasi undertrials in Chhattisgarh’, set up in mid-2012 under the aegis of Nirmala Buch, the former top IAS officer – have come to fruition or been acted on to any degree by the concerned governments.

More than anything else, the failure to ensure justice for the adivasis is a grave blot on India’s human rights record. Not only are we as a nation committed to democracy and human rights, but our Constitution provides extensive safeguards and rights to the adivasis that are being violated by not ensuring fair and speedy trials for these thousands of adivasi under-trials.

On every count – whether humanitarian or strategic – it is imperative that this prolonged failure to assure our country’s adivasis of speedy, impartial justice be set right immediately.

Justice is in everyone’s interest.

Hence, we the undersigned, a large group of concerned Indians – including adivasi leaders, jurists and lawyers, and public intellectuals – urge the Union Government, the concerned State Governments, and the Supreme Court to undertake to appoint a special Commission of eminent jurists to oversee dedicated fast-track courts that hear these cases speedily and impartially.

Sincerely,

VR Krishna Iyer, Mahasweta Devi, Swami Agnivesh, Nandita Das, Nitin, Desai, GN Devy, Jean Dreze, Gladson Dungdung, Anand Grover, Ramachandra Guha, Girish Karnad, Manish Kunjam, Harsh Mander, Vinod Mehta, Arvind Netam, Rajinder Sachar, BD Sharma, Nandini Sundar, Father Stan Swamy, Tarun Tejpal, Mukti Prakash Tirkey.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

New Book Review – Whose Country is it anyway? by Gladson Dungdung and reviewed by Felix Padel

whose country is it anyway GD.Gladson Dungdung – Whose Country is it anyway?

Review by Felix Padel

This collection of activist essays is out just when it is needed most: a book touching on every aspect of the Adivasi situation by an Adivasi activist prepared to take on the big questions and the key perpetrators of violence, from the big companies staging takeovers, headed by Tata, to the police increasingly serving these companies rather than India’s citizens, and the politicians facilitating the takeovers.

The book’s starting point is a recent Supreme Court Judgement that validates Adivasis’ identity as India’s original inhabitants. Significantly, this case involved an Adivasi woman stripped naked and shoved around a village in Maharashtra. Another piece focuses on the plight of Anna, a domestic servant, whose unheard plea for justice is symptomatic of mass exploitation and oppression of Adivasi women in domestic service. As for exposure to rape – what about rapists in uniform? Hasn’t rape been used against tribal people as a weapon of subjugation for decades? When tribal women are gang-raped by police or army personnel, are perpetrators ever punished? “Are these women too?” is one of the book’s strongest essays, covering the sexual abuse in a school in Chhattisgarh and other episodes that bring national shame.

The first essay starts at the beginning with the inspiring, yet harrowing story of the first Adivasi to oppose East India Company invasions, in 1779, with the words “Earth is our Mother”. Baba Tilika Manjhi paid for opposing the British with a gruesome death, giving the lie to the mastermind of this Paharia campaign, Augustus Cleveland, whose memorial in Bhagalpore claimed that he brought this tribal people under British rule “without terrors of authority”!

The book’s documentation of the many forms of violence and prejudice ranged against Adivasis fills a vital gap in literature. The detail is often sickening and will make any sane person extremely angry. It is shown how Adivasis are being displaced by dams, by industrial/mining projects, by continuing tricks of non-Adivasis, and – perhaps most outrageously of all – by the new University for the Study and Research of Law at Nagri. As Dungdung points out, the head of this university is also Jharkhand’s Chief Justice. If this isn’t a blatant conflict of interest, what is? This university’s takeover of land lays down a pattern of trampling on the Law that does not bode well for its future!

The book documents the situation in other states besides Jharkhand, such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Assam, where the Forest Department’s use of Boro tribal people to evict Adivasis from their forest land shows a typical colonial technique of turning one tribe against another. As the author asks, if Rahul Gandhi says he is Adivasis’sipahi in Delhi, he needs to speak up a lot louder and more often on Adivasi issues!

Dungdung rightly points out that in many ways Nehru is the ‘Architect of Adivasis’ misery’, through his ideology of dams as ‘temples of modern India’. The experience of tens of thousands of Adivasis whose lives have been ruined by dams forms a blatant contradiction to Nehru’s stated principle that tribal people should always be allowed to develop according to their own genius. However well-meaning Nehru was in his words, his violent actions towards tribal communities at certain times have yet to be recognised: apart from the horror of his big dams, he also sent in the troops against tribal communities in Telengana in 1948, destroying the achievements of 3,000 villages who had effected a democratic redistribution of land, and similarly in Nagaland and Manipur during the 1950s, where troops used extreme levels of violence to force submission. In each case, ‘security forces’ established a level of habitual violence, including use of ‘rape as a weapon of war’, for which thousands of perpetrators went unpunished. Operation Greenhunt is just the latest manifestation of the recurring patterns of state violence that these two operations initiated. Offering just military action and ‘development’ to counteract today’s Maoist insurgency is no solution at all ‘precisely because the injustice, discrimination and denial are the foundation of the violence’.

Gladson Dungdung records the starvation levels of hunger still faced by large numbers of Adivasis. As Binayak Sen has pointed out using medical and nutrition statistics, over 50% of Adivasis and Dalits are presently living under famine conditions of malnourishment. This being so, how can India’s rulers claim they have brought ‘development’ at all to these sections of society? To be real, development needs to be under local democratic control, not dictated by corporations and opaque government hierarchies.

As the two most discriminated-against groups in India, Dalits and Adivasis share many experiences. Yet the difference between the two groups is also important to be aware of: Dalits were more or less enslaved by mainstream society, while Adivasis maintained a high level of independence up to British times. As such, they developed their own diverse cultures and languages to a high level. Adivasi cultures are still too often perceived through stereotypes as ‘primitive’ and ‘backward’, when the reality is that they are extremely civilised and highly developed in areas of life where mainstream society is weak or degenerate. Centuries of development is often destroyed when Adivasi communities are thrown off their land by projects usurping the name ‘development’.

Adivasi society needs to be recognised for its formidable achievements, including an economic system that is based on and in accordance with the principles of ecology, and therefore sustainable in the true sense and the long term. Cultural Genocide is the term for what Adivasis are facing now all over India, and this book is a landmark in spelling out the injustice. By bringing out the truth, and documenting the situation from an authentic Adivasi perspective, it gives hope for a turning of the tide that will counteract the genocidal invasions and takeovers of Adivasi land.

Dr Felix Padel is an anthropologist who has lived in India for 30 years. His latest book ‘Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel’ by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das is published by Orient Black Swan. ISBN: 9788125038672

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

Gloomy Thoughts on India Today By Antony Copley

Gloomy Thoughts on India Today by Antony Copley

These reflections are prompted by attending the Gandhi Foundation Award ceremony in the House of Lords of the Gandhi International Peace Award for 2011 to Binayak Sen and Bulu Iman and a seminar given by two very bright graduate students of the University of Kent on the writings and film making of Arundhati Roy. Biographical details on the two recipients can be seen in the Gandhi Foundation Peace Award article on this website and their two acceptance speeches will also be published shortly, so this is no attempt to summarise what they had to say. But it filled me with a real sense of gloom about where India today is heading.

It was very moving to find oneself in the same room as Binayak Sen. It was something of a miracle that he was present at all to receive his prize, only by being let out of prison on bail and having his passport returned at a very late stage. Binayak Sen is a doctor and specialist paediatrician and he began by telling us that surveys on malnutrition, based on body mass indices, show that India is in fact in the grip of famine. Sen’s struggle for civil rights is well known. He ended his talk by telling us the Indian government is currently drawing up legislation in which almost all forms of dissent will now be branded as sedition. Such was the charge brought against him for his own active engagement in the struggle for adivasi rights and one that led to a sentence of life imprisonment.

Bulu Iman delivered a searing indictment against the current economic development of India with its rampant capitalism riding rough shod over the economic and cultural life of the tribal population. He opened up an apocalyptic vision of India’s own economic self destruction. All this ties into the consequences of climate change. None has done more than Bulu Iman to memorialise the remarkable culture of the forest people. We were recently provided with a brilliant photographic record of this culture at an exhibition of photographs by Robert Wallis in the Brunei Gallery at SOAS, conveying a horrifying sense of the threat from the coal-mining and mining of other minerals to the very survival of this culture. Talking to Bulu Iman afterwards he left me with a disturbing sense that, in fact, the battle for survival has been lost. He sees the materials in his Sanskriti Museum, Hazaribagh as time capsules. How can any culture of this fragile kind survive the destruction of its village life, with huge roads ploughing through the forest destroying all in their way? At least a third of the tribal population in the forest areas of eastern and central India have already been dispossessed and driven into urban slums.

Felix Padel, historian of the tribal struggle and vital intermediary between The Gandhi Foundation and the two recipients, endorsed their findings. If anything, he sees the situation as even more dire.

No-one has more vividly described this human catastrophe overwhelming the forest population than Arundhati Roy. I learnt that her imagery always refers back to the holocaust of the partition. Initially, I could see how this imagery would work for the disaster that has struck Kashmir and the horrors of communal violence in Gujerat in 2003 but I was less certain of its relevance to the tribal tragedy. But then it was explained to me that their forced dispossession precisely echoes those images of long lines of migrants on the move during the massive migrations of the partition years.

Has the India of its founding fathers really come to this? Was there some fatal flaw in Nehru’s vision for change, a paternalist concern towards the vulnerable in Indian society that could turn dictatorial? Did that visionary sense of rapid development with its power stations and dams in fact presage the rampant capitalism on view today? It was Nehru himself who laid the foundation stone 5 April 1961 of the Sardar Sarovar, the scheme for some 3000 dams on the River Narmada. The forest people were drawn into a Nehruvian development project. Of course it is tempting to place the blame for the exploitation of the forests on the Raj and its Forest laws of 1878 and it is true that much of its timber was set aside for exploitation- think of the amount of wood needed fort the Indian railways. But the colonial regime did set aside protected areas and sought to shore up the way of life of the forest people. It is also worth recalling that originally these were plains people but driven into the forest by aggressive agrarian castes. But independence seemed to release even great depredation of the tribal economies. In the eight provinces of Bihar that were in 2000 to become the state of  Jharkand, far more mineral wealth was being extracted and exported than development aid was being invested. Did it only need Narisimha Rao’s Congress government’s liberalisation of state controls over the economy in 1993 to release globalisation in all its exploitative greed? For decades India was the world’s most exciting prospect of a developing economy and yet did we foresee Shining India as its outcome? Bulu Imam for one was sceptical if there be any life left in any earlier visionary outlook.

Of course it is distastefully possible to be dismissive of the chances for survival in today’s economic imperatives of such vulnerable communities as the forest peoples. If you adopt a historically determinist approach, then so called primitive or backward communities simply have to give way to `progress’. At best, you offer the communities some share in the profits of the mining revolution. It was argued in that seminar on Arundhati Roy that the newly enriched Indian middle class have no sense that the forest people are worth protecting-they simply stand in the way of the making of wealth. It helps to understand such indifference if we realise the staggering profits that will be made from the mining of minerals in the forests. Maybe the forest people are themselves –or so it is sometimes argued- morally obliged to accept that they have no option but to share this wealth.

But of course there are very strong counter arguments. In the tribal way of life we are given an example of a sustainable economy, one that respects nature, and is just the example of sustainability we need if we are to stave off the disastrous consequences of climate change. Bianca Jagger, inter alia Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador and Trustee of the Amazon Charitable Trust, in her intervention at the Award ceremony pleaded for new paradigm on development. There has to be a development plan that accommodates the needs of such vulnerable societies. Not everyone knows that Parliament now has an All Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples. The LibDem MP, Martin Forwood, its founder and Chairman, attended the ceremony. He reminded us of the threat from the Maoists. And clearly there are alternatives models for development than industrial capitalism. More radically, we need to abandon the concept of growth for one of sustainability.

So is there any prospect of checking this invasion of the tribal lands in its track? We have to live in hope. Ilina Sen agreed with me as we said farewell in the corridors of the House of Lords. Without hope we are lost. I do not myself give up hope that the progressive ideals incarnated in the Indian Constitution, the democratic political vision of Nehru, the role of a free press in independent India, have wholly disappeared. At least one Minister of Forests tried to rein in the corporation, Vedanta and delay the mining of bauxite in Chhattisgarh. If the political class are too hand in glove with the capitalists then we have to fall back on dissent from India’s intelligentsia. Aruna Roy, distinguished journalist of the Times of India, put faith in such dissent. Admittedly, if Binayak Sen’s fears over changing the laws on sedition are accurate, then there is a momentous struggle to be waged. Will university students, amongst others, stand up for Civil Rights?

Where does this leave the Gandhians? In an earlier struggle, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement), under the inspired leadership of Medha Petkar, a Gandhian movement went some way to check the flooding of the river by the dams and the destruction of its riverside tribal culture. And it may well be asked, why did this cultural vandalism not cause as much shock as that of the vandalism of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992? In 1993 the World Bank withdrew funding, embarrassed by the wonderfully named Monsoon satyagrahas, with Gandhian activists ready to expose themselves to the rising waters, in the practice of jal samparan, sacrifice in water. The whole issue was referred to the Supreme Court. But it has to be acknowledged that in the end it came out on the side of the dam. In its judgement, `it became necessary to harvest the river for the larger good.’ There was to be rather more good fortune in a Gandhian protest against the Maheshwar Hydroelectric Scheme in Madya Pradesh, a protest linked to the NAPM, the National Advancement of People’s Movement, set up in 1996.Yet we were told at the award ceremony when the women of Tamil Nadu protested against a nuclear power station all 5000 were arrested. Has the iron entered the soul in current Indian policy making?

So can a Gandhian protest influence the outcome in the current struggle in eastern and central India? Few people are aware of the scale of the conflict today. Has the freedom of the press been stifled? Are people just indifferent? To deal with the conflict both the police and increasingly the Indian army are heavily engaged. Quite who carries out reprisals against the tribal villages is unclear to me though I was told in the seminar that Hindu communal nationalists are heavily involved. They hold the tribal peoples, who of course lie outside the caste system, in contempt. Many tribals have joined the Maoist led revolt, driven out of their villages, outraged at the violation of their women. But what do the Maoists,or Naxalites as they are alternatively known, want? Have they a vision which in the long run saves the economies of the forest peoples? It does not fit with Marxist notions of economic development. Admittedly Marx, at the end of his life, came to see in such simple communities the very ideal of the communist society he was envisioning. Might today’s Indian Maoists do the same? It seems far more probable that the Maoists see themselves as engaged in a power struggle with the Indian state and have but opportunistically seized on this social unrest. The majority of the forest people find themselves in the crossfire of a civil war between the Indian army and the Maoists. Is there scope for non-violent satyagraha? So Bhikhu Parekh argued for at the end of the Award ceremony. Arundhati Roy feels that up against the violence of the State there is little prospect for a Gandhian solution and wonders if there is a non-violent alternative to the violence of the Maoists. Bulu Iman, a committed Gandhian, is equally pessimistic. In his view a satyagraha can only impact if your opponent has a moral susceptibility to injustice and he feels that such receptivity, one that existed with the likes of a Christian Lord Irwin of the British Raj or a Smuts in South Africa, does not exist in to today’s India. It makes one fear that a committed Gandhian like Binayak Sen may yet be disappointed in his life’s struggle. But again, one must not give up hope.

Eastern and Central India is not the only locale for struggles by tribal people. It also rages in North East India, Kerala, and on every other continent. These are not saintly movements. Up against the threat from globalisation several have retreated into exclusivist and xenophobic autonomous movements .Their political future would be better served were they to seek out more pluralist solutions. Such tribal people are at risk world wide. In the Award ceremony much was made of the role of international capital, the City of London, host to most of the Corporations financing the mining of tribal areas, a particular villain. The threat to the forest economies is clearly a part of globalisation. The tribal people stand in its way. Their communitarian values and ideals of a sustainable economy may yet be the inspiration to save us all from the consequences of unchecked growth. Their struggle is one that concerns us all.

 Antony Copley
Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Kent and Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation

Books consulted, Alf Gunvald Nilsen Dispossession and Resistance in India : The river and the rage Routledge 2010, Ed Daniel J Rycoft and Sangeeta Dasgupta The Politics of Belonging in India: Becoming Adivasi Routledge 2011,Arundhati Roy Broken Republic Hamish Hamilton 2011

Do We Also Have the Democratic Rights? – By Gladson Dungdung

10 July, 2011

people at the mass meeting

On July 5, 2011, the Adivasis of Munda Khutkatti areas – Khunti, Murhu and Arki blocks of Khunti district gathered in Kachary Maidanof Khunti situated at a distance of 31 kilometres from the state capital of Jharkhand. In fact, the Khunti district administration had given them permission to hold a rally and mass meeting against the police atrocities. However, when the villagers started arriving to Kachary Maidan, Manoj Kaushik the Superintendent of police (Khunti) also reached to the venue and questioned Birsa Munda the leader of “Mundari Khutkati Ewam Bhuihari Parishad,” “Why you have brought so many people to protest against the police?” Birsa responded, “Villagers are facing police atrocities therefore they have come to express their pains and sufferings to the Deputy Commissioner”. The SP went back to his office after hearing Birsa’s response.

Meanwhile, the inspector of Khunti police station P.K. Mishra also started inquiring about the programme and the riot controller vehicle along with paramilitary forces reached to the venue. The police of Khunti, Arki, Murhu, Rania, Torpa and Karra police stations were already present in the venue. It seems that there was supposed to be an encounter between the police and the Maoists. As usual they assume it as a Rally and Mass Meeting of the Maoists. In fact, the police and administration consider all the rallies, mass meetings and protests organized against the police atrocities are as the programmes of the Maoists. Simultaneously, they had started their operations of stopping people in the entry points of Khunti. They stopped 3 buses at Arki and 2 buses and 3 Jeeps at Murhu block. However, 30 vehicles (buses and Jeeps) could able to reach to the venue and many people came by bicycles and by foot as well. There were more than 5000 people in the ground including more than 100 victims of police atrocities.

The Rally and Mass Meeting was organized by the “Mundari Khutkati Ewam Bhuihari Parishad”, which is a traditional organization of the Adivasis and it has legal validity as far the laws of 5th Scheduled Area are concerned. It was 1 O’clock in the afternoon. The villagers started walking towards Khunti town by raising slogans against the police atrocities. They were shouting, “Police Atyachar Band Karo” (Stop police atrocities), “Nirdosho ko Jail se riha karo” (release the innocent from the prison) and “Maowadiyo ke name per Gramino ko pratarit Karna band karo” (stop torturing the villagers in the name of Maoists). These people had decided to raise their voices when the police and paramilitary forces crossed their limit of perpetrating atrocities against the villagers. Needless to say, that the police torture has become part and parcel of their lives.

I had also gone to participate in the Rally and Mass meeting. After hearing slogans against the police, the Police Inspector of Khunti police station Mr. P.K. Mishra and his guards stopped the villagers saying that they should not shout slogans against the police. “Why don’t you organize Rally against the Maoists, when they kill our police forces,” ‘P. K. Mishra questioned. In response, the villagers said that they have come to raise their voices and they are against of both the parties who perpetrate violence against the villagers. They are made sandwich by both the parties. However, P.K. Mishra didn’t hear the villagers and asked them to stop raising slogans against the police. The villagers continued their rally but the police stopped them three times. The police wanted to block the Rally and asked the villagers to go back to their villages. The villagers were not ready to do so. Since I was part of the Rally therefore I intervened on the matter and told the Inspector P.K. Mishra that he should not seize the democratic rights of the villagers.

Meanwhile, I introduced myself as a Human Rights Activist and also a member of the “Assessment and Monitoring Authority” under the Planning Commission of India and showed him my visiting card. He was looking like a wounded lion. He snatched and threw my card on the ground, humiliated me and threatened me saying, “shut up! If you don’t stop, I’ll tear down you and dry up”. “I don’t bother about losing my job,” he added. Meanwhile, four bodyguards of the Inspect got down from the vehicle and abused and started beating me but when the crowd intervened, they stopped. After sometime, the rally resumed and backed to the Kachahari Maidan and mass meeting was started. The villagers started sharing their plight one after another.

Since the launching of so-called anti-Naxal Operations known as “Operation Green Hunt’ in the areas, the innocent villagers have been facing police atrocities. On August 5, 2010, the police and paramilitary forces went to Birbanki village of Arki block and started abusing and beating the villagers. They also scattered belongings and caught two innocent villagers – Daud Samad and Lukin Munda alleging them as feeding the Maoists. Both are well known social workers of the region. Similarly, on October 30, 2010 the police and paramilitary forces caught three girl students of Narang village – Jasmani Soy, Magdali Purty and Juliyana Purty (age between 15-16)and put them in Jail for more than 45  days alleging them as members of the CPI- Maoist. They were set free from the prison but no policeman was punished for detaining the innocent girls.

Again on 27 November, 2010, the police and paramilitary forces entered in Basudih village of Arki block and tied up villagers and beaten them severely. The police arrested innocent villager Soma Marsal Purty and put him in the Jail after branding him as a Maoist.  Similarly, on June 4, 2011 the police went to Bankira village of Arki, while coming back the police arrested Johan Hansa and Karma Singh Munda of Kuita village and put them in the Jail. On June 5, 2011, the police went to Ittihasa village and bet Sanika Munda, Laka Munda and Durga Munda severely alleging them as sheltering the Maoists in the village without any proof.

The police and paramilitary forces also torture the villagers during the prayers. On June 5, 2011, the villagers of Sareyad village of Arki block were having Sunday Mass in the village church. The police and paramilitary forces captured the Church and targeted villagers from the windows of the Church and shouted, “Shoot them”. After hearing the police there was a chaos in the Church and few villagers came out of the Church. The police and paramilitary forces bet them severely. Thereafter, they asked the villagers to prepare food for them. They ate and also bet severely to the person who cooked food for them.

Similarly, on June 5, 2011, the villagers of Kudunba of Arki block had gathered for prayer at Bankira at 8 O’clock in the morning. The police rounded them and asked them to sit separately – men one side and women on the other side. Thereafter, they bet the men severely and tied up hands of 25 men behind their back with the ropes, which the villagers use to tie-up their cattle. They also caught four girls – Seteng Nag, Hanna Nag, Mariam Kandir and Jaiwanti Nag. The police took 25 men and 4 girls to the forest in the name of search operations. The villagers were kept in the forest for 2 days without food and water. Finally, 2 persons – Mansid Nag and Masih Nag were put in the Jail alleging them as the Maoists. Mansid Nag works as a tailor and Masih Nag is a para-teacher and also works as a traditional medicine practitioner.

Amidst, a delegation met the Deputy Commissioner of Khunti Mr. Rakesh Kumar and a memorandum was submitted to him. Surprisingly, he said, “I’m hearing about the police atrocities first time”. “I know about the laws of 5th Scheduled Area and will take action,” he assured. The Dy. Superintendent of Police (Khunti) Mr. Anil Shanker was in a hurry to send the villagers back to their villages, he asked me several times, “Please send the villagers to their villages”. When the villagers were sharing their pain, suffering and sorrow in the mass meeting, a chopper of the Boarder Security Force (BSF) suddenly appeared in the vicinity and flew two rounds over the Kachary Maidan and returned to Ranchi. Perhaps, the top copes of Jharkhand were inside the Chopper, had come to see the Maoists in the mass meeting. Since inception of the state, the police have killed 550 people and arrested 4090 villagers in Jharkhand in allegation of being the Maoists. However, the police failed to prove the allegations.

Of course, there is a tendency in the police and administration that anyone who raises voice against the police atrocity is either a Maoist or their supporter. The most pertinent questions are do the villagers have democratic rights? Do we really live in a democratic country? And do we also have the democratic rights like other people of this country enjoy? Where should people go to plea for protection of their democratic rights? While talking to individuals, many villagers said that they are against of the Maoists however, if the police atrocities didn’t stop, then they can also take up the guns if the power only comes from the barrel of guns. I believe that this is the last warning for the Indian state. Therefore, instead of shutting down the democracy, the Indian state must hear the pains, sufferings and sorrows of the people and deliver justice to them.

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and Writer. He can be reached at:

gladsonhractivist@gmail.com

jharkhandmirror.org

Tribes and Tribulations – by Graham Davey

How do we bring peace and justice to the dispossessed and who is responsible?

Those who came to the Annual General Meeting at Kingsley Hall on 10 July 2010 were privileged to hear two presentations on the plight of the indigenous peoples of East India. The Adivasis are the tribal people of Orissa and Jharkhand state (formerly South Bengal). They live mainly in the forests and small villages preserving a culture that goes back for several thousand years and maintaining a balance between meeting basic human needs and preserving the natural environment. The Adivasis worship Nature and the spirits of their ancestors. Their megaliths and wall paintings are evidence of an ancient and sustainable civilisation.

The tragedy is that the land they occupy has been found to contain 40% of all India’s mineral wealth. Multinational companies have moved in to exploit huge reserves of coal, bauxite and other metal ores with scant regard for the needs of the Adivasi people. Photographer Robert Wallis showed a sequence of pictures which hinted at the rich culture of the past but vividly portrayed the depths to which the Adivasis have sunk. A people who lived sustainably on the land have been driven from their villages, seen their sacred spaces destroyed, had their water polluted and been forced to scavenge for bits of coal in the spoil heaps of the mines so that they have something to sell and obtain money for food.

The second talk was given by Felix Padel who emphasised the scale of the mining operations – open-cast coal mines, for example, several miles across and moving relentlessly across the landscape, destroying everything in their path. Felix recalled how Gandhi had seen the improvement of the villages of India as being the key to the welfare of the people. He warned Nehru that an industrialised India would never be independent. Nehru saw it differently. For him, the villages were concentrations of poverty and ignorance and therefore providing employment through industrialisation was necessary for the country to advance.

Nehru’s view prevailed and gradually more and more of the countryside has been given over to industry with few benefits trickling down to the poorest people. Roads and ports have been constructed to ship the minerals (and the profits) away to China and the West. In recent years the process has accelerated, driven by increasing costs for mining companies in other parts of the world and futures trading on the London Metal Exchange. The demand for steel is a major problem with firms like Tata and S R Steel exploiting a situation of rampant capitalism and being given support from the World Bank. Since 1947 some 30 million people have been displaced, about a third of them tribal people. Compensation or help with resettlement is rarely given. Inevitably, opposition has grown and the term ‘Maoists’ is used to refer to a range of disparate groups who are seeking to restrict the operations of the mining companies and the government that supports them. Most of the Maoists come from outside the area and have little knowledge or respect for the Adivasi culture. Some groups are well organised and ideologically driven while others are bent only on violence, attacking the police and committing atrocities against innocent people. The mining industry uses other militia gangs to protect their installations and control the population.

Felix saw little scope for effective action in relation to this dangerous and volatile situation. A new minister for environmental affairs in the Indian government showed promise and there was increasing opposition in Britain to British-based mining firms that are active in India. But the overall picture was depressing as a major part of one of the largest countries in the world appears to be sliding into a state of civil war.

For further reading:

  • Out of this Earth: the East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel by Felix Padel
  • Listening to Grasshoppers by Arundhati Roy

Graham Davey is Treasurer of the Gandhi Foundation and has also organised many Gandhi Foundation Summer Gatherings.

Endless Cry In The Red Corridor – by Gladson Dungdung

31 July, 2010

After the arrival of the Monsoon, the city dwellers are enjoying the cool weather. The farmers are busily preparing their paddy fields. However, the atmosphere in the red corridor is more or less the same, a mood of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, pain and shock prevails in the region. Perhaps, one could hear the endless cry in the village like Sosokuti, which is an Adivasi dominated village comprises of five hamlets – Barulata, Hesahatu, Kochasindri, Sosohatu and Sosokuti situated in the middle of Balanda, Mosanga and Sosokuti forests in Arki block, which comes under Khunti district in Jharkhand. These forests are also known as the abodes of the Maoist Guerillas. Interestingly, Sosokuti is merely 75 kilometers from Ranchi the capital city of Jharkhand however the state has completely failed to content the discontents. Consequently, the Indian State included the village in the part of the red corridor and a camp of the Security Forces was established in the Primary School, at its neighbouring village Mosanga. Now both the parties – the Security Forces and the Maoists have been exploiting the innocent villagers but they can do nothing except shouting, weeping and crying.

It is obvious that the Security Forces have terrorized the atmosphere in the villages. Frankly speaking, when a vehicle enters a remote village, it becomes fun for the children. They start running behind the vehicle. However, the situation is just opposite in Sosokuti village. Whenever, a vehicle enters the village, all the villagers including children, women and men run away to hide, shield and protect themselves. These days, the police visit the village almost everyday and humiliate, beat and torture the innocent villagers and also destroy their food and shelter. Therefore, they assume that each vehicle entering their village belongs to the Police. However, there is some special rule, which only few people know that if anyone blows the vehicle’s horn before entering the village that means the vehicle does not belong to the police therefore the villagers have nothing to worry about. Once the vehicle enters the village by blowing a horn, the villagers gather nearby the vehicle immediately assuming that someone is there to hear them in the village. Once you start hearing them, almost everyone wants to tell you the painful, shameful and heartbreaking experiences, which they face almost everyday in the red corridor.

Creating livelihood crisis:

There are about 2500 people living in Sosokuti village, whose livelihood is based on agriculture, forest produce and daily wage. However, there is a huge livelihood crisis in the village after launching of the anti-Naxal operation widely known as ‘operation green hunt’. Earlier, each and every family used to earn Rs.100 to 150 per day by selling firewood, leaf and other minor forest produce in the local markets. Now the villagers have stopped going to the forests in fear of losing their lives while collecting the forest produce. According to Sufal Muda of Sosokuti, who used to sell the firewood, the police exploit the villagers in the forest. He says, “Police can catch us, shoot and present it as a case of encounter therefore we cannot dare to roam in the forest”.

35 year-old Etwari Devi of Sosokuti village is a daily wage labourer living in the village with her husband Arjun Lohra (40), mother-in-law Sokhi Devi (70) and 14 year-old son Rajan Lohra. Her family earns the livelihood through daily wage and selling of the firewood. Presently, she has been working in the road construction scheme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA). On July 8, 2010, when she was busy in road construction, the Security forces entered her house after breaking the locked door, poured the cooked food (rice and vegetable) into the wood-burning stove and scattered the utensils. In the evening when Etwari returned home with a hungry stomach, she was stunned to see the broken door, scattered utensils and spoiled food in her house. She says, “I knew that the Police must have done this. However, I wanted to be confirmed therefore I asked my neighbour Ambika Devi who was present in the village when the incident took place who told me that the police had entered my house”. Suddenly she became angry and said, “Ask the police to give us food, clothing and shelter. We’ll desert the village if living in the village makes us Maoists. She asked, “The police torture us in the day and the Maoists in the night, what is our crime we want to know?”

A meaningless war between the State and the Maoists has terrorized the village atmosphere, which is resulting in migration of youth to the cities to ensure their livelihood. Three youth of Kochasindri, which is a hamlet of Sosokuti village, migrated to Panjab where there was no such case of migration before. A brave woman of Kochasindri, Shanti Devi, who fights against the police torture says, “The police humiliate, exploit and torture the innocent villagers after branding them as Maoists therefore the youth think that it is better to ensure livelihood from the outside of the village rather than facing police torture while collecting the firewood in the forest”. She asks, “Why don’t the police go to the forests and fight the Maoists instead of exploiting the innocent villagers?” Indeed, the villagers are facing a livelihood crisis, which will increase day by day and the failure of monsoon would just add fuel to the fire.

Happiness is a crime in the red corridor:

Can anyone be surprised to hear that the Security Forces do not want the villagers to lead joyful lives in the red corridor? The painful reality of Sosohatu, another hamlet of Sosokuti village, reveals the truth. 28 year-old Satnarayan Munda of Sosohatu and 20 year old Basanti Kumari of Nawadih village of Tamar block got married on 30 June, 2010. Thereafter, Satnarayan Munda returned to his village with his newly wedded wife Basanti and the villagers who were part of the marriage ceremony in Basanti’s village. There was a reception party in Satnarayan’s village on July 1 therefore the villagers and Satnarayan’s relatives had gathered in Satnarayan’s house. They did the reception rituals and thereafter ate, drank and danced till late at night.

Meanwhile, the Security forces assumed the marriage function was a celebration party of the Maoists and therefore they went to the village in search of the Maoists. It was 4 o’clock in the morning on July 2, nearly 150 security persons blocked Sosokuti from every corner. Satnarayan Munda’s father Dhan Singh Munda was lying on the bed in his courtyard when a team of the Security forces entered into his house and asked him, “Is it the party of the Maoist? He was stunned to hear the question but replied humbly, “Today, there was a marriage function of my son”. Perhaps, the security forces didn’t believe in Munda’s words therefore they continued their operations for hunting the Maoists.

Suddenly, some policemen entered into a bedroom where Satnarayan and Basanti were spending their first night. Basanti states about the nightmare saying, “I was shocked to see the Policemen entering into my bedroom without permission.” She asks, “Can any one do this? Who has given right to the police to take away our personal freedom whenever and wherever they want?” The police dragged out Satnarayan Munda from his bedroom and severely beat him in front of his wife. Basanti says, “My husband started vomiting and he fell down to the ground. I asked the Police, “What is his crime?” They replied, “He is a Maoist.” After a few minutes, the policemen took him with them.” “I don’t know what is his crime but of course, I know is, the police blocked my life before the beginning of a new adventure of my life”, ‘She added and started weeping.

The police also arrested Dhan Singh Munda, Rekha Kumari, Sunita Kumari, Devilal Munda and another two villagers who were part of the wedding party alleging that they supported the Maoists. Later on, the police released five of them but Satnarayan Munda and Rekha Kumari were sent to Jail. Ironically, Satnarayan was booked in 17 CLA though the FIR claims that he was keeping pamphlets of a banned Naxalite organization and working for it but it doesn’t mention arms. The interesting part is, the pamphlet which the police found from Satnarayan’s residence is issued by a forum called “Operation Green Hunt Virodhi Nagrik Manch”, which is headed by a pioneer Human Rights Activist Stan Swami and of course, the pamphlet is also drafted by him only. In fact the police have taken for guaranteed that the every party, function and marriage ceremony to be organized in the red corridor is of the Maoists. The million-dollar question is, do the villagers have no right to enjoy their lives? The villagers are between the sword and the sickle but where will they go in this situation? Who is there to hear their grievance? Do they have the right to live with dignity too?

Dress code in the red corridor:

We have heard so many times about the dress code imposed on women by the fundamentalist groups, of course, which is counted under the purview of violation of the liberty of individual. However, anyone would be shocked to hear that the Security forces have imposed (unofficially) a similar kind of dress code in the red corridor. Can you dare to wear a dress, which would be enough to brand you as a Maoist? 14 year-old Lalita Munda of Sosokuti village reveals the terrible experience which she had undergone and of course, there are many who go through the ordeal every day.

Lalita left her school after the death of her mother a few years back and now plays the role of mother. On July 8, 2012, about 100 security forces arrived to her village in the afternoon when she was boiling the paddy grains so that she could make rice out of it and cook it later. The security forces entered her house without permission (remember common men cannot enter the camps of the security force without permission but they can do anything with the power of the gun). She heard a voice coming from outside of her house, “Take her out if she is in ‘salwar suit’ and leave her if she is wearing a school dress”. Fortunately, Munda had on her old school dress, which protected her for the moment.

She says, “The security forces brand those girls as Maoists who wear salwar suit and take them to the police station, torture, molest and even rape them and finally put them behind bars therefore we cannot wear salwar suit”. After a few moments she gets angry and says, “If police want us to be naked, just tell us we’ll go naked. We’ll throw our clothes into the bay if clothes make us the Maoists”. After seeing the rapid growth of anger, one should not be surprised if these girls and women of the red corridor decide to walk naked in the capital city of Jharkhand. Are we ready for that? The Indian State must respond to the question very seriously because the same villagers have given their mandate to protect their rights.

The peculiar thing about every village situated in the red corridor is: there are more or less the same terrible experiences of humiliation, torture, molestation, rape, and cold-blooded murder of the innocent villagers by the security forces deployed in the anti-Naxal operations. However, no one goes to the police station for filing a FIR against the perpetrators for the obvious reasons. If anyone dares to speak against them they are labelled a Maoist and put behind bars. Xavier Soy of Shiyadih village comes under Kuchai block of Saraikela-Kharsawan district was put behind the bars for raising questions against the police atrocity. The Superintendent of Police (Khunti) Manoj Kaushik says, “The villagers speak against the police due to immense pressure from the Maoists, which is part of their strategy to use the villagers in their favour”. The pertinent question is why are the people not favouring the police? Is it only because of fear from the Maoist menace? Does it mean the villagers are voiceless? If so, it is a shame for Indian democracy, which could not empower the villagers for last 63 years?

The most worrying factor is, the way discontent has been growing against the Indian State and the victimization of the innocent villagers by the security forces is just multiplying the anger of the angry masses. The villagers are not against of the Maoists though they have also terrorized them but the villagers are going against the security forces. Therefore, one can only imagine what would happen if every discontent takes up the gun and joins the Maoist folk? In that case, the Indian State won’t be able to deal with the situation. However, the India’s corporate Home Minister P Chidambaram has publicly claimed that he will be eliminating the Maoist menace within the next three years by serving the development cola and organizing the licensed killings in the red corridor. But the question that may remain unanswered is will he wipe out the discontent of the villagers without addressing the issue of injustice?

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist and Writer from Jharkhand, India. He can be reached at:

Email: gladsonhractivist@gmail.com

Website: www.jharkhandmirror.org

Source: Sanhati and Countercurrents

Addressing the Present Conflict in India with Intellectual Satyagraha, by Dr. Felix Padel

India, the country synonymous with Gandhi and his concept of Satyagraha or non-violent resistance, is increasingly descending into a state of violent chaos. In addition to periodic cycles of sectarian violence, and armed conflict in the border states in the country’s northeast and northwest, large areas in the ‘tribal belt’ of central India have descended into an escalating civil war, with devastating attacks on villages by militias and security forces and reciprocal attacks by Maoists against agents of state power. There is an urgent need to depolarize the situation and draw back from this cycle of violence.

The cause of conflict lies in deep-rooted patterns of exploitation of India’s Adivasis (indigenous or tribal people). The signing of hundreds of new deals for mining projects around 2005 rapidly increased the exploitation as well as the process of dispossessing tribal communities of their land and resources. Some police experts admit that repeated failures to bring uniformed perpetrators of atrocities to justice are a main cause of tribal recruitment to the Maoist cause. But Maoist ideology is as ruthless in sacrificing lives to achieve set aims as state forces and mining companies are, and every killing of policemen invites mass retaliation on innocent villagers.

Everywhere, Adivasis are fighting a battle against huge odds to protect the natural environment where they have always lived, and do all they can to hang on to their homeland. Generally, their movements are characterized by meticulous non-violence. But when violent repression is unleashed to suppress these movements, a point comes when people despair of legal means, and heed the Maoists’ call to arms.

So among the first prerequisites for peace, is a far wider recognition of India’s indigenous movements, driven by the same ‘village India’ consciousness that inspired Gandhi. Alongside this is a need to recognize that the corporate takeovers, though promoted by local agents, are generally driven by foreign investment masterminded from the world’s capital cities and biggest banks. A recent example, where this consciousness caught fire worldwide and stopped a massive mining project in its tracks, is the successful resistance by Dongria Kond Adivasis against the UK-registered company Vedanta, whose plans to mine bauxite from the summit of a superbly forested sacred mountain, have been stopped after a seven year campaign. Remote Dongria villages in the Niyamgiri range were invaded, and Adivasi leaders harassed, abducted and murdered – a pattern replicated in hundreds of other areas, without the international coverage that helped save Niyamgiri.

It is often said that India has some of the best laws of any country, but that implementation is generally poor. The saving of Niyamgiri reverses this trend. But to stop the slide towards civil war, something else is needed. Villagers need to know they can get justice when atrocities are committed against them, by either side. The ideology of violence and the polarization in ideology need to be defused. This may not happen overnight. The Niyamgiri issue has brought a simmering debate to the foreground between those who believe in rapid growth based on a huge increase in mining the minerals in the mountains, and those who say that the effects of mining and metal factories are already dire on India’s environment and village communities. How can the millions of people already displaced be properly compensated? How can wealth be shared more fairly?

Moves for peace are already in place, via the widely respected grassroots campaigner Swami Agnivesh. Over a week from August to September 2010, India was gripped by a hostage crisis after a major gun battle between police and Maoists left many dead and wounded, with four policemen taken hostage. One was killed when initial demands were not met, the other three released unharmed. These events were said to be in revenge for the killing of the Maoist leader Azad on 2nd July, just as he was apparently trying to negotiate for peace through Agnivesh. Any peace process has to come to terms with this chequered history. There were indications that Azad was tortured and killed in cold blood by security forces, in a ‘false encounter’ that also killed a journalist, so Maoists and Agnivesh are calling for an enquiry into these deaths as a step towards a new peace deal.

How would the Mahatma have tackled this challenge? One answer lies in a new application of Gandhi’s philosophy developed by the Jharkhand activist Bulu Imam in his campaign to save the Karanpura Valley from opencast coal mining. This approach, known as “Intellectual Satyagraha”, aims to influence those in positions of power by appealing to their sense of reason.

The target of this new Satyagraha must now be violence itself, appealing to all sides to refrain from violence and intimidation – leaders of industry, Maoist leaders, and also those in positions of power in state and national government alike. This Satyagraha of the Mind, using modern communication tools such as email and fax that did not exist when the Mahatma was alive, will see the citizens of India and the world challenge anyone who takes up weapons in the pursuit of their aims. The combined intellectual and moral wealth of the world will be available for Intellectual Satyagraha and neither corporate leaders, political leaders, nor the leaders of protest or revolutionary movements, will be able to easily get away with murder any longer.

In this way lies the best hope for India to become the beacon of freedom, democracy and tolerance that Gandhi intended it to be. The Gandhi Foundation asks you to join this campaign. Please sign our petition aimed at Maoist, industry and government leaders. Also, help in the spread of the Intellectual Satyagraha movement by starting local campaigns against those who use violence to further their aims.

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