Thursday, October 29, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

India: Demand a stop to the Indian governments assault on the CPI-Maoist and adivasis people!

Indian and inter-national intellectuals issue “Statement against Gov’t of India‘s planned military offensive in adivasi-populated regions

The Indian government has announced that it is preparing a large-scale military offensive against areas in eastern and central India where adivasi (tribal) people and others have risen up under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Sanhati (www.sanhati. com), which describes itself as “a collective of activists/academics who have been working in solidarity with peoples‘ movements in India by providing information and analysis,“ drafted and circulated the following statement signed by many prominent Indian and international intellectuals demanding that the government offensive not take place. Dated 12 October, it is followed by a “Background note“ that, like the statement itself, reflects the views of that collective.

To Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister, Government of India, South Block, Raisina Hill, New Delhi, India-110 011.

We are deeply concerned by the Indian government’s plans for launching an unprecedented military offensive by army and paramilitary forces in the adivasi (indigenous people)-populated regions of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal states. The stated objective of the offensive is to “liberate” these areas from the influence of Maoist rebels. Such a military campaign will endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions of the poorest people living in those areas, resulting in massive displacement, destitution and human rights violation of ordinary citizens.

To hunt down the poorest of Indian citizens in the name of trying to curb the shadow of an insurgency is both counter-productive and vicious. The ongoing campaigns by paramilitary forces, buttressed by anti-rebel militias, organised and funded by government agencies, have already created a civil war like situation in some parts of Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. The proposed armed offensive will not only aggravate the poverty, hunger, humiliation and insecurity of the adivasi people, but also spread it over a larger region.

Grinding poverty and abysmal living conditions that has been the lot of India’s adivasi population has been complemented by increasing state violence since the neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state in the early 1990s. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc.

The geographical terrain, where the government’s military offensive is planned to be carried out, is very rich in natural resources like minerals, forest wealth and water, and has been the target of large scale appropriation by several corporations. The desperate resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has in many cases prevented the government-backed corporations from making inroads into these areas.

We fear that the government‘s offensive is also an attempt to crush such popular resistances in order to facilitate the entry and operation of these corporations and to pave the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and the people of these regions. It is the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence, and the state repression on the non-violent resistance of the poor and marginalized against their dispossession, which gives rise to social anger and unrest and takes the form of political violence by the poor. Instead of addressing the source of the problem, the Indian state has decided to launch a military offensive to deal with this problem: kill the poor and not the poverty, seems to be the implicit slogan of the Indian government.

We feel that it would deliver a crippling blow to Indian democracy if the government tries to subjugate its own people militarily without addressing their grievances. Even as the short-term military success of such a venture is very doubtful, enormous misery for the common people is not in doubt, as has been witnessed in the case of numerous insurgent movements in the world. We urge the Indian government to immediately withdraw the armed forces and stop all plans for carrying out such military operations that has the potential for triggering a civil war which will inflict widespread misery on the poorest and most vulnerable section of the Indian population and clear the way for the plundering of their resources by corporations. We call upon all democratic-minded people to join us in this appeal.

National signatories

Arundhati Roy, author and activist, India; Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU [Delhi]; Sandeep Pandey, social activist, N.A.P.M., India; Manoranjan Mohanty, Durgabai Deshmukh Professor of Social Development; Colin Gonzalves, Supreme Court Advocate; Arundhati Dhuru, activist, N.A.P.M.; Swapna Banerjee-Guha, Department of Geography, University of Mumbai; Anand Patwardhan, film maker; Dipankar Bhattachararya, General Secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation; Bernard D’Mello, Associate Editor, Economic and Political Weekly , India; Dr Vandana Shiva, philosopher, writer, environmental activist; Amit Bhattacharyya, Professor, Department of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata; Paromita Vohra, Devi Pictures; Sunil Shanbag, theatre director; and 126 more people

International signatories

Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, M.I.T.; David Harvey, Professor of Anthropology, The C.U.N.Y. Graduate Center; Michael Lebowitz, Director, Program in Transformative Practice and Human Development, Centro Internacional Mirana, Venezuela; John Bellamy Foster, editor of Monthly Review and Professor of Sociology, University of Oregon; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Professor, Columbia University; James C. Scott, Professor of Political Science, Yale University; Michael Watts, Professor of Geography and Development Studies, University of California Berkeley, Mahmood Mamdani, Professor of Government, Columbia University; Mira Nair, Filmmaker, Mirabai Films, USA; Howard Zinn, historian, playwright, and social activist, USA; and 158 more people.

Background note

It has been widely reported in the press that the Indian government is planning an unprecedented military offensive against alleged Maoist rebels, using paramilitary and counter-insurgency forces, possibly the Indian Armed Forces and even the Indian Air Force. This military operation is going to be carried out in the forested and semi-forested rural areas of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Maharashtra, populated mainly by the tribal (indigenous) people of India. Reportedly, the offensive has been planned in consultation with US counter-insurgency agencies.

To put the Indian government’s proposed military offensive in proper perspective one needs to understand the economic, social and political background to the conflict. In particular, there are three dimensions of the crisis that needs to be emphasized, because it is often overlooked: (a) the development failure of the post-colonial Indian state, (b) the continued existence and often exacerbation of the structural violence faced by the poor and marginalized, and (c) the full-scale assault on the meagre resource base of the peasantry and the tribal (indigenous people) in the name of “development” .

Let us look at each of these in turn, but before we do so it needs to be stressed that the facts we mention below are not novel; they are well-known if only conveniently forgotten. Most of these facts were pointed out by the April 2008 Report of the Expert Group of the Planning Commission of the Indian Government (headed by retired civil servant D. Bandopadhyay) to study ” development challenges in extremist affected areas”.

The post-colonial Indian State, both in its earlier Nehruvian and the more recent neoliberal variant, has failed miserably to solve the basic problems of poverty, employment and income, housing, primary health care, education and inequality and social discrimination of the people of the country. The utter failure of the development strategy of the post-colonial State is the ground on which the current conflict arises. To recount some well known but oft-forgotten facts, recall that about 77 percent of the Indian population in 2004-05 had a per capita daily consumption expenditure of less than Rs. 20; that is less than 50 cents by the current nominal exchange rate between the rupee and the U.S. dollar and about $2 in purchasing power parity terms. According to the 2001 Census, even 62 years after political independence, only about 42 percent of Indian households have access to electricity. About 80 percent of the households do not have access to safe drinking water; that is a staggering 800 million people lacking access to potable water.

What is the condition of the working people in the country? 93 percent of the workforce, the overwhelming majority of the working people in India, are what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called “informal workers”; these workers lack any employment security, work security and social security. About 58 percent of them work in the agricultural sector and the rest is engaged in manufacturing and services. Wages are very low and working conditions extremely onerous, leading to persistent and deep poverty, which has been increasing over the last decade and a half in absolute terms: the number of what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called the “poor and vulnerable” increased from 811 million in 1999-00 to 836 million in 2004-05.

Since the majority of the working people still work in the agricultural sector, the economic stagnation in agriculture is a major cause for the continued poverty of the vast majority of the people.. Since the Indian state did not undertake land reforms in any meaningful sense, the distribution of land remains extremely skewed to this day. Close to 60 percent of rural households are effectively landless; and extreme economic vulnerability and despair among the small and marginal peasantry has resulted in the largest wave of suicides in history: between 1997 and 2007, 182,936 farmers committed suicide. This is the economic setting of the current conflict.

But in this sea of poverty and misery, there are two sections of the population that are much worse off than the rest: the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) population. On almost all indicators of social well being, the SCs and STs are worse off than the general population: poverty rates are higher, landlessness is higher, infant mortality rates are higher, levels of formal education are lower, and so on. To understand this differential in social and economic deprivation we need to look at the second aspect of the current crisis that we had alluded to: structural violence.

There are two dimensions of this structural violence: (a) oppression, humiliation and discrimination along the lines of caste and ethnicity and (b) regular harassment, violence and torture by arms of the State. For the SC and ST population, therefore, the violence of poverty, hunger and abysmal living conditions has been complemented and worsened by the structural violence that they encounter daily. It is the combination of the two, general poverty and the brutality and injustice of the age old caste system, kept alive by countless social practices despite numerous legislative measures by the Indian state, that makes this the most economically deprived and socially marginalized section of the Indian population.

This social discrimination, humiliation and oppression is of course very faithfully reflected in the behaviour of the police and other law-enforcing agencies of the State towards the poor SC and ST population, who are constantly harassed, beaten up and arrested on the slightest pretext. For this population, therefore, the State has not only totally neglected their economic and social development, it is an oppressor and exploiter. While the SC and ST population together account for close to a quarter of the Indian population, they are the overwhelming majority in the areas where the Indian government proposes to carry out its military offensive against alleged Maoist rebels. This, then, is the social background of the current conflict.

This brings us to the third dimension of the problem: unprecedented attack on the access of the marginalized and poor to common property resources. Compounding the persistent poverty and the continuing structural violence has been the State’s recent attempt to usurp the meagre resource base of the poor and marginalized, a resource base that was so far largely outside the ambit of the market. The neoliberal turn in the policy framework of the Indian state since the mid 1980s has, therefore, only further worsened the problems of economic vulnerability and social deprivation. Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures, village tanks and other common property resources to cushion their inevitable slide into poverty and immiserization has come under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of so-called development projects: Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc.

Despite numerous protests from people and warnings from academics, the Indian State has gone ahead with the establishment of 531 SEZs. The SEZs are areas of the country where labour and tax laws have been consciously weakened, if not totally abrogated by the State to “attract” foreign and domestic capital; SEZs, almost by definition, require a large and compact tract of land, and thus inevitably mean the loss of land, and thus livelihood, by the peasantry. To the best of our knowledge, there have been no serious, rigorous cost-benefit analysis of these projects to date; but this does not prevent the government from claiming that the benefits of these projects, in terms of employment generation and income growth, will far outweigh the costs of revenue loss from foregone taxes and lost livelihoods due to the assault on land.

The opposition to the acquisition of land for these SEZ and similar projects have another dimension to it. Dr Walter Fernandes, who has studied the process of displacement in post-independence India in great detail, suggests that around 60 million people have faced displacement between 1947 and 2004; this process of displacement has involved about 25 million hectares of land, which includes 7 million hectares of forests and 6 million hectares of other common property resources. How many of these displaced people have been resettled? Only one in every three. Thus, there is every reason for people not to believe the government’s claims that those displaced from their land will be, in any meaningful sense, resettled. This is one of the most basic reasons for the opposition to displacement and dispossession.

But, how have the rich done during this period of unmitigated disaster for the poor? While the poor have seen their incomes and purchasing power tumble down precipitously in real terms, the rich have, by all accounts, prospered beyond their wildest dreams since the onset of the liberalization of the Indian economy. There is widespread evidence from recent research that the levels of income and wealth inequality in India has increased steadily and drastically since the mid 1980s. A rough overview of this growing inequality is found by juxtaposing two well known facts: (a) in 2004-05, 77 percent of the population spent less than Rs. 20 a day on consumption expenditure; and (b) according to the annual World Wealth Report released by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini in 2008, the millionaire population in India grew in 2007 by 22.6 per cent from the previous year, which is higher than in any other country in the world.

It is, thus, the development disaster of the Indian State, the widening levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and structural violence when compounded by the all-out effort to restrict access to common property resources that, according to the Expert Group of the Planning Commission, give rise to social anger, desperation and unrest. In almost all cases the affected people try to ventilate their grievances using peaceful means of protest; they take out processions, they sit in demonstrations, they submit petitions. The response of the State is remarkably consistent in all these cases: it cracks down on the peaceful protestors, sends in armed goons to attack the people, slaps false charges against the leaders and arrests them and often also resorts to police firing and violence to terrorize the people.

We only need to remember Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar and countless other instances where peaceful and democratic forms of protest were crushed by the state with ruthless force. It is, thus, the action of the State that blocks off all forms of democratic protest and forces the poor and dispossessed to take up arms to defend their rights, as has been pointed out by social activists like Arundhati Roy. The Indian government’s proposed military offensive will repeat that story all over again. Instead of addressing the source of the conflict, instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the marginalized people along the three dimensions that we have pointed to, the Indian state seems to have decided to opt for the extremely myopic option of launching a military offensive.

It is also worth remembering that the geographical terrain where the government’s military offensive is planned is very well-endowed with natural resources like minerals, forest wealth, biodiversity and water resources, and has of late been the target of systematic usurpation by several large, both Indian and foreign, corporations. So far, the resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and dispossession has prevented the government-backed corporates from exploiting the natural resources for their own profits and without regard to ecological and social concerns. We fear that the government’s offensive is also an attempt to crush such democratic and popular resistance against dispossession and impoverishment; the whole move seems to be geared towards facilitating the entry and operation of these large corporations and paving the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and people of these regions.

Friday, October 23, 2009

BJP mouthpiece in Kerala forces staffer to quit before conversion

Janmabhumi, the BJP mouthpiece in Kerala, allegedly forced a sub-editor to put in her papers after the management found out she intended to convert to Christianity, the religion of her husband.

Sreedevi Nair resigned from the daily on October 1, two days before her baptism. She was married to a Christian as per the Special Marriages Act before joining the Kochi unit of the newspaper as a probationary sub-editor on March 15, 2009.

"I had told the management about my inter-caste marriage at the time of joining. Then, they did not find anything wrong with it. However, during the duty hours of September 30, managing director Kummanam Rajashekharan called me to inquire about my decision to get converted. He then informed me that it was not possible for a converted person to continue with the newspaper, especially when Hindu organisations have been campaigning against 'love jehad'," Sreedevi told The Indian Express.

Sreedevi said Rajashekharan might have come to know about her conversion from some other quarters although she wanted to inform all after completing the church formalities before the conversion. She, however, did not make any reference to the incident in her resignation letter.

"We did not ask her to quit. She voluntarily resigned as she considered faith in Christianity more important than the job. The journalist is trying to malign the newspaper after her resignation. We had given her job knowing about her inter-caste marriage. I am personally against conversion," said editor Leela Menon.

Sreedevi said Menon too had told her to scout for another job as it would be tough for her to continue in the paper post-conversion. "Rajashekharan even asked me whether I could get my husband converted into Hinduism and have the marriage performed in a temple," she added.

However, Rajashekharan said, "She voluntarily quit from the daily. Janmabhumi has in its pay roll persons belonging to all religions."

source: yahoonews

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Adv. Balagopal Commemoration Meet

Time : 4 p.m, 17-10-2009 (Saturday)

Venue : K.S.E.B. Hall (near Ernakulam Public Library)

Organisers : Janakeeya Manushyavakasa Prasthanam (People's Human Rights

Adv. K.Balagopal,one of the pioneers in civil rights activities in India is no more.It was on 9th this month Balagopal, who played a leading role in strenghthening civil liberties activities in India died following a cardiac arrest.

The works done by Balagopal and APCLC with which he had been associated since its inception in exposing the state atrocities committed in the name of encounter killings remains to be the glaring episodes of civil right activities. At a time when 'encounter deaths' are the order of day, the memories and assessments of Balagopal's works have the power to enable us to resist state terror and ensure democratic and civil liberties

Former naxalite leader K. Venu will speak on ' democracy and civil liberties movements' at the commemoration meet being hel under the aegis of Janakeeya Manushyavakasa Prasthanam


Detailed Programme notice

Welcome Speech : Adv. Thushar Nirmal Sarathy

President : Suresh Badal

Speeches : K.Venu (Democracy and Civil Liberties Movements)

: K. P. Sethunath

: Adv.P. Chandrasekharan (PUCL state president)

: Adv.K. S. Madhusudhanan

Vote of Thanks : Prasanth S

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Weapons Of Mass Desperation

As i was a bit busy i couldn't post anything the last few days. now i'm back. And here is a must read for every indian. Read this article by Shoma Chaudhury. Those who want to read it in Tehelka click here. TEHELKA

Weapons Of Mass Desperation

ON SEPTEMBER 22, 2009, India woke up to the news that the Delhi Police had captured a top Naxal ideologue, 58-year-old Kobad Ghandy – a South Bombay Parsi who had grown up in a giant sea-facing house in Worli, had gone to Doon School, and had studied for a CA in London before returning to India to work with the most destitute of Indian citizens in Maharashtra, before going underground in the 1970s. His wife Anuradha, a sociologist, went underground with him and died of cerebral malaria last year. (Malaria, particularly the lethal falciparium malaria, is a common affliction in the neglected heartland of central India.) Home Minister P Chidambaram called Ghandy the State’s “most important Naxal catch.”

On the night of September 22, Times Now had a prime time debate on the significance of Ghandy’s arrest. The aggressive rhetoric of anchor Arnab Goswami epitomised typical high urban attitudes to Naxal issues. If you happened to watch him anchor the show, several terrifying things would have become evident. Over this past year, the Home Ministry has been planning a major armed offensive against the Naxals, particularly in Chhattisgarh. According to reports, the plan involves stationing around 75,000 troops in the heartland of India — including special CRPF commandos, the ITBP and the BSF. Scattered newspaper accounts have spoken of forces being withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast; there is also talk of bringing in the feared Rashtriya Rifles — a battalion created specially for counter-insurgency work — and the purchase of bomb trucks, bomb blankets, bomb baskets, and sophisticated new weaponry. Minister Chidambaram has also said that if necessity dictates, he will bring in the special forces of the army.

The decision to launch such a massive armed operation on home ground — due to start this November — should have triggered animated political, civil society and media debate. But Operation Green Hunt — as the offensive is being termed — has been gathering force in almost complete silence. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Chidambaram have variously called Naxals — or “Maoists” — “the gravest threat to India’s internal security.” Perhaps a military offensive against them is the answer, but is it the only answer? Is it the best answer? Will it provide a solution? Who will be impacted by this offensive? What will be its repercussions? Who are we really declaring war on? What are we declaring war on? Are we going into this with eyes wide open? Is there anything we should have learned from the seemingly irreparable psychological mess in Kashmir and the Northeast? These are the questions a democratic society should be asking. One can perhaps understand the well-heeled turning their back on such bleak issues. But with such a significant operation looming on the horizon, what can excuse the complete absence of debate from national political parties?

But silence, perhaps, is only the lesser worry. A few days ago, the government announced an ad blitzkrieg as part of its psychological offensive. “Naxals are nothing but coldblooded murderers” the ad screamed across all major news dailies. The visual showed a series of men, women and children brutally killed by Naxals.

On the night of September 22, discussing Kobad Ghandy, Arnab Goswami mouthed the same line. “Terrorist or ideologue?” he intoned, with the moral certitude of a man who has never got off his urban chair to trudge the interiors of the country. “Six thousand innocent Indians have been killed on Mr Ghandy’s ‘watch,’” he said (as if Kobad Ghandy was some Idi Amin figure presiding over a banana republic), “and yet human rights organisations and NGOs are asking for his release.” (Mr Goswami always reserves special scorn for human rights activists, as if they are a uniform sub-species of anti-national humankind, rather than men and women with differing and individual views.) “What about the 12-year-old girl the Naxals killed in Jharkhand?” he thundered. “What about the 15 CPM cadres they killed in Bengal last night?” Every time one of his panelists tried to introduce the larger political context behind Naxalism or a more complex argument, Mr Goswami swatted them down: “The question we are asking is very simple,” he said, “is he a terrorist or an ideologue? Is he responsible for violence or not? Can he be blamed for 6,000 dead or not?”

Watching the show was like straying into a child’s playroom, watching the grave judgments of infants playing at Good and Evil. As an individual point of view it would have counted for nothing, but as the voice of Times Now, currently deemed the most popular English channel, Mr Goswami’s unthinking edit line seems symptomatic of a wider, urban, English-speaking constituency. Coupled with the government ads, it presents the disturbing prospect of a public discourse that is marked by reductive official propaganda on the one side and infantile ignorance and simple-mindedness on the other. We can afford neither.

AT THE heart of the Naxal riddle, there are three primary questions: Who is a Naxal? What is one’s position on violence as a tool of struggle? And why is Naxalism on the rise across the country? To understand the first, try a useful metaphor. Imagine fish in water. Naxal leaders are the fish, finite, identifiable (even punishable); the water is the vast, infinite constituency they speak for. And swim in.

As Kobad Ghandy proves, a Naxal ideologue, commander or politburo leader can come from any milieu. The disempowered dalits of Andhra Pradesh, the destitute tribals of Chhattisgarh, the middle-class intellectuals of Bengal or the privileged rich of Bombay. These “informed revolutionaries” function at two levels. At a political level, they do not believe in parliamentary democracy (where they see power still concentrated in the hands of the feudal upper class) and their long-term objective is to seize State power for the people through armed struggle. In this, they threaten the sovereignity of the Indian State and many humanist thinkers, including men like K Balagopal of the Human Rights Forum, who was part of brokering peace talks between the government and Naxals in Andhra Pradesh in 2004, believe the State is within its rights to confront them. “The Maoists themselves would not tolerate such a challenge if they came to power,” says he. Balagopal is also critical of Naxal leaders creating “liberated zones” where the Indian State cannot function. “If they claim to be the voice of the people, can they pursue a political agenda that injures people — either by their actions or the repercussions they invite? Does the current tribal generation of Chhattisgarh want to sacrifice itself for a utopian future that may never come?”

It is true that in this prolonged ideological war, many Naxal attacks like the horrific one on the Ranibodli police station two years ago and the more recent one in Rajnandgaon embrace brutal tactics and almost fetishise violence. Even if these attacks are against an oppressive and corrupt police, it is a nobrainer to condemn them and say one is opposed to this violence. Or that their perpetrators should be punished.

But like dozens of other intellectuals, Balagopal points out that it is suicidal to focus only on this ideological war or resort to extrajudicial means alone to quell it. Can Naxalism really be wiped out by brute counter force? If that were so, Siddhartha Shankar Ray’s crackdown in Bengal in the 70s should have nailed it for all time. But the fact is, while stories of their own coercions are true, Naxal leaders enjoy wide support because they also espouse social-economic causes and empower people that the Indian State has ignored — criminally — for 60 years. Most Naxal cadres, therefore, are not “informed revolutionaries” fighting a conceptual war: they are beleagured tribals and dalits fighting local battles for basic survival and rights. Bela Bhatia, an activist, says she met a mazdoor in Bihar who was part of the cadre. “You can call me a Naxal or whatever you want,” he said. “I have picked up the gun to get my three kilos of annaj.”

The point is, should the Indian State be declaring armed war on its most despairing people? Is there no other way to empower them and wean them away from the gun and the seduction of the ‘informed revolutionary’? When Arnab Goswami evoked the 15 dead CPM members in Bengal last week, he forgot to mention that, according to newspaper reports (since no TV channel bothered to send teams there to find out) a 10,000-strong crowd of tribals had descended on the CPM office which was stockpiling arms in Inayatpur, near Lalgarh. When his panelists tried to draw his attention to this, he scathingly dubbed all 10,000 tribals as Maoists. Should “Operation Green Hunt” then stamp all 10,000 out? And if 10,000 Maoists had attacked an office, is it possible that only 15 people would have died? What is the real truth about the attack on the CPM office last week? And why was the superintendent of police, visiting a day later, unable to find any bodies? And why were the central paramilitary forces stationed there unable to prevent any of it?

Lalgarh, in fact, is a textbook case for the Naxal riddle. Over the last six months, mainstream Indian media has been agog about the “Naxal menace” in Lalgarh. But almost no one thought to ask, was the flare up in Lalgarh in May sui generis? Does an entire society become Maoist overnight? Very few bothered to report that the trouble in Lalgarh began after the Maoists attempted an assassination of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya earlier this year. In retaliation, the Bengal police rounded up and brutalised scores of innocent tribal boys in neighbouring Lalgarh, who had nothing to do with the attack. After several months of this sort of general, untargeted police oppression, angry and desperate, the tribal community spontaneously organised themselves as a resistance force, fighting the might of the Indian State with nothing more than traditional tools – pick-axes, bows and arrows. A few weeks later, it appears, Kishenji, a Maoist leader from Andhra Pradesh arrived to raise the ante, teaching tactics of struggle, meshing solidarity with guns and advice. The State responded with increased force and brought in paramilitary forces — a dry run for Operation Green Hunt. After several days of heavy fire, ironically using Maoist jargon, the State declared Lalgarh had been “liberated”. But, the truth is, it has been on burn ever since. The attack on the CPM office is only the most recent expression of simmering anger in the area.

As Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian and the only human rights activist on ground zero in faraway Dantewada where Operation Green Hunt is to be launched, says, “We can all be agreed on the premise that Naxalism is a problem, but why are these poor people attracted to a politics that will end in death? Have we created such a heinous system that death is more attractive than the deprivations and humiliations this system doles out? If that is so, why should I defend this system? All that these people want is food, health care, school, clothes and their legitimate right over their land. Yet, instead of weaning them away by strengthening the democratic process, if we are going to run our democracy only on the strength of weapons, I fear we are entering a dangerous and irrepairable state. We are headed for civil war.” Men like Himanshu should know. For 17 years, he has functioned like an ICU on the edges of a wounded society, providing education and health care, painstakingly drawing tribals into the electoral and constitutional process. The government, loath to undertake the trouble, has been happy to outsource its functions to him. Yet now, it is deaf to his wisdoms. Worse, it hasn’t even consulted him.

WHICH BRINGS us to the element of water in the Naxal metaphor. People who say human rights activists and the questions they raise are antinational, would be surprised to know what men like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee themselves have had to say earlier about the Naxal riddle. Not to mention a galaxy of judges and constitutionalists.

In 2006, the Planning Commission asked an expert committee for a report on development challenges in “extremist affected areas.” The committee comprised senior officers like former UP police chief Prakash Singh; former intelligence head, Ajit Doval; senior bureaucrats like B. Bandopadhyay, EAS Sarma, SR Sankaran and BD Sharma; and activists like Bela Bhatia and K Balagopal. The report submitted in October 2008 had some visionary analysis and recommendations.

“The main support for the Naxalite movement,” it said, “comes from dalits and adivasi tribals”: the element of water: the infinite constituency in which Naxal leaders swim. Dalits and adivasis comprise a staggering one fourth of India’s population, yet are disproportionately destitute and low on the Human Development Index scale. Worse, they suffer the most humiliation and indignity: the proverbial insult on injury. The report is an exhaustive anthology of the causes for rural discontent and violence — recording meticulous data and case studies — but at the heart of its argument, it places the “structural violence implicit in our social and economic system” as the key explanation for Naxalite violence. Slamming the neoliberal directional shift in government policies, it urges a “development centric” rather than “security centric” approach to the Naxal problem.

Curiously, three years earlier in 2005, human rights lawyer Kannabiran had written a letter to Dr Manmohan Singh reminding him of his own report as a Planning Commission Member in 1982 and one written by Pranab Mukherjee in 2002 that had come to the same conclusion. As Bela Bhatia says, “With all this insight and understanding already with them, it is completely mystifying why they should go against their own intuition and recommendation and take a security-centric route. Actually,” she adds, “it is not mystifying. It only makes the character of the Indian State more clear.”
This ‘character’ gets even more depressing when you know that barely a week ago, on 15 September, Arjun Sengupta, former economic adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also wrote that “Naxalism is a cry that must be heard”. Responding to Dr Manmohan Singh’s admission that despite the State’s best efforts to contain the “Naxal menace”, violence was still on the rise, Sengupta wrote powerfully, “It is important to understand why this is so and in what sense Naxalite violence is different from other violent outbursts. Although it has always expressed itself as a breach of law and order with violence, murder, extortion and acts of heinous crimes, it may not be prudent to think of every protest movement of the disaffected people as a simple issue of law and order violation, and calling for its brutal suppression. This form of extremism, indeed, goes beyond law and order, fanning some deep-seated grievance. We must try to resolve those problems first, as otherwise the violence will remain insurmountable.”
(Way back in 1996, Justice MN Rao of the Andhra Pradesh High Court had also remarked in a judgment, “While left wing extremism is viewed as a problem by the administration, it is increasingly being perceived as a solution to their problems by the alienated masses.” Why is this so? That’s a question every self-styled jingoistic nationalist must ask themselves.)

As Sengupta reminds the prime minister, he is right to fear that Naxal violence will raise its head again and again, because at its heart is the deeper structural violence that our democratic Republic refuses to address: a violence that forces 77 percent of Indians to live on less than Rs 20 a day while 5 percent enjoy lives that border on obscene excess.

Structural violence: that’s an imaginative vacuum. For most urban Indians, the lives of tribals and dalits has no meaning, no face, no flesh. Our books no longer write of it, our films no longer evoke it, our journalists no longer cover it. It’s not just the poverty; it’s bumping into a face of the Indian State you have never seen before: brutal, illegal, rapine, pimped out to serve the interests of a few. Unless one travels into the silent smoky hole in the heart of this country — the remote jungles of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh; the desolate corners of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and Rajasthan, one cannot feel the dread of this question: How will Operation Green Hunt solve this? You might stealth-march a mythic army of COBRA commandoes into this imaginative vacuum, but how will that dissolve the “two categories of human beings” our nation has created? Operation Green Hunt may kill several hundred ‘informed revolutionaries’ and several thousand of the despairing poor who have taken up arms, but how will it address the birth of new anger — anger born out of bombing an old wound?

As anthropologist and historian Ram Guha says, “It’s like a house with three rooms. One room was already on fire. Instead of dousing that, you willfully set fire to another room, then bulldoze the whole structure down.”

ONE OF the key architects of Operation Green Hunt, Home secretary Gopal Pillai sits in a giant office in powerful North Block. At first meeting, he doesn’t seem the average cynic you expect Indian bureaucrats to be. An amiable, thoughtful man, he says he’s seen long years of service in the Northeast and knows what a security-centric approach can do to a people, how it can trigger a world of smoke and mirrors where nothing is what it seems and everyone is chasing someone’s shadow. He seems open and ready to listen. More, he is full of surprisingly honest admissions: Manipur is a society in collective depression, he says. Yes, raising the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh (which human rights activists have been crying hoarse about) was wrong; yes, the Naxals have often taken up causes and done work that the government should have. But, he adds, their violent disruptions are a real deterrence for governance. You have no argument with that.

According to him, then, Operation Green Hunt is being planned as a kind of “area domination”. “We want to take back control of the land; but we will only fire if we are fired against,” says he. “Lalgarh is the model; we want no collateral damage. Our real success will be in restoring civil administration in this area. PDS, mobile medical vans, stronger police chowkis, schools – that’s our goal.” You feel eager to believe him.

Part of the problem of administering the tribal villages in the jungles of Chhattisgarh is that they are lonely and farflung; also few in the district or political administration know the tribal languages. Operation Green Hunt has been long in the planning. Battalions of CRPF men and para-military forces across the country are being given crash courses for the impending operation. The Centre has sanctioned 20 new schools in jungle warfare; invited crores worth of bids for military equipment. Is there a similar hot-foot programme for training, sensitising and incentivising the civil administration? you ask. Has he invited civil society activists in the region for their inputs? Mr Pillai has a sudden shocked moment of self-recognition. No, he admits, and scribbles “training” and “dialogue” on a yellow notepad.

There is a month to go before Operation Green Hunt is launched. A familiar despair sprouts: the gap between stated intention and action. And miles of paper and good advice gathering dust in the Planning Commission.

TODAY, THE biggest riddle for anybody concerned about a just and equal world is the dilemma of violence as a tool of political struggle. When the government shows such poor intention, when it is completely deaf to peaceful people’s movements like the Bhopal gas victims’, or the tribal resistance to bauxite mining in Niyamgirhi, or the Narmada Andolan, is one justified in asking the poor to defang themselves, unless one is willing to step out of one’s comfort zone and share their lives of helpless status quo?

Should one distinguish between Naxal violence and spontaneous rural violence? Yet, in a democratic society, how can violence of any kind be condoned? Where does that leave democratic practice?

Despite these internal tussles, contrary to what Arnab Goswami asserts, almost the entire human rights community is agreed that not only is Naxal violence to be condemned, but subdued. Increased and international access to weaponry has led to escalating violence. As Prakash Singh, a widely respected retired police chief, says, “The Naxals used to move in dalams [cells] of 20. That’s gone up to a 100. They have sophisticated weapons and their attacks have become more brutal. We have to show that such armed insurrection will not be tolerated

The disagreements arise over strategy and efficacy. A top security expert who wishes not to be named but is generally considered a hawk, for instance, has serious doubts over Operation Green Hunt. Ironically, he voices the anxiety of a wide range of human rights activists. “To attempt this kind of an action by police forces against your own land and people is a dangerous trap,” says he. “We usually reserve such operations for hostile territory. The police is supposed to go after particular individuals – say, Ram Lal, a criminal. But in an operation of this kind, you don’t even know who Ram Lal is, it is very difficult to know who he is or get accurate intelligence on his movements. You might end up killing Ram Lal’s relatives or his whole village. And if you don’t hold inquests, you’ll never know who you killed.”

Kashmir and the Northeast are bleeding, painful reminders: once paramilitary forces or the army moves in, you can never really withdraw. No bureaucrat or military strategist or powerful minister can control the vicious logic of paranoia, fake killings, genuine mistakes and revenge that sets in. When friend and family can be an informer, everyone is an enemy.

Already, this helpless cycle has started to turn in Chhattisgarh. Last week, in the first of its assaults, a company of 100 COBRA commandos set off to destroy an alleged Naxal arms factory in Chintagufa area. They were caught in Naxal fire. Seven COBRAs were killed. In turn, they claimed to have killed nine Naxals (whose bodies they say they have) and many more they claim the Naxals dragged away. The government has tried to pass this off as a big triumph. But the deadly smoke and mirrors game has already begun. Villagers claim the COBRAs made no kills and had dragged innocents out of villages to tot some up, among them an old man and woman. Chhattisgarh DGP Vishwaranjan does not help matters by refusing to answer questions: “I don’t have any details,” he says. An odd answer for a DGP. Plus, there’s the wound of six COBRAs dead in the first sortee.

As Operation Green Hunt kicks into top gear, all these problems will magnify. The hallucinations of the impregnable forest. Extremists who disappear, leaving villagers to bear the brunt of the commandos’ ire. Paranoia within and without, revenge and, as in the Salwa Judum, innocent tribals caught between the fury of the Naxals and the fury of the State.
Pressure will create equal and opposite counter pressure. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can’t seem to grasp this simple physical equation. The impact of the Salwa Judum was to drive more tribals into the arms of Naxals. Operation Green Hunt promises to set the place on fire. When Binayak Sen spoke against the Salwa Judum, he was jailed. Now, when Himanshu Kumar is warning about impending civil war, no one is listening.

“Not commandos. Send in health workers and schoolteachers protected by the CRPF,” pleads he. “Show the tribals hope and they will choose life over death.” But the weight of his voice does not sway even a mote of dust in the corridors of the Home Ministry.

THERE IS one final silent piece in the escalating Naxal violence that has gripped the country: neo-liberal land grab and tribal rights. It is no coincidence that a majority of the Naxal leadership today is from Andhra Pradesh. According to journalist N Venugopal, the roots of this go back to the Telengana Movement of 1946-51, which was abruptly withdrawn by the Communist Party. In the Andhra Second Five-Year Plan (1956), 60 lakh acres of surplus land was identified. Yet by the time the Land Ceiling Act was passed in 1973, and enough concessions had been made to rich landowners, the State said only 17 lakh acres of surplus land was available, and it distributed only four. Land, livelihood and liberation was the clarion call then. Still driven by that unfulfilled aspiration, most leaders today are from the families of the ‘46 – ’51 movement.

EAS Sarma, former Commissioner of Tribal Welfare and former secretary, Expenditure and Economic Affairs, unlocks the real heart of the matter. “I am totally against violence of any kind and a firm believer in democratic process,” says he. “But Left extremism is a secondary issue. How many tribals even know there is a government? Their only experience of the State is the police, contractors, and real estate goons. Besides, the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution grants tribals complete rights over their traditional land and forests and prohibits private companies from mining on their land. This constitutional schedule was upheld by the Samatha judgement of the Supreme Court (1997). If successive governments lived by the spirit of the Constitution and this judgment, tribal discontent would automatically recede.”

Mr Sarma is probably right. Human rights activists have long argued that the real intention of the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh was to capture tribal land — brimming-rich with minerals — and hand it over to private companies. The fact that 600 tribal villages have been evacuated in the last few years gives credence to this theory. If tribals no longer live on that land, the inconvenient Fifth Schedule of the Constitution will not apply.

Given that the Supreme Court directed that the Salwa Judum was to be dismantled, perhaps, Operation Green Hunt is the second lap. In any case, whether for ill-intention, poor execution, or unplanned collateral damage, there is much to fear in the impending operation.

In the meantime, we would all do well to read the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution