It took the killing of Salwa Judum founder and Congress leader Mahendra Karma, along with Chhattisgarh Congress chief Nandkumar Patel and many others, for the Indian state to renew its call for fighting the Naxal problem. But, for all its aim and declaration to confront the growing Naxal movement with force, does not indicate any will to resolve it. Neither do the discussions that are held in the Indian media studio glamour, by people who are disconnected from the Naxal reality and see it purely as a law and order issue, reflect on any facts.
With the Independence of India, much of the old system within the lower levels of governance or social systems remained untouched by change; on the contrary, some of these prejudices were only strengthened. The lower castes continued to be wronged against, and ‘the people of the land’ continued to be dispossessed of. Earlier, it was the landlords who trampled the tillers, and now, it was the capitalistic enterprises, which, in league with the political powers, dispossessed them. The tribals of India, known to be the original inhabitants of parts of India, have possessed these lands much before the arrival of the Aryans, even before the Vedic age. And this is also why the religious beliefs of most tribals did not conform to Hindu rituals, even till this date. These tribals are to India what the aborigines were to America and Australia; the original and rightful owners of their resources.
Naxalism, in its present form, started from Naxalbari, a small village in West Bengal state, where in May, 1967 a movement was started by Choru Majumdar and Kanu Sanial against the oppression of local landlords. It was here that a tribal youth, Bimal Kissan, after obtaining a judicial order to till his land, was attacked by the local landlord along with his goons, igniting these tribals to reclaim their lands. ‘Naxalism’ – because it originated from Naxalbari, and ‘Maoism’ – because Choru Majumdar idolized this struggle in the footsteps of Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese revolution. This movement was, in a way, a class struggle too, a fight of the deprived lower classes and tribals against the ruling upper class (who were mostly Hindus). The governing class soon resorted to repressive measures against the movement, resulting in the formation of AICCCR (All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries) in May 1968, declaring an ‘allegiance to the armed struggle and non-participation in the elections’. The Indian state pretended so disconnected from the real issue behind the emergence of this Naxal movement that on 13th June, 1967, the then Home Minister Y B Chavan, in the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha), described it as “lawlessness” to be dealt with force. Social deprivation of communities and people was conveniently ignored, not only because of political oversight, but also because the political class was itself a part of the oligarchy that benefited from dispossessing such original inhabitants of their rights.
With independence, India, in reality, just changed nomenclatures of governance and replaced figureheads of the ruling class; it could not change the social system that was still in total control of a powerful political-jaagirdaari-jotedar nexus. This system continued to push social inequalities by forceful land transfers, evictions and resources grabbing from the poor. And in the following years, while much legislation for reforming this system was offered by the Indian government, such land and social reforms were restricted to paper only.
One more reason for the alienation of the tribals were the restrictions forced on them by the government in accessing forest land, which hitherto had been their dwelling and domain for centuries. Such harsh regulations led to endemic corruption, resulting in harassment of the tribals by the state officials and in forcing their economic denial. It was this socio-economic dispossession and victimization by the state and its ruling social class that provided breeding grounds to the Naxal movement. Soon the Naxal influence had extended across the heartland of India, the ‘Red Corridor’ (as it is called) now runs across the tribal dominated dense forests of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, north Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka.
What earlier started as a struggle against the landlords and an oppressive social order, was soon extended to corporations who were now exploiting the tribal belts for minerals and resources. One set of oligarchy was replaced by another, while the governing political class that afforded this exploitation and the exploited class on ground remained the same. The convergence of political–corporate interests becomes evident when companies known to exploit the tribals and their resources have had open political associations (Congress leader and Indian Finance Minister PC Chidambaram used to be on the board of Vedanta).
The Indian government (and Indian media) claims that the Salwa Judum movement was a spontaneous people’s reaction against the Maoists, but facts could not be entirely in line with these claims. The founder of Salwa Judum, Mahendra Karma belonged to the landowner class, which saw the Naxal ‘land retrieval for tribals’ movement against landlord interests. Small protests in Kutru village in Bijapur tehsil of Dantewada, against Maoist diktats opposing participating in elections and building of road infrastructure by the government, was immediately cashed in by Mahendra Karma. Salwa Judum was announced in a village chiefs (mukhiyas) meeting in Ambeli village in June, 2005 and soon was used by the Indian state as tribal against tribal, a militant force armed and supported by the government in its war against the Maoists. It was one of the rare times when a BJP Chief Minister (Raman Singh) collaborated with the Congress for this act; a military initiative was easy for both the parties to support and execute in place of a political one. Since accountability in this anti-Maoist force was not the norm, Salwa Judum started its fight against Naxals with terror. Villagers were reportedly forced from their villages into relief camps, Judum forces becoming self-asserting vigilantes exercising oppressive power. Salwa Judum has been accused of murders, arson and rapes among other crimes, and since this force was not directly owned up by the government, they took no responsibility for these crimes. A force that was ‘created’ to fight the Naxals ended up in creating more support for them.
The use of local renegade forces against mass uprisings has been practiced in Kashmir too; such forces acting in league with the state but portrayed outside their control domain and used for conflict scavenging. Salwa Judum’s record on human rights portrays it like just another mercenary force. In spite of the Indian Supreme Court ordering the state government to register FIR’s and investigate criminal complaints against Salwa Judum, after the court had banned it in 2011, not a single FIR has been filed all these years. 99 affidavits had been submitted to the Indian Supreme Court accusing Judum of rape, in addition to 500 cases of murder allegations and 104 cases of arson. (First Post India, 30th May 2013 ‘Salwa Judum’s Record; 99 allegations of rape, not one FIR’).
And like Naxal areas, in Kashmir too, renegade forces, created and nourished by the state, were known to have indulged in extreme excesses against civilians, who were denied justice by the state.
‘One officer described how a particularly vicious renegade commander had taken up residence inside Anantnag’s Police Superintendent’s office, from where he held court with his feet up on the desk, making it impossible for anyone to investigate the six hundred or so killings his men were accused of carrying out; their victims included the town’s chief medical officer, a former member of the state assembly and a well-loved schoolmaster. It was the same in other towns too, the Squad heard. A police source in the Anantnag control room told them about a renegade called Fayaz, who was known to have personally killed more than a hundred Kashmiris who may have been militants, or their distant relations, neighbours or friends, a kill rate verified by the RR (Indian Rashtriya Rifles). Now, Fayaz walked the streets of his home village ‘like a king’, and ‘even policemen looked down’. ‘Whatever Fayaz wanted he got, apart from Naseema, the most beautiful girl in the village.’ When she turned him down, he had abducted her and raped her until she became pregnant. ‘To prove his power he went after her sister too.’ The distraught family contacted the police. ‘The police took the details, and then rang Fayaz, who charged into the village market. There he produced the eight months pregnant Naseema, stripped her and shot her repeatedly in the belly before a large crowd, shouting “We are in charge, and no one can touch us. This is what you get when you f*** with us.” Naseema and her unborn child died. Her sister is still with the renegades.’ (‘The Meadow’ by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, chapter ‘The Golden Fish Bowl’).
In addition to Salwa Judum, Indian paramilitary forces in the Naxal areas have also been accused of gross human right violations, including rape, arson and murders. Hence, the ban on Salwa Judum does not necessarily diminish the disenchantment of these tribals against the Indian state. While the Naxals cannot be absolved for their share of terror attacks, mostly against Indian paramilitaries and Judum members, the greater Indian state (and its class prejudices) have not only provoked this movement in the first instance, but also failed to contain it by responding with brute force only.
“Comrade Rinki has very short hair. A bob cut as they say in Gondi. It’s brave of her, because here ‘bob cut’ means ‘Maoist’. For the police, that’s more than enough evidence to warrant summary execution. Comrade Rinki’s village, Korma, was attacked by the Naga Battalion and the Salwa Judum in 2005. At that time, Rinki was part of the village militia. So were her friends Lukki and Sukki, who were also members of the KAMS. After burning the village, the Naga Battalion caught Lakki and Sukki and one other girl, gang-raped them and killed them. ‘They raped them on the grass,’ Rinki says, ‘but after it was over there was no grass left’. It’s been years now, the Naga Battalion has gone, but the police still come. ‘They come whenever they need women, or chickens’.” (‘Walking With The Comrades’ by Arundhati Roy, Page 78).
Paradoxically, the Indian state claims to both own these tribals (and Naxlas) and yet disowns them. India owns them by refusing to use laws like AFSPA against the Naxals, draconian laws they freely advocate and use in Kashmir; nor is India ready to use the army against the Naxals, calling them ‘our own people’. But the same Indian state has used the Army for every operation in Kashmir, even when it had to deal with unarmed protesters here. In 2010, the Indian army staged a flag march in curfew bound areas of Srinagar, where unarmed people had been protesting against earlier killings, including a fake encounter at Machil by the same Indian army. That year, more than 120 unarmed young men and kids were killed in Kashmir by Indian forces.
Ironically, while India has been in the perpetual process of blaming Pakistan for ‘all things wrong in Kashmir’, overlooking its own crimes there, it can find nobody else but self to blame for the Naxal movement.
The Indian state disowns these Naxals by refusing to address the root cause of this movement, by refusing to reach out to the tribals and restore their land rights, their human and social rights. India disowns them by refusing to accept the growing political disconnect between the original inhabitants of these tribal lands and the political oligarchs ruling India.
Unlike India’s Kashmir approach, which has always been seen as New Delhi’s fight for occupation of resources and land sans the people; the Naxal movement started as a class war between the ‘aborigines’ in these tribal areas versus the invading classes, grabbing social order, greedy corporations in collaboration with a political autocracy. If not handled and resolved politically, it is this internal war that could ignite a balkanization from within India’s heartland, and no military solution will ever be able to stop this colossal disconnect within.
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