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Painting the cities blood red

Posted by Admin on October 5, 2009

Cities in western Uttar Pradesh have seen a spate of safai karmacharis (sanitary workers) strikes in the last few years. The most recent event was in Agra last month. In UP, they went on strike for the regularisation of their services and better pay. In Agra, the workers were protesting against BJP MP Ram Shankar Katheria, whom they accused of misbehaving with a sanitary inspector. All their strikes follow a definite pattern — a relay hunger-strike or surrounding administrative buildings and blocking access. The sanitary workers are mostly from the Valmiki community, traditionally one of the most oppressed. Of late, it has come across as being more organised and vocal. Strong rumours suggest that they are being led by front organisations of Maoists. These patterns have not gone unnoticed by the government. In fact, in 2008, a Planning Commission expert group on Maoism devoted an entire paragraph on the ways to address the vulnerabiity of the sanitary workers.Till recently, Maoism or Naxalism was thought to be a mainly rural phenomenon restricted to the tribal and Dalit areas of economically backward districts. New trends in the last two years indicate that the Maoists are slowly moving into urban areas. On September 21 this year, Kobad Gandhi, reportedly in charge of the Maoists’ urban operations, was arrested from Delhi. What is behind this shift to urban areas?

In 2004, 23 battalions of CRPF were used to counter Maoists. By 2008, the Union home ministry said that 37 battalions of CRPF, apart from 32 battalions of India Reserve forces and special forces were being used.To counter the increasing number of security forces, in early 2007, Maoists adopted the strategy of ‘mobile warfare’. They aimed to paralyse normal civilian life by attacking communication, transportation, railway and other infrastructure. In a demonstration of this strategy, they successfully conducted an economic blockade in parts of six states on June 26 and 27, 2007.

To carry out such disruptions in larger cities, bases were established in 2007-08, in and around Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune. Security forces termed these bases as ‘soft bases’ as they were largely invisible, composed of sleeper cells and front organisations.The government’s recent policy related documents still treat Maoism as a largely rural phenomenon with only some passing references to its urban nature. The two most high profile among these reports were the 2008 report of an expert group to planning commission on ‘Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas’ and the 7th report of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission. The expert group while identifying the sources of Maoism says, “India is today proudly proclaiming an above 9 per cent growth rate and striving to achieve double digit growth.

But it is a matter of common observation that the inequalities between classes, between town and country, and between the upper castes and the under-privileged communities are increasing. That this has potential for tremendous unrest is recognised by all. But somehow policy prescriptions presume otherwise.” “As the responsibility of the state for providing equal social rights recedes in the sphere of policy­making, we have two worlds of education, two worlds of health, two worlds of transport and two worlds of housing, with a gaping divide in between. With globalisation of information, awareness of opportunities and possible life styles are spreading but the entitlements are receding.” Its observation is a direct attack on the Central government’s neo-­liberal economic policies and points to them as the source of the Maoist rise. Of the Maoist spread in urban areas, it says, “If landlessness has always been the focus of much social unrest among the rural poor, unemployment and insecurity of livelihood is a growing source of dissatisfaction and anger among youth, both in urban and rural areas. While the relatively rapid growth of the Indian economy in recent years has been a cause of celebration, the employment scene gives little to cheer about.” It is this dissatisfaction and insecurity in urban areas that Maoists aim to tap.


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