Confronting Guns of Peace: Bastar Faces its Worst Crisis
Posted by Admin on October 17, 2009
— Himanshu Kumar, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, Dantewada – Bombay Tragedy
As I write this critical note on the worst ever crisis undivided Bastar is facing, ambushes and gun battles between para-military, Salwa Judum and State Police forces and Naxal cadres are being played out in jungles of Dantewada and Bijapur districts of undivided Bastar in South Chhattisgarh. To understand this crisis one needs to have a brief knowledge of the previous crises that have confronted Bastar. It must be stated upfront that since historically this region has been a forested, tribal dominated and physically difficult terrain, it has also been a malgoverned region ! And this malgovernance manifested itself in injustice and denial of rights for the tribals inhabiting this region with the State eyeing it only for its mineral deposits and forest resources. This somewhere laid the ground for the crisis that is unfolding here since June 2005.
In June 2005, as part of a larger plan to tighten control over the rich mineral and forest resources of Bastar, the State, backed by private capital, launched a major offensive on tribals of this region and called it ironically Salwa Judum or peace movement. On the face of it Salwa Judum was a people’s uprising for peace against Naxal violence but the hidden agenda, as is gradually unfolding, was the corporate grabbing of resources. The sum total of four years of Salwa Judum has been the internal and forced displacement of more than 3.5 lakh people from their villages, a 30 fold escalation of violence and a 22 time swell in support base and area under control by the very Naxals whom the Judum aimed at decimating ! But the State never learns from failures – even after unleashing the loosing battle of horrifying violence on tribals of Bastar in name of Salwa Judum, it has launched a phase two in the name of Operation Green Hunt and Operation Godavari in Bastar and adjacent districts of Malkangiri (Orissa). This confrontation of Bastar’s tribals with the ‘guns of peace’ will unleash the worst crisis this region has ever seen or will ever see … but that is only if remaining tribals ever survive these ‘guns of peace’.
So through this note I am attempting to simply analyse each strategy and act of the State and map its impact on tribals of Bastar and how counter-productively it has benefited the CPI (Maoist) party!
The State launched Salwa Judum in 2005 to counter insurgency by cadres of CPI (Maoist) or Naxalites through civil defense by recruiting and training civilians in ‘armed resistance’
But soon Salwa Judum cadres went beyond the control of para-military and police forces under whom they were supposed to function and began looting, burning, raping, murdering and kidnapping of tribals and remained beyond any accountability due to political support.
The State forcefully evicted tribals from 700 villages and dumped them in 30 odd camps built for them and cordorned by security forces – it was protecting people from Naxal violence ! It was following the American counter insurgency strategy of ‘draining the water and killing the fish’ … State forgot that tribals are not fish and villages are not fish bowls!
But freedom loving and nature-dependent tribals refused to move into camps and fled for fear of being captured, tortured and then deported to camps – reminds one of the Jewish Holocaust. While a meager 50,000 population shifted to camps, about 50,000 fled to the adjacent district in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa where they had relatives and clan families and remaining 2.5 lakh people hid deeper in jungles living a life of fear, hunger and death.
Human rights and civil society groups watching over the State’s warfare, challenged its American copy of counter insurgency. And when they were tried to be silenced, they went up to State High Courts and Indian Supreme Court challenging the notions and strategies of mitigating Naxal violence and restoring peace.
The State retaliated by creating an imaginary divider, obviously through corporate media houses, in the minds of the middle class. If you are in its camps, you are with the State and if you are in the jungles, then you are Naxalite …. thus declaring the 2.5 lakh tribals hiding in the jungles as Naxalites and thereby justifying training its guns of peace on them ! And another divider declared anyone supporting the ‘Naxal tribals’ as Maoist sympathizers or informers and liable to imprisonment and torture under the draconian Public Securities Act. It unjustly put activists who questioned it behind bars or bulldozed their premises, not even soaring sources of drinking water or simply diverted them by bribing them with funds, contracts and opportunities for sharing the great wealth created through Salwa Judum!
The Indian Supreme Court, hearing out petitioners against Salwa Judum ordered the State to reconsider its civil defense strategy and stop evicting tribals from villages. Instead it asked the State to launch a rehabilitation drive to resettle tribals, provide them with basic services and entitlements and asses damages to life and property. This damage assessment was to be followed by compensation and registering of criminal cases against the offenders, in particular Salwa Judum and para-military forces. This was aimed at cleaning up the mess of Salwa Judum and starting afresh all attempts at just and democratic governance.
The State responded by blatantly violating the Supreme Court orders,speaking white lies before Court when questioned about its inaction.
It neither attempted rehabilitation efforts nor set up district and State committees to look into damage assessment or filing of cases against offenders and also it did not make any attempts at rethinking its strategies. Rather it continued its forced evictions, its looting, burning, rape, kidnap and murder and printed in bold letters its justification of continuing Salwa Judum. In fact it even went a step further by sabotaging and blocking any civil society attempts at rehabilitation, damage assessment and filing of cases against offenders. It used the Public Securities Act against volunteers working for the rehabilitation of internally displaced tribals!
Tribals who fled their villages and hid in jungles are still living nomadic and terrorized lives. In the face of an inhuman onslaught on them, they clung to the only support they got in the forests … that of the Maoists who appeared more human to them than persecuting State forces ?! Their attempts at seeking justice and dignity as citizens of this country were met with arrests and abuses. Their faith in the State dwindled and converted into anger and despair. It was therefore natural for them to pick up their traditional weapons in their self-defence because the State had left no option before them.
How did the State respond ? Whenever tribals came seeking justice through democratic and legal means, their FIRs were not registered, their court cases were dismissed without a hearing and they were arrested for being Naxalites. And any sympathetic judge or officer to the tribal cause was either sent on forced leave or transferred out. No one was ready to listen …. not even local mediapersons who benefited from State dole outs of contracts, advertisements and general patronage. National media too ignored the Bastar question or made half-hearted attempts at covering truth because they were bankrolled by corporates eyeing the mineral and forest resources of Bastar ! How could they let the cat out of the bag and lock out opportunities of profiteering ? Tribals were isolated and rendered helpless.
In such a complex situation of denial and injustice, the State has been expecting tribals to show loyalty to it, abide by its laws and support it in restoring peace. These expectations could be justified and binding on tribals had the State shown respect for the same virtues!
The State talks of loyalty when it has itself distrusted its own tribal citizens and branded them Naxals when they have come seeking justice at its doors … State talks of abiding by its laws when it has itself made a mockery of its own laws – holding Gram Sabhas at gun point to coerce tribals into giving away their lands to mining corporations, subverting laws protecting the tribals’ rights to land and forests as stated in PESA, disrespecting Supreme Court’s orders to rehabilitate villages, deliver entitlements and services, co-opting judiciary, executive and legislature to ratify and justify violence and terror by its forces and so on. In fact the State has been attacking its poor to secure the interests of the rich and still it expects the poor to abide by, put faith in it and support it? There are thousands of cases where the law of the land has been bent backwards to accommodate corporate interests but when it comes to tribals State puts on false pretence of legal systems and democracy!
The State wants tribals to help it in restoring peace – but when did the State believe that peace was possible without justice or that tribals could make peace with guns firing around them – does the State believe that tribals will confront its guns of peace without first arming themselves in their self-defence ? And what peace is the State talking of restoring – had it wanted peace it would have allowed rehabilitation, it would have allowed the nation to know the truth of Bastar, it would have respected its laws and would have adhered to the democratic governance systems it has put in place?
Despite all that I have stated above (not that people in the State do not know what I have stated ?), the State has launched its second Salwa Judum through its strategic military operations called Green Hunt (hunting whom ?) and Godavari. But what will be the net impact of this Salwa Judum II ? The same, if not worse. The crisis will just deepen, the tribals will get further terrorized, Naxals will further consolidate their support base and area under control and voices of sanity among civil society and human rights groups will further get silenced and decimated. This military offensive will only isolate the tribals more and they will begin to look upon every non-tribal as an aggressor. And do we believe that in such a situation peace and democracy can prevail ? Thus military operation will simply push democracy further away and endanger the Indian socio-political system.
Thus, as tribals continue resisting corporate grab of land and resources in the garb of Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt, State repression will just rise manifold. One must remember that it is not as if repression never happened but it has got heightened with dash of corporates to set up mining and industrial units while the great global market goes booming. Corporates are just making hay while the sun is shining and all this at expenses of the State ! And Governments have also readily complied by disposing off their socialist agenda to follow routes tread by private capital. And to make this a reality, these proxy wars are being fought on tribal territory. But who really will be targeted ? Not Naxals who are deft at guerilla warfare and will escape bullets of Salwa Judum and para military forces. It will be the tribals who will be caught in the crossfire.
Salwa Judum (Phase I) resulted in a near civil war that destroyed over 644 villages and displaced 3.5 lakh tribals in one way or the other and filled the lives of tribals with fake encounters, gangrape of tribal women, looting and burning of livestock and belongings of poor tribals, brutal suppression of any resistance or protest has become the order of the day in the name of combating Naxals. This makes us wonder whether they are still bonafide denizens of this country or have they been obliterated as people of India!?
We have gone to villages to understand the truth behind encounters, have interviewed dozens of tribal women gangraped or enslaved for months by Salwa Judum and para military forces and witnessed the total demolition of my house and office premises because we dared to expose these acts of violence through several cases filed in Chhattisgarh High Court. Is this the democracy and tribal development our Governments want us to espouse? I shudder to think what will be the outcome of Salwa Judum (Phase II) …… yet another fake encounters, yet more gangrapes and yet more souls gone down fighting injustice and repression in the name of peace and democracy?
But for how long are tribals going to bear the brunt of a brutal and inhuman police force? For how long will tribals stand in the crossfire between Naxals, a militarized State and a demonized police? For how long will middle class ‘bhadralok’ remain silent spectators to State’s colonization of tribal territory to subsidize urban growth in the name of ‘tribal development‘ ? And for how long will we look on helplessly as tribals get butchered, raped and exterminated? We believe that some day the tribal specter will rise and fall heavily on those who repress loot and pauperize them. But who will get sacrificed and who will survive? The fittest … as Darwin eulogized evolution? The question is who is fitter – you and me who enjoy privileges of a subsidized consumer culture or tribals whom we have hanged giving them the name of savage, backward and poor ? I guess we all know the answers … but don’t want to articulate it, preferring to ignore it exists. But we cannot so this and so we strive to call the State’s bluff and turn every stone in our path in the attempt to bring justice, peace, dignity and democracy into Bastar so that we never have to confront the guns of peace!
— Himanshu Kumar, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, Dantewada, firstname.lastname@example.org, Mobile – 09425260031