By Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati. June 24, 2009.
War-hysteria in media: cobras, shields, and sanitization
We have been witnessing what can only be described as “war hysteria” in the media coverage of the current situation in Lalgarh and adjoining areas. It appears as if the great protectors of the “rule of law”, the West Bengal state police, propped up by the CRPF and a plethora of other armed forces, with suitably scary acronyms like COBRA, are out to regain a chunk of Indian territory occupied by a hostile country. What is conveniently not being mentioned is that for ages the police itself has behaved like invaders in the area, willfully torturing and humiliating people, and that is why they had been boycotted in that area for the past six months. With blow-by-blow accounts of their progress, and description of how they are penetrating “human shields”, and “sanitizing” whole areas, it doesn’t seem that their adversaries are the poorest of the poor, the most marginalized sections of Indian society, the adivasis who are armed with traditional weapons like bows and arrows, and some Maoist cadre, who would be a few dozen at the most, and armed mostly with weapons looted from the police and improvised explosive devices.
The trigger in Dharampur: a popular response to rampaging harmad militias
More importantly, what is being represented as a war between the Maoists and the Indian state, conveniently glosses over some points that we need to pay our attention to. The rural area of Lalgarh has been out of bounds for the administrative machinery of the state since last November, since the uprising of the adivasi-moolvasi people of the area against police atrocities. With the setting up of the PCPA, the adivasis had been running their own affairs, and even taking up much-needed developmental work, a whiff of functioning democracy in the middle of the hoax that goes on by the name of democratic governance in large parts of India.
Then, what suddenly triggered this confrontation, and this cascade of events that is today witnessing police dragging out women from houses in the Lalgarh area and beating them blue and black and hundreds of people fleeing to relief camps?
It points to the incident which happened in Dharampur, near Lalgarh town, on June 14th. It was reported in the press on that day, but now has been conveniently forgotten as the press is busy to set up the Maoists, and the PCPA, which they repeatedly call Maoist-controlled contrary to all evidence and denials by the PCPA leadership, as the arch-villains in this episode.
Dharampur is near Lalgarh town, and it was a CPI(M) stronghold where the house of the zonal committee member, Anuj Pandey, was located. On 14th June, a PCPA rally was proceeding towards that place, called to protest against the arrest and reported rape of adivasi women who had gone to a meeting in Chakulia in Jharkhand. It was a usual PCPA rally, with traditional weapons and led by women as usual. When it neared Dharampur, it was attacked by CPI(M) harmads, targeting the women. The rallyists couldn’t resist this attack and dispersed, but then a Maoist squad arrived and started a gun battle with the CPI(M) cadres, which continued till late in the night.
With their superior firepower, the Maoists gunned down at least nine of the CPI(M) attackers. Thereafter, the next day there were multiple rallies called by the PCPA, and the people in these rallies, who were incensed by the CPI(M) attack of the previous day, decided to take over the CPI(M) strongholds of Dharampur, a major operating base for the CPI(M) harmads, and Lalgarh town which was still under the administrative control of the government. The Maoist squad accompanied them, to resist attacks by the CPI(M), and not allow a repetition of the past day’s incident.
20,000 Maoists and “frontal organisations”?
What followed has been widely reported, how CPI(M) party offices were burnt down, how the palatial house of Anuj Pandey, the widely hated CPI(M) leader, was broken down, and how some CPI(M) members were killed. It was a spontaneous outburst of pent up fury of the people, people who had been subjected to humiliation and exploitation by these same CPI(M) leaders on a daily basis. They acted out of a sense of deliverance from the hegemony and corruption of the CPI(M). The Maoists were definitely present, but the 10,000-20,000 people who participated in this uprising were definitely not Maoists, as has been represented by the press. They were common people, and their anger and frustration found expression in this outburst. Although a number of political leaders, including those from the Trinamool Congress and Congress, made statements to this effect, it has completely been glossed over by the mainstream press.
Human shields – a physical protection of liberty and development
In order to reinforce this idea, multiple press reports have tried to represent the human walls set up by the adivasis as “human shields” being used by the Maoists to protect themselves from the police and paramilitary. It is possibly incomprehensible to the corporate media that these people were standing there not to protect the Maoists, but to protect the freedom that they have enjoyed for the past six months, freedom from daily harassment and humiliation, and to preserve the gains that they had made during that time, like the building of a few roads and digging of a few ponds, meeting the immediate needs of the people, things that Indian state has not provided in the past sixty-two years.
Teaching adivasis a few lessons along the way
However, as expected, they could not resist the brute force unleashed by the same state that had failed them so miserably. The police and paramilitary dispersed them by teargas and lathicharging, and since then there has been innumerable reports of atrocities being committed by the police. Remarkably, much of these atrocities were committed in the villages on the way to Lalgarh town, which were not even within the zone that was under the control of the PCPA. It appears that the state is bent upon teaching the adivasis a lesson for standing up for their dignity, and the Maoists represented a suitable bogey for doing so. The Maoists, according to their stated policy of guerrilla warfare, would not engage in a frontal confrontation with the paramilitary forces. So what have effectively taken place are a few skirmishes between vastly assymetrical adversaries, and the brave saviours of “law and order” have vented their righteous ire on the unarmed adivasis.
Maoist presence: an old fact and a rehashed bogey
The Maoists have been active in the entire jangalmahal area for a long time, and have been fighting a running battle with the state. The adivasis in the area have long been victimized by the police for this, and it was the police brutalities in the wake of the landmine attack on the West Bengal CM’s convoy by the Maoists that triggered this uprising. The Maoists have been with the adivasis of Lalgarh in this uprising against the state, just as members of many other political parties including the Congress, have been with them. What we are witnessing today is that the Indian state is using this as an excuse to delegitimize the just demands and aspirations of the adivasis, which stemmed from a simple demand for the recognition of their dignity. Attacks on indigeneous people are taking place all over the world, whenever they are resisting the state and the corporations attempt to deprive them of their land, water, forests and dignity, as we recently saw in the attacks on the Peruvian indigeneous people in the Amazon area. All attempts to resist and retaliate are being represented as insurgency and a breakdown of “law and order”. The corporate press is playing along with this, as we see in the case of Lalgarh, and deliberately glossing over facts and issues, to represent the struggle of the indigeneous people, in which armed struggle is increasingly playing a part, as a loss of sovereign authority by the state, which has to be regained at any cost.
Ground dynamics and civil society
The “civil society” in West Bengal, and all over India, has rightly been very distressed over these incidents and condemned both the atrocities committed by the state and what many think to be the reckless behaviour of the Maoists. However, it is also to be expected that the civil society cannot decide, or dictate, what course a movement on the ground will take. A movement develops its own dynamics, based on the ground conditions, and always does not follow a linear path to the most desirable end. Therefore, it becomes the duty of civil society to stand up and be counted when common people are at the receiving end of oppression by the state. We should express our solidarity with the struggle of the adivasis for justice and development, deplore the atrocities being committed on them by the armed forces of the state and demand the immediate withdrawal of the latter from the area as a necessary condition for normalization of the situation and also condemn all the attempts by the state to use this excuse to impinge on the democratic rights of the people. The adivasis had risen up with the demand of a small apology from the police, if what is happening now does not stop, the Indian state will owe them a much bigger one.