Monday, June 19, 2006

Salwa judum - Mad, Mindless, Brutal, Stupid...

After 20 years of nothingness, something is happenning in Dantewada, the southernmost district in Chhattisgarh, over the past one year. This is demonstrated by the remarkable increase in the number of search results of the term Dantewada on google. We are told by the state and its organs - the politicians, the police, the officials and the media, that the villagers have finally decided to get rid of the "naxaliye" once and for ever. It was propagated as a spontaneous uprising of the adivasis against the oppression by the maoists, it was said that this is a peace movement to defeat the maoists, that the villagers were fed up with the pogrom and violence unleashed by the red rebels. After reading a favourable report in the frontline, I found it as an excellent concept as I had no kind feelings for the maoist. At that time there were around 15000 adivasis staying in camps, because of brutal retaliation by the maoist. The situation is anything but better now. There are an estimated 40000 adivasis in the camps now, their is a complete overturn of traditional social structure. Those who are dead are dead, and those who are alive have lost almost everything.

Last month I got a chance to visit some of the villages and camps, with the Independent citizens initiative that had gone there to investigate the whole scenario. There, I saw it in all its ugliness. Yes, the villagers were complaining about naxal atttocities, the SPO's were all ready to kill them, and local leaders were glorifying the campaign. But beyond it all, there lies severe perversion, the effects of which will be permanent. Taking sides is not always a pleasant thing to do, and especially when you are forced to do so and risk your life and property because of that, there lies impending doom.

Dantewada now resembles those strife-torn African countries (I was reminded of Sierra Leone in particular), we see in movies and documentaries. We see those images in our drawing rooms, do the obligatory tch-tch-very-sad and move on, realising little that such a sorry spectacle represents the current state of the very heart of the country. In the remote areas of Dantewada, everybody is killing and killing is everywhere.

Let's do a background check first. The naxals, around 25 of them, first arrived in Dandakaranya in mid 80s. Their motivation ranged from empowerment of adivasi masses to establishing a safe haven, a liberated zone from where the eventual brush with the mighty state will take place. Not only did they find immediate support among the tribals but also found here a fertile ground for recruitment and support of their revolutionary ideology. The reds were able to establish a parallel government of their own, long before the state realised about it. They have a name for it as well, Janatana Sarkar they call it. This process of establishing a parallel state was not without its own set of troubles, but more on that later.

When there is a change, there is bound to be dissatisfaction in some sections. The fact the everybody was poor in the Dantewada district is no consolation. The maoists were successful in alienating a small section of the villagers. Most of them were existing land-owners whose land were re-distributed, or the traditional authorities of sarpanches and village headmen. The maoist also came down very hard on anyone they suspected to be working for the mainstream political parties. Though there is an unwritten agreement with the administration that "Shiksha and swasthya" personnel will not be harmed in their influence zone, even they were occasionally attacked. These measures, and the fact that the leadership even at village level, were entirely telugu-speaking people from Andhra, were the seeds that eventually bore the monster of Salwa Judum.

Nobody is sure, how Salwa judum started in the first place. I have heard three different versions from the collector and from the people. The most common one is that a group of villagers rebelled against the maoist in the village Ambeli after they put in a ban on "tendu patta sangrahan", and this quickly turned into a spontaneous uprising of the adivasi masses against the 'naxaliye'. One theory suggests that Salwa Judum was originally planned by the CG police and the army top brass as a 'new experiment' of fighting leftwing extrimism by arming those that they claim to represent. The evidence of past one year strongly points to this possibility. A third theory tells us about a village teacher in Kutru, who led the first revolt.

The movement had three phases. First was to organise mass protests with the help of administration against the naxaliye. This was typically done by identifying target villages, organise meetings and forcing the villagers to attend those meetings. The 'you are with us or against us' theory was put into practise, fines were placed on the families for not attending the meetings. (the usual fine was Rs. 400, a huge sum in these parts, for missing each meeting) The meetings, were attended and addressed by the local politicians, most notably Mahendra Karma who is the congress MLA representing this region, and the officials, the villagers will pledge to get rid of the 'naxaliye', and then march on the processions. The processions, mostly led by non-adivasis, moved to the villages and torched the non-conforming villager's homes and fields, killed the village sangham members, and moved on. The retaliation by the naxals was swift and brutal. This was the second phase. They had never foreseen such kind of situation, and had no idea how to deal with it. They took the easiest way out of eliminating the so called 'class enemies', realising little that this will eventually legitimise the judum actions. Unable to accept their mistakes in the past, they started killing those who attended the meetings, many villagers were sentenced to death in those kangaroo 'janata' courts, where only the telugu-speaking people do most of the talking. The third phase was the dangerous 'strategic hamletting' of the villagers, used in the past by the Indian army in the north east. Entire population was shifted to the roadside camps, special police officers were trained to combat the maoists and provided rudimentary arms, a stipend and the desire to kill. Central forces were called in and there began a full fledged civil war. The social structure of tribal life was demolished, the hats were closed, the schools turned into military camps, and there started a 'fight to finish'.

It is almost ten months since then. The attrocities committed in the past by the Judum gangs has been chronicled elsewhere. Let me focus on the present and the future of it. What does a gun do to a man's psyche? A gun, any gun, even a rusted 303 that will never work, gives the holder a sense of immense power. That's what has happenned here. There began the loot of ordinary people. Travelling in and around Dantewada has become a dangerous activity now. Not only are there check posts manned by SPO's and judum leaders every 10 kilometers, the travellers are frequently harrassed to shell out money. Eminent Prof. Nandini Sundar, who was part of the independent citizens initiative, and a leading researcher on tribal life was robbed of her camera. Ramchandra Guha, eminent author and historian, also a member of the group was branded as a 'naxalite' and had to deal with a rough drunken mob. While travelling from Dantewada to Bijapur, it is advisable to carry loads of money to be given whenever demanded. Don't be surprised when somebody comes up claiming that he has seen you with the maoists and realises his mistake only after administering a few slaps on you. These things are now daily occurence in the entire district of Dantewada. The law and order apparatus has been outsourced to rudimentary SPO's and in the process lawlessness has a free run here.

But what about the villagers? What about the camps? Most of the villagers staying in the camps want to return back to their homes. Many of them have already gone back. Almost 300 families from Jangla camp have returned, leavingbehind around 50 of them. Going back means return to their fields and their earlier way of life, going back means getting back to the cattles that were left behind, going back means reuniting with the family members who are left behind. But they are very afraid and have reason to be so. Going back also means facing the wrath of the naxals, going back also means coming to terms with those villagers whose houses they burnt while as a mob. This is an impossible situation to be in. In the camps, they live under single plastic sheets, which gets flooded whenever it rains (and Bastar receives heavy rainfall)The state government has allotted them pucca houses on the roadside. These are small one room houses, they had built themselves using the material provided. Chief minister Raman Singh claims that these are temporary measures, and the villagers will go back once the war is over, which according to the chief protagonist Mahendra Karma will stretch for the next 3 years. They meet their ends by working as coolies and daily labourers. Of course they are paid much less than the minimum wages. Their land in the villages remain untilled this year, and they will remain coolies for pretty much rest of their lives (that is till the maoists descend on the camps)

Salwa Judoom did benefit a certain section. That of non-adivasi and adivasi netas, who now sit on large amount of funds granted for 'development' of the region. No surprises at guessing where all these funds go to. Who will tell the state government that it is sixty years too late in implementing these measures? Who will tell the state that mere allocation of funds without implementation of the projects is not going to help? While I travelled, the only thing that is going on effectively here is building of roads by BRO. Roads will come handy when the actual offensive against the extremists take place by the Indian army. Schools, hospitals, anganwadi, sustainable development models can wait. Just like they waited for last 60 years.

The question that comes to mind is why is it happenning? What has blinded our politicians that they simply refuse to see the danger that lurks here. Incidentally, while the salwa judum was in its initial stages, another very significant development took place in Chhattisgarh. The Raman Singh government signed MOUs with the tatas, the essars, the jindals for steel plant in Bastar and Dantewada, the maoist infested regions with rich natural resources. Elsewhere, these industrial setups in tribal regions were beset with problems of land grabbing and false promises. Till now I have not hit upon any study that hints at a correlation between the Salwa Judum and the industrialization, though the fact that none of these MOU's were made public even after several RTI applications makes the whole business slightly fishy. Whether the salwa judum was nothing but a way to preempt any opposition from locals to these large plants is yet to be proven. I sincerely hope that is not the case, as that will prove that it is the business houses that are now dictating everything from counter insurgency to social restructuring.

Salwa judum, literally a peace movement, is anything but that. Here peace is gloated down the throat using guns and daggers. This peace movement that focusses on silencing any opposition, that has the entire political spectrum blind to the massacres. In the Jangla camp of surrendered naxalites, I met Manku. Manku is a ex-Bal Sangham member, barely 13 years old, who surrendered to the police. He was shaking with fear while I talked to him. On being friendlier, he said in broken english that he loves bicycles and dreams of owning one. When will the Manku's of Dantewada be able to live their dreams? Or is he going to be another 'anonymous' name in the register of the dead, fighting a war he, just like most of us, don't know anything about.

Is there a solution? I have a distant dream of both the state and the maoist leadership acknowleding their mistakes and coming to an understanding that innocents will not be harmed, that the salwa judum will be disbanded, and villagers be allowed to return to their homes. A 'distant' dream.


At 11:03 pm, Blogger Stalingam said...

Lal Salaam

I am linking up this article

At 2:11 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anoop - a very good article as usual. However, I hope pro-naxals dont use such articles to propagate their own path. Salwa Judum is as much evil as Naxalism itself. Its a choice between Devil and the Deep sea and I am not sure if we have a third choice.

At 3:23 am, Blogger Stalingam said...

I would like to see your post on caste and its influence on the naxalites soon .

At 4:34 am, Blogger Stalingam said...

Also another thing you have got one fact in your post on Narayan Sanyal wrong

Rabindranath Kar did not belong to the CPI(Maoist) like you have said but belonged to the CPI(Marxist).

Like you may know
The naxals and the CPI(marxist) have a long history of violence going back to the revolt of naxalbari.
There is no love lost between them

At 3:40 am, Blogger Amit Aishwarya Jogi said...

credit must be given where due: your exposition on the gothikoyas has provided an entirely new insight into SJ. it is an aspect overlooked by the mainstream media. in my own small way, i have taken the liberty of rectifying this oversight.

At 11:09 am, Blogger SIddharth Tripathy said...

Reading these topics after a long long time - your writing is a very good read
reminded me of my days and months in Dornapal -
siddharth tripathy

At 9:05 pm, Blogger Rashmi S said...

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