Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Some questions, some stories

I do not yet want to write about the constitutional validity (and I do think it is questionable), morality, or impact of Greenhunt at the moment. I don't know enough, perhaps, and would like to collect my thoughts. Not all journalists - I take this opportunity to assert - scream on television about 'what the people feel' and who ought to be ashamed of what views without having thought through 'which country' 'what is a country' 'which people' and 'where is shame due'?

But I want to - and want other people to - think and talk about democracy in this country. That's where we must start. Not by spouting distant, outraged opinions but by listening to those who are not so distant, those whose stories I have no great reason to disbelieve, those whose circumstances are as fatal, as frightening as dead bodies in uniform.

A 24-year old civil rights' activist went to a Jharkhand prison, with permission from the police, to check on human rights inside. The team found itself taken into custody, not even permitted to call a police inspector general.

Now consider that this is a young person from Delhi. He speaks and writes English. He has access to newspapers and magazines and knows how to find spaces in which his voice will be heard, even if the local aminsitration does him an injustice. At the moment of crisis, he had a cell phone. He had the phone number of other, more senior police officials. When he was being taken into custody, he probably knew that what was happening was illegal and if he hadn't been released the same day, somebody from Delhi might come down and ask questions. Words would be exchanged. Somebody would do SOMETHING!

What happens when a young man is none of that?

What happens if he asks a few questions about how democracy works in his village? What if he wants to fight elections? Perhaps, the answer is below:

'I wanted to fight elections and submitted the forms. I used to complain about the death and destruction due to the SPO, District administration. But once when I reached home around 8-9 pm, there was police waiting for me. They told me that my form had been rejected and I can’t file it again, since the date for filing is past.'
Here's another young man, a 23-year old.
'The panchayat elections in our village were announced to be held on the 31st. But there were no polling booths set up on the 31st, so I asked the zonal officer, what happened to the elections? He said that they were going to be held on the 2nd. When I asked him, why the date was changed, he didn’t give me any information. I requested him that I want to talk to the collector but he refused. I visited police camp and questioned the major whether the election will be held in the panchayat, or in the police camp. He told me that they will be organized in panchayat on the 2nd.
On 2nd, there was no booth in the there, so we took 200 people with us and went to the police camp to vote. But there, they announced that we are naxalites and started firing on us. These people are not fighting the real naxalites, but are fighting against the innocent masses.
Why are the naxalites still there today? Mahendra Karma (Congress Party Member-Founder of Salwa Judum) said that SJ (Salwa Judum) would be over in 6 months. But the naxalites are stronger than ever before. Thanks to SJ. SPOs are not made voluntarily. People are forced to join the camps; they are made to do all the dirty work for the police and the forces. Wash their clothes, cook food for them. Paid a paltry sum of 1500 with a life of misery.'

The same young man went on to say:

'In 2005, maybe there were 50% naxalites in my village. Now there are 90% naxalites.In our villages, it is not the naxals who destroy the school buildings, it is the villagers. All school buildings are used for housing CRPF, SPOs etc. The villagers are sick and weary of having these forces in the village and their presence only means regular beatings for the villagers, looting of the village produce etc. That is why they destroy the school building when they get a chance.You might think that I too am a Naxal. But then why would I be in front of you, testifying. I am doing this because I want education in my village. I also want development. But the NMDC in Bailadila is not development. The people who have lost land to Bailadila mines have still not found jobs there.If you want a company, place it where people agree to it. It is possible that a company might also construct a school and a hospital etc. But we don’t want a company on our lands. We want to do our farming.'

The above are testimonies from an Independent People's Tribunal on Land Acquisition, Resource Grab and Operation Green Hunt, which was set up to create a dialogue that includes the people whose lives, lands and resources are at stake.

You might dismiss the tribunal and its organisers. I am acutely conscious of the fact that most people do. So I will not ask you to agree with the findings of the tribunal, or its recommendations. Or at least, not unless you can reach those conclusions yourselves. For now, all I want is to ask a question - if you do not believe the voices above, ask yourself why. Allow yourself to wonder if it could be because you prefer not to, because of who you are, where you live, because you'd rather not have your world ripped apart by violence, or its constant threat. And ask yourself if you don't prefer that such violence be visited upon someone else, who lives somewhere else.

Here's a small extract from some of the testimonies that were put before the tribunal:

'The collector’s office sent out a notice that the leasing of land to Jindal was authorized. However, the collector’s office is not supposed to have that authority.... Sudha read an affidavit of the prospective licenses applied for by MSP. Each item is supposed to be followed to a host of procedures about the details of these licenses. But, on further examination, none of the companies followed any of the post-lease procedures. She read out an actual license application by Jindal Co, which left several necessary sections blank especially sections pertaining to the consent required for the acquisition of the land (from both the occupier and the owner)...She further added Jindal Co. said they would compensate for the land acquisition by paying 10% more than agricultural revenue that would otherwise accrue from the land, as well as the rent. But so far they have not paid anything at all. Former occupants of this land have been taken on as contractual workers by this company. The labor force of this company is policed by the CRPF.'

And if you want to understand some more, listen to Lingam, who does not even care to speak anonymously now.

'My name is Lingaram, from Sameli, Dantewada. I am a driver and my family has a car, in which I can ferry people. We have some land on which we farm. I am not very literate.I was watching TV at home, around September last year. Five motorcycles came, with 10 people, who were holding AK 47s. They took me to Kokunda. They asked me questions such as “where did you get the bike from? How do you go about in style?” My family is fairly comfortably off, but they accused me of being a Naxalite. They tortured me and wanted me to become an Special Police Officer (SPO).... They took me for the court hearing and kept me in a fancy hotel—but before the judge, I said that although I have come here of my own will, I now wish to return to my family and village. So they had to let me go.But on the way back, while I was being accompanied by my family and villagers in cars, the security forces stopped us again, and arrested me again and were trying to force me to go back to the police station. However, I managed to flee, but my brother was taken by them instead. A few days later, they again came for me. And have been threatening my father too.I have been hiding since. The police are still looking for me.... There is news that some mineral has been discovered in the hills close to our village. And I think that is the real reason that the police is there, not because of the Naxals.Question (Jury): Is Gram Panchayat functioning in your village?We have a Gram Panchayat but it has no meaning. It is full of Marwaris and non-tribals. If we write and send them something, they bury it and make sure that it doesn’t reach any of the authorities. We have no education, no health, nothing. Calling us naxals is simply an excuse to terrorize us.We have a village school upto 5th class. The teachers come for only one day in a month, and collect a full month’s pay. We want real education. The only time the politicians come is during the elections. No one comes to our areas except the police force. We complained about the teachers—but to no avail. We are told that till Maoists are there, we can’t get any relief. When we tell the Maoists we want education, they tell us that they aren’t here for us, adivasis, but for class war.Question (Jury): Any development Question (Jury): Any development on National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme? There is no NREGA in our region. We were organized under an organization to collect forest produce, but were told that we are naxals. How is it that the Marwaris can come and steal our forest produce and make high profits, but when we adivasis try to collect it, we are called naxals.Question (Audience): Do you want development in your area?We get enough from our land to feed us. What is development? NMDC has operated in our area for 52 years but only caused destruction. Naxals don’t help us, but they don’t hurt us either. If having a company nearby could give us development, then considering that Bailadila (NMDC mines) is 20 km from us and has been there before the naxals, then we should have had a lot of development. What is the reason that we still have no education and no hospital? Not one hospital in 52 years! When our adivasis go to bailadila for treatment, they humiliate us and don’t admit us to their hospitals.'

You can read the rest here, here and here.


Jai_C said...


Its a complex question but I didnt find any part of this piece to be as frightening as "dead bodies in uniform". Let me pass quickly over that phrase- the more I look at it the more callous it feels, and I have always respected your sensitivity and capability for nuance.

I will be back after collecting my thoughts and re-reading this piece.


Anonymous said...


very well said ...time and again, i believe we are seeing only one side of the story .. outlook ran a cover on this not so long ago ... it is also well known that vedanta, the mining co based in UK is trying to grab land in orissa and for some reason mainstream media is giving this a garb of 'we vs the naxals' fight .... the truth is, more often than not, the govt is the outsider ... these tribals are doing fine and should be left alone and certainly not troubled in the name of 'development'


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