Monday, December 03, 2012

Yohoho and an armful of force

A friend posted a note online saying how proud he was that India has never attacked another nation. It made me puff up with pride too. But I also wondered why – Is it because a billion people are pacifist, content human beings with no awful greed driving them? Or is it because most of our aggression is turned inward?

Consider recent news. Eight houses in a Dalit colony were set on fire by a mob in Tamil Nadu. But the attackers remembered to force open the steel almirahs and steal the gold jewellery before torching the houses.

Meanwhile, Mahendra Karma, a Congress leader in Chhattisgarh, survived a landmine attack. There have been reports of other explosive attacks on CRPF and police convoys. The Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh has been quoted as saying that, since 2001, Maoists have killed 5,745 civilians and 2,062 security personnel.

Other reports estimate that 1,00,000 people have been displaced because of the conflict between Maoists and the state armed forces and civilian militia like Salwa Judum, propped up by the state and encouraged by politicians like Karma. Which means that they moved to refugee camps and their homes were burnt down.
But still, business must go on. So the state government as well as the Centre continues to push projects in ‘Naxal-affected’ areas. Their development plans include airports (not likely to be used by forest-dwelling communities), factories (which will employ locals only in the lowest-paid jobs and probably on a temporary basis), and mining.

Perhaps you’re wondering what’s being done to offset the negative impact of such projects. It seems the Bhilai Steel Plant does have a plan to counter Maoists through its Corporate Social Responsibility wing. They plan to sponsor sporting and cultural events. I suppose, the assumption is that people will sing and dance and play games, even as their lives are being destroyed.

In any case, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) plans to build new airports at Raigarh and Bilaspur. The state-run Coal India also wants to double its production capacity in Chhattisgarh by 2017. But to do this, it needs a railway line to be established over the next few years. And a railway line also needs security. Almost every venture needs security. So Bhilai Steel Plant is reportedly funding the ‘construction of barracks’ for paramilitary forces. The existing mines have been depleted and there is more iron ore to be found in the Raoghat mines, but the CPI-Maoist is opposed to the project. Bhilai also needs a railway line to transport ore. If reports are to be believed, “more than 4,000 personnel, of elite paramilitary forces will be deployed to guard the railway construction site”.

Besides, there are other countries willing to jump in for a piece of the action. At a recent ‘global’ business meet in Naya Raipur, which the Chhattisgarh government had organized to bring in more investors, there was a remark made by a senior Russian diplomat. Alexey Mzarevlov reportedly said, “We can co-operate with the state government on security if they want. Russia has several years of experience in anti-terrorism measures.”

There was a Land Rights Cycle Yatra around Madya Pradesh recently. The activists went to Rewa district, Sangi village, and found that dalit and adivasi families have not had a ration card for twenty years. The elderly do not get pension. Land deeds have been drawn up but land has not been distributed.

I’m wondering if we need the paramilitary forces. After all, they get so much done – mines, railway lines, dams. Maybe they could also ensure that pensions arrive and mid-day meals get served in school.

First published here.

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