INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights

India’s Prisoner of Conscience

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On 24 December Dr. Binayak Sen,vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties,  was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Raipur Sessions’ Court  for his violations of the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. A full English translation of the judgement can be found here.

According to the Indian Express the court found Sen guilty of ‘helping’ the Naxalites and therefore guilty of sedition. The cited the following ‘evidence’:

Sen’s meetings with jailed Naxalite leader Narayan Sanyal; his attempt to pass on three letters written by Sanyal to unspecified people in Kolkata; and his helping some “hardcore Naxalites” to open bank accounts, get jobs and rented accommodation.Also cited as evidence is the recovery from Sen of newspaper clippings on the Naxal movement and a magazine with interviews of Naxal leaders Ganapati and Kishenji. The verdict is silent on which specific Naxal act or conspiracy Sen was involved in.

This is a judicial injustice entirely unbefitting a democratic state. There should be no tolerance in India for laws as draconian and vague as either of the acts under which Dr. Sen has been convicted. The verdict has been fiercely denounced both domestically and internationally.

The PUCL and Dr. Sen have been fierce critics of the government’s policies and actions towards the adivasi and this is why they have been targeted in a campaign of judicial harassment. Unlike the adivasi of Bastar, Dr. Sen is too prominent to simply kill (or ‘encounter’). Hence the draconian sentencing under a draconian law. The PUCL is one of the few relatively impartial organizations with outside contacts working in the region. They can tell the world what is actually happening on the ground. They are a threat to the local warlords of Dantewara and their friends and allies in Raipur.

The absurdity of the verdict and the law is clear. In effect, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act criminalizes all contact and association with the Maoists. The Maoists control much of the state. ‘Associating’ with them is inevitable for those individuals and groups who wish to do work in the region outside of official channels. In effect, the law ensures that the only story that is told about what happens in Bastar is filtered through the channels such as the Salwa Judum and the government sanctioned warlords who represent the state.

An excellent piece on the injustice of the case can be found here. Of particular note is this quote:

All through 2006, Dr Sen and the state PUCL were in the news for criticising the new Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and exposing fake encounters. In April 2007, the Chhattisgarh PUCL held its state-level convention on the theme: ‘Fake Encounters, fake surrenders and fake cases’.

On May 9, then state president Rajendra Sail [ Get Quote ] announced the PUCL’s decision to intervene in the petition filed by the wife of a Naxalite who alleged that her husband had been killed in a fake encounter in front of her and she had been raped.

This, in short, is the reason Dr Sen was arrested and implicated. In a state where the Maoists were gaining support from the Adivasis whom the government has forgotten, but whose lands it is eyeing, the Maoists had to be eliminated.

This is the crux of the matter. The war being fought in southern Chhattisgarh is dirty and brutal. The government has outsourced its counterinsurgency and ‘governance’ functions to a group of warlords which emerged from Salwa Judum. Dr. Sen and the PUCL are a threat to the impunity and brutality of the local anti-Maoist forces and needed to be silenced. I hope that the Indian system will not allow this decision to stand.

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Written by Michael

January 11, 2011 at 11:17 pm

When all you have is a hammer…

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everything looks like a nail. Earlier this week, India’s home ministry threatened to prosecute intellectuals and civil society groups who help ‘spread’ the Naxalites ideology. This rather draconian threat has been heavily criticised  domestically and internationally. According to Human Rights Watch:

“The Indian government should think twice before trying to silence political discussion and demanding endorsement of its views on Maoist groups,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The recent views expressed by the Indian government against so-called sympathizers could be understood as carte blanche by local authorities to harass and arrest critics of Indian government policy.”

In order to help prevent the ‘spread’ of Maoist ideology, the home ministry has threatened to prosecute so-called violators under the 1967 Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. It is not at all clear what would entail ‘spreading’ Maoist ideology. The term is so nebulous and meaningless that it could apply to individuals and groups who provide no material support (or are not even sympathetic to) the Maoists, but are critical of the government’s actions.

The Director General of Police in Chhattisgarh has been considering whether to lay charges against Arundhati Roy for her piece in Outlook India.  If history is any guide, it is very unlikely that Roy will be prosecuted for her work. Rather, the threat is better read as a green-light to security agencies operating in the Red Corridor to go after local journalists and NGOs.

The 2005 Chhattisgarh Special Security Act is a draconian law that has made it virtually illegal to meet with or write about the Maoists in that state. To date it has never been used against a foreign or Delhi-based individual. In fact, I was in Chhattisgarh in 2008 doing some research. In spite of having clearly violated provisions in the law, I was actively assisted by local politicians and security personnel. The law has been used to ban small NGOs and detain local journalists and activists such as Binyak Sen. The goal of the act is to provide a chilling effect on the local population as a means of allowing the government to behave with minimum scrutiny and accountability. This latest threat by the home ministry has the same purpose.

It is true that there is a segment of the urban intelligentsia that has been guilty of romanticising the Naxalite rebel. This is inevitable in a vibrant democracy. The irony is that there is a very real nexus between the Maoists elements of the political and business classes in the Red Corridor. This nexus is the result of shared material and political interests between the various groups. Threatening journalists and writers will do nothing to address the region’s real problems.

Media Roundup February 2010

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Now that the media has taken notice of the Maoist insurgency there have been a slew of features coming out from both the domestic and the international press. One of the things I love about India is its vibrant and extensive English language media. While the quality can be spotty, the fact that there are so many newspapers and magazines means that there’s always something interesting to read. And, now that urban India has noticed the war raging in its hinterlands, there are a hell of a lot of good journalists on the story.

Each month, I’ll provide a brief roundup of features which I think our worth reading.

Smita Gupta, writing for Outlook, makes a journey to Chhattisgarh where he spends time with the state elites in Raipur and visits Bastar to meet with the villagers who are caught in the midst of war. While the piece doesn’t provide many new insight into the war, it does bring into sharp relief the dilemmas and the suffering of the local tribal population who are caught between the state and the rebels. It also shows the collusion which exists between the Maoists and the governing elite.

The second feature is from India Today. Shafi Rahman visits the Maoist ‘liberated zones’ to report on the governance structures that the rebels have set up in areas which they control. Well worth a read as it provides a rare glimpse into the actual workings of the civil component of the ‘revolution’. The Maoists have been able to establish alternative systems of government partly through force, but also because of the vacuum which exists in the most backward parts of the country where historically the state has had a minimal presence. Rahman puts a human face to this reality.

Enjoy!

Written by Michael

February 24, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Pre-Emptive International Concern

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An interesting little piece of news today. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Office, which funds relief efforts in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, has cautioned the Indian government against undertaking an anti-Maoist offensive that would jeopardise its work:

“It can become too dangerous, because of ongoing fighting, for our partners to access and reach out to the villages,” Maria Joao Ralha, ECHO’s desk officer for India, told AlertNet by phone from Brussels. “It can also limit access as parties involved in the conflict may become too nervous and may not want humanitarians working there so villagers would not be able to receive the healthcare that our partners are providing them.”

Aside from the increased international dimension which this story demonstrates, it’s important to note that, according to the piece, over 100,000 civilians have been displaced by the conflict. The very real suffering that the so-called ‘Naxal-problem’ has caused for some of India’s most marginalised populations is far in excess of what might be inferred by merely tracking total annual deaths. It’s important to think about. I’ve been to Bastar and visited illegal re-settlement villages in the forests. And the suffering I saw was horrendous. The government needs to be cautious.

Countering the Counter-Insurgency

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If, as I argued in my last post, Operation Green Hunt needs to be a holistic counter-insurgency campaign- stories like this don’t help:

In the remote rural expanse that could soon be gobbled up by a Rs 19,500 crore steel plant, there is the clang of an iron-cast protest.“We will not give our land to Tata,” says 60-year-old Sankar Das, the frail dhoti-clad Hindu priest, even as he pokes round in the cloth bag when a passing journalist stops by at a meeting of village elders. Das promptly produces a letter written by residents of his Bedanji village to the district administrator of Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, home to some of the world’s richest iron ore.

Tata Steel, India’s largest private sector steelmaker, plans to invest Rs 19,500 crores in a steel plant across 5,000 acres that will create 5.5 million tones of steel per year. Ten villages have to be emptied out.

“The Kakatiya kings brought and settled us here from Warangal 22 generations ago to worship the goddess and supervise sacrifices on Dussehra,” says the letter handwritten by Bedanji residents in Hindi. “We shall not move.”

It would be almost funny if it weren’t so sad. What this does is a) fuel the grievances of the Adivasi whose support is both crucial to the Maoists and the government and, b) provides the Maoists with a new source of revenue. The Maoists operate a vast illicit taxation network which relies on the exploitation of tribal lands by industry and mining companies.

So, in effect, the government, by authorising this project is providing the Maoists with both a revenue stream and a support base which they can use in their war against the state. Umm… yeah. Good thinking.

Written by Michael

November 16, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Helping the Insurgency- One Human Rights Violation at a Time

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salwa+judum+cannon+fodder

The Asian Centre for Human Rights has released its 2009 report on India. It can be found here.

The report heavily criticises the conduct of the state in their war against the Naxalites. In particular, the government and security force’s conduct in Chhattisgarh, the epicentre of the conflict, comes in for a drubbing:

The security forces and the state sponsored civilian militia Salwa Judum cadres were responsible for gross human rights violations in the name of counter insurgency operations.

Of course, the standard line amongst apologists for a flawed counter-insurgency policy is to question the neutrality of organisations such as the Asian Centre for Human Rights. This may be a reasonable strategy when defending the indefensible, but it’s hardly convincing.

Much of India’s disjointed anti-Naxalite counter-insurgency strategy is counter-productive. Setting aside for a moment the morality of a scorched earth campaign (which is, in effect, the approach that has been taken in Chhattisgarh), such an approach doesn’t work in a country such as India.

Terrorising a population into submission and ensuring that the cost for individuals and communities who support insurgents is intolerably high can work, if it works at all, only in a more monolithic and authoritarian state. In a state like India, the terror can and always will be limited in scope and scale. The result is simply creating more resentment and fear, further boosting the credibility and the ranks of the Maoists.

Salwa Judum is a failure. The creation of SPOs is a failure. The forced re-settlement of Adivasi is also a failure. The government needs to be smarter and more flexible than the Naxalites. Of course, there are the two priorities of a unified response as well as smart development measures targeting areas at risk from Naxalism. Equally important is the deployment of flexible, highly mobile and disciplined troops who can respond to information gleaned both from real-time monitoring and the cultivation of so-called human intelligence. This will not be possible if the state alienates the population by sanctioning brutality against the innocent.