Friday, December 25, 2009

Adivasis and the Maoists: few thoughts from an outsider

Gandhian social worker Himanshu Kumar has recently delivered a talk at the Mumbai Press Club after his NGO Vanvasi Chetna Ashram in south Bastar’s Dantewada was bulldozed by the Chhattisgarh government. Hailed by other NGO associates as their ‘only hope’ in Dantewada, the mainstream media has given wide publicity to this incident and has tried to put up Himanshu Kumar as a worthy victim of a repressive State. In the incisive talk, the Gandhian has expressed his utter discontent about the State sponsored Salwa Judum and has categorically held the State of Chhattisgarh responsible for brutalizing its own people – the adivasis (indigenous people), in the pretext of eliminating the Maoists. He has resentfully spoken about how the State has forcefully evicted the adivasis from their natural habitat in the process of bringing their villages under the Salwa Judum fold and subsequently pushed the displaced villagers into makeshift relief camps – because “the Maoists had support among the adivasis”. Calling the Indian State’s much publicized Operation Green Hunt as an operation to ‘Hunt’ innocent adivasis, he has pointed out that the real intention of the government behind the operation is to lay the adivasi land – the mineral belt of India, to the MNCs. “The State talks of the violence of the Maoists, but it is the State which is violent”, he has thundered. The Maoists, according to this now famous Gandhian, are the one “who supported the adivasis. That is why they regard the Naxalites as their friends.” He is also absolutely doubtless to declare that the awful situation in Chhattisgarh “is because of the State, not because of the Naxalites” where adivasis are held under perpetual fear and all the normal channels of redress are closed to them. The liberated zones, according to him, are actually “part of the State’s strategy” to generate a credible excuse for failure of governance in those areas. He has resentfully asked “how can peace come when you are all the time attacking the adivasis? Then you expect me to tell the Maoists, stop your violence.” (Source)

While Himanshu Kumar’s comments on the recurrent violence in Dantewada might sound like the same ‘chicken or egg’ fallacious argument currently clichéd by numerous discourses related to this subject, his fuming words regarding the repressive Chhattisgarh government and the Salwa Judum campaign cannot be straightaway disregarded. Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district is literally a Maoist hotbed. To combat the perpetrating violence, the Chhattisgarh government, apart from utilizing the state forces, has also initiated to shape a notorious vigilant force Salwa Judum by arming and training adivasis with guns and ammunition and recruiting them, including their children, as special police officers (SPOs) to fight their own people. This civil militia force is infamous for carrying out mindless atrocities against adivasis on the opposite side. Their activists have been responsible for many illegal activities and crimes including looting and burning villages, gruesome killing of innocents, torture and rape. While this counter-insurgency campaign has been strongly defended by both the centrist Congress and the right-wing BJP as a spontaneous ‘people’s movement’, in reality it has brought extreme suffering on adivasi life and livelihood by pitting adivasis against adivasis, as the executor and the victims, and creating a civil war like condition in the state.

To perceive a crisis which has its origins in socio-economic deprivation and backwardness only as a ‘law and order’ problem is a grave mistake. But the imperious Raman Singh government has precisely chosen to follow this mistaken path. Powered by draconian laws like the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) along with an exclusive possession over the legitimate use of forces, the BJP regime in Chhattisgarh has considered that a ruthless counteroffensive is the only solution to the problem. Instead of taking initiatives for a political solution, they started reacting with guns and bullets, went on sponsoring the Salwa Judum campaign and virtually converted Chhattisgarh into a police state which became a futile exercise to tackle the menace and have caused counterproductive effects. The Maoists could easily exploit the adivasis as a profound feeling of neglect, alienation and deprivation had already been settled among them due to the existence of acute poverty, severe inequality in living standards, intense exploitation and lack of economic prospects. The callous approach of the government has further augmented the situation by offering a fertile ground to the Maoists for spreading their red roots deeper into the adivasi heartland. Today the situation of Chhattisgarh has become a predicament from where there seems to be no way out.

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This blazing issue also puts forward several uncomfortable questions. Is it an assuring or a disturbing signal when a Gandhian working among the adivasis in Chhattisgarh for seventeen long years goes “soft on Maoist violence” and eventually starts transforming into a “Maoist Gandhian”? Are the compassionate feelings extended towards the adivasis and the sympathy extended towards the Maoists equivalent to each other? Is it appropriate to severely criticize the state sponsored violence but at the same time praise the Maoists for their efforts “to take on the violence of the ruling classes and its representative state machinery”? Can we overlook the fact that the Maoists have also committed an unlimited number of indescribable atrocities on innocent adivasis by either branding them as Salwa Judum activists or police informers? Is it a morally correct stand to support the cruel Maoists since we hate the brutal Salwa Judum? Should we then also start believing that we “can’t extract morality” when the clash is between “an army of very poor people” and “an army of rich that are corporate-backed”? Can we ignore the daily annihilation program that the Maoists have undertaken to eliminate the poor and ordinary rank and file rival political activists? In which army do these victims belong to? Should we carry the belief that the poor adivasis are fighting their own battle and the Maoists deserve sympathy because they have joined them in their fight as ‘true friends’? Are they really ‘friends’?

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To save their backs from the looming State onslaught, the Maoist leadership has chalked out elaborate plans and projects. They have expedited the work to build several escape corridors through Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand which includes strategic places to function as transit camps. (Source) With the assistance extended by the ‘useful idiots’ of Trinamool Congress they have now included three Jharkhand bordering districts of Bengal – West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia in their list. In exchange of the ‘premeditated support’ they have received from the Maoists in places like Nandigram and Lalgarh, the TMC has gleefully agreed to assist them without considering the dangerous ramifications.

Another brilliant plan has recently surfaced. In an interview with The Indian Express, the CPI(Maoist) central committee spokesperson Azad has provided details of their insightful battle strategy against the Central forces and said that “All our plans, policies, strategy and tactics will be based entirely on the active involvement of the vast masses of people in this war of self-defense”. Using the catch-phrase “relying on the sea of people in which we swam like fish”, the spokesperson has further emphasized that “The enemy class cannot decimate us without decimating the entire population in regions we control”. (Emphasis added) This appalling statement about how the ‘entire population in regions we control’ will be used as sacrificial lambs for safeguarding the invaluable lives of the Maoist leaders bares the real face of the so called ‘friends of the adivasis’. There is no lofty revolutionary moral embed with this statement. It is just a declaration of blatant treachery with the plain and simple adivasis who have wholeheartedly trusted them with all their passion and dedication. (Source)

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By living sheltered within the adivasi society, by acting as avengers and rousing the adivasi masses against elite repression, the Maoists have earned much admiration and support from them. They have also made themselves admirable in the eyes of many city-bred bleeding-heart intellectuals and academics who love to visualize them as ‘weapons of the weak’. Though the Maoists pretend as leaders of adivasi freedom, in real sense, they are nothing but an anarchic group with an erroneous ideology. It will be far more accurate to describe them as ‘social bandits’ – using the Eric J. Hobsbawm term. The learned academics may keenly argue that their paramount contribution is overturning a general assumption that the adivasis are only interested in livelihood issues and cannot get politicized. (Source) Here, the distinguished academics can be gently reminded that when the politics of a socio-political movement is fundamentally wrong, everything goes wrong. Instead of leading the adivasis towards socio-political freedom they have pushed then into a far greater danger. Their future is getting devastated almost beyond redemption by the politics of gun championed by the Maoists. They are not really ‘fighters for justice’ but merely another ‘power structure’ within the system. Therefore it will be a systemic blunder to glorify them as ‘revolutionaries’. The ‘strategy of the Protracted Peoples’ War’ is a falsehood. They need this war because war means business!

From many shady sections of our society there is an overwhelming display of compassion for the adivasis today. It is hard to distinguish how much of these compassions are genuine and how much is actually a pose or disguise of the Maoist sympathizers. If their concerns are genuine then they should stop romanticizing the Maoist social bandits as beacons of resistance and instead, start talking against their perilous plots in the same intensity in which they talk about the terrible State repression. They need to condemn both the sides equally for causing immense harm to the hapless adivasis like political and social activist Aruna Roy who has unambiguously expressed that, “anybody who indulges in violence or kills is a murderer, be it a policeman or a tribal person”.

The nonstop disgorgements of aesthetic, academic and theoretical jargon on this topic is incessantly making all of us perplexed. However, it has also made us particularly suspicious about the moral uprightness of some of our learned friends who have cherished to share the repugnant viewpoints of conspicuous Indian dissent Arundhati Roy. While passing a remark on the approaching State-Maoists conflict, the talkative ‘global justice activist’ has said, “You have an army of very poor people being faced down by an army of rich that are corporate-backed…..So you can’t extract morality from the heinous act of violence that each commits against the other”. (Source) Maoist sympathizers like Roy go on talking endlessly about a symbiotic relation between the adivasis and the Maoists. The same has been put in plain words, but differently, by the other Roy, Aruna: “The people have taken to this ideology because there is no alternative, or they see it as their best alternative. If you give them a better alternative, the people will go there.” She further continues, “For the tribals, the truth is that there is no choice, or very little.” (Source)

What is the way out from this gloom and grey? The primary task is to find out the alternative. It should be followed by asserting some tangible steps to facilitate a climate of justice, equality, freedom and peace. It is going to be another big battle; but a special one to fight. Winning this battle will depend upon the combined political will and commitment of the State and its people. But before everything, the Maoists must be separated off from the adivasi life. At the moment this is the most challenging task in front of the country.