The People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) notes with concern the sad loss of 30 lives in the Maoist attack on the “Parivartan Rally” of Congress Party on 25 May 2013. This is the latest in the series of killings, big and small, in the ongoing undeclared war that the Indian government is waging against our own people. Many of the victims of this war are poor adivasis killed in operations by the security forces, that the government assiduously attempts to hide from the public at large. But, as in the present instance, ruling party functionaries, security forces personnel and Maoist cadres have also lost their lives.
Since 2005, the PUDR and a number of civil liberties organizations have been consistently alerting the public to this escalating war against the poorest of our citizens. Between May 2012 and May 2013 there has been a six to eight times increase in the number of security forces operations being carried out in the Bastar division of Chhattisgarh. In every district no less than 10-15 operations were already being carried out each month. These are being conducted away from the prying eye of the media and civil liberties activists and civilian access to these areas is severely curtailed. On 17 May, ten days before the attack on Congress leaders, nine persons including three children were killed by the security forces in the village of Ehadesmeta.
While PUDR sees the killing of two people who were taken into custody in this instance as an act that cannot be justified and against the rules of war, there is a need to speak out about the role of parties such as Congress and BJP in launching Salwa Judum, which was designed to terrorise the adivasis of Bastar. Congress leaders like Mahendra Karma, the BJP led Chhattisgarh government and the UPA government patronized this murderous enterprise until it was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of India. While Salwa Judum may have formally ended, the elements which comprised the SJ including its leaders and handlers in the security establishment were either incorporated in the ongoing operations as regular forces or some of them chose to switch from being ‘hunters’ to ‘running with the hares’ with impending state assembly elections due in November. In any case, every attempt to prosecute those guilty of the heinous crimes had been frustrated by the governments in power. So the carnage that took place on 26 May was something, unfortunately, waiting to happen.
The governments have plainly connected the continuation of the ongoing war with the prospects of growth in national income. None other than Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared Maoists to be the single biggest internal security threat in 2006. Speaking to IPS probationers on 24th December 2010, he also explained the reason for the war: “Naxalism today afflicts the Central India parts where the bulk of India’s mineral wealth lies and if we don’t control Naxalism we have to say goodbye to our country’s ambitions to sustain growth rate of 10-11 per cent per annum.”
All doubts were laid to rest when government actions confirmed the verbal declarations. In Saranda forest of Jharkhand, once the Maoists were forced to pull back, the Forest Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests began clearing proposals of mining corporations to take over forests for non-forest use. It led Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh, to complain on 7 February 2013 that “I have been at great pains to counter Maoist propaganda that the Saranda Development Project is a ploy to benefit private mining interests. This Forest Advisory Committee decision is a huge setback and very retrograde” (8 February 2013, Indian Express, Delhi). The Union Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo complained to Hindustan Times (17 May 2013) that “my permission [is] not required nor my opinion is sought in matters relating to tribals. My voice goes unheard”.
On the other hand, legislations and constitutional provisions meant to safeguard tribals are being thrown to the winds. The fate of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), the showpiece legislation of UPA-I, ostensibly promulgated for empowering forest dwellers, is a case in point. Quite apart from its poor implementation, the core issue of Gram Sabha’s “consent” for non-tribal use of tribal land has been diluted not just in the name of “linear projects”, but in the Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh the government has concluded that under the FRA, Gram Sabha consent is required only to permit mining of minor minerals whereas major minerals such as bauxite and iron ore etc are outside their jurisdiction. Supreme Court’s latest order on Niyamgiri Hills narrows down the jurisdiction of Gram Sabhas by reducing and restricting the definition of impacted area to a radius of ten kilometers, when it is a known fact that livelihood and lives are affected across a much larger area.
It is this continued attack on lives and livelihood of people, threat of displacement from forest areas, dilution of FRA, PESA and complete indifference to Sixth Schedule compounded by the increasing restrictions on public protests, arbitrary laws to prosecute those who oppose their dispossession and bans on political opinion that is responsible for the civil unrest that pervades our society. It is this government that places the requirements of Foreign Direct Investment above the needs of our own people, and which attempts to ram down this “development model” with the barrel of a gun, that is at fault.
As the war is being scaled up it is also turning ugly. PUDR, therefore, urges all people to bring pressure on the ruling parties at the Centre and the nine state governments currently carrying out this war, to de-escalate the militarisation of this region and show a commitment towards dialogue. We hope that the deaths of 30 persons in the present instance and of hundreds of people in the past eight years are sufficient reason for people to recognize the absurdity of this war.
In the meantime, we ask the Government of India to shed its policy of deniability and accept that it is engaged in an internal war. And we ask both sides to abide by the rules that govern war by declaring its commitment to common article 3 of Geneva Convention and Protocol II, which applies to non-international armed conflict.
Asish Gupta and D. Manjit