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Home > Human Rights > How not to fight Maoism

How not to fight Maoism

by Praful Bidwai, 10 October 2011

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The News, October 08, 2011

The Chhattisgarh police seem to have lost all sense of decency, legality, and even sanity. The Supreme Court’s recent judgment ordering the disbanding of the state-sponsored anti-Maoist (Naxalite) Salwa Judum militia has had no effect on their obsession with crushing the Maoist movement by force.

Last month, they arrested a young Adivasi (tribal), Lingaram Kodopi, in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. Last week they raided the house of Kavita Srivastava, the national general secretary of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), in Jaipur.

The raid was conducted in a thuggish manner by 40 policemen, who forced their way into the house, ransacked it and took away various objects, without showing them to the residents, and without producing a search warrant or identity proof in advance. Such harassment of a well-known human rights defender is a grave offence. The police said they had firm information that a key Naxal sympathiser from Dantewada, Soni Sori, was hiding in Srivastava’s house. They were wrong. Sori was arrested the next day in Delhi.

Now, Sori is the aunt of Kodopi who, the police claim, was caught red-handed in a village market collecting a Rs15 lakh bribe from the Essar business group for the Communist Party-Maoist. Sori was also arrested, say the police, but escaped. According to eyewitnesses, Kodopi was picked up from his grandfather’s house in another village. By the police’s own account, the hardcore Maoists escaped. This defies credulity.

In fact, the whole thing sounds like a cock-and-bull story. Sori’s family is a victim, not a sympathiser, of the Maoists. In June, Maoists attacked their house, shot her father Madru Ram Sori in the right leg, looted valuables, and trussed up the entire family and took them to the forest, leaving Madru behind. (He is still in hospital.)

The family is also a victim of police excesses. In 2009, Kodopi was locked up in a toilet for 40 days, and forced to join Salwa Judum. He was released on a habeas corpus petition. But the police in July last year issued a statement claiming he was a senior weapons-trained Naxal commander who had replaced Azad, executed by the Andhra Pradesh police.

The claim appeared so laughable to all who knew Kodopi as a simple, politically untutored youth that the police retracted it. In reality, Kodopi worked with Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar, who ran an ashram in Dantewada until the police burnt it down by. According to Kumar, Kodopi was sharply critical of the Naxals. Kodopi seems to be an innocent caught between the Naxals and the police.

Kodopi soon enrolled himself as a journalism student near Delhi. Earlier this year, after the police set three villages in Dantewada on fire, he returned to Dantewada and video-recorded testimonies of the victims. He also appeared as a witness before the Indian People’s tribunal last year.

Kodopi seems to have been targeted for intense harassment and repeated arrest on trumped-up charges because he is an upright and honest citizen who knows Gondi, the local language, and the village and forest terrain, and because he has exposed police atrocities against innocent villagers.

This makes him “dangerous” in the same way as Binayak Sen, an outstanding public-spirited health activist and PUCL office-bearer, who too had documented the anti-tribal excesses of Chhattisgarh’s officialdom.

As for Sori, she was arrested when she visited a local police station last month with a petition seeking compensation for the attack on her family home in June. The police claimed, without citing evidence, that she was part of the Maoists’ bribery operation. She went into hiding and reached Delhi.

These incidents show how lawless the Chhattisgarh administration has become, and how insecure ordinary citizens feel against its predatory police. The state government has no intention of abiding by the Supreme Court verdict declaring Salwa Judum unconstitutional. It has passed a law creating an “auxiliary armed force” to “assist security forces in dealing with the Maoist/Naxalite violence”.

The Act says that notwithstanding “any judgment, order or decree of any court”, all those working as Salwa Judum’s recruits, called Special Police Officers, shall have “the right to remain at the post”. In fact, their salaries will be upgraded and they will be given six months’ training in using firearms and gathering intelligence.

Nothing could constitute a greater violation of the Supreme Court’s judgment. The SPOs can now return to their Chengiz Khan-style violence in order to “teach the Naxalites a lesson” and strike fear in the hearts of innocent civilians.

In this, the state government must have felt greatly encouraged by the Centre’s decision to file a review petition against the original judgment, which counselled that “the fight against Maoist/Naxalite violence cannot be conducted purely as a mere law and order problem to be confronted by whatever means the state can muster.”

The judgment added: “The primordial problem lies deep within the socio-economic policies pursued by the state on a society that was already endemically, and horrifically, suffering from gross inequalities. Consequently, the fight against Maoists/Naxalites is no less a fight for moral, constitutional and legal authority over the minds and hearts of our people.”

Instead of acting within the “gridlines” laid down by the constitution, the state will brutalise Chhattisgarh’s people even further in the name of fighting Naxalism. This is a recipe for the state’s total loss of legal and moral authority, and for the degeneration of governance into some resembling martial law, like in parts of India’s northeast.

Already, 15 helicopter gunships and large numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been inducted into the central-eastern Adivasi belt. Roughly 91,000 paramilitary personnel have been deployed, of whom 65,000 have already been trained by the Indian Army in counter-insurgency.

The army is itself monitoring the Maoist “threat”, according to a recently released WikiLeaks cable which quotes an “unusually candid” conversation between a US consular official and the present army chief VK Singh from February 2010, when he headed the Eastern Command.

None of this bodes well for India’s democracy. It is nobody’s case that the Naxalites or Maoists are a wholesome, democratic political current – despite their articulation of popular grievances and aspirations in India’s increasing skewed society, with its multiple deprivations and injustices. Added to this are the problems specific to the Adivasi belt and the plunder of its rich mineral and forest wealth, with the uprooting of tribals.

The Maoists’ strategy of overthrowing the Indian state through an armed revolution is utopian, and fails to recognise both the strength and value of democracy, and the armed might of the state.

Their methods, which include senseless violence, sometimes against their own cadres and followers (to enforce loyalty), as well as innocent civilians, are unworthy of those who want a social transformation. They also selectively collude with their declared “class enemies” like mining and industrial corporations and traders, and resort to extortion to raise resources.

However, the Naxalite problem cannot be resolved by the use of military/paramilitary force, but only by a combination of normal police methods and redressal of the genuine grievances which create cesspools of discontent, which the Maoists exploit. By stooping to the same lawlessness as the Maoists, the state risks losing its legitimacy, thus degrading India’s democracy.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi.

P.S.

The above article from The News is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use