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TamilNet: India’s genocide of its own tribal nations

March 24, 2010

The following feature is reprinted with permission from TamilNet.

India’s genocide of its own tribal nations
©  TamilNet
March 24, 2010,  02:21 GMT

India had larger plans when it backed genocidal Colombo in the UN Human Rights Council. India is now embarked upon a greater genocidal war against its own tribal nations, picking up the footsteps of Colombo, making use of its partnership experience in crushing Eezham Tamils, exploiting the impotency of international community and encouraged by the electoral endorsement from Tamil Nadu. The precarious dimensions of the ongoing war in Central India, vividly brought out by Arundhati Roy in Outlook India this week, need careful study by all Eezham Tamils to devise apt political moves for them and for the benefit of entire humanity. The IC, Tamils in India and progressive Sinhalese have to realise that acknowledging Eezham Tamil independence is a test case in reconstructing State outlook that is messing up life in entire South Asia and in achieving wider solidarity of peoples in the region.

One of the grievances of Eezham Tamils at the height of war was about information sabotage in the Age of Information – how successfully the powers managed a war without witnesses, twisted the cause and came out with lies. Some Indian Ministers went on record on this ‘achievement.’

One of them, P. Chidambaram as home minister now, is commandeering a war in similar lines against the long-oppressed tribal nations of his own country and the world as usual is not caring in the name of state sovereignty.

In a setting where the Indian Establishment used Sikhs and Gurkhas to fight a war against Eezham Tamils in 1987, used Kerala diplomats to sabotage the Tamil cause and uses Tamil soldiers to fight Kashmiris and Assamese in the frontiers, it is not surprising that the Eezham Tamils and their diaspora is not paying enough attention to understand what is going on in Dandakaranya in Central India. This is the success of the Establishment ‘for the corporates, by the corporates, of the corporates,’ in the name of democracy.

Sections of Eezham Tamils may think that they are not tribals and the Indian Establishment will treat them differently by taking them as partners. So why jeopardize the Establishment by showing solidarity to the oppressed others? There are some who harp only on Tamil Nadu and don’t extend their vision beyond. There are also sections that believe sooner or later India will be forced to recognize Tamil Eelam due to China’s inroads into the Island. Some envisage that India will ’empower’ them by giving fresh ‘training.’

All of them have to carefully read what Arundhati Roy portrays in Dawn / Outlook India this week to realise that nothing is more important than Eezham Tamils evolving their own independent polity with wider and progressive outlook, to meet any unfolding eventuality.

Excerpts of the article “Walking With The Comrades” by Arundhati Roy appeared in Dawn and Outlook India this week follow:
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The deadly war that is unfolding in the jungle is a war that the Government of India is both proud and shy of. Operation Green Hunt has been proclaimed as well as denied. P. Chidambaram, India’s home minister (and CEO of the war), says it does not exist, that it’s a media creation. And yet substantial funds have been allocated to it and tens of thousands of troops are being mobilised for it. Though the theatre of war is in the jungles of Central India, it will have serious consequences for us all.

On one side is a massive paramilitary force armed with the money, the firepower, the media, and the hubris of an emerging Superpower. On the other, ordinary villagers armed with traditional weapons, backed by a superbly organised, hugely motivated Maoist guerrilla fighting force with an extraordinary and violent history of armed rebellion.

Each time, it seemed as though the Maoists (or their previous avatars) had been not just defeated, but literally, physically exterminated. Each time, they have re-emerged, more organised, more determined and more influential than ever. Today once again the insurrection has spread through the mineral-rich forests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal—homeland to millions of India’s tribal people, dreamland to the corporate world.

The Indian Constitution, the moral underpinning of Indian democracy, was adopted by Parliament in 1950. It was a tragic day for tribal people. The Constitution ratified colonial policy and made the State custodian of tribal homelands. Overnight, it turned the entire tribal population into squatters on their own land.

Over the past five years or so, the governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal have signed hundreds of MoUs with corporate houses, worth several billion dollars, all of them secret, for steel plants, sponge-iron factories, power plants, aluminium refineries, dams and mines. In order for the MoUs to translate into real money, tribal people must be moved.

Therefore, this war.

An article on the internet says that Israel’s Mossad is training 30 high-ranking Indian police officers in the techniques of targeted assassinations, to render the Maoist organisation “headless”. There’s talk in the press about the new hardware that has been bought from Israel: laser range-finders, thermal imaging equipment and unmanned drones, so popular with the U.S. army. Perfect weapons to use against the poor.

We passed the house of the Superintendent of Police (SP), which I recognised from my last visit. He was a candid man, the SP: “See Ma’am, frankly speaking this problem can’t be solved by us police or military. The problem with these tribals is they don’t understand greed. Unless they become greedy, there’s no hope for us. I have told my boss, remove the force and instead put a TV in every home. Everything will be automatically sorted out.”

They’re all Maoists for sure. Are they all going to die? Is the jungle warfare training school for them? And the helicopter gunships, the thermal imaging and the laser range-finders?

Why must they die? What for? To turn all of this into a mine?

Dandakaranya is part of what the British, in their White Man’s way, called Gondwana, land of the Gonds. Today the state boundaries of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra slice through the forest. Breaking up a troublesome people into separate administrative units is an old trick. But these Maoists and Maoist Gonds don’t pay much attention to things like state boundaries. They have different maps in their heads, and like other creatures of the forest, they have their own paths. For them, roads are not meant for walking on. They’re meant only to be crossed, or as is increasingly becoming the case, ambushed.

The PWG [Peoples’ War Group, earlier name for the Maoists] were not the first evangelicals to arrive in Dandakaranya. Baba Amte, the well-known Gandhian, had opened his ashram and leprosy hospital in Warora in 1975. The Ramakrishna Mission had begun opening village schools in the remote forests of Abujhmad. In north Bastar, Baba Bihari Das had started an aggressive drive to “bring tribals back into the Hindu fold”, which involved a campaign to denigrate tribal culture, induce self-hatred, and introduce Hinduism’s great gift—caste.

The first converts, the village chiefs and big landlords – people like Mahendra Karma, founder of the Salwa Judum – were conferred the status of Dwij, twice-born, Brahmins. But this counterfeit Hinduism is considered good enough for tribal people, just like the counterfeit brands of everything else—biscuits, soap, matches, oil—that are sold in village markets.

As part of the Hindutva drive, the names of villages were changed in land records, as a result of which most have two names now, people’s names and government names. Innar village, for example, became Chinnari. On voters’ lists, tribal names were changed to Hindu names (Massa Karma became Mahendra Karma). Those who did not come forward to join the Hindu fold were declared ‘Katwas’ (by which they meant untouchables) who later became the natural constituency for the Maoists.

The perennial problem, the real bane of people’s lives, was the biggest landlord of all, the Forest Department. Every morning, forest officials, even the most junior of them, would appear in villages like a bad dream, preventing people from ploughing their fields, collecting firewood, plucking leaves, picking fruit, grazing their cattle, from living. They brought elephants to overrun fields and scattered babool seeds to destroy the soil as they passed by. People would be beaten, arrested, humiliated, their crops destroyed. Of course, from the forest department’s point of view, these were illegal people engaged in unconstitutional activity, and the department was only implementing the Rule of Law. (Their sexual exploitation of women was just an added perk in a hardship posting.)

Eventually, the forest department fled. Between 1986 and 2000, the party redistributed 3,00,000 acres of forest land. Today, Comrade Venu says, there are no landless peasants in Dandakaranya.

For today’s generation of young people, the forest department is a distant memory, the stuff of stories mothers tell their children, about a mythological past of bondage and humiliation. For the older generation, freedom from the forest department meant genuine freedom. They could touch it, taste it. It meant far more than India’s Independence ever did. They began to rally to the party that had struggled with them.

With the redistribution of land came other responsibilities: irrigation, agricultural productivity and the problem of an expanding population arbitrarily clearing forest land. A decision was taken to separate ‘mass work’ and ‘military work’.

Today, Dandakaranya is administered by an elaborate structure of Janatana Sarkars (people’s governments).

In June 2005, Mahendra Karma [a tribal quisling of the government] called a secret meeting of mukhias in Kutroo village and announced the Salwa Judum (the Purification Hunt). A lovely melange of tribal earthiness and Dwij/Nazi sentiment.

The Salwa Judum was a ground-clearing operation, meant to move people out of their villages into roadside camps, where they could be policed and controlled. In military terms, it’s called Strategic Hamleting. It was devised by General Sir Harold Briggs in 1950 when the British were at war against the communists in Malaya. The Briggs Plan became very popular with the Indian army, which has used it in Nagaland, Mizoram and in Telangana. The BJP chief minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, announced that as far as his government was concerned, villagers who did not move into the camps would be considered Maoists. So, in Bastar, for an ordinary villager, just staying at home became the equivalent of indulging in dangerous terrorist activity.

It’s a scratchy recording of Mr Manhar, the then SP Bijapur, briefing a junior officer over the wireless about the rewards and incentives the state and central governments are offering to ‘jagrit’ (awakened) villages, and to people who agree to move into camps. He then gives clear instructions that villages that refuse to surrender should be burnt and journalists who want to ‘cover’ Naxalites should be shot on sight. (I’d read about this in the papers long ago. When the story broke, as punishment – it’s not clear to whom – the SP was transferred to the State Human Rights Commission.)

The first village the Salwa Judum burnt (on June 18, 2005) was Ambeli. Between June and December 2005, it burned, killed, raped and looted its way through hundreds of villages of south Dantewada.

About 60,000 people moved into camps, some voluntarily, others out of terror. Of these, about 3,000 were appointed SPOs on a salary of Rs 1,500.

The remaining hundreds of thousands of people went off the government radar.

In the slipstream of the Salwa Judum, a swarm of police stations and camps appeared.

The Maoists, for their part, realised that if they did not break that carpet security, it would amount to abandoning people whose trust they had earned, and with whom they had lived and worked for 25 years. They struck back in a series of attacks on the heart of the security grid.

The Salwa Judum had not just failed, it had backfired badly.

As we now know, it was not just a local operation by a small-time hood. Regardless of the doublespeak in the press, the Salwa Judum was a joint operation by the state government of Chhattisgarh and the Congress party which was in power at the Centre. It could not be allowed to fail. Not when all those MoUs were still waiting, like wilting hopefuls on the marriage market. The government was under tremendous pressure to come up with a new plan. They came up with Operation Green Hunt. The Salwa Judum SPOs are called Koya Commandos now. It has deployed the Chhattisgarh Armed Force (CAF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Greyhounds, Scorpions, Cobras. And a policy that’s affectionately called WHAM – Winning Hearts and Minds.

Significant wars are often fought in unlikely places. Free Market Capitalism defeated Soviet Communism in the bleak mountains of Afghanistan. Here in the forests of Dantewada, a battle rages for the soul of India. Plenty has been said about the deepening crisis in Indian democracy and the collusion between big corporations, major political parties and the security establishment. If anybody wants to do a quick spot check, Dantewada is the place to go.

Tata Steel and Essar Steel were the first financiers of the Salwa Judum.

The Maoists are not the only ones who seek to depose the Indian State. It’s already been deposed several times by Hindu fundamentalism and economic totalitarianism.

I feel I ought to say something at this point. About the futility of violence, about the unacceptability of summary executions. But what should I suggest they do? Go to court? Do a dharna at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi? A rally? A relay hunger strike? It sounds ridiculous. The promoters of the New Economic Policy – who find it so easy to say “There Is No Alternative” – should be asked to suggest an alternative Resistance Policy. A specific one, to these specific people, in this specific forest. Here. Now.

When Charu Mazumdar famously said, “China’s Chairman is our Chairman and China’s Path is Our Path” he was prepared to extend it to the point where the Naxalites remained silent while General Yahya Khan committed genocide in East Pakistan (Bangladesh), because at the time, China was an ally of Pakistan. There was silence too, over the Khmer Rouge and its killing fields in Cambodia. There was silence over the egregious excesses of the Chinese and Russian Revolutions. Silence over Tibet. Within the Naxalite movement too, there have been violent excesses and it’s impossible to defend much of what they’ve done. But can anything they have done compare with the sordid achievements of the Congress and the BJP in Punjab, Kashmir, Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat…

As police repression has grown in Bastar, the women of KAMS have become a formidable force and rally in their hundreds, sometimes thousands to physically confront the police.

A lot of the rape and bestial sexual mutilation was directed at members of the KAMS. Many young women who witnessed the savagery then joined the PLGA [Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army] and now women make up 45% of its cadre.

Laxmi was one of the 150 guerillas who walked through the jungle for three and a half months in 2008, to Nayagarh in Orissa, to raid a police armoury from where they captured 1,200 rifles and 200,000 rounds of ammunition.

In 1986 it set up the Adivasi Mahila Sanghathana (AMS) which evolved into the Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan (KAMS) and now has 90,000 enrolled members. It could well be the largest women’s organization in the country. (They’re all Maoists by the way, all 90,000 of them. Are they going to be ‘wiped out’? And what about the 10,000 members of [the cultural group] CNM? Them too?)

“Indoctrination of young minds!” our corporate media howls. The TV advertisements that brainwash children before they can even think are not seen as a form of indoctrination.

There are two parallel systems of government here, Janatana Sarkar [peoples’ government] and Looti Sarkar [the government that loots].

When the Party is a suitor (as it is now in Dandakaranya), wooing the people, attentive to their every need, then it genuinely is a Peoples’ Party, its army genuinely a Peoples’ Army. But after the Revolution how easily this love affair can turn into a bitter marriage. How easily the Peoples’ Army can turn upon the people. Today in Dandakaranya, the Party wants to keep the bauxite in the mountain. Tomorrow will it change its mind? But can we, should we let apprehensions about the future, immobilize us in the present?

On the grounds I run into Comrade Doctor.

I ask him what it’s looking like, the health of Dandakaranya. His reply makes my blood run cold. Most of the people he has seen, he says, including those in the PLGA, have a Haemoglobin Count that’s between 5 and 6, (when the standard for Indian women is 11.) There’s TB caused by more than two years of chronic anaemia. Young children suffer from Protein Energy Malnutrition Grade II, in medical terminology called Kwashiorkor. (I looked it up later. It’s a word derived from the Ga language of Coastal Ghana and means “the sickness a baby gets when the new baby comes.” Basically the old baby stops getting mother’s milk, and there’s not enough food to provide it nutrition.) “It’s an epidemic here, like in Biafra,” Comrade Doctor says, “I have worked in villages before, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Apart from this, there’s malaria, osteoporosis, tapeworm, severe ear and tooth infections and primary amenorrhea – which is when malnutrition during puberty causes a woman’s menstrual cycle to disappear, or never appear in the first place.

“There are no clinics in this forest apart from one or two in Gadchiroli. No doctors. No medicines.”

He’s off now, with his little team, on an eight-day trek to Abhujmad. He’s in ‘dress’ too, Comrade Doctor. So if they find him they’ll kill him.

I think of what Comrade Venu said to me: they want to crush us, not only because of the minerals, but because we are offering the world an alternative model.

It’s not an Alternative yet, this idea of Gram Swaraj with a Gun. There’s too much hunger, too much sickness here. But it has certainly created the possibilities for an alternative. Not for the whole world, not for Alaska, or New Delhi, nor even perhaps for the whole of Chhattisgarh, but for itself. For Dandakaranya. It’s the world’s best-kept secret. It has laid the foundations for an alternative to its own annihilation. It has defied history. Against the greatest odds it has forged a blueprint for its own survival. It needs help and imagination, it needs doctors, teachers, farmers.

It does not need war.

But if war is all it gets, it will fight back.

I met Chamri, mother of Comrade Dilip who was shot on July 6, 2009. She says that after they killed him, the police tied her son’s body to a pole, like an animal and carried it with them. (They need to produce bodies to get their cash rewards, before someone else muscles in on the kill.) Chamri ran behind them all the way to the police station. By the time they reached, the body did not have a scrap of clothing on it. On the way, Chamri says, they left the body by the roadside while they stopped at a dhaba to have tea and biscuits. (Which they did not pay for.) Picture this mother for a moment, following her son’s corpse through the forest, stopping at a distance to wait for his murderers to finish their tea. They did not let her have her son’s body back so she could give him a proper funeral. They only let her throw a fistful of earth in the pit in which they buried the others they had killed that day. Chamri says she wants revenge. Badla ku badla. Blood for blood.

The government is quite wrong if it thinks that by carrying out ‘targeted assassinations’ to render the CPI (Maoist) ‘headless’, it will end the violence. On the contrary, the violence will spread and intensify, and the government will have nobody to talk to.

They are thrilled that someone from Delhi is with them. I tell them Delhi is a cruel city that neither knows nor cares about them.

[End.]

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