Thursday, March 4, 2010

India: Appeal for talks with broader section of people’s struggles in the forest and mineral belt

Aditya Nigam, Dilip Simeon, Jairus Banaji, Nivedita Menon, Rohini Hensman, Satya Sivaraman, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar

In the light of the recent demands raised by sections of the intelligentsia urging the government to heed the CPI (Maoist) “offer of talks”, we insist that “civil society” should rather put pressure on the government to initiate talks with representatives of all struggling popular and adivasi organizations. The CPI (Maoist) cannot be treated as the sole spokesperson of all the people in the forest and mineral belt, convenient though this may be for the state and for that party. Does the government believe that violent insurgents are the only deserving interlocutors?

There is a common pattern to the emergence of Maoist violence in many areas. First a non-violent mass organisation like the Peoples Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) in West Bengal or Chasi Muliya Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) in Orissa arises in response to marginalisation, displacement or violence against tribals by the police and paramilitaries. Then the Maoists step in, attempting to take over the movement and giving it a violent turn. The state responds with even more violence, which is directed not only against the Maoists but also against unaffiliated adivasis. At this point, some adivasis join the Maoists in self-defence, their leaders like Chhatradhar Mahato, Lalmohan Tudu, Singanna are either arrested or gunned down in fake encounters and large numbers of unaffiliated adivasis are branded Maoists or Maoist sympathisers and arrested, killed or terrorised by the state. Clearly, Maoist violence in these cases obtains legitimacy because of the unbridled use of force by security forces and violations of the fundamental rights of the local people. On the other hand, the unilateral and doctrinal use of the language of warfare by one armed group obscures the political agency of the ordinary people who have had no say in this declaration. It also tramples on the human rights of the often desperately poor people who are obliged to seek a livelihood in organisations of the state. Furthermore, it is not clear that the CPI (Maoist) actually shares the rejection of this kind of “development” by the people of the area, or whether it only wants to wrest control of this process from the Indian state.

The counter-insurgency operations mounted by the central government in these areas has led to unprecedented bloodshed, massacres of civilian populations and rampant violations of constitutional rights in the area. The central government insists on treating the affected areas as a “war zone”, and has shown little inclination towards tackling the huge backlog of tribal oppression that has created fertile ground for such violence. It is also true that whenever the government has conceded space, the conditions for this have been created by mass movements, not by the military actions of the CPI (Maoist). For example, the decision by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to put on hold the agreements with Vedanta and Posco in Orissa due to their non-compliance with legal requirements for obtaining the consent of local adivasis, comes in the wake of sustained joint struggles by a range of political groupings.

We therefore urge all democratic sections to put pressure on the government to ensure that:

(1) Regardless of whether talks with the Maoists materialise, talks should immediately be initiated with those adivasis who are losing their land; and with representatives of the various mass-based organisations/mass movements, if necessary by securing their release from prison.

(2) round-the-clock security from attacks by both Maoists and state-sponsored groups and security personnel be provided to these representatives and their families, as well as to witnesses in cases like the Gompad massacre and their families;

(3) the grievances voiced by these representatives be treated with the utmost seriousness and addressed as soon as possible.

Maoist violence flourishes in the fetid atmosphere provided by the destruction of the rule of law and rampant human rights abuses by the state. If the rule of law is ensured in the forest belt and all democratic rights of the adivasis to freedom of association and freedom of expression, including the right of dissent to current “development” policies, are respected, and this dissent taken into account by the government, the Maoists will lose credibility and their deliberate use of violent methods, often designed to invite collateral damage, will lose any basis for flourishing in these areas.

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