India Is Losing In Chhattisgarh
The cynics and vested interests have been portraying Chhattisgarh as a remote, underdeveloped, violence-ridden region, where tribals are exploited and live like primitive humans in sub-human conditions. There is also the impression that almost the whole state is torn by Maoist menace and is gasping under Maoist terror. If one were to read the situational map of the state, 12 out of 19 districts are depicted as Maoist impacted. The other imprint is that the state lies in the mineral-rich backyard of India with meager facilities and surface communications, and is ruled by callous governments and insensitive officials ever since the state came into being in the year 2000.
This author undertook a field trip to assess the Maoist menace as it bears on the state. It is true that parts of Chhattisgarh especially the southern and southeastern parts constitute the formidable epicentre of the Maoists. It is also true that parts of Chhattisgarh are ‘liberated zones’ as the Maoists prefer to call it. Nevertheless, it is also true that Chhattisgarh is picturesque, intrinsically tranquil state which abounds in forests and greenery. The people, tribals and non-tribals, who inhabit this land are progressive and peace loving. Surface communications and infrastructure in the state, if not the best, are better than that in many parts of the country.
This author traveled nearly 1500 km by day and night in the state and found thriving life, buzzing with movement and economic activity. The youth are educationally very conscious. Boys and girls attending schools on bicycles from morning to evening is ubiquitous site. On the national highways, in the Maoist-affected areas, there was no sign of fear. This was as recently as the first week of July at a time when the Maoists had called for a statewide bandh over the presence of army for training purposes in the state. The story becomes increasingly scarred the farther one moves away from arterial roads. The difference between Indian rule and Maoist rule is stark.
Maoists are destroying the soul
The Maoists are destroying the tranquility, sensibilities and the rich social fabric of the state. Wherever the Maoists have made inroads, they have destroyed the very soul of that area. They have done so in parts of Bihar, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. Chhattisgarh in this regard is the greatest victim. They have introduced the culture of violence to a set of people, who were most unsuspecting and innocent. They have destroyed the social fabric in Dantewada district and are doing so in other parts of the state as well—all for an ideology which aims at violent overthrow of multiparty democracy in India and supplant it with a one-party revolutionary regime.
In India, there appears to be a curse that all the regions, where nature and God has been bounteous in terms of climate and resources, are condemned to suffer violence in form of insurgency and terrorism. No other state has felt the heat of Maoism as Chhattisgarh in the last decade, particularly after the Maoist were imparted a devastating blow by Andhra Pradesh government. Consequently, they established their main base and stronghold in the southern part of the state in the forested and tribal Dantewada district. Located on the border of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, this district facilitated movement and growth of the Maoists.
The tribal do not understand any ism and least of all Maoism. The Maoist leaders of Andhra took advantage of the innocence and hospitable culture of the tribals of Dantewada. It may be mentioned that all top leaders of the Maoists operating in Chhattisgarh are from Andhra Pradesh. Therefore, Maoism being indigenous uprising in Chhattisgarh is a bogey. If it was so there would have been no requirement of Agnivesh, Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy or Nandni Sunder to make frequent travels to Chhattisgarh to ‘espouse’ the cause of tribals.
After making inroads into this wonderful land, the Maoist leaders graduated from assistance to motivation, to extortion. The tribals were made to part with substantial portion of agricultural and jungle produce by sheer intimidation and terror. It was when the leaders started terrorising families to provide young men and women for the guerrilla force that some hapless tribal revolted. They fell unequal to the Maoist terror and were forced to take shelter in some two dozen Salwa Judum camps. Some 650 villages were evacuated owing to Maoist violence. The lands of those who took shelter in the Salwa Judum camps have been captured by the Maoists and in the bordering areas with Andhra Pradesh three crops including the cash crop of chili are being cultivated by the Maoists, brining in lot of money.
The truth about Salwa Judum
This author paid a surprise visit to a Salwa Judum camp in Dantewada. Actually, the term Salwa Judum is misinterpreted, misunderstood and misquoted, as part propaganda campaign by the Maoist ideologues. Salwa Juddum means ‘peace march’. These are camps where the victims of Maoist terrorism have found shelter. The government has provided homes, agricultural land, electricity, education facilities, occupational training and above all security. One young man said that he owns ten acres of land back in his village, but cannot go back due to fear of the Maoists. He also said that the few crossing places on the Indrawati River, which was the dividing line between ‘Maoist territory’ and ‘government territory’, are dominated and controlled by the Maoists. The Maoist prevented people from going into the ‘government territory’. Many people began to starve because of this restriction as essential supplies began to suffer. Driven to the wall, they had no option but to take shelter in the Salwa Judum camp.
Salwa Judum therefore, as propagated by the Maoist ideologues, does not imply a set of armed people unleashed by the government on the Maoists. It comprises not only men, families as such, and in many cases livestock as well, displaced by Maiost terror. Yes, some of the young men from these camps joined as Special Police Officers (SPOs). They were recruited because for their knowledge of the ‘gond’ dialect, which is very complicated. It is further compounded by the fact that there are twelve sub-dialects. They were also recruited because of their expertise of terrain. They were motivated to join the force so that they could reclaim their property and honour. One official contended that if NGOs could participate with the government in many social and developmental activities, there was absolutely nothing wrong in taking assistance of volunteers for security of the people and the country at large. Are the victims of Maoist violence condemned to suffer in perpetuity like the Kashmiri Pandits? Since the Supreme Court order the fate of these 5,000 SPOs hangs in balance.
Maoism is not about development
The general impression that the most affected districts Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Baster, and Kanker are absolutely remote and remain bypassed by road penetration and infrastructure development. This is not true. One only has to travel on the main arteries to realise that the fruits of development are indeed reaching to the people at a respectable, if not substantial scale. The other impression that gets dispelled is that the entire area is not forested, but there are clusters. It may also be mentioned that there is no tribal family, which does not own land unlike some of their counterparts in other states. Besides, raising of livestock, because of the existence of reserve forests is almost free. In comparison, the upkeep of a cow in Bihar or Bengal, costs between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500. The reserve forests also provide free fuel.
Ironically, there were two District Magistrates, who did not encourage government penetration and development to take place in the Dantewada region on the plea that the culture of the ‘Gonds’ should be kept in its pristine form. Recently, one of them has submitted a memorandum to the Governor that no development has taken place because of government apathy. Allegedly another Maoist supporter, who is now a member of the National Advisory Council, was the District Magistrate of Dantewada. These two gentlemen are accused by many of deliberately facilitating inroads by Maoists in the region.
One District Magistrate of the same tribal extraction said that development can never be simultaneous. It travels. It traveled at a slow pace after independence because there was no money, but now when there is plenty of money, the Maoists are not allowing development activity to take place. They have bombed a large number of schools and hospitals. Teachers are reluctant to attend schools. There are no contractors to undertake infrastructural projects because of the fear and demands of Maoists which raises the cost factor. The Maoists raise the extortion rate by destroying construction and building equipment so that the contractors bid for larger sums of money and share a substantial portion with the Maoists. Notwithstanding the Maoist threat, the state government has been able to implement PDS scheme better than any state in India. The government has been able to install one hand-pump for every cluster of four houses. Wherever the government has acquired land, it has done so at the rate of Rs eight to ten lakh per acre, while the market rate is between Rs 40 and 50 thousand only.
SALWA JUDUM FIGHTING AGAINST MAOIST ATROCITIES
Salwa Judum (meaning “Peace March” in Gondi language) refers to a militia in Chhattisgarh, which is aimed at countering the Naxalite violence in the region. In June 2005, villagers from Bijapur district had to abandon their land and flee from Maoist terror. Those who opposed the Maoists took shelter in nearby ashrams and schools and the village Kutru became the centre of the movement. Meetings were held almost every day to persuade the lower-cadre Maoists to live a peaceful life. In fact, scores of such Maoists surrendered. These gatherings were often attacked by the Maoists who had never witnessed opposition from the people whose support they enjoyed for almost three decades. This continued for more than a month until the villagers felt the need of a leader and Mahendra Karma, a tribal leader of the region, joined the movement, naming it “Salwa Judum”, a Gondi word meaning “people’s peace movement”. Apart from holding relatively large meetings, releasing anti-Maoist posters and pamphlets and maintaining vigils at the local level, the campaign also targeted tribals who were considered Maoist supporters. Initially an uprising of local indigenous people in Chhattisgarh, the Salwa Judum movement later received bipartisan support from both the opposition and ruling parties. A few years later the state government adopted the Salwa Judum movement in order to restore democratic rule to the regions where the Naxalites had established themselves by force. Chhattisgarh state has over the years trained a number of SPOs or “Special Police Officers” (also popularly referred to as Koya commandos), from amongst the tribals, who are part of Salwa Judum in the state. Also with its formation, the state witnessed a marked rise in success against Naxalite action, as a result in 2008, Chhattisgarh along with neighbouring Jharkhand accounted for over 65 per cent of the total Naxal violence in the country.
With success of counter-strikes on Naxalite hideouts in south Chhattisgarh, Maoist activities in the bordering districts of Odisha saw a rise in 2008, thus in February 2009, the Central government announced its plans for simultaneous, co-ordinated counter-operations in all Maoist extremism-hit states—Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, UP and West Bengal—to plug all possible escape routes of Naxalites.
The Chhattisgarh state Police employs tribal youths as SPOs, who are essentially 4,000 youth, both ex-Naxalites and those drawn from Salwa Judum camps in the Bastar region, who are paid an honorarium of Rs 1,500 (Rs 3000 in 2011) per month by the state government, and were trained with mostly .303 rifles.
Encouraged by the highly positive results of the movement in the region, the government planned to launch a people’s movement in insurgency-hit state of Manipur on similar lines. In 2006, Karnataka raised a similar force employing tribals youths to fight Naxalism in the state, as did Andhra Pradesh, prior to it Jharkhand is another state that has been successfully using SPOs to counter Leftwing terrorists.
The Supreme Court-appointed NHRC investigation into Salwa Judum had justified government-sponsored arming of civilians by calling it a “spontaneous revolt of the tribals against years of atrocities and harassment suffered by them at the hands of Naxalites”. The 118-page report, submitted to SC in 2008, also dismissed most of the allegations of human rights abuses made by the petitioners in the apex court, including widely reported use of minors by Salwa Judum. Instead, the report was harsh on Naxalites for human rights abuses and sees action by Salwa Judum activists through the prism of necessary retaliation.
The report says that 15 years after Jan Jagran Abhiyan, an earlier attempt to deal with Naxalites, “local tribals once again mustered the courage to stand up to the Naxalites, which only goes to show their sense of desperation”.
This author met four District Magistrates of the Maoist affected districts. They undoubtedly are dedicated and sensitive to the welfare and demands of the people. They are flush with funds. They are desperate to bring development and reach out to people. In the midst of Maoist terrorism, they do not let even a small window of opportunity to go by. They demonstrated the will and capability to turn these areas in the ‘most developed’ category if the Maoists permit them. The Maoists will not. The two most dreaded issues for the Maoists are development and the rise of a countervailing force. It explains the motivated campaign against Salwa Judum and some so called activists based in Delhi, having no locus standi, going to the Supreme Court for banning the SPOs.
Pernicious Security Situation
Chhattisgarh is the mirror of the tenor and import of Maoist terror as it rapidly consumes new areas. The state has witnessed this terror in all its manifestations and sophistication in form of Agnivesh, Binayak Sen and Arundhati Roy.
One senior officer lamented that Arundhati Roy and her ilk write book-sized articles, which are intriguingly carried by some well known weekly magazines, but not one page of these articles contained any suggestions as to how should the state overcome the Maoist terror, establish the Union’s writ and accelerate the development process, if that be the reason.
Chhattisgarh has also witnessed the international face of Maoists when some foreigners from European countries descended on Chhattisgarh to witness the trial of Binayak Sen. Binayak Sen was after all no international figure, therefore the support extended by nobel laureates who had received their awards in 50s and early 60s is even more suspect.
Mao had said that revolution is 70 per cent propaganda and 30 per cent armed strength. Chhattisgarh has been under vicious attack by both i.e. the armed cadres of the Maoists and their national and international propaganda missionary. They are defending their epicenter in Chhattisgarh with all their intellectual and armed might, and at the same time are expending to new areas.
For very long Chhattisgarh waged a lonely battle due to politicisation of Maoist terror. By the time the Center decided to abandon the partisan approach, the menace had become pernicious in all its dimensions. Despite the fact, that some 23 battalions of para-military forces are now deployed in the state, and despite the increase in police strength from 20,000 to 50,000 in the last five years, the momentum of Maoist terror has not been halted, it may have arguably slowed.
Maoists are making inroads into new areas. Their recruitment activity has indeed increased. This was acknowledged by several police officials at all levels that this author interacted with, and so did the bureaucrats in field and in the state secretariat. They were not only uncertain about the time period, but also not sanguine about the possibility of the threat being overcome in the foreseeable future. In India it is not usual for officials to express helplessness in such a manner. They were only reflecting the reality.
It is not their fault. The administrative structure and law and order machinery is not structured, and cannot be such, to fight an internal war. The police has its basic duties like crime investigation, FIRs, law enforcement, traffic control etc. Similarly, the para-military forces can only buttress the police, but cannot independently carry out counter-insurgency operations. They are professionally and psychologically not train for it. The average age profile of their personnel does not permit so. That is why no insurgency anywhere in the world has ever been defeated without the involvement of the army.
A senior officer in the Home Ministry of Chhattisgarh said that the people of the state living in the shadow of Maoist terror pray: “Hey Ishwar, in police walon ko itni shakti dena, ki bina hamari madad ke woh Maowadiyon ko mar saken” (O God, grant so much strength to the Police that it can eliminate the Maoists without our assistance). This reflects the dread of the Maoists amongst the common people. They want to help the police but cannot do so because that would entail the extinction of may be their entire family at the hands of the terrorists.
It is the sacred duty of the Indian state to salvage these people. Most District Magistrates in the Maoist affected areas did concede that there are many “no go areas” in the state. How can the Indian State brook an internal PoK or Aksai Chin?
By RSN Singh from Raipur