Wednesday, 1 April 2020

The Naxalite Insurgency

Updated: June 21, 2014 12:56 pm

The genesis of the Maoist Naxalite insurgency lies rooted in the development and stratification of the Hindu caste system. As Hinduism evolved after the Aryan migration to India and the pastoral economy gradually changed into an agricultural economy, ownership of cultivable land generally remained restricted to the three upper castes of the Brahmin, Kshatriya and the Bania or Vaisya. The Shudra and the Scheduled tribes had to be content to work in the fields of the upper castes as labourers. Many of the Scheduled tribes were forced to retreat into the forests of the country and became hunter/ gatherers and hence came to be called Vanvasis or Adivasis.

It is after the Communist party was formed in Russia and the Indian Communist Party of India (CPI) was born that they began working among the Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes from 1946. They first operated in the Rangpur and Dinajpur districts of North Bengal and in the Telengana area of the princely state of Hyderabad in 1946. In both these districts the CPI workers found that the landlords had owned vast areas of land and the lower castes and tribes had to work as labourers on the lands of their upper caste land owners for minimal wages which was more often than not just one fifth of the produce that they produced by their hard toil. There were no Revenue laws then that determined how much land could be held by an individual. The CPI workers would request the land owners to part with some land to be given to the lower caste workers. When the owners refused, the CPI workers would organise the workers in areas far off from the few Police Stations in the district, surround the houses of the owners of agricultural lands and force the owner to part with some land and then distribute these lands to individual lower caste farm labourers.. Rough pattas for the land would be written and given to the labourers and sometimes the land owners would be forced to sign such land ownership documents. Sometimes their granaries would be looted and grain distributed among the poor labourers. The landowners would naturally report to the police later, who would then visit the area and reverse all the takeover of land by the labourers and arrest the laborers who had been given land, taken forcibly from the landowners.

The Constituent Assembly and its deliberations in 1950. Passing of the Ninth and Fifth Schedules.

The British who were ruling the country did not interfere in the land distribution system. In the run up to independence, the politicians elected to the Constituent Assembly after India got Independence discussed this issue in the Constituent Assembly and came up with two Schedules, the Ninth Schedule which dealt with the equitable distribution of cultivable land by enacting land ceiling laws and restricting ownership of cultivable land to specific limits and taking out the surplus land and distributing it among the landless labourers. As for the Adivasis, forest tribes who had been pushed into the forests of the country, the members of the Constituent Assembly discussed and passed the Fifth Schedule, which stated that the Scheduled areas that is the Forest Reserves of the mainland (excluding the Northeastern states that were covered by the Sixth Schedule) was to be administered by the Governors of the States by appointing a Tribes Advisory Council which was to consist of tribals from the concerned forest. The Governor was to report to the President of India on this. This meant that the State Chief Minister did not have any power to deal with the forests inhabited by forest tribes like the Adivasis!

Deliberate inaction by India’s Legislators and Governments of the Ninth Schedule and Fifth Schedule, except for Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal and Kerala.

Regrettably though all the States had passed land ceiling legislations by 1955, only three states enforced the land ceiling laws till date. These were Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal and Kerala, the latter two when Communist parties were ruling the two States in the mid 1960s. No other states in India have enforced the Land Ceiling laws that they had legislated by 1955.

As far as the Forests of India inhabited by the Adivasis, no Governor has ever established a Tribes Advisory Council under the provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution by selecting tribals living in the forests of their States in all these years since the Fifth Schedule was passed in the Constitution of India. This means that all the actions taken by the States through the Forest department in granting mining leases in Forests where Adivasis were living in their state since 1950 are illegal and unlawful and ultravires the Constitution of India!

In Jammu and Kashmir, the Chief Minister legislated Land Ceiling laws and executed them on the ground as most of the land owners were Hindus and tenant farmers were Muslims. The only two other States that executed the Land Ceiling laws legislated, were West Bengal and Kerala, both when Communist parties were ruling the State. By then the Communist party of India CPI had split and a Communist party of India Marxist (CPI M) had been formed In West Bengal. The Jotedars, as the land lords were called, tried to short circuit the Land Ceiling laws legislated by getting the revenue staff to fake land ownership records! Attempts to prevent landless peasents from getting land redistributed from jotedars by ruffians of the jotedars attacking peasents led to a rebellion

by the Communist cadres, who now split from the CPI M and formed an extremist faction- the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPI ML). This was led by Kanu Sanyal and Charu Mazumdar.

At the time when this revolution hit West Bengal, an independent revolution hit the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh organised by a CPI M leader Vempatapu Satyanarayana. In Andhra Pradesh, the State Government, though Land Ceiling laws were legislated by 1955, did not implement these laws. Vempatapu Satyarayana’s revolution was against the odds of the Government not implementing the laws that their State Assembly had passed in 1955.

Tribals or as they were locally called Girijans constituted about 70% of the population of Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh situated on its northeastern edge, a district of rolling hills of the Eastern Ghats, extensively wooded and with few roads. The British had generally not interfered with the state of cultivable land distribution and the rights of the tribals living in the forests of India. The only exception to this was in Srikakulam district, where the British Collectors found that the upper caste land owners and the Vaisya traders were cheating the simple Girijans of Srikakulam district. They passed executive orders that in the Agency areas of this district, where Girijans were in a majority, caste Hindus could not own land. Unfortunately, though this order was well meaning, it was observed more in the breach than as per the directions of the order. The situation after independence and the passing of the Indian Constitution in 1950 was however very different.

After debates in the Constituent Assembly the Constitution of India was passed. What concern us with respect to the Maoist insurgency are two Schedules of the Constitution-the Fifth and the Ninth Schedule.

THE FIFTH SCHEDULE OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA

Part A. General.   The Governor of each State having scheduled areas therein shall annually or whenever so required by the President make a report to the President regarding the administration of the Scheduled areas and Executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of directions to the State as to the administration of the said area.

ADMINISTRATION AND CONTROL OF SCHEDULED AREAS AND SCHEDULED TRIBES

There shall be established in each State having Scheduled Areas therein, and if the President so directs, also in any State having Scheduled Tribes but not Scheduled Areas a Tribes Advisory Council consisting of not more than twenty members three-fourths shall be the representatives of the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly of the State. Provided that if the number of representatives of the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assembly of the State is less than the number of seats in the Tribes Advisory Council to be filled by such representatives, the remaining seats shall be filled by other members of those Tribes.

THE NINTH SCHEDULE OF THE CONSTITUTION

This Schedule lists the list of Land Ceiling Acts passed by the different States of India in pursuance of Article 31 of the Constitution of India which deals with the compulsory acquisition of property by the State.

The Srikakulam uprising of Girijans-1968. Girijans or local tribals comprised 70%of the population of this forested hilly district in the northeastern corner of Andhra Pradesh. This state was formed in 1956 by carving out Telugu speaking areas of the erstwhile Princely State of Hyderabad and part of the old Madras Presidency. Since long, the exploitation of the simple Girijans was done by the Vaisya traders who purchased the forest produce collected by the Girijans from the reserved forests of Srikakulam. The Vaisya traders generally loaned money to the Girijans and slyly inflated the amounts in their handwritten kathas. The Girijans did not know to read and write and taking advantage of this, the Vaisya traders inflated the figures of money loaned and when the Girijans expressed their inability to clear the loans, the Vaisyas generally seized the pieces of land that was being used by the Girijans to grow some crops. In this way most of the lands that were owned by the Girijans passed into the hands of the upper caste plainsmen. Where Girijans worked as labour in the lands of the plainsmen, they were paid subsistence wages. In 1967, one Vempatapu Satyanarayana an upper caste who had become a communist began to organise the Girijans. He began moving round with a band of Girijan followers and began forcing the upper caste land owners to pay better wages to the Girijans. As a result the landlords were forced to pay higher wages to the Girijan labourers. The movement was able to make substantial gains for the poor Girijans. Wages of farm servants rose, the landlord’s share of the harvest was reduced from 2/3 to 1/3. 2000 acres of land was wrested from the landlords and more than 5000 acres of waste land came under the possession of the Girijans. Then on 31 0ctober 1967 a clash took place between a group of Girijans going for a meeting of the Communist party Marxist and a group of landlords. The landlords had guns and they shot at the crowd of Girijans and killed two tribals. The Girijans were incensed and their movement became violent. Vempatapu Satyanarayana organised the Girijans into Guerilla squads or dalams. At this stage, the CPI M broke away from the parent body and became the CPI ML. Subsequently there was a series of raids on house of land lords and money lenders; their houses were burnt down and cash looted. There were a number of encounters with the Police. From December 1968 to January 1969 twenty nine policemen were killed in encounters with the dalams of the CPI ML. Charu Majumdar, the CPI ML leader from West Bengal visited Srikakulam and gave a fillip to the movement. During 1969, the Naxalites committed 23 murders and 40 dacoities all of upper caste landlords and their minions. On 11 May 1969, a landlord P. Jammu Naidu of Ethamanuguda was killed and slogans painted with his blood by the members of the dalam that killed him. He was a notorious landlord, who had grabbed the land of the tribals and forcibly taken the daughters of the tribals as his wives. When he was killed he had seven wives, two of whom were little girls he had forcibly taken from the tribals.

What is surprising is that the State Government sought police action as a reply to the rebellion of the tribal and scheduled caste peasents of this district. Instead of introspecting and seeing that the land ceiling laws were enforced in the district, the State Government deployed police force and crushed the rebellion. Vempatapu Satyarayana and several members of his dalams were killed in an encounter with the Police. Neither the politicians, nor their servile bureaucrats and Police officers spoke out on the caste atrocities on the scheduled castes and scheduled tribals of Srikakulam. Land ceiling laws were not enforced, nor was any Tribal Advisory Council formed in a district where the tribals were 79% of the total population. Till today there is a thunderous silence on this blatant violation of the Constitution of India and the law of the land.

PEOPLES WAR GROUP-ANDHRA PRADESH, MADHYA PRADESH AND MAHARASHTRA   

The Girijan awakening in Srikakulam had preceded the Naxalbari uprising in West Bengal. The Naxalbari insurgency had broken out in West Bengal, despite the fact that it was one of only three States that enforced the Land Ceiling legislation as per the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. In West Bengal, the Jotedars or landlords in order to get around the Land Ceiling laws enforced tried to conceal their land holdings by bribing the Revenue employees. This upset the landless masses who were waiting for the enforcement of the Land Ceiling orders. When they found the Jotedars trying to subvert the Land Ceiling legislation, they took the law into their hands and a rebellion of sorts was sparked off. This was controlled but the Land Ceiling laws were enforced in parts of West Bengal.

In Andhra however the upper castes were entrenched and after the uprising of Vempatapu Satyanarayana was controlled and the leaders killed in Police encounters, all the lands taken by the Girijans were returned to the landlords by the Government and the Girijans put in their place.

The creation of the CPI ML threw up another Andhra leader-Kondapalli Seetharamiah. He reorganised the scheduled castes and tribals in Telengana area –North Andhra Pradesh, particularly the wild area bordering Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. In ten years his Peoples War Group virtually controlled North Andhra Pradesh and the Police lost control of the area. The basic reason for the rise of this group was the continued exploitation of the tribals by the landlords and government officials specially those of the Forest Department. The tribals owning small pieces of land were expropriated and share-croppers impoverished. They were all kept under perpetual bondage towards repayment of a small debt supposedly taken generations ago. Forest wealth was freely smuggled out by contractors in connivance with the forest staff. The tribals got neither a remunerative price for their produce nor a fair wage for their labour.

The social dimensions of exploitation were far more revolting. The landlords of the region were commonly known as doras. C. Lokeswara Rao has described the high handedness of the doras. The tyranny of doras in Telengana was unmatched. Tribal girls working on the dora’s land were forcibly taken in his household and were at the disposal of the master and his guests. She was forced to have abortions when she got pregnant. Naxalite songs were replete with references to rape by landlords and to girls growing up with the knowledge of the inevitability of rape that awaited them.

Kondapalli Seetharamiah organised the scheduled castes farm workers and the Scheduled tribes in North Telengana and on 20 April 1980 formed the Peoples War Group (PWG). After a meeting of 30,000 tribals who had gathered for a meeting called by the Peoples War Group was disrupted by police and 13 Gond Tribals were killed in police firing Kondapalli Seetharamiah reorganised and soon had 50 armed dalams operating in the area. The police were soon outmatched and the PWG redistributed nearly half a million acres across Andhra Pradesh. The modus operandi was to forcibly occupy excess land of big land owners and give them away to the landless or to the labourers working for the landlord. As per the State Government’s own admission counter affidavit 58/82 filed by the State against unknown Naxalites, the radicals had forcibly redistributed 80,000 acres of agricultural land and 20,000 acres of forest land. The Court ordered the land to be returned to the landlords. The interesting question in this transaction was why the honourable judge did not go into the question of the first illegality of why the State did not enforce the Land Ceiling law passed under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution and how and why were the landlords holding such vast areas of land totally in violation of the Land Ceiling law passed by the State Government in pursuance of the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.

I happened to be posted in Andhra Pradesh at Hyderabad from 1986 to 1990 in the Central Bureau of Investigation. My batch mate was the then DIG Intelligence and I studied the Naxalite Insurgency in Andhra Pradesh then. I was asked to meet the then Revenue Minister of Andhra Pradesh by my batch mate when the Minister heard that I had been trained in Counter Insurgency and had some experience of handling insurgencies in the Northeast. When asked by the Revenue Minister how to solve this problem I answered that the problem could be solved easily and the solution was in the hands of the State Government. The Minister appeared surprised and leant forward asking me about the solution. I answered that the State should immediately enforce the Land Ceiling law legislated by the State. The Minister was taken aback and then angrily replied-”It is impossible to enforce the land Ceiling law.” Herein is the root cause of the Naxalite Maoist Insurgency. The State is not willing to enforce the laws of the land, because it will take away land from the upper caste landlords. This unlawful action of the Government has created the space in which the Marxist and now the Maoist party has moved in and taken up the fight against an unlawful and illegal government.

CREATION OF THE GREYHOUNDS A COUNTER INSURGENCY FORCE OF THE STATE GOVERNMENT

The Andhra Police had virtually lost control of the Telengana area. It was at this stage that they planned to create a special force to tackle the Naxalites, mainly the Peoples War Group. They managed to reemploy a specialist in Guerilla warfare who had just retired from service after being the Chief Instructer in Guerilla warfare in a Central organisation. This force was raised and made a dent in countering the PWG group. The specialty of this force was its superior training in field craft and tactics of Guerilla warfare.   They were able to beat the Naxalites in field craft and tactics and within a year’s time the PWG cadres had retreated to Chattisgarh across the northern borders of Andhra Pradesh.

The only factor which no one in the State or the Central Government talked about was that the injustice meted out to the Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribals was not touched. No Land Ceiling reforms were even thought of, nor was a single Tribes Advisory Council set up. The Centre always lauds the success of the operations done by Andhra Pradesh, but they do not speak of the unlawful continuation of not enforcing the Land Ceiling law, nor the unlawful dealing of Scheduled areas by the State Government bypassing the creation of the Tribes Advisory Council! In Andhra today there is a deathly silence in the areas where the scheduled castes and tribals live. Most of the tribals in north Telengana have migrated to Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

THE SITUATION IN ODISHA

Orissa has a Scheduled Tribal population of 81.45 Lakhs which is 22.13 % of the total population. Right from independence no Governor has touched the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution to see that the Tribals form Advisory Councils and decide the development of their scheduled forest areas. The State Government has with impunity leased Scheduled forest areas to companies for mining and evicted the tribals from those areas. The Communists occupied the space vacated by the State Government in violating the Fifth Schedule and leasing tribal lands to mining companies and evicting tribals from their forests where they had been living for thousands of years.

The Communists moved into the vacant space created by the State Government by their illegal and unlawful actions and organised the tribals and began fighting a war against the State Government. Recently in a TV programme conducted by a National TV Channel when some Policemen were kidnapped by the Maoists, when confronted by the author about the willful bypassing of the Fifth Schedule, an Orissa Member of Parliament admitted that they had to see that the Fifth Schedule is implemented. But for this solitary candid admission, the State and the Centre have been maintaining a thundering silence on this issue. They only talk of combating the Maoists.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION FOR THE NAXALITE MAOIST PROBLEM

The Governments both State and Centre have to admit that in all these years they have been unlawful and illegal in not implementing the Fifth Schedule and not enforcing the Land Ceiling under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution. Once they do this they should tackle this issue on two fronts. For implementing the Fifth Schedule, they should in all cases in which they have granted mining leases to Companies for mining, immediately convene Tribes Advisory Councils of the Tribals who had inhabited the scheduled area concerned and then ask them to decide what they wish to do with the mining lease. They should also recompense the tribes concerned whose land they had leased to the mining companies. The mining companies concerned should now deal with the Tribes Advisory Council concerned. Once all such unlawful and illegal transactions have been handed over to the Tribes Advisory councils formed after compensating them for the losses caused to them, the State should scrupulously follow the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution in all such future transactions. During the course of reversal of such deals, the Central Para Military Force deployed in the area should now be deployed to protect the Tribals and the Tribes Advisory Council against any wrongdoing by the mining companies concerned and also prevent the Maoists from trying to contact the tribals of the concerned Scheduled areas where the illegal actions are now being reversed.

As far as land is concerned, they should deploy the CRPF which has so far been deployed against the Tribals and Scheduled caste farmers to see that the Revenue officials enforce the Land Ceiling law of the State and ensure that all surplus agricultural land is taken away from the upper castes which they were holding in violation of the Land Ceiling law. Once this is done the tribals will know that the Central Para Military forces can also fight on the right side of the law. They will never lay mines for them or ambush them. Of course it is possible that upper caste landlords may try to ambush the Para military forces or lay mines for them. This I am sure that the Para Military forces will be quite capable of looking after themselves.

This is the only legal step forward. The million dollar question is-Has the Government Central and State got the courage to do as suggested? I am sure that any lawful and sensible citizen of India will agree that this solution is absolutely legal and correct! This will also leave the Maoists high and dry. They will have neither cause nor foot soldiers to form their cadres!

The present party in power was the one that constituted the Constituent Assembly that framed the Constitution of India in 1953. They passed the Fifth and the Ninth Schedules, both of which were not touched by the two parties that have held power in India since then. Can we expect that the party that wins the present election will finally implement the Fifth and Nineth schedules of the Constitution and give justice to India’s lowest castes and tribals who have been denied their rights enshrined in the Constitution for the last sixty odd years?

By E N Rammohan

(The writer is former Director General, BSF)

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