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Opinion

Hard News: "Ground Zero and Troublesome Tribals"

As long as we act, either as legally appointed dacoits or as patrons bearing a new ‘white man’s burden’ in all the racist senses, we will remain complicit in genocide

Karen Gabriel and PK Vijayan Delhi

‘We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s graves behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care.’

– Letter of Chief Seathl, of the Suquamish tribe, to US President Franklin Pierce in response to the demand that they surrender or sell native land to the white settlers.

 

At about 8.00 pm on June 28, 2012, after the day’s ploughing and work, ‘tribals’ of three villages in the forests of South Chhattisgarh — Rajpenta, Kottaguda and Sarkeguda — assembled at their common earth shrine in Kottaguda to discuss the upcoming seed sowing festival, ways of helping families without cattle and widow-headed households. Sometime between 9 and 10 pm, the three parties of CRPF, SPOs and police who were on their way to Silger after receiving ‘deep intelligence’ about a proposed Naxal gathering there, surrounded the villagers and fired without warning. The firing lasted one hour. Sixteen people including six minors were killed that night: some by bullets and some by axe. Their bodies were taken away at night. The ‘Force’ camped in the grounds all night.

 

The next morning, they shot and then bludgeoned to death, Irpa Munna, 27, when he came out of his house. They arrested about 25 persons. Barring the body of Irpa Dinesh, father of four small children, who was alleged to be Somlu, a Naxalite commander from Korsaguda, the bodies of those killed were returned on June 29 evening. Some had been mutilated. They were cremated the next day. Villagers say that the paramilitary forces also stole approximately Rs 40,000, a mobile phone and a cycle.

Those killed from Kottaguda were Kaka Saraswati (12), Kaka Samaiyya (33), Kaka Ravul (16), Ram Vilas Madkam (16). Those killed from Rajpenta were Madkam Nagesh (35), Madkam Suresh (25), Irpa Munna (27), Irpa Dinesh (20-22), Irpa Narayan (52), Irpa Dharmaiyya (40-45), Irpa Suresh (10), Madkam Dilip (17). Those killed from Sarkeguda were Sarke Ramanna (25), Apka Mutta (16), Madvi Aitu (35-40), Kunjam Malla (12-15), Korsa Bichem (20). According to signed statements of surviving victims, at least nine were brutally assaulted and taken away by the forces; and at least six girls were molested and threatened with rape.

Since 2005, and for several years before that, unofficially, the Indian State has been undertaking a concerted armed campaign against alleged Naxalites/Maoists in Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and particularly, in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. The police of the various states have been working with central armed forces to ‘clear and hold’ the jungles off the ‘Maoist menace’, and approximately 2.5 lakh police and paramilitary personnel have been dedicated to this operation.

MoUs to the tune of trillions of US dollars have been signed from 1997 onwards for the minerals of this tribal land, revealing the close nexus between state action and heavy corporate interests. For instance, till September ’09, a sum of Rs 6,69,388 crore — 14 per cent of the total pledged investments in the country — was  in the troubled areas. In its January 2008 report, a 15-member committee on ‘State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reforms’, of the Union Rural Development Ministry, labelled the government’s own policies in the area as the ‘biggest grab of tribal lands after Columbus’.

Orissa and Chhattisgarh being hugely mineral rich states (Bastar has the best quality iron in the world), have become prime examples of “resource cursed” areas: areas where natural “wealth becomes a cause for a breakdown in social norms, leading to civil war (as in Chhattisgarh) and impoverishment (Orissa)” (Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, ‘Anthropology of a Genocide: Tribal Movements in Central India against Over-Industrialisation’). In fact, the massive displacement, loss of lives and livelihoods has led to much debate in the urban media on issues of the protective provisions of Schedule V of the Indian Constitution, national security and the Maoist agenda to overthrow the Indian State, Maoist violence and the death of security personnel, the sandwich theory (that the tribals are caught between the Indian State and Maoists) and so on. Some of these have been used to justify the ‘encounter’ or summary execution of avowed or alleged Maoists, and to stifle any interrogation of, dissent or protest against state excesses.

In fact, under the pretext of national security, the Congress-led UPA government (and the BJP-led regime in Chhattisgarh) has delegitimized and even criminalized protest and resistance to an unprecedented extent in order to facilitate an untrammelled culture of savage exploitation (of labour too). The shocking routinization of ‘encounters’ along with the official State censorship on independent reports of the ‘war’ in the ‘red corridor’ (e.g. the Chhattisgarh government’s 2005 Security Act banning independent reports on the Bastar war), are manifestations of the State’s growing fascism.

It also indexes a middle-class concurrence with highly reactionary forms of State nationalism

A consequence of all this noise and strategic silence is that some crucial questions have gone unaddressed and even overlooked, questions that came back with a vengeance after the Sarkeguda killings.