The oppressed people of India

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Map showing the districts where the Naxalite m...

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Editorial in The Nation

In a recent attack in Chhattisgarh, Maoists killed four Congress activists and injured several others. According to the Pioneer, the present incident is an indication that the left-wing extremists feel sufficiently emboldened to carry out such stunning raids following recent judicial verdicts that have come as a blow to counterinsurgency operations of the State government. It initially predicted that the Supreme Court instruction to the State government to disband and disarm the SPOs and put an end to the Salwa Judum movement, along with its earlier order granting bail to Maoist ideologue Binayak Sen, would give a fillip to ‘Red’ terror. According to the newspaper, “The Supreme Court’s needless intervention in affairs of state that are clearly beyond its jurisdiction has come as a big boost for Naxals. Maoists were and remain enemies of the state and unless they are dealt with in a manner that allows them no quarter they shall continue to press ahead with their sinister agenda.” It also pointed out several things that are controversial:

Firstly, the Supreme Court has a right to intervene where human rights are violated indiscriminately.

Secondly, no law authorises a State government to arm common people to combat the Maoists; this divides the society and leads it towards a civil war like situation. So if the court challenges an unlawful act of the Chhattisgarh government and asks it to disband the people’s militia, such as Salwa Judum and Koya Commandos, it does fall in its jurisdiction.

Thirdly, it is not the court’s decision that encouraged the Naxals to attack political figures; it is the sense of deprivation that is the motivating force. The Naxal movement has been triggered by a decade-long repression by the local administration and apathy by the federal government. Unless the underlying causes of the movement, such as social disparity, economic depravity and political exclusion are removed, India can find no peace.

Naxalites are active in the areas where the poorest of the poor live. Primary government facilities are practically absent in the Naxal infested areas. Infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world in the region, owing to malnutrition and hunger. Estimates suggest the infant mortality rate to be at 47 percent in the Naxalite affected regions of the country, a condition worse than Sub-Saharan Africa. So, despite being well aware of the reasons that are behind the rise of Naxalism, the Indian government is only depending upon force to end that problem. The government must understand that Naxals are alienated Indian citizens and once their grievances have been suitably redressed, their movement will come to an end. According to Arundhati Roy, “The people in India’s mineral heartland are tribals, who are the poorest of the poor, and the government’s war against India’s indigenous people is a frightening and unjust one.”

In 2008, an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission submitted a report called Development Challenges in Extremist-Affected Areas. It said: “The Naxalite movement has to be recognised as a political movement with a strong base among the landless and poor peasantry. Its emergence and growth need to be contextualised in the social conditions and experience of people, who form a part of it. The huge gap between state policy and performance is a feature of these conditions. Though its professed long-term ideology is capturing state power by force, in its day-to-day manifestation, yet it is to be looked upon as basically a fight for social justice, equality, protection, security and local development.”

Paul Wilkinson also notes: “Rebellions do not generally just fade away. They have to be put down ruthlessly and effectively, if normal life and business are to be restored.” India is blindly following this school of thought and is using force to crush this movement. Since its inception in 1967, the movement only sees coercion from the government side. Instead of addressing the real causes of Naxalism, the Indian government is implementing draconian laws to tackle the armed movement. The adoption of draconian laws such as new Special Public Protection Act to address the Naxalite armed movement is leading to serious human rights abuses. The Special Public Protection Act is a vague and overly broad law that allows detention of up to three years for “unlawful activities”. The term is so loosely defined in the law that it threatens fundamental freedoms set out by the Indian Constitution and international human rights law, and could severely restrict the peaceful activities of individuals and civil society organisations to investigate such allegations. Apart from Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the notorious Naga battalion, Special Police with totemic names like Greyhounds, Cobras and Scorpions are committing unconscionable atrocities in remote forest villages. The story does not end here, the Indian government supports and arms the Salwa Judum that has killed, raped and burned its way through the forests of Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh leaving 300,000 people homeless, or on the run.

The counterinsurgency strategy of the Indian government with Salwa Judum/Koya Commandos at its core has unleashed civil strife. Young people are becoming the fodder of militarisation; they are being recruited as SPOs to counter Naxalite violence. Their studies are being disrupted and they are not getting any training that would help them in the future. There is a need that the government respect the Supreme Court verdict and take steps to dismantle armed vigilante groups that commit human rights abuses.

Similarly, all state and national security legislation that does not provide for international standards of due process or fair trial or allows for prolonged and arbitrary detention should be repealed.

The Indian media should also show neutrality. Instead of serving the purpose of the government and projecting Naxals as terrorists engaged in futile and meaningless conflict against the State, it should highlight their miseries and demands.

India cannot finish off this menace through coercive methods and needs to tackle the causes of the movement such as poverty, landlessness and unemployment. The Naxalites are alienated Indian citizens and once their grievances are properly redressed, their movement will automatically come to an end.


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