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War in the making

Aug 24, 2009

A classic capitalistic battle is being staged in Chhattisgarh in central India as the state agencies connive with corporates to drive tribals away from land rich in natural resources. Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar fights to rehabilitate people displaced by the state-backed Salwa Judum.

Vrechhapal is a village of 140 tribal families in the forests of south Chhattisgarh. Near this village, the state government has given “prospecting licenses” to the Tatas and the Essar Group to mine iron ore.

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In the last four years, the local police and the Salwa Judum, the police-backed tribal militia, have destroyed this village several times, but the villagers have returned each time to rebuild their lives.

On June 28 this year, policemen and Judum goons attacked the village again, shooting dead a man, raping a woman, and burning down 40 houses.

Ten days later, when three human rights activists – Delhi School of Economics professor Nandini Sundar, Osmania University professor JP Rao, and Institute of Rural Management professor Ajay Dandekar – visited the village with my co-activist Kopa Kunjam, the Judum attacked their jeep and nearly set it on fire.

"Terrified villagers picked up the bow and the arrow in self-defence. The Indian Government now calls them Maoists!"

We at the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) wrote to the police condemning the attack on the village. We also notified them that we would be reaching rice to Vrechhapal as the police had burnt down its agricultural produce.

This angered the police. On August 9, hordes of policemen attacked and occupied the village. The terrified residents ran to the hills to hide. The police shot and killed a villager and later rounded up five innocent tribal people, including a woman, from other villages. When the police left Vrechhapal two days later, they shot and killed all in cold blood.

Dantewada Superintendent of Police (SP) Amaresh Mishra later claimed his men had killed six Naxals in a fierce encounter. But newspaper photographs showed the dead “Naxals” with their hands tied behind. The police said two bodies, including the woman’s, were washed away. But villagers found the two bodies with deep injuries, with the woman’s neck tied to a big stone.

Court to court

Meanwhile, we struggle still to bring justice to six women raped by Judum policemen and now camping at our Ashram in Dantewada city.

They first wrote to the SP asking that FIRs be filed against their rapists. The SP failed to respond. Then they approached Chief Judicial Magistrate Sanjay Kumar Soni at Dantewada. But he ordered them to go to Konta, 140 km south of Dantewada, a township that is a brute Judum stronghold. Soni asked them to go plead before a Judicial Magistrate, whose job it is to register the case but who doesn’t have the legal authority to try the rape cases.

Braving the Judum terror, these women went to Konta and filed written complaints before this Magistrate, Amrit Kerkatta. But he decided their written testimony wasn’t enough and ordered they give oral testimonies. Then he took another day to hear the testimonies of their witnesses such as their parents. Then he fixed a date to hear their lawyers. But he did not attend court on that day, nor on the next.

So these women filed a petition before Dantewada District Judge, Sharad Gupta, urging him to hear the case. He has rejected their application, we don’t yet know why.

These women are running from one court to another to get a case registered, although the law says a woman’s complaint of rape is enough to register a case.

Genocide

The truth is that the government has decided to drive the tribal people out of their lands and steal their natural resources, and the state agencies – politics, bureaucracy and judiciary – are conniving in the atrocities.

"Many of today’s economic superpowers – from the US to Australia – are founded on genocides of indigenous peoples"

The launch of the Salwa Judum in 2005 wrought a massive upheaval in Dantewada as the police and the Judum began killing hundreds and rape thousands, and burn down villages.

Terrified villagers picked up their traditional arms, the bow and the arrow, in self-defence. This is exactly what the Indian Government wanted. It now calls them Maoists! And it plans to decimate them by way of genocide.

This carefully planned conspiracy is a historical process. Many of today’s economic superpowers – from the US to Australia – are founded on genocides of indigenous peoples. The Indian Government now aims to kill the indigenous people in Chhattisgarh because they are sitting atop vast reserves of some of India’s best quality iron ore that is 70 percent pure, as also atop 90 percent of India’s tin deposits, besides plentiful rubies and mica.

The saddest part is that it is a democratic set-up that is planning to kill the tribal people, and India’s vast middle class backs the State. I don’t know how India will ever redeem itself from this sin. And once we get into the habit of killing the weaker among us, then the cycle will never end.

Tomorrow we will kill the Dalits, then the minorities, and then the people of the villages. This would be social Darwinism.

State harrassment

THE VCA decided to counter the government’s evil plan. We began bringing people back to the villages the Judum burnt down. This work meets with a Supreme Court order that makes it mandatory for the state government to rehabilitate all the tribal people the Judum violence displaced.

"Innocent and poor young men will die on both sides – one working for the State only for a living, and the tribal, defending his land"

The apex court has also ordered the government to investigate allegations of Judum violence, prosecute the offenders, and pay compensation to the victims. The Chhattisgarh Home Secretary gave an undertaking to the court its orders would be met. Of course, not one case has been filed or compensation given, because it is the police that are the culprits.

On the other hand, the government has stopped all civic services to the tribal areas. By doing this, they are forcing the villagers towards the Naxals. Whereas prior to the start of the Judum the Naxals here numbered only about 5,000, their mass base may now count up to one lakh.

If the security agencies indeed launch a massive attack as the Centre is planning, then they are unlikely to find many Naxals but would certainly end up killing thousands of innocent tribal people. And this is bound to send millions more towards the Naxals.

Even if the government occupies the tribal lands, the Naxals will launch guerilla attacks and kill many jawans. In this way, the classic capitalistic battles will see innocent and poor young men die on both sides – one, working for the State only for a living, and the other, the tribal, defending his land.

Of course, the State can’t afford to have the VCA unravel its plans. So district and police authorities began harassing our volunteers, disrupting our work, stopping our supply vehicles.

On July 30, the police arrested one of our volunteers and charged him with being a Naxal planner. I phoned and asked the SP, why have you arrested him? He said: Don’t question us. Days earlier, police swooped down on Kopa Kunjam’s house, and beat him and his mother severely, threatening to kill him if he didn’t dissociate himself from me. For the security establishment in Chhattisgarh, I must be done away with.

But my choice is already made. Mahatma Gandhi said that young people should go live among the tribal people and die among them.

I am a non-tribal and I came to this land 17 years ago. I have since lived among the tribal people. I will surely die here, just as the tribal people will die here. Until I die, or until I am imprisoned, I will keep resisting the State’s brutal war against its own defenceless tribal people.

Source : Tehelka
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