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Archive for December 5th, 2007

IBN interview with Arundhati Roy on Taslima and Nandigram

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 5, 2007

Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. How do India’s leading authors respond to the treatment given to Taslima Nasreen over the last 14 days? That’s the key issue I shall explore today with Booker Prize- winning novelist Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy says Bengal govt's behaviour was 'ridiculously unacceptable.'

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, let me start with that question. How do you respond to the way Taslima Nasreen has been treated for almost 14 days now?

Arundhati Roy: Well, it is actually almost 14 years but right now it is only 14 days and I respond with dismay but not surprise because I see it as a part of a larger script where everybody is saying their lines and exchanging parts.

Karan Thapar: She, I believe, has been in touch with you . What has she told you about the experience that she has been through?

Arundhati Roy:Well I have to say that I was devastated listening to what she said because here’s this woman in exile and all alone. Since August she’s been under pressure, she says, from the West Bengal police who visit her everyday saying, “Get out of here. Go to Kerala, go to Europe or go to Rajasthan. Do anything but get out of here. People are trying to kill you,” not offering to protect her but saying get out. On 15th November when there was this huge march in Calcutta against Nandigram, they said, “Now you’re going to be killed so we’re going to move you from your flat to some other place” and they did it but they withdrew most of her security which is paradoxical because on the day when she was supposedly the most under the threat, she had no protection. A few days later they gave her a ticket and pushed her out of the state.

Karan Thapar: Listening to the story she told you about herself, do you believe that the West Bengal government’s behaviour has been unacceptable?

Arundhati Roy: Well it has been utterly, ridiculously unacceptable. I mean, what can I say? Here you have a situation where you’re really threatening and coercing a person.

Karan Thapar: Far from protecting her, they were threatening her?

Arundhati Roy: Absolutely.

Karan Thapar: What about Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee? He is a poet, he is an author; how does he emerge from this story?

Arundhati Roy: He emerges from the story, as far as I am concerned, as the principal scriptwriter who managed, quite cleverly, to shift all the attention from Nandigram to Taslima. Taslima is not the person who is displacing the poor peasants of Nandigram. She is not the person who is robbing people of their daily bread.

Karan Thapar: So he used her as a pawn to take the pressure off himself in terms of Nandigram?

Arundhati Roy: I think very successfully because we are discussing her and not Nandigram right now.

Karan Thapar: So he’s failed to stand by any of the constitutional duties that as a Chief Minister he should have upheld?

Arundhati Roy: I should say at this point that we do not have the constitutional right to free speech. We have many caveats between us and free speech so maybe he has upheld the constitutional rights to us not having free speech.

Karan Thapar: On Friday, Taslima announced that three pages from her autobiography Dwikhandito, which allegedly had given offence to critics, are to be withdrawn. Do you see that as a sensible compromise or a mistake?

Arundhati Roy: Well, neither. She does not have any choices. She is just like a person who has now got the protection of the mafia which is the state in some way. She has nowhere to go. She has no protection. She just has to blunder her way through this kind of humiliation and I really feel for her.

Karan Thapar: You used an interesting phrase. You said she has to blunder her way through this humiliation. Was withdrawing those three pages, admittedly under pressure, a blunder?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t know. Honestly, we can all be very brave in the security of our lives but she has nobody to turn to and nowhere to go. I don’t know what I would have done in that situation.

Karan Thapar: She had no other choice, perhaps.

Arundhati Roy: She really is in a mess. I think it is a reflection on all of us.

Karan Thapar: Let’s come to the issues and the principle that underlie what I call the Taslima Nasreen story. To begin with, do you view freedom of speech as an absolute freedom, without any limitations or would you accept that there are certain specific constraints that we all have to accept?

Arundhati Roy: It is a complicated question and has been debated often. I personally, do view it as something that should have no caveats for this simple reason that in a place where there are so many contending beliefs, so many conflicting things, only the powerful will then decide what those caveats should be and those caveats will always be used by the powerful.

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying that given the fact that many people are vulnerable, freedom of speech for them should have no caveats, it should be absolute and that’s their only protection?

Arundhati Roy: I think so because if you look at the facts, you have outfits like VHP or the Bajrang Dal or the CD that the BJP produced during the UP elections, you see that they do what they want to do. The powerful always do what they want to do. It is the powerless and the vulnerable that need free speech.

Karan Thapar: Let’s explore the position that you’re taking – free speech is an absolute freedom and there should be no limitations on it. What about the view that by criticising Islam, Taslima has offended beliefs which for tens of millions of Indians, maybe for hundreds of millions are sacred? These are beliefs that underlie their dignity and their sense of identity. Should freedom of speech extend that far as to threaten people’s sense of themselves?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t believe that a writer like Taslima Nasreen can undermine the dignity of 10 million people. Who is she? She is not a scholar of Islam. She does not even claim that Islam is her subject. She might have said extremely stupid things about Islam. I have no problem with the quotations that I have heard from her book. Dwikhandito has not been translated into English, but let’s just assume that what she said was stupid and insulting to Islam. But you have to be prepared to be insulted by something that insignificant.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you some of the things that she said, not from Dwikhandito, but from an interview she gave to Anthony McIntyre, The Blanket in 2006. She says, “It’s not true that Islam is good for humanity. It’s not at all good. Islam completely denies human rights.” Elsewhere she talks about what she calls the venomous snake of Islam. To me that sounds as if it goes perhaps beyond a simple critique and into deliberate provocation.

Arundhati Roy: It sounds like Donald Rumsfeld or some Christian fundamentalist.

Karan Thapar: And you would rile at him so why not rile at her?

Arundhati Roy: Yeah, but I wouldn’t say ban him or kill him. I would say what a ridiculous person. What a ridiculous thing. How can you start reacting to everything like that? We have an infinite number of stupidities in the world. How can you start having your foundations rocked by every half-wit?

Karan Thapar: Let’s put it like this, does freedom of speech necessarily include the right to offend?

Arundhati Roy: Obviously it includes the right to offend otherwise it wouldn’t be the freedom of speech.

Karan Thapar: But is that an acceptable right in India?

Arundhati Roy: One person’s offence is another person’s freedom.

Karan Thapar: That maybe so in England and America where Western levels of education have allowed people to hear something offensive without reacting violently. In India, where the education levels are so disparate, where religion is so emotionally and passionately held, then if you have the freedom of speech merging into the right to offend, you end up provoking people often to violence, sometimes to death.

Arundhati Roy: First of all, I think we have to understand that education is a very loaded term because modernity is what is creating some of this kind of radical fundamentalism. And it’s not like traditional India anymore. In fact, if you look at any studies that have been done, actually communal riots have increased.

Karan Thapar: Aren’t you evading my point? You’re questioning what is meant by modernity and education but you and I know that the levels of sophistication in terms of being able to handle offence to your religion or criticism of your God vary hugely.

Arundhati Roy: What I am saying is that level of sophistication is far better in rural areas than urban areas.

Karan Thapar: You mean that rural Indians are better able to take criticism of Ram or Allah?

Arundhati Roy: If you look at the kind of riots in rural and urban areas, you’ll see that, historically.

Karan Thapar: Let me give you a specific example. If criticism of Islam by Taslima Nasreen leads to a situation where people come out and riot on the streets and there is a real genuine threat that innocent people could end up killed, what in that circumstance should be the government’s priority — to defend freedom of speech or prevent the loss of human lives?

Arundhati Roy: I don’t think that’s a choice. I think they have to protect freedom of speech and do everything that they can to prevent the loss of human life because here what is happening is that this kind of right to offend or ‘my sentiments have been hurt’ have become a business in democratic politics. Let’s say the political parties are engineering these situations which lead to a loss of life otherwise why should it be that Dwikhandito has been on the bestseller list for four years in West Bengal and nothing has happened and suddenly when there’s a massive march and a massive mobilisation against the CPM, the book suddenly reappears as insulting people’s faith?

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying mischief makers, manipulators whipped up sentiments four or five years after the book was published, to deliberately try and corner Taslima and to create an atmosphere that perhaps worked in some peculiar way to the advantage of the West Bengal government?

Arundhati Roy: Look at who’s benefiting from it. All the anger about Nandigram has now suddenly turned to us asking the same state that criminally killed people in Nandigram to now protect Taslima Nasreen.

Karan Thapar: Are you trying to suggest that perhaps that the West Bengal government was in some way involved in engineering this incident to deflect attention from Nandigram to Taslima?

Arundhati Roy: I would say that it would have had a lot to do with it and I am saying that it is so easy to do these things.

Karan Thapar: When the situation happened, it would have perhaps been judged as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s dilemma. Perhaps as a poet and author he felt a need to defend or desire to protect the freedom of speech. As a Chief Minister, undoubtedly he knew that he had the duty to stop and prevent the loss of human life. If therefore, by putting pressure on Taslima Nasreen to leave the state for a while, he was able to save ten or fifteen lives that would have otherwise been lost on the streets of Calcutta, did he not do the right thing?

Arundhati Roy: No, I don’t think so. I think that’s the game that they would like us to play. ‘I did it in order to defend innocent lives.’ But I think there’s a deeper script in the understanding of what is known as the deep state. I think that this was a provocation that actually could have ended up creating a loss of lives because, I want to go back to it, why should it be that for four years that book was on the market and no lives were lost. Everything is in the timing.

Karan Thapar: So you really do believe, when you use phrases like the deep state that there was a conspiracy, even though we don’t fully understand it, to deflect attention from Nandigram to Taslima and to perhaps put her in a position where under pressure she was forced to leave and the government didn’t actually have to physically throw her out?

Arundhati Roy: I wouldn’t use the word conspiracy because that sounds like an intelligence operation and I don’t think that something like this needs to go as far as a conspiracy but I would certainly say that you need to examine the timing of this because that’s all we are ever left in India. No one ever gets to the bottom of anything. It is always like, who benefits, why did this happen now. I would like to know, why it happened now.

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying something that’s pretty fundamental. You’re saying that far more simple —as you did at the beginning— that the West Bengal government behaved unacceptably. Now you’re saying that there was almost Machiavellian intent, not a conspiracy but a Machiavellian intent behind the way they have played this game out?

Arundhati Roy: You are making it sound like I have a very deep insight.

Karan Thapar: No, you have a deep distrust and a huge suspicion.

Arundhati Roy: That’s true but I also know that this is the word on the street. You don’t need a rocket scientist to figure this out. It is something that we have seen happening over and over again. It is nothing new or amazing that’s happening.

Karan Thapar: Let’s turn to the Central Government’s response to Taslima Nasreen. Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Pranab Mukherjee said that India would continue extend protection and sanctuary to Taslima Nasreen and then he added that it is also expected that guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people. How do you respond to that?

Arundhati Roy: It is like being sentenced to good behaviour for the rest of your life which is a death sentence for a writer. If I had to live somewhere in those conditions, I would become a yoga instructor or something. I would give up writing because this is such a nasty thing to do. Here is a woman who is a Bengali writer. She can’t function outside. It’s a question of principle anyway. It is not about her, it is about us. What kind of society are we creating? Sure it’s tough to take the kind of things she said about Islam but she should be put in her place, intellectually and otherwise. Not like this where she will become a martyr to somebody else.

Karan Thapar: When Pranab Mukherjee says that it is expected that guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people, is he in a very real sense giving Muslim fundamentalists a veto, both over what Taslima can write and say and therefore whether she can stay in Calcutta?

Arundhati Roy:Who does he mean when he says ‘our people’? Am I included for example? Because by saying this he certainly hurt my sentiments. You can’t really match people’s sentiments.

Karan Thapar: You are quite right. ‘Our people’ includes the whole range of people but I suspect that when he says our people he had those who we were protesting against Taslima on the streets of Calcutta in mind. Has he, therefore, given them a veto over what she can write and say, and therefore a veto over whether she can continue to live in Calcutta?

Arundhati Roy:It is not her. He has taken a veto over all of us. I mean I have also been told by the Supreme Court that you will behave yourself and you will write how we ask you to write. I will not. I hope that is extended to everybody here.

Karan Thapar: Given that Taslima’s case is not a unique case, you’ve suffered as you said at the hands of the Supreme Court, M F Hussain has suffered, art students in Baroda have suffered, even people doing cartoons and satires of Gandhi on YouTube have suffered, are we an intolerant people?

Arundhati Roy: We’re just messy people. Either we have the principle of free speech or you have caveats that will fill up this whole room and we will all just be silenced. There will be no art, there will be no music and there will be no cinema.

Karan Thapar: Are you moving in that direction where caveats to free speech are becoming so many that there is no freedom to be artistic?

Arundhati Roy: What I am saying here does not matter. I might believe in this but I know that tomorrow I have to deal with the thugs of the government, courts of the fundamentalist and everybody else. In order to live here you have to think that you are living in the midst of a gang war. So what I believe in or don’t believe in is only theoretical. However, how I practice is a separate matter. How I survive here is like surviving amongst thugs.

Karan Thapar: But then the corollary to what you’re saying is very important. You’re saying that artists, particularly those who see things differently, particularly those who are stretching out and wanting to be new and avant-garde, have to contend with the thugs, as you call them, with the government and the majority that’s trying to push them back.

Arundhati Roy: We do and we will. The thing is that I also don’t expect to be mollycoddled. I know that we have a fight on our hands and how do we survive in this gang war. The state is just another gang, as far as I am concerned.

Karan Thapar: So you’re saying that it is not easy to be different in India?

Arundhati Roy: Well, it’s challenging and we accept that challenge.

Karan Thapar: What’s your advice to Taslima Nasreen?

Arundhati Roy: I really don’t have any advice. I feel very bad for her because, let me say this, her’s is actually the tragedy of displacement. Once, she has been displaced from her home. She has no rights. She is a guest and she is being treated very badly. She is being humiliated.

Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, it was a pleasure talking to you on Devil’s Advocate.

Source:Mumbai Girl

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Nandigram is a failure: Buddha

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 5, 2007

cm regrets ‘paid back in same coin’ remark

Statesman News Service

NEW DELHI, Dec. 4: Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today admitted that Nandigram was an “administrative and political failure” and regretted his remarks that those opposing land acquisition there had been “paid back in the same coin”. “We have to ensure that Nandigram does not repeat itself. We have learnt lessons from Nandigram that we have to take people into confidence… We have failed in Nandigram. It was an administrative and political failure,” he told a Press conference here. Asked about his remarks after the recapture of Nandigram that those opposed to the CPI-M and land acquisition had been “paid back in the same coin”, he said: “I should not have said that. Now I want peace for all.”. To a question whether the process of industrialisation in the state had suffered due to the Nandigram situation, Mr Bhattacharjee said: “Nandigram or no Nandigram, the process of industrialisation in West Bengal cannot be stopped.”

He said no corporate house, business group or foreign company had said they would withdraw from the state. “In fact, major foreign companies from Japan, the USA, Singapore and Dubai have sent proposals” to invest in the state. On the chemical hub which was supposed to have come up at Nandigram, Mr Bhattacharjee said it was now being set up at Nayachar, which did not have any habitation nor was the land arable.

The chief minister said the situation in the troubled Nandigram blocks was “fast returning to normal” and most of those who had been evicted had already returned. A total of Rs one crore had so far been spent by the Left Front government for their rehabilitation, including reconstruction and repair of damaged houses, roads, bridges as also supply of clothings, utensils and fertiliser mini-kits for the farmers to sow the rabi crop, he said. (The home secretary said in Kolkata the state government was ready to implement a High Court order to pay Rs 5 lakhs as compensation to the relatives of those killed in police firing, though the government would move the Supreme Court against the order. The home secretary said a state police officer had been showcaused following CRPF complaints that the state police were releasing those who were being arrested by the CRPF). The chief minister said a senior official had been sent to the area to prepare a report on what kind of development projects could be implemented in the Nandigram area. “As soon as we get this report, I will announce the projects.” Asked when he would visit Nandigram, the chief minister said he would not do so now as his first task was to restore normalcy and the farmers were also busy cultivating the rabi crop. “Let the situation get back to normal.”

On Governor
To questions on his relations with Governor Mr Gopal Krishna Gandhi who spoke out against the CPI-M led government on the issue, he said the Governor was a “very nice man” and he has had very cordial relations with him. “There has been no problem (with him) at all. We not only discuss administrative and political issues but literature also. We also exchange books… he is a nice man,” he said, and denied reports of any no move to seek a change of Governor.

On Maoists
On Maoist presence in Nandigram, he said the bunkers and trenches dug up in the area, the mine and other arms found clearly indicated their presence in the affected area. He maintained that the Maoists had come from outside the state, including from Jharkhand. “The CRPF is doing a good job in unearthing the arms and ammunition piled up by them.”

On Intellectuals
Regarding the 14 May police firing on protesters in the area and the alienation of intellectuals from the Left, he said “no one can accept (police firing) … intellectuals are very sensitive. My duty is to explain to all of them the actual situation. Many of them have now been convinced.”
On differences among the Left Front partners over the Nandigram episode, he admitted difference of opinion on some issues but asserted that the Front was “different” from the UPA or any other coalition cobbled before elections. “The Left Front has had a long history of struggle”. Asked about comparisons between him and former Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping, Mr Bhattacharjee said he was a “great visionary and I am a small fry. The people will judge what I am doing.”

On Hill Council
As Lok Sabha deferred consideration of two Bills relating to the Gorkha Hill Council today and the government expressing readiness to refer these to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, Mr Bhattacharjee said major Opposition parties in Parliament, including BJP, were not opposed to the measure. He met Leader of Opposition Mr LK Advani last night and spoke to his Orissa and Bihar counterparts to elicit their support for the legislation. Regarding his meeting with Mr Advani, he told reporters that the senior BJP leader told him though he had no problem with the contents of the Bills, his party opposed the manner in which the UPA government wanted to push them forward. The chief minister told Mr Advani that he was well aware of the Gorkha issue as he had held the home ministry for long and sought his and the BJP’s support for passage of the legislation. He also spoke on phone to Orissa chief minister Mr Navin Patnaik and his Bihar counterpart Mr Nitish Kumar on the matter. Mr Patnaik, who also heads the ruling BJD, apparently assured him of support while Mr Kumar said he would discuss the issue with his party president.

On Taslima
He said he discussed the Taslima Nasreen issue with external affairs minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee and it was up to the Centre to decide on the matter. Mr Bhattacharjee said he would not comment when asked whether the visa of the controversial Bangladeshi writer, who was shifted from Kolkata following violence in the city over her stay there, be extended.
“I have spoken to Pranabda. Now, it is up to the Centre to take a decision on the matter,” he said. Referring to the anti-Taslima violence, he said some forces were trying to divide Bengal communally.

On Projects
Mr Bhattacharjee said he briefed the Prime Minister about the largest private steel plant of the country, to be established by the Jindal group, in the Salboni area. He said the Prime Minister had accepted his invitation to lay the foundation stone of the project in January end. On other industrial projects, he said while two more steel plants were coming up at Purulia and Bardhaman, a biotech park was being established by IIT, Kharagpur, in collaboration with the University of Berkeley. He also briefed the Prime Minister on the progress of the establishment of a deep-sea port in the state. Shipping and Surface Transport Minister Mr TR Baalu would soon visit Kolkata to discuss the project.

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Naxals strike again in Nagpur

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 5, 2007

NAGPUR: A third Naxal-related incident took place in a row in Gadchiroli district on Monday evening, since the people liberation guerrilla army (PLGA) week began on December 2.

On Monday evening, an encounter took place at a place called Katta in Etapalli tehsil. Police claim three to four Naxals have been killed in this encounter, though the bodies could not be recovered.

The incidents began on Saturday with the Naxals blowing up a cell-phone tower of a private company. This was followed by an encounter over Bandiya bridge in which two Naxals were said to be injured in the gunbattle a day later.

The Monday evening encounter is the third incident in a row. “This was a tough operation for the police party as the Naxals were in larger numbers. A strategic position helped the cops,” said a source. The police have recovered a single-barrel gun, and two blasts of 15-20 kg each, said the source. Although the bodies could not be recovered, the blood stains are indicative of the toll, say cops.

In fact, the Naxals ensure that the bodies are not retrieved by the police as once the toll on their side is publicised, it would bring down the morale of their rank and file. Once their fellow falls to bullets, others open a heavy fire preventing the cops from approaching the body, and the dead are carried away under heavy cover fire, said a senior officer. A few bodies have been recovered during encounters in the year, said a source.

In fact, each year encounters with Naxalites go up during October to February while their activities are at an ebb during monsoons and summers. Movements are hampered due to slushy terrain and overflowing of rivers during rains. In summers when green cover dries up, they avoid encounters as a clean ground provides easy visibility to the police. This year around 4-5 encounters have taken place since October. Moreover, the police have also beefed up the security and have increased their movements in order to flush out the Naxals from their hideouts.

Meanwhile, in a separate incident Naxalites burnt two tractors of a private contractor Maksood Ahmed, engaged in construction of a road near Bakrundi village in Kurkheda tehsil of Gadchiroli during wee hours of Monday night.

Times of India

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Conspicuous graves found in Nandigram

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 5, 2007

Five grave like structures have been discovered in Nandigram in West Bengal by officials of the Central Reserve Police Force who have been patrolling the sensitive area.

A villager claimed that the graveyards belong to men of their village, Gokulnagar. Reportedly the villagers died while making bombs on the 27th of October.

The mutilated and half-burnt bodies were found buried in a trench in a field at Bidyapith Village in the CPI(M) stronghold of Khejuri.

”We had a tip off that five bodies were buried at the spot. We along with a team of CRPF and CBI went there and found the bodies, but cannot dig them out without a magistrate’s order,” Midnapore (East) Superintendent of Police S S Panda said.

He said the bodies found in the trench in a field covered with bushes, were half-burnt and mutilated.

”We are waiting for the magistrate’s order and once it comes we will exhume the bodies and send them for post mortem,” Panda said.

The SP was not sure about the identity of the bodies.

”Five people died while making bombs on October 27. These might be the bodies of them or it might be the bodies of those persons killed in disturbances on November 6,” Panda said.

”We can say everything once the post mortem report comes in,” he added.

A large team of the police and CRPF have cordoned off the area. (With PTI inputs)

NDTV

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Posco site turns into a war zone

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 5, 2007

Sampad Mahapatra

Tuesday, December 4, 2007 (Bhubaneswar)

The Posco battle is getting uglier by the day. The anti-Posco protestors, who had to retreat from the checkgate they had erected to prevent the entry of police and company officials following an armed attack by Posco supporters on Thursday, have now taken a belligerent stand.

Posco site turns into a war zone

On Sunday, the protestors held a rally in Dhinkia, the stronghold of the anti-displacement agitation to announce their decision to take to arms if there is any forced eviction.

”We have been peaceful so far but after the attack we will take up arms. Let there be bloodshed. We are ready to face the challenge,” said a local resident of Dhinkia Village.

The protestors are preparing for a final showdown with whatever weapons they can possibly lay their hands on. And they do not just expect an attack from the Posco supporters, but even the police or private militia as was the case on Thursday.

”The government should not try to play the game with the blood of the common people who are resisting Posco. Bloodshed will invite bloodshed. Violence will invite violence,” said Abhay Sahu, Chairman, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti.

The state government seems to be in a catch-22 situation. After the Kalinga Nagar massacre in 2006, it is unwilling to use the police and it cannot openly use private militia.

However, 500 armed policemen have been deployed in the area and the village has been cordoned off. But it isn’t clear about how it can pave the way for Posco’s plans to start construction by the 1st April, 2009

”The project is getting delayed because of some mischievous people. Everything was on course until now but some mischief mongers have created problems. We are trying to sort things out,” said Padmanabh Behera, Minister, Steel & Mines, Orissa.

Mega projects in Orissa are facing serious challenges from local people being displaced.

There have been fresh incidents of violence in Kalinga Nagar and the protestors in Kalahandi have asked Vedanta to leave or face serious consequences.

Surely, the state government has to find a way out of the impasse or else the much-hyped industrial boom in Orissa will have few takers.

NDTV

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Interim report by womens’ team on Nandigram November violence

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 5, 2007

Source: Sanhati

Interim Report of an Independent Citizens’ Team from Kolkata on the Current State of Affairs in Nandigram

30 November 2007

As a result of an initiative instituted by women’s groups, women’s organizations and individuals, an eleven member women’s team of concerned citizens from Kolkata comprising teachers, social activists, researchers and students visited Nandigram, on November 24, 2007. Concerned about the repeated disruption of peace in the region, the members decided to visit the affected areas and talk to the local people, with the objectives of showing solidarity with the survivors of violence, documenting people’s needs in the
current circumstances, and drawing up recommendations based on our understanding of the situation.

The people who constituted this team were Kavita Panjabi, Anuradha Kapoor, Rajashri Dasgupta, Saswati Ghosh, Shyamoli Das, Swapna Banerjee, Trina Nileena Banerjee, Shuktara Lal, Sushmita Sinha, Shubhasree Bhattacharya and Sourinee Mirdha.
On arrival in Nandigram at the Relief Camp at Brij Mohan Tiwari Shiksha Niketan, the team split into two groups. One talked to the people in the Relief Camp, the other to a woman who had been sexually assaulted, and the injured in Nandigram Hospital. One group then proceeded to the villages of Sonachura and Garchakraberia, also stopping at the Bhangaberia Bridge where the CRPF is stationed; the other half of the team went to the village of Daudpur.

This interim report comprises the general findings and recommendations of all the members of the team that visited Nandigram on the 24th of November. The specific testimonies and individual stories will be included in the final report.

PRIMARY FINDINGS:

1) Overall there is a reign of terror; the people are marked by deep fear, disillusionment and depression. Since January, Nandigram has been marked by the violence of the State in tandem with the ruling CPI(M), and the retaliatory attacks by the BUPC . The massive attack of the state on the BUPC procession in March 14th, 2007, clearly violated all democratic norms and involved armed police, para-military forces, as well as armed party cadres, including rampant shooting and widespread sexual abuse of women. Subsequently, in numerous villages post March 14, there were reports that many CPI(M) supporters were forced to flee to relief camps in Khejuri and that their homes were ransacked and looted by BUPC supporters. There has been continued violence since on both sides. However, the build up in the area of the CPI(M) militia, the Harmad Bahini, the brutal firing by CPI(M) cadres on November 6, 2007 of BUPC members in Satengabari, Ranichak, Bhangabera and Sonachura, and the torching of nine villages including Simulkunda and Satengabari, followed by the attack on November 10, 2007 at Maheshpur village in Nandigram, when armed CPI(M) cadres fired bullets indiscriminately at a peace rally organised by BUPC with the police taking no steps to intervene, all demonstrate the scale and might of the violence exercised by the ruling CPI(M), with the full support of the State.

2) The people of Nandigram are now living in terror of the CPI(M) which has now taken over most of the Nandigram villages and is out to extract vengeance on the BUPC and its supporters. Criminals who have killed, sexually assaulted and injured people continue to threaten the population of the villages. Many who had tried to return to their villages but had to come back to the Relief Camp spoke of bombs and firing that they heard even on the 23rd night when they had tried to return to their homes. And the night-time threats, especially against women, also continue. Across all the villages, people testified to the complete loss of political freedom – they are being forced to pledge their allegiance to one particular party or the other, and they talked angrily about their right to decide which party they wanted to support. The people in the camp, as well as the majority in the villages, have lost all confidence in the government, administration and police.

3) At the Relief Camp at Brij Mohan Tiwari Shiksha Niketan in Nandigram town, villagers testified to rampant firing, brutal killing and large-scale threats by the cadres of the CPI(M), the ruling party, across the villages of Gokulnagar, Kalicharanpur, Adhikaripara, Simulkunda and Satengabari. About 20-25,000 people have left their homes according to people in the camps. Of them, 3000 to 3500 people had been living in this camp approximately 1500 of whom were still there on 24th November. The People’s Health doctors working in the Relief Camp said they had not received any complaints of sexual or physical assault, but mainly children’s health related complaints, like cough, fever, diarrhoea. However, many people in the camps carried scars of deep bullet injuries on their faces, stomachs and legs and women told us about a woman who had been gang raped in Satengabari by 6-7 men, who is now in Tamluk hospital. Both her daughters, one about 17, one younger, were abducted. They are still missing. Further, hundreds of women who had fled Kalicharanpur, Adhikaripara, Simulkunda and Satengabari in fear of sexual assault were still in the Nandigram camp. They testified that not only had their homes been looted and burnt down, in villages like Satengabari they had also been severely threatened by CPI(M) cadres, who came around saying “We’ll come back at night – light your lamps and wait for us with open doors. Send your men away, we’ll come back to you at night.” “How can we stay in a place under such threats?” the women asked. Women of these villages are still living in fear of being sexually abused, and young girls have been sent to relatives’ homes elsewhere. The fear and insecurity of the villagers – especially the women at the Nandigram camp – has been so high that they have refused to go back to their villages till the CRPF is posted there to ensure their safety and protect them from the violent vengeance of the Harmad Bahini comprising CPI(M) cadres.

4) Extensive physical abuse and sexual abuse of women, ranging from rape and forcing of rods into women’s vaginas, to rampant sexual harassment, as well as abduction of girls has been reported since March this year, but not much has been done to provide relief to the women, or to initiate investigation against and punish the perpetrators. Such violence against women continues, accompanied by terrifying threats, and there is no evidence of any steps having been taken to curb either.

5) Some of the people who had participated in the unarmed march to Maheshpur on 10th November were arrested and locked up for three days in the school building. The women were subjected to repeated sexual harassment by male CPI(M) cadres who claimed the women were Maoists.

6) In villages such as Garchakraberia, where the CRPF has already been posted, normal life and activity seem to have returned; however, there is simmering tension and fear under the facade of peace. At night, when CRPF personnel go off vigil, assailants begin their attacks again; so people have been forced to flee their homes at night and take shelter elsewhere from fear of reprisal. Villagers claim this is a forced calm and are terrified of what may happen when the CRPF is withdrawn.

7) Some residents of Sonachura also expressed their anger and frustration at the BUPC leadership for keeping their own women safe at home, while forcing other women in the villages to join the BUPC marches and threatening to beat and burn down the homes of all who refused. Many people in Sonachura were also scared of admitting to the violence they have faced from the CPI(M), claiming that they had been threatened into silence.

8) The situation in Daudpur is still very tense and the administration should take immediate measures to address this. There is resentment and anger brewing among the villagers. People openly accuse each other of violence while questioning the authority and corruption of particular CPI(M) leaders. Some villagers also claimed that the BUPC forced people to volunteer to stand as night guards against the armed attacks from CPI(M)’s Harmad Bahini after 28 October.

9) Villagers testified that the police are playing a partisan role. BUPC members returning to their villages were being arrested, some on false charges. Others are being levied exorbitant “fines” to “compensate for the damages done to the CPI(M) families in the last 11 months.” Complaints about the atrocities of the CPI(M) followers were either not registered, or the accused were released after being arrested, without any of the legal procedures being followed.

10) The senior police officer at the Relief Camp refused to comment on most of our questions. He i) hinted at pressure from some political parties ii) implied that work was being made “difficult” due to “interference” iii) said peace is returning to the villages, but the situation is “still difficult”.

11) While language is proving to be a barrier for the CRPF in dealing with the volatile situation here, there are apparent efforts to restore peace, including red-flag processions etc. But the atmosphere outside the temporary ‘protection’ of the Relief Camp is of extreme terror. In spite of all apparent efforts and assurance on the part of the authorities, this terror is persistent.

12) There is a tremendous breakdown of trust. The villages of Nandigram are zones of pregnant silence today – they are zones of seething fear, terror, suspicion and threat. Common people are suffering and living in fear and their tragedy is heightened because of the partisan role played by the police

RECOMMENDATIONS:

1. Non-partisan, just and effective action on the part of the State is the most basic and critical factor for restoring peace in Nandigram. The government must strengthen administrative structures and ensure impartial and immediate action on the part of the administration to instill confidence in the people and normalize the situation in Nandigram. Conditions must be created for people to renew their daily social and economic activities without fear and apprehension of reprisal.

2. The violence in Nandigram must be stopped. i) All arms in the possession of the entire population of all the villages of Nandigram must be confiscated. ii) The area must be rid of all outside cadres. iii) All criminals, irrespective of political affiliation must be arrested immediately and tried; and iv) effective vigilance should be set in place against all those indulging in retaliatory and revengeful acts that will derail the peace process.

3. We demand responsible action now from all the political parties too. They must stop exploiting the situation, abstain from violence, and play a constructive role in bringing peace back to Nandigram. .

4. Rape and sexual assault have clearly become dominant weapons of war in the crossfire between vested political interests in Nandigram. i) Urgent measures must be taken by the administration and the police to stop this immediately. ii) Perpetrators have been resorting to sexual assault on women to intimidate, humiliate and subjugate the opposition, while the opposition has been using incidents of rape to discredit the perpetrators, not to seek justice for the women affected. We demand a complete and immediate stop to such practices and to all threats of sexual violence too.

5. The administration should also ensure that all rape cases are registered, thoroughly investigated, and followed up. Cases where women have been brutally assaulted should also receive the attention they merit and should not be brushed aside merely because the case was not one of rape. Sexual assault is a serious offence and must be dealt with as such. All victims of sexual assault must be provided immediate medical treatment and their privacy respected and dignity upheld.

6. Both men, and large numbers of women, especially those subject to sexual assault and/or rape, are now severely traumatized and have sunk into visibly deep depression or shock. The government should set up a counselling cell in Nandigram or authorize an NGO to do so for the purpose of trauma alleviation.

7. Those who are suffering from the latest violence, as well as those who have been injured earlier in the year, cannot afford the medication required. Many cannot work as they could earlier. On both counts, their livelihood is adversely affected. Compensation to the injured and raped, and to the families of the dead should be made available on an urgent footing. Women and children have been the worst sufferers of the violence; attention should be paid to their special needs, and efforts made to restore their dignity and confidence in the process of rehabilitation. The SDO/BDO should ensure that the grant promised to repair houses must be distributed without any partisan preference. The presence of the CRPF can ensure only a temporary and forced calm. This is no solution to the reign of terror. The state must set in place peacemaking efforts, and involve all political parties and people’s organisations in the region to renew the democratic process and enable citizens to reclaim the lost democratic space for a lasting and just peace in the area. People’s political rights must be ensured. Democracy does not mean the rule of the majority, but ensuring the rights and respect of the minority and those holding opposing political opinions and beliefs too. Concerted efforts have to be made, across all political differences, to control the spate of vengeance, and rebuild the confidence of the people of Nandigram who are living with violence as well as the fear of violence on a day to day basis.

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Orissa: Maoists trying to induct tribal youths

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 5, 2007

Tuesday December 4 2007 08:11 IST

JEYPORE: As part of the ongoing People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) week, Maoist groups in southern parts of the State have geared up activities to lure youths, particularly from tribal pockets, into their groups.

As many as 2,000 youths had already been inducted into different Maoist groups in Rayagada, Malkangiri and Koraput.

Sources said like previous years, Maoists spread across Gudari, Gunupur, Muniguda, Bissamcuttack, Chandrapur, Padmapur pockets in Rayagada, Kalimela, Chitrakonda, Motu, Padia, Malkangiri pockets in Malkangiri and Bandhugam, Narayanpatna, Motu, Padua, Patangi chunks of Koraput are presently inducting tribal youths in the PLGA.

Locals said the Maoist leaders have clarified before the public that they had no intention to harm the public anywhere in the tribal areas during PLGA week but the Naxals have warned the security agencies through posters, banners and leaflets put up at Malkangiri, Rayagada and Koraput districts.

Despite ‘assurances’ by the Maoists for public safety during PLGA, the fear psyche still prevails among the transporters in Malkangiri and Rayagada districts.

On the second day of the Week on Monday, no commuters were seen in these pockets anticipating attacks. Police said that both police and para-military forces are on alert to check any untoward incident.

South-eastern range DIG S K Nath held discussions with the SPs of Naxal strongholds on Monday and directed them to closely monitor the situation.

http://www.newindpress

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A Nandigram waiting to happen in Manipur

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 5, 2007

Church buildings, homes may be swallowed as Government eyes land for new institute

National Fact Finding Team to probe the situation

The delegation met Smt. Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, December 3, 2007

A delegation of the “Joint Action Committee for Protection of Residential, Agricultural lands and Wetland of Langol-Lamphelpat Areas” in Imphal West, Manipur, led by Ms. Kim Gangte, former Member of Parliament, met activists, lawyers, human rights activists and political figures in the national capital this week to focus attention on government attempts to usurp people’s lands that may inflame passions in the north eastern State.

The issue pertains to the recent announcement by the Central Government to set up a National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Imphal. The delegation said while the NIT was most welcome, the Manipur government’s proposal to set it up at Langol-Lamphelpat area would destroy large numbers of homes, and more than that, important religious buildings including several Christian churches and a Jewish Synagogue. This, the delegation said, was totally unacceptable to the people of the state.

The selection of Langol-Lamphelpat is an afterthought by the Manipur Government. It had proposed to set up the NIT at Kyamgei, but bowed to the political pressure of the majority community. “Langol-Lamphelpat area was then chosen, over-riding strong protests by the ethnic and minority communities who are considered a soft target by the Manipur government,” said Ms. Gangte.

Of 300 acres earmarked now as the proposed site for constructing the NIT, 149 acres belong to 3,000 families, almost all of them belonging to mixed ethnic tribal communities. Four churches and one synagogue have existed on the land for decades.

The land acquisition was notified to the residents and owners by Principal Secretary, Government of Manipur Sri P. Sharat Chandra on September 27, 2007 referring to the section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

The delegation said if Manipur government continues to pursue in acquiring the land, there is a fear of another Nandigram erupting in the state of Manipur. The land acquisition will destroy the harmonious social fabric that existed between different communities, particularly of the hill and valley and may provoke communal disharmony in the state.

All India Christian Council has constituted a National Level Fact Finding Team, consists of Social Activists, Human Rights Activist, Journalist, Lawyers and politicians to assess the situation within a short time. A public jury hearing of the affected area of the proposed site will be conducted by fact finding team and approach Manipur Government accordingly.

The Joint Action Committee has submitted memorandums to the Prime Minister Office earlier requesting to direct Manipur Government to review the decision and the same memorandum is also written to Christian Ministers and MPs to look into the matter to protect the interests of religious minority and ethnic tribal communities that are facing displacement.

Earlier Langol Area Churches Forum also submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Sri O. Ibobi Singh to protect and preserve the religious establishments and churches falling within the proposed site.

Speaking to All India Christian Council, Sri Rishang Keishing, Member of the Rajya Sabha said, “The church building at Kangla left by Assam Rifle must be protected and preserved as it is a symbol of State Integrity.” Source reaching to Christian Council, the church building at Kangla fort has been disappeared now.

The delegation also met Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and the concern of the residents of the proposed area for construction of the said NIT project. Mrs. Gandhi has taken note of the concern and assured the delegation to look into the matter.

Earlier this year, when Assam Government issued notice to Guwahati Panbazar Mission compound to convert into city car parking, Mrs. Gandhi directed Chief Minister Sri Tarun Gogoi to look other alternative when Christians and secular groups protested.

The All India Christian Council ([->www.aiccindia.org]), birthed in 1998, exists, to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

Released by

Mr. Madhu Chandra

Regional Secretary,

© indianchristians.in

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Nandigram police firing victims to receive compensation

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 5, 2007

Kolkata, Dec 4 – The West Bengal government Tuesday accepted Calcutta High Court’s order for payment of Rs.500,000 as compensation to the next kin of those who died in the Mar 14 violence in Nandigram.‘The state government has agreed to accept the high court’s order for payment of Rs.500,000 as compensation to the next kin of those who died in the March 14 Nandigram violence,’ Home Secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy told reporters.‘Though the amount is yet to be sanctioned, it is under process,’ he said.

The state government had earlier decided to pay Rs.200,000.At least 14 villagers were killed in police firing when the villagers of Nandigram area, in East Midnapore district, resisted the entry of cops.Roy denied reports that orders for the police firing came from the state secretariat. The home secretary said the situation was peaceful in Nandigram and most of the people displaced in last month’s violence had returned to their homes.

‘There are only around 100 people who are homeless in the district,’ he said.To a question about the involvement of Maoists in the violence, he said a team of Intelligence Bureau officials was in the district to nab the rebels.Regarding complaints of police releasing criminals caught by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Roy said the state government had received a specific case in this regard but declined to elaborate.A division bench of the high court comprising Chief Justice S.S. Nijjar and Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghosh on Nov 16 described the police firing in Nandigram as ‘illegal and unconstitutional’.

It ordered the state government to pay Rs.500,000 to the family members of those who were killed in the firing, Rs.200,000 to those who were raped and to sanction Rs.100,000 for each of the injured.The court had initiated suo moto public interest litigation (PIL) and asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the police firing and submit a report within a week.

http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/152976.html

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