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A Doctored Case

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 18, 2007

Dr Sen being brought to his house during a police search
A Doctored Case
The apex court joins in the myopia that’s keeping Dr Sen in jail ... ...
Saikat Datta
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Doctor Or Naxalite?

  • The state alleges he’s only a “namesake” doctor. The CMC, Vellore, of which he’s an alumnus, gave him the Paul Harrison award for his work.
  • The police claim he was the courier for top Naxal leaders lodged in Raipur jail but never took action against jail authorities for failing to detect these alleged messages
  • A police press release called him an “absconder”, though he called up the police on his own and courted arrest
  • Since he has been addressed as “Comrade” in letters to him from suspected Naxalites, it’s taken as proof of his being a member of the banned CPI (Maoist).
  • Government also claims there is “incriminating evidence” on Dr Sen’s computer but the Andhra Pradesh forensic lab report says no such thing


It couldn’t have been more ironic. The Supreme Court chose, even though by accident, the date designated as World Human Rights Day, December 10, to turn down the bail plea of noted rights campaigner Dr Binayak Sen. In many ways,

Dr Sen’s role as an activist and his services to marginalised communities proved to be his undoing. At the end of the day, after hearing pleas from Dr Sen’s counsel, noted constitutional expert Rajiv Dhawan, and the government of Chhattisgarh, the apex court did not find any merit in granting him bail. The doctor, who was arrested on May 14, 2007, and charged under the Unlawful Activities Act and the draconian Chhattisgarh Public Safety Act, will continue to languish in custody.

What is the basis of the Chhattisgarh police’s case against Dr Sen? The chargesheet against him says he is a Naxalite sympathiser. This conclusion was reached after his name came up when the police recovered three letters from suspected Maoist Piyush Guha, arrested at the Raipur railway station. These were written to Guha by another alleged Maoist, Narayan Sanyal, presently lodged in Raipur Jail. The police claim Guha, under custodial interrogation, confessed that Dr Sen acted as courier.

Dr Sen did meet Sanyal in jail on several occasions. But each time it was with due permission from the jail superintendent and a body search before and after his meetings. And even if we were to accept that Dr Sen smuggled the letters out, what exactly was “incriminating” in them? One letter deals with farmer-related issues, the letter writer’s health and so on. In another note, Sanyal is discussing issues relating to his case and the approach his lawyer has taken in court. In yet another, he complains of there being “no magazines” to read in jail and terrible conditions in prison. Activist-lawyers like Prashant Bhushan see the framing of Dr Sen on such flimsy evidence as “a message that clearly states that people must shut their eyes to violations of human rights of the marginalised or risk arrest”.

Why and when did Dr Sen become the target of the Chhattisgarh government and police? Many say his sharp criticism of Salwa Judum, the controversial government-backed ‘movement’ against Naxals, his raising of issues of ill-treatment of suspects picked up by the police, of the pathetic conditions in jail and his criticism of the state government vis-a-vis human rights irked senior police officials. “The intelligence branch of the state police was already upset with Dr Sen raising these issues and they also found some support from their central counterparts in the Intelligence Bureau,” a senior government official told Outlook.

In framing its case against Dr Sen, the Chhattisgarh police has relied heavily on the “confessional” statements made under interrogation by Guha. This, despite it being repeatedly pointed out in various courts that custodial “confessions” are inadmissible as evidence in court.

Guha has also stated before a magistrate that he was tortured for several days under illegal detention and made to sign blank papers.

However, there is more that investigators hold up as “incriminating evidence” pointing to Dr Sen’s “deep” Naxalite connections. Among them:

  • A postcard written by Sanyal to Dr Sen with the approval of the jail superintendent. This, according to the Chhattisgarh police, “prima facie proves the deep association the petitioner has with the Naxalite leader”. Conveniently ignored is the fact that the jail superintendent himself has written letters to Dr Sen regarding Sanyal’s case!
  • Another postcard to Dr Sen from Madan Barkade, an alleged Naxalite leader lodged in Raipur jail. Unbelievable as it may seem, the state government contends on affidavit that since Barkade has referred to the doctor as “Comrade” in the postcard, it is proof enough that the latter is “a member of the banned CPI (Maoist).”
  • A press release issued by Dr Sen on the horrible conditions in jails and the plight of prisoners and undertrials. This is held as further proof that he has “espoused the cause of Naxals”.
  • Dr Sen’s visits to Raipur Jail to meet Sanyal. Though much is made of them, each visit was duly applied for and recorded in the jail manual. As the Chhattisgarh government refused to bring these records to court, it was left to Dr Sen’s lawyers to source the documents invoking the RTI act. What the government counsel also did not bring on record was a letter dated September 6, 2006, from the DIG Police which clearly states that “this office (of the DIG) has no objection” to Dr Sen visiting Sanyal in jail. A copy of this letter was also sent to Addl DGP in charge of intelligence.
  • A computer seized from Dr Sen’s house. The state government counsel claimed it had evidence against him. But the report of the Andhra Pradesh Forensic Sciences Laboratory dated June 16, 2007, does not corroborate this.

The unkindest cut comes in the second paragraph of the preliminary objections filed by the state government to the bail plea. It states that Dr Sen “is a namesake doctor.” Reason: during the search of his house the police did not find any “medical books, medicines, drugs etc”. It is another matter that Dr Sen has a medical degree from the reputed Christian Medical College, Vellore. He is also one of the founders of the Shaheed Hospital near Bilaspur and was a member of the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s faculty on community health. In 2004, he received the Paul Harrison award for his work in public health in rural areas.

Despite these gaping holes in their submissions, the Chhattisgarh government has managed to keep Dr Sen in jail indefinitely, raising serious civil liberty issues. “His arrest and efforts to keep him in jail are a major symbol of a contradiction today,” says Dr Imrana Qadeer, professor of community health and social medicine at JNU, Delhi. “The health minister (Dr Anbumani Ramadoss) wants students to go to rural areas but who will go to villages to serve the poor and the marginalised after Dr Sen’s case?” she asks.

Dr Sen’s counsel Dhawan says that he is shocked at how the “government counsel misled the court” and described the denial of bail as a “serious attack on civil libertarians and human rights”. For many like Prashant Bhushan, the arrest of Dr Sen and his continuing incarceration is the symbol of a “creeping fascism within the establishment”.

People may be shocked by the flimsy grounds Dr Sen has been arrested under, and justifiably feel that his legacy in taking healthcare to the poorest of the poor may be in great peril, but the state government thinks human rights and public health are now the gravest threats to people’s safety.


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The Other Side of India’s boom:1000 Conflicts Now

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 13, 2007

There are two booms in India. With over 9% growth rate so far in 2007, India’s economy is booming. India’s other boom is in conflict. Instead of attempting to address the root causes of these conflicts, the State’s tactics to deal with local conflicts are making things worse.

In combating insurgency the State has not advanced much beyond the tactics of the British Empire. The response is based on the idea of “divide and rule”: pitting one local group against another. The use of the vigilante groups has been traditionally limited to insurgency affected areas. But it is clear that the State has now extended these policies to counter protests against forcible land acquisitions that fuel India’s industrialization.

I. State sponsoring conflicts to suppress protests against land acquisitions

Across India, social movements of the dispossessed and displaced face harassment, intimidation and violence. As the poor get left out of the benefits of India’s extraordinary development, protests against development projects have turned into mass-movements. While the companies usually start by seeking to provide inducements, in most cases the offers have been inadequate. Then the State, often with the militant cadres of the ruling party and backed by the security forces, seeks to resolve the conflicts with brutal force.

a. Nandigram – State supporting the CPI-M violence

Nandigram of West Bengal has become synonymous of the conflicts with the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) that provide attractive economic packages such as fiscal sops, tax concession, exemptions from environmental clearance to companies setting up factories and businesses. Across India, a total of 404 SEZs have been formally approved and 165 have been approved in principle under the SEZ Act of 2005.[1] As of 30 th November 2007, a total of 172 SEZs have been notified and therefore started functioning.

Nandigram – identified by Salem group of Indonesia for establishment of its Chemical factories – has turned into a battle gound between armed cadres of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and the anti-land acquisition Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (Land Eviction Resistance Committee, BUPC), made up of poor people who do not want to sell their lands, and are allegedly backed by the opposition Trinamool Congress. Gross human rights violations have been committed with absolute impunity as the State government either perpetrated or remained complicit with the violence of the ruling party cadres.

On 14 March 2007, 14 BUPC protesters were shot dead by the State police. An inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation was ordered. On 16 November 2007, the Calcutta High Court declared the police killings as “unconstitutional”, unjustified” and awarded compensations of Rs 500,000 (US$ 12,690) each to those killed, Rs 200,000 (US$ 5,076) to each of the rape victims and Rs 100,000 (US$ 2,538) to each injured person.[2] The State government has since challenged the order before the Supreme Court.

On 28 March 2007, the chemical hub project at Nandigram was declared abandoned by West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee[3]. But conflict continued.

As the CPI-M cadres “recaptured” the areas in Nandigram from 6 November 2007, [4] an unknown number of supporters of the BUPC were killed, women raped and displaced from their homes. Shockingly West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee justified the actions of the CPI-M cadres saying that the victims were “paid back in the same coin”.[5] Given the view of the head of the State government it is hardly surprising that West Bengal Police did nothing to prevent the violence. With much reluctance, the Central security forces were called but the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel who are required to operate under the command of the State Police allegedly did not receive instructions and support from the local police to bring the situation under control.

On 5th December 2007, the CRPF personnel dug up five graves at Bamanchak village. On 10 December 2007, the CRPF personnel found another grave at Parulia village in Nandigram. Many other burial sites remain undiscovered. [6]

b. Orissa government’s role for violence against protestors against the POSCO Steel Plant

On 22 June 2005, the government of Orissa signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Korean Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) to set up a steel plant at Paradeep in Jagatsinghpur district. The investment of $12 billion represents the largest ever foreign direct investment in India. The project will displace around 4,000 indigenous/tribal families.[7]

Local indigenous/tribal peoples have come together under POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (Committee for Resistance Against POSCO) to oppose the POSCO steel plant. The state has responded with violence against those opposing the plant.

On 29 November 2007, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti activists were attacked by supporters of the steel project in Balitutha in Jagatsinghpur district.[8] The attackers hurled crude bombs at the protesters, 15 members of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti were injured and their tents burnt down.[9] Instead of taking action against the attackers, the State government deployed large number of armed policemen around Dhinkia village, the headquarters of the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti.[10]

As we upload this issue of ACHR Weekly Review, the villagers of Dhinkia are effectively being detained in their homes. All three exits are being manned by pro- POSCO activists along with the state armed police.[11] About 13 platoons of armed forces have been deployed in the three gram panchayats (Village Councils) under Ersama block in Jagatsinghpur. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits assembly of more than five persons, have been imposed.[12]

c. Taking over the lands allotted to the Adivasis in Munnar of Kerala

The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxists) cadres in Munnar of Kerala have been forcibly taking over lands earmarked for distribution to Adivasis, indigenous peoples. In 2003, following the killings of the Adivasi protestors at Muthanga, the State government allotted an acre of land each in Chinnakanal to more than 700 tribal families. However even after four years, only 540 families have received land. Some 200 tribal families have built makeshift huts on the government land in Munnar in protest.[13]

But on 26 November 2007, they were attacked by the CPI-M cadres. Over 2,000 CPI-M cadres captured a 1,500-acre stretch of prime government land in Munnar’s Chinnakkanal area and forced the 200 Adivasi families to flee. The CPI-M cadres destroyed the huts of the Adivasis and put up party flags to symbolize their victory. They fenced off the area and began constructing their own huts there. In the evening of 27 November 2007, an all-party meeting was called by the Munnar Additional District Magistrate. The meeting decided that both the CPI-M and Adivasis would move out of the area within 48 hours.[14] But Adivasi leader C P Shaji was attacked by alleged CPI-M cadres after leaving the meeting.[15]

II. Repeal the Land Acquisition Act

At the root of the crisis is the concept of ’eminent domain’ under which State exercises its sovereign power to grab land under a concept of “public purpose” under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. “Public purpose” under the Land Acquisition Act has increasingly come to mean the State taking over the lands for the benefit of private companies. The land is taken without prior consultation or adequate compensation of the landholders. The government of India has never sought to address the need to amend the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 but instead only sought to address the symptoms – relief and rehabilitation of the displaced persons.

Even the government‘s attempts at relief and rehabilitation have miserably failed. In 2003 the government of India adopted the Relief and Rehabilitation Policy. It failed to address key issues and a draft National Relief and Rehabilitation Policy was issued in 2006. It also failed to address the key concerns. As the conflicts over SEZs and other development projects have further intensified the government has recently issued the 2007 National Relief and Rehabilitation Policy. It fails again, among others, to mention about the need for amendment of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

Unless the State recognizes the rights of individuals/groups over their lands, protests against acquisition of lands for socalled development purposes will intensify. This requires repeal of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 but the States, instead, respond only with violence.

III. Prevent militia-isation of the civilians

India urgently needs to rethink its approaches to opposition against industrial projects by the land owners. Encouraging formation of politicized militias is not the answer. An untrained, unaccountable and undisciplined militia is only likely to deepen the local conflicts. They are likely, in due course of time, to become a serious security concern for the State. The creation and support of these groups will impact negatively on peaceful reconciliation efforts, since they have the effect of setting neighbours and communities against each other.

Similar experiences from elsewhere are too extremely negative. Civil defence groups like the Patrullas de Audodefensa Civil (Civil Defence Patrols) in Guatemala were responsible for atrocious human rights abuses and contributed to deepening of the conflict. In Colombia, the para-military forces have been encouraged and financed by the State to confront the ultra left wing Fueras Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) with disastrous consequences on human rights and conflict resolution.

As the State governments tend to blame the alleged Naxalites for any protest against land acquisition, India must not increasingly follow the disastrous practices of militia-isation of the civilians as practised across Latin America.

[2]. Firing wholly unjustified: HC, The Statesman, 17 November 2007

[3]. Buddhadeb scraps Nandigram project, Rediff News, 28 March 2007,

[5]. Buddhadeb accuses Centre of delay in CRPF deployment, The Times of India, 13 November 2007

[6]. Grave in Nandigram paddy field, The Times of India, 11 December 2007

[7]. “Atrocities at Singur, India: A matter of rights of the dispossessed”, ACHR Review No. 144/06, Asian Centre for Human Rights

[8]. Opposition to POSCO mounts, The Hindu, 1 December 2007

[9]. Divide over Posco plant turns violent, yet again, The Telegraph, 1 December 2007

[10]. Uneasy calm at POSCO project site, NDTV, 9 December 2007

[11]. Posco protesters held hostage, The Hindustan Times, 10 December 2007

[12]. Patnaik’s dig at Posco ‘peace’, The Telegraph, 10 December 2007

[13]. After CPM men attack activist, tribals refuse to vacate Munnar land, The Indian Express, 29 November 2007

[14]. After Nandigram, red terror in Munnar, The Indian Express, 28 November 2007

[15]. After CPM men attack activist, tribals refuse to vacate Munnar land, The Indian Express, 29 November 2007

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Himal South Asian cover story on Naxalite Movement

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 10, 2007

Guns vs mobilisation

The Naxalite Maoists are a symptom of the deep inequities prevalent in all Southasian societies, but that is about as far as it goes. As the economic boom brings the Indian middle class into its embrace, and the gap between the rich and poor increasingly becomes a chasm, the future surely will deliver more Naxalite-type rebellions in the deprived corners of India. The cover feature of this issue has writer Prashant Jha travelling through Chhattisgarh, Andhra, Bihar and Jharkhand, seeking understanding of the separate evolutionary paths of current Naxalite movements. We also present the opinions of key observers of Naxalism, as well as interviews with the wizened progenitors of the original action at Naxalbari. While the state authorities are uniformly craven in their attempts to crush the Maobaadi of India, we also confirm that the Maoist reliance on the gun – and the gun alone – is a sure-fire formula to further penalise the people they seek to uplift. Much better would be for the radical left to pursue the path of social revolution through mass mobilisation, rather than the shortcut of armed revolution.

Cover illustration by Jessica Schnabel

Conflict of narratives

Naxalite be not proud
by | Prashant Jha

‘Naxalbari and the continuous rebellion
by | Sumanta Banerjee

Echoes of Naxalbari
by | Aditi Bhaduri

Chhattisgarh’s purification hunt
by | Shubhranshu Choudhary

The limits of violence
by | K Balagopal

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The limits of violence

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 10, 2007


The experience from Andhra Pradesh has shown, in sharp profile, all that violence is capable of achieving and taking away.

By : K Balagopal

karen haydock

India’s Maoist movement is today the site of multiple paradoxes. On the one hand, many groups that would have unequivocally condemned the movement a decade ago for its violent methods are today increasingly prepared to see whether it has anything of value to offer – keeping open the question of violence. This change of heart has largely been brought around by the extreme insensitivity of the state – a change that ideological persuasion long failed to achieve. On the other hand, by increasingly relying on violence, including more arbitrary forms of it, the Maoist movement is receding farther and farther from any meeting point with such open-minded groups. In the era of neo-liberalism, many activists are not objecting as vociferously to violence in the ‘interests’ of the people as they once did, given that the current global socio-economic set-up is widely seen as an instrument of visible and invisible violence, the victims of which are the most vulnerable communities. But nearly all would still insist that the use of violent methods is nothing more than an exceptional option. Here is where the Maoists have yet to come around.

Andhra Pradesh offers a good case study of the compulsions that underlie the choice of violent methods of struggle, as well as the unpleasant consequences of the decision to take up arms. The Maoist movement owes its political character to the vicissitudes of its unfolding in both Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. But today, the movement is at its lowest ebb ever in Andhra, pushed to the corners of forest hideouts and into neighbouring Orissa and Chhattisgarh. At the same time, the movement is more prominently in the thoughts of politically active people than at almost any time in the past. Whether that interest can help the movement to truly break the shackles of repression, however, is a question that no close observer can avoid posing.

Too frequently, the discussion of revolutionary violence proceeds from the theoretical formulation made by the Naxalite movement – the stage of development of Indian society within the Marxist-Leninist paradigm, under which armed struggle is the only path to egalitarian revolution. However, neither the Naxalbari uprising nor any violent struggle undertaken by the Naxalites thereafter arose purely from this political belief. Instead, particular situations on the ground always made the choice a real possibility, and therefore made the theoretical belief more persuasive. Dogmatists on either side of the debate between violence and non-violence rarely understand that the average human being is simply not dogmatic in this particular issue. Moral pragmatism, coupled with abhorrence of any unnecessary or unjust use of violence, would about sum up the common person’s attitude. When the very capacity for large-scale violence leads the activist to ignore this attitude, a gap develops – one that the activist will perforce come to rue someday.

Sangham to dalam
In Andhra Pradesh, the Naxalite movement’s initial political dogmatism (usually blamed on Charu Majumdar, though he was probably not the only one to be blamed), which branded all mass activity as ‘un-revolutionary’, gave way to an important realisation. Even for the violent overthrow of the state, there is still a need to organise the people on their immediate social and economic demands, while simultaneously educating them about the preferred long-term strategy of armed struggle.

Soon after the lifting of the State of Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975, there was a mass upsurge in Karimnagar District, followed quickly in the other Godavari basin districts of Telangana. The communities that took part in this action were the poorest and socially lowest in the area, and they had organised around issues of wage, land and social oppression, all intricately linked with the larger issues of caste and gender. The targets of the movement – landlords as well as representatives of the state – knew that the Naxalites were behind this process of organisation, and also that the Naxalites believed in violence. But the struggle itself was by the unarmed poor, though of unprecedented determination and confidence. A few landlords of particularly vicious disposition were killed by the Naxalite cadre, but these acts could only be seen as ‘supplementary’ to the struggle of the people, not as a substitute for that struggle. The organisational centre was the agricultural labourers union, or Raythu Coolie Sangham (generally just known as the Sangham), and not the underground armed squads, known as dalams.

The state came down most heavily during this phase of the Naxalite movement, pointing to the rebels’ violence as justification. At that stage, however, the violence was no more than what the mainstream political parties themselves were indulging in.

The difference here was that this was not violence in the interest of the individual or faction, but rather in the interest of the most downtrodden communities. That should have put the movement on a higher moral plane, but morality is the last thing that dictates government policy, then or now. In reality, the fear was palpable in political circles that the rural socio-economic structure – the intact preservation of which is one of the fundamental compromises on which the Indian polity is based – was in danger of being irreparably shattered by the Naxalite movement.

The paradox is that this is what in the end did happen, in spite of all of the state’s repression. As a mere idea, upsetting social hierarchies is as potent as any actual redistribution of property, and if the redistribution could be halted by force, the idea could not. It was unstoppable, and thus went ahead. And it cannot be overstated that if the downtrodden no longer feel downtrodden in Telangana, the credit goes substantially to the Naxalites. While it is sometimes said that the commercialisation of the rural economy would have had the same effect sooner or later, this is a spurious line of argument, for two reasons. First, few would suggest that no other force would have been able to achieve the results achieved by the Naxalite movement. Second, while commercialisation may well have been able to put an end to some of the more obnoxious forms of social thought and relation, it would not have engendered social consciousness of the type that the Naxalite movement succeeded in sowing within India’s low social classes.

Escalation and breakdown
Rather than contemplating the might-have-beens of history, let us look at what the Naxalite groups did in response to state repression. The party, known for a long time as People’s War, decided on retaliation without giving up mass struggle – in theory, at any rate. In the meantime, the other major party, known as the Chandra Pulla Reddy group, decided on resistance based primarily on the people, without giving up armed struggle. The difference was in the emphasis on armed struggle versus mass struggle. In the end, neither really succeeded, though it could be said about the People’s War – now called the CPI (Maoist) – that the jury is still out.

The state retaliation that started during mid-1985 resulted in a spiral that is yet to abate. Correspondingly, the dalam replaced the Sangham as the organisational focus of the struggle. Such a shift took place, for instance, in Adilabad, which witnessed severe food shortages. The early strategy of villagers raiding shops and granaries and redistributing the grain gave way to armed action by dalams, who looted not just food, but also money, and wantonly demolished households.

Similarly, in the place of struggles by the people of the Sangham for higher wages, villages started seeing wages go up because of threats by the party, made visible through posters demanding higher wages. Settlement of disputes by the party in the presence of and with the participation of the people was replaced by decisions by the dalam in the presence of just a few villagers. Those who disagreed with this process would stop going to these ‘people’s courts’, so eventually the only audience at the adjudications would consist of the party loyalists.

All of this was taking place amidst heavy state repression: in 1992, the number of police ‘encounter’ killings crossed 200 for the first time; after 1996, it was in a rare year in which less than that number were killed. The People’s War was also killing in equal numbers, mostly ‘informers’ whose identification was wholly subjective. In 1992, the People’s War was banned, as were its mass organisations. Police torture became routine and increasingly vicious, while massive amounts of funding outfitted the security forces with sophisticated weaponry. The dalams followed suit, acquiring equally sophisticated weapons and becoming experts at various types of mines and explosives. So many police jeeps were blown up during this time – inevitably killing untargeted individuals as well – that the police eventually stopped using vehicles entirely in Naxalite areas, preferring to move on foot.

The radical dimension
Generalised violence draws a shroud of silence over events. It has the effect of shutting out both critical thought and assertiveness, which is fatal for the protection of human rights. Initiative rests instead with those who hold the guns, on whichever side they may be. Rebels who employ violence systematically attribute their decisions to ‘the people’, but the people in truth have little say in the matter. Instead, they become spectators to the political process, a clear denial of an essential democratic right. Those who agree with the rebels may well be content – and, to the extent that the majority agree with them, this contentment may appear universal. But contentment is no substitute for democracy, a fact that comes alive the day the agreement ceases.

The effects that insurgencies have on children have been widely discussed, but the ramifications go far beyond the young. It is a paradox that radical movements begin in response to pain and suffering, but the spiral of violence and counter-violence that accompanies such movements and the resultant state response generates considerable insensitivity, insecurity and fear. One way or another, this tangle of emotions almost inherently disallows respect for human rights. Repressive laws and extralegal measures undertaken by the state are promulgated on the backs of images of brutal violence, which likewise conjure feelings of growing insecurity. In such a situation, few deign to look at what exactly these repressive laws say or what exactly these repressive practices mean for the people – all the better for the state to spread a wide net, one that catches much more than those images of violence would seem to dictate.

Even the judiciary is not immune to the temptation to play on these insecurities. A full bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court recently rendered a judgement on fake encounters, essentially warning that those who infringe on the lives of others cannot ask for protection against state agencies. This essentially means that a ‘terrorist’ or ‘extremist’ can be shot dead by the police due to the fact that he himself, purportedly, does not hesitate to take lives in pursuit of his aims. In less violent times, such an inflammatory proposition would have met with immediate public rejection; but in the climate of fear created by frequent acts of arbitrary violence, there is considerable sympathy for such a dangerous, unprincipled stance.

Those who follow strategies that include violence can never be as careful as they may wish in their use of that violence. They begin by targeting only the enemies of the ’cause’, but frequently fall prey to the logic of terror: it is not through the elimination of individual ‘bad guys’, but rather through the creation of a climate of fear in which enemies dare not function, that most effectively establishes the radical’s dominion. ‘Preventive violence’, in which you claim a right to retaliate even before an enemy is fully formed, is not the brainchild of George W Bush, but an assumption common to strategies of violence of all kinds.

One of the more remarkable facts about Andhra Pradesh is that radical politics has become such a part of the common social consciousness, that it has allowed for the easy proclamation of ‘arbitrariness’ as a justifiable form of revolution. For a long time, the Maoists used to apologise for the arbitrary use of guns. But in more recent times, after their spread into Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, theirs is a much more cavalier and trigger-happy conduct. These days, the Maoists no longer apologise for arbitrary acts of violence. Indeed, the analyses the rebels publish on the Internet these days follow a time-tested strategy: publicise instances of state brutality; then sign off with the suggestion that, under such circumstances, the revolutionaries cannot be asked to be principled in their use of violence.

The need to safeguard and secure the lives of revolutionary fighters puts a premium on suspicion as a political strategy, which is in stark contrast to democratic mobilisation. So-called informers, moles and covert operatives are identified and ruthlessly killed, even when there is little more than suspicion as ‘evidence’. And since only the poor would have information to give about a poor-people’s movement, it is inevitably the poor who get killed in large numbers in the process.

Yet, again, the utter insensitivity of the state authorities to popular opinions and aspirations is continuing to impel many – who were hitherto against violence altogether – to consider the possibility that there may be some grain of truth in what the Maoists have been saying all this time. If this is to be the rope that helps the Maoists hoist themselves up, however, the rebels need to pay back the compliment by incorporating common human scruples into their understanding of violence: that it may be useful, at times even unavoidable, but that violence should never set the terms of political activity. And that the invariably, inherently, destructive impact of violence on democratic processes and practices must set the strictest of limits for its use.

This article is an edited version of the original, which is available with the author.

Himal south Asia

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Buddha’s Killing Fields of Nandigram!

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 4, 2007

Source: Mainstream weekly

Monday 3 December 2007, by D. Bandyopadhyay

It was a well-planned and equally well-executed bloody operation conducted by the armed marauders of the Communist Party of India- Marxist which started on and around November 5 and is still continuing with lesser intensity. The objective was simple and straightforward. It was to reoccupy several villages whose inhabitants were originally party loyalists who turned hostile to the party after the Haldia Development Authority published the notice regarding acquisition of land in 34 villages in Nandigram for establishing a “chemical hub”. That was on January 3, 2007. When anxious villagers went to a local Gram Panchayat Office to find out whether their homestead and agricultural lands were within the proposed area, the CPI-M Pradhan of the Gram Panchayat called the police to disperse the crowd. The police came. They lathicharged the crowd who refused to budge till they received a cogent reply. Then the police opened fire and retreated. In their panic and haste the police jeep hit a telegraph pole while driving at high speed. It overturned and caught fire. Villagers rescued the policemen from the overturned burning vehicle and allowed them to return to the police station safely. The CPI-M and the government falsely alleged that the violent crowed set fire to the jeep. If the crowd had any evil intention none of the policemen could have escaped serious injury or even death. Nothing happened to them excepting some minor injury due to the accident.

On January 7, 2007, the CPI-M goons attacked several villages in a pincer movement from land and river/canal. One Samanta family whose members owed allegiance to the CPI-M and through whose munificence they amassed huge wealth and among whom there was also an influential CPI-M local leader took the lead. From this CPI-M leader’s house shots were fired killing several innocent villagers who were caught unawares. In their rage villagers surrounded the house, killed the owner and set fire to the building. The loss of an ardent armed gang leader of the party was too hard an insult to swallow for the local party satrap, Lakshman Seth, of Haldia.

After Samanta’s death several families who were active office-bearers of the party and Panchayat left Nandigram out of fear to seek shelter in the neighbouring Khejury area which was and still now remains a CPI-M stronghold. The party and the government initially gave out a false figure of 15 thousand CPI-M active supporters having been driven out of Nandigram. The fact is that no one was driven out at that time. They left out of fright because of their closeness to active CPI-M operators who had been terrorising, intimidating, extorting the local people for their own private gain. There was an open outburst of suppressed public hatred and rage against them. It was expressed verbally without any physical violence. Altogether roughly 250 families fled away, many of them came back at the request of the local leaders and started living unmolested.

At first the Chief Minister denied that there was any notification by the government. Technically he was correct because the advance notice was given by the Haldia Development Authority (HDA) and not by the Land and Land Reforms Department. But that was mere semantics. He blamed the Opposition for creating trouble by spreading false rumours about acquisition. A newspaper published the photocopy of the notification the next day. Then the Chief Minister shifted his ground and stated that the HDA had no authority to publish such a notification. Again he committed an error because it was an advance notice and not a regular notification under the Land Acquisition Act. When he found that all his false statements were getting contradicted by document, he raved and roared saying “tear off that notice”, as if tearing off a copy of the notice would mean a change in the government’s decision to acquire 34,000 acres of land for the chemical hub to be set up by the Salem Group of Indonesia. After a few more farcical motions he announced that the project would be kept on hold for a while. He thought that that would pacify the angry peasants. They saw through the sinister game and got more angry. They organised themselves under the banner of the “Bhumi Uchhched Pratirodh Committee” (Committee for Resistance Against Forcible Eviction—BUPC). Thus began the battle for Nandigram.

Incidentally, Nandigram had been a red bastion for several decades. Way back in the late forties of the last century there was the tebhaga movement for the protection of the rights of sharecroppers. Bhupal Panda of the then united CPI led the movement. He was a legendary leader of the deprived and oppressed cultivators and agricultural labourers. The Left leanings of the inhabitants are more than six decades old. There was no “Opposition” party before the events of January 7, 2007. The CPI-M leadership cried “wolf” where there was none.

The CPI-M leadership started smarting sharply from the utter political humiliation they suffered in Nandigram. “Revenge” became the party’s buzz-word. The lost ground had to be regained at any cost. The government and the party fused into one. The bureaucracy and the police were brainwashed to treat the one for the other. Thirty years of one-party rule resulted in the total subversion of the neutrality and impartiality of the bureaucracy and the police. Instead of the “rule of law” they started believing in the “rule of the party”. Both became handy tools of the party bosses’ sinister game-plans to reconquer Nandigram in the same manner as the old zamindars used to fight to gain or regain territory.

AFTER two months of preparation the party and the government decided to strike back. Under the direction of the Police Minister, who was also the Chief Minister, about five battalions of armed policemen were mobilised. In addition, the CPI-M’s own armed cadres and roughs and goondas hired for the purpose were also deployed. The blueprint of the attack was prepared, as reported in the press, in the guest house of the Kolaghat Thermal Power Plant where the IG of Police, DIG of Police and the SP of East Midnapore along with the party bosses were present. The attack was planned on March 13. Reports of impending invasion were reaching a wide circle of public outside Nandigarm. The Governor of the State was at Chennai on March 13. He was informed of the imminent aggression on the peaceful peasantry of Nandigram. It must be put on record that strictly within his constitutional rights of advising and warning the government, the Governor advised utmost restraint to be shown in case of any police action. This was conveyed in no uncertain terms to the State Home Secretary by the Governor’s Secretary by the afternoon of March 13, 2007. These are all matters of record. No attack took place on March 13, 2007. On March 14 morning when the Governor was flying back to Kolkata from Chennai and was practically incommunicado, the operation started at 9.45 am. The armed police of the State and the armed goons of the party started indiscriminate fire on the unarmed children, women and men of Nandigram who were coming out of temples and mosques. Meanwhile roadblocks were set up all along on all the roads to Nandigram. These were manned openly by the CPI-M cadres aided and abetted by the police. Nobody from outside could go to Nandigram in the next 72 hours. So much so, that when the Governor wanted to visit Tamluk hospital on March 15, 2007, his convoy was obstructed by the CPI-M members on the road. When the Governor threatened to walk about 10 km alone leaving behind his convoy, on instructions from Kolkata, his motorcade was allowed to proceed to the hospital only and not beyond it.

There were various estimates regarding the number of persons killed, injured, missing and about the number of women raped and molested. The government obviously tried to suppress the facts. On the other side rumours spread that about hundred persons were killed whose bodies were taken away by the goons for disposal elsewhere. A group of non-partisan social scientists conducted a survey by the census method in 40 per cent of households in the affected villages a month-and-a-half after the event. They followed a strictly statistical methodology. Their findings are given below and in the following page.

Table 1: Serious Physical Injury in Nandigram on March 14, 2007

Sl. Nature of Injury Male Female Total
1 Bullet injury 41 18 59
2 Rubber Bullet injury 22 15 37
3 Fibre Rod/Baton/Rifle butt injury etc. 108 12 120
4 Tear gas shell burst injury 14 12 26
5 Bomb injury 2 2

Total 187 57 244

Thus on March 14, 2007, 244 persons, including 57 women, suffered serious physical injuries; 348 women suffered sexual atrocities of different kinds, including 11 rape cases; 14 persons including two women were killed; and four persons had been missing since March 14, 2007. These figures relate to only 40 per cent of the households in the affected villages.

Table 2: Severe Atrocities on Women on March 14 and 15
SL.No. Nature of Torture Number
1 Physical Torture 274
2 Modesty Violation 46
3 Sexual Torture 17
4 Rape 11

Total 348
Table 3: Deaths on March 14, 2007
Male Female Total
12 2 14
Table 4: Missing since March 14, 2007
Male Female Total
3 1 4

(Source: Sameekshak Samannaya: Nandigram March 14; September 2007, Kolkata, p. 13)

On March 15, 2007, the Governor expressed his “cold horror” while condemning the unnecessary and avoidable bloodbath. On the same day on a PIL petition the Calcutta High Court directed the CBI to enquire into the happenings in Nandigram and to submit a report within a week. The CBI found ample evidence of indiscriminate firing from both the police firearms and civilian firearms. They recovered empty shells of 315 sporting rifles. They found out an arsenal at the “Ma Janani” brick kiln in Khejury and arrested 10 goons with illegal firearms. They handed over these culprits to the State Police who released them all after 90 days deliberately without filing any chargesheet. With the presence of the CBI in the region peace was restored. Almost all the culprits fled away. The CBI submitted their preliminary report within seven days in a sealed cover to the High Court. The fact that all the miscreants were CPI-M supporters or hired by them was amply demonstrated by the CBI’s very limited enquiry. But what did the High Court do?

The High Court initially did nothing. To make the report of the CBI public and to advise them to carry on the investigation, a number of PILs were filed. Instead of throwing out these petitions as not maintainable, the High Court gave a formal hearing which ended in July 2007. Delivering the judgement in the Nandigram killings case on November 16, 2007 the High Court held that the police firing there on March 14, in which 14 people had been killed, was wholly unjustified and violative of Article 21 of the Constitution. The Division Bench, which passed the order, stated that the CBI inquiry into the Nandigram incident would continue and asked the investigating agency to submit a comprehensive report to it (the HC) within a month. The Court rejected all the arguments of the State Government, including its plea for stay on the implementation of the HC’s order. So far so good. But if the order had come prior to the autumn recess of the High Court, perhaps the second wave of the more horrendous bloody events could have been avoided. Meanwhile, on the plea that matters were pending in the High Court the State Government did not take any legal action against the offenders, nor did it initiate any departmental action against any defaulting officer. Not a single arrest was made. The State Government does not believe in the rule of law since such a regime of rule of law would go against the interests of the party members who are busy amassing illegal wealth and abusing power for their personal gain and for promoting group interest. Though delayed, even in their darkest hour, this judgement came as a great morale booster for the suffering peasantry of Nandigram.

THE long silence of the judiciary emboldened the party leadership. They had been carrying on probing attacks from the Khejury side since mid-April onwards. But instead of being cowed down, the members of the BUPC stiffened their resistance. The party and its government could not tolerate such impudence from the unarmed organised peasantry who were their loyalists for so many decades. The failure to “reconquer” Nandigram was hurting the prestige and the image of the party leadership. From late September onwards party leaders at all levels started planning a bloody offensive to recapture Nandigram. It should be stated here that there were no “Opposition” parties in this area before the disturbance started. It was a people’s uprising. Other parties were trying to ride on the surf. They did not create the surf.

A six-stage blueprint was prepared which was finalised again in a meeting of senior police officers in the same guest house of Kolaghat Thermal Plant. First, an intensive propaganda blitz of disinformation and misinformation was launched. They said falsely that 15,000 (which later on was scaled down to 3500) of their supporters had been driven out. The party found that calling the Jamait-e-Ulema-e-Hind as a communal force could adversely affect its Muslim vote-bank, so they dropped its name. They brought in the Maoists instead. That was because it would be a music to the ears of Government of India, particularly the Ministry of Home Affairs. The State Government’s open anti-Maoist stand helped them to come nearer to the GOI. False stories were spread that Maoists and Trinamul Congress workers were organising arms training, building bunkers, gathering deadly weapons, including automatic rifles, mortar, mines etc, though the State Home Secretary in a recent interview stated that the police did not find any evidence of Maoist incursion in the area.

Secondly, large scale mobilisation of known assassins, killers, murderers on payment of money of Rs 12000, for each night of operation and payment of Rs 2 lakhs to the next of kin in case of death for ordinary soldiers started in earnest. A well-known mafia don from the coal region and his gang were also deployed. A group of dacoits of the Salim gang was requisitioned from South 24-Parganas. Outlaws from Garbeta region under the leadership of Tapan Ghosh and Sukur Ali, popularly known as “butchers of Garbeta and Chhoto Angaria”, were brought down from that area. In addition, known roughs and gangsters with their helpers were hired from Bankura, Purulia, West Medinipur and Arambagh of Hooghly. A known ruffian from Baruipur with his villainous followers was hired. Along with money they were provided with free shelter, food and alcohol etc. to keep them happy.

Thirdly, a six-pronged attack programme was chalked out to avoid known points of resistance of the BUPC.

Fourthly, to clear the deck for free and easy operation all police pickets along the Tekhali canal and other sensitive spots were withdrawn and the whole area was cordoned off to prevent ingress or egress of any “outsiders”.

Fifthly, deadly weapons like AK-47s and AK-56s, Ichhapore rifles, locally made shotguns and adequate ammunition were stored at vantage points. In this operation three Ministers and several MPs were involved. High explosive bombs started to be manufactured in a couple of places under the guidance of known “ustads” of the underworld. Incidentally, in one of the manufacturing units in Khejury, there was a nasty explosion which killed one of the “ustad” bomb-makers and two of his ‘chelas’ after which this story came out.

Sixthly, while experienced gang leaders were in charge of different sectors, some of the known CPI-M leaders were deployed as Political Commissars to these sector commanders.

The time given to the “Operation Reconquest” was seventytwo to ninetysix hours.

From around November 3 and 4, 2007, all roads leading to Nandigram were blocked by slogan-shouting CPI-M cadres. TMC leader Mamata Banerjee could go only up to Tamluk which was about 70 km away from Nandigram. Medha Patkar had to return twice, once from Kapasberia and the next time from Kolaghat, which is only an hour’s drive from Calcutta. No mediapersons, excepting one TV channel of their choice, were allowed to go. They are unable to go even now (November 17, 2007). Only one reporter of the Dainik Statesman stayed back as a part of the local population and sent graphic despatches.

WHEN the operation started it could not make any significant incursion due to the resistance of the BUPC volunteers. Then the BUPC made a major tactical error. They decided to take out two processions of their supporters on November 10 morning without any arms (not even with lathis) towards the peripheral villages under “red” occupation. In an absolutely military manner the CPI-M cadres ambushed these two processions from two points killing roughly 100 persons, injuring over 150 and capturing about 800 or so unarmed villagers. They also carried away most of the dead bodies and some wounded persons. Then they lit up a huge community funeral pyre where both the dead and some living injured persons were burnt alive. Their savagery far exceeded any recorded incident of cruelty and brutality of the Middle Ages.

Next day on November 11, 2007 the goons put in front the human shield of the captured persons and started moving in. Resisting them would mean killing their own men and women. Resistance leaders decided to withdraw en masse. Armed bandits entered the deserted villages of Sonachura, Gokulnagar and Garh Chakraberia. Reconquest of Nandigram was completed. As a token of conquest they planted red flags all over the area which BJP leader L.K. Advani himself witnessed on his visit to Nandigram. (Ashish Ghosh, Dainik Statesman, November 15, 2007) The stories of savagery that are trickling out are blood-chilling. Since these murderers do not obey any law, they could not care less about the laws of war. Major Aditya Bera (Retd.) settled down in his own village at Gokulnagar after retirement. On the morning of November 10, 2007, he joined hundreds of his co-villagers in a peaceful procession. As the procession approached the point of hidden ambush, the marchers faced intense fire. A bullet hit Major Bera. He had nothing in hand to fight back excepting his courage and loyalty to the nation with which he served for more than three decades as an officer of the Indian Army. He was dragged along and taken to a party operational headquarters for interrogation. Since he was a retired Major they thought he gave the BUPC tactical advice. He had nothing to tell them. Finding him of no operational value, they shot him dead and as a sign of primordial barbarity they beheaded him. Major Bera who earlier in life fought for mother India, died in the hands of villains of uncertain parentage. Kanai Sheet of Sonachura was the father of Khokan Sheet, a well-known leader of the BUPC. Both of them suffered bullet injuries. Khokan could escape. Kanai was not that lucky. He was taken to Khejury, tortured and killed because his son was resisting land acquisition. (Sukumar Mitra: Despatch from Nandigram: Dainik Statesman)

Horrifying stories of gang rape were told by a few surviving victims in Tamluk hospital where they were undergoing treatment. Afroza Bibi, a rape victim stated that on November 11, 2007 when she had come back from the noon namaaz about 30 armed persons entered her house. They first started beating them up with butts of guns. Then Bachhu, Mir Ahshan, Kalu, S.K. Barik and Abdul Rauf raped her consecutively in presence of her second daughter (16) and youngest daughter (14). Other ruffians looked on. Then her two daughters were gangraped in her presence. Thereafter they kidnapped them. Afroza Bibi did not know where they had taken them. She further stated all of them were known persons. Equally horrifying was the experience of Krishna Pramanik (26). She was dragged away from the procession and gangraped publicly in a public field. She lost consciousness. All these stories were video recorded by volunteer medical personnel later on. (Biswaji Ghosh: Dainik Statesman, Kolkata, November 13, 2007, p. 3)

I stop narrating any more story of bestiality and barbarity.

AND what was the reaction of the Chief Minister Buddha Bhattacharjee? After the “Reconquest of Nandigram” he held a formal press/media conference at the Writers’ Building. He said: “We paid them back in the same coin … Serves them right.” When a journalist asked him whether he was the Chief Minister of West Bengal or only of the CPI-M, the agitated CM shot back that the journal where the journalist worked had been writing provocative pieces for the last 11 months. In any other State such a paper would have been banned. But he did not do so because “I do not want to soil my hand by killing a stinking mole”. This paper is Bartaman, a well-reputed and well-respected Bengali newspaper with more than half-a-million circulation. Commenting on this outrageous observation of the Chief Minister, Ravindra Kumar, Editor of The Statesman, observed: “Unlike the protections granted to the judiciary and legislatures, the law—anticipating perhaps the quality of rulers we would give ourselves—does not characterise contempt of an administrator or of a Chief Minister as a crime. Mr Bhattacharjee’s comment is not only beneath contempt, but it is ominous.” (The Statesman, Kolkata, November 17, 2007)

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the Governor of West Bengal, a noble soul, issued a statement on the happenings of Nandigram on November 9, 2007 to discharge his constitutional duty as a Governor “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law”. He observed, inter alia, ” … But the manner in which the ‘recapture’ of Nandigram villages is being attempted is totally unlawful and unacceptable. I find it equally unacceptable that while Nandigram has been ingressed with ease by armed people on the one hand, political and non-political persons trying to reach it had been violently obstructed. Some of them were bearing relief articles for the homeless. The treatment meted to Smt Medha Patkar and other associates of hers last evening (November 8, 2007) was against all norms of civilised political behaviour.” He advised the State Government to take certain immediate steps. “These include (i) immediate return of the ingressers; (ii) the giving of urgent relief to the displaced persons in Nandigram; and (iii) the facilitation of their return to their homes. I have also asked the administration to remove the new unauthorised manmade blocks at entry points to (here he mentions names of four different roads) … Let me conclude by saying: Enough is enough. Peace and security should be restored without any delay.”

That was November 9. Full-blooded operations with primordial bestiality and cruelty continued for another 48 hours, that is, till November 11, 2007. Even today sporadic killings and mayhem are continuing in the presence of the CRPF and the State Police. Obviously the threat of pulling the rug by the CPI-M has totally paralysed and incapacitated the UPA Government at the Centre. As a result, they are unable to issue appropriate directive under Article 355 of the Constitution to restore the rule of law in Nandigram and elsewhere in West Bengal after such a severe indictment of the State Government by the Governor and the Calcutta High Court.

The author was the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministries of Finance (Revenue) and Rural Development, and the Executive Director, Asian Development Bank, Manila.

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How India’s Poor Fight Left & Right

Posted by Indian Vanguard on December 3, 2007

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Written by Kalam Nishan Singh
Sunday, December 02, 2007

India has some 530 districts, Pakistan has less than half. In more that 200 districts, the writ of the Indian Government is seriously challenged. There are many districts where no public servant wants to be posted as the District Collector. But New Delhi’s foreign policy hinges on telling the world all the time that the Pakistanis do not know how to run their country.

In large swathes of India, the self-proclaimed great nuclear power and one of the world’s fastest growing economies, New Delhi’s helplessness is legendary before the umpteen people’s movements inspired by self-aspirational ideas or fights for land, security and self-respect.

In Nandigram, the world saw what the Indian state is capable of doing to its people. The mask came off from the face of even India’s so-called progressive forces. The pro-people communist government finally revealed its Dracula teeth and monster claws as the CPI(M) cadres went maiming, looting, threatening, raping, killing the poorest of the poor in Nandigram to help corporates like the Indonesia’s Salim group to set up a Chemical Hub in the region. The CPI(M) did something similar earlier in Singur where its cadres beat to pulp the opposition as the government acquired 10,000 acres of land for the Tatas.

But then this is the kind of stuff that India has been doing to its teeming millions for decades now, stealing their land, rivers, forests, security for the upper crust, the only crust to which the India International Center is cued in to.

What has been the response of the Indian government to the many many Nandigrams across India? In vast areas of Bihar, private armies of the thug-politicians and resistance groups are fighting ugly, armed battles everyday. In Chattisgarh, the writ of the government can be enforced in only small swathes. In Jharkhand, the Chief Minister publicly says he is only sure of his orders being followed in Ranchi. As for rest of the state, New Delhi is only a distant power.

The Government of India is merely a rumour in vast areas of the country.

In West Bengal, Chief Minister Budhadeb Bhattarcharya _____ said atrocities of the CPI(M) cadres on the poor was a way of paying them back in their own coin. Here, then, dear Indian Establishment, we bring you the saga of real India paying New Delhi back in its own coin.

In the small town called Sukma along Chhattisgarh’s state Highway 43, the only sign of the government of India are the lonely electric poles. Lonely, because there are no cables strung on them. Most roads are bad, not because the state PWD did not use good quality material, but because land mines meant to keep out the Indian state’s police and paramilitary forces are made of exceptionally good quality. Every time someone negotiates these paths, hawk eyed locals check you out with a piercing gaze to judge which side are you on.

State of statelessness starts here. Welcome to the territory where India is a distant entity, represented occasionally by a khaki clad gun totter representative of India who is too afraid to tip toe over the land mines. One hour flight distance away from Bombay, this too shows up on the map as India. On Manmohan Singh’s mindscape, this is marked out as the single most serious internal security threat to India.

And there are so many shapes and sizes of this threat, so many different intensities, that the simplistic-solution loving India which has always hated complexity and loved a linear reading of any problem has devised an all encompassing tag for it: Naxalism.

Globalization, booming Indian economy, 10 per cent growth rate, 11th Five Year Plan. Men like Manmohan Singh will be lost here. Unfortunately for the designers of the new India, a country exists outside the seminar rooms of the India International Centre also. Too bad, there is something south of South Delhi also. This is called the real India.

It is from this place that the have-nots of an unevenly prospering nation wage a grim war against the government, armed with weapons mostly stolen from “the enemy”, India’s security forces, and in many areas, with an ideology imported from the China of Mao Tse-Tung, from the 1960s.

There is no CPI(M) apologist here to talk about modern China. Alongside the local sesame, teak and mahua trees, an extreme doctrine has been sending deep roots into the tribal psyche, especially among the warrior tribes of Madias and Kois. The tribals allege that for decades, the government and its business cronies have carried out a multibillion-rupee trade in local tobacco and firewood, without sharing the spoils with them. So, the government has been shunted out. The state is recruiting boys and girls as young as 15 as special police officers. These armed youngsters patrol the roads.

On a recent excursion, Stevan Desai of the Hindustan Times, found how every government-run primary school, post office and hospital here has been taken over by Naxalites — the local engines of Maoist revolutionary thought who take their name from a 1967 peasant uprising in Naxalbari, West Bengal. Chhattisgarh now is the Liberated Zone’s bloodiest battleground. Desai is a brave reporter, and a sincere one. Not many of India’s pen pushers are now able to take time off to write about anything other than Indian Idol clown of its American counterpart, unless it is for some equally dumb film star.

In Maoist territory, a few rusty hand pumps are the only memories of a fugitive government. The schools, the dams, even the tax system, are run by the Naxalites. Villagers pay with money, or with food, shelter, clothes and medicines. Families who cannot even afford that in this desperately poor area where the monthly per capita income is Rs 200 (40 per cent below the national average) give their men and boys to the revolution as tax.

“The Maoists told my family we have a choice: either the men join the movement or pay up Rs 500. We were given three chances to pay, in food grains, if not cash,” says 19-year-old Pancham Dhulia at Kurti, the second of the five relief camps on the 80-km highway from Sukma to Konta where victims of the Maoists or people disgruntled with them live in constant fear of reprisal. “My family could not pay. They handed me over to the movement as tax.”

Such recruits ensure that your journey from Jagdalpur, 300-odd km from state capital Raipur, to Pamed, is a 20-hour detour through neighboring Andhra Pradesh.

There is a shorter road through a village called Chintalnar, where security forces have not ventured for months now. This road is heavily littered with Claymore landmines, which first earned their stripes killing thousands in World War II. Relentless sniper fire could make the road even shorter for the casual visitor.

The ambushed police station in Bijapur did not particularly want to be the last representative of the Indian state in this area. All other government institutions have withdrawn. Stevan Desai quoted Rajendar Vij, Inspector-General of Police (Bastar Range) as saying, “We had asked for its closure.” There are no telephones here, no cell signal, no electricity.

Policemen say there are several areas deep in Bijapur and Dantewada where they have not ventured for two decades. In Dantewada, the violence has wiped out 644 tribal villages. The Maoists are likely to re-distribute this land. Naxalites, like the police, have Insas rifles, Kalashnikovs, light machine guns, SLRs, and .303s. They also have more numbers.

The other road into the Liberated Zone, Highway 43, is the only bleak artery that the government retains in about 1.3 lakh sq km — that’s the size of 300 Mumbais — of Naxalite territory. Along the highway are the five relief camps that stay huddled beside CRPF shelters.

From here, the Indian state issues its nervous and disturbing answer to the siege. It recruits boys and girls as young as 15 as special police officers (SPOs), arming them with World-War-vintage .303 rifles. While the security forces concentrate on their own posts, these youngsters patrol the roads and guard the camps. These counter-insurgents are called Salwa Judum, ‘the movement to purify’, in the local Chhattisgarhi language.

Here, dear WSN readers, is the real face and strategy of the Indian Government. Get the poor to fight with the poor. Salwa Judam with Naxalites, poor CPI(M) cadre with the Nandigram poor, unemployed Sikhs recruited as SPOs with the Sikh militants.

At Konta town on the Andhra Pradesh border, there are 180 SPOs, many of them young girls. They joined so that they could support their families, left homeless and unemployed by the Maoists, with Rs 2,000-3,000 as monthly government allowance. “If I do not hold the gun, I will be killed, now that we are on the other side,” says a 16-year-old SPO, requesting anonymity. “Also, I get to earn to feed my family.”

Barely 2 km away in the red beyond, the children of India’s own intifada play cops and Maoists, in which little boys acting as comrades vanquish the “corrupt and evil” police forces. “The Maoist strategy of catching them young is eerily similar to that of the Khmer Rogue, the Maoist-inspired revolutionary party responsible for the Cambodian genocide,” says an article in the Washington DC-based magazine Global Affairs.

In scores of towns — Pamed, Narainpur and Koligoda — Maoists run the schools, distribute grain and construct dams to irrigate this lush, fertile land. A CRPF Sub-Inspector warned Desai not to cross Sukma, which houses the last petrol station and the last bottles of soft drink. His words should haunt New Delhi for many many years of the battles that are still in the future: “It’s a war and, forget winning, we do not know how to fight it.”

Listen to it, India. You do not know how to fight this war, because no nation state has ever devised a fool proof way of fighting its own people. You are arraigned against yourself. You are killing your own. You are killing yourself. What does one say to a suicide-minded nation? Go, take a jump!

Kalam Nishan Singh can be reached at

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Between Left And Right

Posted by Indian Vanguard on November 29, 2007

One of the survivors of Nandigram
Between Left And Right
It is hard to decide which is more unappetising–Buddhadeb Bhattacharya declaring that the CPI(M) had paid protestors back in their own coin at Nandigram, or the BJP and Congress condemning the violence there, ignoring their own culpability for similar behaviour in Chhattisgarh and Gujarat. ... ... ...
Nandini Sundar
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It is hard to decide which is more unappetising–the spectacle of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya declaring that the CPI(M) had paid protestors back in their own coin at Nandigram, or the BJP and Congress condemning the violence there, ignoring their own culpability for similar behaviour in Chhattisgarh and Gujarat. The use of vigilante groups or armed cadre, supported and sanctioned by a pliant bureaucracy, to physically defeat an opposing group–whether defined in religious or political terms–rather than relying on legal means and political discussions, is evidently the latest fashion in governance. It is time, we are told, to forget the old expectation that it is the police which is meant to maintain law and order and not gangs of party members, or that Chief Ministers will rise above their individual parties to represent the people of the state as a whole (the logic behind the first-past-the-post system where the elected member equally represents those who voted against her or him), or even that, there is a Constitution which all elected officials are sworn to uphold.

Let us take the bare facts of Nandigram, as scripted by the Chief Minister of West Bengal himself–villagers protesting against land acquisition formed the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (BUPC) and drove out supporters of the CPI(M) who were in favour of the proposed chemical hub. In November 2007, these CPI(M) cadre ‘reclaimed’ their villages, and this time, it is the BUPC members who were driven out, their houses burnt and women raped. In essence, this is not very different from the Salwa Judum being run jointly by the Congress MLA of Dantewara, Mahendra Karma, and the BJP government of Chhattisgarh, where armed vigilantes, some of them given official positions as special police officers, burn villages, kill people, and rape women with impunity, on the grounds that they are wresting these areas back from the Naxalites. In both cases, the local administration has ceased to exercise its own judgement–officials take orders from the goons of the party in power. In Dantewada district, a letter from the Chief Secretary carries less weight than the orders of a lumpen Salwa Judum camp leader.

In both cases, the presence of Maoists is used to imply that anything goes, that once an area is declared ‘Naxal-affected’, all the normal protections of the rule of law and fundamental rights cease to apply. Government presence in these areas then depends solely on the power of the gun, and the relative superiority of its police and vigilantes over the ‘other side’, including unarmed civilians.

Yet, the differences between Nandigram and Dantewada are as striking as the similarities, and they lie not in the hubris of the ruling party, which is much the same, but in the responses of the media and civil society. Even though the scale of Salwa Judum terror is far greater than Nandigram, it has gone almost entirely unreported.

According to the figures provided in a PIL before the Supreme Court, at least 540 persons have been killed by the Salwa Judum and security forces from June 2005 till the present, including 33 children (some as young as two and five), and 45 women. This is a small fraction of the killings by the Salwa Judum, most of which have gone unrecorded, and does not include the approximately 550 civilians and police personnel that the Naxalites have killed in escalating retaliatory action for Salwa Judum. At least 2,825 houses have been burnt by the Salwa Judum and at least 99 women have been raped. Approximately one lakh people, or one-eighth of the district’s population has been displaced–half of them are in government controlled camps to which they were forcibly evacuated, and the other half are refugees in neighbouring states.

A petition–one of hundreds–submitted along with the PIL, after describing the killing and torture inflicted by Salwa Judum, asks despairingly, “Why is this happening in our country, why is this happening in Chhattisgarh? Why has the Chhattisgarh administration been running this? Has our Chief Minister been elected only for this?” And yet, not once have the atrocities committed by the Salwa Judum figured on the front pages of any national newspaper; not once has any team of parliamentarians gone to talk to the affected people; and not once have NHRC members visited.

When two lakh people rallied in Jagdalpur on November 5th this year to protest against the Salwa Judum and land acquisition by the Tatas and Essar for steel plants, there was not even a whisper in the national press; it is hard to imagine that a rally of even 10,000 would have gone unreported had it been in favour of Salwa Judum or industrial acquisition.

In part, this silence is explained by the natural anti-leftism of the media, and its warped notion of ‘balance’. As Michael Tomasky pointed out in the American context, but which could as well apply to the Indian media when dealing with the BJP: ‘they now bend over backward to demonstrate that they can be ‘tough’ on liberals and ‘fair’ to conservatives’. But the media is not everything.

The difference also needs to be further explained in terms of the lack of the appropriate kind of organisations to feed the media. Nandigram and the Gujarat genocide of 2002 both became front page news, in part because they were located next to major cities with concentrations of journalists (Ahmedabad and Calcutta), in part because of the presence of middle class local activists, in part because the issue was taken up by opposing parliamentary parties. Chhattisgarh, by contrast, lacks a tribal middle class or a density of civil/political society organisations; many national newspapers do not have correspondents there since it is a new state; in an unprecedented show of unity, both the Congress and the BJP are jointly prosecuting the counterinsurgency.

Above all, Chhattisgarh, unlike Bengal, also has a Public Security Act, which is even worse than POTA in terms of its censorship, and which has been used to arrest and intimidate people who have protested, like the General Secretary of the PUCL, Binayak Sen.

But, finally, the real difference lies in the principles of the Left and Right, between a state ruled for many years by the Left as in Bengal and one ruled by the BJP as in Gujarat. Whereas the citizens of Gujarat let no hint of remorse taint their restful nights, even after having witnessed the murder and maiming of their fellow citizens, the people of Bengal are an anguished lot, anguished at the betrayal of the principles they voted for.

Decades of CPI (M) rule may not have done much for Bengal’s human development indicators but it has expanded the constituency of those who believe in democracy and equality; it has entrenched a conscience in its supporters. The strongest critics of the CPI (M) come from within. Decades of BJP rule, on the other hand, may have created Gujarat Shining, but has destroyed the very possibility of humanity. As for Chhattisgarh, let us all go back to pretending that it doesn’t exist; at the rate that villages are being emptied and people killed, there will soon be nothing and nobody left to destroy.

Nandini Sundar is Professor of Sociology, Delhi University

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West Bengal former left front minister Ashok Mitra on Nandigram

Posted by Indian Vanguard on November 21, 2007

Ashok Mitra on Nandigram

Ashok Mitra is a former Chairman of the Agricultural Prices Commission and Chief Economic Advisor of the Government of India. He was the first Finance Minister of the Left Front Government in West Bengal in 1977, and a former member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament. He has been a close friend to Monthly Review, from Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff to the present editorial committee. Ashok Mitra assisted in the creation of Monthly Review‘s sister edition in India, the Analytical Monthly Review. His heartfelt appeal to the central leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for a fundamental change of course is of the greatest significance. — John Mage

Till death I would remain guilty to my conscience if I keep mum about the happenings of the last two weeks in West Bengal over Nandigram. One gets torn by pain too. Those against whom I am speaking have been my comrades at some point of time. The party whose leadership they adorn has been the centre of my dreams and works for the last 60 years.

Let me start with the Governor. Those who remember Anantaprasad Sharma or T.V. Rajeshwar would admit that it’s a great fortune of this state and the government that they have someone as gentle, well-mannered, sympathetic, modest and erudite as Gopalkrishna Gandhi as Governor. Let me also add that he had consented to the post because of the interest shown by the central leadership of the CPI(M). What has been his fault that the ruling party is so determined to declare him as its enemy? It is being said that the Governor has termed the return of those who were forced to flee Nandigram to take shelter in Khejuri as illegitimate and unpardonable. This is nothing but a travesty of truth. He has not done so. He has condemned, in no uncertain terms, the way in which they have been brought back.

By now the machinations that went on behind the return is known to the world. The government had enough scope to rehabilitate these devastated people in their own homes through political mediation or administrative arrangements during the last 11 months. The attempts through unilateral threats, policeaction and indiscriminate firing had a tragic end. But there were still many avenues left to be explored. The government could have announced compensation for the family of the dead and injured after the idiotic incident of firing.

Promises could have been made to take action against the police officers and personnel involved in the crime. Days passed, the government did nothing.

The senior-most political leader of the state and the country had to take the initiative to call up Mamata Banerjee, sit and discuss with her a few conditions for resolution. The government was intimated, but did not proceed. On the initiative of senior Forward Bloc leader Ashok Ghosh, an all-party meeting was convened. That also got stalled due to the indirect pressure from the ruling party.

Meanwhile, as was inevitable, opposition parties started using the unstable situation of Nandigram to their own advantage. The flame of tension was kept burning by a variety of organisations of different colours and classes. The whining one hears from the ruling party over this has no rationale whatsoever. The responsibility of unspoken suffering of those who spent 11 months as homeless rests squarely on the shoulders of the government.

It is better to look further into the past. Nandigram was not after all the ‘first blood’. The Singur episode had happened before that.

The government does not like nationalised industries; they want to set up private industries in the state. Hence, there are promises to acquire land on behalf of the national and international capitalists. Since there was declaration of industrialisation in the election manifesto, and since they have won 235 seats, it was assumed that there was no need for preparations. All of a sudden, peasants were told: leave the land, the masters would set up industries here. If it had learned even a very little from the protests, clashes and the blood-letting at Singur, the government would have been more careful in Nandigram. But that was not to be, it remained as arrogant as ever.

Even the top leaders of the ruling party have been saying there was no existence of opposition parties in Nandigram. The government itself provided them with the opportunity to grow. The loyal followers of the ruling party declared revolt and those who were not with them were driven out. The onus of this rests on the government as well.

For 11 months, complete silence and inactivity were carefully maintained. No political or administrative alternative was explored. Suddenly, a new plot was hatched. As has been repeatedly admitted by the Bengal Home Secretary, the police was instructed to remain inactive. Mercenaries were collected from across the state. Workers of the ruling party encircled Nandigram from all directions. Birds, bees, flies, journalists — no one was given the permission to penetrate the blockade.

And then the light brigade of the ruling party charged in, beat the wayward militants of Nandigram to a pulp and into submission. Those who had fled returned. However, the moment of their return saw a parallel and opposite incident. Houses were torched anew; those who were inside Nandigram were butchered in a massive celebration of revenge. At present, the Nandigram sky is reverberating with screams of the recent batch of refugees. The problem does not involve Singur and Nandigram alone. It is much more deep and serious. The repetition of mistakes has become a habit. Just consider this for a minute: it has only been a year-and-a-half since the Left Front has won a massive mandate. And what examples of arrogance and stupidity during this brief span. Come what may, we shall have control over every nook and corner of the state. The cricket board will get its chief elected by our dictates. If our candidate loses, we would say, “Evil power has won, we will chase him out.” We are an all-knowing government: from cricket, poetry, theatre, films to the magic of land acquisition — we know everything. Neither should anyone lecture us on the pros and cons of the nuclear deal, for we have won 235 seats. Jyoti Basu won more seats in 1987 but he was never heard to mouth such hubris.

Not only hubris, ineptitude also. Decades have passed shouting hoarse about universal education, and still Bengal is behind so many states. Money is flowing in from the Centre for employment generation schemes, there is zero administrative initiative. The hungry and the unemployed go hungry and unemployed. The Centre has arranged for wheat and rice. These are not even picked up so that they could be sent to the middle and lower classes through the public distribution system.

One can borrow S.D. Burman’s songto describe what the CPI(M) was in the state a few decades ago: “You are not what you were.” Ninety per cent of the party members have joined after 1977, 70 per cent after 1991. They do not know the history of sacrifices of the party. To them ideological commitment to revolution and socialism is simply a fading folktale. As the new ideology is development, many of them associated with the party are in the search for personal development. They have come to take, not to give. One efficient way to bag privileges is to flatter the masters. The party has turned into a wide open field of flatterers and court jesters. Moreover, there has been a rising dominance of ‘anti-socials’. For different reasons, every political party has to lend patronage to ‘anti-socials’, they remain in the background and are called into duty at urgent times. In the 1970s, these anti-socials had reached the top rung of the state Congress. I fear the same fate is awaiting the communist party.

I feel sorry for Jyoti Basu. Of the four ministerial colleagues who took the oath as members of the first Left Front government with him on June 21, 1977, only I am still alive. His current state — like imprisoned Shah Jahan — saddens me deeply. But my real concern lies elsewhere. Mamata Banerjee is the safest insurance for the current ruling party. Urban and rural masses may have become discontented with the Left Front, but whenever they imagine Banerjee’s ascent to power, the sheer terror of that possibility has made them vote for the Left Front. But if it comes to a situation that the hubris and ineptitude of leaders of the Left Front government frustrate them so much that they begin to think there is no difference really, it’s all tweedledum and tweedledee, that will be the real disaster. For notice the behaviour, patronage, programme, mode of action, speech of Mamata Banerjee — she personifies fascism. My ardent appeal to the central leadership of the party which I still love to think to be mine: please think it over. You shiver at the terror of Maoism. Will that shivering compel you to throw West Bengal into the gutter of fascism?

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Left With an Alternative

Posted by Indian Vanguard on November 5, 2007

M.J. Akbar,

The Indian left is much larger than its most visible face, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It is split three ways, each currently pointing in three directions. The CPM, CPI and their smaller partners represent the institutional-democratic element. The Naxalites, or Maoists, are the unstructured, undemocratic but increasingly potent dimension.

The recognized parties are restricted to one large, one medium and one small state. There is reasonable dispute over the true strength of the Naxalites. Some argue that many state governments are too eager to declare some of their districts Naxalite-infested because this translates into nonbudgetary assistance from the center to curb the “Naxalite menace” in the name of that variable virtue called “law and order”. But even if the Naxalites are not as powerful in the claimed 170 districts, there is no doubt about their influence in over 80 districts — sufficient to direct the course of the vote if they choose to do so. The Naxalites do not have a coordinated view on important issues, but it may be relevant to note that they were the first political force in the broad opposition spectrum to take an unambiguous view of the Indo-US nuclear deal. They rejected it comprehensively. We do not know if this will be reflected in the elections within those 80-odd constituencies, but it might if, as seems likely, the nuclear deal becomes a central focus of the next general elections.

A third aspect of the left base goes largely unrecognized because it is not obvious. This is the vote that would have gone to the left, if the left had existed on the electoral map of that region. This is the “poor” or ” garibi” vote that once automatically went to the Nehru-Indira Gandhi Congress, but which no longer recognizes the party. Congress sensitivity is so heavily magnetized by the Sensex that it has no space for any parallel reality. This vote has switched twice, in the north, to regional parties. The first time it did so was in 1967; the second time was after 1989. The patterns in the south followed a different course, but there too the vote has shifted or swung between the Congress and regional parties.

The latest beneficiary of this phenomenon has been Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. There are two reasons why the BSP could break out from the limits of provincial success. Its core base, the Dalit, is spread across the country. The Dalits and Muslims constitute the only powerful nationwide vote blocs. Other vote blocs may be national in their sentiment, but they are not nationwide in their presence. There is also great overlap between the Dalit, Muslim and “poverty” identities. If Mayawati can harmonize and then mobilize these identities, she can extend her UP numbers into a much larger calculus.

Mayawati is essentially occupying the space left vacant by an absent left. This is why she cannot make much headway in the states where the left is entrenched. Alternatively, she succeeds handsomely where the Congress has ebbed.

What are the chances of a left crumble, if not collapse, in the next general elections?

Kerala is a seesaw, so the Marxists cannot hope to repeat their success of 2004. They will succeed, however, in tiny Tripura, because they have delivered on the two basics of good governance: Distributive economic growth and social harmony.

Uncharacteristically, the CPM has fumbled on both counts in the critical state of Bengal. While Nandigram may continue to dominate the headlines, Bengal’s Marxists should be equally worried by the riots against ration shops in their heartland constituencies, like Birbhum. Food riots destroyed the Congress before 1967, and they will eat into Marxist margins in 2008.

One of the curious myths, sponsored by the current mania within the upwardly mobile middle class, is that the underprivileged are either unreasonable in their demand for exclusive attention, or, worse, simply unworthy of too much attention since they are a drag factor on economic growth. It is obvious that such self-comforting panaceas have infected Bengal’s Marxists. The truth is that the poor are far more realistic than they are given credit for. They do not believe that there is some magic wand. They have more patience than the better off; not because they are more saintly, but because they have fewer options. What the poor do possess, however, and have every right to retain, is a powerful sense of justice. They can read a signal, or detect a nuance quickly, for they do not have the luxury of complacence. The Bengal government has increasingly indicated that it prefers middle-class coziness to street sensitivity. The manner in which, for instance, it has repeatedly snubbed Muslim sentiment is spectacular in its amateurishness.

How big a price will the party pay? The Marxists may still be rescued by the stand that the national leadership has taken against the proposed strategic alliance with the United States that constitutes the core of the so-called nuclear deal. In real terms, this strategic alliance means involvement in American conflicts in the Middle East. The Muslims have a rather unique distinction: They are possibly the one Indian community with a foreign policy. They have no sympathy for George Bush, and there could be electoral rewards for the Marxists in Bengal and Kerala, if they retain the clarity to find it. This will compensate for some of the malfunctioning in governance.

But the true opportunity for the Indian left lies in the phase or politics after the next general elections, between 2008 and 2012. And this opportunity will open up in the Hindi heartland. One can see the impetus that created the groundswell for regional parties (most of them splinters of the old Socialist movement) beginning to fade. We might not see the explosive self-destruction of 1971, but it will be difficult for the regional parties to hold their own against the resurgent claimants of this space. The Hindi heartland will probably return to one of the two mainline parties by 2012, either the Congress or the BJP, depending on which of them has managed to preserve its credibility. The outside option in this game is the BSP, but its rise will only be a consequence of Congress implosion, since their vote base is similar if not the same.

The only alternative to either the BJP or the Congress will be a Left Front on the lines of the Bengal or Kerala model. The Kerala model, in fact, may be more relevant, but with a northern manifestation of the Muslim League thrown in.

The ground for such a collision will have many seeds, from the old Socialist movement of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia to the spadework being done by the Naxalites in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The Naxalite tactic of violence cannot be an end in itself; it must be the means toward a more sustainable political objective.

The future of the left does not lie in the continuation of poverty. That is negative bias disguised with clever semantics. No one has a vested interest in poverty, least of all the left. The future of the left lies in justice, not poverty; in an economic program that can create wealth without handing it over to a narrow apex.

That apex, however, is crowded by an orchestra of sirens. Can the left leadership, as it negotiates its way through troubled waters in the next five years, resist the lure of those sirens?

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Indexing inhumanity, Indian style

Posted by Indian Vanguard on October 29, 2007

P. Sainath

It took minutes for the top guns to swing into action when the Sensex fell by several hundred points. But no Minister came forward to calm the nation when India hit the 94th rank in the Global Hunger Index.

It all happened around the same time. The day the Sensex crossed 19,000, India clocked in 94th in the Global Hunger Index — behind Ethiopia. Both stories did make it to the front page (in one daily at least). But, of course, the GHI ranking was mostly buried inside or not carried at all that day. The joy over the stunning rise of the media’s most loved index held on for a bit the next day. The same day, India clocked in as the leading nation in the number of women dying in childbirth. In this list, the second, third and fourth worst countries put together just about matched India’s 1.17 lakh deaths of women in childbirth. This story appeared in single column just beneath the Sensex surge.

Next came the fall of several hundred points in the Sensex. That is, barely a couple of days later. It took minutes for the top guns to swing into action. Fingers were in every dyke. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram lost no time in reassuring worried investors via the media. Other top officials were all over television, doing the same. “FM soothes the Market’s nerves” ran the ticker. The barrage — both media and official — kept up through the day. The panels of experts convened to celebrate the 19K summit were reconvened to explain why they’d tripped off the cliff. They then droned on about the merits of P-Notes, regulation and the future. What stood out, of course, was the swiftness of both government and media response to each twitch in the index.

No Minister came forward to calm the nation when India hit the 94th rank in the Global Hunger Index. That’s out of 118 countries. The daily, DNA, though, did capture the essence of the story with its report: “Ethiopians manage hunger better than us.” For indeed, they do these days. At least by the measure of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index. Ethiopia ranks a notch above us at 93. Draw the baseline anywhere in the 1990s, and you’ll find Ethiopia worked better at reducing hunger than we did. Pakistan ranks ahead of us, too, at 88. China logs in at 47. All our South Asian neighbours do better than us on this index, except Bangladesh. And who knows when it will overtake us? None of the countries boasts an economy growing at 9 per cent a year.

You’d think it was an issue worth some attention. But it was hard to find panels debating this on television. Or any editorials in the newspapers doing the same. No Ministers or top babus soothing the nerves of the hungry. No experts with furrowed brows warning that the trends could continue, even worsen.

The GHI is by no means the only measure of what’s happening. The United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organisation put it simply in 2006. Its State of Food Insecurity in the World report confirmed yet again that we have the largest number of undernourished people in the globe. The 2004 edition of the report had shown that India had added more people to the “newly hungry” in the planet than the rest of the world together. There, too, nations much worse off had done far better. Between the years 1995-97 and 2000-02, hunger grew in India at a time when it fell in Ethiopia.

There was also another link begging to be made. Not just between the Sensex and hunger stories. Let’s revert to the latest maternal mortality figures released by the WHO and others. Some 536,000 women died in childbirth in 2005. Of these, every fifth one of them, at least, was an Indian. That is, 117,000 of them. A total that could only be matched by Nigeria, Afghanistan and Congo together. Almost 99 per cent of all these deaths worldwide occurred in developing countries. Much of this, again, is amongst the poorer sections of the population.

If we were to look at specific groups or communities, this would be even clearer. Let alone on the hunger index, India’s rank in the U.N.’s Human Development Index is anyway dismal. There, at 126, we are below Bolivia, Guatemala and Gabon. Yet even that rank does not tell the full story. If we were to isolate the rich and the better off as a group, they might enter the top 10 nations. Efforts last year to look at adivasis as a group led pretty much in the reverse direction. One study found that if we were to derive the HDI for our tribes only, they would rank in the worst off 25 nations of the world.

That’s quite easy to believe. Canada has always been among the top 10 nations of the world in HDI rankings. In fact, it occupied the top slot for some years. Yet, a survey of its native or indigenous people towards the end of the last decade placed them at rank 63. That is, all those natives living on “reservations.” Across the world, tribal people mostly have a poor HDI profile.

And so it is in India, too, where they are pretty much at the bottom. The study that found their HDI to rank amongst the bottom 25 nations of the world, also found things to be worse by the region. The tribes of Orissa, it reports, fall below even the low end of the HDI of sub-Saharan African nations. This is by no means the only study to tell us how India’s tribes are doing. There are tons of official data to show us that in great detail. But there’s no rush to debate their survival in expert panels. They mostly get covered when they resist displacement. Often with loss of life. They make up just eight per cent of the population. But account for over 45 per cent of those losing their lands to projects.

The furore now on the import of wheat is welcome. At least the media have begun to look at the issue. But surely, it is also worth discussing how we came to import wheat in the first place. And how a nation with so many in hunger ended up exporting millions of tonnes of grain this decade. That too, at prices lower than those we offer to millions of poor people in this country.

New heights of misery

And no matter how the Sensex is doing, the misery index for the poor scales new heights in one sector after another. Health costs still mount. They push people into debt even faster than before. A study done for the WHO in six Indian States found that 16 per cent of households it looked at were pushed below the poverty line by heavy medical costs. Nearly 10,000 families from lower income groups were covered by the survey for the years 2002-05. Some 12 per cent had to sell their assets to meet health expenses. Over 43 per cent had to resort to loans for the same reasons.

Our answer to this has been: more of the same. More privatisation. Less and less of a public health system. In Mumbai, extortion by hospitals has become so frequent as to actually find mention in the media. But journalists do not get to make the link between the gutting of public services and the public’s misery. Much less can they track this in terms of private profiteering. That would go against the publication or channel’s stand of privatisation as a cure for all ills.

More than once this year, the Bombay High Court has warned hospitals against the cruel practice of holding back the body of a patient — demanding lakhs of rupees from the family before returning it. It still happens, though. Now even at government hospitals leased out to private managements. So a low income family is suddenly told it owes the hospital a huge sum of money. And that the body of its five-year-old girl will be released only when that sum is paid. A fine example of public-private partnership as it works today.

In fact, it would be good to devise a health index spanning the reform years. One that looks at how both rich and poor have done health-wise. How many years of life, for instance, are taken away from you by ill-health if you are one of India’s less well off citizens? In the world of the media, though, only one index matters: the Sensex. Watching which has spawned a whole little industry in itself. The numbers who pronounce on and debate it (in the media, anyway) are impressive. The oracles reading equity’s entrails for omens. Maybe we need a media relevance index. An MRI scan of mass-produced mediocrity.

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