In the Jungles

The rights of millions of people are abused day in day out. And the failure to address the basic issues in earnest leads to continuing conflict and creates a vast underclass everywhere. Then violence begets violence. It cannot be otherwise in a situation where little changes, notwithstanding official propaganda of development and growth, other than the ever increasing numbers of lives lost or ruined as military and security forces carry out forced eviction, indiscriminate and targeted attacks on the poor and engineer ‘disappearance’, arbitrary detention ; resort to third degree torture and finally extrajudicially execute those deemed to oppose the government. What is true of autocratic rulers in authoritarian regimes, is equally true of democratic lords in India. In truth in today’s India, in some regions violence is a way of life for the rulers and the ruled as well. Not many rights bodies have come forward to condemn the recent Maoist attack on a Congress convoy in Chattisgarh’s Darbha Ghati, in which 29 people including the State Congress Chief Nandkumar Patel and Salwa Judum founder Mahendra Karma were killed. While the Congress Party is yet recover from the shock, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Chattisgarh has reasons to go slow in view of the advantages they may gain in the forthcoming parliamentary poll.

Congress and BJP have different demands on each other but they are choosing to use each other by boosting their alliance when it is the question of taming the Maoist heat. But they are now busy to trade charges against each other for security lapses. Meanwhile the CPI (Maoist), however, didn’t disown the responsibility as their purpose was to force the government to suspend police operation against them. Given the notorious track record of Salwa Judum—an illegal entity—and brutal repression of ordinary tribal people in Chattisgarh which is literally a police state, violent offensive by the Maoists, was not unexpected. If the Maoists were not in the news for quite some time, it was because they were lying low, particularly after the massive set-back in junglemahal. They were just buying time in the guise of a strategic retreat. People associated with Salwa Judum were an isolated lot long ago not because of the Maoists’ action but because civic society took extensive campaign against this illegal private army that will go down in history as India’s very own death squad a la Latin America.

So long as objective conditions for violence are there, 2000 more paramilitary forces in addition to 30,000 men in military uniform who are already there, cannot make Chattisgarh a better place to live in. Hundreds of political prisoners continue to languish in Chattisgarh jails which are living hells by any standards. Then they are not treated as political prisoners. These tribals are not even second-class citizens in the realisation of their rights. Accountability of crimes committed by police, para-military units and vigilante groups like Salwa Judum, remain elusive and for the innocent caught between the cross-fire of the state and the Maoists, the likelihood of justice recedes after every bout of Maoist offensive.

In terms of militarisation Chattisgarh is trying to attain the status of perennial flash-point as it is the case in Kashmir and North-East. The security authorities now admit that weapons, sophisticated varieties to be precise, used by the Maoists, are mostly looted from the crack paramilitary units, at least 60 percent of their weapons are looted arms. The history of guerilla warfare is same everywhere. The government itself is their arms supplier.

For all practical purposes the state of Chattisgarh is a huge prison of tribals ethnic minorities and has abysmal human rights records—having used helicopter gunships against their own citizens, innocent tribals. The atrocities they have committed against civilians are precisely the type that human rights bodies including Amnesty International, criticise and want to prevent. In official parlance, the poor living in the margins of society in Chattisgarh are tribals, not citizens, misguided by the naxalities. How Salwa Judum created a rein of terror and forced thousands of families to live in pre-liberation Vietnam style strategic hamlets is now history. Those who live outside their homes and natural habitat, without steady income or status, are the most vulnerable people but are often condemned to desperate lives in the shadows.

It is now a matter of time that the government will launch a fresh military campaign against the naxalites operating in the jungles of Chattisgarh, only to send shivers down the shpines of innocent tribals who are likely to die in large numbers in cross-fire.

As the ruling BJP in Chattisgarh is not materially affected by the recent Maoist attack, they look reluctant crusaders. An organisationally weak Congress—and it seems so, after the elimination of some of its top leaders—serves the purpose of BJP well. But the point at issue is millions of poor people, mostly tribal people are continually being driven into abusive situations, including forced labour and sexual abuse, Maoist violence or no violence. The reason is simple. The men in uniform enjoy unlimited powers to oppress people and they are not accountable to any authority.

Almost all state governments and the Centre are violating human rights in the name of maintaining law and order. With every passing day people disturbed or otherwise, face human rights emergencies that force innumerable victims to seek safety within states! Thousands of people have already been displaced in Chattisgarh, Kashmir and North-East and more are likely to be dubbed victims of misfortune in the coming days. The governments insist on the doctrines that mass murder, torture in custody and starvation deaths are no one else’s business. They can do what they would like to do. They can gag freedom of speech without bothering to explain their unjust act, they can prosecute anybody ignoring legal niceties. The human rights system is under severe strain but human rights movement across the country is too fragmented and weak to address the problem in its entirety.

Vol. 45, No. 48, June 9-15, 2013

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