Hunting Tribals

‘‘Operation Green Hunt’’

Bhaskar Sur

For a past few weeks, the nation was too feverish and agitated over the rape and killing of a minor girl to respond to another tragedy—the killing of about forty tribals, mostly teenagers by the police in the Gadchiroli area of Maharashtra. According to the police version they were all Maoist extremists who were killed in an 'encounter'. The Indian state is a past master in the imaginative use of euphemisms like 'encounter' or 'disappeared'. An 'encounter' is a cold-blooded murder as were the April 22 killings at Kasansur village at Gadchiroli. The victims were coming to attend a marriage ceremony at the village. "The Hindu" gives a cold 'objective' account : "Thirty-four Maoists were confirmed killed and not a single policeman". What does it confirm? It was anything but an encounter. The report begins with the sentence "It was a perfect ambush". The next clay eight more Maoists were killed, six of whom were teenage girls. To escape the sudden volley of bullets and grenade attack, many of them jumped in a swift river flowing by, only to be carried away and die. The police went delirious after this successful hunting operation and celebrated it by a feast, playing popular film music. Make no mistake, the anti-insurgency operation is appropriately codenamed "Operation Green Hunt", very much reminiscent of the 'skhikar' expeditions of the native princes during the Raj. Yet they were all Indians, mostly teenagers and without any proven charges against them. Their only crime, it seems, was that they were 'Adivasis'—the original inhabitants of the land, fighting a last ditch battle against the encroachment of forests and aboriginal lands. Their lot is no different from the indigenous inhabitants of the Andes or Amazon Basin who are being continuously targeted, massacred and evicted by the mining or oil lobby with apparent impunity. They are the victims of "Development", the most alluring myth of modernity.

Unfortunately, the tribal homeland, is rich in timber and more than that, minerals. As the Indian economy took off, the demand for minerals, particularly iron ore, bauxite and copper, steeply increased. Jay Majumdar rightly writes "India's appetite for growth devoured both forests and tribal land". The situation in the tribal area has no remote semblance with a democratic polity. There is enormous corruption, plunder, dispossession, rape and endless violence. From the late '90s of the last century they began to organise under the CPI (Maoist) who offered them a dream to fight for and weapons to fight back. The Indian state for the last two decades has been fighting a long war against its own people who happen to be most deprived, undernourished and marginalised. Before the enormously powerful state and its capacity for organised violence, such resistance is bound to crumble but the tribals have created a history. In truth non-violent resistance coupled with constructive activity, would have stood a greater chance against the violence of the deep state. Their struggle also needs to be connected with other struggles. The recent killings show that the middle-class liberals who are otherwise so vocal, would prefer to remain discreetly indifferent and silent. They are after all the beneficiaries of the growth story. They have stake in the state, its developmental aspirations and its ideology. It is their class interest which makes them deaf, blind and insensitive.

This also brings to the fore another issue with a nightly force—the violence of the post-colonial state unleashed against the poor, marginalised or minorities. In the entire freedom struggle only about 36,000 people lost their lives by hanging or firing. By contrast the Indian state killed as many as 120,000 in the Kashmir Valley alone and Pakistan massacred three million Bengalis in East Pakistan. The post-colonial states enjoy greater legitimacy and ideological hegemony which make them more ruthless and genocidal. A few years back the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the state cannot kill her own children. But who bothers? The state carries on with its massacres on behalf of the corporates who have tightened their grip over it. Democracy, more than ever, looks like an obscene travesty and a phoney show not worth tuppence. However, the answer to the corporate-ocracy is not dictatorship but the actualisation of democracy through intrepid interrogation, resistance and creation.

Vol. 50, No.48, June 3 - 9, 2018