Monday, June 22, 2009

Lalgarh: Why Do People Fight the Armed Forces of the State?

As the confrontation between the people in Lalgarh and the police forces in West Bengal is raging, there took place a discussion on how and why this mindless violence. My friend Ajit Sahi, a senior journalist who travels to the most inaccessible parts of India to report on human rights violations, sent a note which is very important because it highlights the issue from his own experiences and observation.

I reproduce this note for the benefit of my readers:

Hi Chekkutty Sir,

I have been reading your exchange and I feel constrained to jump in here. I cannot claim that enough wisdom, knowledge or perspective rests in me to opine on the issue at hand, but I do have limited experience of reporting for Tehelka on the Naxals in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

While so much attention has been focused on the siege of Lalgarh, and there is much joy in India's urban English-speaking militarist middle class at the supposedly succeeding police and paramilitary action there, just why doesn't anyone dare to talk about the utter failure of the State against the Naxals in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand?

Where is all the machoism and the bravura in the media and the middle classes at the hopelessly one-sided war that wages on in these states? Since January this year, I have driven hours upon hours through the two states, through the most heavily Naxal-dominated areas -- the south Bastar districts of Dantewada and Bijapur in Chhattisgarh and Latehar in Jharkhand.

And the State? The Police? Non-existent. Zilch. I was in Latehar on April 22, the day the Naxals called a statewide bandh to protest the killing of five innocent villagers by CRPF. I was on the road for TEN hours and I saw not a SINGLE policeman, forget about a patrol. Just hours later, some 200 Naxals swooped down on a rural railway station and held an entire train hostage for four hours! And the State? Not a single policeman dared to enter the station.

Every time I travel in these two states, I am warned by police officers that I am doing so at my risk and that I shouldn't expect any help from them should I run into trouble. On January 26 this year, during the "Black Day" called by the Naxals, I traveled on a road in south Chhattisgarh that had never before been seized by Naxals. This time, it was. Except for one brave police officers who oversaw clearing of boulders placed by Naxals on the roads, all other police officers sat holed inside their stations.

Then, of course, is the issue of the Naxals themselves. The question that no one is asking is: just why is Mr Chidambaram and everyone else so exercised about Maoists seizing power in Lalgarh? Anyone who works in the field knows that the police and the State cannot enter many parts of the country. Until very recently, half of Bihar was like that. Large chunks of Uttar Pradesh are like that. I would like to see the police enter areas in Mumbai that are totally ruled by the underworld.

So why isn't the Indian media, the middle class, Mr. Chidambaram, the Prime Minister interested in reoccupying the badlands of UP and Bihar?

The answer is simple. In Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and also West Bengal lie hidden some of the best deposits of natural resources. The Indian middle class doesn't give a damn how many millions of people are uprooted from their villages in order to secure their natural resources. The corporate media that represents the narrow interests of the Indian industry is totally in favour of claiming such resources, even if it means employing the most brutal and repressive violence.

You need to travel to such regions, Dr. Aravindan, to see who is the victim and who is the perpetrator. The state is overwhelmingly the brute perpetrator there. Every part of the system -- the executive, the judiciary, the politicians -- are badly compromised. The indigenous people are the victims, but we brand them all as Naxals.

So just how long do you think India will be able to sustain this oppression of the people who, instead of being seen as citizens of India deserving of social justice, are brutalized and condemned as violent criminals?

Let me remind you of what is happening in the US. Right from Barack Obama to even top military generals and CIA chiefs have admitted that the brutal US campaign in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have not made America safer. Instead, they now openly say, the American militarism has increased the threat from terrorism.

I am reminded of a cartoon I saw years ago. As his angry mother glares at him, a boy of perhaps six years in age explains his confusion as to why his younger brother, sitting besides him on the floor, was crying himself hoarse. "I just don't know why he is crying as I eat my apple," the kid told his mother, pointing at his younger sibling. "He was also crying when I was eating his apple."

We, Mr. Chekkutty, have for far too long been eating every one's apples. But, well, I think now the disadvantaged are no more as helpless as they once were.

I don't support the Naxals either. But there is no way that I can support the state, when, through people like Mr. Chidambaram, all it does is push the agenda of the rapacious capitalists who kill, maim, torture and enslave just so to trespass and illegally annex land that has for centuries belonged to the people who have lived on it.

If India's middle class doesn't wake up to this truth, the battle can only get grimmer and more violent.

Ajit Sahi


Unknown said...

Thanks dear Ajit Sahi, for your comments.

I agree with you entirely. And I admire you as one of the very few Indian journalists who have dared to go and see what is happening out there in the vast Indian hinterland. Some time ago I had forwarded one of your reports from Chattisgarh on the violence there on to this forum but no one had taken note. Good, now some people seem to take a second look why they are making a 'disturbance...'

N P Chekkutty

Unknown said...

Dr K P Aravindan writes in an email:

Dear Ajit
I don't fully understand you. On the one hand you say the police have
absolutely no control. On the other you say there is absolute police
repression. A bit confusing.
To me it is just violence and counter violence feeding on each other.


Unknown said...

Ajit Sahi replies in an email:

Right, Dr. Aravindan. So the police have no control. But they go out in groups, kill innocent people, burn villages, and come back to their stations. The thing is, the police have zero control over law and order. Especially in Chhattisgarh, the Salwa Judum has emerged as a deadly entity with zero accountability.

So, to sum up: the police cannot police areas under the sway of the Naxals hence they have no control. But they repress innocent villagers, because Naxals aren't everywhere.

Sorry, I hadn't made that clear.

Unknown said...

K Satchidanandan writes in an email:

There was a time when I believed that social change can be brought about by violence, ( a la Lenin and Mao)I no more do, and do not mind if it is called a compromise or surrender of sorts.What the recent history has taught us is that the changes brought about by violence will need more violence to sustain it and revolutionary violence easily turns into State violence once the revolutionaries win- I do not mean violence against 'class enemies' alone, violence aganst the people. Stalinist State is the beste xam[pkle, more communists, and ordinary people were killeed during his regime than bourgeiosie, aall in the name of conspiracy against the State where the State meant the Dictator.So my reasons are practical, not merely ethical or philosophical though I do not deny these dimensions.
But this interrogation of violence as a strategy for social transformation does not prevent me at all from understanding situations of violence in society. Generally people resort to it painfully as the last strategy when the State has never heeded to their demands and left them lonely, desperate, helpless.This is precisely what has happened in many parts of India, esp. with regard to the tribal rights.The Maoists have just captured the space left vacant by the existing left.The existing left has to seriously rethink its tribal policies all over India where they have some power or influence, includng of course in Kerala.

Again I fail to understand why people's violence is condemned unilaterally when the State brutality, which in the first place gave rise to this counter-violence, is not condemned.This violence of the State leading to the loss of habitat for lakhs of people across the country is directly related to the resource mobilisation for strengthening the market economy and reinforcing globalisation. Orissa is just one example.Unless we ask the question "Whose Development "all this development rhetoric by Congress and the existing Left( sorry for using this trem, I have ever had another real Left in my dreams)is going to help only the rich and the already powerful and help promote egalitarianism.The existing Left does not seem to have any clear alternative, democratic and egalitarian idea of development, so it gets tagged on to the idea in its existing , dangerous connotations.