DISBAND SALWA JUDUM
AND OTHER STATE BACKED PRIVATE MILITIAS
At a Chief Ministers' Conference on Internal Security last December, PM Manmohan Singh described "left-wing extremism" as the "single biggest security challenge" in the country; and referring to Naxalism as a "virus", he had asked state governments to "choke" Naxal infrastructure and "cripple" their activities. Undoubtedly, the most celebrated state-sponsored endeavour claiming to “choke off” and “cripple” Maoism has been the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. The Salwa Judum, projected as a ‘spontaneous’ uprising against Maoists, has Congress MLA and leader of the Opposition Mahendra Karma for its proclaimed leader and gets full backing from the security forces and the State Government. This vigilante force has relied on barely concealed coercion of the local tribal villagers, and has resulted in large scale displacement (an estimated 50,000 villagers are living in relief camps), human rights violation including rampant rape by security forces, and a virtual civil war situation in the tribal population of Bastar.
Recently, on March 31, while hearing a PIL filed by a team of independent observers against the Salwa Judum, the Supreme Court expressed remarks amounting to severe reprimand to the Governments extending support to the Salwa Judum and other similar vigilante armies. Interestingly, despite the fact that the Administrative Reforms Commission, headed by Veerappa Moily, had recently recommended the disbanding of Salwa Judum, the UPA Government represented by Additional solicitor-general Gopal Subramanian joined the Chhattisgarh Government of the BJP in stoutly defending the Salwa Judum in Court. The UPA Government claimed that the reports of atrocities on tribals in Salwa Judum camps and in the name of curbing Maoism were ‘exaggerated’, and defended the Judum by citing several instances of ‘village defence committees’ in other regions of India, where Governments arm civilians to counter terrorism and insurgency. One must recall that the Home Ministry had several times in the past years advocated that other states replicate the Salwa Judum model in the name of countering ‘Naxalism’.
The Supreme Court Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice Aftab Alam, however, rejected such arguments. Terming the arming of private militias by Governments to be illegal, it remarked, “You (state government) cannot give arms to somebody (a civilian) and allow him to kill. You will be an abettor of the offence under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.”
If one follows the letter and spirit of this Supreme Court remark, therefore, there are grounds to prosecute Mahendra Karma and the Chhattisgarh Government for abetment to murder, on the grounds of their open advocacy and support for the Salwa Judum! And it is not just the Government and the Opposition that are in partnership in backing Salwa Judum, it is the corporates too. In Chhattisgarh, the Salwa Judum has been promoted parallel to the large scale acquisition of land by corporates in this mineral-rich region of Bastar. The first public meeting of Salwa Judum on June 4 2005 reportedly coincided with the signing of a MoU by the Chhattisgarh Government with Tata Steel to set up a steel plant in Lohandiguda in Bastar. Essar is also setting up a steel plant in Dhurli/Bhansi region of Dantewada. Both Tata and Essar have also demanded lease and mining rights for the iron ore reserves in Bailadila. According to an annual report of Dantewada district collector, Essar has contributed to establish the Salwa Judum relief camps as model villages. This implies that the land originally inhabited by these tribal villagers will eventually be ‘left’ to the corporates to be exploited for their mineral wealth! The land earmarked for the steel plants in Lohandiguda, Dhurli and Bhansi all fall under the fifth schedule; thereby land acquisition requires permission of the gram sabha. There are reports that police and representatives of Tata and Essar joined forces to ensure ‘compliance’ by the villagers, deploying Section 144 and preventing any free gathering of the gram sabha! Clearly, the ‘public-private partnership’ represented by the Salwa Judum encompasses the State Government, political parties and corporate houses, with grabbing of tribal land being a top agenda.
The linked agenda is also of course the clamping down on all dissent by branding all voices of opposition or people’s movement as ‘Maoists’ or ‘terrorists’. The Chhattisgarh Special Security Act has a remarkably vague and one-size-fits-all definition of a ‘banned organisation’, allowing it to target virtually anyone. The arrest and incarceration of Binayak Sen and others who took up the issue of human rights violations by the Salwa Judum is the prime instance of this Act in action. Recently, the DGP of Chhattisgarh declared that the martyred workers’ leader Shankar Guha Niyogi had been a Naxalite. Since Niyogi was murdered in 1991 by hired guns at the behest of Chhattisgarh industrialists and mafia, his political opinions or leanings are quite irrelevant; obviously the only point of such remarks is to provide a pretext to crack down on his organization, the CMM. The CPI(ML) too has been at the receiving end of accusations of ‘Maoist links’ - by the police in Orissa and by a senior Home Ministry official and head of the ‘Naxal Task Force’ at a recent press conference in Lucknow. Clearly, in the name of ‘choking off’ Maoism, the Indian State and governments of all hues intend to choke off all manner of mass movements, especially those which challenge the wholesale sellout of land and resources to corporate houses and MNCs!
Of course, the Public Private Partnership of the Salwa Judum variety is not restricted to Chhattisgarh alone. In Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and the North East, ‘village defence committees’ armed by the State have been deployed as vigilante forces in the name o fighting ‘terror’ and insurgency, (in the North East, surrendered militants’ too have been regrouped as private militias) and the track record of these outfits too has been one long trail of human rights violations and brutalities against people. In Bihar, the Ranveer Sena, despite being a banned outfit which carried out massacres of agricultural labourers and dalit poor, received tacit support from a range of political parties and the Governments which termed it a ‘spontaneous’ reaction to Naxalism (the selfsame argument being peddled in Judum’s case). Needless to say, even after the horrific massacres like Bathani Tola and Bathe, no ‘VDCs’ were ever suggested to defend the labouring poor from the Ranveer Sena! And recently, the Nitish Government put an end to the Justice Amir Das Commission just as it was due to submit its report indicting several Bihar politicians for their support to the Ranveer Sena! Clearly, vigilantism and private militias as a concept to defend villages from ‘terror’ are sanctioned by Governments only when they define ‘terror’ as coming from Left-wing groups. Mass massacres by the Ranveer Sena do not constitute ‘terror’ in the vocabulary of the State, and while those accused of supporting ‘Naxalism’ are to be ‘choked off’, those who patronized and funded the Ranveer Sena will escape prosecution!
It remains to be seen how far the Supreme Court will go in actually issuing directives against the Salwa Judum, and also how the State and Central Governments will respond to the Supreme Court reprimand. All democratic forces must, in light of the SC comment, demand immediate scrapping of the Salwa Judum and all such private militias and VDCs in other parts of the country, and prosecution of all those who patronize and attempt to legalise such militias. At the same time, we must remain vigilant against attempts by the State to interpret the SC remarks to further arm itself with direct repressive powers in the form of fresh draconian legislations and other measures.
Citizens' Convention in Delhi Against Increasing Use of Special Security Acts
Organised by Forum for Democratic Initiatives
The Forum for Democratic Initiatives, Delhi, organized a citizens' Convention against the increasing use of Special Security Acts to crack down upon democratic dissent. The Convention titled, "Undeclared Emergency : Special Security Legislations and the Making of a Police State" was held in the backdrop of various State governments colluding with the police and administration to clamour for special Security Acts. Though the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has enough provisions to deal with law and order issues, these Acts are being increasingly invoked to deny the arrested persons bail and extract confessions from them. Frequently these laws are being invoked to book those engaged in social, economic and political activism. This is even as the third Police Commission of India has already observed that 60 per cent of all arrests in India even under ordinary laws are unnecessary.
The laws already in use include Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (ULAPA) 2004, which was amended and implemented with the draconian provisions of POTA across the country by UPA government. This was after POTA itself was repealed following widespread protests. Four years after POTA's repeal, however, it continues to be used to put on trial persons booked under it as it was not retrospectively repealed. Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA) repealed in 1995 continues to be similarly used to crack down upon political dissent even today, as evident in the Bhadasi case of erstwhile district Jehanabad, where 14 CPIML activists were sentenced to life imprisonment with the evidence of possessing Marxist literature. Apart from this there are various state specific legislations, which have been used to crack down on political dissent including the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005, Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), the AP public security Act, the Bihar Police Act. In Uttar Pradesh, the Mayawati government has recently brought in the Uttar Pradesh Control of Organised Crime Act (UPCOCA).
A concept paper written for the Convention by Forum for Democratic Initiatives became the basis around which speakers located the experiences from various states. The FDI convenor, Radhika Menon presented the concept paper and the need to build a public opinion for resisting draconian provisions in the legislations so that the police encroachment on democracy could be stalled. Delhi University teacher, Dr Ujjwal Kumar Singh, presented the history of these legislations and how they attempted to normalize detention and torture. He said that the Special measures were being made ordinary and acceptable through these Acts. Praful Bidwai, senior journalist, spoke about the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 and how it was complementary to the running amok of private armies and displacement through Salwa Judum. The history of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), in the North East was summed up by Bablu, a lawyer from Manipur. Dr Bhagat Oinam, teacher from JNU, presented how the deterioration of law and order was encouraged by the Army so that it could continue to remain in force in this region. He said that the some of the insurgent groups for which the Army justified its presence reportedly had identity cards issued by the Army itself, indicating the hand-in-glove means adopted to ensure AFSPA in the region. The situation in Uttrakhand where the BJP government is eager to present a Maoist threat in order to corner anti-Naxalite funds offered by the Central Government was presented by CPI-ML Comrade Girija Pathak. He said that this was to detract from the agitations building up in the state and gave the example of SIDCUL where the party was building a struggle. He pointed out that in the face of high profile cases routine assaults on trade unions gets forgotten but it is these that which allows the normalization and introduction of Special Security Acts. PUHR activist Manoj, presented the emerging crackdowns in Uttar Pradesh of specific religious communities as well as that of the poor. The use of Gangster Act and introduction of UPCOCA which is waiting to be implemented by the government was highlighted in the face of resistance building at the ground level against the policies of the government.
Film Maker Sanjay Kak who has made a documentary on the perspective of the Kashmiri people towards the political issues in the state said how in Kashmir and North East, there already was a military State and highlighted the plight of Kashmiri people who are routinely picked and tortured on random suspicion. The move towards a police state in other parts of the country reflects the gradual acceptance of the police and Army's intervention in day to day democratic functioning. Writer Arundhati Roy, reflected on the clauses in ULAPA and other such laws and mentioned how these laws make it possible for the arrest of about anyone in the name of suspicion with detention going upto 7 years. Reading out a clause she explained the predisposition of the police and judiciary to interpret it according to political convenience such that even a Convention like this one could be declared illegal. Such laws meant that along with activists, writers, teachers, students, just about anyone could be arrested and detained upto 7 years. Supreme Court lawyer, Prashant Bhushan said how even the ordinary liberal foundation of Indian democracy was being undermined and that these legislations posed a threat to whatever was promised within the Constitution. He said that a mass civil disobedience was needed.
The report on the Bihar Police Act and political crackdown in Bihar sent by Comrade Ashok of Lok Yudh was read out by FDI member Kapil Sharma. Lalit Batra summarized the paper on legal violations by the police in West Bengal sent by Amitadyuti Kumar of APDR. FDI co-convenor, Manisha Sethi highlighted newspaper report of the wrongful detention and torture of a Kashmiri University student in Tihar Jail without the police presenting any evidence. Senior journalist Jawed Naqvi pointed out that for the poor and the deprived there was already a state of Emergency, it was just that the media was silent about it. He referred to the Amendments to the Constitution that encouraged the formation of a police State. A message by Illina sen, wife of medical doctor and PUCL activist Binayak Sen, who has been detained in solitary confinement in Chattisgarh under ULAPA 2004 and CSPSA 2005 was read out. A number of people from different walks of life participated in the Convention and stayed back for the discussion after the Convention. Pranay Krishna Srivastava, PUHR member and Jan Sanskriti Manch General Secretary summarized the proceedings and got the house to pass the Resolutions.
March to Assembly in Puducherry
On 27th March ( the day on which annual budget was presented in the assembly) the agricultural labourers, urban poor and workers of Puducherry with banners, red flags and placards marched towards the Assembly of Puducherry in several hundreds demanding two acres of free land to the landless and five cents of house site patta for homeless. The marchers raised slogans such as, "let the working class of Puducherry be the opposition to the Congress Government" and "uproot the corrupt Congress government through the struggles of poor".
The rallyists also demanded the resignation of corrupt, anti-people Congress government led by chief minister N.Rangassamy and labour minister and M.O.H Shajahan Education minister, Transport minister were charged with misappropriation of government funds and criminal assault respectively.
The march, on behalf of Rural Workers Movement (affiliated to AIALA) was jointly led by Comrade M.A Akbar, President, AIALA, Puducherry and Comrade C.Sagayaraj, President, People's Protection Movement for Homeless.
The other main demands of rallyists were:
a) Immediate Suspension of charged former Chief engineer of Puducherry for amassing wealth worth crores of rupees disproportionate to his income and confiscation of his family properties
b) Make suitable amendments in the trade unions Act 1926 for compulsory recognition of trade unions
c) Scrap the special economic zone notification which takes away 1000 acres of land from the farmers which is already a land crunch territory and vacate proposals to acquire invariable land for airport expansion
d) The government should limit land ceiling to five acres in rural and five hundred square meters in urban areas respectively
e) The marchers demanded 200 days of work under NREG scheme with Rs.150/- as daily wage and employment for all BPL families.
f) Fix minimum wage at Rs.6500/- and Rs.2000/- as pension per month for unorganized workers
g) Devolution of more powers to local bodies
h) Revise the wages for Handloom workers which are over due for years
i) Announce the procurement and support price for paddy a rs 1000/- per quintal as that of Rs.1500/- per tonne of sugarane.
j)Up grade the existing unorganised workers welfare society into welfare board.
j)Announce policy for more employment generation for the rural and urban youth.
The rally pased through important busy streets of Puducherry and culminated with a big demonstration near the Assembly
The demonstrators and other general public were addressed by Com S.Balasubramanian State secretary, CPI (ML) among others.
A memorandum was submitted to the chief minister for early implemenation of demands which included immediate withdrawl of milk price and other general essential commodities
CPI(ML) Faces CPI(M)'s Terror in WB: Intesify agitation against anti-people policies of WB Govt.
At Katwa in Bardhaman district CPI(M) goons erased wall writings of CPI(ML) Liberation for the upcoming panchayat elections and barged into the house of CPI(ML) Liberation leader and panchayat candidate Comrade Nazrul Sheikh, verbally abused him and threatened him with murder. On 24th March CPI(ML) activists held a march to protest against the intimidation of political workers by CPI(M) goons.
Seven organizations, including CPI(ML)Liberation conducted a two-week long campaign in West Bengal demanding reduction of prices of essential commodities, strengthening of the PDS, rationing of food items at affordable prices and strict action against hoarders. On 28th March agitations and civil disobedience were conducted in several districts. At Kolkata 500 people marched from Subodh Mullik Square to Rani Rashmoni Road. Farmers from Singur and North 24 Parganas, workers and students joined the march. At Siliguri Com. Abhijit Majumder of CPI(ML)Liberation led the agitation. Police tried to restrain the protestors and even Rapid Action Force was deployed. CPI(ML)Liberation activists Comrade Mira Chaturvedi and Comrade Mukti Sarkar were injured in the police lathicharge.
On 31st March All India Students' Association (AISA) West Bengal State Committee commemorated the 11th anniversary of the martyrdom of Comrade Chandrashekhar Prasad. A public meeting was held at College Street in Kolkata. Comrades Moloy Tewari and Dwaipayan Banerjea of AISA and Nabakumar Biswas, former General-Secretary of AISA West Bengal State Committee spoke at the meeting. A representative of Chatra-Chatri Sanhati Mancha, a forum of students formed to fight against the neo-liberal economic policies of the West Bengal government, also spoke at the meeting. AISA activists also presented a couple of skits.
CPIML- Liberation along with some other left organization like CPI(ML)-ND, PCC- CPIML, MKP organized a procession against the price raise at Kolkata on 28th March demanding immediate necessary steps to solve the problem. They demanded serious action against illegal stockers, and cheats associated with black market. Procession organized also in Siligudi and other districts like North 24 PGS, Burdawan, Maldah, Bankura, Murshidabad etc.
CPI(ML) Observes "Save Orissa Day"
While the Naveen Patnaik Govt. used the occasion of Utkal Divas - the Orissa Foundation Day on April 1 - to reaffirm their policies that are taking a heavy toll of people's lives and livelihoods, CPI(ML)-Liberation activists observed the day as a “Save Orissa Day” and took out a rally to remind people of the disastrous policies of the BJD-BJP Government. In Cuttack, Balasore, Sambalpur, Rourkela and Berhampur, rallies and meetings were also held and tributes were offered to stalwarts Madhusudan Das and Gopabandhu Das, who significantly contributed to the formation of a separate Orissa.
Other Opposition Parties also observed the day as a protest day against the “failures and misdeeds” of the Naveen Patnaik government.
A separate province of Orissa was carved out on April 1 in 1936, following series of movements carried out by Utkal Sammilani, a group founded by Gopabandhu Das and Madhusudan Das.
CPI(ML) MLA Refuses to Accept Gifts from Koda Govt. in Jharkhand, Calls such Gestures a Fraud on State's Resources
Deputy chief minister and finance minister Stephen Marandi didn’t think he was dialling T for Trouble when he decided to gift high-end mobile phones to all 82 state MLAs. But now his finance secretary is throwing the rule book at him over the Rs 13.39 lakh bill. There is no budgetary provision for buying expensive mobile phones. Based on the wishes of its minister, the finance department had bought 95 mobile sets - Nokia E51i - for Rs.13,990 each - the market price for the model is Rs.12,859.
Expensive gifts have become the norm in Jharkhand’s political circle. According to an opposition MLA Sukhdeo Bhagat, Koda, too, gifted a handycam each to all legislators at a dinner hosted by him after the month-long budget session of the Assembly.
On earlier occasions, various departments would share the cost of the expensive gifts for MLAs “informally”. This was the first time that the finance department took it upon itself to bear the costs.
Taunted during the budget presentation that the quality of briefcases he handed out along with budget papers was poor, Marandi took it upon himself to gift MLAs a high-end cellphone.
CPI (ML) MLA, Vinod Singh, the only one to refuse the gift, dubbed it a bribe on the floor of the House. “The state government, particularly the chief minister, should reveal the sources for meeting the costs of these gifts,” he said. The rest of the MLAs, however, aren’t complaining.