Thursday, November 5, 2009

It Is Not The Revolution of The Maoists. It Is The Revolution Of The Poor And Oppressed.

Remember, remember the fifth of November, 
The gunpowder treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
On this day in 1605, Guy Fawkes (the man from whose name we get the word 'Guy') failed to execute the Gunpowder plot and was executed. Let us take this day out to remember his fight in favour of the opressed. World Cinema immortalied his struggle in the film 'V for Vendetta'. If you have it, watch it. Though the solution surmised in the film is fascist, and I am personally against killing, no one can deny the guts of a man ready to sacrifice everything for a cause he believes in. Here's to Guy Fawkes and Himanshu Kumar.

The Government of India wants peace with Pakistan and China, but is willing to send the Army and Air Force to fight tribals in the name of fighting Naxalites and Maoists. A fully equipped Army and Air Force to fight poor, hungry and oppressed people who have nothing but bows and arrows and some old rusted police guns (one writer satirised their not having even rocket launchers). The govt. is planning an offensive like the America one in Vietnam. But how can you even think of doing this in your own country, and with your own people? And how can the rest of us sit and do nothing? Would we have allowed the government to send the Air Force to bomb the whole of Mumbai when terrorists attacked the city on the 26th of Nov. last year, no matter how grim the situation became? How are we allowing this to happen then?

Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian and the son of a freedom fighter, has been living in Dantewada, Chattisgarh, which according to 2001 census is the district with the lowest literacy in the country, for 17 years. On 17th May 2009, a day after the Lok Sabha elections results, a police force of 500 came and bulldozed his Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. 17 years of peaceful work reduced to roubles within half an hour. Nothing however deters this fearless proponent of peace and a highly eloquent (and humorous) speaker from speaking out on behalf of the tribals who cannot speak for themselves.

His war was against illiteracy and tribal's ignorance of their own rights but today this peace activist's war is on war itself, making every attempt to prevent a genocide of the people by its own government with every odd stacked against him, his volunteers and the tribals.
Himanshu Kumar. Photo by and (c) Anuja Gupta
He was in Mumbai on the 31st October, where he spoke to the press, along with Sudha Bharadwaj, a lawyer fighting a losing battle to get back the rights of tribals in Chattisgarh. He spoke passionately, logically and with compassion about the atrocities committed by the state on the tribals, their problems, Naxals and Maoists, the corporate conspiracy and also the simple solution to end them all. It is a good crash course from someone who has been there and risked it all, for anyone who dislikes being a mute spectator to the opression around him but does not know the real issue and what to do about it. He has also given an open invitation to anyone who is interested in visiting Dantewada and expressing solidarity for the constitutional rights of the tribals.

He tell us, city folks, why this war, despite being waged far away from us, will affects us and will continue to do so if peace is not brought about and justice delivered. He warns us against waging war against the tribals in the name of hunting Naxalites and Maoists and the far reaching consequences of the same. Urging passionately for peace he says that if the government wages war with the tribals, it will be a protracted war that will go on for years and decades and cause innumerable and easily preventable casualties.

Himanshu Kumar talked in Hindi and this is a translation done by me. It is not a transliteration. I have rearranged some things and have removed some repetitions (that work in speech but not when written down). The first few minutes were not recorded. Hence, the first paragraph is a recreation based on the notes I made. The text in brackets are my explanations.

Any mistakes in the translation, are entirely mine.

It Is Not The Revolution of The Maoists. It Is The Revolution Of The Poor And Oppressed.

The tribals in Chattisgarh, have lived in their forests and hills of the state for thousands of years, in harmony with nature. They have not had the need for police, because there was no crime in their society. Now you are sending thousands of armed forces to protect them. Protect them against whom? What is the need for Army and Air Force in ones own country?

But this is not a new story. To finish tribals, the government launched something called the ‘Salwa Judum’ (started in June 2005, a day after the Tata Steel company signed a 10,000 crore Rs Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Chhatisgarh state government regarding the opening of a Steel plant in the Bastar). They devised a method. The tribals would be taken from their villages and rehabilitated near a police station, around roads. The logic they said, is that if you stay in villages, you support the naxalites so come and stay in this camp surrounding the road and near a police station. The tribals got scared. They wondered why should they leave their trees, fields and rivers and live near a police station. Hence, they refused.

To make them leave, some bad elements along with CRPF, paramilitary forces and police began to attack these villages. Those they managed to catch were brought to the camps. 50,000 tribals were thus forcibly put in camps, next to the dirt and filth of open sewage. Now the traditional way of living for these adivasis is to spread out. So far apart that the next tribal hut you’ll often find a kilometre away from the first. And these free and nature loving adivasis are crammed by the govt. in tin sheds in these camps like chickens. 
When the tribals continuously resisted this encroachment and migration into camps they were shot at, women raped, children killed, many youths were put in prison and many were killed outright in the name of preventing Naxalism. 50,000 people, fed up of these atrocities, escaped to neighbouring states, mostly Andhra Pradesh, some to Orissa and some to Maharashtra. After this the Chief Minister said on TV and radio, that those who are with the government are in Salwa Judum camps, but those that are on the side of Naxalites are hiding in the jungle (a la George W. Bush ‘black and white’ logic, where you’re either a friend or a foe to be killed). I wrote an open letter expressing my surprise at the chief of an entire state declaring tribals living in their own forests, Naxalites. I asked him if he’ll now declare a decision to kill them. Surprisingly, he did.

Do those who believe in non-violence have to resort to this kind of protest to make their voices heard by governments?

Unimaginable atrocities have been committed and the same village has often been attacked 20 times. Every time the tribals came back from the jungle and set up home and tried to farm, the forces would come and burn the crops. This has become an endless cycle.

Fed up of these repeated looting, rape and murder, the tribals told their kids to keep vigil. So kids took up their sticks, and bows and arrows and started guarding their village. The idea was that whenever the forces came for another round of plundering, a warning be sent so that girls and old people could run away to the forest for safety. They began hiding their grains in the hills, in the forests, below rocks… because the forces would come and burn these.

Now Mr. Chidambaram says that all these boys and girls that are protecting their hamlets, are all Maoists and that they have raised their weapon against the government. So to kill them they are sending the Indian armed forces. We told these politicians that these so called Naxalites and Maoists have not come to Delhi to fight with you and they have not bothered you. They live in jungles and they are tribals who never asked for you to save them from the Naxalites or Maoists. So these forces that you are sending, who are they supposed to protect?

In reality they have sent these forces so that the land can be emptied and given to big industrialists for mining (these tribal belts have some of the worlds largest reserve of minerals like Bauxite, Gold, Diamond, coal etc.). This is the reason that armed forces have been sent there in such large numbers. And now the government says that it wants peace. And I ask them: you talk of peace but your own forces attack the tribals daily? Why don’t you recall your forces?

This morning we got the report that the government is ready to talk and I got a letter from them urging me to use my influence on Naxalites to ask them to stop violence. But it is you, the govt., who is attacking their homes regularly. It is you who is perpetrating violence. Hence I urge you to leave the path of violence. The forces you have sent there want alcohol, meat and girls daily, and attack the villages everyday for that. And when people resist you call them naxalites. Then you ask me to save those tribals. It is the state that is violent.

1980. A kid in Uganda about to die of hunger, and a missionary. The tribals are like the hungry kid, the govt. is like the hand of the missionary. Will the government crush this hand?

We did a little experiment. 700 villages have been attacked and burnt. The Supreme Court has passed the order to rehabilitate these villages and compensate those whose houses have been burnt. But the govt. has neither rehabilitated nor compensated even one villager. So we said we will rehabilitate them. We did. The triabls came back and started farming. There was no violence. Police would take rounds of these villages and nothing happened. But now, police has started attacking these peaceful villages again. Because the truth is they do not want the villagers to settle down at all. Their intention is to uproot them, make them flee their homes and empty the lands so it can be given to industrialists. In reality, if you truly want peace, it is a matter of just a week.

They asked how can we talk with Naxalites who believe in violence? We said: don’t talk to Naxalites. Talk to your people. Come to Dantewada and sit with those who have suffered and ask them what atrocities have been committed on them. Ever since you started Salwa Judum 700 villages have been burnt but no one came to ask. Kids were attacked, youths were murdered… yet no one went there. I urge you to go there. Who will stop you? Let the PM of the country go there. Let him not talk to Naxalites. He can talk to his people, can’t he? Why does he not do it then? Because first the government does not want the problem to be solved and secondly their intention is to steal the land. And you (govt.) have so much pride you are not prepared to accept your mistakes. The rapes, the murder of innocent tribals… you don’t want to admit any of it. But if you go and sit there, people will tell you. Your police are involved in it; you don’t want to accept that.

We have put over a 1000 complaints to the Police and all of them are serious: murder, rape, burning, kidnapping… But not one FIR has been filed. The Police writes to the Supreme Court stating that since the villagers give fraudulent FIRs, we don’t file them. Now the law of India states that the police cannot decide whether the FIR is true or false. They have an obligation to note it and investigate. But they refuse to even write an FIR.

(c) Morparia

In Jan, 19 tribals were rounded up. Four of them were female who were raped and stabbed to death with knives while the rest were shot dead. When we took the case to the court, they did not give us dates; they postponed the hearing dates and changed judges in rapid succession. Now you (govt) have closed all ways and means for the tribals. If they go to the court, you will not give them justice. If they go to the police, you will beat them. The entire lot of political leadership, BJP and Congress united, are leading the Salwa Judum and fighting against the tribals who cannot go to the ministers, the police, the court, the administration… what way have you left for them except to go to Naxalites. Today’s scenario in Dantewada is such that police attack villagers and Naxalites protect them. Now we say please don’t do this. Don’t attack villagers. You are the government. Your job is to protect your people. So protect them. You say Naxalites are bad. All right. Then save the tribals.

Three days back I met a big politician. He was scared of the naxalites. I said, you are a leader of a democratic nation. Why are you scared? The simple basis of a democratic nation is that you love your people and they love you back. So why are you scared? Because people don’t love you anymore and instead they are beginning to love the Naxallites. Why is this happening? Why does the public not love you? Eradicate the reasons for their hatred towards you, go to them and love them and they will love you back. Instead, you send forces. I told them to remember that the naxalites have been telling the masses for a long time that there will be a class war. Once, passing by a village, an old man, relaxing under a tree called me and asked, ‘There will be a war, won’t there?” He is waiting for a war.

Hence I said to the govt., don’t wage a war. They are waiting for a war to begin. If you engage in a war, you won’t be able to get out for 50 years. And they are tribals. We have seen them. Their stature is small but they leap high and grab weapons. I said you don’t know these tribals, they are not like people from UP (referring lightly to himself as he is from UP). They are hunters who will tie you with a noose and beat you. If you go there, you will be trapped and the casualties in your forces will be great. The number of casualties of armed forces in the last five years in Chattisgarh itself has been the highest ever. So I said don’t make this mistake of military intervention. The CoBRAs (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) went under operation Green Hunt but were unable to kill a single naxalite (though they killed many innocent tribals) and 6 CoBRAs were killed in a jiffy. The Naxals and tribals who fight are trained in such fights. For two days the cobras were unable to recover the bodies of their colleagues and couldn’t kill even a single naxalite. But while returning, out of frustration they killed children and old men and women.

We are part of a system and we need to understand this system and its violence.

All the property in the world, who does it belong to? Well, it belongs to all of us. In reality it belongs to the ants, the goats, the cow and every creature that inhabits this planet as well. They too have a right to the resources of the earth, don’t they? But being humans we believe we are the best. So let us assume that all this property is ours. Now, how much of it belongs to whom? The law of nature says it should be equal for everyone. But it isn’t. So how do we decide who will have how much? But we have already decided. The society we live in has decided. And we have built laws to this effect. I am educated so I will have more, we say. You’re illiterate so you’ll have less. I’m of a bigger caste so I’ll have more, you being small will have less. Since I live in a big city I will have more. You living in villages will have a smaller share.

So these inequalities have our permission and have entered our value system. After this happened even the political system has ruled in its favour. Laws have been made to cement it. Thus first there’s the social system, then there’s the political system and supporting it is the economic system. All three build a structure and we are part of this structure that keeps the rich, rich and the poor, poor. And we don’t have any problem with this structure because we have clothes, vehicles, houses, we educate our children, we have enough to eat… thus, we are satisfied with the system. We neither want to break the structure, nor change it. But those that are oppressed by this structure, on whom we are all piled on, those tribals who are attacked, those who are dying of hunger… they are against this structure. They want to break it and lay waiting for the opportunity to do so.

Hence remember that it is not the revolution of the Maoists, it is the revolution of the poor and oppressed because he is grossly affected by it. Now imagine, if you were at the lowest rung, you were being killed and oppressed, wouldn’t you also have done the same? It is just a coincidence that the Maoists or Naxals exist. Otherwise, he would have fought himself, with another name. This fight is inevitable till such time that there is inequality in the world. If Mr. Mao were not born, would the poor have not fought against this poverty, wouldn’t he not have rebelled against this injustice? If Gandhi were not there, would he have not fought? This fight will continue. He does not need anyone. He does not need any leadership, or any organisation, or anything else. The poor man will fight and is fighting. And sometimes it is (Mahatma) Gandhi who supports them, sometime it’s Vinoba (Bhave) and sometime it’s the Maoists. And the one who supports them, the poor adopts him. Sometimes he is betrayed, as he has been betrayed often. But this fight against structural violence (the intentional use of power and/or organisational systems and structures or laws against an individual or entity) continues. And Mr. Chidambaran is under the wrong impression that he can use the army and police to suppress this fight of the poor. Instead, suppression will only make the fight longer, increase the courage of those fighting it. So if you think you can finish this by force, it’s a big mistake. We told them, if you want peace there, if you want this war to end, go and increase the happiness of the tribals. You closed his school, shut off his anganwadi, his health facilities, ration shops, his bazaar… now open them all. The war will stop for a while. But they don’t even understand this. They believe we will make them suffer, kill them and the war will end. If you put a carpet over the fire, will the fire stop. The carpet will only burn more.

Under operation Green Hunt, the forces entered a house and stabbed to death this old man, his wife, his son and a 15 year daughter. There was no encounter, no one was running. Police and CoBRA forces killed them. They didn’t even spare a 2 year old child. They butted the child with a gun that broke his teeth, tore his tongue, and then they cut his fingers. The old woman’s breasts were cut off before being killed. And the govt. says they are fighting Maoists. I say, have you gone mad. The Maoists want you to increase such violence. The more you do this, the more powerful they become. What are you here for, to increase their strength?

The public there says that the government is brutal. Well then, you increase your love. Love the public and they will come to you. You are doing things that will make them turn towards the Maoists. You are thus increasing their strength.

I realise, that it is not just in Chattisgarh that land is being emptied for big corporations. The story is the same everywhere in the world. The richest people in the world have decided that these poor people are emptying resources (the truth is quite the opposite). So, this load to the economy of the world needs to be finished. And now since the tribal is the weakest, he is being finished first. This is genocide. An entire community will be annihilated. Next in turn will be dalits, then they will turn to minorities. This modern civilisation will destroy the weakest ones and finally only a few powerful people will survive who will consume the whole world. Our modern civilisation is turning towards this goal. It is what you can call ‘Social Darwinism’ – where the fittest kill the weak. This is the world you are in and this is the brutality you face. Make up your mind. Are you going to support this? This is the brutal experiment they are conducting in Bastar, If you want to stop this, I invite you. Come to Bastar, see and raise your voice. Stand alongside the tribal in the villages and tell the government that you will not allow them to be killed in this village or any other.

Today the situation is so bad that a tribal from Bastar considers every outsider his enemy. This is such an explosive situation that people of our own country are looking at their own countrymen as enemies. Don’t you think this is a danger to democracy? And what does the govt. think that they can kill millions? No. You will try to kill, and then they will revert and hit you back.

Some time back, I was talking about 3 types of poor in the world. The first type benefits from your kindness. Like those that sell balloons and flowers, clean the streets, clean your building etc. They live with their hands folded because they tell you that you are rich and with your small kindness we too shall survive. So, they don’t fight you. Second type of poor is the one who believes he is not capable of being rich. He is illiterate. He is the farmer. He has made a compromise with his poverty and will not bug you. The third type of poor is the one who used to stay in the jungles, and never came to ask you for anything, never bothered you. Yet, just to preserve your richness, you went ahead and attacked him. So, some youths joined together and fought back. And today they have picked up weapons, and are marching on. Now if the other two types of poor get together with him, they will overturn the entire system. Therefore, if you want peace in the society, then know that the military is planting the seeds of violence in Bastar.

You see, when they started Salwa Judum, then police figures tell us that Maoists numbered 5,000. After the creation of Salwa Judum (and the brutalities inflicted upon by them), their numbers increased 22 times and became 110,000. We asked the govt., what are you trying to do. If you attack again, everyone who remains will all turn Maoists. They will become full timers. And when their numbers increases, their area will expand, and if their area expands, they will reach Mumbai and Delhi. What are you doing? You think you will destroy them? You will only spread them.


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