Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar

21 07 2008
Sreelatha Menon: A homecoming in Bastar
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi July 20, 2008, 0:26 IST

The collector of Dantewada has agreed to give 10 quintals of paddy seed to restart farming in Nendra. Nendra is a village in Konta block in Dantewada district in Chhattisgarh which has been lying deserted for the last three years after multiple attacks by the government-backed anti-Naxal militia, the Salwa Judum, and the police. The collector’s gesture was in reciprocation of a rehabilitation effort by an NGO called Vanvasi Chetna Ashram to facilitate homecoming for the villagers who were living either in jungles fearing reprisals from the Salwa Judum and the police, or in neighbouring villages of Andhra Pradesh. Some of them are in camps set up by the state government.

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The effort started this month, with 11 members of the ashram turning into a human shield and escorting the fugitive tribals to their village and staying with them.

There has been little support from the police. There were firings on the villagers. The first incident made them run for their lives to their familiar hideouts in the jungles.

Two boys, Madkam Bheem and Vetti Pojja, both about 16 years old, were caught this week while returning from the markets in the villages of Andhra Pradesh and are currently in Dantewada jail.

The police fired in the village a second time this week. But this time, the villagers did not flee and the police returned without harming anyone.

Himanshu Kumar, who has been running the ashram for the last 16 years in the Bastar area, says more villages are seeking their human shields to revive life in the abandoned hamlets.

People who have fled from about 25 villages are meeting in Nendra to extend the human shield initiative to their villages.

The human shield members, who took with them 15 quintals of paddy and a lot of clothes for the 100 families returning to Nendra, are currently helping the people cultivate their abandoned fields.

The collector’s gesture was to support this effort.

The Supreme Court ruled recently that the government of Chhattisgarh was acting in an illegal and unconstitutional way in arming civilians to fight the Naxalites. A report of the Planning Commission seconded this and said that Salwa Judum was a terrible mistake and had no place in a democratic and free country.

The Planning Commission report on Salwa Judum and Naxalites was presented yesterday before the home ministry’s task force.

What will take the powers-to-be to change their mind and understand that people have to live in their homes and cannot be held fugitives in their own country?

The human shield initiative is, meanwhile, preparing to leave for another deserted village, Vechapad, in Bhairamgadh block in Bastar’s Bijapur district. Himanshu Kumar says he has informed the police but they are asking them to wait saying an operation was going on there.

What is the guarantee that people returning from the Salwa Judum camps, usually identified with the atrocities attributed to the Salwa Judum, would be let off by the Naxalites and the people hiding in the jungles?

Himanshu Kumar says he has been speaking to the villagers outside the camps and they say there is no danger from them. He says Naxalites are also promising that they will not make reprisal attacks on the villagers and the SPOs if they come home.

At a time the government is introspecting about the Salwa Judum and does not know what to do with the Naxalites, the worst thing it can do is to sever ties with the civil society. It can begin by looking at activists like Himanshu Kumar and Binayak Sen as just that rather than conspirators against it, and instead use jails and police against criminals rather than activists.

Interview: Navin Patnaik, (From TEHELKA)

7 07 2008

From: Tehelka

in cold blood

‘The Naxalites will die a painful death’

Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik tells BIBHUTI PATI that a police boat was sunk by Naxal rebels only by accident
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

You have often said the state government was fully geared to handle the Naxal menace?

This is nothing but terrorism. The attack was brutal. In the name of helping the poor, the Naxalites are murdering innocents in manner that is nothing but barbaric.

But if Greyhound soldiers cannot handle the Naxal firepower, do you think the state’s police force stands a chance?

It was an accident. Terrorist activities can take place anywhere in the country. That does not mean the state’s police force is not competent. We have launched a modernisation programme for the police. I recently had a discussion with Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on this very issue.

Many are saying the Naxalites are now better trained and have better weapons?

No, I do not think so. I have told you it’s terrorism and incidents like these can happen anywhere in the country.

Which are the troubled zones in Orissa where the Naxalites have a distinct upper hand?

The undivided Koraput district is a major trouble zone. The Naxals have recently spread their wings to western Orissa because people living there are poor, illiterate and innocent. We are making efforts to reach out to the poor. I would say the situation is now gradually changing in our favour. In some places, the Maoists are losing their turf. But if you are seeking a big change overnight, that will not happen. The Naxalites have no specific operation zone and keep shifting from place to place.

With the Salva Judum coming under fire, is this counterviolence the only way to solve the crisis?

Who told you that the Salva Judum is not working? But I must say I don’t believe in counter-violence. But if they take law and order in their hands, then they will have to face the music. I cannot let my men die like this.

The rebels have been fighting for more than three decades in several Indian states, demanding land and jobs. Is it not an issue the state governments need to understand?

They have chosen a very wrong path. I do not think violence will solve any problem. Who told you that they are working for agriculture labourers and the poor? In our state, there are several examples of how the Maoists have brutally killed many poor people and farmers. Is brutality the only way to fight for a good cause and help the poor? The state governments, which are often attacked by the media, have programmes for the poor. What package are the Naxalites offering to the landless? We are gaining in many places. Have you noticed how we have got many top Maoists leaders, including women, to surrender and work for governmental programmes?

Over the past few years, about 2,000 people — including policemen, militants and civilians — have been killed.

In the last couple of years, the state police has had a number of successful operations where we have busted Naxalite hideouts and confiscated arms. We have destroyed hundreds of Maoists camps and arrested some of their top leaders. No one writes a line about it. I am confident that once modernisation seeps in poverty-stricken areas, the Maoists and their great theories of helping the poor will die a painful death.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 27, Dated July 12, 2008

Also See links


Sreelatha Menon: Mirror on the wall

11 06 2008


Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi May 18, 2008, 2:24 IST

A Planning Commission report points at lack of empowerment of local communities as the main reason for the fast spread of the Naxal movement.

The UPA government will be known for many achievements, notably the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Right to Information Act, and if all goes well, the Women’s Reservation Act as well.
But the finest may yet come if the recommendations of an expert group of the Planning Commission on development challenges in extremist-affected areas are translated into action.
The report is honest and harsh about the mistakes governments have made over the last 60 years that have led to Naxalism thriving in so many districts of the country. It asks governments to undo the damage and do everything, including talking to Naxalites, “to rectify a historic wrong.”
The report says lack of empowerment of panchayats is one of the key causes for lack of development in rural areas with the Provision for Extension of Panchayat Act (PESA) only partially implemented in tribal areas.
It raises the issue of states’ unwillingness to part with their power and functions to share them with panchayats. The fact that the writ of the state does not run in as many as 125 districts in extremism-affected areas makes it clear that the state bureaucracy has abjectly failed in delivering good governance in these areas. Hence, empowerment of panchayats would practically be the only way for effective governance of these areas.
It also looks at the huge underbelly of deprivation below the crest of 9 per cent growth rate. Even the government’s attempt to bridge this has resulted in more divides.
“We have two worlds of education, two worlds of health, two worlds of transport and two worlds of housing..,”it says.
It also points at the many conflicts that are going on in mining zones even as new steel companies are exploring ground to do business without any intention of including communities as stakeholders.
It says “even those who know very little about the Naxalite movement know that its central slogan has been ‘land to the tiller’ and that attempts to put the poor in possession of land have defined much of their activity.”
In this context, the report questions the wisdom of having special economic zones (SEZs), saying “the notion of an SEZ, irrespective of whether it is established on multi-cropped land or not, is an assault on livelihood”. It again points at intrusion into the vital life vein of tribal and rural communities viz their common property resources, which contribute significantly to the rural economy and provide sustenance to local communities in rural areas.
It says privatisation is carried out through extension of the boundaries of private farms, forcible grabbing, and distributive policies of the government, and hints that all these are making it a cakewalk for Naxalites.
Nandini Sundar, a teacher and scholar who has written vastly on Naxal issues, says it is one of the finest reports and looks at the matter exactly as it should. She welcomes the suggestion that the government should talk to Naxalites. If it can succeed in Nepal, why not with the Maoists in India, she asks.