Archive for November, 2009
The New Indian Express
DANTEWADA(CHHATTISGARH): The authorities call it Operation Green Hunt, going by the conventional wisdom that the Maoists being chased — in Chattisgarh in this case — fight from thick jungles. But many of the victims appear to have nothing to do with the insurgency.
Witness accounts, in one instance among others, show that security forces killed seven people in Goompad village of Konta Block in Dantewada district in the concerted action that began six weeks ago. Two more people were killed from the neighbouring Bandaarpar village the same day.
In Goompad, Madvi Yankaiya (age 50) was hacked to death with an axe, his brother Madvi Joga said. Madvi Bajaar (50), his wife Madvi Subhi
(45), their daughters Madvi Kanama (20) and Madvi Mooti, (8) were killed, as their home was closest to the approaching forces. Also killed were their neighbours, Soyam Subaiya (20) and Soyam Subhi (18). They had been married only for a year.
The Adivasis of Bastar have little or no use for the Roman calendar; so it is hard to calculate the date of the attack, or the exact age of the victims. But surviving witnesses put it around the first week of October — which was the time that Green Hunt commenced. The Dantewada SP said an encounter took place at Goompad on October 1. They produced no bodies of alleged Naxalites at the police station. It was claimed that the villagers carried away the bodies of the dead.
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Sign the below Petition issued by AID
Dear Mr. Chidambaram, Hon’ble Home Minister of India
cc. Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India
cc. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi
We the undersigned are alarmed at the Government’s adoption of a military solution to the conflict in the tribal belts of central India. Operation Green Hunt will exact a toll in terms of innocent human lives and a long-lasting hatred in the hearts and minds of those who survive. We strongly believe that what is being called the war against Maoists will result in a war against adivasis, even if that is not the intention, because military operations will directly impact all the adivasis in the geographical area.
We stand against violence of all forms, structural and physical, from all sides, whether it is from Maoists, the State, corporate powers or independent citizens and groups, or dispossession, loss of livelihoods and endemic malnutrition. Instead of a paradigm of meaningful and participatory development, India’s recent decades of growth has exacerbated disparities in society. Surely, your government realizes that such uneven development will only intensify the cycle of violence without any promise of real or lasting benefits for the poorest. There is ample evidence around the world, and in history to suggest that uneven development and state sponsored violence leads to a breakdown of democracy – to failed States and “puppet governments.” In Chhattisgarh too, the State- backed Salwa Judum has only added fuel to the ongoing conflict.
We strongly urge you to hold talks with civil society groups that work very closely with the people to understand ground realities better. These groups can provide valuable advice for long lasting peace and justice in the region and should not be dismissed or penalized as “Maoist sympathizers”.
Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA), a Gandhian organization has been working in southern Chhattisgarh for the last two decades on issues of health, education and empowerment of the adivasis. Led by Mr. Himanshu Kumar, VCA has courageously worked for the rehabilitation of villagers made refugees on their own lands by the atrocities of Salwa Judum and by the cyclical violence resulting from it. We urge you to hold talks with Mr. Himanshu Kumar to understand and adopt this alternate paradigm of development.
In the interest of innocent tribal families living in the forests who will surely come in harm’s way through the planned Operation Green Hunt, we demand that:
1. The government retract military operations in Central India with immediate effect.
2. Hold meaningful conversations with adivasi representatives and development workers such as Mr. Himanshu Kumar.
3. Disband Salwa Judum with immediate effect and end covert militarization through arming of civilians as Special Police Officers.
4. Support rehabilitation of refugees and ensure responsible governance so people can return to their homes, pursue their livelihoods and democratically participate in the development process.
5. Initiate action against government functionaries who have perpetrated or promoted extrajudicial violence.
Maoists and Government Forces Should Not Repeat Past Abuses
November 5, 2009
Human Rights Watch
(New York) – Government forces and anti-government Maoist fighters should ensure that civilians are protected during armed operations in central India and elsewhere, Human Rights Watch said today.
“Government and Maoist claims to be acting on behalf of India’s poorest people can be undermined by the atrocities by both sides against these very same people,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Local people are at risk of being caught in the middle of the fighting – killed, wounded, abducted, forced to take sides, and then risk retribution.”
On November 4, 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, noting the “systematic exploitation and social and economic abuse” of tribal communities, said that “more could be done; more should be done.” However, he also warned that the threat of violence by the Maoists will be countered with “determination.” The Indian government’s new counter-insurgency measures, “Operation Green Hunt,” has deployed national paramilitary forces, along with state police forces, to end armed resistance by the Maoists, also called Naxalites, and to secure areas that had been under rebel control.
The Maoists claim that they are fighting for the rights of the poorest of the poor in India, particularly tribal groups, Dalits, and landless peasants. The government, while agreeing that there is a desperate need for development in Maoist-dominated areas, says that the Naxalites are blocking government development initiatives and should engage in peaceful advocacy. A key factor in the dispute is access to natural resources, particularly huge mineral deposits in many of the states suffering conflict.
The Naxalites operate in nearly 200 of India’s 600 districts and recruit local villagers to support the combatants, leaving the villagers vulnerable to arrest and torture by government forces. Villagers accuse the Naxalites of forced recruitment, including the recruitment of children, and widespread extortion. The Naxalites attack government installations, including schools, raid police stations and armories, and use landmines and improvised explosive devices. In recent attacks, the Naxalites have hijacked a passenger train, abducted police officials, attacked employees of industry or mining companies, and beheaded police and suspected informers.
“The Maoists have used violence to highlight the government’s failure to address poverty and the harm caused by big infrastructure projects,” Ganguly said. “But their own abusive methods call into question the sincerity of their claims.”
Human Rights Watch and others have documented widespread abuses by Indian government forces, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and unlawful killings, all of them unpunished, during previous operations against Maoists.
In Chhattisgarh, the state government has backed a vigilante movement called the Salwa Judum, leading to killings, rapes, and the forced displacement of tens of thousands of civilians. Human Rights Watch supported a statement on October 30 by Home Minister P. Chidambaram condemning the Salwa Judum, in which he said that the government does not “favor non-state actors like Salwa Judum taking to arms.”
Human Rights Watch urged the government to ensure that Salwa Judum members and state forces responsible for human rights violations are properly prosecuted. Yet with large numbers of paramilitary forces also being deployed, there is reason to be concerned that the abuses will increase.
“While senior officials have been saying the right thing, the real test is what happens on the ground,” Ganguly said. “The government needs to send a strong message to Operation Green Hunt forces that human rights violations will not be tolerated and prosecute those responsible for past abuses.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Indian central government and state governments to protect freedom of expression and to avoid conflating sympathy for concerns expressed by the Maoists with criminal complicity in acts of violence or intimidation. The state government of West Bengal has recently accused some filmmakers, writers, and activists of supporting the Maoists merely because they supported groups protesting police violence.
Human rights activists have repeatedly come under attack or been arbitrarily arrested on unsubstantiated accusations of Naxalite links. Binayak Sen, a physician and human rights activist, was detained from 2007 to 2009 for allegedly acting as a courier for a Naxalite leader in jail, even though Dr. Sen had visited the leader under the supervision of jail authorities. In 2008, Dr. Sen was awarded the prestigious Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights; rights groups, doctors, and ordinary citizens all over the world signed petitions for his release.
While the Supreme Court order to release Dr. Sen on bail in May was a positive step, days earlier, the police surrounded the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, a nongovernmental organization run by the human rights activist Himanshu Kumar in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. Himanshu, who has criticized the Salwa Judum and atrocities by state forces, was given half an hour to move out, and then bulldozers were brought in to destroy the center. The reason given was that the center, which had been there for two decades, was encroaching on protected forest land.
“The government should ensure that those who stand up for human rights are not branded criminal collaborators with the Maoists,” Ganguly said. “This is not how a democracy behaves. Above all, both sides need to understand that a continuing cycle of abuse will not solve the problems faced by India’s most impoverished people.”
Aruna Roy, a political and social activist, gave up her career in the Indian Administrative Service in 1975 to devote her time to social work and social reform. She has focused her energies on Rajasthan, where she helped establish the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan in 1990, a grass roots peoples organization that works for the empowerment of workers and peasants. In 2000, Ms. Roy won the Ramon Magsaysay award for community leadership and for her role in empowering Indian villagers to claim what is rightfully theirs by upholding and exercising the people’s right to information. As Maoist violence continues unabated in the country, Ms. Roy spoke exclusively to Jyoti Malhotra for the Wall Street Journal. Excerpts from the interview.
WSJ: In recent weeks, India’s Maoists rebels have unleashed a reign of terror across the countryside, especially in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, murdering people and damaging public property. As someone who has worked as an activist for many decades in rural India, what is the reason for this sudden violence?
AR: It is now widely accepted that development has not reached people in Chhattisgarh and other parts of the country. The Adivasis, or tribals who live here, are delinked from other parts of the country socially, culturally and politically, they are really like an island. Since Independence, most government officials have treated these areas as punishment postings. Few have wanted to live and work there and those who have gone have not treated the tribals as their equals. It’s been a sort of sahib-servant relationship. Several activists and those in the development sector did work there, but always came under surveillance like Binayak Sen. With Sen, as you know, he was arrested and put behind bars and accused of sympathizing with the Maoists. An important group which reached the tribal areas were the Christian missionaries who set up schools there, followed by Hindu right-wing groups who decided that the tribals must be “saved” from the Christians. These religious tensions usually ended in violence. In the meantime, the tribal belt, which is really the mineral belt of India, became the focus of interest of multinational companies…
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