Maoist movement is more than a law & order issue
One important section of people views the Naxalite movement as a national security problem to be addressed militarily. This approach will result in the further alienation of tribal communities, widen the trust deficit between the state and the people, and strengthen the Maoists. The country cannot afford to adopt this line of thinking.
Naxalism is perceived as a threat to national security and military action is the only solution. However, resorting to military action will create a rift between the tribal communities and the Government. Professor Virginius Xaxa, who headed a high-level committee in 2014 urged the government that it is imperative that the tribal areas which are constantly neglected must be developed, and that the government must stop being hand-in-glove with corporations that violate laws and engage in exploitation of natural resources in the tribal areas. The committee further indicated that the resources should not be handed over to corporations as the tribals deserved the profits that are raked in from the exploitation of the natural resources, and these profits must be used for the education and development of the local tribals in such areas.
The Indian Government had never seen tribals as a part of the society at large nor had it recognized that these tribes have their distinct culture and practices. There is no evidence of the Indian Governments actively engaging the tribal areas in development before the Naxalites had begun their movement. The shaukars, the contractors, who go to the forest areas to exploit the resources and the occasional forest officers who subject the tribals to harassment were the only people who were acquainted with the tribals. In 1993, I went with a team of journalists to Bastar, Chattisgarh. On seeing us, the women and children ran away and hid in their huts. Only a few men stayed with us as there was a shaukar present with us.
Even in 1993, the tribals were strangers to the outside world with the exception of forest officers and contractors. No other government officer can be sighted there. The area we visited was navigable and reachable by car. The recent encounters were very close to the tribal hamlet we visited then. Twenty-seven Naxalites and/or tribals were killed at the same time in the ‘encounter’ on October 24. The police had termed it as an armed encounter but many believe that it is far from the truth.
Akkiraju Haragopal aka RK, senior Maoist Party leader and Politburo Member was also said to be at the location but he was nowhere to be found. RK’s wife, Padmakka, filed a habeas corpus petition in the High Court at Hyderabad which was heard by Justice CV Nagarjuna Reddy and Justice MSK Jaiswal who held that the government has the duty to protect a Maoist as they would any ordinary citizen. This can be seen as the judiciary’s criticism of the extra judicial killings by the police and the government.
The courts have repeatedly held that the government has the duty to protect civil rights and liberties, which seems to be falling on deaf ears of the government. Truly if there was an armed encounter, both the parties involved are prone to get hurt, but the government has to make sure that it makes all efforts to uphold the civil rights and liberties. What we see is quite the opposite. By showcasing the extra judicial killings as an armed encounter, the government is trying to escape from its responsibilities and using the police to achieve their unconstitutional goals. This is not a skirmish between the police and Naxalites, but the effect of corporate greed and the government’s behavior in the guise of a business agent for the corporate sector against the self-respect and pride of the tribals. This is completely ignored and covered up by using the police and military force in order to make it easier for the corporations to continue exploitation of resources.
The government is forgetting the fact that the Naxalite movement is the result of economic and social exploitation but not a political or an ideological battle. But the governments all through have muddled the spirit of the Constitution deliberately. “Adivasis and other tribes have the right to follow their own set of laws and the right to self governance. Their development must be in consonance with their social and economic conditions. Any policies and decisions that are to be taken in regard to tribal areas have to be done so after consulting the tribals themselves,” said Dr. Rajendra Prasad while presiding over the Constituent Assembly in 1949. The members of the Constituent Assembly through immense social awareness and responsibility had framed the laws that now govern our country but the various governments have completely ignored them. The beginning of the Naxalite movement was the result of the same irresponsible behaviour of the government.
The Naxalite movement began in West Bengal’s Naxalbari. The struggle began as the Adivasis had fought against those who wanted to take away the lands they had been dependant on for centuries. Their sole proposition was that no one else had a right to cultivate those lands except themselves. The Naxalbari movement saw a great deal of bloodshed. Srikakulam agency area, in Andhra Pradesh, also saw an uprising in a struggle against the exploitation by Shaukars and landlords. When two Marxist-Leninist leaders, Koranna and Manganna were murdered by the landlord’s goons, the rest of the members of the movement took up arms against the landlords.
These two contemporary movements have laid down the foundation for adivasi struggle and are the harbingers of the Naxalite armed struggle. With the intention of curbing these movements, the government had used massive police forces in and around the forest areas killing several Naxalite leaders, party members and innocent civilians.
The concept of armed encounters began in Srikakulam. Even as the state continued to place restrictions and pressure on the Adivasis’ movement and its activists, the government had come up with laws and policies aimed at the development of the Adivasis. In this regard, our state passed the 1st Act in 1970. The Integrated Tribal Development Authority (ITDA) and the Tribal Sub-Plan of 1974 are also part of this. The 1st Act of 1970 (1/70) eventually became obsolete.
The intention to prevent non-tribals from purchasing land in tribal areas could not be upheld. The ITDA was, however, successful in procuring the means for survival to tribes, if not in providing complete protection to them. Even the tribal Sub-Plan could not be of much help.
The failure of the legal mechanism that was supposed to protect the tribes had extended the influence of the Naxalite movement to Jharkhand in the north and the Godavari Valley and the forests of Adilabad in the south. Even though the movement had reached Chattisgarh in 1980, it only gained momentum in 1990. After 1990, the economic reforms that followed the trend of globalization had given the corporations an opportunity to exploit the previously protected tribal land. More than 70% of our natural resources including coal are in the tribal areas. In 1995, Chandrababu Naidu began mining for bauxite in the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa Border (AOB), and gave private corporations complete freedom over these tribal lands.
Samatha vs State of Andhra Pradesh was the historic judgment that had taken up the issue with the Supreme Court. The bauxite mining was vehemently opposed by the Adivasis. The apex court finally held that the natural resources found in the Adivasi areas cannot be used for the benefit of non-tribals and that the state also as a legal entity falls in the category of a non-tribe and hence is prohibited from making any kind of transfer or use of tribal land.
Regardless of the Supreme Court’s judgment, the governments continuously try to act as a corporate agent displacing over 2 crore Adivasis in the process. Seven decades of independent India is witness to the plight of Adivasis who bide their time and suffering, being hungry and ravished by ill health. In these circumstances, the Naxalites stand guard and do their best to protect the rights of the Adivasis. This is the reason Adivasis end up joining the Naxalite movement, while the government constantly tries to neutralize the Naxalite leaders and give control of these resource -rich areas to global corporations.
Operation Green hunt is part of this venture. This had riled up the Adivasis and it is no surprise that most of the members of the Maoist movement are Adivasis. If this situation has to be changed, law must be applied in the spirit of the Constitution. The Adivasis must feel that they get the same protection under law as the rest of the Indian population. Otherwise, the struggle will continue and unrest will not end. If the government refuses to understand the genesis and history of the movement and fails to protect the Adivasis, the crisis would continue to challenge the governments.