A Cry in The Red: Naxalism in India

Posted on April 18, 2012 in Politics

By Neelima Ravindran:

Revolutions have always risen from the ashes of inequality and injustice meted by one strata of society to another. Not for power, not for riches, these are the wars for survival. Not on streets, not in parliament, these are wars fought in the jungles of central and eastern India. Not with hunger strikes, not with the pen, these are wars fought with the body and soul. These are India’s silent wars.

The red flag flies atop the dying, the dead and the decaying.

Maoism is the philosophy coined by Mao Zedong, who mobilised the poorer masses of people to revolt against establishments in political institutions. Mao’s philosophy and his slogan ‘let a hundred flowers blossom’ led to a cultural revolution and political cleansing in China. The Maoist insurgency subsequently spread to many countries and in India it started in 1967 in a village in West Bengal called the Naxalbari from which the term ‘Naxals’ was derived. What started as a peasant uprising which was crushed by the then West Bengal government, have now become a full fledged guerilla war by the tribals and marginalised masses for their land against the multinational companies supported by the state and central governments. The naxal movements, since its inception, have been characterized by splits and fragmentation within the groups. At the same time, none of the successive central or state governments has been able to effectively deal with the problems of and arising from insurgents leading to the growth of the movement over years.

A piece of steel glitters on the grass. A drop of blood trickles down, ushering in a revolution.

Economic opportunity and development are two words that are used by the government of Chattisgarh in collusion with India’s largest private sector steel makers as they amass acres of land rich in mineral resources for their proposed steel plant at the Lohandigunda block of Bastar region. In another part of Chattisgarh, Jindal steel and power are pushing for more land for expansion purposes. In the neighbouring state of Odisha, there is a huge resistance to Posco’s plan to acquire large areas to build what would become world’s third largest steel plant, land rich in cash crops that provide for the livelihood of the people there. On the western side of the state a war is being waged against Vedanta, trying to mine bauxite for aluminium displacing the indigenous tribes of the region as well as the thick forests that are home to them. In the state of West Bengal, the conflict in Nandigram grew to great proportions when people refused to part with their land for a chemical hub. Singur is also an example of failed attempt at procuring land due to protests. The tribal belts of Jharkhand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh have witnessed similar encroachments and similar resistances. These conflicts between the economic investments and land rights continues to be the back bone of the naxal struggles. And when the way of life habituated for generations comes under threat, many of the tribes or the adivasis become an easy recruit for the naxals to be a part of their movement. These adivasis belong to the poorest strata of the society, untouched by government services. Critics point out how the naxal wars are acts of terrorism under the veil of socialist ideas. But it does betray the fact that the reason naxalism is popular in these parts is directly related to the growing discontent with the government and the abysmal state of life, something that the centre and the states have to acknowledge.

They see gold in our burning sand; we burn too,we burn alone.

In their zealous approach to the underlying problem, the maoists have often strayed towards the paths of gross violence from Dantewada to derailing trains to the latest kidnappings of Italian nationals. There are reports of tribals being tortured and killed for refusing to join the naxal movement or when suspected to be an informant; many of the adivasi victims get caught in the crossfire. This is perhaps the fate of every movement, whether naxal or anti corruption; the leaders eventually turns tyrannical. Every life is indispensable and killing of innocent should not be in any way glorified. But the state/central government acts to quash the struggle is an attempt to cut off the branches without curing the rot at the root. Rather than dismissing it as India’s biggest internal security threat and as a menace, they should understand that common people when deprived of their very existence will rise. The inflexible way of controlling the agitation with an iron fist is deplorable. Police and paramilitary forces continue to torch the tribals, their villages and their way of life in an attempt to crush the war. Many human rights violation by the government forces have been reported in these areas. These will only lead to new waves of conflicts sooner or later.

For as long as sands were there, for as long as lands would be there, we die and rise to fight a battle just.

To dissolve the naxal threat the government will have to address the root causes, and address it must. Government services have to reach the interiors and safe guarding of natural resources should be balanced with economic progress especially in a land with vast social and economic disparities as India. The effectiveness of acts like PESA and FRA which essentially deny the ownership of the natural resources to the tribals but grant them community rights over their lands and forests should be re-evaluated. Foreign investments should not lead to marginalization and suffering of certain sections of the society. The indigenous population should be given the right over the forest produce; health, housing, rehabilitation, financial and education schemes implemented. Sincere dialogue between both parties is the urgent need of the hour. The tribals should be listened to, their plight understood. It isn’t fair to expect the starving to go on a hunger strike. They will fight with arms. The government has the duty to counter it with appropriate impetus and humanitarian considerations.

The red flag painted so by our blood flies atop our land, our life, our soul.