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In 2019, India’s Adivasis Still Caught In The Clash Between Naxalism And Military Forces

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IJMEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #ViolenceNoMore, a campaign by International Justice Mission and Youth Ki Awaaz to fight against daily violence faced by marginalised communities. Speak out against systemic violence by publishing a story here.

What is right and what is the way of right doing?

The current scenario or as it has been since last 60 years in India because of Naxal Movements, propels us to ask such questions and ponder into the matter beyond political, economical, social and moral contexts. A revolt in 1967 that broke out in Naxalbari village of West Bengal inspired by Maoist ideology gave birth to far left radical communists soon to be recognised as ‘Naxalites.’ This was a challenge to Indian democracy on the basis of ideology. What started off as a class struggle ended up being a class war.

Over time, the ideological basis got diluted and then prevailed violence that was an eye for an eye. The armed peasant movement of Naxalbari, led by local tribal and the radical communist leaders of Bengal was soon suppressed by paramilitary forces. But, they re-emerged time and again. Paramilitary presence has tackled leftist unrest in Telangana in the ’50s,West Bengal, Bihar, Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh in the late ’60s and ’70s and then again in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra from the ’80s.

If we look at the geographical and demographic aspects of the upholders of such ideology we get a better understanding into the matter. The Economic Times recently reported that according to the Home Ministry there are 106 left wing extremism affected districts in 10 states of which 35 districts are the worst affected. These districts are spread in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand and West Bengal. The affected areas are predominantly tribal zones as well as forest and mineral rich areas.

Majority of the footsoldiers are tribal youth. Tribals are the concerned victim in this churning up between the state and radical Maoists. Jairam Ramesh recognizes displacement, deprivation, disconnect and discontent as four D’s why tribals are becoming the source of strength to Maoist organisations. These areas have always been blind-eyed by the government.

Seen as mineral rich zones, our attitude towards such areas has been ecologically unsustainable and socially devastating. Unlike minority communities like Dalits or Muslims which are considered vote banks for politicians, tribal zones are alienated and isolated zones amidst forests which are overwhelmingly ignored. Most tribal people living in forests are officially ‘encroachers.’

They live under the constant threat of being alienated from their land and livelihood. While the government completely failed to reach out to them, the Naxals succeeded in connecting to sections of the people. The innocent youth of these areas get their hands on guns before books. Those who serve as foot soldiers don’t even know what is democracy neither do they know what is Maoism. And they are the ones bearing the brunt.

Historically, every tribal uprising since British era accepted the path of rebellion. When people invaded their peaceful settlement and exploited resources, they reciprocated by armed violence. But, what triggers the tribals to react in such way is the inhuman attitude by the exploiters. Even after independence, the government outreach to these regions to facilitate development has not been significant.

After the spread of Naxalism, the government tried to carry out a two way approach to annihilate the insurgency. One was to use paramilitary forces to suppress the rebellion and on the other hand, facilitate developmental works, spread of education, grow connectivity, etc. But, the irony is the forces who are deployed in the name of security soon became the exploiters and the Maoists fighting with the objective of development blew down schools and hospitals and declared elections to be a sham.

Dantewada, the epicenter of Naxal-related violence today has been described by Arundhati Roy: “In Dantewada, the police wear plain clothes and the rebels wear uniforms. The jail superintendent is in jail. The prisoners are free (three hundred of them escaped from the old town jail two years ago). Women who have been raped are in police custody. The rapists give speeches in the bazaar.”

Thousands of people are now stuck between the devil and the deep sea. For instance, Salwa Judum started in 2005 as a Chhattisgarh state sponsored vigilante movement against the Naxalites (also known as Peace March launched by the Raman Singh government). Banned by the Supreme Court, it is considered as an Anti-Naxal cover for exploiting tribals.

Tribals were shifted into Salwa Judum camps, children as young as fifteen years were handed guns to go against far left extremism. The Chhattisgarh state had trained a number of ‘Special Police Officers’ or SPOs (also commonly referred as Koya commandos) from amongst the tribals who were part of Salwa Judum. People were left to either join ‘us’ or ‘them’ or ‘die.’

Salwa Judum soldiers in Chhattisgarh, 2007. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Even though the government reports that violence perpetrated by Naxals has been declining which has accounted for several thousand lives being lost already, it is to be said that among the dead are the innocent civilians and personnel of the security forces as well. The radical leaders of the Maoists instigating violence bear no direct harm, neither do the exploiters of mines and minerals. The tribals being used as pawns are losing all rights as humans.

A deeper understanding into this matter will help us weed out the real perpetrators of violence and the root cause of it as well. A distinction needs to be made in between Naxalites and the poor victims in the tussle. Yiching Wu in an article calls Maoism “seriously flawed, and in the end ineffectual” because it “lacked a clear class focus as defined in structural terms.” No wonder Maoism in India met a similar fate.

Maoists are losing their relevance, their belief that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun needs to change. People need to understand those who have been accused of being Naxal sympathisers are fighting for those who were forcefully converted. A direct negotiation with the victims in concern can solve the problem without any violence.

Mobilising the support base of Naxalites will automatically weaken them. Political outreach in those areas, and a commitment to development can serve a solution to this problem without any bloodshed. Moreover, the right path is the one which ensures peace. Ideology must be compromised upon, if it no more serves the aim.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.
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