Monday, June 22, 2009

Maoist law chokes Lalgarh tribal traditions

22 Jun 2009, 0431 hrs IST, Jayanta Gupta, TNN


LALGARH: There is a generation divide in the Lalgarh warzone. Most tribal youths have joined the Maoist-led People's Committee Against Police
Atrocities (PCPA). Many have joined the guerrilla ranks. They are dictating terms and overruling age-old tribal customs to establish a new, Maoist philosophy-inspired order which this belt has never seen before.
And that's something the elders can hardly tolerate.

The mukhia system, for instance, has been abolished. Instead, the Maoists are laying down the plan of action and the younger generation is only too eager to accept that. The Left radical ideology has more takers than the traditional tribal way of life.

Elders in the tribal community are a very worried lot, as they believe this could harm them on two counts.

First, they point out, the basic tribal issues of poverty, unemployment, water scarcity, education and recognition of their Alchiki language are being ignored as the young men intoxicated by the power of the gun take up arms. Second, when the rebellion is eventually crushed, which they believe is only a matter of time, police could turn ruthless.

"Our young men have gone out of control. They are more interested in seizing power with the help of the gun. They have taken charge of the area and are not willing to pay any heed to our advice. In the bargain, we are not only making police and non-tribals our enemy but also losing out on our traditional sources of income. Our core demands have been pushed to the backburner," said Naren Munda, a village elder near Ramgarh.

The tribal population in the area is largely dependent on the forests, while the rest make a living from the land. The younger tribals, on the other hand, believe that armed rebellion is the only way since they have been ignored and exploited on their own land for generations. With the Maoist rebellion, the tribals of Jangalkhand have got a new-found identity, a sense of belonging where they have been dominated and treated as outsiders, and a position of power which they never enjoyed. They are not willing to give it up even in the face of death.

"This is a fight to reclaim our territory. It was sparked off by police atrocities but now it is a fight for our existence. Tribals had been pushed to the wall and the only option for us is to fight back. This war has helped us win back our self respect," said Shiben, who is leading the charge in a village.

But most elders don't agree with Maoist ideology. Nor do they endorse the armed resistance. "Basic values like respect for elders have been sacrificed. Even religion has lost importance," rued a former village chief.

Police has been trying to use this difference of opinion to win back tribal confidence. In several villages, they have been knocking on doors trying to build a rapport with the locals. A bridge with the tribal population will help to alienate the Maoists, they believe. But tribals have so far not been receptive. It is a weak effort launched a little too late, they believe.

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