Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Outlaw prescription hasn’t cured Red corridor-- Human Rights Walas

OUR BUREAU

June 22: The Communist Party of India (Maoist) has been banned across most of the Red corridor that cuts through India, but that hasn’t stopped the guerrillas in the Naxalite zone from operating with impunity.

The outfit, formed in 2004 following the merger of the CPI(M-L) People’s War and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) — both of which were centrally-banned organisations — has been at the forefront of an armed “people’s struggle” which has claimed thousands and led Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to dub Naxalism as the single biggest threat to internal security.

This, in spite of the outfit being banned by the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh — among the four most affected by Naxalite terror in the country. The states imposed the ban under their own laws soon after the CPI (Maoist) came into existence.

The central ban came on a day the Maoists have called for a bandh in states where they have a presence. The rebels have even called for a two-day economic blockade in Bastar — the worst-hit region of Chhattisgarh — from June 25.

Once an organisation and its sister groups are banned, the members cannot hold public meetings, conventions or rallies, organise bandhs, raise funds or carry out other activities allowed in a democratic process. The bank accounts of the organisations are frozen, their assets are seized. Warrants are not required to arrest their members and getting bail is extremely difficult.

Worse, persons considered sympathisers of Naxalites or suspected to be abetting their activities also come under the purview of the law.

But the rebel show goes on nonetheless. In Chhattisgarh, for example, over 500 people, most of them security personnel and civilians, have died in Maoist attacks since 2006 when the group was outlawed.

“The ban imposed by the state governments has not yielded the desired result on the ground as most of the activities of the Maoists are underground,” said Virendra Pandey, a political observer in Raipur who has tracked Maoist insurgency.

B.K. Tripathy, a former Orissa inspector-general of police, said the ban has had little impact because few Naxalites have been arrested. “How can a member of a banned outfit be arrested without identification by intelligence agencies, which have little presence at the ground level,” he said.

Former Orissa police chief S.N. Tiwari agreed, pointing out that a ban has more of a psychological impact rather than serving any practical purpose.

“Owing to the ban, the Maoists have not been able to organise processions or public meetings. But generally, Maoists work underground. They make person-to-person contact and they are guerrilla fighters. So their activities have not been curbed, instead they have intensified since 2006 (when Orissa imposed the ban),” Tiwari said.

The police brass, however, is in favour of the ban. “Criminal law is there across the world, but that does not mean that all criminal activities will be wiped out,” argued Chhattisgarh additional director-general of police Girdhari Nayak.

An Andhra police officer said that while Maoist violence had gone up in the first two years since the ban was imposed in 2005, the group’s influence had reduced following stringent action — patrolling of forests, slapping of non-bailable cases against the arrested activists and encouraging mass surrenders of underground ultras with rehabilitation and relief packages.

Some states have given sweeping powers to their police to clamp down on the Maoists, banning them under laws with stringent provisions.

For example, the Andhra Pradesh Public Security Act, under which the outfit has been banned in the state, gives the police extraordinary powers. They can arrest any activist — doctors, lecturers, office-bearers of front organisations or anyone suspected to have Maoist links — without a warrant and interrogate anyone without formally arresting them.

Since this is a non-bailable offence, an accused has to be produced before a court after formal arrest. Sources said the authorities are often influenced to remove activists from their jobs and their children from schools.

These sweeping powers have triggered howls of protest from civil rights activists.

The activists said the authorities have unleashed “state-sponsored repression” in rural areas, arresting innocent people on false charges. They alleged that tribal women whose husbands were arrested have been raped, medicines and healthcare denied to patients suspected to be Maoists, basic amenities like water, power and even rice supplies have been cut off to tribal villages suspected to be providing shelter and food to the rebels.

“The ban empowers the police to take any action in villages. For example, they denied tablets to a diabetic teacher in a village in Karimnagar (Andhra Pradesh), charging him of being a Maoist informer,” said K. Balgopal, convener of the Human Rights Forum in Hyderabad.

Non-government organisations said banning organisations don’t serve any purpose. “You cannot ban an ideology, all you can do is to restrict their activities,” said Gautam Bandhopadhyay of Nadi Ghati Morcha in Chhattisgarh.

INPUTS FROM G.S. RADHAKRISHNA, SHEENA K. AND SUBRAT DAS

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