Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The tribals who dared Maoists

Naxalite Menace – III

Our Roving Editor Man Mohan writes from Jagdalpur (Chhattisgarh)

Besides security forces, the number one enemy of the Maoists — commonly known as Naxals — in their hotbed Bastar region are those tribals who dared to start a people’s movement against them in 2005. Many in the West have described it as India’s “hidden civil war”.

One will have to follow the sequence of the much maligned people’s movement — later called Salwa Judum (peace march) — against the Maoists to understand the current situation.

The people’s movement started in Bijapur district in the Bastar region, called Dandakaranya in Maoist literature. Interestingly, in the Ramayana mythology, Lord Ram, Sita and Lakshman spent their 14-year “vanvas” in Dandakaranya.

The immediate cause of the people’s movement was seasonal unemployment due to Maoist diktat to the tribals not to pluck “tendu” leaves used to make bidis.

Tribals in some pockets of Bastar had been opposing Maoist repression for a long time. There was a “Jan Jagaran Abhiyan” (People’s Awareness Movement) against Maoists in 1990-91. Even in 1999, tribals in Kanker district had risen in revolt against the Maoists. In both cases, the movements were crushed by the Maoists who resorted to large-scale violence against those who led the movement.

Two major reasons that led to the present movement, now popularly known as Salwa Judum, are: violence perpetuated by Maoists and destruction of public and private property.

Jan Adalats — Maoist kangaroo courts — became the order of the day in the Maoist-dominated areas. In the name of instant justice, tribals were beaten up indiscriminately, and their houses burnt. Many were lynched to death. This instilled a sense of fear amongst the tribals.

The Maoists demanded food from villages for local guerrilla squads and their cadres. Those who couldn’t meet the demand were either killed or beaten up. The village heads and witch doctors were beaten up, and replaced by the Maoist cadre.

School buildings as well as ashrams (tribal hostels) have been demolished by Maoists. The public distribution system collapsed as the Maoists started demanding 50 per cent of the stock. Teachers, doctors and nurses long back started leaving, fearing a threat to their lives. The Naxalites banned many of the weekly markets — the tribals’ economic life line. They were forced to travel long distances to buy essential items like salt.

An immediate provocation was the red rebels’ decision in 2004 to ban minor forest produce, including tendu leaf, in four of the 11 cooperatives. In April 2005, the Maoists banned its total collection leading to seasonal unemployment.

When the tribals in Bijapur tried to discuss the problem with the Maoists in April-May 2005, they were beaten up. The tribals of 25 villages, especially the Marias, met in Ambeli, Bijapur, on June 5 to voice their dissent.

The Maoists retaliated and started killing tribals who were opposing, forcing them to flee to police stations and camps for safety. Later, some of them took out rallies to other villages against Maoist oppression, and decided to retaliate. The first such rally was at Mathwada weekly market in Bijapur on June 18, 2005. This saw a quick and violent retaliation by the Maoists. The state government stepped in to offer relief. The Central government was approached for help.

In 2005, the CPI (Maoist) politburo passed a resolution to violently crush the people’s movement, which by now had come to be known as Salwa Judum, by labelling it as a counter revolution. In April 2006, the politburo passed another resolution to isolate, destroy and discredit Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh and all over the country.

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