What India’s TV wars with Pakistan don’t tell us about our wars without witness


Thousands have died in internal battles waged against its own people in Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and the Northeast.

 There are wars and there are the TV wars and it is the second variety that has been raging over the last few weeks in the media studios throughout the land. The September 18 attack on Uri Army headquarters provided the trigger for TV anchors, ruling politicians and sundry other warmongers itching to declare war on Pakistan.

The luminaries of the political and defence establishment, who, despite Pathankot, had ignored security and were guilty of facilitating 19 soldiers’ deaths by the gross negligence of lodging them in inflammable tents, escaped all scrutiny. All lapses were well hidden behind a smokescreen of war clouds of their own making.

The shrillness of the war cries yet shows no signs of abating. A variety of war games are being played out on prime time. Many media outlets had, even before the announcement by the Indian Army of surgical strikes, already invented and announced surgical strikes of their own.

As the media sets up televised war rooms complete with maps and digital models, every actual, notional or imagined step of the armed forces is being chalked out and projected – more surgical strikes, Indian fidayeen units, hot pursuit, and implementation of doctrines  of cold start, and even limited nuclear war. The “war” with Pakistan is being fought out in full media glare even before it actually begins.

A make-believe war

An actual war with Pakistan is yet a remote possibility. Military confrontations in these times are usually proxy wars, with one or the other big power backing each of the sides. Both India and Pakistan being well within the same American camp, the likelihood of the US consenting to declarations of war on each other is extremely low. Meanwhile, major military moves contrary to Washington’s wishes are not options either country’s ruling class is willing to contemplate.

But a make-believe war too has its fair share of backers. The party in power can reap a rich harvest of votes; a jingoistic anchor and his channel can rake in the TRPs; a corporate house entering armaments can speed up the contracts.

So, war or no war, the business of warmongering will carry on. Under the camera glare, politicians will thump their chests and anchors will shout themselves hoarse, creating choruses from all corners.

Real and lethal internal wars

But TV wars are not the only type of wars. There are some very real and very lethal wars being waged by the Indian state in various parts of the country. Some of them have been on for decades with death counts far surpassing anything on the Line of Control (LoC). The news of these, however, rarely makes it to the newspaper headlines or prime time TV.

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In just the last three months of protests in Kashmir, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured.

One such war is the one waged against the almost three-decade-long mass insurgency for self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir, which has caused a death toll between 44,000 and 1,10,000 as per various estimates.

In just the last three months of mass protests against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured, including 1,000 blinded in firing and shot-gun pellet attacks by security forces. These figures far outstrip the numbers of Indian citizens killed and injured in all the external conflicts waged by India since 1947.

Another conflict is the five-decade-old attempt by the Indian state to wipe out the Naxalite movement. The toll here too runs to several thousand. While the estimates for earlier years are disputed, government figures for the last 20 years run to around 14,000.

In the last seven months, Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region alone has seen more than a 100 adivasis killed in encounters shown by civil rights groups to be fake.

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Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone.

Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone. It has seven lakh military and paramilitary personnel in comparison to a population of only 125 lakh giving a soldier-people ratio of 1:18. A similar situation exists in the Bastar division of Chhattisgarh, which has one lakh paramilitary forces for a population of 31 lakh, that is, a soldier-people ratio of 1:31.

A report submitted to the United Nations by the Working Group on Human Rights in India points to similar intensified militarisation in the northeastern states. It has been a conflict zone right since 1947, with many groups fighting for self-determination. Government statistics admit to 21,400 fatalities from these conflicts in the last 25 years.

Wars without witness

As the body counts in such war zones grow grimmer, information flows from these parts get scantier. In fact, there has been a concerted attempt by the state and mainstream media to ensure that news and views on these wars remain highly restricted and are even fabricated.

The recent resignation by Naseer Ahmed, a senior Kashmir journalist with the Ambani-owned TV channel IBN7 brought to light the role of the Delhi-based media centres in fabricating news reports as per state directives and preventing factual reporting of the killings and unrest.

Raids on Kashmiri newspaper offices, Facebook censorship and a ban on the Kashmir Reader newspaper were some of the methods used to curb the local media. Well-known human rights activist Khurram Parvez was first prevented from traveling to Geneva to attend a session of the UN Human Rights Council and then was placed under arrest.

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The wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

In Bastar, the tool of arrest has been used rampantly by the state against journalists who refuse to toe the police line. The last year has seen at least four journalists being forced to spend months in jail on cooked-up charges. One of them is yet behind bars.

On October 15, two Mumbai-based writers were picked up from a Bastar jail merely for attempting to meet a woman Maoist prisoner with the jail superintendent’s permission. Lawyers and rights activists too have been systematically hounded and even evicted from the area. Amnesty International India has documented what it calls a near-total information blackout in the state in a report titled “Blackout in Bastar: Human Rights Defenders Under Threat”.

Thus, unlike the jingoistic TV wars with Pakistan, which the ruling classes relish and revel in, the wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

These are the wars which lay bare the lie of the democratic credentials of the Indian state. The dark designs of these wars must therefore be planned in secret. Their brutal consequences must be blacked out.

They must be wars without witness.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/india-pakistan-war-tv-media-kashmir-burhan-wani-chhattisgarh-bastar-naxals-fake-encounters-surgical-strikes/story/1/13452.html

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Battle for Bastar: Putting down a people’s war


Such repression quite invariably begets resistance of a long term nature.

Mission 2016, launched in October 2015, after national security adviser Ajit Doval and special security adviser (internal security) K Vijay Kumar’s visits to Chhattisgarh, reportedly has its target set for the calendar year – of achieving the objective of wiping out Maoists from Bastar.

An array of instruments has been brought into play, ranging from mass sexual assault carried out by police and paramilitary teams to deploying space satellite imagery by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with the security forces announcing in May 2016 that they are “expecting to wipe out the Maoists in Bastar area even before the arrival of monsoon season.”

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Such expectations have been voiced before. Congress leader P Chidambaram, after assuming charge as home minister in late 2008, had forecast a three-year limit for succeeding in his policy of “Clear Hold Build” to clear the way for corporations that had signed MOUs for exploiting the mineral wealth in the jungles of Naxal-controlled areas.

Again, in July 2010, he set a fresh three year target. By 2014, the new home minister, Rajnath Singh, was rehashing the same policy under a slightly different name – Clear Hold Develop. He too promised quick results, but reports for 2015-16 did not prove him right. Mission 2016 too can be expected to remain unaccomplished.

A brutal war without witnesses

The lack of success, however, cannot be blamed on the lack of attempt. The best military and security brains in the government have continuously been on the job. Successive governments at the Centre have, with ample enhancements of the war budget, dramatically increased the numbers of armed forces and the quality of their weaponry.

Officers like SRP Kalluri, who have a long history of disregarding the rule of law, have been handpicked to lead the fight in this war. Immense cruelties such as gang rape, widespread false encounters andfake mass “surrenders” have become the order of the day. Journalists, lawyers and human rights activists have forcibly been evicted to ensure a “War without Witnesses”.

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Use of Air Force and space vehicles

Despite the blatant lopsidedness, the government has not been able to achieve anything near the progress it desires in the war on the ground. This has, in turn, often prompted the planners to seek solutions that would rely on its total monopoly on aerial and other technologies and can be operated from afar.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been introduced as early as 2010. Strafing and bombardment by the Indian Air Force (IAF) have always been considered and now the IAF has a dedicated ANTF (Anti-Naxal Task Force) under an air commodore, which has conducted strafing expeditions in Bijapur in October 2015 and Sukma in April 2016.

May 2016 brings reports of the use of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s space satellites for the war in Bastar.

Air power, with the wanton destruction, misery and loss of life it implies, is rarely used by a government within its own boundaries, against the people it should consider its own. It is now more than fifty years since the IAF was used to bomb Aizawl in Mizoram in March 1966.

The central government, however, seems firm on its decision to repeat this history in Bastar.

Economic and political divide

This decision perhaps exemplifies the antagonism of economic interest and political stance that divides Delhi from Dantewada. Delhi obviously will stop at nothing to show the staunchness of its commitment to the class that wants the forests cleared of the adivasis who stand in the way of corporate super profits.

Dantewada obviously has no option but to fight for survival and against annihilation. More importantly, the seat of power at Delhi cannot obviously tolerate the challenge to its might that the alternative from Dantewada represents.

Airpower and other modern technologies may seem efficient, but have rarely delivered the solutions expected by those who deploy them. The Aizawl bombing did not crush the Mizo people’s resistance in the way Delhi expected.

A guerilla war continued for twenty years until a political settlement was reached in 1986.

Air war versus people’s war

International experience is even more instructive. The USA, with the most powerful technologies on earth at its disposal, has been successful in most air wars against opposing armies and air force, but has singularly failed on the ground when faced with the resistance of ordinary people.

Recent examples are Iraq and Afghanistan. Their technologies were a colossal failure in a place like Vietnam where they faced a People’s Army fighting a People’s War.

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The People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA), which the government forces confront in Bastar, also operates according to the classic Maoist principles of People’s War. Though nowhere comparable to the People’s Liberation Armies of China and Vietnam, the PLGA too has displayed considerable resilience in withstanding and growing amidst repeated waves of government attacks in Bastar since 1980.

Its forces in Bastar are composed almost completely of the local adivasi population and have been shown to rely completely on the people.

This force, however, with its limited technologies, cannot be expected to be much of a match against IAF bombardment, drones and ISRO satellites. Its ability to counter when the strafing starts and bombs fall is doubtful. The extent of destruction and human misery that will follow can only be imagined.

But will that mean victory for the government? The history of such wars seems to suggest otherwise. Such repression quite invariably begets resistance of a long term nature.

And if the PLGA were then to adopt the classic guerilla tactic of dispersing its forces to other areas facing the same brunt of corporate-driven “development” policies, there would be the probability of the conflict spreading.

The government will then be faced with the Math question that Arundhati Roy once asked: “How many soldiers will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?”

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/maoists-bastar-anti-naxal-operations-chhattisgarh-nsa-ajit-doval-rajnath-singh/story/1/10990.html

Sexual violence by armed forces rising, and Modi wants to celebrate Women’s Day?


The more immediate and ongoing tragedy is occurring in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district.

The yearly sarkari tokenism around International Women’s Day reached a new low with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal that this year “only women parliamentarians should speak in Parliament on March 8”.

The stark emptiness of the proposal was provided by the context across the country, where attacks on women and the suppression of their voices have seen no let up and there have hardly been any real steps to remedy the situation.

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The harsh irony is most sharply evident in the conflict zones of the country, where it is the government’s forces themselves which have been accused of the worst type of atrocities against women.

Around the time the prime minister was making his suggestion for Women’s Day celebrations, the Kashmir Valley was resounding with protests marking 25 years of awaiting justice for the victims of the Kunan-Poshpora rapes of February 23, 1991. The case against Rajputana Rifles personnel lies pending before the Supreme Court. Manipur’s 12-year-old Manorama rape and murder case against Assam Rifles personnel similarly remains pending before the courts.

Sharp spurt in sexual assaults by police

The more immediate and ongoing tragedy is occurring, however, in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district. There, the paramilitary forces, police and state-sponsored vigilante gangs have over the last few months been on a continuous campaign of loot, sexual molestation and rape.

After a fact-finding visit to the area, Nandini Sundar, professor of Sociology at the Delhi University reports: “Between October 19-24, 2015, 40 women of Peddagelur, Budgicheru and Gundam villages were sexually assaulted, beaten, and stripped by the security forces; two women were gang raped. On January 12, six women from Kunna village in Sukma district were sexually assaulted and between January 11 and 14, 13 women were gangraped in Belam-Nendra village in Bijapur district. In all these cases, the rapes were accompanied by extreme physical and verbal abuse, and the looting of their homes.”

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Violence on women and other human rights violations in Bastar by the security forces most often remain unrecorded and unnoticed by the outside world. This time, however, it was somewhat different.

Over the past three years, first with the moving in of three women lawyers of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) in 2013 and later with the release and return of adivasi political prisoner and activist, Soni Sori in 2014, the villagers of Bastar have been better able to organise themselves to try and reclaim their legal rights and even to protest atrocities through mass mobilisation, often directed at forcing the police to register crimes in this regard.

In 2015, the noted scholar Bela Bhatia and Scroll.in journalist Malini Subramaniam also moved to Bastar. They, too, played a significant role in taking the stories of blatant law violations and repression and torture of the local population to the outside world.

A repressive police machinery is always allergic to the truth. Soni Sori’s leadership through padayatras and demonstrations, JagLAG reports of false implication and incarcerations of hundreds of innocent tribals, Bela Bhatia’s push for registration of FIRs against rapist cops and Malini Subramaniam’s posts on forced surrenders and numerous other unlawful practices all posed a threat to the unquestioned criminal acts of the law machinery.

Forced eviction of activists, lawyers and journalists

At first, indirect threats to fall in line and not oppose the police were given. When these did not have effect, the next step was to apply the brand of Naxal or Maoist on the local population and launch open campaigns against them. Bar Associations under BJP leadership passed resolutions against the lawyers as outsiders and tried to prevent them from practising in the courts.

Organisations propped up by the police with names like Samajik Ekta Manch, Nagrik Ekta Manch, Vikas Sangharsh Samiti, started demonstrating and issuing threats and even resorted to acts of violence like stone-throwing on Malini’s house and car.

The next step was outright eviction. Landlords of the places where the JagLAG lawyers, and where Malini were staying were called to the police station and forced to serve notice on their tenants. They were thus forced to pack up and leave. Soni Sori was told that she did not have proper title to the house she was staying at.

When she did not back down, she was attacked and had some chemical substance applied to her face. With continuing threats to her life, she had to be taken outside Bastar for treatment.

The police under the leadership of Bastar region inspector general, SRP Kalluri, has announced Mission 2016 during which he promises to crush Naxalism in Bastar. This has seen a rapid rise in forced surrenders and false encounters, besides rapes and molestation of women.

Whole villages are being forced out with all young men being detained and tortured in police camps until they agree to fake surrenders. As pointed out earlier in these columns, the stage has already been set for aerial attacks, which could result in even thousands of deaths of Indian citizens.

As Mizoram this week commemorates the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Aizawl – the last time that the Indian Air Force (IAF) was used to attack the people within the country’s borders – it seems that similar operations may form part of Kalluri’s Mission 2016.

When Sri Lanka had launched a similar assault in Mullaitivu in the last phase of its war on the Tamil Tigers, it had been called a “war without witnesses”. Sri Lanka had first ensured that all journalists, human rights activists and observers were thrown out of the area. The similarities in the recent evictions from Bastar carry grim portents.

Bastar’s mothers and daughters in danger

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As the dirty war deepens, women will likely face the major brunt. The record of the past few months shows that governments that thrive on slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” have had no compunction in plotting and perpetrating sexual assaults and violations of the matas and daughters of Bastar. As the days grow darker the need to bear witness to the darkness and stand in opposition will be felt all the more. It is in this context that the absence of the activists recently ejected will be felt all the more.

The evicted activists have, however, vowed not to give up. The JagLAG members, in an interview, have said that though they have now been forced out of Bastar, they want to go back. Though severely scarred by the chemical attack, Soni Sori has declared that she will not bow down.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, she is even scheduled to address the students of JNU, some of who may well be inspired to rise in her support. The state, by clamping down, may actually be giving birth to new forces in opposition to it.

by Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/womens-day-bastar-narendra-modi-chhattisgarh-naxalism-maoism-soni-sori-jaglag-rape/story/1/9423.html

Why repression of adivasis in Chhattisgarh doesn’t worry the media


However, amidst diminishing democratic space the struggles of the state’s tribal activists offer hope.

The Press Club of India should probably be one among the sacred-soil sites of Indian democracy. It ought to be a place from where the Fourth Estate sallies forth to test and stretch the spaces for free speech and democracy. Regrettably, these days that’s rarely the case. Nevertheless, on August 18, 2015 this was the venue selected for a press conference where three representatives of the tribals of Bastar in Chhattisgarh – Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and Kawasi Hidme – came to tell of how democracy functions in their land.

Sori and Kodopi have done this before. In 2010 and 2011 they had exposed before the press the atrocities committed on the common people by the police in Bastar. They were then wrongly implicated and pursued by the Chhattisgarh police on patently fabricated grounds, arrested in 2011, faced severe torture and were only released on bail by the Supreme Court after they spent over two years in jail.

After release and return to Bastar, they have insisted on continuing to stand up against the innumerable cases of illegal detention, false implication, custodial torture, fake encounters and disappearances that have come to be a part of daily life in that area. Sori, in particular, has been in the forefront of numerous protests where thousands of adivasis have gathered in rallies and demonstrations at police stations and before district headquarters of the police and civil administration.

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The latest was her exposure of a fake encounter killing of an unarmed villager, Hemla Podiya, in Nahadi village of Dantewada district on July 29, 2015. This killing done by Special Police officers, who have been outlawed by the Supreme Court, was protested by the villagers, who assembled under the leadership of Sori. The Bastar inspector general of police, SRP Kalluri, retaliated by calling for her, and Kodopi to be excommunicated from the area and by instigating local traders to demonstrate outside Sori’s house.

The attempt to “excommunicate” Sori and Kodopi is not something new. It is only the latest in a long line of such attempts and it is definitely not going to be the last. Binayak Sen was targeted in 2007 for his aid to Maoist political prisoners like Narayan Sanyal, as also for his exposure since 2005 of the first armed Salwa Judum campaign launched and equipped by the Chhattisgarh government. Gandhian Himanshu Kumar is another example of an activist and dissenter who has been hounded out of Chhattisgarh, who has had around a hundred cases registered against him and whose centre, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, was bulldozed and destroyed.

There have even been attempts to keep out those attempting to approach the judiciary for relief. In September 2013, activist and journalist Prashant Rahi was picked up from Chhattisgarh’s capital, Raipur, where he had gone to consult and coordinate with lawyers who were defending political prisoners. He was whisked off to Maharashtra, tortured and shown to be arrested there and remained in prison for one year. The lawyers of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group providing much needed legal help to the local tribals have also faced thinly-veiled threats of implication in cases of abetting Maoists.

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The abiding reason for this insistence on the eviction of all democratic dissent is the state’s gameplan to use maximum force to crush the challenge of the revolutionary movement of the tribals led by the Maoists. Such militaristic solutions require not only the deployment of lakhs of armed personnel, but also the management of “facts” and therefore the evacuation of all civil society support that could potentially carry the truth to the outside world.

The immediate reason for the repression is, however, the land hunger of the corporate class. The country’s biggest corporations and some foreign biggies have all lined up investments to exploit the minerals below the forests of central and eastern India. They are in a mighty hurry to realise their gains and will brook no delay in seizing the land. Both the Centre and state governments alike are therefore scrambling to pander to this hunger. Ten months ago, the Centre spelt out its “Clear, Hold, Build” doctrine that promised “to use any element of its national power” to wipe out resistance. The state government, after the utter failure of its first Salwa Judum campaign, is now getting ready to sponsor a new round of civil war – Salwa Judum 2.0. These cannot smoothly move ahead without the systematic and complete closure of all democratic space.

Such unholy stratagems call for comprehensive exposure, but it would be far-fetched to fancy that today’s mass media organs have it in them to do it. Creeping control of the media by big corporations, with its complement of self-censoring editors, ensures that material inconsistent with corporate interests can rarely slip on to the front pages. Corporate-controlled media is unlikely to report on the effects of corporate land grabbing. This was also probably why, despite a packed house of journalists at the press conference mentioned earlier, there was hardly any reportage the following day.

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During these days of rising undemocratic tendencies and shrinking democratic spaces, the decay of democracy’s fourth pillar is a cause for concern. There are, however, voices that make the horizons less bleak. One such voice is that of the frail-looking Kawasi Hidme, who was arrested at 15, tortured, gang-raped, falsely implicated and thrown into prison for seven years before she was acquitted and released in March this year. As she, with rare daring and dignity, related the horrors she had gone through, her mentor, Sori, had this to say: “I need to give her strength again, I want her to fight. Perhaps we can do something for all women who come out of jail but are still unhappy, to help them get their lives back.” She added: “Who knows, perhaps Hidme can become the strongest fighter of us all.”

Voices such as these, with their staunchness and stubbornness in the face of mighty odds can bring the greatest hope. Sori and Kawasi are after all only representative of thousands of other courageous people in their area who are standing up and refusing to give in. Long considered the wretched of the earth, it seems to be their struggle that is redemarcating and redefining what democratic spaces and democracy can mean. Their struggle to attain and sustain liberty, land and livelihood in the remotest forests of the country may be primarily their struggle to survive, but it has the potential to show the way for democracy in our country to thrive.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/maoism-bastar-chhattisgarh-soni-sori-salwa-judum-binayak-sen-naxalism-lingaram-kodopi-kawasi-hidme/story/1/5834.html