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

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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