<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans%3A400italic%2C700italic%2C400%2C700">Chhattisgarh Archives « Aam JanataSkip to content

Bastar. An abstract name of some strange place where there is Naxalism. And therefore a place to be avoided, to be dreaded and mostly ignored. Not a land of a people who love, have children, earn livelihoods, make houses, sing, dance and celebrate. Not a land of everyday interpersonal conflicts, a tiff with a neighbour, a fight with the spouse. Not a land where children play, tease and bruise their knees. Not a land where people can dream of a future.

Just some dark hinterland, a version of Western World’s Africa right here in India.

I bring Bastar to light. Here.

Bastar is a district in Chhattisgarh. The total area is 4029.98 sq kms. It has a population of 1,411,614 humans (as per Census 2011). 70% of this population are Adivasis belonging to multiple tribes. Chhattisgarh has the 4th largest forest land in India with 44.21% of land cover. Many sections of Bastar are poorly developed with no pucca roads and few medical facilities. Traditionally, Adivasis have depended on forest products for their livelihood. In more recent times, agriculture is a mainstay for many.

There are four main issues that should concern us as regards Bastar: 1) Adivasi rights; 2) Rights of the forests; 3) The future of Bastar; and 4) Who speaks for whom?

Adivasi Rights

Way before Naxalism became active, Adivasis often found themselves on the wrong side of forest officers. These officers had been using their authority to make life difficult for Adivasis to continue with their livelihoods. There was intimidation, rampant corruption and frequent sexual abuse.

After the spread of Naxalism and the subsequent attempts of the State to crush their rise, the many failed strategies like Salwa Judum, the everyday Adivasi has become tainted as either a possible Naxalite or a police sympathizer. S/he is born into this taint, unable to make a choice to be apolitical or non-ideological. Nor even to question State or Naxalism. With state control over media and public opinion outside of Bastar, there is a lurking assumption that every Adivasi is indeed a potential Naxalite. Erased by birth, erased by residence.

What has, therefore, followed is dehumanization of Adivasis by clumping them under a label and reducing them to an object that needs to be controlled. And mansplainers are extremely good in explaining in their daddy-voices on how one can’t trust the locals, how Naxalism has infiltrated the community and that therefore State violence is the only way out.

But Adivasis are citizens of India. They are given the same constitutional rights as all of us. They are protected by the Constitution. And no matter what we opiniate, there cannot be a localised need-based convenient interpretation or occasional reference to law. It basically means they are afforded the same freedoms that we have taken for granted — like right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to constitutional remedies, right to life. They are afforded the same human rights guaranteed by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.

And yet time and again, irrespective of Government, it has been trampled in Bastar. For e.g. when Soni Sori, an Adivasi teacher spoke up in support of her nephew Lingaram Kodopi, a fearless talented journalist, she was arrested.  Cases were filed against her that led to arrest, torture and brutal sexual abuse. If it were not for the activists who followed up and publicized the gross human rights violation, we would have never heard of Soni Sori.  The courts have now cleared her of all the cases. She, in turn, has become a go-to-person who gives courage to women who have been exploited and sexually abused to speak up.

The question before us is why was she tortured? Even if for a moment we assumed she was a Naxalite, does that warrant sexual abuse and torture? Why were the Constitutional rights so openly flouted and yet key officers were not called to question?

Not only Soni Sori, but hundreds of other Adivasis have been wrongfully confined, false cases heaped on them and reports of torture have emerged from more than one place.

More recently, Bela Bhatia wrote about rampant rape of Adivasi women and random detention and assault of men in The Pegdapalli Files. This report is worth your time. For her efforts to expose the human rights violation, Bela Bhatia has been threatened and slandered.

Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) that worked for the legal rights of Adivasis have been evicted. Journalists who reported on Constitutional violation of Adivasis rights to life, dignity and property have been silenced – either by intimidation or arrest. As the India Today long story “Life in the Red” shows, journalists are reporting under the shadow of fear.

In absence of activists and journalists, we will never hear the other side of the story, the one beyond what the State machinery wants us to know.

Soni Sori campaign
Soni Sori campaign

Rights of the Forests

Chhattisgarh boasts of some of the densest forest cover in India. It is also rich in minerals, rich in natural resources. But that forest cover is quickly being depleted. Between 2011 and 2013, there is reduction of 19 sq kms (1 sq km= 100 football fields) of forest area in Bastar district alone.

Whereas Forests cannot speak for themselves, we the Citizens should ask why the forests are being cut down indiscriminately. One of the major reasons is mining. The area is rich in minerals, coal and other natural resources. A second reason is movement of Adivasis in giving up traditional forest-dependent livelihoods in favour of clearing land for agriculture which is facilitated by the State. The third reason that is cited is to evict Naxalites from these forests.

Forests hold rich biodiversity. Forests protect landscape from erosion, from multiple natural disasters, and provide oxygen to the world. How is it that under our watch the forests are being cut down and there is not more than a whisper of dissent? Except that of locals and human rights groups like Amnesty India.

Who gains by cutting the forests? The locals or big mining corporations and their corrupt nexus with politicians?

Future of Bastar

Like it or not, Naxalism arose as a counter to the atrocities committed by rich landlords. If you read Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita, you will know several stories of the horrifying crimes committed by the land-owning upper caste groups on landless. A systematic way in which groups of people were kept illiterate, under-developed, in poverty and complete dependence on the land-owning groups.

Like it or not, Naxalism empowered the marginalized, as Bela Bhatia said and I paraphrase, to name the crimes as injustice rather than fate. It is a different thing that Naxalism quickly veered into violence that consumed the very people they were fighting for. It pushed the locals into a state where they could no longer make choices, but remain in that uncertain diplomatic silence on issues.

So if we assume Mission 2016 will succeed and Naxalism will end, the question before is who will benefit from it? Will Adivasis regain rights over the land and rights to dignity? Will they have a voice in their own development and all issues that pertain to their district, to their community? Will they now begin to receive fair and just trials or will they be massacred as possible Naxalites? Will they be empowered to document injustice and successful get constitutionally-guaranteed remedies?

Or will it pave the path for multinational and big mining groups to set up shops, to make rich richer.

This is the question that we should ask. For Bastar deserves (as every land does) a prosperous, healthy and peaceful future. And the constitution guarantees that India is a democracy -- of the people, for the people, by the people. And Bastar is not an abstract name of a land, it is the breath of a people.

Who Speaks for Whom?

Why do activists speak? Is it because they have no other work to do? Are they mere noise makers disturbing the monolithic State narrative of what is happening on ground—the hurrays for the many surrenders of Maoists, the encounters that are supposed to have killed “dreaded” Naxalites, and the legitimacy of Mission 2016. Minus of course the erring journalists, the outspoken researchers, lawyers and activists. The manufacture of a public opinion -- that if you want to end Naxalism, it is given that there will be collaterals of a legitimate war, a.k.a ‘some’ Adivasis will die.

Democracy requires and is maintained by dissent. In a democracy, there can never be a single narrative. There are multiple truths jostling with each other for significance. A process that forces us to not move into easy judgments, but glimpse and empathise with the complex human lives caught in a complex web of power struggles.

And why should it concern those outside Bastar, in other words ‘us’? Don’t we all have own problems in life, our everyday struggles to make ends meet or aspirations to meet a dream? Don’t we have own interpersonal and organization conflicts to deal with?

Why should we? Because as Rahul Pandita had said in a tweet  in context of journalists and so have others, Chhattisgarh is a lab for brutal policies. You succeed in Chhattisgarh, you develop a formula, you set a precedent and then you can implement it in other parts of the country.

Then we must bring down this laboratory and return Bastar to the protection of our Constitution. Now. We have to ensure the protection, freedom of expression and dissent for local activists like Soni Sori and the many outspoken journalists of Bastar so that they, in turn, may stand up for their community.

There are three ways to support people of Bastar:

  1. Search for news on Bastar and please make yourself aware. Share news, talk about it, write about it.
  2. Follow human rights groups like Amnesty India or National Human Rights Commission and support them as needed.
  3. As a citizen, participate in the #OneMillionPostCardCampaign and send an e-card to Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr. Raman Singh asking him to bring CBI and Supreme Court to investigate matters that concern people of Bastar and Soni Sori. Let your voice be heard. http://goo.gl/forms/rvTT6CyHbI

Thank you for taking time to read this post fully. Bastar does need you!

Some information is referenced from Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita.

Featured image by Pankaj Oudhia

1

This post began life as an attempt to boost the response to the latest wave of targeted violence and/or State-sponsored suppression of civil liberties in Chhattisgarh. Even as I typed away, trying to summarize the ever-mounting brutality in that state, the news breaking from the University of Hyderabad took centre-stage. Every day this past week I have been reflecting on the horrors unfolding in India. Whether Chhattisgarh, or Jharkhand, UP or Hyderabad there is only the sense that the various agencies of the central and state governments are brazen in their attempts in maintaining control of their narrative, either through commission or omission.

The War against Scholarship

The Central Government's Ministry of Human Resources &amp; Development seems to be waging its own war against universities across the country. The earlier controversy at FTII was just the curtain raiser - the Ministry recanted on its decision to stop Non-NET Fellowships last year after massive protests from students across the country. But now it seems to be opening that can of worms all over again - with the current fire directed at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. However, over and beyond the critical question of supporting research is the amount of control being handed to the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The massive blow-up of sloganeering at a student event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (even if it was about the controversial hanging of Afzal Guru), now appears to have been kicked off by the ABVP inviting media teams to campus, possibly without permission from the necessary authorities. Even as student leaders from other campus bodies were arrested (and subsequently released on bail), no questions were asked of the ABVP's leadership, with them seeming to get implicit support even from the Central Cabinet. This has emboldened them to become the government's henchmen on various campuses.

Which brings us to the grim episode as yet unfolding at the Hyderabad Central University. This too, started last year, with the shocking apathy of university officials towards Dalit research scholars leading to the suicide of #RohithVemula. The central player in that episode, the Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile, was suspended pending investigation into his abetment of Rohith's suicide. Strangely, he made an unannounced return to campus, in what appears to be a carefully orchestrated move. Again, it is important to note that on his return, Podile had the ABVP's support, as noted by many of the student protestors.

The other thread throughout this narrative is the inordinate, disproportionate amount of violence by the State. If Delhi witnessed scenes of lathicharge, water-cannoning, etc. during the UGC protests, the violence against the #HCU students seems to on a different scale altogether. It is almost shocking to think that this latter bout of violence has, up to the time of writing this, not received even one statement of censure from any state or central government official. Add to this the fact that the police detained and questioned protestors in Chennai (for attempting a hunger strike) and Mumbai as well.

As I write this, Pune's Fergusson College is becoming the latest theatre in ABVP's war for control of campuses India-wide. In this, the ABVP is only following the #BJP, whose gameplan to be India's politics new singular force was signaled by Amit Shah when he first took over as the BJP President. To be fair, there were some ABVP members who found the whole JNU fiasco, particularly the assault by the lawyers at Patiala House, revolting enough to step down.

Highlighting the Real Issues

The issue of student scholarship must be seen in the light of whom it affects most. The most-telling characteristic of the student politics at JNU and HCU is that they empower students from the most marginalized sections of society who would otherwise hardly get such an opportunity.  Their battle must therefore be seen against the backdrop of the various conflicts being fought in the remotest parts of India. As the journalist P Sainath said when speaking at JNU after the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU was now fighting the criminalization of dissent that had long been fought by India's poorest and most disempowered.

In Chhattisgarh, the State has continuously waged war against the tribals in the quest to make mineral resources available to corporates - this war is older than the state of #Chhattisgarh itself. Much of the most critical reportage on the circumstances in the state are already beginning to look dated, although their relevance is as yet intact, with on-ground situation mostly remaining intact, until now. Commentators now see a "Mission 2016", particularly in #Bastar, wherein any and every agency that attempts to speak for the tribals is flushed out of the State - the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group has been forced out, likewise doctors and journalists. Those two bravest of local voices - Soni Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi are being attacked more insidiously now, but continue to speak. As do other local activists and lawyers like Bela Bhatia and Shalini Gera continue to hold their ground, even as they too are targeted by the government.

In Maharashtra, the impact of the irrigation crisis has now been compounded by the crippling drought that affects a large swathe of the state. The famed Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code, is now imposed in places like Latur prevent riots over water. Latur's MLA, meanwhile, has disappeared leaving even his party whip in the legislature clueless. On the other hand, the state's Attorney-General, Shreehari Aney, has resigned his office after the legislature found controversial his support for separate statehood for Vidarbha and Marathwada (Latur falls in Marathwada, btw). Mr. Aney is now planning to take his protest to Jantar Mantar. It is useful to remember that Devendra Fadnavis sought his mandate in Maharashtra on this very promise.

The list goes on - the state of Orissa now fights the very people it is supposed to represent to get mining rights for POSCO in Niyamgiri, while Jharkhand's cow vigilantism seems to find support at the highest echelons of government. There are famine-related horror stories coming in from Bundelkhand,

Response

The purpose of this article is to not to recount a litany of horrors,  but to highlight the urgent need for responses. The resignation of Mr. Aney, the Orissa government's lawsuit, the ABVP members' resignations can all be seen as alarm bells of one kind or another. The journalist Prem Shankhar Jha also highlighted the worsening situation of India's Muslims vis-a-vis education and unemployment.

The students of various institutions have also shown the way, by becoming a credible opposition to the whip being wielded by government.

It is now essential that empathetic citizens also raise their voices. In Bastar, when journalists found no one to carry their stories, they went online, posting stories on Facebook. Suresh Ediga and Bhavana Nissima are now using social media to leverage public support for the initiatives of Soni Sori, through their  #OneMillionPostCardCampaign for #Bastar. Similarly, most of the news from Hyderabad has come out through Facebook, with the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice -UoH carrying content on its page.

The violence highlighted here runs across caste, class and (religious) community lines, especially in the run-up to elections. There is a visible attempt to communalize violence that isn't communal to begin with. Ultimately, these issues, along with those of land and water, will affect each and every one of us. I ask, beg, request, that readers at least broadcast any and every effort at combating these issues, if not supporting them in every way possible. Good night and good luck!

Recently in Durg, Raipur and Rajnandgaon (Chhattisgarh)

Jagdish Ram Nishad’s winter paddy crop is about to be harvested. On his three-acre farm, a few km from his home, green paddy strands stand along the neat rows of cabbage that are now in full bloom.

In the last ten years, the 38-year-old farmer in Kopedih village, about 30 km from Rajnandgaon town off the four-lane National Highway 6, assiduously transformed his rain-fed single crop land into an irrigated lush-green multi-crop farm. He improved his land’s productivity by ploughing back part of his profits to create assets like a bore-well which, he says, in turn helped him diversify into growing vegetables.

A paddy procurement guarantee and a bonus amount over the support prices gave him more cash that he could reinvest in his farm. In return Nishad voted for Raman Singh, who became popular across rural Chhattisgarh as ‘Chaur (rice) Wale Baba’ for his paddy procurement and rice distribution programmes.

Nishad is, however, concerned today if the returns from paddy would remain steady. The Raman Singh government, mired in a multi-crore food distribution scam that is threatening to dent its image, didn’t buy his entire paddy crop in the season that just ended the way it did this past decade. Plus, it has not paid him the bonus amount that it has been giving from its treasury by the season end.

This is the first year in a decade that Nishad says his returns actually declined as compared with his last year’s income. “Nuksaan to bahut hua, dhaan bhi pura nahi liya aur bonus bhi nahi diya (my loss is big; the government did not fully procure my paddy, nor gave me the bonus amount),” Nishad says. He’s not the only one sulking. In Chhattisgarh, paddy growers suddenly look unhappy with the chief minister.

More than a million paddy growers in Chhattisgarh are agitated over Raman government’s sudden shift in procurement policy and an inexplicable scrapping of bonus. They felt it was a breach of their trust. In the run up to December 2013 assembly elections, the BJP promised in its manifesto that if voted back to power, its government would procure “every grain of paddy produced” and hike the bonus to Rs 300 per quintal.

The state’s decision is actually driven by a paradigm shift in the Centre’s procurement policy.In June last year, immediately after coming to power, the Modi government asked all states to scrap bonus payment to wheat and paddy growers saying it “distorts markets and keeps private players out of the food business”. If they continued to pay bonus, the Centre warned in a letter to the states, Central agencies would restrict procurement leaving the states to bear the burden for surplus grain. The move was aimed apparently at tackling the rising food prices by keeping the surplus grain in the market.

So while the UPA government supported him in subsidizing his state’s paddy economy, the Modi government is hitting the ‘Chaur-wale Baba’ where it hurts the most. It is in a way forcing Chhattisgarh to cut its paddy procurement, scrap the bonus and ultimately alter its much-touted public distribution system (PDS) by bringing in direct cash transfers. But the policy shift is hurting small farmers like Nishad when rural economy is in tatters, even some of the Chhattisgarh ministers admit privately.

“It’s like Jor ka jhatka dhire se lage,” remarked the food and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma. The Centre is slowly dismantling two drivers of green revolution: the Food Corporation of India (FCI), which is the backbone of food procurement, storage, transportation and distribution, and price guarantee.”

In the last week of March 2015, Professor M S Swaminathan, regarded as the father of India’s green revolution, urged the Modi government to implement recommendations of the Farmers' Commission he had chaired. Citing a need to safeguard interests of small farmers in the face of growing risks in agriculture due to climate change, he suggested the formulae for support price for commodities should be production cost plus 50 per cent.

“Our green revolution has been sustained only because of public procurement of wheat and rice at a fairly reasonable MSP,” he said. “There is no other profession that has such low return”, he said adding that farming is the riskiest profession in the world due to uncertain weather conditions arising from climate change. “The future will belong to nations with grains and not guns.”

Chhattisgarh began procuring paddy from growers immediately after its creation in 2001 at a premium of Rs 50 over the then prevailing support prices, mainly because farmers sold their produce in distress in open markets controlled by private traders and rice millers then. The state marketing federation procured paddy from farmers through cooperative societies, each catering to a cluster of 15-20 villages. The FCI bought the surplus rice after the state met its PDS requirement of about 2 MMT.

The burden of bonus was borne by the state; the Centre paid for procurement, distribution, handling and storage. This system may now be dumped if the Centre accepts the recommendations of a high-level committee led by BJP MP Shanta Kumar on the FCI restructuring. The committee gave its report in January 2015.

In 2014-15, Chhattisgarh’s paddy farmers earned, by a modest estimate, Rs 2,500 crore less on account of non-payment of bonus and part-sale of their produce to private traders at lower rates, a former Chhattisgarh minister who did not want to be named admitted.

Not just the growers but also about 1350 village cooperative societies, which work as sub-agents for the Chhattisgarh state marketing federation, a nodal agency for paddy procurement, face uncertainty, said Raviprakash Tamrakar, a farmer and chairman of the Vruttakar Sahkari Society, Nankatti. “We are being taken back to the previous system where millers and traders will exploit producers,” he feared.

Tamrakar, who leads a United Farmers’ front in Chhattisgarh, said the procurement system has several flaws that need to be rectified, but it’d be a disaster for farmers if the government scraps the policy. “A farmer has a guarantee that his produce would be procured at a support price and he would get bonus as an incentive to produce the grain; it stabilizes his economy and helps him meet his expenses.”

The high level committee in its report thought otherwise. In an 80-page exhaustive report, it explains how the current food-procurement system and FCI functioning is obsolete and hence must be changed. The committee has said the FCI should leave the procurement to state agencies and private players in the states where such a system is fully developed and move to eastern states like West Bengal where procurement is weak and where through private participation it could help build a robust system.

As regards the bonus, the committee recommends a per hectare crop-neutral cash subsidy to the tune of Rs 7000 but a total decontrol of fertilizer prices.

Modi had begun to speak of his idea about unbundling of the FCI into three separate arms even before he became the Prime Minister. A section of economists feel the Union government needs to tide over a “wasteful expenditure” on food subsidies that include of paying a high price to wheat and rice growers, while growers say the support prices still don’t meet their every-burgeoning production costs. While Raman Singh, who’s on a sticky turf over the multi-crore PDS scam, has not yet made any open remarks against this shift, people close to him say he is concerned.

The CM wrote to the PM last October months after the June diktat. Highlighting the plight of his state’s paddy growers, he urged Modi to reconsider his directive to stop bonus on paddy procurement.

In 2013-14, his government gave Rs 2,400 crore in bonus payments to farmers on 8 MMT of paddy it procured – it came to Rs 270 per quintal. The principle paddy procurement price cost Rs 13,000 crore at Rs 1360 a quintal. In his letter to the PM, the CM said withdrawal of bonus would “reduce buffer stock” and “adversely impact the overall food security of the country.” He said since the bonus is paid by the state, it should be left alone to decide about it.

Chhattisgarh’s promise of Rs 300/quintal as bonus for the 2014-15 was the highest in the country. To the PM, the CM said bonus payment is “the most important decision” of his government to improve farmers’ condition in his state. It was a promise made by the BJP in November 2013 assembly polls, he reminded. The CM said in his letter that 8 MMT of paddy would give about 5.4 MMT of rice and since the state needs only 2.4 MMT rice for its public distribution system, it would be left with a “surplus of 3 MMT” should the Centre not procure this rice in central pool. Chhattisgarh is the third largest contributor of rice to central pool with a significant share in the food subsidy bill.

A former minister in the Raman government said: “People are unhappy; I hope good sense prevails on the Prime Minister.” The Centre has not taken a call on the HLC report, but has accepted some recommendations. Last Wednesday, the Centre asked the FCI not to purchase food-grains in Punjab and Haryana. While the latter has reportedly toed the diktat, the former has pleaded for a phased-withdrawal. “It (the policy change) will have a strong impact on Chhattisgarh’s economy,” TS Singhdeo, the leader of opposition in Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly, said. “The BJP did not keep its promise to farmers,” he said. “We want the government to restore bonus.”

In the last decade, Chhattisgarh emerged as the largest exporter of non-Basmati rice in the country – a success largely credited to its policy of price incentive and procurement. Last year, the state procured about 8 MMT of paddy; this year (2014-15), it initially said it would restrict procurement to 10 quintal an acre, but later raised it to 15 quintals in view of ensuing local body polls.

But the damage had been done. The CM, who called for a ‘Congress-Mukt Chhattisgarh’, instead saw swathes of rural Chhattisgarh getting BJP-Mukt. In his home district of Rajnandgaon, his party could win the municipal corporation, but was wiped it out in the Zilla Panchayat on the issue of paddy price. Out of 24 seats, the Congress in that panchayat won 18 seats, while the BJP won the remaining six.

The ruling party’s defeat was spread across the state – it lost in the tribal belt of Surguja and Bastar, central plains, rural centres as well as Raipur, the biggest urban body.

By the end of the procurement season in February, Chhattisgarh government bought 6.3 MMT of paddy, nearly 1.7 MMT less compared to last year, when actual production has reportedly increased.

As Tamrakar, the farmers’ leader explained: “Farmers are angry; to dissuade them from selling their paddy to a society the government imposed so many conditions that small farmers felt it’s better to sell their paddy to private traders event at a loss.” Oblivious of the top-down policy changes, farmers like Nishad are wondering if Modi and Raman Singh have turned their backs to the promise of placing more money in the hands of rural peasantry.

Take his own case: On an acre, he earned at least Rs 7,000 less this year, Nishad says. He explains: He got 20 quintals of paddy on an acre, about 60 quintals overall in Kharif. If the government procured his entire crop, he would get Rs 1360 (MSP) a quintal. If you take Rs 270 bonus that it gave on a quintal last year, his income would stand at Rs 97,800. Exclude the input and production cost, he would make a profit of Rs 45,000, at least. But here’s how much he actually made this year. He sold 25 quintals to private traders at Rs 1100/quintal. He sold 35 quintals to the government at Rs 1360.

In all he earned Rs 75,100, or Rs 22,700 less than what he would have made had the government stuck to its promise of procuring his produce and giving him a bonus like it did last year.

Nishad says he would usually use the bonus amount to buy inputs for the next season. “Bonus payment usually comes this time when we begin the next season’s preparation,” he says.

“Will the state procurement system stay?” Nishad wonders. It’s not clear if Modi has made up his mind.

Across Chhattisgarh, the withdrawal of bonus and a drop in state procurement of paddy meant a drop in the income of farmers. Nishad is better off than other farmers, since he is among 20 per cent who have irrigation facilities. Someone like Kunjlal Tandon, a dalit farmer of two acres in Bodegaon village of Durg district, is not only unhappy; he’s mighty worried. For the next season he has no money, he says. Even a small bonus was his big support from March to June. Now, he says, he’ll either sell or lease out his land.

Here are things I need done. Kindly do the needful.

  • Quit aping the west on the dehumanization, and instead copy the concept of safe houses. You can't do shit for women unless you can offer those in trouble a safe place to stay.
  • Have special courts for women's rights abuse. Setting them up will be a statement in itself that you are taking women's rights seriously. And trust me, we have enough fodder to keep them in business for a long time.
  • Get conviction rates happening. in 2008-2009, over 40% of women marring were under 18 years of age. Only 111 complaints happened. Out of that, a pathetic 11 got convicted, and ZERO came to public attention. Go spectacular. Think women's rights world cup or something. Don't wait for complaints. Hunt 'em down, prosecute, convict spectacularly. Watch the numbers deflate.
  • Same thing for dowry. I have written a post earlier on how to defeat dowry. Take it seriously. Implement it also for child marriages (earlier point). Take the war on their turf - to use a Bushism.
  • When a the Minister for Women and Children is caught on camera watching porn in the assembly when another serious human issue of drought is being debated, and when the state is fooling around asking for questions, fucking intervene. Prime Minister, President, whoever. Get these guys unceremoniously sacked and banned from public office. Not asked for explanations and asked to resign, as thought they have a choice, and there are good answers if these people can find them.
  • Educate police officers on Human Rights. Soni Sori's torture is one thing. Last time I called cops to help when the husband got drunk and abusive, they thought I was making a fuss. The husband agreed next morning that he had been unacceptably obnoxious. Cops told his friend to ask me to be reasonable. And yeah, the husband also insulted the cops, for which they did get pissed with him, but not for something minor like domestic abuse. This is how women commit suicide, you know? When they are refused support. I read a recent story of a woman who suffered from domestic abuse and jumped herself and child from the 12th floor and was grateful our windows have fixed grills for my blacker moments.
  • Make sexual harassment a non-bailable offense. We really don't need those creeps out on the streets unless their innocence is proven.
  • Up the punishment on rapes, women/children/dalit's rights abuse [three massive areas of shame] and human rights abuses in general. Keep castration and hanging both on the table for severe crimes and make sure there are at least a few every year. Trust me, we have enough criminals to run short and the lives you save will be more useful than the lives you take. *more on this later. **and more
  • Start awards for people who defend women's rights. Regular citizens who do extraordinary things.
  • Media. Make every serious rape conviction mandatory to be reported in media. As in, get some eyeballs on those castrations and hangings. Not the actual executions of the judgments of course, but the fact that they happened. That will do more to prevent rapes than the rest of this entire list.
Seriously, DO THIS. Right now, it doesn't feel like the government has a problem with citizens being harmed. You must rise to their protection, not grudgingly process complaints that can't be avoided. That is how safety is created.

* I am actually against the death penalty. I believe we should evolve to a place where we can create a safe space in jails for the reform and rehabilitation of criminals and reintegration into society- no matter how severe the crime. To never take away the possibility that honest change can bring forgiveness and a second chance at life - with appropriate monitoring and safeguards, of course. However, on many things, I have come to realize that there is something called ideal - what you work toward, and something that is real - that will give you results in the here and now. Normally, I never recommend compromising the ideal for a quick fix real, but the security of women and children in India is a National Emergency no one cares to declare. I would rather a rapist be denied the possibility of reform than him being relatively unharmed making the consequences of rape "affordable" to many. Not ideal, yes, but I think three rapists hanged making national  headlines in the country will do more to reduce rape rates than anything we are doing.

The other thing is that for being anti-capital punishment, there needs to be impeccable other punishment. I don't know if there is a court in India with a conviction rate of more than 20%. Most cases are lost due to lack of evidence. In such a situation, it is very easy for a criminal to experience impunity. Overburdened cops with entrenched misogynist attitudes and lack of nurture for developing that capacity cannot create the deterrence against breaking law. Then, the only solution is for the very slight risk to be magnified by making it unacceptably high - to have any deterring effect at all.

** Obviously, the criminals getting irreversible punishment (other than psychological and lost time - which is for all) - punishment like castrations or hanging - should happen in absolutely undeniable crime, which is proved with evidence and there is no room for doubt. But there are some kinds of crimes in particular that I think deserve death and no one should have the power to grant mercy except the victim (every victim of that person, if more than one) - not even the president:

  • Gang rapes. Hang em all. Seriously.
  • Any rapes that result in the victim being hospitalized. Hang 'em. In the case of minors under 16, no one has the right to pardon, since a person under 16 in India isn't legally capable of consent till 16 years of age. Consensual sex under 16 is also considered rape. Same logic should apply.

Other serious punishments should be considered, like children of rape inheriting rapists entire property at the time of rape. Everything the man has. No matter how rich or poor. Though I suppose his dependents may have to be accommodated - not their fault.

Such things. Come down like a ton of bricks, not this insipid and half hearted way, where mostly the cops and judges act like they would like the woman to shut up. A judge actually recommended rape victims marrying rapists as some kind of solution! This won't do.

 

This may seem extreme, but this is an essential. Kidding you not. We are the fourth worst country in the world to be a woman in and the absolute worst to be a girl child in. We are the largest democracy in the world, and among the top largest countries by population. To have bad rape rates is one thing, our size makes us possibly the top contributors to world women's abuse. If we must run a large country, we must face that to have shoddy human rights makes a massive dent on what humanity is allowed on the planet itself.

We need to get out butts off this list. For ourselves, for the world.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5

People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that in places like Orissa, they seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked for the mining companies. People described the dubious, malign role being played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people—anyone who was seen to be a dissenter—were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said that this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and join the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability to resettle even a fraction of the fifty million people who had been displaced by “development” projects was suddenly able to identify 1,40,000 hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special Economic Zones, India’s onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what brand of justice the Supreme Court was practising when it refused to review the meaning of ‘public purpose’ in the Land Acquisition Act even when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name of ‘public purpose’ to give to private corporations. They asked why when the government says that “the Writ of the State must run”, it seems to only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or even being left alone and free from the fear of the police—anything that would make people’s lives a little easier. They asked why the ‘Writ of the State’ could never be taken to mean justice.

There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings like these, people were still debating the model of “development” that was being thrust on them by the New Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model is complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to the Maoists agree on that. The only question now is, what is the most effective way to dismantle it?

An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the corporate world, had come along for one of the meetings out of morbid curiosity about a world he knew very little about. Even though he had disguised himself in a Fabindia kurta, he couldn’t help looking (and smelling) expensive. At one point, he leaned across to me and said, “Someone should tell them not to bother. They won’t win this one. They have no idea what they’re up against. With the kind of money that’s involved here, these companies can buy ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run their own NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole governments. They’ll even buy the Maoists. These good people here should save their breath and find something better to do.”

When people are being brutalised, what ‘better’ thing is there for them to do than to fight back? It’s not as though anyone’s offering them a choice, unless it’s to commit suicide, like the 1,80,000 farmers caught in a spiral of debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the distinct feeling that the Indian establishment and its representatives in the media are far more comfortable with the idea of poor people killing themselves in despair than with the idea of them fighting back?)

For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal—some of them Maoists, many not—have managed to hold off the big corporations. The question now is—how will Operation Green Hunt change the nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting people up against?

It’s true that, historically, mining companies have almost always won their battles against local people. Of all corporations, leaving aside the ones that make weapons, they
probably have the most merciless past. They are cynical, battle-hardened campaigners and when people say ‘Jaan denge par jameen nahin denge (We’ll give away our lives, but never our land)’, it probably bounces off them like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They’ve heard it before, in a thousand different languages, in a hundred different countries.

Right now in India, many of them are still in the First Class Arrivals lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly like lazy predators, waiting for the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) they have signed—some as far back as 2005—to materialise into real money. But four years in a First Class lounge is enough to test the patience of even the truly tolerant. There’s only that much space they’re willing to make for the elaborate, if increasingly empty, rituals of democratic practice: the (rigged) public hearings, the (fake) Environmental Impact Assessments, the (purchased) clearances from various ministries, the long-drawn-out court cases. Even phony democracy is time-consuming. And time, for industrialists, is money.

So what kind of money are we talking about? In their seminal, soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and Felix Padel say that the financial value of the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is 2.27 trillion dollars. (More than twice India’s Gross Domestic Product). That was at 2004 prices. At today’s prices it would be about 4 trillion dollars. A trillion has 12 zeroes.

Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less than 7 per cent. Quite often, if the mining company is a known and recognised one, the chances are that, even though the ore is still in the mountain, it will have already been traded on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis the mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life and faith, the keystone of the ecological health of the region, for the corporation, it’s just a cheap storage facility. Goods in storage have to be accessible. From the corporation’s point of view, the bauxite will have to come out of the mountain. If it can’t be done peacefully, then it will have to be done violently. Such are the pressures and the exigencies of the free market.

That’s just the story of the bauxite in Orissa. Expand the four trillion dollars to include the value of the millions of tonnes of high-quality iron ore in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and the 28 other precious mineral resources, including uranium, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble, copper, diamond, gold, quartzite, corundum, beryl, alexandrite, silica, fluorite and garnet. Add to that the power plants, the dams, the highways, the steel and cement factories, the aluminium smelters, and all the other infrastructure projects that are part of the hundreds of MoUs (more than 90 in Jharkhand alone) that have been signed. That gives us a rough outline of the scale of the operation and the desperation of the stakeholders. The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches from West Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, is home to millions of India’s tribal people. The media has taken to calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It could just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. It doesn’t seem to matter at all that the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides protection to adivasi people and disallows the alienation of their land. It looks as though the clause is there only to make the Constitution look good—a bit of window-dressing, a slash of make-up. Scores of corporations, from relatively unknown ones to the biggest mining companies and steel manufacturers in the world, are in the fray to appropriate adivasi homelands—the Mittals, Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and, of course, Vedanta.
There’s an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We’re talking about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And most of this is secret. It’s not in the public domain. Somehow I don’t think that the plans that are afoot to destroy one of the world’s most pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it, will be discussed at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Our 24-hour news channels that are so busy hunting for macabre stories of Maoist violence—and making them up when they run out of the real thing—seem to have no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder why?

Perhaps it’s because the development lobby to which they are so much in thrall says the mining industry will ratchet up the rate of GDP growth dramatically and provide employment to the people it displaces. This does not take into account the catastrophic costs of environmental damage. But even on its own narrow terms, it is simply untrue. Most of the money goes into the bank accounts of the mining corporations. Less than 10 per cent comes to the public exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced people get jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do humiliating, backbreaking work. By caving in to this paroxysm of greed, we are bolstering other countries’ economies with our ecology.