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Caught in between

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

As the government’s anti-Naxal operations are in progress in the states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal, Naxals are re-structuring their war tactics using techniques like laying pressure bombs in the jungles and constructing new pits with wooden spikes in order to sabotage the operations. Defence Minister A.K.Antony has granted permission for the Indian Air Force (IAF) to open fire during anti-Naxal operations. The IAF has deployed copters to assist the State forces in their operations against the Naxalites-Maoists but the anti-Naxal operations were delayed due to the polls in Maharastra and Jharkhand.

 Caught in the middle of this conflict are the tribals from these states, who are tortured and abused by the officials, terrorised by the rebels and neglected by the government for years.

 In Chattisgarh,it is reported that  alarmed tribals are trying to get hold of makeshift identity cards, so that they could show ‘they are neither Maoists nor anti-Maoists’. The local governments have failed to provide any protection or assistance to these people who grow vegetables, collect forest products, make hand-rolled cigarettes and distill liquor to make a living.

Since the anti-Naxal operations started, the influx of tribals from Dantewada and Bijapur districts in Chattisgarh to the plains and the forest regions of Bhadrachalam in Khammam district have increased. Indian Express reported that over 16,000 Gotti Koyas have migrated from Chhattisgarh between 2005 and July 2009 to escape harassment by police officials and Salwa Judum members. Hundreds of Naxal sympathisers from among the migrant Gotti Koyas have been arrested and the Forest and Police Departments have sought permission from the State government to send the migrants back to their native places. According to Forest Department officials, the tribals may resort to ‘massive deforestation by settling in the forests and hence they should be evacuated immediately.

 When Salwa Judum unleashed violence in the name of anti-Naxal operations by the Chattisgarh government in June 2005, thousands of adivasis fled their villages. Helpless after having lost their seeds and cattle, they were living in constant fear for their lives. Though the Supreme Court had directed the State government to rehabilitate the tribals, the government has made little efforts jn this direction.

 Himanshu Kumar, the Gandhian activist who has been working among tribals in Bastar for more than 17 years, had set up an ashram in Dantewada and rehabilitated adivasis from 30 districts. But the ashram was demolished by the police forces on May 17, 2009.He said, “If the government is not willing, let me do it. I can bring peace in a week. You withdraw your forces and provide the amenities that were stopped after Salwa Judum started: doctors, schools, aanganwadis. Naxalites have said they will not interfere with my rehabilitation work because I have no political ambitions. “

 Salwa Judum resulted in a 22-fold increase in the ranks of Maoist rebels.Himanshu warns that “Operation Green Hunt will result in genocide of Adivasis. Those who survive will become Naxalites.”

Out of their desperation and frustration, the tribals have taken weapons in their hands in a last attempt to sustain their lives. Maoists have trained thousands of tribals including women and children to fight as foot soldiers, teaching them to lay landmines and to make remote-control detonators for explosives. They are indoctrinated in the ideology of fight against government rule and landlords. Those who pledge allegiance to the Maoists are rewarded. But the tribals are also subjected to intimidation and  coercive obligations by the Maoists.

The CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) use repressive measures against the tribals. They even beat up doctors who go into jungle to treat the patients. The tribals live in abysmal conditions, subjected to constant harassment and torture. They are shot dead by the police on suspicions of Naxalite links; and such police atrocities remain unquestioned. Himanshu complains that they have tried to file 1,000 FIRs against the police but not even one has been registered.

 So when justice in any form is denied to them, how can we blame the tribals for anti-government uprisings? The authorities who are responsible to protect them are taking away their rights and forcing them out of their lands to satisfy corporate interests. On the other side are the Naxals who promise them what the government has failed to provide for years.

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