A report on People’s Convention for the release of Jeetan Marandi

November 29, 2011

Organised by: FORUM FOR THE RELEASE OF THE PEOPLE’S ARTIST, JITAN
On November 12 at Ranchi

Constituents of the Forum:
Dr BP Keshari (senior citizen), Father Stan Swamy (human rights activist), Dr Shashi Bhushan Pathak (PUCL), Mr Anil Anshuman, Prof Ravi Bhushan (litterateur), Dr Rose Kerketta (linguist), Dr Shambhu Badal (Editor, Prasang), Prof Vidya Bhushan (litterateur), Mr Meghnath (film-maker), Ms Nirmala Putul (Santhali poetess), Mr Shishir Tudoo (litterateur), Prof Maya Prasad (litterateur), Mr Mukund Nayak (People’s Artist), Prof Ramesh Sharan (Economist), Mr Sudhir Pal (Journalist), Prof Mithilesh (Teachers’ Leader), Mr Veerendra (Editor, Gotia), Mr Seetaram Shastri (Social Activist), Mr Sanjay Basu Mallik (Jungle Bachao Aandolan), Ms Dayamani Barla (Social Activist), Mr PP Varma (Social Activist), Mr Arvind Avinash (Nagarik Adhikar Aandolan), Mr Xavier Kujoor (JhaJaSaM), Mr Arun Kumar (People’s Front), Mr Sunil Minz (Journalist), Mr Alok (PUCL, Ranchi), Mr KN Pandit and Mr Damodar Turi (Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Aandolan – VVJVA), Ms Sunita (All India Progressive Womens’ Association), Jharkhand Jan Samskriti Manch, Jharkhand Bachao Aandolan, Jungle Bachao Aandolan, Jharkhand Alternative Development Forum, Mr Triveni Singh (Editor, Jan Jwar magazine), Ms Munni Kachchhap (Mahila Ulgulaan Sangh), Ms Aarti Kuzoor (Member, Zila Parishad), Mr Shambhu Mahto (CPI[ML]), Ms Keya Dey, All India Samskritik Sangathan, SUCI, Mr Arun Jyoti, Mr Sudhir Tete, Mr Amar Kumar, Mr Shushanto Chatterjee ( Marxist Coordination Committee), Mr Ahmed Raza (Advocate, HRLN), Mr KD Singh (Assistant Secretary, Jharkhand State Council , CPI), Mr Rajdeo Prasad Chandravamshi, Hool Jharkhand Kranti Dal, Mr Anjani Pandey (CPI[ML]).
Contact Persons: Ms Aparna Marandi, wife of Jitan; Dr Shashi Bhushan Pathak, PUCL.

It was a long-awaited gathering. About five months had passed since the conviction of Jitan Marandi and three others, all poor peasants from adivasi, dalit and downtrodden socio-economic backgrounds by the District and Sessions Court at Giridih, Jharkhand. Jitan himself had been incarcerated for about 3 years and 8 months, accused in various cases, including the one filed in the wake of the Chilkhari firing of October 26, 2007 in the Giridih district. As many as 19 persons were killed and about half that many were injured in that stupefying CPI (Maoist) military raid which was ostensibly aimed at immobilizing the Nagarik Suraksha Samiti, an alleged vigilante force of the former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi’s political party, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha.

A broad cross-section from the democratic circles of the 11 year-old state of Jharkhand, cutting across political lines and tendencies, had been concerned, even disturbed, over the developments in the case. Questions were being raised from various angles. Questions about the continued barbarity of the state by way of retaining capital punishment within the ambit of the law; questions about whether the alleged offence could indeed be perceived as among the “rarest of the rare”; questions over whether it was justified on the part of the state to pin down in this way a peoples’ cultural activist who was known to be ideologically, perhaps even politically, on par with the Maoist party; and above all, questions over what the arrest, conviction and death sentence signifies for the broader people’s democratic movement, whether unarmed or armed, in the face of the concerted repression unleashed by the state in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh; in fact, all over the country, as part of the larger gamut of anti-people policies of the ruling classes. These and other related questions had to be addressed even as the intelligentsia of Jharkhand mulled over the judiciousness or otherwise of the fate of the people’s artist, condemned as he was to the gallows in Ranchi Central Prison, named rather ironically after the legendary martyr Birsa Munda. For the predominantly adivasi toiling masses of Jharkhand and the surrounding states, and their representatives, the memories of not only Birsa, but also of the hanging of the heroes of the Great Santhali Revolt of 1855-56, Siddhu and Kanhoo were coming alive in the shape of the young cultural activist languishing in jail on trumped up charges.

Among those from outside Jharkhand who spoke and deliberated at the convention were the people’s doctor and civil liberties activist convicted by a Session Court for alleged Maoist connections and then released on bail by orders of the apex court, Binayak Sen from Chhattisgarh; the revolutionary poet widely known for his literary creation from within and outside jails and for representing the Maoist leadership of Andhra Pradesh in their 2003 peace-talks with that state government, Varavara Rao; the former Staff Correspondent for The Statesman and a known social activist in Uttarakhand, Prashant Rahi, now facing a Sessions trial there for allegedly conducting a CPI (Maoist) military training camp; the accomplished Telugu film-maker, R Narayan Murthy; the India representative of the international Sanhati Collective which manages an articulate pro-people website carrying that name, Parthasarathy Ray; the Editorial Consultant of the Economic and Political Weekly, Gautam Navlakha; the journalist from West Bengal, better known for his long stint as Editor of Aamukh, then the Hindi organ of the All India League for Revolutionary Culture, Kanchan Kumar; the Secretary of People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi, Paramjit Singh; the representative of Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee, Shriman Narayan; the Hindi political commentator and democratic rights activist, currently based in Kolkata, Prashant Haldar; a veteran people’s singer and lyricist representing the Paschim Bengal Gan Samskriti Manch, Nitish Ray; and last but in no way the least, the President of the Revolutionary Democratic Front, Rajkishore. The RDF representative Ajay Kumar; the PUCL representative Shashi Bhushan Pathak; the Jharkhand Jan Samskrit Manch leader Anil Anshuman; the representative of the Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Aandolan and close friend of Jitan Marandi, Damodar; the senior journalist based in Ranchi, Faisal Anurag; the People’s Front representative, Arun Kumar; the Jharkhand President of Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, Gupteshwar; and Jitan’s wife, Aparna, and many of his friends and associates were among those who appeared to have worked night and day to make the Citizen’s Convention for the Release of People’s Artist Jitan a success.

Describing the political environment in the state, where dozens of MoUs have been signed with big business houses by successive governments for exploiting the rich natural resources and cheap labour to fill the coffers of corporate moneybags, as a result of which the natural forests and the virgin lands that belong to the toiling adivasi peasants as well as the very cultural heritage of their civilization have been subjected to the worst rapacious plunder in recent times, the leading intellectual light of Jharkhandi society, Mr BP Keshari denounced the degeneration that is fast eroding the legitimity of the repressive arms of the state. He observed that increasingly large chunks of the Jharkhandi populace are beginning to feel that the police and the paramilitary forces are not here to ensure a lawfully guaranteed and secure means of livelihood; instead they pose a threat to the well-being of the toiling sections, especially the adivasis and dalits, and whoever would dare to organize struggles for their rights and sustenance. The same sections of the IPC under which Jitan Marandi was arrested in April 5, 2008 were imposed on Mr Keshari, but the septuagenarian rued the failure of the police to arrest him as they had done with his dear associate. He virtually dared the police to foist the same fake case against himself, as they had done with Jitan.

When the security forces and the influential bigwigs go out on their killing sprees the matter there is less talk about it, he explained, adding that when the defenders of the people stand up, the state loses no time in clamping down, whatever be the form of protest. The police machinery was hell bent on not allowing even such conventions and public meetings, he informed, asking the invited speakers to shed light on how to combat such adversities.

Aparna, the wife of Jitan Marandi, cited instances to show how the police had doctored evidences and tutored a handful of fake witnesses to hoodwink the judge presiding over the bench of trial. About her husband she maintained that he was a dedicated cultural activist and was committed to raising a voice against the ongoing exploitation and oppression of workers and peasants. She described in detail how the witnesses, claiming to have identified her husband (and the other 3) as one of those who fired from the ranks of the Maoist guerillas during the Chlkhari incident, were brought to the court one day when the proceedings were simply adjourned for the next date, merely to be shown Jitan’s face and appearance, as he was made by the escorting policemen to walk in chains, all by himself, to the court-room, from the lock-up in the court premises, and back. How some police officials doctored false testimonies, which were unfortunately admitted by the lower court as evidence, in spite of the verbal and written protestations of the accused in custody was the major grievance that Ms Aparna placed before the participants for their consideration. Apart from such evidence recorded by virtue of a series of acts amounting to gross manipulation of the due legal process by the police, which, in fact, contradicts the evidences offered by a number of seemingly uncontroversial eye-witnesses, there appears to be no sound basis for any court of law to opt for conviction of the accused, she explained, while appealing to all those present to help secure the release of people’s artist Jitan.

Jitan’s close friend and associate, Damodar, himself an active member of the VVJVA and also facing such political cases, made a key presentation of the life and work of his friend, Marandi. Citing Jitan’s campaigns to oppose repressive laws such as POTA, the policies of the government aimed at plundering the resources of the state, the struggle in the sphere of culture and social values, especially through the revolutionary cultural organization, Jharkhand Aibhen, and playing a key role in other organizations like the RDF, the CRPP, and of course, the VVJVA, he brought forth the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal political complexion of his life and work. Damodar also dwelt upon the legal aspects of the case which is pending on appeal with the High Court at Ranchi to set aside the Sessions Court order. He sought to underline the fact that the few witnesses who have given false evidence against Jitan Marandi and the others have criminal antecedents, and that none of them belong to the village or the police station area under which the Chilkhari firing took place. The rationale behind foisting this false case was that the government wants to remove all the potential barriers in its pursuit of the wealth of Jharkhand along with the big companies.

First among the invited participants to speak at the People’s Convention was the writer-activist Prashant Haldar. The situation prevailing in Jharkhand was not dissimilar to that in the rest of the country, he began. The separation of the state from Bihar was accompanied by ever more intensive loot of the resources and wealth in general. The situation was therefore bound to turn revolutionary, and with the seeds of revolution germinating all over the soil of Jharkhand, it was inevitable that Jitan’s ideas would be revolutionary. It was precisely because he was an essential link in the revolutionary struggles of Jharkhand that he was hand-picked by the state to be framed on trumped up charges. A close study of the proceedings in the case, since right after the Chilkhari episode would prove that it is a fabricated one, lock, stock and barrel. And, moreover, the awarding by the lower court of the death sentence has attracted the wrath of numerous human rights organizations that have been fighting tooth and nail the barbaric and obsolescent capital punishment. He demanded that this form of punishment be abolished, and that Jitan be absolved of his charges and set free.

Paramjit, Secretary, PUDR, Delhi opposed the government practice of imposing draconian laws, such as the UAPA, POTA, TADA, the sedition law under the IPC, and other such laws in different states, as a ploy to use the façade of law to inhibit various sections of the struggling masses. Putting them behind bars, they seek to silence opposition. He asked human rights organizations to conduct a united struggle against these black laws.
On the question of Jitan Marandi in particular, he reminded the audience that the forests, lands and water resources were handed down to us by nature, and not by the government or by feudal powers. The people of Jharkhand have been expressing such realities in verse form since decades. Those who sing such songs are now been targeted precisely because the situation in Jharkhand is that of an internal war. Jitan’s songs were the soul of Jharkhand, which sought to arouse the common people for their own defence against the perpetrators of this war from the ruling quarters above. Such injustices cannot last for too long, for many more Jitan Marandis would henceforth take birth!

The participant from Uttarakhand, Prashant Rahi stated that the prevailing situation is a consequence of the rapacious policies of the ruling echelons, framed at the behest of the imperialist powers that are ever more desperate to grab greater and greater profits. Richly endowed natural surroundings like that of Jharkhand are therefore being made a grazing ground for the crisis-ridden companies in the imperialist system. Resistance from the people of various such lands was only inevitable. It is therefore that Operation Greenhunt was launched. The question is whether the ‘green’ being hunted down constitutes only those wearing “olive greens”, or also the green which represents a life based on agriculture. The plethora of MoUs suggests that the target of the Operation is also very much the very basis of the livelihood of the overwhelmingly large peasant population. It is no surprise that the Operation Greenhunt also entails curbs on our free will, our way of living, on our songs, on our very culture. They are imposing curbs even on commonplace forms of protest – even on meetings and demonstrations. But it is not we who should be scared of all this. It is they who are dead scared! I know this because I have come out of the jaws of the state.

The rulers get scared when they find educated and talented persons not becoming slaves of their kind of development, one that connects you with the world through net and mobile, one that has a high GDP. They get scared when they see such persons taking sides with the workers and peasants who toil for them. And Jitan Marandi was just such a person who could put to use his talents to convey to the vast majority all the theoretical analyses about the harsh realities of the current situation. His songs, written and sung not only in Hindi and Bhojpuri, but also in Santhaali, Nagpuri, Kotthaa were precisely potent with the possibility of arousing the masses for a change, and therefore the rulers sought to suppress their source. Such a regime does not have any moral courage on their side when they unleash repression in various forms. This situation only calls upon all of us to get together and forge an alliance to fight this regime, and to ensure the release of Jitan Marandi, a united front of all organizations, except those that take huge funds from foreign, corporate and government sources.
R. Narayan Murthy, the firebrand Telugu film-maker offered the support of thousands of literary and cultural personnel from Andhra Pradesh to pressurize the Jharkhand government into releasing Jitan. He said it was a shame that on the soil of Birsa Munda, Jitan was condemned to the gallows in a prison named after Birsa himself. He called upon the media to lend support for this campaign, while assuring all possible help in response to the appeal made by Aparna Marandi. The hall resounded with his words — Justice would prevail!

Kanchan Kumar, the journalist proposed the constitution of an all-India committee for the release of the People’s Artist Jitan Marandi. He emphasized that it was only through a broad people’s movement that political prisoners like Jitan Marandi could be freed. Propaganda was the need of the hour, he added.

Dr Binayak Sen, as expected, attracted considerable attention from the media personnel covering the occasion, both in reports of the convention as well as in the form of exclusive interviews. He took the opportunity to explain his own political stances, as also to explain the overall rationale for the support for Jitan’s release, made a point-wise presentation of his views.

Those who become a sore in the eye for the rulers are the ones who are generally targeted. Jitan was just such a person. For his release we should form an all India committee, and chalk out a program of action. Our world today is one in which the rich are getting ever more rich, and the poor poorer than they were. The resources that belong to the people are being plundered. Wherever there is resistance to this process, the system stands in its way. It is not desirable that some individuals get all the attention, while the people at large toiling the fields have a miserable existence. To change the state of affairs, we need to take up a big program.
The all India President of the RDF, Rajkishore hit out at the judges who have not an iota of humaneness. They have no concern for the family members of those like Jitan Marandi, especially for how the children live their lives when the father or the mother is imprisoned or sentenced. There are thousands suffering this fate today. Insensitivity is the hallmark of the Indian state which continues to retain capital punishment, though over 140 countries have abolished it. The judiciary has reached such a state where it has been reduced to a tool in the hands of ruling classes, those that are engaged in all sorts of evil practices. The parliamentary system that we have is only a vehicle for capitalist and imperialist policies. Deriding the system and its evils, and exuding the confidence that the exploited classes would bring about a change, a revolution, he felt the need for an investigation to bring forth the truth about how this case was fabricated.

The RDF President informed the house that the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners would call a convention in Delhi on December 10, World Human Rights Day to pave the way for the formation of an all India committee for the release of Jitan Marandi. The movement would have to be taken to the masses, and in order to help in the expenses of the cases pending in the courts of law, the necessary organizational efforts would have to be made to collect funds.

Gautam Navlakha, after having read a message from the famed film director, Mahesh Bhatt, calling for an end to capital punishment, sought to put the Jitan Marandi case in the perspective of the varied ongoing struggles of the people, especially the armed struggle led by the CPI (Maoist). He denounced the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, often referred to as UAPA, asserting that it was wrong to say that Maoists were criminals. With the rider that he also opposed the wrong deeds of the Maoists, he opined that the numerous streams of peaceful struggles owed their existence to the fact that the armed struggle is alive. The moment the armed struggle ceases, the others would likely collapse. He criticized those who denounce violence per se, citing examples to show that the state itself is not at all opposed to violence. If it were so, would the goons of the RSS and the Shiv Sena be allowed to go scot free? His contention was that the armed and the peaceful struggles should go on in a coordinated manner. Carrying along various forces is essential for us if we are to establish a rule by the people. He hoped that an all India centre would come into existence.

It was the India editor of www.sanhati.com, Parthasarathy Ray who pointed out that Jitan happened to be the first adivasi person to be condemned to the gallows for political reasons ever since India became independent. He urged the house to adopt both the legal battle as well as the mass movement as means to espouse the release of Jitan Marandi and other political prisoners. Domestic and international circles may be roped in, he added, promising support from his website on the international plane. He suggested that Jitan’s songs be circulated widely from village to village in order to create the necessary upsurge for resistance to build up. That could help mobilize public opinion in support of Jitan’s release.

In the post-lunch session, Varvara Rao offered a rationale for the campaign for Jitan Marandi’s release. Jitan Marandi, he said, is an intellectual who came from the grassroots. The coming together of intellectuals having such a background with those who have come from the upper classes would invariably become a potent force against imperialism. That Jitan was asked, when in police custody, to stop singing, as a condition for his release, speaks volumes for this fact. Why, after all, was he targeted? JItan Marandi falls in the category of Third World leaders like Ken Saro Viva, who was hanged until death on African soil by a pro-imperialist regime, in a bid to silence the voice that he had raised against the corporate plunder of the natural resources of his nation, which he thought belonged to his people. Jitan’s movement was against the system based on private property, against the companies who are out to make private property for themselves. His is a struggle that has been waged all through the annals of history, the struggle between classes, exploited versus the exploiters.
A campaign for the release of Jitan Marandi would, therefore, amount to a struggle against feudalism and imperialism. We should oppose his death sentence that the exploitation of man by man may end. All pro-people artists ought to be brought together on one platform for this struggle. The CPI, for instance, could be brought together into the struggle for Jitan’s release.

One may wonder what approach ought to be taken towards the question of violence. But come to think of it, it is the middle classes these days, which seem to have become most violent. They think that it is only they who would decide what everybody should think, and what their policies should be. Middle class intellectuals have to bear in mind that it is not they who may decide what should be the thoughts and the policies of the masses. The masses have to themselves decide their own policies. That ought to be our objective.

As regards the campaign for the Jitan’s release, we must form a committee and work. It is sad that leaders who make a hundred mistakes and do evil deeds are never punished, whereas a cultural activist is sentenced to hanging by the rope. What kind of justice is this?

Among the local participants, the senior journalist Faisal Anurag pointed out the injustices perpetrated in the system. The chief of the Ranvir Sena was set free after a short while, even though he had a life term against him, but the poor peasants from dalit and other downtrodden sections are found unfit for clemency. Corporate bodies like FICCI and CII were the ones who had drawn up a map of the future India, where their factories would be strewn across as they liked. It is for having opposed such plans that Jitan Marandi was picked up, asked at first to become an informer for the police against the people, and when he did not acquiesce, he was made one of the accused in this high-profile case.

Dayamani Barla, a social activist working on displacement issues, called Jitan a boy of courage. He is the pride of Jharkhand and its culture. His struggles have been as undaunted as the struggles of Jharkhand have always been. It is owing to this great tradition of struggle that the big rapacious companies can never win in their pursuit of grabbing the natural resources in Jharkhand. It is part of our culture to safeguard our lands, our dignity, and our forests. Jitan was only taking ahead the culture of his land. Songs are so integral to our culture that the very languages spoken by the adivasis have a melody and rhythm of their own. What Jitan did was precisely that which was innate in the languages of his society.

KD Singh, the State Assistant Secretary of the CPI extended support for the Release Jitan Campaign, saying that their party supported all those who came into the arena of people’s struggles. While some laws were an outcome of past struggles, it is now equally true that laws are being enacted in order to silence the voices of the masses.

State level leaders from the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the People’s Front, the Marxist Coordination Committee, Socialist Unity Centre of India, and the cultural wings of the CPI (ML) also expressed their solidarity with
the campaign.

The convention was conducted by Anil Anshuman. Dr Shashi Bhushan Pathak also spoke.

At the end of the convention, it was resolved, after a heated discussion on the modalities for forming an all India Release Committee for the people’s artist, that all the participants of the Citizen’s Convention – Revolutionary Writers’ Association, the Forum of Cultural Activists and Writers for the Release of Jitan Marandi, and the APCLC, Andhra Pradesh; PUDR, Delhi; Nagarik Adhikar Sanghursh Manch; Daman Virodhi Manch, North Bihar; PUCL; APDR, West Bengal; People’s Literary and Culture United Front, West Bengal; Sanhati Collective; the West Bengal Gana Samskritik Parishad; the Jharkhand Jan Samskriti Manch; Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Aandolan; theRevolutionary Democratic Front; the Committee for the Release of People’s Artist, Jitan Marandi; Dr Binayak Sen, Prashant Rahi and a number of others present – would come together to give the Campaign for the Release of People’s Artist Jitan Marandi an all India shape, and to intensify the campaign on the international plane.