April 18, 2010
On March 9 2010, activist Himanshu Kumar gave a talk in Kolkata at a public meeting organised by Ekhon Bisanbad, speaking about his experiences in Dantewada over 18 years, and about the ongoing “Operation Green Hunt” being conducted to ostensibly root out left wing extremists. The following is his speech, transcribed and edited by Sanhati members Ishita Das and Suvarup Saha.
Hi , I am Himanshu. I have been living in Dantewada since the past 18 years. For the last 3 months I have been out of Dantewada.
I went there with my wife in 1992. When we got our independence, Gandhiji had said that if we really want an India to progress in the future, considering that in a democracy the powerful lobbies can control all resources and prosperity, we need to foster growth in every village, for only then can there be an equal distribution of wealth or resources. Our youth should go and live in villages and help achieve that development, or else this nation will end up being ruled by hooligans.
My wife and I went to Dantewada trying to follow his guideline. My father had worked with Gandhiji before, he had set fire to the station in Muzzaffarpur (which is where we are from) in 1942 and absconded. He had then corresponded with Gandhiji and who invited him over to Sevagram, where he lived till 1946. He had also participated in the Bhoo Daan movement led by Vinobha Bhave. So working for the true development of the country runs in the family. That was inspiration enough for us to go and live with the adivasis.
What we found there, talking to the adivasis, bewildered us. The adivasis were in dire straits. They didn’t know what country it was that they were a part of. Didn’t know its name or of its existence. It looked to us that the British occupation had never reached them, they had continued to live in their own world right through the period of colonization of our country. Then we had got our independence, set up our government and unilaterally declared that the adivasis were now Indians to be governed by people who were as ignorant about them as the adivasis were about the government.
The only way our government actually reached them, was as police. To take away their land. I remember now, there is a village called Dhulli, where Essar wants to install a steel plant. We have a law in the Bakhtar area, which is a scheduled area, where in case there is any work to be done by outsiders to the village – you need to occupy a piece of land or anything – the adivasi gram-sabha makes the decision. But the gram-sabha turned out to be CRPF patrolling in front of every house. Villagers couldn’t even go to bring water for their children. If they ventured out, they were caught by their necks and brought to the school in the center of the village. This was overseen by a collector, SP and the MLA from Congress Mr. Mahendra Karma. The adivasis were expected to come through one door, leave their thumb print on a paper that dispossesses them of their own land and exit through another.
Now, if I were an adivasi and was in the same situation, it would seem to me that the only reasons for losing my land and my resources were because the “government” agents were not on my side and that they had guns. So the only way to oppose them and save my resources, would be to have guns of my own.
If we had brought the constitution to the adivasis and taught them to respect the law, in a lawful manner, they could have respected them both. But they weren’t taught that, they were taught the power of the guns.
When my wife and I were in there, we saw that the ration shops had no rations, there were no teachers in the schools and no transportation. We started to interact with the ladies of the village to tell them that the constitution provides for all of that for them. But if they asked for any of that, they were Naxalites. If we wanted progress, even then we were called Naxalites.
When the Chattisgarh state was formed, the government wanted to use the land for mining and they got many MoUs. Then as an afterthought they remembered there were many Naxalites in the area. One of my friends had gone to a CII meeting. The businessman there were saying that while we have a license to do work, the Naxalites are not letting us progress.
An MoU was signed between the government and a very big iron company. Within a day they started Salwa Judum. In Salwa Judum the government said that the villagers were supporting the Naxalites. The adivasis were told to leave their homes and live in the camps around the police station, in order to cure the evil of Naxalites. These adivasis are not used to living in confinement, they live in the open forests.
Many government officials would go to them, carrying guns, to persuade people to leave. People who didn’t want to go to the camps were coerced using guns. Guns were given to a gang of hooligans who would fire at fleeing adivasis. Many girls were raped. Little children were killed. People who ran away were labeled Naxalites. Their homes were burned . The poor adivasis tried to come back and rebuild their houses but they were burned again and again.
When that happened we went against the government. Our ashram was promptly demolished. Our workers were arrested. Seven hundred villages were burnt, about three- four lakh population. 50,000 were taken to the camp, 50000 fled to AP and Orissa or Maharashtra, 3 lakhs fled to the forest where they are still under attack. Our representative, Nandini Sundar went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ordered the government to rebuild all the villages. Not a single village was rehabilitated by the government. The Supreme Court ordered the government to give compensation to the adivasis, not a single adivasi has received any compensation.
Finally the SC asked NHRC to send a team to Dantewada. This team had a hundred policemen. There is a village called Nendra which had been burned four times. The adivasis from there went to give affidavits to the NHRC, there were four girls missing from that village and ten people had been killed. When these adivasis were trying to go back, they were held up in a Salwa Judum camp for a whole day. They were beaten all day and forced to place their thumbprints on papers stating that they had been forced to give the affidavits, and that they had nothing to say against Salwa judum. The village was burnt yet again four days later.
We told the NHRC team about the atrocities the adivasis were facing, because they had dared to come give their affidavits against Salwa Judum; they refused to be of any help, saying that their job here was only to take the affidavits.
When I saw the state of the burned down village, I felt their deep sorrow and that became my empowerment. It is true that we are Gandhivadis, who are non-violent by nature. But I thought that attachment to that tenet was not as important as rebuilding the hopes and lives of villages full of innocent people, who are also citizens of this democratic country, but are not being treated as such. I decided that we will help rebuild their village. If the government says that anyone who is not with Salwa Judum is a Naxalite then that is fine.
Then we started living in Nendra. When we addressed the villagers in a gathering, telling them that we were going to live there and do whatever we could to help them re-establish their homes, one villager in the gathering got up and said that they could rebuild their homes themselves, the only thing they asked from us was to make sure that once they did start living in those homes and farming, no one would come and kill them. To an open letter to the Chief Minister I wrote that even now, the only thing these adivasis want from us, is to spare their lives. Nothing more. When asked if there was anything more we could do, one old man got up and said my daughter was kidnapped two yrs ago by Salwa Judum and the police, she is still being held in the houses of one of the leaders of Salwa Judum, can I bring her back home?
In the same letter to the CM, I asked, is his heart or mind also not bound to our great Nation as our anthem says it is for all Indians? Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak Jaya he? Are all these people in their tattered clothes and burned homes not one of “We, the people of India”?
Our number one priority was to bring back the daughter of the old man. What scared me was she was taken not by the dacoits, but government officials on government duty. For a minute I thought, can my daughter also be taken forcefully by law officials? But then the constitution of India gave me some consolation, as I knew and understood the constitution and my rights and its power, perhaps no one could take my daughter in the same way. Since the officials know that the adivasis don’t know the law, they do as they please with no respect for humanity or people’s lives.
While two girls had been killed with no trace of their bodies, two girls were still alive in the Salwa Judum camp. We were able to bring the girls back to the village, back to her father. The next day a tree trunk lay on the road, blocking the way into the village. When we saw that we went around asking why, the villagers had uncharacteristically resorted to something symbolically linked to Naxalites. It turns out that one of the girl’s father had cut the tree to prevent the police to come back to the village and take her again.
A lot of these mis-happenings there are linked to innocuous reasons. Kopa Kunjam is our associate from the adivasi groups who has helped rebuild thirty villages, like Nendra. He is a young adivasi who is not with the Salwa Julum or in the other camp. He is absolutely neutral. He works for the adivasis.
Then one day we were sitting in a village, a young girl came towards us, hiding something from us. When we asked her what it was, she showed us a wooden pistol. She was carrying it to scare the Salwa Judum’s SPOs police officers when they attacked her. Girls that carry wooden pistols to preserve their virtue are being called Naxalites by the government, which is actually supposed to be protecting them.
I met Mr. Gopal Pillai, griha sachiv. He gave me his mobile number and told me to call him whenever there was an indication of a problem caused by the police officers. Four adivasi girls had been gang–raped by the officials of Salwa Judum. We tried to file a report in the police station, but of course how can they take a complaint against their own people. Even the SP refused to take down an FIR. After a lot of dilly-dallying by the courts in accepting the complaints of the girls, official warrants were taken out against responsible police officers or Salwa Judum leaders. But the official report said that the police officers were absconding and there was no way of ever catching them. This, when the very same officials hold meetings along with the aforementioned SP, trying to instigate the villagers against me.
December 19th, 2009, the incriminated officials went to the village and forced the four victims to give their thumb impressions on papers. As soon as we came to know of that incident, I SMSed the Home Minister Mr. P Chidambaram and the Chief Secretary to tell them that these girls were rape victims with ongoing court cases against the officers who are apparently absconding, but were clearly able to force their victims and complainants in the village to get their thumb impressions, without being seen or caught by the police. Next day, the same girls were taken to jail and imprisoned for four days. One of them was not even allowed to wear her saree. None of them were fed. They were forced to leave thumb impressions on many more documents. On the fifth day they were left (or rather tossed) in the village with the threat that if they were to ever meet me again their village would be burned down.
On Dec 25th, some of us went to the village and I SMSed the same people about what had transpired. No official steps were taken. I got only one reply from the Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh, saying, “We have verified. Stop this ugly motivated campaign against the state.”
Just two days ago, Gopal Pillai has said that the Naxalites want to take over the Indian government by 2050, to that my response is, had I been the father of those girls, I couldn’t wait till then, I would want my right to justice today. (applause)
The government, the democracy that can’t protect my daughter’s from getting repeatedly humiliated and punished for no fault of theirs, I would not want any part in that democracy. For me, a democratic India has no meaning, if there isn’t a democratic Dantewada.
There is religion and there is blasphemy and then there is false-religion. False religion is worse than blasphemy. If the government says that it is trying to salvage democracy by acting in this way, I want to know why “democracy” doesn’t exist for the adivasis. When we were there in the villages, all we wanted was democracy. Universal respect for the law.
What these adiviasis got was discrimination by the law, which allowed the Tatas to build a plant there, with no regard to their welfare. I talked to the DCP there, you want the end of Naxalism here, but you saw that because of the plant there people are forced to give their land away. People are being cheated off their land or simply coerced to give it up. You are here to hold up law, you should be telling the CM to follow the law in the transfer of property. Or else you would arrest him. The day the police raise their guns for the poor and the victimized, there will be no need for Naxalism.
Mr. Chidambaram told me that he doesn’t want to talk to the Naxalites. I said fine, talk to the people of the villages. For the past fifteen years, no one has come to Dantewada. No one has heard about the crimes being committed there, that the poor villager has no defense against. While he tried to relegate the responsibility to the state government, I reminded him of the atrocities committed against the numerous girls and the innocent lives being taken. The fact that the Chief Minister had accepted bribes of four thousand crores and forgetting his real job, started to overlook all the crimes of the industrialists. Under the assault of his corrupt government, villagers were being cheated out of their lives and livelihood. Unrest of such a high order in any part of the country would affect the whole country and would soon become directly his problem. He said that he would come. But then he signaled Raman Singh and all our associates started getting arrested and the victims who could have told their stories were all picked up. I was surrounded by the police all the time. I wanted to go around the villages informing them of the upcoming visit from the home minister, who they could tell their problems to. To prevent us from doing just that, trees were cut and roads were blocked. The collector forbade me, in writing, from leading any kind of peaceful procession or “shanti-poorna padayatra”.
Today, no acitivist can go to any tribal village. No reporter can go to any such village. Why? What are you doing in those villages that needs to be hidden away? This has happened many times in history. We all know of the old tales when the gods defeated the dark devils, originally living in this land. The dark devils described seem a lot like the adivasis of today, who are in danger of being robbed off their land. In this day we need minerals for progress and wherever the adivasis live there are minerals. So now the adivasis are the enemies of progress. Just like killing Muslims is justified by calling them traitors, we find excuses to condone the atrocities committed against the adivasis. The only way we know of solving a problem is to kill the enemy. Though all over history we have seen that killing anything has never solved the problem or ended anything. Modi thought that the Muslims were an enemy for all Hindus and decided to commit genocide against all Muslims. Which didn’t really solve the problem but actually increased communalism. Mr. Chidambaram now thinks that all the adivasis are Naxalites and they should also be killed.
When the first five–year plan was made, the planners said that we can forget about 20% of the people. We can’t provide them with food, clothes or homes or education. In the 90s, the figure rose to 40% who don’t benefit from the economic development, if there is any. Now the figure has risen to 60%.
My question is, when the figure rises to 80%, what are we going to do with all those people? Are we going to kill them all too? We will just let them die, out of hunger and deprivation. In the fight of 20% rich and the 80% poor, the poor are likely to lose. Gandhiji had forecasted that this type of economic planning could only lead to conflict. In our time, the biggest problem is because of social conflict. As the fight for resources gets more skewed, more problems and insecurity will arise. Insecurity for the rich is because of the poor, they think that they will be killed by the poor.
Today the main fight is for the minerals under the ground. Who do these minerals belong to? Do they not belong to the next generation as well? Why do we need to take them all out now? Because that is what is being done to a certain extent. As an example, there is a company that mines iron, which is imported to Japan at the cost of four hundred rupees per ton, whereas an Indian industrialist would have to buy it for six thousand rupees per ton. Japan, is running out of space to store things and is dumping a lot of it into the ocean. If we don’t estimate how much mining, for how many people at what cost, correctly, there is bound to be conflict. Inequality always gives rise to conflict, it is not just the Naxalites that create violence. It is something we call structural conflict.
For us, everything is good, we eat twice a day, our children go to school. We are respected. All’s well with the world. Then where is the problem? When we think about it, really think about it, all the natural resources of this planet, sunlight, water, should be equally distributed among everyone. But in reality that doesn’t happen. We create our superiority by instilling the feeling of inferiority in others. What started with the caste system thousands of years ago, ostracizing all the people of low caste from respectable society is now being carried on by status due to education or which side of town you were born in. The higher castes and the educated or rich claim more than their fair share of all resources, leaving very little for the poor. All these ways of keeping the disparity alive make sense to us – the beneficiaries of the skewed distribution of resources. We want it to stay that way so that we keep getting our meals without having to work in the fields. After all, we are good, civilized people and “they” are low caste people who don’t work hard enough.
But for the poor man, who lives in Lalgarh or Beriyaghat, this is violence. He works all day and yet doesn’t have enough to eat, while you have never been in a field. His houses are being burned down, his wife is being raped, so that the disparity stays as it is. The government and the police work for the rich to maintain this structural violence, which is deeply rooted in the Vedic system and the value system.
But one day this will all be challenged and this value system will get broken. As Gandhiji had said that if the poor don’t revolt, we should tell them to stop accepting this inhumane treatment and declare war against it. If they don’t then they will get decimated because the twenty percent minority is all set, armed with the media, the police and the army to kill the rest of the eighty percent just to maintain status quo. However, they find ways to camouflage it by stating that all the adivasis are causing unrest. They are beheading government police officers in their villages.
Ask me, what beheading is… a thirteen year old was beheaded in Dantewada just three months ago. When people ask me why we never discuss the beheading of the police officer in Dantewada, I want to know why the thirteen year old child was beheaded, by none other than the CRPF. The force right under the command of Mr. Chidambaram. Why does he not ever say anything about that? He has never confirmed this, so shall we take it that it was done under his command? If the police commits crimes then we are told that until the court proves them guilty they can’t be called criminals. Whereas, when an adivasi is said to have something, he is immediately labeled guilty of the act, without even getting a trial.
“Main kahaa se pesh karta ek bhi sachcha gawah, jurm bhi tha aapka kardar bhi aap hi the”
One of my friends is a reporter, she asked me that, if like you say this is “structural” violence, then why is it not happening everywhere? Why is it not there in UP, or Bombay or Delhi? I told her that there are three types of poor. Some of them, who are making a living because of the rich, like your maid or the person that irons your clothes. They are happy that some people are rich so they can also make a living. The second type are those, that think it is their fault that they are poor. They may think it is either their fate or their low caste or their illiteracy or because they live in a village, that makes them poor. They don’t blame the rich for their lot. The third are the type that you affected because you wanted to be rich. They didn’t want anything from you and had been living happily in the forests, until you decided to take their peace and their livelihood away from them without any heed of their welfare. Now, they want revenge. The real problem, for the rich, will arise if all these poor come together and take on the minority of rich people.
Workers association and rickshaw pullers association have invited me to talk. All three types of the poor are beginning to understand that they are poor because of the structural violence. The independence of the country didn’t come just for the rich, it belongs to you more than it belongs to the rich. Until it reaches everyone, we are not going to sit still. We will make every sacrifice that has to be made to bring it to the door of every poor villager. Our fight for true freedom will continue right up until then.
Some people may ask, what about the violence going on now? Well, I have seen violence from real close. 700 villages were burned in Bastar. A little adivasi girl had died from drowning in one of the villages. So the police were informed. Many of them came in a car and for their pleasure was brought good food – chicken and alcohol. The little girl’s dead body was lying on the ground , right next to these policemen as they ate and drank merrily. What kind of message is that?
When seven hundred villages were burned during Salva Judum, the number of Naxalites had more than doubled. When they had burned the village, they had burned the schools, aangan badis, ration shops… villagers were not allowed to go to the bazaar to buy food. In the hope that they would be forced to go move to the camp, to avoid starvation. Leaving their land. So a woman who lives close to a bazaar, which she cannot go to because if she does, she is likely to get recognized. Then, she could be raped or forced to go to the camp or possibly killed. What she does is, walks to a bazaar eighty kilometers away. Takes her four days per week, just to bring back rice. We asked her why she wouldn’t just buy the ration for a whole month. She said, “we don’t have money, we only have mahua, which we barter for food. We carry as much as we can on our head and then bring back whatever we can in exchange for that.”
How can you expect non-violence in such a condition? Right now, any adivasi living there, feels that the Naxalites are their protectors and the government and its police their enemy.
A young girl came to me one day and told me that she had been taken to the Bastar police station and raped repeatedly for two days by the police and if I could help her gain justice. I wrote to the SP, who didn’t reply. We went to the Supreme Court which asked the state government what had been done about the issue. Then, the SP replied that the accused Salva Judum leaders had denied any such act. They said that the girl was trying to ruin the reputation of the good people of Salva Judum, by accusing them of rape. Hence the state government says that the Salva Judum leaders had been falsely charged. I am not sad that the state government or the SP said this. What makes me sad is that the Supreme Court believed them.
After episodes like that, it seems that even the doors of the courts of this country are closed for these adivasis. They have no one to turn to, the police were already against them, as was the administration. Who can they go to in the hope of help? They are only left with the option of turning towards the Naxalites. This shouldn’t have happened. They should have had the government on their side, felt a part of a democracy. But that didn’t happen. They feel that the Naxalites are their own. We could change the situation. I asked Mr. Chidambaram to visit the villages, to address the adivasis as the country’s home minister and to listen to their grievances. If it had been Sardar Patel, he would have gone. But he is too arrogant to meet the people. He just wants their land and he sends his police force to get it. The police force which rapes the women and burns the houses of the adivasis. Mr. Chidambaram thinks that he can get what he wants without any repercussions. He wants peace, even then.
This false democracy is not going to last, it doesn’t need Naxalites to fall on its face. We are the last people trying to save it. We are trying to tell you that if a war is fought against eighty percent of the people of the nation, that is not going to be acceptable to the people. Democracy is not just the observation of parades at India gate, the speeches, the Parliament, Members of Parliament or the Supreme Court. If people don’t get justice, there is no way of fighting poverty, no one listens to the people’s problems, then democracy based just on the structural farces cannot last. We need the real values of democracy to be implemented. Unlike what our Prime Minister said, Naxalites are not our greatest threat to internal security. The government itself is.
If democracy is not applied to the grass root level, then there is no alternative to large-scale unrest. I even met Mr. Rahul Gandhi. Today he is very powerful. I asked him to come to Dantewada. He asked me to meet someone else. No one wants to meet the tribes. If some politician wants to go there, he will not be allowed to go. No activist can live there, leaving no avenues open for the adivasis to express their problems or their frustration. The outcome of all this suppressed angst can only be violent.
A few days ago the new Operation Green Hunt was started. Sixteen adivasis were killed early one morning by the CRPF, in Gompad. A two year old boy’s – Suresh’s fingers were cut. The boy’s mother was first knifed in her head, she was raped after she died. His eight year old sister was stabbed to death. His father was also killed. A seventy year old man who couldn’t run was also killed. A seventy-year old woman’s breasts were chopped off before she was killed. We took some of the afflicted people to Delhi. We filed a case in the Supreme Court. When all these people came to Dantewada to talk to Chidambaram, they were detained by the police. They are still in jail. This nation’s democracy is silent, as is the Supreme Court and the media. While Suresh and a woman who was shot in the leg are being held in the jail.
I say, don’t let us help the villagers, don’t give justice to anyone, kill everyone you can. Then we hope that the broken pieces of this fake democracy can fall on your head.