Friday, April 09, 2010

The Tribal Question

The fall out of Dantewada: Need tribal voices for their rights to counter corporate propagandist nationalism?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Home Minister P.Chidambaram has offered to resign after the Dantewada massacre. He saluted the CRPF for their work, the poor cousins of BSF and armed forces. A CRPF recruit start living with tents and end up there only. That the war should always be avoided as it never resolve anything. It hurt the poorest of the poor and it is more masculine in nature. You see both the side of this patriarchical social order, the war create a new set of orphaned children who would never be able to live the same life after their fathers are killed. A whole lot of family is destroyed. In this scenario you only see grieving wives, mothers and daughters. They look completely helpless because our social system remain the same. It is easier to blame state for everything as you become revolutionary for the same but difficult to fight against our own notorious social order which create not only Maoists but all the feudal elements of society which Ambedkar defined as ‘graded inequality’. That most of these CRPF Jawans hails from poor peasantry communities, who serve our nation. They are the first generation of their families to serve in the forces and goes on to follow the order given to them by their command officers.

Hence the news of the killings of 76 Jawans of CRPF in an ambush by the Maoists in Dantewada district of Chhatishgarh naturally angered the entire nation. What is more shocking is the propaganda war unleashed by the media as how can they kill our Jawans without understanding the fact that in the war zones such situation will happen as suggested by Swarnjeet Singh, former DGP police of Andhra Pradesh who is claimed to be successfully curtailed the Naxal violence in his state. Yet, what hurt most is the grim faced anchors in the TV studios of Delhi start preaching the nation about possible action plan. In the olden days, we used to hear the national broadcast from the prime minister or chief ministers on such occasions whenever a crisis confronted the nation by addressing directly to the people on such issues and informing them about government’s policies and programmes. Mrs Indira Gandhi addressed the nation on All India Radio, prior to sending armed forces in Golden Temple in June 1984 while VP Singh spoke to the nation on Lal Krishna Advani’s arrest 1990 while Narsimha Rao promised the nation to rebuild the Babari Masjid after its demolition on December 6th, 1992.

But all that is history. With the mushrooming of hundreds of news channels, nationalism sales apart from sex, scandals, religion, cricket and corporate. Now, the PM does not speak on such incidents. Instead we hear an Arnab Goswami with his poked face and fascist statements about the situation. He says, ‘Today, this country has to decide, which side they are. Whether they are on the side of Indian state or with the Maoists? ‘These Maoists are terrorists, no less than Talibans. They kill people, extort money and have killed our brave Jawans’, he virtually shouted. With the right wing expert sitting on the table, Arnab and every other of his ilk is inviting a few ‘sympathizers’ for their chat show to hound them. The problem is with these so called sympathizers also who have virtually run out of ideas and romanticize an idea which can never be supported in the democratic system. Long ago, I wrote about Nepal that even the worst form of democracy is better than the most efficient autocratic regimes. Secondly when they know that Arnab and company will not allow them to make their point, why should they join in the debates. We all look for our own truth and information. So none of us are going to receive our information from Arnab and thankfully very few would watch him beyond Delhi and other metro- politan cities.

Let us first deal with the issue of Maoist violence and media portrayal. There is no justification of violence but frankly speaking Arnab, there is no justification in deviating the real issue of strategic failure of the CRPF as Mr Swarnjeet Singh, former DGP police Andhra Pradesh said. In the war zones, you can not think that the casualties would be only on the one side. It is bound to happen both the ways. Even Chhatishgarh DGP Mr Vishwa Ranjan pointed that out. We need to see why this desperation by our TV chatters. Do they want to ethnically cleanse the tribal regions so that our companies go there and grab their land? We all know that the Maoists, however stronger they are, can not win a battle against the state as mighty as India. They are actually ruining generation of tribal in this false exercise. India is simply not Nepal or Venezuela and a revolution can not emerge from just Dante Wada. Arundhati Roy often support tribal’s right to pick up guns to defend their sovereignty, making tribal and Maoists as easily interchangeable terms which is unacceptable. More over, we should also ask the question as do the Maoist fight war against this land grab or they want to fight against Indian state which they call as a fake democracy. What kind of democratic structure do they want to give us? We too are saying that our democracy need changes and it is becoming corporatized on American pattern. We do want proportionate representation for Muslims, for dalits, for tribal. We want their representation and not representation in their name which most of these revolutionaries and their ideologues seems to be doing. In 1975 Jaya Prakash Narain had appealed to forces to not to obey the order of the government. That was a democratic call.
In the historic Lahore Convention, Havildar Chandra Singh Garhwali refused to fire on the Congress workers terming them as fighting for the freedom of the nation. But why the Maoists consider the poor police men and tribal working in the government jobs ( pity, how many tribal are there in our governance structure) as state agents.

See the irony, most of the killings by the Maoists are rural poor or Jawans of police force. They join the forces for serving their families. Maoists and their sympathizers call them state agents. Hence the cycle of repression start. In the war zones all become become repressive and the biggest casualty in this is the voices of sanity and freedom. They are hounded by both the governments as well as Maoists do not want the other voices to come in between.

Unfortunately, those who pretend to be leading dissents or speaking for the Maoists too are well connected in the power structure and none dare to speak to them as how did they arrive at a Maoist camps. They have been using the media war to spread their own message to world over. But, I know if a local journalist in Chhattisgarh or Delhi, try to write any story on the Maoists, he or she would be hounded by the police and would face virtual arrest at the moment.

The problem here is that in the entire debate of illegal land grabbing, encroachment of forest by big companies, mining and threat to environment and ecology by state and non state actors have receded into the background as now it has taken an ugly turn between the Maoists and the government. Both of them seem to working on their own long term agendas. The Maoists and their sympathizers are living in their own dream world of a ‘people’s democracy which is even afraid of internet and Google surfing while the government wants to seize the land and distribute to the companies while Maoists are gaining because of government’s complete failure to understand tribal sentiments. How can you expect a tribal to respect our police when the very policemen is a ‘vardi walla gunda’ as remarked by a judge in Allahabad High court long back.

All is not well as there is systematic erosion of tribal rights in India. The Special Economic Zones, the mining companies, the big dams, the hugely built Ashrams, the cowsheds everything is being developed in India’s richest areas of Chhatishgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand which inhabit our poorest population. Is not it an irony that the reporters reporting from these places are adding extra masala to their embedded reporting as how difficult it is for the Jawans to fight the battle in the mosquito ridden area but then did they ever thought of how a tribal might be living in these areas for years. Did we care for them? Fundamentally, we feel that if the government can not improve their livelihood, it has no right to demolish their natural habitat.

But our desi nationalists who would like our jawans, who are sons of the soil, children of our peasants, kisans, die for their brand of nationalism by killing their own tribal people. It is an irony that our media which should have been more balanced in reporting and analyzing things become hysterical and start creating panics. Both the chief of Armed Forces General V.K.Singh and Air Chief Marshal Y.P.Naik have not shown interest in fighting an internal battle where the police forces are more than enough to tackle the situation arising out of the Naxal violence.

Now, the reports are coming in that there is little interaction between police and the local tribal community. How can there be an interaction if there is no governance. If the government servants did not venture into the villages and get their salary without working in the villages, then one can understand the relationship between the tribal and the government servants. How can a government servant who is suppose to help the rural poor treat them worst than their servant be expected to get information from the same people. The Maoists have won the imagination of a number of the tribals whether it is through their violence or whether providing instance justice to many of them, the fact is they have been getting local support. And it is therefore important to create environment where the tribal do not feel betrayed even when this is too late.

Unfortunately, the governments have only helped them as other dissenting voices who believe in democratic struggles are being produced as Maoists. There are movements against land acquisition all over the country. There are voices against illegal land grabbing, against displacement of the people particularly Dalits and tribal, for the forest rights and they are not Maoists yet all of them have been clubbed jointly as notorious human rights activism. Not just the government but mostly these irresponsible TV channels and newspapers have started making these arguments as if human rights have suddenly become the worst word. Yes, we claim our self to be the largest democracy only when this democracy enables the big companies to grab land and do whatever they wish to do. When the democracy gives space to the marginalized, then these non state actors try to bulldoze our voices through their TV channels and news rooms. Have we discussed the issues of tribal rights in our parliament? Why are our tribal leaders silent on all these issues? Where are they hiding? All those social justice wallahs who jump and stall parliament for their bills keep quiet on tribal issues. Have the Dalit, backwards, the minorities, have no voice on this national issue? Why this has become an issue between the upper caste leaders, parties and commentators.

Similarly, our intelligence agencies do not know the ideological stuff and hence every democratic protest for them become a Maoist strategy to gain ground which end up in goofing up the entire things. It is not just the fault of intelligence, when our media term every human rights defender as Maoists, then we can understand their quality of education and understanding of India. In the name of anti Maoist operation, the government should not annihilate an entire tribal population as well as all of us who are talking sanity and raising the issue of violence against forest and tribal.

The only way to curb this menace of violence is to respect democratic voices of dissent and not consider them as anti national. On an emergency measures, the government must declare moratorium on further acquisition of land in forest zones. The forest act must be implemented and land must be redistributed among tribal. The National Commission for Tribal must be reconstituted and given more authority so that it can play an active role in resolving some of the issues relating to tribal.

Hundred years of hierarchical based system was challenged by Dalits through democratic process. Ambedkar’s ideals brought a silent revolution in India, without any guns. Today, Dalits not only actively participate in democracy but also lead in many places. Of course, violence against them exists but then they have succeeded and produced leaders, writers and whole new breed of youngsters who look forward for a bright future challenging the Brahmanical hegemony which is crumbling. Similar situation lies with backward communities whose leadership is emerging despite all shortcomings. It is in this context, we need to look the issue of tribal as why their leadership has not emerged to speak for them. This is a crisis of tribal identity and their voices need to be heard.

Ironically, there is a commonality among those who claim to be working for tribal. It is the absence of tribal voices. You have seen commonality among Congress, BJP and CPM on the women’s reservation bill, all of them were together in saying that all women are same and that there is no issue of Dalit and Muslim women. That they are more than enough to represent them too. Now, you can add CPI Maoists too in the list as none of them have tribal voices at their top level and leadership to Bengal and Chhatishgarh being imported from Telengana region. All of them are claiming to represent tribal interest except for the tribal themselves. Where have the tribal leadership gone? Could this have been possible if the issue of dalits and backwards were concerned ? See how the backward castes and Dalits and Muslims are fighting against the combine onslaught of the brahmanical parties in this democratic structure for their right.

Many governments including that in Australia, New Zealand and Canada offered apology to indigenous people for their marginalization and isolation. That the modern development modules are displacing tribals and the natural resources for the benefit of a few who owned up big companies including big business houses and media companies. An elected government has every right to take control of the areas under its jurisdiction and react to the armed struggle. The only concern that all the civil rights activists feel is the victimization of innocent and the scuttling of the voices of social movements and dissent. In healthy democracy, political, cultural dissent is part of life and need to be respected with counter arguments and not by shunning their voices. Moreover, the government and Mr Chidambaram can well use media to launch their public relation offensive against the Naxals but it need more public relations of its image with tribal population and thankfully, none of them would be watching either Arnab Goswami or Barkha Dutt. Chidambaram would do well to communicate his message to tribal and send his officials to them and win their heart by their good will and a complete moratorium on the further acquisition of land would be a great gesture apart from some more efforts like returning of tribal land and providing new services to them would be the bigger counter offensive than a mere media exercise which simply talk of Maoists and completely ignore the tribal interest and virtually making the Maoists the sole voices of tribal which is unacceptable.


Baiju Elikkattoor said...


Thank you for your thoughtful article.

As long as the tribal of this country remain marginalised, we can never be proud of the so called democracy. Meanwhile, I do not think Maoists can bring about any change in tribals lives other than violence. And not violence but mass movements have only brought changes in our history. So, unless true leadership emerge from among the tribals and backward people there cannot be a visible change in the brahmanical social order.

Thanks once again.

Frank krishner said...

Well thought out and logical.

Unknown said...

An excellent analysis. there have been various movements across the country opposing land grab by governments but they have remained local in nature,unfortunately. if there is a political movement born out of these issues with tribal/dalit leadership things might look different.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Rawat,

An excellent, thought provoking article. I also appreciated your "Ambedkar's Idea of Humanist India". Worth reading and intelligent. I look forward to more such articles from you.


Atul Bhosekar, Maharashtra