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Mainstream, VOL L, No 30, July 14, 2012

Bloodbath at Sarkeguda

Sunday 15 July 2012, by Vidya Bhushan Rawat

It was a night when the innocent Adivasis in village Sarkeguda were busy with the festivities for planting seeds on their land. The festivities are a community affair and a matter of great joy where people dance and celebrate the event. Hence when the villagers of Sarkeguda were planning for their festivities, little did they realise that their homes would turn into their graves with the piercing bullets of the Indian state. The Director General of the Central Reserved Police Force, K. Vijaya Kumar, says that his force can fight against Naxals but cannot fight against the propaganda unleashed by the human rights activists.

Seventeen Adivasis died in the so-called encounter at the place about 30 kilometre southwards from the district headquarters of Bijapur on the night of June 28. Those who know the police operations and their use of the media understood well that it was a slaughter by the CRPF as in the event of the Naxals being present there, the bloodbath would have been much bigger and the CRPF must have lost a number of their personnel. In this case the so-called injuries reflect clearly how the operation was carried out.

Noted human rights defender and former President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties Justice Rajindar Sachar demanded an independent inquiry by a retired judge of the Supreme Court into this incident. Justice Sachar said that he has no faith in the ‘magisterial’ inquiry which is conducted by the people who have committed the crime. And none can disagree with him when he says how freedom of expression and political ideas are now under severe threat from the Indian state. How can reading any book or believing in any ideology become a crime? ‘I too have a lot of books on Mao and written by him in the shelves and would like the authorities to take action against me,’ said Justice Sachar. The fact is that with so much of material already available on the internet, it is futile to charge people with such arguments which will only make a mockery of law and the law-making institutions.

The insensitivity with which the reporters at the press conference asked questions show how the Indian society has learnt to behave and whose interests revolve around their own identity. Our newspapers and TV studios have no time to follow up a story which shows the killing of children in the incident which has been reported by the BBC. How is it possible a foreign channel is able to get live footage of the people slaughtered and yet our reporters have no time to do that except to publicise the government version of ‘fight’ against ‘Maoism’. Rather than introspecting its own failures and betrayal of the tribal cause, the government, through the media and its opinion-makers, want us to believe that if there is a Naxal he must be killed immediately without giving him or her an opportunity to defend before the law. And to kill Naxals we must support each action of our paramilitary forces even if our ‘brave’ soldiers and jawans butcher villagers, communities and children at midnight. The response is that in the war zone, the military will respond with arms and not with folded hands.

One cannot disagree with Swami Agnivesh when he said that it is one of the most gruesome incidents in recent years, and he termed it as a ‘cold-blooded’ murder of innocent tribals. They are fighting for their dignity and rights while the thieves in the government want to control their resources and destroy the beautiful forest zones for commercial greed. The Bailadila mines are located in the region and big corporations want to clear the zone for their business interest. The government in Chhattisgarh is just working as an accomplice of these companies.

The issue of indigenous people is of great importance. Britain, Canada, Australia had publicly apologised to them during special sessions of their parliaments where Prime Ministers and their national parliaments unanimously spoke against the discrimination meted out to them. India, on the other hand, remains absolutely arrogant and shameless in even accepting the fact that there are indigenous people in the country for the fear that the controversy would directly puncture the thesis of the Hindutva protagonists that they are the ‘sons of the soil’. Our political parties, civil society and the government do no bother at all about the tribals. P.A. Sangma can claim that he is a tribal and seek support from parties in the name of tribals but the point is whether Sangma can go to Chhattisgarh and speak to the people there. Can he demand an independent inquiry into such merciless killing of tribals in central India? Yes, Sangma was proposed by Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha, whose government has displaced thousands of tribals and where tribals have become a fodder for big national and international corporations. If Sangma is really concerned about the treatment meted out to the tribals in India, he must visit Chhattisgarh and seek apology from the State Government for killing the innocent tribals. Maoists may have their own agenda but the tribals have found them more trustworthy than the political class of India in protecting their resources.

IF the political parties had taken care of the tribals of India, the situation would not have gone out of hand. Can we ever imagine how Delhi’s TV channels pick up issues of individuals and become the law unto themselves? One can also notice how an individual event is converted into a national event with emotionally charged people speaking on the TV studios and campaigns for justice. If there were this many deaths in our cities or States, by this time there would have been a beeline of politicians, social activists and people to condemn the incident but since tribals are not in the mainstream of the country, such apathy is glaring and expose Indian hypocrisy.

The problem with the urban middle class is its complete neglect towards the causes that shape our destiny. It wants to enjoy nature by using its monetary gains and as a habit appreciates the tribals as long as they remain ‘mute’ and ‘dance’ to its wishes when they travel to these locations. The same middle class jumps on the Toyota show of ‘greenothan’ but refuses to question big companies, corporations and agencies when they destroy our beautiful locations where tribals live in complete harmony with nature. We call that Indian territory but for them it is their territory which they have nurtured for hundreds of years. The fact is that we have become colonisers of these lands and are going there with brutality and barbarism to loot their resources and kill them if they oppose. It is not really a question of Maoism or Naxalism. It is a fact that the government wants to look innocent and naïve. It has betrayed the tribal cause; as Swami Agnivesh said, last year when Home Minister Chidambaram wanted him to negotiate with the Maoist groups and their leader Azad had given a proposal for peace, the agencies and villains inside them actually killed him in a fake encounter. It is not acceptable that a government, which works in diverse directions with so many ambitious leaders ready to foil such plans, cannot really take a bold initiative.

The Hindutva’s thugs in Chhattisgarh have already betrayed the tribals there by imposing a non-tribal as the Chief Minister in the tribal heartland. And shockingly there is no effort to win over the tribals by the same government which is using the Baba card to assimilate the tribal identity into a broader Hindu identity where they become subservient to the brahmanical forces and are brought back to the rituals of Hinduism without questioning the historical wrongs being repeated by the Indian state. Tribal unrest in India will be damaging for the country’s reputation as a democratic nation. A political Prime Minister would have taken a bold initiative to bring them into the mainstream and heal the wounds but with commercial greed dominating our political class, it is clear that they have decided to grab the tribal land and convert the tribals’ homes into permanent graveyards.

We gain nothing by questioning our police and paramilitary forces. After all, they are carrying out the orders of their bosses who want those areas to be vacated at any cost. When the war is between them and the ‘enemy’ then they are not going with a big heart to placate the tribals. We know what happens in war and what the forces do; hence there is no use blaming the Army or police for the atrocities as they are made to commit these crimes for the benefit of the state. No Army in the world can actually win a battle without violating human rights and human dignity.
The question is: how do we make our political class responsible and accountable for its actions? The tribal question in India is serious and can actually have negative repercussions inter-nationally if the government does not wake up. Each killing of a tribal will not bring peace in the region but will make the people more determined to fight such onslaughts. An independent inquiry will not be sufficient unless there is a complete moratorium on the loot of tribal resources by the colonisers being promoted by the governments in the name of development. Let the Parliament of India and States of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha discuss the issue of tribal autonomy and their fundamental rights so that their faith in the Indian state is restored and there is permanent peace and harmony in our tribal zones. A government, which has become a facilitating agency for the greedy corporations, will never be able to win the confidence of the people who are victimised by its highhandedness as well as aggressive nationalist posturing. Civility demands that for permanent peace justice is done to the people who have been wronged historically by our state. We need to tender a sincere apology to the tribals for destroying their livelihood and actually betraying their cause for so many years.

Nothing is too late if our intentions are good. Let the Prime Minister and Opposition parties sit and decide over this soon and send a positive message to all the people in the tribal zone that we care for them, we are pained at their pain and we want their happiness and well-being. Will our political leadership show its magna-nimity and big heart or will it again start humiliating those who are trying to share the pains of our own brothers and sisters in the tribal heartland?

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