INDIA: Maoist insurgency and State response, a zero-sum game

The Maoist movement in India, which allegedly claims it will uproot the Indian State by an armed insurrection, has brought organised and armed violence to the remotest countryside in higher number and intensity. The ongoing conflict has brought the State and Maoist firepower into the daily lives of some of the most marginalised of the country, members of India’s indigenous communities.

The latest is the “encounter” reported from the state of Kerala, wherein three persons, including a woman, were shot dead in a remote forest in northern Kerala. The incident happened in Nilambur District, and the police have claimed that those shot dead are Maoists. As in virtually all such occasions in the past, the police claim of “encounter” is as ridden with holes as the bodies of those killed; each corpse bears at least 30 projectile injuries.

The way of life of the indigenous community of mainland India, generically referred to as the Adivasis, has faced literal extinction. Wherever they have been pushed out of their forests, they have joined the ranks of the poorest of the poor in the land. While their way of life has always been self-sufficient, since colonial times, and increasingly post-1947, these communities have faced exploitation at the hands of local politicians, landlords, forest and police officers, private companies, and the Indian State.

Local landlords, with the support from politicians and corrupt police and forest officers have terrorised the indigenous villagers and have grabbed their land, women, cattle and other resources. Hundreds of such cases have been reported, with meticulous detail, to the government. However, there has never been an honest attempt by any government or by the State institutions to prevent such incessant exploitation and organised crimes against the indigenous communities. On the other hand, police and forest officials have booked those who dared to complain with fabricated charges. Many have been tortured to death, women raped, and their villages burned. Collective punishment is repeatedly practiced against these communities by the State and by non-State actors.

For the Adviasis, State schools, and other government services, are out of reach. Even safe drinking water, a natural resource these communities had in abundance at one point of time has been reduced to a trickle, due to massive deforestation, mining and dam and hydroelectric projects. Distress migration and human trafficking is rampant in places where these communities stay. Deforestation and land grabbing resulting from construction, energy, and mining projects have all drastically reduced the livelihood options of these communities. Project after project have forcefully evicted thousands of indigenous villagers from their lands, and has, over a period of time, forced them to acute malnutrition in large numbers. The Indian State has denied all responsibility for this catastrophe.

It is this fertile ground, where human dignity and survival has been trampled upon, generation after generation, today’s Indian Maoists have exploited, to base their armed war against the Indian State. Understandably, an ideology that justifies horrendous dictators like Stalin and Mao does not matter to those presented with the option of a life of servitude or armed resistance.

The choice to take-up arms, knowing fully well its perils, to the person and to the community the person belongs to, is not an easy one. But the Indian State, by its criminal neglect towards the needs of indigenous communities cannot deny that it has played a pivotal role in making matters this worse and forcing the hand.

The response of the Indian State against armed insurgency, as in other parts of India, like the state of Jammu and Kashmir, or Nagaland, or Manipur, or Assam, has been no different when it comes to combatting Maoists. Unparalleled firepower of the Indian State, rape of women and torture of women and men, forced encampment, and extrajudicial execution is the norm.

The Indian State has spent no time and resources in any of the villages or communities caught in the conflict to understand the needs of the people living there. Instead, the approach has been to further isolate and demonise the villagers by sanctioning the use of firepower by private armed militias, mostly formed by dominant caste groups.

Most of these communities live several days long walking distance away from nearest government facilities. There are hundreds of such communities, denied access to any of the minimum guarantees the Indian State has promised to the people. For them schools and basic medicine remain denied by State neglect. It is these communities who are repeatedly preyed upon by State officers and private mining corporations.

Soon after 1947, when the first Prime Minister of India declared that hydroelectric projects are the new temples of India, thousands of indigenous villages were evicted. Most of them were not even offered resettlement. Today the second or third generation of the same community who were thrown out of their huts for the rest of India to develop are thrown out again by the Indian State or directly by the mining companies. For all the atrocities, these communities have faced so far there has never been a proper forum for redress, and there is no change on the anvil either.

On the other hand, the Maoists have been able to strike a conversation with the indigenous communities – their comrades having spent time to listen to the grievances of the people. They have provided medicines and vaccinations to the villagers, taught children and grownups how to read and write, and have been able to instil fear in the criminal landlords, politicians, corrupt police and forest department officers, who prey upon these communities for their women, grain, land, and resources.

However, the Maoist movement also is not without its deceptions. Contrary to what has been propagated, the Maoists too play the same game as the Indian State: “if you are not with us, you are against us.” In addition, they also resort to extortion and forced enrolment.

The Maoist insurgency that has slowly spread across the country is a riveting example of the failure of the Indian State. So far, the Indian State has failed to address this concern in any meaningful manner circumscribed within the mandate of the Indian Constitution. Instead, the Union and its state governments have increasingly isolated the communities where the armed insurrection has found fertile ground with further neglect.

The so-called development and progress that the Indian government claims has arrived at a cost to the Adivasi communities. They were not consulted and they have not benefited from any of these schemes. Instead, they have continued to witness loss of land and livelihood, at an aggravated scale, during the past 30 years.