Thursday, November 05, 2009

India Launches War Against Tribals

Counter-insurgency offensive is really a resource and land grab
BASICS #16 (Nov / Dec 2009)

by Dhruv Jain

On June 17, 2009, the Indian state launched a major counter-insurgency offensive, Operation Lalgarh, to “restore law and order” to the West Midnapore district of West Bengal. In the months leading up to the military offensive, the adivasi, or tribal, populations of Lalgarh and surrounding villages in the district had been subject to consistent police harassment, including the torture and detainment of tribals on the slightest suspicion of rebel activity.

To protect the autonomy and self-governance of the area, villagers formed the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA). As the people’s movement had support from the Maoist party, the state quickly labeled the organic, self-directed community uprising a Maoist rebellion. Although the Maoist party only played an advisory role and was only one of the progressive forces supporting the movement, the Indian state was able to employ its commonly-used scare tactic of labeling villagers opposed to state intervention as “Maoists”. Paramilitary forces suppressed the movement in twelve days through the recapture of the villages, but did not defeat it.

In the months following the June offensive, the people’s movement – under the leadership of the PCAPA – has continued to grow and resist, while the police harassment has escalated. On September 27, 2009, Chhatradhar Mahato, a key leader of the PCAPA, was arrested for sedition and raising funds for the Maoists.

In early October 2009, the Central Government of India announced that they would start preparations for a major anti-Maoist offensive. What they did not announce is that this major offensive would serve as a huge resources and land grab. The government had entered into hundreds of secret memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with companies that include mining corporations and information technology parks. The communities had not been consulted about the business deals and actively resisted the “development projects” the national government was championing for the area. Areas like Lalgarh, largely inhabited with tribal populations, are mineral-rich and the people recognize that the companies that exploit these resources will not contribute to their livelihoods. These so-called ‘development’ projects would effectively dispossess tribal populations from their ancestral lands and allow for greater exploitation of the population, including a highly exploitative labor market. Thus, under the veneer of an anti-Maoist offensive, the Indian state hopes to achieve the final suppression of tribal populations from the area.

However, the people of Lalgarh are not alone. A national and international campaign has begun to stop the offensive. A petition signed by luminaries including Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy and several hundred human rights activists and academics was presented to the Indian government calling for the immediate halt to the offensive and to have the MOUs made public to the tribals so that they can decide for themselves how to improve their lives.

Women from the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) carry axes and bows as they form a road block in protest of widespread police atrocities in Lalgarh. April 2009.