Friday, February 4, 2011

The Disappointment of Democracy- Part 1

This is the story of the disappointment faced by the citizens of the world’s largest democracy. The disappointment created by the failure to uphold the promise that country made to its citizens in 1949. When the Constitution of India was written, it began with the following.

We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
In our Constituent Assembly, on this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do here by adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this constitution.

The Preamble directs our government and courts to ensure that we receive our entitlement of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity. Unfortunately, there is a significant portion of our population that is deceived and exploited. These are the tribals or adivasis, the oldest inhabitants of this land. They are largely malnourished, illiterate, and displaced. They live in forests, without the comforts of hot water baths and air conditioning. Many of them live on land that holds an abundance of mineral deposits. Naturally, powerful people and institutions want this wealth and are devising ways to claim it. These people cite many reasons for pushing the tribals off their ancestral land: political turmoil, economic development, and social assimilation. We live in an age where double digit economic growth has become a national goal. Fortunately, not everyone agrees with the blind pursuit of profit over people. Those that express dissent are criminalized and termed anti-national.1 The voiceless and powerless who are denied justice and the dissenters who speak up against this injustice - this is their story.

The Maoists – The “People’s War”

The Maoists, also known as the Naxalites, are a guerilla movement that originated in 1967 as a peasant rebellion in the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal. Forty-four years later, Manmohan Singh claims they are “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country.”2 These Leftist radicals, who reside in seventy-six districts or nine states, have taken up arms because they believe the Indian government has nothing to offer except hollow promises of development. In Dantewada, a Maoist stronghold in Chattisgarh, statistics offer a startling glimpse into the underdeveloped reality of an abandoned India. Of the 7.8 lakh people there, 82% are tribals. 38% of the rural area is forested and not cultivable. However, almost two- thirds of the district doesn’t belong to the villagers on paper. The literacy rate is an appalling 21%. There are 1220 villages in Dantewada, out of which a staggering 1161 don’t have medical facilities.3

Historically, the Maoists have gained footholds in tribal areas through certain developments that bettered tribal life. In Chattisgarh, for example, they provided physical protection to adivasis from the exploitation of the Forest Department in the 1970s. A decade later, they raised the price of tendu patta (1), a large part of tribal income, from Rs. 2 to Rs. 80.4

However, the Naxal war is not a “people’s war” as they claim. Threats to their leadership are dealt with severely; village landowners, priests, and other influential elders are threatened, extorted, and killed. Those suspected of being police informers are executed under the guise of jan adalats or ‘people’s courts’. Human Rights Watch gives the following testimonials describing what happens in these courts:

The Naxalites spoke to Soma and tried to make him understand. But he did not mend his ways even after the warning. So they tied his hands and legs, put him on the floor, and beat him. After that they rubbed small stones [gravel] all over his body till his skin peeled off.

Four people were held guilty. They tied a rope around each person’s neck and two people stood on either side, pulling the rope-ends till the person died. All four were killed in the same manner.

Furthermore, indiscriminate use of landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), meant to target government forces, often result in civilian casualties. School buildings are bombed, regularly disrupting the education of tribal children.5

Salwa Judum – “Peaceful March”

The Salwa Judum, which translates to ‘Peace March’ in the Gondi language, began in 2005. Young men were given guns and appointed as ‘special police officers’ or SPOs by the state of Chattisgarh. In other words, armed civilians were paid to rid India of the Maoist menace. Over the course of four years, estimates claim the Salwa Judum has displaced 3.5 lakh people.6 Many of the displaced were sent to government camps, while others escaped to the bordering states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Orissa. Still others hid deeper in the jungles. The Salwa Judum employed child soldiers; some estimates claim more than 12,000 minors were being used to get rid of Maoists.7 Gandhian activist, Himanshu Kumar, documented the not-so-nonviolent methods of the Judum from his non-governmental organization, Vanavasi Chetna Ashram (VCA):

Muchaki Aanda of Bhandarpadar village and his nephew, Madvi Deva, were returning from Andhra Pradesh when the police caught them. They were hacked to death with axes and knives, their bodies dumped near corn fields. Two villagers informed Deva’s mother, Madvi Joge, of their killing.

CRPF men and SPOs cut off the breasts of 70-year-old Dudhi Muye, an invalid who could not walk, and stabbed her to death on September 17.

Also in Gompad village, four of a family — Madvi Bajar, 45, his wife Madvi Subbi, his married daughter, Kartam Kanni, 20, and younger daughter Madvi Mutti, 15 — were killed by SPOs. The attackers cut off the tongue and fingers of Kartam Kanni’s two-year-old son.8

I cringe upon reading testimonials of these unimaginable atrocities. They force me to look at the faces and families killed in the name of security, in the name of justice. They force me to question how a two-year-old can be considered a Maoist. They force me to feel ashamed, because I live silently, doing nothing.

On May 17, 2009, Himanshu Kumar’s VCA was demolished by para-military forces. The government claimed the building had to be razed to the ground because it was an encroachment on forest land. Thus, the State condemned an advocate of non-violence who had brought government programmes of health, watershed development, and sanitation to the neglected jungles of the country.9

While Salwa Judum was declared to be a failure on part of the Chattisgarh government10, it continues to haunt and ravage the torn lands and bodies of Dantewada. Government officials claim the program no longer exists, while the SPOs claim otherwise; their salaries have now doubled from Rs 1500 to Rs 3000.11

Two Armies, One Victim

They loot. They plunder. They rape. They kill. They create terror in the hearts and minds of the communities they attack. I speak of two armies, the Salwa Judum and the Naxalites. The former represents the State while the latter stands for Maoist ideology. Both groups destroy those they claim to protect, those they claim to stand for. The tribals are the only victims.

1. Tendu Patta: A type of leaf used to make indigenous cigarettes called bidis

5“Being Neutral is Our Crime” Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in India’s Chattisgarh State. Human Rights Watch 2008
7 Zemp, Ueli; Mohapatra, Subash (2007-07-29). “Child Soldiers in Chhattisgarh: Issues, Challenges and FFDA’s Response”


  1. Very disturbing accounts indeed. Our worst problems and our abjectly poor continue to live in the twilight zone of justice.

  2. you said it well harish. it's our country's biggest tragedy.

  3. yikes! wow, i feel so ignorant of Indian history, government, and politics! thanks for shining some light... i need to read more and gain insight to fill the gap in my knowledge of such injustices in the world! ur an inspiration- just know that- even in the awareness you bring through ur blog! :)

  4. I like the Title "The Disappointment of Democracy" i think these are two different terms Maowadi and Naxalites. In Indian context Naxalite word got more importance, Naxalite movement was started by a militant section of CPI(M) led by Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal.
    Where as in Andhra Pradesh Peoples war group (PWG)started attacking Government officials, politicians and landlords just coz of the ban impose on them by the government, they started using the tactics of guerilla war fare (same war fare tactics was also used by Shivaji of Maharashtra) and later Che and Fidel Castro) these rebels were also know as Maoist.