Today, the police have killed one person in Kalinganagar and critically injured at least thirty more; at the proposed POSCO plant site in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, 25 platoons of police have been deployed to crush the people defending their land. They expect an attack tomorrow or the day after.
As national platforms of democratic forest movements, with more than 200 organisational members spread across the country, we unequivocally condemn this brutality. But such atrocities are not occurring in isolation. Operation Green Hunt and the increasing miitarisation of the conflict in central India is wreaking devastation in our homelands.and closing the space for democratic struggles. We first reiterate the following facts, to expose the myths being promoted by the government:
In all the areas where Operation Green Hunt is underway, aside from individual atrocities, security forces are now preventing people from entering the forest, cultivating their lands or collecting minor forest produce. The numbers that are threatened with starvation or disease as a result is not even known. These facts have been ignored even as the tragic loss of lives in Maoist attacks have received a lot of attention. How can an offensive with such results be justified?
An offensive in the name of the “rule of law” has been launched in areas where the government has never shown the slightest respect for the law. Under the law, land acquisition in Scheduled Areas is subject to consultation with the gram sabha (village assembly); diversion of forest land in all forests is subject to the consent of the gram sabha; and people have rights over village common lands, forests, water bodies and grazing areas. Can the government name a single place in the country where the rights of people over forests and lands have been fully recognised and respected? Can it name a single “development” project in the forest areas that has complied with the requirements of law? Rather, in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh alone, after 2006 the government has illegally granted in principle or final clearances for the use of 15,411 hectares of forest land to various “projects”.
The government's true intentions are revealed by their response to democratic movements in the majority of forest areas, where the CPI(Maoist) does not exist. As an indicator, in just the few weeks between March 20 and April 20, activists in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Assam and West Bengal were arrested or attacked by police for the crime of standing up for the law and demanding legal rights. The protesters at POSCO and many other places, who have no link whatsoever with the Maoists, are being attacked. These are examples of a trend that has become far worse with Operation Green Hunt, under which the label “Maoist” is used to justify all kinds of brutality. The Home Minister's latest statement threatening anyone “supporting Maoism” with jail is clearly aimed at justifying yet more such brutality.
The conflicts in forest areas, whether with the CPI(Maoist) or with other movements, have nothing to do with “security” or “development”. What is at stake is the right of people to control their ecology, their production systems and their lives. Can a community lead a life of dignity when they are harassed, beaten or killed every time they cultivate forest land, collect minor forest produce or protest evictions? People are not demanding welfare; they are struggling for the right to live with freedom and dignity. This is the true meaning of security, development and the rule of justice.
It is clear that the government's offensive is driven by more obvious interests – resource grabs (in water, minerals and land) have become a key source of profits. As the Maheshwar Dam, Vedanta or POSCO projects were found to break the law, the government has scrambled to bend or break the law itself to favour the corporates. When the Forest Department promotes illegal policies in international negotiations on climate change (i.e. the REDD agreement), these are not just condoned but promoted as a point of pride. Meanwhile, people's rights over minor forest produce, forest land and common lands are frustrated at every turn by official violations of the Forest Rights Act. Clearly this is why the government now wants to crush all resistance, whether it is organised by the CPI(Maoist) or not.
Beyond Green Hunt: A Call for Democratic Space
We believe in and stand for the mass democratic struggle of the working people for social transformation. From this perspective, the damage is not limited to this offensive and the devastation it is wreaking. More insidious but much longer lasting is the destructive impact this militarisation is having on the democratic space for people's struggles. This militarisation is not limited to Operation Green Hunt.
Even outside this offensive, the government has consistently used its force against all democratic formations and those who speak the language of people's rights; it has thrown the Constitution to the winds. The CPI(Maoist) has also engaged in indiscriminate physical attacks against those who are of a different political allegiance, and has often shown little tolerance for those who are engaged in other movements or who are critical of them. The turning of vast areas of the country into war zones, where all else is subordinated to the perceived military needs of the government or the CPI(Maoist), is unacceptable. It constitutes a betrayal of the values that both the CPI(Maoist) and the government claim to believe in. For this reason above all, there is an urgent need at this moment to restore basic democratic norms in the conflict zones.
The paramilitary forces must be withdrawn and the salwa judum, as well as other similar private militias in other states, must be disbanded. Public facilities – schools, clinics, etc. - must be treated as out of bounds for the conflict.
The government must respect the rights of people over their lands, forest produce and community forest resources as provided by the Constitution, the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, the Forest Rights Act and other such laws. It must comply with the requirements under these Acts relating to the consent of the community prior to diversion or acquisition of land.
The security forces must stop interfering with the rights of people to cultivate their fields, go to markets and engage in their livelihood activities.
Illegal arrests, fake encounters and police murders must be halted immediately.
The CPI(Maoist) should make clear its position on the activities of other political forces in the conflict areas. It should respect the right of the people to be members of other parties, including opposing parties, or other movements and to otherwise exercise their democratic rights.
The right of refugees and the displaced to return home, especially in Dantewada, must be respected by the security forces and their private militias.