Nandini Sundar: The path to a conflict-free state
Peace talks and punishing erring Special Police Officers are the key to solving the Naxal problem.
Contrary to the dominant narrative that areas where Naxalites are strong are where the state has been absent, for the last 100-150 years, there has been a gradual expansion of the state in tribal areas regardless of whether the people want it or not. However, the state has been expanding in the wrong areas. You have an extension of the forest department, the bureaucracy, the patwari and the forest guard. But at the same time there is no state presence in the form of school teachers, healthcare workers and other services.
The problem here is that the state only wants to take a military approach towards ending Naxalism. This will not work as it has been proven in the case of Kashmir and the North East. It may have 'worked' in Punjab, but that was because the people were already alienated from the militants. The criterion of success is also debatable because of the grave violations of human rights. In terms of a constitutional approach to conflict resolution, I wouldn't say that was an approach that worked.
This attitude (of the government) is reflected in the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) programme of winning the hearts and minds of the people, as part of which the paramilitary gifts people lungis and saris. Ironically, the CRPF personnel beat up people if they don't accept the gifts and people laugh as they recount this.
In Chhattisgarh, in the areas where Maoists are strong, there is no voting in the villages, and many of the sarpanches have joined the Salwa Judum. So, when development work is routed through the sarpanches, it has no relationship to anything on the ground. The sarpanches don't even live in the villages, and invent paper schemes in collusion with the block officer. It's a fantasy of development where the paperwork looks good, but no one's heart or mind is being won. Much of this is also being shown for roadside villages which were never Judum-affected or Maoist-influenced in the first place, so that the figures look good. But the real areas that are affected remain unaddressed.
The only way to proceed towards establishing peace in Chhattisgarh is to start on the plank of justice. Three villages had been torched last year and in 2007. The interesting part here is that in 2007, the average losses (claimed by the tribals) per household was around Rs 1 lakh, but due to the recent incidents (attacks on the tribals by the paramilitary), in many households, the figure is as low as Rs 20,000 per household. It is evident that the Adivasis are not only under relentless attack, but are also becoming paupers.
In this context, it is not clear what role the integrated action plan announced by Jairam Ramesh will play. Where people have been killed and raped and houses burnt and they get no justice, will their hearts and minds be won through roads and panchayat bhawans? For their part, the villagers will accept state intervention if it is seen as a part of a justice package and not as part of counter-insurgency. We (activists fighting on behalf of the tribals in Chhattisgarh) had submitted a rehabilitation plan that precisely ensured this - through an enumeration of what had happened in each village and a transparent compensation and criminal registration process with an appropriate monitoring committee. But the government - both Centre and state - have kept stalling.
If the Centre is serious about bettering the situation in Chhattisgarh, first it needs to withdraw troops to the barracks and hold peace talks with the Naxalites. But that seems unlikely as they have killed Kishenji (Maoist leader). The Maoists, for their part, must stop initiating attacks and renew expressions of interest in peace talks. As unlikely as the prospect seems, there is no other way, but talks. As for other steps, the onus lies on the government alone. The second thing that the Chhattisgarh government needs to do is to implement the Supreme Court order disbanding Special Police Officers (SPOs) in its spirit. The state government has today recruited the SPOs into the Chhattisgarh Armed Auxiliary Force and they continue to threaten people.
The SPOs are allowed a free run by the police. Today, the SPOs who have been recruited into the auxiliary force earn four times the salary they used to draw earlier. While they were paid Rs 1,500 earlier as SPOs, these people today earn around Rs 7,000. They are the ones to benefit the most out of our petition. This would be fine in terms of giving them security, but for this to be constitutional, the guilty ones among them have to be taken to task. Otherwise, what you have is the regularisation of criminals.
The government needs to ensure that justice is delivered to the people of Chhattisgarh. It also needs to implement our rehabilitation plan and file criminal cases. Today, you can be a mass murderer and get away with it whether in Gujarat 2002 or 2005 onwards in Chhattisgarh. Unless there is an end to impunity, and a movement for this, just like the movement against corruption, we will never see a conflict-free country.
What needs to be done:
* End the military approach towards Naxalism.
* To establish peace, one needs to start on the plank of justice and start peace talks.
* Disband Special Police Officers who threaten locals with impunity.
(As told to KP Narayana Kumar)
Nandini Sundar is head of department, Sociology, Delhi School of Economics.