Operation Green Hunt: India’s state terror

5 April 2010. A World to Win News Service. Indian authorities have reported that the anti-Maoist military offensive called Operation Green Hunt has suffered significant blows. On 3 April guerrillas killed at least 10 policemen and injured 10 more in a landmine attack on a police bus in the eastern state of Orissa. On 5 April, in Dantewada district in the state of Chhattisgarh, they first ambushed soldiers carrying out a jungle patrol and then ambushed a second unit sent to rescue the first. As we go to press fighting is reported to be continuing. India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram said „Something has gone very wrong. They seem to have walked into a trap set by the [Maoists] and casualties are quite high“ – the security forces are said to have lost 72 soldiers. Soutik Biswas, reporting from Delhi for BBC, describes the attack as „a blow to the government“ and concludes that „the government is in for a long and difficult war.“

In late 2009, with an array of military forces, hi-tech support and utmost cruelty, the government of India launched Operation Green Hunt. India is economically on the move and its rulers are eager to upgrade their partnership with global imperialism. They cannot tolerate the fact that large swaths of the country are no longer under their control, and are determined to crush anything that stands in their way, especially the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the masses hungry for radical change who make up the army they lead.

This unprecedented internal military offensive is taking place in the forests and hills that are the homeland of many different Adivasi tribes in the central and eastern Indian states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. Indian and international corporations are itching to tear up these lands to get their hands on the riches that lies under them, minerals like bauxite, coal and iron ore. The forests are a source of livelihood for the Adivasis, but to be able to use them they have had to struggle against the forest police, local police and vigilante groups like the Salwa Judum who destroy their crops, steal their farm animals, rape the women and kill young and old alike.

Since the early 1990s through an economic liberalization fostered by the then finance minister Manmohan Singh (now prime minister), India has been on a fast track to playing a more major role in the global economy. In the process the contrast between the fabulously rich and the desperately poor has widened tremendously. In between, a growing middle class of call centre agents, IT specialists, market research company employees, etc., has grown to 200 million. India has been welcomed into the fraternity of global nuclear powers on signing a joint nuclear treaty with the U.S. in 2008. The economic growth rate has been around 8 percent for a number of years and the country’s elite is bursting with self-confidence in their ability and desire to exploit superprofits from the productive forces, the enormous pool of cheap labour and land and mineral resources. There has been no trickle-down to the bottom rungs of society. Instead the situation for about half of India’s people has become worse since liberalization.

One such group of exploiting capitalists are the Tatas. The Tata family owns the sixth largest steel company in the world and some of its companies are located on the edges of the tribal areas. Tata has lined up a number of „greenfield“ projects in and outside of India to expand their steel production by millions of tonnes. A greenfield project is one built where nothing has been constructed before, so the land is cheap and there is no need to remodel or demolish any existing structures or pay other large expenses. Tata has already signed agreements with the government to build industrial sites on tribal lands in Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

Operation Green Hunt’s precursor was the Salwa Judum, vigilante militias funded by the governing parties and local state governments. The leaking of a draft government report stating that Salwa Judum was first funded by Tata and Essor Steel created an outburst in the press; that part was subsequently edited out of the final version. Salwa Judum recruited those local people who could be bought to work as bullies and informers, sometimes offering free mobile phones in exchange for information. For those they couldn’t buy, they exercised a reign of terror. The official figure of emptied villages in Chhattisgarh is 644. Thousands of villagers were murdered. Thousands were arbitrarily arrested and left rotting in jail. Over 300,000 people were displaced. In attempting to separate the people from the CPI (Maoist), nearly 50,000 were forced to live in Vietnam-style strategic hamlets. Villagers who did not move into the hamlets were considered Maoists by the authorities. Independent journalists and intellectuals who tried to report on these atrocities were beaten, jailed or otherwise prevented from investigating Salwa Judum’s actions.

During this same period Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared the CPI (Maoist) the „gravest internal security threat“ to India. The „land to the tiller“ views of CPI (Maoist) are in contradiction to India’s rising capitalist development at its most competitive and cutthroat. As a CPI (Maoist) cadre told the activist and author Arundhati Roy, „They want to crush us, not only because of the minerals, but because we are offering the world an alternative model. “

Some accounts of life under the shadow of Salwa Judum

The following are soundbites from a major article by Roy called „Walking with the Comrades“. (Easily located online, the article gives her views on the situation among the tribals and the history of CPI [Maoist] – both the advances, setbacks and necessary retreats forced on them by the state – as told to her by various members and supporters.) They are accounts from women who are part of Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sangathan, a mass organization led by CPI (Maoist) that claims a membership of 90,000 women. The KAMS takes up issues like forced marriages, bigamy, domestic violence and the need to break with traditional tribal thinking that oppresses women. When the men are taken away, these women also go en masse to the jails and sometimes succeed in getting them released.

„As police repression has grown in Bastar, the women of KAMS have become a formidable force and rally in their hundreds, sometimes thousands, to physically confront the police. The very fact that the KAMS exists has radically changed traditional attitudes and eased many of the traditional forms of discrimination against women. For many young women, joining the party, in particular the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, became a way of escaping the suffocation of their own society. Comrade Sushila, a senior officer of KAMS, talks about the Salwa Judum’s rage against KAMS women. She says one of their slogans was Hum Do Bibi layenge! Layenge! (We will have two wives! We will!) A lot of the rape and bestial sexual mutilation was directed at members of the KAMS. Many young women who witnessed the savagery then joined the PLGA and now women make up 45 percent of its cadre. Comrade Narmada sends for some of them and they join us in a while.

„Comrade Rinki has very short hair. A bob-cut as they say in Gondi (language). It’s brave of her, because here, ‚bob-cut‘ means ‚Maoist‘. For the police that’s more than enough evidence to warrant summary execution. Comrade Rinki’s village, Korma, was attacked by the Naga Battalion and the Salwa Judum in 2005. At that time Rinki was part of the village militia. So were her friends Lukki and Sukki, who were also members of the KAMS. After burning the village, the Naga battalion caught Lukki and Sukki and one other girl, gang raped and killed them. ‚They raped them on the grass,’ Rinki says, ‚but after it was over there was no grass left.‘ It’s been years now, the Naga Battalion has gone, but the police still come. ‚They come whenever they need women, or chickens.‘

„Ajitha has a bob-cut too. The Judum came to Korseel, her village, and killed three people by drowning them in a nallah [stream or canal]. Ajitha was with the [guerrilla] militia, and followed the Judum at a distance to a place close to the village called Paral Nar Todak. She watched them rape six women and shoot a man in his throat.

„Sumitra tells the story of two of her friends, Telam Parvati and Kamla, who worked with KAMS. Telam Parvati was from Polekaya village in South Bastar. Like everyone else from there, she too watched the Salwa Judum burn her village. She then joined the PLGA and went to work in the Keshkal ghats [an area in Chhattisgar]. In 2009 she and Kamla had just finished organizing the March 8 Women’s Day celebrations in the area. They were together in a little hut just outside a village called Vadgo. The police surrounded the hut at night and began to fire. Kamla fired back, but she was killed. Parvati escaped, but was found and killed the next day.

„Comrade Laxmi, who is a beautiful girl with a long plait, tells me she watched the Judum burn thirty houses in her village Jojor. ‚We had no weapons then,‘ she says, ‚we could do nothing, but watch.‘ She joined the PLGA soon after. Laxmi was one of the 150 guerrillas who walked through the jungle for three and a half months in 2008, to Nayagarh in Orissa, to raid a police armoury from where they captured 1,200 rifles and 200,000 rounds of ammunition.“

The Adivasis, through with the PLGA lead by the CPI (Maoist), succeeded in putting up stiff and effective resistance to the Salwa Judum.

Over the last year in Lalgarh, in the state of West Bengal, an important movement arose against police repression and a major corporate development project planned by the state government. Unnerved by their tenacious resistance, the government meted out terrible atrocities to the tribals. Consequently over a 1,000 villages formed People’s Committees against Police Atrocities (PCPA). They demanded that the officials responsible for the atrocities be punished. They threw out the existing administrative structure, and started constructing a new society, building roads, digging wells, distributing land and creating collective agricultural formations. They started schools, built clinics, and invited doctors and nurses from outside. They are trying to build a self-reliant economy and develop a collective agriculture. The Maoists played a leading role in this from the beginning.

The struggle in Lalgarh gained support from many progressive forces throughout the country and internationally. It demonstrated that the Salwa Judum was insufficient to drive the tribals off their land. As a repressive force, it was inadequate for the task.

Enter Operation Green Hunt

With Operation Green Hunt the burning, killing, looting, torturing and raping has increased exponentially. Unlike Salwa Judum this operation is coordinated by the central government, which predicts a long and bloody war until the tribal area is „sanitized“ and the Naxalites (as the government calls the Maoists) defeated. More than 100,00 military and paramilitary troops are being sent into the Adivasi areas. The plan is for the occupiers to gradually spread from one „sanitized“ area to another. Twenty Warfare Training Schools are being built in India. Mahmohan Singh recently spent $18 billion in the U.S. to buy huge amounts of military supplies and munitions, including the latest state-of-the-art global positioning systems and night-vision-capable automatic rifles. Drones are being provided by Israel. And the Israeli Mossad is training Indian police as snipers. Media reports suggest that their mission is to assassinate leaders of the CPI (Maoist) and the mass movement.

According to numerous well-documented reports from sources not necessarily friendly to CPI (Maoist), 30 to 40 tribal people are being killed each week in the Adivasi belt. In Goompad village, Chhattisgarh, witnesses who reported a police massacre were disappeared. (Tehelka.com, 24 February, 2010). On 22 February, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) murdered one such leader, Sri Lalmohan Tudu, the elected president of the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities, and two other people in Lalgarh. Conflicting police versions emerged about how Tudu died. One said he was killed while attacking a police camp, another that he was with a Maoist squad and was apprehended in a CRPF raid. Eyewitness accounts say he was killed near his home and his body was dragged into the paddy fields nearby.

Tudu was one of the main representatives of the PCPA in negotiations with officials of the state government. At no time was he accused of being a Maoist. According to Tudu’s wife, the authorities „had been hunting him since last June. He tried to come to the house that day but he was kidnapped that night. We heard gunshots and feared the worst. We never found out what had happened until the next morning when we heard his body was in the morgue.“ A member of a democratic rights organization said there is a shoot-on-sight order against the Maoists but „nobody knows what a Maoist is. Police say everybody is a Maoist.“ The villagers say, „in the eyes of the police, the cows and chickens are Maoist“. (World News, 8 March 2010)

The military has set up camps in the forests and along streams and ponds. They have closed schools and taken school buildings for their own use. They have cordoned off the area around the forests, preventing the Adivasis from getting food and marketable items that allow them to earn a livelihood and access to water. And they are trying to prevent the Maoists from merging with and being nourished by the masses of Adivasis.

One third of the world’s poor

Although the statistics vary, by most accounts one third of the world’s poor lives in India. The World Bank says 42 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people live on $1.25 per day. A United Nations study says 72 percent live on $2 or less a day. And an Indian government report from the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector says that 70 percent of Indians live on half a dollar a day (Reuters, 10 August 2007). Tribals, lower castes and Muslims are especially numerous among those desperately poor sections of the people, working and living under conditions as bad or worse as any in the world. The global market is moving into the centre of many people’s lives in a new way, with devastating effects even among the somewhat better off parts of rural India. For instance, the government and international organizations have pressured Indian farmers to plant crops to compete on the global market. Unable to pay their debts when prices slumped or bad weather conditions destroyed their crops, thousands of them have found no way out but suicide.

Dr Binayak Sen, internationally renowned for the voluntary health clinic for the rural poor in Chhattisgarh he has run since 1981 and a human rights activist, recently lectured a university crowd on „Violence and justice in our times“, describing how Operation Green Hunt is worsening health conditions for an already undernourished population. He said that over 50 percent of tribals have a body mass index of 18.5. According to the standards set by the Health Organisation, this means that the population is in a state of famine. Dr Sen was recently released after two years in a Chhattisgarh prison on charges of „treason and waging war against the state“. He was accused of passing a letter from a Maoist prisoner he had been treating medically in jail to someone on the outside. After an international outcry, he was released on bail. (14 March 2010, Indian Express) During Arundhati Roy’s „Walk with the Comrades“, one of the very few doctors in a camp visited by her expressed a similarly dire view. Many diseases that result from long term anaemia are on the rise, in addition to the „usual“ diseases like malaria that are preventable or can be attended to if you have access to medicines.

The grim life-and-death character of what Operation Green Hunt means to millions of tribals in India’s heartland is not lost on many thinking individuals, irrespective of their views on Maoism. Until recently such wide-scale military mobilizations were reserved for India’s war with Pakistan over Kashmir or against the secessionist movements in the eastern part of the country. A movement against OGH is gaining momentum in many parts of the India, despite the risk of being tarred with the „terrorist“ brush or labelled a Maoist by the Indian government. This opposition and resistance comes from a wide-ranging political spectrum. OGH has created significant polarization in society. Within this, there are contrasting views.

Some oppositional voices focus on the fundamental violation of human rights underway to further the interests of India’s corporate elite, Tata, Essor and Vedanta, who have made several billion-dollar deals with the government to plunder the riches in the hills and forests occupied by the Adivasis in the areas „infested“ by the Maoists. Some understand why the Maoists, with their different view of how the world can be, represent an attractive force to the Adivasis. Despite its regional and global ambitions the Indian state fails to provide public services like health care and education, minimal employment, safe drinking water, food, seed plant credits or even law and order for the Adivasis and the rest of the „poorest of the poor“. Instead the state has served them daily humiliation, oppression and superexploitation.

An article in Frontline magazine, no friend of the Maoists, wrote the following: “ [T]he state has lost legitimacy in tribal India. It is laughable to claim that its project of militarily overpowering the Maoists has popular support. Its police force is inefficient, corrupt, trigger-happy and anti-poor. The State represents little more than predatory, rape-and-run industrial groups, besides super-corrupt Ministers (like Madhu Koda who allegedly amassed wealth equivalent to a fourth of Jharkhand’s tax revenue in three years). It is no accident that the Centre [India’s central government] has intervened to assert its full coercive power in an area that contains much of India’s immense mineral and forest wealth, now under transfer to private capital. If the operation continues, the civilian death toll is liable to rise from several hundred to several thousand a year, as had happened in Argentina and Peru, where 50,000 to 100,000 people ‘disappeared’ in decades-long counter-insurgency operations. “ (Frontline, issue 6, 13-26 March 2010)

Others contend that the masses are caught between „two fires“, the Maoist army and the state military apparatus. In India this idea is called the „sandwich theory“. It claims to see the armed might of the state and forces for revolution as equally bad. They object to the „war on the people“ and say the line between civilian and military targets is being blurred, as though it would be okay to hunt down the revolutionary Maoists. Some uphold the use of Greyhounds, an elite anti-Naxal force who will be marauding in the jungles, specializing in guerrilla tactics to counter those of the Maoists. This view does not correspond to reality, because the violence of the state whose armed forces rain terror on the masses in order to maintain the exploiters‘ rule is not the same as the liberatory violence of the oppressed rising up.

In a very different sense, the masses of Adivasis are caught between two fires: that of the enemy directed against the revolution and the fire of everyday exploitation and oppression. When they understand the interconnectedness of that, they come to learn that revolution is the only way out.

–          end item-


The AWTWNS packet for the week of  5 April 29 2010 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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