Skip to main content

Maoist ideology didn't attract people. They wanted protection from a predatory state

Development and Cooperation, a website produced on behalf of a German institute, Engagement Global, with the aim to discuss international-development affairs and explores how they relate to other fields of policy-making, recently published an interview with Nandini Sundar, professor of sociology, Delhi School of Economics, where the academic seeks to answer when why, around the world, forest areas tend to be haunted by violent conflict, in the context of India.
The website says this has been happening even as in the Amazon basin, settlers are displacing indigenous communities, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, various militias thrive on the exploitation of natural resources, and in central India, a Maoist rebellion has taken hold.
The interview:
***

Why does violent conflict so often rage in primary forests?

There are several reasons, including the demand for land, timber and other forest products. Moreover, mining companies want to exploit coal, ores and minerals. Powerful interest groups are thus involved, and the local people, who live in the forest, are typically not considered relevant. Indeed, policymakers often find wildlife tourism more important than local people’s welfare. The big issue is always who controls forests and exploits the resources.

Does it add to problems that natural forests are almost by definition remote areas where the state is hardly present? The local people are not connected to networks of influence. Often they speak different languages and have cultures of their own.

Yes, forest communities are mostly disempowered. Where and when the state is present, moreover, it mostly takes sides against them. In India, the officers of the forest department have police powers. They can arrest people and search homes. They are not accountable to those who live in the forests and know that they basically enjoy impunity. Of course, things differ from country to country. But almost everywhere, informal militias, paramilitary outfits or private military-service corporations like DynCorp or Blackwater – now called Academi – play a role.

A decade ago, India’s then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that the Naxalites, Maoist insurgents, were your country’s greatest security threat. His government launched Operation Green Hunt to suppress them. Was it successful? The Naxalites aren’t making headlines anymore.

Well, not having headlines is part of how the security forces manage this conflict. They mostly prefer not to discuss the violence in remote parts of the country at all – unless something has happened that makes them look strong. Violent encounters still occur sometimes. The region that has been most affected by guerrilla warfare is Bastar, a district in Chhatisgarh State, where the military now has a camp every five kilometres. The troops are all over the place, but the villages still have some autonomy and there is clandestine activity. The situation remains tense and Operation Green Hunt is still going on.

Historically, Adivasi tribes populate India’s forests. They speak languages of their own and do not traditionally adhere to Hinduism. Do the Naxalites mobilise people along identity lines?

Well, their presence in central India’s forests became a big issue in the early 2000s, and I don’t think it was Maoist ideology that attracted people as much as the feeling that their livelihoods were threatened. They wanted protection from a predatory state. The Naxalite leaders learned Gondi, the major Adivasi language spoken in Bastar, and the majority of the cadre are now local. Identity politics of that kind may play a role at the grassroots level, but that is not the rebellion’s raison d’ĂȘtre. And even though the current national government demands Hindu dominance, the conflict is not about religion either. On the other hand, Adivasi belief systems are typically linked to natural resources, so any attack on those resources can be read as an attack on the religious faith. However, there are many Adivasi who do not support the Naxalites as well as many members of other marginalised communities who do. Generally speaking, Naxalites have been particularly successful in mobilising Adivasis and Dalits, the members of India’s lowest castes, who were called “untouchables” in colonial times. To some extent, Maoist outfits also reach out successfully to other poor and marginalised communities. India’s stratified society has many of them.

Today, Narendra Modi is India’s prime minister. Does that make a difference?

The answer is both yes and no. On the one hand, all parties are complicit in oppressive action. The Naxalites have a long and violent history that goes back to the late 1960s. They always called for a violent overthrow and mobilised oppressed communities, and were met with ever more violence by the government. There was never any serious attempt by the state to broker peace or to alleviate the grievances that they thrive on. Even the major Communist parties resented them right from the start. On the other hand, the Hindu-chauvinists of the BJP, Modi’s party, are especially intolerant of minorities, including Adivasis and Dalits, even if they have some token leaders among these communities. The BJP is very militaristic in its approach, while the Congress is more divided between a carrot and stick policy. It is primarily the BJP which was responsible for the escalation of violence in Bastar from 2005 on. It was running the state government and had links to very brutal vigilante groups. The Congress-led national government at the time supported them. Today, the Congress is running the state government and the BJP the national one. The atmosphere in the state is a little more free for journalists, civil-society activists et cetera but the war on Adivasi villages continues. Other states – from West Bengal and Odisha in the east to Maharashtra in the west –have been affected by Naxalite violence, but things never escalated as they did in Bastar.

The scenario looks depressingly bleak. Are there any positive lessons India can teach the world community?

Yes, there are. Sustainable forest management is possible. There has been a lot of good experience with empowering local people who understand the natural environment and know how to exploit forest resources without destroying the ecosystem. If and when the authorities adopt their approaches and support their efforts, the results tend to be very good – without bloodshed or other human-rights violations. It is wrong to think that we must either destroy the environment or not have any development at all. More nuanced approaches are better. The bad news, however, is that our governments – whether at the national or state levels – still believe the choice is binary. It is particularly frightening to see the Modi government once again prioritising industrial growth over everything in the Covid-19 crisis by giving environmental clearance to mines, abolishing protective labour legislation et cetera. The government’s treatment of workers was appalling with millions of workers stranded without food or shelter during the stringent Covid-19 lockdown, many of whom were forced to walk home to their villages, thousands of kilometres away. Modi is siding with the big corporations and the dominant castes. With so many migrant workers returning home to their villages, we need imaginative models for rural development and livelihoods, but the government is oblivious.

Comments

TRENDING

Eco Ganesha made from water hyacythns, a most noxious invasive aquatic weed

Elsie Gabriel, founder, Young Environmentalists Programme Trust, and national coordinator, Oceans Climate Reality Project India, has come up with Eco Ganesha, made from recycled water hyacinths and silt from Powai Lake. She presented it to Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar on September 7 at Powai lake:

Diaspora protest as Biden failed to publicly address persecution of minorities in India

As Modi addressed UN, human rights groups decried “monstrosity” of persecution of Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minorities in India. Demonstrators gathered outside UN to protest fascism, hate campaigns, weaponized rape, apartheid, lynchings, unlawful arrests, attacks on the media, and other abuses in India: A report distributed by the diaspora group Hindus for Human Rights: *** While observers said it was “shameful” that President Biden failed to publicly address widespread persecution of religious minorities in India when he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24, more than 100 members of interfaith and human rights groups spoke out as Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Speakers condemned the egregious human rights violations and murders of religious minorities in India under a government that openly supports Hindu supremacy. The rally was sponsored by 21 organizations, including Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkar King S

In the land of the Buddha, why are there so few Buddhists? Did they convert to Islam?

Sonali Ranade, a trader and columnist, who is a prolific tweeter , in a recent blog "How did India’s Buddhists disappear? In the land of the Buddha, why are there so few Buddhists?" suggests that most of the Muslims who converted to Islam in South Asia were Buddhists and they did it mostly out of self-volition. Read on: *** It wasn’t until college, that it dawned on me that I had never met a Buddhist in my life. I could count quite a few Jains [hawt property for Gujju girls] at college, Muslims a plenty; the Navy, on whose bases I grew up, was chockfull of Sikhs; many Christians at school including a English literature teacher who I think was a recreant Pope in hiding; and not to forget my bestie, a blue-blood Parsi, whacky as they come, [she masquerades as an architect these days, and I always wonder why her buildings don’t collapse laughing at her colorful Hindi]; but no Buddhists. Puzzled, I asked the Pater, usually my go-to walking encyclopedia, but he was stumped. Or a

Post-Stalin Netaji advised Soviets, had facial surgery, met Lal Bhadur in Tashkent!

In an curious Facebook post "What happened to Netaji?", former editor of the Times of India, Ahmedabad, Kingshuk Nag, who later took over the Hyderabad edition of TOI as editor, has asserted that not only did Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose didn't die in a plane crash, he went to the Soviet Union, where he served as adviser of the Soviet leaders during the post-Stalin phase. One who has authored a Netaji book , he makes another astonishing "revelation": that Netaji, it is believed, had undergone face surgery "to change his appearance", and is "supposed to have met Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri when he went to Tashkent in 1966." Was Netaji so meek? One doesn't know... Anyway, read the FB post : *** Today is purportedly the day that Netaji died in an air crash in Taiwan in 1945. An elaborate theory of his death and the fact that his ashes were stored in Renkoji temple was created. By all accounts this is fiction. Netaji disappeared into Soviet

Critique of Hindutva does not constitute an attack on Hinduism, nor is it Hinduphobia

Organised with the active support of Indian diaspora in US, a series of virtual conferences, Dismantling Global Hindutva, have been held in order to "analyze and educate" the public as to how Hindutva is destroying India, undermining syncretic nature of Hinduism and the country's secular and democratic traditions.

Jinnah's claim: He never wanted Pakistan, wished if he could return to Bombay

In an account of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, termed "amazing but true", Ramkrishna Dalmia reveals Jinnah’s claimed love for Indian heritage and his beloved city Bombay (now Mumbai). Read it to comprehend a different aspect of his life... The account first appeared on Facebook timeline of Christi A Ali, and has been shared by many. *** “Look here, I never wanted Pakistan! It was forced upon me by Sardar Patel. And now they want me to eat the humble pie and raise my hands in defeat.” Jinnah to his closest friend Ramkrishna Dalmia to whom he (Jinnah) sold his marvelous Delhi house for Rs.3 lacs before partition. Jinnah chose his friend Ramkrishna Dalmia over others, a Jain, no-onion; no-garlic; a sprinkler of Ganga jal if a Muslim entered the home type of Hindu. The house was later sold to the Dutch Embassy as Nehru had issues with Mr.Dalmia. Nehru ensured that Mr.Dalmia would later be jailed. Jinnah never wanted Pakistan and even accepted Cabinet Mission Plan in July, 1946 to form

An international phenomenon, crackdown on media now part of Ukrainian policy

An article released by the Independent Media Institute points to how Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is using the ‘Kremlin excuse’ to ban media that doesn’t always agree with him. Authored by David C Speedie , the article has been produced by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for US-Russia Accord : *** On the eve of his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on September 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pulled the plug on the opposition news outlet Strana.ua and imposed sanctions on its editor-in-chief . This is not the first time Zelensky has cracked down on opposition media. Earlier this year Zelenksy banned three of his country’s television news stations—NewsOne, 112 and ZIK—accusing them of peddling “Kremlin-funded propaganda.” A veteran of the broadcast media himself [he was previously a comedian], Zelensky’s action may perhaps be seen at first glance as largely symbolic. It is, in fact, both inflammatory and short-sighted. First, it should

What caused Kandhamal violence in 2007-08? Expert, Dalit leader react to new docu-film

Well-known film maker KP Sasi has released a new 95-minute documentary  "Voices From the Ruins - Kandhamal In Search of Justice", which seeks to graphically describe how in Kandhamal district of Orissa, mainly inhabited by Adivasis and Dalits, among them a large population are Christians, witnessed its biggest violence on the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians in 2008. Based on interviews with the survivors of Kandhamal violence, who are still struggling against the improper compensation, improper rehabilitation and improper justice delivery systems, the film brings out the concerns of the survivors, through their own voices as well concerned sections, analysing the historical roots of violence, the impact of violence on various sections of the communities and the struggle for justice by the survivors of Kandhamal violence. Released on the anniversary of the violence (August 28), while Sasi has sought the documentary, already available on YouTube, widest circulation thr

UN Food Systems Summit paved the way for greater control of big corporations

In a sharp critique of the  UN Food Systems Summit, a statement released by the People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty, a global network of NGOs, has accused UN meet of being steered by big corporations, even as the Global South was pushed back. *** The Global People’s Summit (GPS) on Food Systems slammed the recently concluded UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) for paving the way for greater control of big corporations over global food systems and misleading the people through corporate-led false solutions to hunger and climate change. “It was just as we expected. While branding itself as the ‘People’s Summit’ and even the ‘Solutions Summit,’ the UN FSS did not listen to the voices of marginalized rural peoples, nor forward real solutions to the food, biodiversity and climate crises. Instead, it let powerful nations and big corporations play an even bigger role in determining food and agricultural policies. The UN has finally made it clear what ‘multilateralism’ is all about—paying l

Forthcoming book explodes Western myth: Personal qualities are biologically inherited

Jonathan Latham, PhD, Executive Director, The Bioscience Resource Project, New York, has said in an email alert via JanVikalp that his forthcoming book about genetics and genetic determinism, provisionally titled "The Myth of The Master Molecule: DNA and the Social Order" criticises the notion that personal qualities are biologically inherited: *** The contention of the book is that the key organising principle of Western thought is the seemingly innocuous and seemingly simple idea that our personal qualities are biologically inherited. That is, our character derives from our ancestors rather than being an always-adapting product of our own experiences, decisions, and education. The book makes the case, first, that genetic determinism is a scientific fallacy. Organisms are self-organised systems and therefore are not genetically determined. Second, the explanation for the myth, which predates Mesopotamian cities of 6,000 years ago, is its utility. Genetic determinism rationa