MAC: Mines and Communities

Thousands targeted in India's "hidden" resources war

Published by MAC on 2009-09-01

The malevolent activities of Indian-origin companies (such as Jindal, Esssar Steel, Tata and Vedanta) are often ignored - whether inside or outside India - in a naive belief that regulatory constraints are being applied to their activities.

Likewise, the myth continues being propagated that India's military, police, and politicians usually answer to the law.

Thus, few people, including human rights activists, are aware of the prolonged, vicious and, in key respects, completely illegal war that has been waged against thousands of villagers in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh over the past four years.

Ostensibly (and officially) the government is fighting adherents of the pro-Chinese Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPML) - usually dubbed "Naxalites".

While there is a great deal of evidence that such "cadres" have attacked and victimised some communities, it is par for the course that the state will invoke such assaults as a pretext to take even more vicious counter-action.

The conflicts have begun to mirror others from the recent past (such as the Pentagon's "strategic hamlet" programme in Vietnam; or the Peruvian regime's attempted annihilation of the "Golden Path" urban guerrillas).

As to the root cause (and at risk of over-simplification) it can be summarised as a war for resources, specifically minerals.

Many villagers are trying to hold onto these resources at the risk of imprisonment and worse. Mining companies, backed by the state, are trying to wrest them from the people.

In the following article, Gandhian activist, Himanshu Kumar, describes recent attempts by colleagues to assist villagers who courageously tried to reclaim their land and homes, already seized on behalf the Tata's and Essar Steel. And what then happened to them.

It's an article with few holds barred, published by India's leading radical English-language weekly. Although typifying these assaults as "genocide" may seem a step too far, there is no doubt they bear many hallmarks of state-sponsored terrorism.

[Comment by Nostromo Research, 28 August 2009]

Havoc And The Dogs Of War

Nothing but death is presaged in the tribal lands of Chhattisgarh, as the State launches a brutal civil war

by HIMANSHU KUMAR, Gandhian Activist, Tehelka magazine

28 August 2009

VRECHHAPAL IS a village of 140 tribal families in the forests of south Chhattisgarh. Near this village, the state government has given "prospecting licenses" to the Tatas and the Essar Group to mine iron ore. In the last four years, the local police and the Salwa Judum, the police-backed tribal militia, have destroyed this village several times, but the villagers have returned each time to rebuild their lives.

On June 28 this year, policemen and Judum goons attacked the village again, shooting dead a man, raping a woman, and burning down 40 houses. Ten days later, when three human rights activists - Delhi School of Economics professor Nandini Sundar, Osmania University professor JP Rao, and Institute of Rural Management professor Ajay Dandekar - visited the village with my co-activist Kopa Kunjam, the Judum attacked their jeep and nearly set it on fire. We at the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) wrote to the police condemning the attack on the village. We also notified them that we would be reaching rice to Vrechhapal as the police had burnt down its agricultural produce.

This angered the police. On August 9, hordes of policemen attacked and occupied the village. The terrified residents ran to the hills to hide. The police shot and killed a villager and later rounded up five innocent tribal people, including a woman, from other villages. When the police left Vrechhapal two days later, they shot and killed all in cold blood. Dantewada Superintendent of Police (SP) Amaresh Mishra later claimed his men had killed six Naxals in a fierce encounter. But newspaper photographs showed the dead "Naxals" with their hands tied behind. The police said two bodies, including the woman's, were washed away. But villagers found the two bodies with deep injuries, with the woman's neck tied to a big stone.

Meanwhile, we struggle still to bring justice to six women raped by Judum policemen and now camping at our Ashram in Dantewada city. They first wrote to the SP asking that FIRs be filed against their rapists. The SP failed to respond. Then they approached Chief Judicial Magistrate Sanjay Kumar Soni at Dantewada. But he ordered them to go to Konta, 140 km south of Dantewada, a township that is a brute Judum stronghold. Soni asked them to go plead before a Judicial Magistrate, whose job it is to register the case but who doesn't have the legal authority to try the rape cases.

Braving the Judum terror, these women went to Konta and filed written complaints before this Magistrate, Amrit Kerkatta. But he decided their written testimony wasn't enough and ordered they give oral testimonies. Then he took another day to hear the testimonies of their witnesses such as their parents. Then he fixed a date to hear their lawyers. But he did not attend court on that day, nor on the next. So these women filed a petition before Dantewada District Judge, Sharad Gupta, urging him to hear the case. He has rejected their application, we don't yet know why.

These women are running from one court to another to get a case registered, although the law says a woman's complaint of rape is enough to register a case. The truth is that the government has decided to drive the tribal people out of their lands and steal their natural resources, and the state agencies - politics, bureaucracy and judiciary - are conniving in the atrocities.

The launch of the Salwa Judum in 2005 wrought a massive upheaval in Dantewada as the police and the Judum began killing hundreds and rape thousands, and burn down villages. Terrified villagers picked up their traditional arms, the bow and the arrow, in self-defence. This is exactly what the Indian Government wanted. It now calls them Maoists! And it plans to decimate them by way of genocide.

This carefully planned conspiracy is a historical process. Many of today's economic superpowers - from the US to Australia - are founded on genocides of indigenous peoples. The Indian Government now aims to kill the indigenous people in Chhattisgarh because they are sitting atop vast reserves of some of India's best quality iron ore that is 70 percent pure, as also atop 90 percent of India's tin deposits, besides plentiful rubies and mica.

The saddest part is that it is a democratic set-up that is planning to kill the tribal people, and India's vast middle class backs the State. I don't know how India will ever redeem itself from this sin. And once we get into the habit of killing the weaker among us, then the cycle will never end. Tomorrow we will kill the Dalits, then the minorities, and then the people of the villages. This would be social Darwinism.

THE VCA decided to counter the government's evil plan. We began bringing people back to the villages the Judum burnt down. This work meets with a Supreme Court order that makes it mandatory for the state government to rehabilitate all the tribal people the Judum violence displaced. The apex court has also ordered the government to investigate allegations of Judum violence, prosecute the offenders, and pay compensation to the victims. The Chhattisgarh Home Secretary gave an undertaking to the court its orders would be met. Of course, not one case has been filed or compensation given, because it is the police that are the culprits.

On the other hand, the government has stopped all civic services to the tribal areas. By doing this, they are forcing the villagers towards the Naxals. Whereas prior to the start of the Judum the Naxals here numbered only about 5,000, their mass base may now count up to one lakh. If the security agencies indeed launch a massive attack as the Centre is planning, then they are unlikely to find many Naxals but would certainly end up killing thousands of innocent tribal people. And this is bound to send millions more towards the Naxals.

Even if the government occupies the tribal lands, the Naxals will launch guerilla attacks and kill many jawans.
In this way, the classic capitalistic battles will see innocent and poor young men die on both sides - one, working for the State only for a living, and the other, the tribal, defending his land.

Of course, the State can't afford to have the VCA unravel its plans. So district and police authorities began harassing our volunteers, disrupting our work, stopping our supply vehicles. On July 30, the police arrested one of our volunteers and charged him with being a Naxal planner. I phoned and asked the SP, why have you arrested him? He said: Don't question us. Days earlier, police swooped down on Kopa Kunjam's house, and beat him and his mother severely, threatening to kill him if he didn't dissociate himself from me. For the security establishment in Chhattisgarh, I must be done away with.

But my choice is already made. Mahatma Gandhi said that young people should go live among the tribal people and die among them. I am a non-tribal and I came to this land 17 years ago. I have since lived among the tribal people. I will surely die here, just as the tribal people will die here. Until I die, or until I am imprisoned, I will keep resisting the State's brutal war against its own defenceless tribal people.


Maoists threaten iron ore mining in Bastar

By Sujeet Kumar, IANS

28 August 2009

Raipur: The growing activities of Maoists in Bastar in Chhattisgarh are threatening iron ore mining in a sprawling forested region that accounts for a fifth of all iron ore deposits in India. Businessmen and politicians fear that the authorities might end up ceding control of Bastar's ore reserves in five to seven years if the dominance of the area by the insurgents is not checked urgently.

Tata Steel and Essar Steel are set to mine iron ore in the region to feed their upcoming integrated steel plants in the tribal-dominated Bastar, which is spread over 40,000 sq km and is vastly underdeveloped.

The Bhilai Steel Plant of the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) is also set to extract iron ore in Bastar. Its lone source of the raw material, at Dalli Rajhara in Chhattisgarh, has stocks to last barely four years.

The worst sufferer will be the National Mineral Development Corp (NMDC), the country's largest iron ore producer and exporter in the public sector. NMDC produces roughly 80 percent of its 27-million-tonne annual iron ore output from Bailadila reserves in Dantewada, a stronghold of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist).

"Maoists have been expanding their influence in Bastar since they first stepped into the region in the early 1980s. They have a monopoly in the interiors of Bastar," Manish Kunjam, former legislator of the Konta assembly constituency, told IANS.

"The day when they (Maoists) decide to stop mining in Bastar, they will do it easily as they enjoy the support of the tribal population," he added. Kunjam, president of the All India Adivasi Mahasabha, an umbrella grouping of tribal organisations, pointed out that Bastar's locals were left out of the development story for decades.

"Now they are being driven out from their soil, jungles, to make way for industries such as Tata Steel's five- million-tonne per annum (mtpa) steel project in Bastar district and Essar Steel's 3.2 mtpa plant in Dantewada. Their democratic protests are not heard. Now their anger is resulting into sympathy with Maoists," he said.

Tata Steel will excavate iron ore for its Rs.100 billion Lohandiguda plant in Bastar while Essar has a Rs.70 billion project.

Noted businessman Anil Nachrani, president of the Chhattisgarh Sponge Iron Association, said: "The future of Indian industry is based on the growth of the steel industry. The situation in Bastar is alarming. The government can't take it lightly; otherwise the country will suffer heavily. "The situation will be more critical in the coming years in Bastar. Maoists can't be eliminated. I suggest that the government should try its best to solve the problem through dialogues rather than at gunpoint," he added.

Admitting that the Maoists were terrorizing mining companies, Director General of Police Vishwaranjan told IANS: "Maoists are trying to scare off miners in Bastar's interiors, mainly in areas where private companies are excavating iron ore. But the Maoists will not succeed."

He said: "Police are well aware of the threat to iron ore mining in Bastar. Police presence around the mining facilities will be strengthened heavily. We are expecting more paramilitary battalions."

But former chief minister and Congress leader Ajit Jogi says: "If the same trend of misunderstanding the Naxal (Maoist) problem continues, we will soon lose sovereignty over Bastar iron ore that is finest in quality the world over."

The Indian government has injected thousands of paramilitary troopers into Bastar to take on the Maoists. Chhattisgarh has witnessed roughly 1,500 casualties in Maoist violence since it came into existence in November 2000. More than 95 percent of all deaths have been reported from Bastar.

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