Skip to content
 

Civil Liberties and People’s Movements under Attack in India: The “Maoist” Scare

Analytical Monthly Review, March 2008

[Analytical Monthly Review, published in Kharagpur, West Bengal, India, is a sister edition of Monthly Review. Its March 2008 issue features the following editorial.]

The struggle for democratic rights in India, its forward and backward movement, has been continuous from the days of British colonialism to the present. Independence and Emergency, for example, were not qualitative changes. The closest correlation has been with upsurges from below of the impoverished rural and urban masses. In such times the rulers of India slash at democratic rights, and focus on how best to eliminate, whether by co-option, arrest or murder, the emerging leaders of mass protest. Here there has always been unanimity among India’s rulers, however they might disagree on other matters. “On 19 March 1931,when the dates for the executions of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were announced, Home Secretary Emerson asked for Gandhi’s help to contain the disorder that the government apprehended. ‘Gandhi promised to do what he could.’”1

Today we are witnessing the sharpest assault on democratic rights since Emergency. And as before, the reason is an upsurge from below, in the current case in resistance to the imposition of neoliberal policies. During the past few years, an increasing spontaneous movement is being seen all over India — against dispossessing impoverished rural residents in the interests of private profit such as in Kalinganagar and Nandigram or against imposition of new anti-worker policies as in Honda Motors and Toyota Motors, and in Jute-mills of West Bengal. In most cases initiative is being taken from below, and the affected people have tried to keep control by rejecting leadership from the established political parties, although not always with success. Yet stories of successful resistance spread quickly and, as the strength of mass struggle is recalled after a long break, local resistance rapidly develops brave and intelligent, though inexperienced, new leadership. Though this mass upsurge is in but a nascent state, the ruling classes and their representatives are very much aware of its strength and are hell-bent to crush these struggles in any way possible.

A primary method now adopted by the rulers of India is to brand as “Maoist” anybody who is involved with these new types of movements — whether as journalist or sympathiser or civil/democratic rights activist or political activist of a non-parliamentary group. The political parties (however bitterly they may be otherwise divided), police, administration and most of the mass-media are united in claiming that most of the sympathisers or leaders or activists of these new type of struggles — not under the banner of any existing political parties — are connected with CPI(Maoist), which is engaged in armed struggle. CPI(Maoist) in fact does seek to build a new society where there will be no exploitation, and their work is mostly concentrated in the poorest regions of India. Yet there is much controversy among revolutionaries in India regarding the path to achieve agreed ends, and State terror directed purportedly against the CPI(Maoist) affects a far larger community, one in which rests much of such hope as exists for a better future for India. The charge of “Maoism” is now pretextual, a police means of attacking the leadership of any resistance to neoliberalism from below. Though the CPI(Maoist) is not a banned organisation in many states, it is becoming commonplace that anybody whom the police choose to regard as a “Maoist” may be arrested or taken into police custody for interrogation and deposited in jail under sections 121 et seq. of IPC (“Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India”), and then held without recourse pursuant to the latest Congress government versions of colonial Black Laws. Most of these cases go unreported in the corporate media, yet some of the incidents do get noticed through different channels and in local media. The following few examples from different states may be cited:

* We wrote in June 2007 “The renowned public-spirited paediatrician Dr. Binayak Sen is General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (“PUCL”), Chhattisgarh and the Vice-President, National PUCL. He was arrested May 14th, 2007, under the provisions of the Black Laws (The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 (CSPSA), and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 as amended in 2004(along with Section 120-B, 121-A, 124-A of I.P.C). . . The People’s Union for Civil Liberties – Chhattisgarh has demanded enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in all extra-judicial killings in Chhattisgarh since 2005. Fake encounters in the past two years have claimed the lives of at a minimum 155 people. In a single fake encounter case at Santoshpur in Bijapur on 31st March, 2007, the State Police killed not less than 12 innocent citizens.” Dr. Binayak Sen is still in jail. As is universally known, “encounter killings” are the murder by police of the emerging leadership of local mass struggles. The trend in the number of extra-judicial killings, for whose exposure Dr. Sen was jailed, continues to rise. Dr. Binayak Sen’s persecution has been carried out by Congress authorities at the center and the local BJP, working in smooth co-ordination when it comes to the attack on democratic rights.

* Prashant Rahi, a senior journalist of Uttarakhand, with over 17 years of service to his credit, has been reporting on under-represented communities and pro-people’s movements in the state. Prashant began his journalist career with The Himachal Times and then later moved to The Statesman. He participated in the Uttarakhand movement, and fought aggressively for the rehabilitation of Tehri dam victims. He was arrested on 15 December 2007 in the state capital Dehradun, and held in “secret confinement” by police for five days. Later on 21 December 2007, police officially booked him under Section 121 etc. as a “Maoist commander” and displayed him as arrested “from the forests of Hanspur Khatta.” “He used to raise his voice against police atrocities. He always fought for the people’s cause, and finally fell prey to the police conspiracy. The police appear bent on proving him to be a Maoist commander,” his daughter Sikha Rahi told IANS.

* Roma and Shanta Bhattacharya of the National Forum for Forest Peoples and Workers (NFFPW) are two human rights activists working for the land rights of women, dalits, tribals and other marginalised communities in the Sonebhadra region of the State of Uttar Pradesh. Local police arrested them in Robertsganj on 3 August 2007, along with several other women from the community. This was followed by the 5 August 2007 arrest of two Dalit activists working with them (Lalti Devi and Shyamlal Paswan), and activist Mohammed Hanif. The arrests were accompanied with violence against the activists and villagers. Roma and her fellow activists were arrested while campaigning for awareness about the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, under the banner of Kaimur Chhetra Mahila Kisan Sangharsh Samity (kcmkss) — a women-led organisation. On July 31, KCMKSSadvanced a slogan “Jo jamin sarkari hai, wo jamin hamari hai” (the land that belongs to the government is ours), following which, dalits and tribals asserted their rights by planting trees in the forest. The community believes that the arrests were a conscious attempt to demoralise the activists and the members of the local organisations. The region has witnessed violence from authorities in collusion withthe land mafia for a long time. At a media conference, members of the National Forum of Forest People & Forest Workers said the local police and administration were falsely implicating tribals as Naxals. Another recent incident may be noted here. When the police team went to arrest a tribal leader for his allegedly link with the Maoists in Chandia village under the Kalinga Nagar police station 5th February 2008, tribals chased them away. He was involved in the movement against land acquisition. Vistapan Virodhi Jan Manch (VVJM), which has been spearheading movement in the area since the 2 January, 2006 firing in which 14 tribals were killed by police while opposing land acquisition for the Tata steel project, decided to gherao the police station for entering the village. They also decided to restrict media movement.

* A most ominous event is the recent arrest, by the police of CPI(M)-led left front government, of Mithu Ghosh, an activist of Sharamik Sangram Committee (SSC) and Krishak Committee (KC), along with a senior leader of Nandigram movement and his son on 12th February, 2008 from Sonachuda, Nandigram West Bengal. An allegation of Maoist link under section 120B, 121, 121A and 153 of IPC was charged. An excerpt from the leaflet published by SSC and KC after the arrest of Mithu Ghosh sets out the facts: “SSC and KC, for the last thirty years, have been working among the workers and peasants and all the toiling masses to make them conscious and organised for the complete abolition of all types of exploitation, with the aim of revolutionary change of the present social system. It is true that the declared aim of the CPI(Maoist) is also the radical change of this exploitative society. But we have continuously opposed the politics of CPI(Maoist) and its predecessors among left extremist organisations, insisting that social change is not possible through the activities of armed activists detached from the masses. Only the working class can abolish exploitation from this society forever. Only the working class can ensure the spontaneous and active participation of millions of peasants and agricultural labourers, all the toiling masses, by arousing them for the radical, revolutionary change of the society. And to achieve this, the most important thing is that the working class has to be organised independently, has to build their own party whose control will be in the hands of advanced workers. . . . By detaching advanced workers, on the one hand, from the revisionist-reformist politics of solving problems through change of government and, on the other hand, from ultra-left politics of changing society through the activities of a few armed cadres, we are working to organise the toiling masses on the basis of class consciousness.” SSC is a small organisation, yet it leads the union of a big MNC, Hindustan Lever, and (along with some smaller factories) Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers Ltd.’s union is also led by SSC. So, SSC and KC (and their political history) are not unknown organisations to police, administration or ruling parties. Still, their activist is arrested with the allegation of being “Maoist” and his bail petition rejected in the lower courts. As Ashok Mitra warned the leadership of the CPI(M) in Anandabazar Patrika on November 14, 2007, “you shiver at the terror of Maoism, will that shivering compel you to throw West Bengal into the gutter of fascism?” The attack on Mithu Ghosh is a step into that gutter.

* In June 2007 the Karnataka Police released a list (originally meant for intelligence agencies) of 19 suspected Naxals, nine organisations and 33 suspected Naxal supporters. Activists were particularly alarmed with the listing of Kadidal Shamanna, a farmers’ leader from the Malnad region, Rajendra Chenni, a lecturer from Kuvempu University, KL Ashok, secretary of Komu Souharda Vedike (a forum for communal harmony) and Kalkuli Vittal Hegde who leads the agitation against the creation of the Kudremukh National Park that will displace thousands of tribals. Shamanna was placed in the list for a speech he made against the government at a farmers’ rally.

The list can be expanded but we think our point has been made. As we write we are aware of the outrageous Sangh Parivar attack on the CPI(M) central committee at its Delhi headquarters. The moral is clear, and we hope it is not too late to be learned. The attacks on democratic rights and police state tactics endorsed today by the CPI(M) against “Maoists” will tomorrow be put more broadly to use by the fascists. As the martyred US revolutionary Malcolm X said of the fate of John F. Kennedy, responsible for the many murders that followed on his administration’s imperialist aggression against Cuba and Viet Nam, “chickens come home to roost.”

1 Quoted from GOI, Intelligence Bureau, Terrorism in India 1917-1936, in Suniti Kumar Ghosh, India and the Raj 1919-1947, Sahitya Samsad, 2007, p.94