Bullet can’t be tackled with bullet: Sandeep Pandey (Interview)

Thaindian News, June 27th, 2008

By Sujeet Kumar

Raipur, June 27 (IANS) Slamming the government-backed Salwa Judum civil militia movement against Maoists in Chhattisgarh, social activist and Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey says “the bullet can never be tackled with the bullet”. “Violence is not the reply to violence. The Maoist problem was a product of the decades-old government neglect of the basic needs of forested people. The only way to overcome the insurgency is to ensure all-round development in trouble-torn areas,” Pandey told IANS in an interview here.

Pandey, who lives in Lucknow, observed a 10-day fast here along with three other social activists from June 16 against the detention of Binayak Sen, a physician-cum-rights activist since last year.

Pandey, known for his work in the education sector, said: “India’s Maoist movement is a product of poverty, backwardness and neglect of the forested masses by the government. Any socio-economic-political problem should be handled with care and development, this is the best way to get over the problem.

“But surprisingly, the Chhattisgarh government created the Salwa Judum in June 2005 which is largely handled by armed anti-social elements.”

Pandey said: “The government has to address people’s core issues by reaching the benefit of the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS), the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and a host of development schemes, freed from corruption, to their (Maoist affected people’s) land and ensuring that tribals have the right over the natural resources that belong to them traditionally.”

“Under no circumstances should they be moved from their original villages into any kind of camps. Meeting their basic needs in camps but denying them self-dignity will also not solve the problem.”

The Salwa Judum has uprooted about 50,000 people in Bastar’s Dantewada and Bijapur districts, mostly poor tribals, who are living in 23 government-run relief camps under severe hardship.

About Binayak Sen’s detention, Pandey said: “He (Sen) has been victimised because he questioned the Salwa Judum and the false encounters of innocent tribals.”

Sen has been held by Chhattisgarh police since May 14, 2007, in a Bilaspur jail for his alleged Maoist links under the stringent Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005.

When told that Sen’s bail application had been rejected by a lower court, the Chhattisgarh High Court and also the Supreme Court, Pandey said: “Police have no proof against Sen; they have falsely implicated him.

“It was not too far back when we saw how Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani was falsely implicated in the parliament attack case, even given the death sentence by a POTA special court. But ultimately he was acquitted by the high court and the Supreme Court because of lack of evidence.”

Pandey questioned the Chhattisgarh government’s move of recruiting poor local tribal youths as special police officers (SPOs) to team up with the police force to dismantle Maoist terror infrastructure in the vast mineral rich Bastar region in the state’s south.

The government has so far appointed about 4,500 SPOs on a monthly honorary amount of Rs.1,500 in Bastar, the nerve centre of Maoist terrorism in India. As a result, the SPOs have been prime targets of the insurgents in recent years.

“Development schemes are still not reaching the common people of Bastar and the government machinery is mainly responsible,” Pandey said.

“Violence is not natural to human beings. People resort to violence and guns only in extreme circumstances and the Maoist movement too is by and large the same. Once the development problems of people are addressed in a sustainable way, such that people feel empowered, the violence will subside naturally.”

(Sujeet Kumar can be contacted at sujeet.k@ians.in)