I have appeared in public life through my human rights works, writings and public speeches. However, I reached a larger audience when I got a chance to appear in the CNN-IBN and the NDTV 24x7 debates on the issue of Naxalism in October, 2009. After these debates, I got immense positive and negative responses from across the country.
I was upset for some time, precisely because most of the negative responses I got were from those young people who are unknowingly running behind market forces. They ruthlessly asked me whether I get money from Pakistan, Nepal or China for speaking against the Indian State. I responded to a few of them with a detailed explanation but many believe P Chidambaram’s theory of “democracy”, ie, “either this side or that side”, that there is no middle. Therefore they were not ready to accept my rational arguments.
Meanwhile, I continued my work of raising genuine issues of the marginalised people of India. Amidst this, in March 2010 the so-called Operation Green Hunt (OGH) was also launched in the state of Jharkhand in the name of cleansing the Maoists. I passionately attempted to bring out the truth of the OGH, the intention of the state behind the OGH, and the sufferings of the villagers caused by the OGH. Consequently, the law enforcement agencies started labelling me as the work force of the Maoists.
When I intervened on the issue of rampant human rights violation in Saranda Forest by the security forces, the Deputy Inspector General of Police (Kolhan) Naveen Kumar said that the Jharkhand Human Rights Movement (JHRM) is an outfit of the Communist Party of India (CPI)-Maoist, with intentions of derailing the anti-Naxal operations and is, therefore, crying foul.
Since I’m also the General Secretary of the JHRM, the Jharkhand police traced my mobile records and other documents to prove my link with the CPI-Maoist, but at the end of the day, they got nothing because I have nothing to do with the Naxals.
Similarly, on 5 July, 2011 when I participated in a mass rally against police atrocities held at Khunti of Jharkhand, the officer-in-charge of Khunti Police Station, PK Mishra, had questioned me, “Why don’t you organise a rally against the Maoists when they kill our police forces?”. He had even threatened me if I didn’t shut my mouth up on issues of police atrocities.
The worst thing is, I made a complaint to the Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police of Khunti about the incident and asked them for action against the police officer, but nothing was done against him. However, I didn’t shut my mouth in demanding justice for the victims of police atrocities, but I’m under attack from all corners. I’m always on the radar of the Intelligence Bureau. Why? Am I a Maoist? Or am I a threat to the national security?
Meanwhile, I had two rounds of discussions with Jairam Ramesh, the Union Minister of the Rural Development on the issues of the Saranda Action Plan. I was surprised to know his reactions. He questioned me, “You have been raising issues of human rights violation committed by the security forces but what about the Maoists?” He also told me that the Central Reserve Police Force officers are quite unhappy with me as I have been filing cases against them. However, when I informed him about the Jharkhand Human Rights Report, which would also highlight the human rights violation committed by the Naxals in Jharkhand, he was quite happy and had expressed his willingness to release the Report. What a surprise!
On 25 July, 2012 there was a call for a “Jharkhand Bandh” in support of the people’s movement against the forceful and illegal land acquisition by the State Government at Nagri village near Ranchi for the construction of three education institutions – the Indian Institute of Management, the Indian Institute of Information Technology and the Law University. The villagers had been protesting against it for several months. They had a sit in protest for 150 days, where three women died due to a sun stroke but the government didn’t hear their plea. While they approached the Supreme Court and the Jharkhand High Court, the Courts refused to hear them. Finally, the villagers took to the streets to save their lands. Several organisations and political parties also supported them.
On the evening of 24 July, 2012, several organisations had organised a Masal Julus and informed the people about the bandh (total shut down). Accordingly, the bandh started at 8 o’ clock on July 25 and its supporters started their peaceful protest. I also participated and had requested the police not to arrest us. While we were peacefully carrying on our protests in Ranchi asking for people to support us, the police started arresting us, and beating us with lathis.
The police slapped, hit and kicked me personally. I was severely injured in my right leg, left leg and right ear.
The police also filed a false case against me at Lower Bazar Police Station (Ranchi) under sections 147, 148, 149, 341, 323, 427 and 188 of the Indian Penal Code.
Though I have been actively participating in the people’s movement against displacement, my core work of human rights put me in the line of the crossfire, since I have been attempting to expose rampant human rights violations committed by the security forces in the name of cleansing the Maoists. As a result, the so-called educated people intensified their personal attacks against me.
There are also some e-groups where they attempted to label me a Maoist sympathiser and supporter. Some of them even said that I’m an overground Maoist. Finally, they have portrayed me as a Maoist ideologue. I just laugh, laugh and laugh.
How can a person suddenly become a Maoist ideologue without having made an in-depth study of Maoism? Honestly, I have never read about Maoism, except hearing about it from people in different conferences.
I deliberately do not take any interest in other ideologies because I know that Maoists teach the Adivasis about Maoism, Gandhians preach to them about Gandhism and Marxists ask them to walk the Marxist path, but no one bothers about Adivasism, which is the best “ism” among these, which perhaps leads to a just and equitable society.
Adivasism teaches us to live with nature and be in peace with prosperity. Adivasism preaches for a need-based approach to development by putting aside the greed-based approach to development, which is the model of so-called civilised and cultured society. Therefore, I have been raising the questions about how the Indian state has deliberately destroyed Adivasism.
The Adivasi religion was not recognised by the Indian Constitution, traditional self-governance was neglected, culture was destroyed, land was grabbed, and our resources were snatched in the guise of development.
But what do we get out of it? Should we still keep quiet? Are we not the citizens of this country who need to be treated equally? Do they care about our sufferings?
I’m one of those unfortunate persons who has lost everything for the so-called development of the nation, and am struggling for survival even today. When I was just one year old, my family was displaced. Our 20 acres of fertile land was taken away from us in the name of development. Our ancestral land was submerged by a dam which came up at Chinda River near Simdega town in 1980.
We lost our house, agricultural land and garden but we were paid merely Rs 11,000 as compensation. When all the villagers protested they were sent to Hazaribagh Jail. Can a family of six members ensure food, clothing, shelter, education and health facilities for their entire life with Rs 11,000?
After the displacement, we had no choice but to proceed towards the dense forest for ensuring our livelihood. We settled down in the forest after buying a small patch of land. We used to collect flowers, fruits and firewood to sustain our family. We also had sufficient livestock, which supported our economy.
Needless to say, the State suppression continued with us. When we were living in the forest, my father was booked under many cases filed by the forest department (the biggest landlord of the country) accusing him of being an encroacher and woodcutter. There was no school building in our village. Therefore we used to study under the trees, and when there were rains our school was closed. But my father taught us to always fight for justice. Though he was struggling to sustain our family, he never stopped his fight for the community.
Unfortunately, on 20 June 1990, my parents were brutally murdered while they were going to Simdega Civil Court to attend a case, and four kids were orphaned. Can anyone imagine how we suffered afterwards?
The worst thing is the culprits were not brought to justice. Can anyone tell us that why the Indian State, which snatched our resource in the guise of development, did not deliver justice to us? Why is there no electricity in my village even today? Why do my people not get water for their fields when their lands were taken away for the irrigation projects? Why is there no electricity in those houses, who have given their land for the power project? And why are people still living in small mud houses whose lands were taken for the steel plants? It seems that the Adivasis are only born to suffer and others, to enjoy life over our graves.
After a long struggle, we all got on with life, but my pain and sufferings did not end here. When I was working as a State Programme Officer in a project funded by the European Commission, a senior Indian Administrative Service Officer and an editor of a Hindi Newspaper (both from the upper caste) questioned my credentials, asking how, being an Adivasi, I got such a prestigious position.
Similarly, when my friend had taken me to meet a newlywed couple from the upper caste in Ranchi, I was not allowed to meet them. Being an Adivasi, if I meet the couple, it might become inauspicious for them and their whole life would be at stake. Was I a devil for them?
When I joined another firm, I was totally undermined and not given the position which I highly deserved.
I was racially discriminated against, economically exploited and mentally harassed. Can anyone tell me why I should not fight for justice – why I should shut my mouth and stop writing against injustice, inequality and discrimination? Can those so-called supporters of the unjust development process, who have not given even one inch of land for the so-called national interest, brand me a Maoist ideologue, sympathiser and supporter?
I have lost everything in the name of development and now I have nothing to lose. Therefore I’m determined to fight for my own people because I do not want them to be trapped in the name of development. I have taken the democratic path of struggle, which the Indian Constitution guarantees through Article 19. A pen, my mouth, and my mind are my weapons. I’m neither a Maoist nor a Gandhian, but an Adivasi who is determined to fight for his own people, whom the Indian State has alienated, displaced and dispossessed of its resources, and continues to do it under the pretext of development, national security and national interest even today.
Of course, there is no doubt about the State being the biggest violator of human rights. Consequently, state-sponsored human rights violation has been rapidly growing across the country. However, can we put aside the human rights violations committed by non-state actors and society?
There are three major violators of the human rights, ie, the state, non-state actors (Maoists, other Naxal and criminal groups), and society as a whole. However, the state is constitutionally responsible for the protection of human rights, and in fact the small forces emerge only when – and where – the State fails to deliver justice.
Finally, I would always keep clarifying that I stand neither with the State nor with the Maoists in the journey of human rights violation in India. I walk with the most marginalised people, whose human rights are being violated every day by either side.
Excerpted with permission from Whose Country Is It Anyway? Untold Stories of the Indigenous Peoples of India, Gladson Dungdung, Adivaani.
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