Friday, April 16, 2010

The Maoist Rebellion

Last week the Indian police organized an insurgency into the tribal forests of India. An ambush by the Maoists left 76 dead. Operation Green Hunt is underway to annihilate these Maoists. In fact, for the last two years the Indian government has claimed that they are the biggest threat to India’s security, conveniently forgetting its own actions in compelling this violence. The tribal people of India, whom the Maoists represent, have been robbed of the legal right to their lands. The government has repeatedly displaced their kind without compensating them for the loss of their homes or livelihood in the pretext of economic development. Unruly security forces repeatedly burned their homes, raped their women, and starved their children. If the violence is to stop, the tribal people of India must be properly compensated for the loss of their homes, those who have committed crimes against them must also be held accountable, and the government must introduce transparency into the process of allocating public land to private firms.

Market reforms of the last twenty years have allowed consumers and firms access to markets that were hitherto denied to them (by a government of the same political party). Firms could tap capital from foreign markets and consumers could buy cheap Chinese goods, but this applied only to certain strata of the Indian society—those who were middle-income and above. The dissolute tribal people were not privy to this party: their primary asset had been usurped by the state and their livelihoods were constantly under attack by politicians who wanted to transfer their land to giant mining companies. While there is nothing wrong with big corporations or mining, it is unjust and immoral when the poorest of the poor are deprived of their primary asset to save the well-connected the trouble of paying market value for this land. These ideologically bankrupt reforms that robbed the poor are at the heart of the Maoists’ legitimate grievance against the Indian state.

Anecdotes of the crimes committed by the police—raping tribal women and burning their villages are made credible by statistics from the Asian Center of Human Rights. The 170 custodial deaths notwithstanding, 125 out of the 148 cases of torture, and 20 out of the 26 cases of rapes that were filed at the National Human Rights Commission were committed by security forces. Compare that with 11 cases of abuse (read: a police officer was beaten up and allowed to return to the city) by all the armed opposition groups. When journalists like Arundhati Roy return from Maoists camps bringing stories of atrocities committed by the police, I am inclined to believe that these have substantial merit. The rapists and arsonists amongst the police must also be brought to justice, and the role of their superior officers in instigating this violence must be examined by an independent commission.

At the root of all these displacements are secret agreements signed between the government and private companies. These agreements must be made public to ensure that ministers aren’t simply handing over the property of the Indian people to their friends and business partners without ensuring a good bargain for the Indian people and safeguards for the Indian ecology. Additionally, future agreements must be open, transparent, and involve actual stakeholders. Currently, companies hire a handful of villagers to be present at their farcical public deliberations and then claim that they received the input of those they will displace. In the future, the proceeds from these land deals must directly benefit the people they have displaced, not Indian ministers who have a well documented addiction to corruption.

India refuses to acknowledge the grievances of the tribal people at its our own peril. Until these are addressed, and those guilty of bringing violence to tribal homes are brought to justice, such insurgencies will not end. The Indian polity can quack all it wants.

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