In Saranda Forest, Adivasis Are Caught In A Cross-Fire

In the recent months, another round of unending relentless Maoist Forces versus Government Forces battle has shifted its violent whirlwind deep into the Saranda Jungle, in the West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand. Saranda literary means 700 hills and it is one of the biggest Sal-tree forests in the world, spread over 800 square kilometres. Being the home of rare flora and fauna species, it boasts of inviting natural beauty that hides beneath its surface, the precious mineral wealth.

Saranda Jungle in Singhbhum
Saranda Jungle in Singhbhum

What happened in Saranda Jungle?

In August 2011, the Human Rights activists reported about the killing of two innocent Adivasi (Tribal / Aboriginal) villagers, namely, Mangal Honhanga and Somu Guria, both farmers of Baliba village. On 30th June, the Government Security personnel shot and killed Mangal; he has left his 4 months old son Dula Honhanga, young wife Mangri Honhanga. Similarly, on 20th August, the villagers found the bullet-ridden body of another deceased villager Soma Guria, in the near-by Jungle. It is alleged that both of them were murdered in the cold-blooded way by the Government Forces during the course of their “Operation-Dominance” and / or “Operation-Anaconda” in the Saranda Jungle.

Who gives such kind of unimaginative names to Government backed police operation is one of the questions which have always confounded us. Anyway, the soldiers of Government Forces were drawn from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), COBRA Battalion, District Police and Jharkhand Armed Police (JAP) to take the might of Maoist Forces.

Among the local Adivasis, these ongoing armed-conflicts between the Maoists Forces and the Government Forces are called “India’s Invisible-War”. The rationale behind this candid name is rather simple. Usually nobody of consequence takes note of the ongoing blood-spilling war being fought in these least developed parts of India inhabited by Adivasis; not even by the most powerful people who rule our democratic country or even those influential people who mould the public opinion. Most of them, rarely acknowledge the harsh reality of ongoing conflicts in some distant Adivasi-land. Maybe they could remain indifferent to the blazing-fire of on-going warfare, as armed Maoists Forces are still some distance away from the safe homes and offices. It is not really their headache. So most them, our rulers (including majority of Adivasi Politicians elected from these areas) and commoners alike, simply read or hear the headline grabbing news or reports about these killings and they move on to other important issues in their lives.

Consequently, located far-far away from the government’s and media’s glare; in the Adivasi-regions, like Saranda; the “Invisible-War” continues unabated.

But, what is this ‘invisible-war’ and who are its important constituents?

In this war, two distinct ideologies are slugging it out in Adivasis’ lands. The first party is the democratically elected Government, the leaders of which rules our country; whilst the second party is Left-leaning Maoists, the strivers who want to rule our country and willing to wage violent-war against the state to gain power at all cost.

The Maoists’ basic doctrine means waging an armed struggle against the exploitative classes and their state structures. The Maoist Forces usually consist of landless labourers, poor peasants and other deprived sections of our society (In India, people from lower-class invariably mirrors the people from lower-castes). These Maoist Forces regularly indulge in guerrilla war-fare against the State Forces, as they chase their cherished goal to surround the cities from the countryside and finally take over the reins of political power of the country with their might of the guns.

Both the opposing parties are guilty of using their heavily armed forces, as they are locked in an abhorrent power-struggle, not only to control geographical territories but also the minds of the people, more so of those populace who belong to the deprived sections of the society.

Adivasis form the third important constituents in this ongoing conflict. According to the prominent writers and social activists, since India’s independence, Adivasi community has lost most; in terms of their ancestral lands, languages, culture, religion, et al. They call it “new improved form of imperialism” (political, social, cultural, military, etc. types); although this despicable process started during British Colonial era, and after India’s independence, this process gained momentum. Perhaps the discovery of invaluable minerals reserves in Jharkhand has something to do with it.

Is this invisible-war, good for Adivasis?

Though, the Maoists want everyone to believe that they are fighting a war to safeguard the interests of the Adivasis. But it is only half-truth.

The lucre of minerals attracted many, including the Maoists from the neighbouring Bihar and Bengal states.

The point to be noted here is that Maoism in Jharkhand is not a home-grown phenomenon and certainly not the natural armed struggle initiated by the local Adivasis of Jharkhand. The poor-governanace and all-pervading corruption by the State Government at local village / semi-urban areas allowed Maoists Leaders to win over or coerce the support of many of these ignored and victimized sections (by the Dikku)  of Adivasi society.

The fact is that Maoists in Northern India trace their origin from the caste-ridden socio-economic-political scenario of Bihar in pre 2000 era. In its earlier avatar, Maoist was known as Naxals and that originated in Bengal. In pre- 2000 era, many of these non-Jharkhandi Maoist Leaders were allowed unthinkable freedom to set up their ideology and military bases in Jharkhand, by the rulers of undivided Bihar. At that time, in pre-2000 era, Jharkhand state was yet to be born.

Yet, the truth is that in the Maoist invasion era (pre-2000 era) Adivasis living in rural areas of Jharkhand were happier lot; most of them had their agricultural lands to give them food-grains. Although in the name of development, their lands were not being taken away by the greedy industrialists and business-persons, still things were in control. Large scale migration from the neighbouring state was yet to take place. Those who did not have much land, they were doing manual labour jobs, Adivasis being tough and hard-working people; they did not mind the rigour of such jobs. At least during days, they were not required to constantly look over their shoulders to count the number of guns aimed at them; these guns belong to either the Government Forces or the Maoists Forces. The bullets from the guns of both the warring-group have so far claimed many innocent victims. This cannot go on forever. Now Jharkhand, its Adivasis and rest of Jharkhandis want peace to return.

Nevertheless, since 2000, the biggest failure of the Political Leadership of Jharkhand has been their utter incompetence to seize the initiative and control the Maoist growth. Maoists grew rapidly in the last decade, because of poor-governance, plus large-scale corruption in the government and private sectors of the state. In such a scenario, the successive Jharkhand government conceded their ground in vast areas of rural hinterland and then almost handed over these territories to the Maoists. The formation of new state did not bring out the desired results in Jharkhand. The political instability and bad-governance by the successive governments stalled the desired economic progress of Jharkhand and this resulted in the formation of proverbial “Vicious-cycle-of-poverty-and-deprivation”. This further led to the growing disenchantment among many rural denizens of Jharkhand, who joined Maoists in greater number. Off-course, lack of education among rural population, absence of employment opportunities and not to forget the threat of Maoists’ bullets also played important role.

And where does Adivasis figure in this ongoing armed struggle?

Well, the Maoists’ impact on Adivasis has two entirely distinct sides to it; they are akin to two sides of a same coin.

On an upside, Adivasis cannot ever deny the most significant contribution of Maoists; they single-handedly raised the awareness about the ongoing exploitations of Adivasis, even in the post-independent India. Maoists came from neighbouring states yet they did achieve, what most Adivasi Leaders have failed to do for last so many decades. The Maoists espoused the Adivasis’ cause, made many of them aware of their constitutional rights and battled the injustice being meted out to Adivasis, in the name of lop-sided development unleashed in their land.

Tragically, that was a glorious past of Maoism in Jharkhand.

Now on a flip side, Maoists cadres have been plagued by the same proverbial blood-sucking, corrupt and greedy viruses that afflict the Government Behemoth and presently rule the roost. With the result, many innocent Adivasis are being tortured, punished, maimed and killed in the name of armed revolution being carried out in the names of Adivasis, in their own land. Unfortunately for Adivasis, they are mere foot-soldiers, a cannon-fodder in this grand scheme of things to be used and abused per their convenience, perhaps as visualized by the top-rung of the Maoists. One could also add their stringent and intransigent stance on anti-development policy in the Adivasis’ areas.

In August, Wikileaks reported that a leading Indian Business House regularly pays money (kind of protection money) to Maoist leaders to safeguard their business interest in the so-called Red-corridor (a stretch of land that extends from Bihar in North India to Karnataka in South India and dominated by Maoists). It has been widely reported that the Maoist cadre regularly blow-up infrastructural facilities in the Adivasis region.

If one has to calculate dispassionately, how many Adivasis have been killed by Maoists Forces or by Government Forces say in last decade or so of the ongoing conflict, then the numbers of Adivasis killed by both the warring groups would be on a very high side, with both the Forces competing neck-to-neck.

Besides, one could not overlook the recent massacre of members of the Adivasis families by the Maoists Forces in Gumla, Latehar and other Districts of Jharkhand.

Game for Political Power

In this political game of one-upmanship, Adivasis are again being cheated, with both parties claiming to be their saviour. They are caught in this political cross-fire that may not end soon and ultimately wipe significant number of Adivasis from their own land.

Interestingly, top leaders of the Indian Government lack the Adivasis’ representative (s) and same holds for the top echelon of Maoists, where Adivasis remain mere foot-soldiers. Tragically, the fate of Adivasi is being decided by non-Adivasi; one in which they have no-say.

Now let us go back to the Saranda Jungle and analyze the present scenario that is unfolding itself far removed from our national consciousness.

Saranda Jungle
Saranda Jungle

In the local Jharkhand media, it was also reported and thank god and media for that, about the large-scale migration of Adivasi families (of Tholkobad and manyother Villages) living in Saranda Jungles; as they could not bear the alleged atrocities by the Government Forces besides they also feared the probable unleashing of violent reprisal by the Maoist Forces.

The Human Rights activists claimed that even the inquiry report of senior police officer Reji Dungdung (I.G., Ranchi Zone) had substantiated their charges of killing of innocent villagers by the personnel belonging to Government Forces. Hitting back, the Jharkhand Police Officials accused Human Rights activists of being hand-in-glove with Maoists, as they selectively rake up Human-Rights issues involving the Government Forces only. According to the police, Human Rights activists maintains stony silent when it comes to Human-Rights abuse of innocent Adivasis in the hands of Maoists Forces.

No doubt, Human Rights activists again did praise-worthy job in exposing the Human-Rights abuses by Government Forces; however we too find the selective amnesia of human-rights activists on human-rights abuse cases by Maoists, confounding. Also the deafening silence of so-called elected representatives of the Saranda Forest region, viz., Member of Parliament (M.Ps.), Member of Jharkhand Legislative Assembly (M.L.A.), and others, is intriguing, to say the least.

Not withstanding the deafening silence of M.P.s, M.L.A.s, other so-called leaders etc, the free and fair investigation must be carried out to look into the alleged deaths of Mangal and Soma in the hands of Government Forces. If the allegations are found to be true, then the guilty must be punished and the family of deceased victims must be compensated at the earliest. This should take place in strict accordance within the framework of our Indian Constitution.

The families of victims must be dealt in human and compassionate way. The guilty must be punished.  We think that the rule of law must prevail. Are these demands too much to ask for in our democratic country? No we do not think so.

Meanwhile, when the Chief Minister Arjun Munda was asked to comment on the ongoing conflict in Saranda and allegation of human-rights violation, he replied that he had asked the Union home ministry to inform the state government of the ground status in and around the Saranda jungles. It was merely a case of smart bit of his usual lip-service.

It is pity that democratically elected Adivasi leaders like him have failed miserably on regular basis to do anything concrete for the welfare of the less fortunate members of their Adivasi community, as a result many of these innocent villagers are forced by the such circumstances to seek refuge in the arms of Maoists. So far, the Jharkhand Government Authority has done precious little to compensate the victims’ (Mangal and Soma) families.

Jharkhandi Political Leaders, they only talk big and do awfully little.

Now, who should Adivasis trust that is the big question that confronts them?

They have lost faith in both the warring-parties.

Both have betrayed them time and again. In this no-hold barred bloodied struggle, the Adivasis’ cause and Adivasis’ interests are being grossly distorted and trampled by both the parties. With Adivasis caught in the cross-fire, the human rights of Adivasis are being trampled upon by the gun-toting soldiers belonging to the warring-parties.

One can’t deny, Maoists are misguided Indians, who sincerely believe that they have been wronged by our socio-economic-political system. Their grievances need to listen to and if possible these must be addressed, sooner than later. The Government would do well to bring them to the table, where both parties could take part in sincere dialogue with them to resolve the issue. Sooner it happens, better it will be for all of us.

We believe the constructive-talks to resolve the Maoist is the only way forward. We can not afford to keep this Maoist fire burning in coming years. Or else, Maoists fire would travel beyond the mineral rich Adivasis’ lands and like Adivasis, many more Communities would get caught-up in this cross-fire. Unless Government takes honest and truthful steps to resolve this complex and thorny issue, the story of “Invisible-War” would not end with Mangal, it may end with Amangal (inauspicious) for many.

Sameer Bhagat
Join me

Sameer Bhagat

Author, Salvaging Adidweep.
Sameer Bhagat
Join me
Sameer Bhagat

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Author, Salvaging Adidweep.

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