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terça-feira, outubro 26, 2010

THE MAOIST PROBLEM


India has been facing tough challenges from the left extremist Communist Party of India (Maoist); the battle with the Maoist has raged since 1967 when the first Maoist rebellion erupted. It intensified heavily over the last five years following the formation of the CPI (Maoist), in 2004, through the merger of two prominent naxalite groups, the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). The rising Maoist influence is palpable across country that according to the Home Ministry’s own figures, overall Maoist influence has spread from 56 districts in 2001 to 223 in 2009 of the 626 districts in India.

In the State of Jharkhand, the Maoists dominate life – they even influence vital administrative and police functions in as many as 20 of the 24 districts. They have significant presence in other States of India such as Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Orissa.

Maoists have unleashed a wave of attacks in their strongholds to delegitimize the government. According to informal estimates, there are 20,000 armed cadre Maoists, apart from lakhs of supporters. They are so strong and well trained that they carry out from jailbreak to hijacking of trains and from killing of police to disrupting normal life and developmental works.

Why are they perpetrating these crimes?
 
Maoists Cadres
 
There are various causes depending on characteristics of an area; social, economic and cultural background; depth of historical lack of working out solutions to lingering structural problem; and ineffective application of ameliorative steps undertaken since Independence.

Land related Factors

THE origin of the popular slogan “land to the tiller” is in absentee landlordism, where the landlord would take the lion’s share of the produce without contributing anything to the production of the crop. It was in this context that the freedom fighters demanded that the one who tills the land must own it, and the post-independence Government was committed to it. Absentee landlords do exist even today, but today’s land relations are much more complex. So though the aspiration of “land to the tiller” continues to be given, the focus of the Maoist movement is on trying to provide land, whether the land of landlords or government land, to the landless. For this, they have targeted landholders whose holding is sizeable as they see it, or who are otherwise oppressive or cruel in their conduct, or hostile towards the Maoist movement, even if they are not big landlords. Such landholders have in many cases been driven away from the villages and their land sought to be put in the possession of the landless poor. On some occasions, led by armed Maoist cadre, the poor have sought to march on to the land and plant red flags in it, in symbolic occupation of the land. However, in many cases, the police have intervened, filed criminal cases against such landless poor. Where the landholder feels too threatened to come back and take possession of the land, the land remains fallow. This is the situation in parts of Andhra Pradesh and more or less same in all other States of India where Maoists have made strong presence. There is no estimate of the total extent of such land lying fallow in the country, but there is little doubt that it runs into tens of thousands of acres. If the Government can get over these unnecessary qualms, it should be possible to devise legal means appropriate to each instance to ensure that the landless get the land. Some of the land can probably be taken over under land reform laws and distributed to the poor. Some may have to be purchased or acquired from the landholder. But where the landholder has been targeted by the Maoist for political reasons and not because he has unconscionable extent of land, it may be the right thing to hand back the land to the landholder. Equity and law require that all lands of the owners having less than ceiling should be handed back to the owners subject to prevailing laws. Excesses of the Maoist in this regard are not only unjustified but deserve utmost censure.
 
Displacement and Forced Evictions

INTERNAL displacement caused by irrigation/mining/industrial projects, resulting in landlessness and hunger, is a major cause of distress among the poor, especially the adivasis (Schedule Tribes). It is well known that 40 per cent of all the people displaced by dams in the last sixty years are forest-dwelling adivasis. Other forms of distress have added to this unconscionable figure. The law and administration provides no succour to displaced people, and in fact often treats them with hostility since such internally displaced forest-dwellers tend to settle down again in some forest region, which is prohibited by the law. The Maoist movement has come to the aid of such victims of enforced migration in the teeth of the law.
 
Moreover, through this process of forced migration, many tribals have left their villages and even State and migrated into neighbouring States. This involuntary displacement and migration has caused further distress among the tribals and created administrative problem for the host State. In the State of Bihar, through social oppression, many Dalits had to move from their traditional habitat and moved elsewhere. New habitats of such migrant Dalits have become a source of further social tension. It is, therefore, time to think about a comprehensive policy- frame in which such internal displacement of different groups of population, whether tribal or Dalit, does not take place and in case it happens there should be a government policy to take care of such a situation. Through this process of forced migration large mineral areas got vacated where the mining corporate lessees are starting operation. Often the displaced persons look on hopelessly and sometimes they seek support of the Maoist groups. Such situations create space for maoist interventions.
 
Considering the widespread phenomenon of internal displacement in the country, it is time the Government devised a policy to provide minimal security to such displaced populations. Their immediate problem are shelter and livelihood. In the absence of any policy in this regard, they are prey to all manner of exploitation.

Livelihood

THE Minimum Wages Act remains an Act on paper in much of rural India. Agricultural labour is governed by the Act but the minimum wage rates under the Act are not implemented, except where the prosperity of the farmers and the demand for labour makes it unavoidable. In the areas of their activity, it is reported that Maoist have ensured payment of decent wage rates, though they have not usually gone by the statutory minimum wage rates. The rates they have ensured are sometimes higher and sometimes lower than the statutory rate. Their orientation to right is in general not governed by statutory entitlement but what they regard as just and fair, taking all factors that they believe to be relevant into consideration.

There are also large areas of labour not governed by the Minimum Wages Act. This includes categories where there is no discernible employer, which is for this reason included in the category of self-employment. Since the Maoist are in any case not bothered whether or not there is a law governing the right they are espousing, they have intervened and determined fair wage rates in their perception in all labour processes in their areas of influences. This includes wages for washing clothes, making pots, tending cattle, repairing implements, etc. Maoist have secured increases in the rate of payment for the picking of tendu leaf which is used for rolling beedies, in the forest areas of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand. This was a very major source of exploitation of adivasi labour, and while the Government knowingly ignored it, the Maoist put an effective end to it. The exploitation was so severe that the rates have over the years increased up to fifty times what the tendu patta (tobacco leaf) contractors used to pay before the Maoist stepped in. It is ,therefore, necessary for the State to provide for Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all types of minor minerals and forest produce and institutionally efficient procurement systems.

Enjoyment of common property resources as a traditional right by cattle-herds, fishing communities, toddy toppers, stone workers has become vulnerable due to the appropriation of these resources by the dominant sections of society or by the others with their support. The Maoist have tried to ensure the protection of this right wherever they are active. This is an area where there is in general no legislative protection at all of traditional rights, though some States have some policies which tend in that direction. Legislative protection of an umbrella nature should be considered by the

Issues arising out of Non- or Mal-governance

DISSATISFACTION with improper and often mal-governance created anger among the suffering population. The Maoist exploit the situation for their own political gain by giving the affected persons some semblance of relief or response. Thereby they tend to legitimise in the eyes of the masses their own legal or even illegal activities.

In the initial stages, the Maoist movement took advantage of the presence of Forest Department personnel in the adivasi areas, and gave some relief to the adivasis. The uncertain existence of adivasis in the forests has resulted in tremendous power of harassment in the hands of Forest Department personnel. It is permissible to pick edible forest produce but not to undertake cultivation of the same produce in the forests. It is permissible to gather dry twigs and logs of uprooted trees but not to cut standing timber. It is permissible to graze cattle in the forests, but it should be ensured that the cattle do not nibble at the nurseries of the Forest Department. In some States timber can be gathered for house construction but not for any other purpose. Quite apart from the injustice of the restrictions, the dividing line between what can be done and what cannot is often so slight that there is considerable ground for arbitrary action by the enforcer of the restrictions. Wherever there is a basis for discretion on the part of government officials, Forest Department personnel have had to be appeared in different ways to avoid harassment. It was only after the Maoist entered the picture that the adivasis got protection from this harassment, which was well known to the administration but was normally ignored.

On some occasions the Maoists have been able to put pressure upon lower level administrators to perform their job effectively. The pressure exerted by the Maoist movement has had some effect in ensuring proper attendance of teachers, doctors etc. in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, but it is also true that such employees have made the presence of the Maoist an excuse for not attending to their duties properly in the interior areas. In the matter of physical infrastructure like roads, school buildings, etc., the Maoist movement has on certain occasions exerted pressure for its improvement, but in many places they have themselves obstructed the laying of roads for the reason that it would increase police and paramilitary raids.

In the matter of resolution of disputes among the people and finding redressal, the contribution of the Maoist movement has been significant. There is in general no administrative or judicial mechanism in our country for resolution of day-to-day conflicts and disputes. The people have been traditionally taking these disputes to local dispute-resolution mechanisms. In the best case the entire community sits and hears the dispute. This is usually the case in tribal villages. Outside the tribal areas, a dispute within a caste is usually—at any rate among tightly knit communities—decided by the caste panchayat. The caste panchayat itself may function democratically or under the dictates of a group of elders. Disputes between persons of different castes are decided by the two sides getting their respective caste elders (or persons they trust) to sit together. In some places disputes are commonly taken to the dominant person or persons in the village, whether or not justice is done. Sometimes there is a compulsion that all disputes must be brought to the village landlord, where the dispensation of justice is usually in favour of the strong. All told, the need of a quick, fair and effective dispute resolution mechanism remains.

The Maoist movement has provided a mechanism (usually described as a ‘People’s Court’) whereby these disputes are resolved in a rough and ready manner, and generally in the interests of the weaker party. It has the two elements of speed and effectiveness. Justice and fairness are, however, often disputed. In particular, use of force disproportionate to the issue involved is fairly common. Those who are not loyal to the Maoist often do not attend the People’s Court at all. It is attended only by loyalists who agree with the conclusion indicated and the resolution proposed by the Maoist. Many times the consultation with the people is a mere formality. It is the Maoist armed squad that decides the matter. While some sort of justice is attempted to be done in disputes arisng from economic inequalities/exploitation, decisions in other matters, particularly the matrimonial disputes for instance, have quite often been characterised by a certain degree of crudeness, highhandedness and even cruelty.

Nevertheless these People’s Courts, however imperfectly adverse illegally, met some unmet demands of the community. Society must evolve a tradition of resolution of disputes by the local community in the fullness of its knowledge of all the tangible and intangible, the express and the implicit aspects of the problem, and in a manner that inspires faith in its impartiality. Elected Nyaya Panchayats may be an alternative which should be explored with diligence and sincerity.
 
Policing

EFFICIENT and impartial policing is an important requirement of good administration. But the fact is that the weaker sections of the people do not have much trust in the police. They have no trust that justice will be done to them against the powerful. Nor do they trust that the police will take interest in doing their duty where the poor alone are involved, because the poor do not have the wherewithal to make it worthwhile. Often it is as frustrating an experience to go to the police station as a complainant as it is fraught with danger to go as a suspect. Women who go to a police station to complain of sexual abuse or domestic harassment are made painfully aware of this fact. Here lies one of the attractions of the Maoist movement. The movement does provide protection to the weak against the powerful, and takes the security of, and justice for, the weak and the socially marginal seriously. Even-handedness may still be a problem since instances where one party to an offence has influenced the Maoist cadre are not unknown, but at least they have the satisfaction of being taken seriously. The other problem when the Maoist interfere in providing security for one against another in society is that the level of violence they use tends to be on the high side. They tend to resort to severe corporal punishment, including capital punishment.

However, the Maoist movement itself brings further police repression on the poor as a matter of State policy. Any agitation, supported or encouraged by the Maoist, is brutally suppressed without regard to the justice of its demands. In such matters, it becomes more vital in the eyes of the administration to prevent the strengthening or growth of Maoist influence than to answer the just aspiration. Often any individual who speaks out against the powerful is dubbed a Maoist and jailed or otherwise silenced. The search for Maoist cadre leads to severe harassment and torture of its supporters and sympathizers, and the kith and kin of the cadre. What is to be pointed out here is that the method chosen by the Government to deal with the Maoist phenomenon has increased the people’s distrust of the police and consequent unrest. Protest against police harassment is itself a major instance of unrest, frequently leading to further violence by the police, in the areas under Maoist influence. The response of the Maoist, at least the problem, has been to target the police and subject them to violence, which in effect triggers the second round of the spiral.

The rights and entitlements of the people underlying these find expression in the Constitution, the laws enacted by the various Governments and the policy declarations. The administration should not have waited for the Maoist movement to remind it of its obligations towards the people in these matters. But at least now that the reminder has been given, it should begin rectifying its own deficiencies. It should be recognized that such a responsibility would lie upon the Indian State even if the Maoist were not there, and even in regions where the Maoist movement does not exist.
 
Combating Maoists
 
In order to sort out this menace, the government has pressed many battalions of security forces into anti-Maoist operations and there have also been discussions about involving the Army and even the Indian Air Force in the operations.

However, it is to be realized that meaningful dialogue between the Maoists and the Government will be the answer of this long running problem.

Suresh Kum is correspondent in India
 

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