Free Dr. Binayak Sen, Immediately!
by Analytical Monthly Review
Analytical Monthly Review, published in Kharagpur, West Bengal, India, is a sister edition of Monthly Review. Its June 2007 issue features the following editorial. -- Ed.
Some of the respected friends of Analytical Monthly Review have recently argued to us on the basis of various election results that the threat of Hindutva fascism has abated, if not disappeared. We are not persuaded. Rather, it seems to us on the basis of events in Chhattisgarh that a more dangerous and virulent form of fascism, marked by an alliance of the Hindutva fascists with domestic and international capital, union-level Congress officials, security commanders, and the judiciary, is emerging right in the heartland of India.
The renowned public-spirited paediatrician Dr. Binayak Sen is General Secretary, People's Union for Civil Liberties ("PUCL"), Chhattisgarh and the Vice-President, National PUCL. He was arrested May 14th, 2007, under the provisions of the Black Laws (The Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act [CSPSA], 2005, and the Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act, 1967 as amended in 2004). The CSPSA, a creation of the Manmohan Singh regime, provides for arbitrary detention backed by an "ouster of jurisdiction" clause providing that action under the "Act by any officer authorized by the government for this purpose or by the District Magistrate shall not be questioned before any court." The charges are farcical: meetings with Narayan Sanyal, an imprisoned leader of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) that took place in jail and in the presence of a jailer. For those who argue that preservation of the safeguards of civil liberties justify the alliance of secular forces represented by the "common minimum programme," the arrest should be a crucial test. The issue raised cannot be more serious: is the defense of civil liberties itself now to be made criminal? This outrage is no aberration that, if ignored, shall resolve itself. The Chhattisgarh context is a microcosm of today's India.
Tribal lands are the most sought after resources now. They are forested, rich with mineral resources (80 per cent of India's minerals and 70 per cent of forests are within tribal areas) and also the site of significant plans for industrial growth. The tribal districts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Karnataka, and Maharashtra are the destination of us $85 billion of promised investments, mostly in steel and iron plants, and mining projects. This investment will require huge amount of lands, crucial for the survival of tribal people. All these states have movements demanding the rights of tribal peoples to forest produce and against land acquisition. The state governments say these protests are Naxal-inspired. Local people say, however, that they are trying to protect their land, forests, and livelihood. Indeed there is a strong Naxal presence in these states and in Chhattisgarh; its strength today is the result of the adivasi struggle to protect their rights, not its cause.
Within a few years of its inception in the year 2000, the state of Chhattisgarh entered into 53 memoranda of understanding with international and Indian companies. According to official report, 9,620 hectares (23,774 acres) of land is already under the process of acquisition. There is demand for more and more land and forest areas.
All the large cement producers have a significant presence in the state, including AV Birla Group (Grasim Industries, Ultratech Cemco), Gujarat Ambuja Cement, ACC and Lafarge. Metals and mining operations in the state include Essar Steel, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, South Eastern Coalfields Ltd, and others. Plans for new or expanded steel and aluminium plants in Chhattisgarh that would require land acquisition have been announced by SAIL, Jindal Steel, Monnet Ispat Ltd, Visa Industries Ltd, Bhushan Ltd, Sanvijay Rolling & Engineering Ltd, BALCO, a part of the Vedanta Resources Group, Bajrang Power and Steel Industries Limited, SKS Steel Limited, Raipur Alloys & Steel Limited, and Ind Synergy Limited.
Subsidiaries of the giant global U.S. AES Corporation are setting up a coal-based power plant in Chhattisgarh and will undertake coal mining for captive consumption. AES has been condemned for environmentally abusive projects from Uganda (the planned destruction of the Bujagali Falls) to Panama (rainforest destruction). In Argentina, AES claims that under international law a "sweetheart" deal it had with a prior (and now universally acknowledged to be corrupt) government cancels the nation's laws.
It has been reported that six companies seek the state's diamond resources, led by the international giants De Beers and Rio Tinto. Many of these plans would require strip mining.
Real estate speculators are of course at the heart of this opportunity for plunder. PACL India, a company developing and building townships and housing units, has planned to purchase up to 5,000 acres in various districts of Chhattisgarh during the current financial year for different projects. A proposed new capital city would see in its initial phase of construction an IT Park, a golf course, and a five-star hotel. IL&FS Infrastructure Development Corporation is partner and advisor for the project.
The entire process is the very opposite of planned rational industrialisation: it is a mad rush to seize what can be seized. And all these "plans for development" are to be implemented in a state where 32% of the state's population is tribal, classified as indigenous people. Dantewada has the highest concentration of ST in Chhattisgarh with ST accounting for 79% of the district population, followed by districts of Bastar (67%), Jashpur (65%), Surguja (57%), Kanker (56%), and Mahasamund (28%). The proportion of families below the poverty line in Dantewada is 79%, matching the percentage of tribal families.
But there has been vigorous resistance to the theft of land for strip mines, five star hotels, and golf courses, in short to the "India Shining" world of the top ten percent spitting on the misery of the majority. The response of the state and of the union government to this resistance has been brutality of obscene proportions. The centerpiece of the governmental response has been the creation of a U.S.-model "counter-insurgency" vigilante group with adivasi participation, known as Salwa Judum. Created in June 2005 in the impoverished Dantewada District by the security services with the participation of both Congress and BJP politicians, it was presented to a non-critical media as a spontaneous reaction to supposed Maoist oppression. But quickly reports began to seep out of the forcible emptying out of villages, and of atrocities committed by members of the Salwa Judum and security forces.
A fourteen-member team from five organizations conducted an investigation between 28 November and 1 December 2005 in Bijapur and Bhairamgarh blocks of Dantewada district, focusing specifically on the violation of human rights and the impact on people's everyday lives. The organisations were: People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Chhattisgarh, People's Union For Civil Liberties (PUCL) Jharkhand, People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) Delhi, Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) West Bengal, and Indian Association of People's Lawyers (IAPL). On the basis of the fact-finding, three facts stood out strongly: First, it is clear that the Salwa Judum is not a spontaneous people's movement, but a state-organized anti-insurgency campaign. Second, it is misleading to describe the situation as simply one where ordinary villagers are caught between the Maoists and the military. The Maoists have widespread support, and as long as people continued to live in the villages, it was difficult for the government to isolate the Maoists, and the government has resorted to clearing villages on a large scale. Tens of thousands of people are now refugees in temporary roadside camps. Third, the entire operation, instead of being a "peace mission" as the name "Salwa Judum" claims, has escalated violence on all sides. But only violence attributed to Maoists is publicised, and the Salwa Judum and paramilitary operate with complete impunity.
The People's Union for Civil Liberties - Chhattisgarh has demanded enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in all extra-judicial killings in Chhattisgarh since 2005. Fake encounters in the past two years have claimed the lives of at a minimum 155 people. In a single fake encounter case at Santoshpur in Bijapur on 31st March, 2007, the State Police killed not less than 12 innocent citizens.
The pattern that has developed has many of the indicia of fascism: a state-organised private militia murdering opponents; apparent complicity in a reign of terror by both state and union security forces; what appears to be impunity granted by the judiciary; the active complicity of large capital; and now the brazen arrest of a nationally known and respected advocate of peace and civil liberties who dared to expose and to protest, Dr. Binayak Sen. As civil war engulfs Chhattisgarh, well-intentioned and left-wing elders will urge young militants to give yet another chance to legal and electoral paths. The question such elders will have to answer is "what did you do when Dr. Binayak Sen was arrested?"