Between 13 to 18 February, India successfully held the first Make In India event in Mumbai. 1000 kilometres to the East of Mumbai, in the state of Chhattisgarh another drama 'made' entirely in India, unfolded around the same time.
Image: (Left) Soni Sori in a hospital in Jagdalpur after the attack. (Right) Two year old Suresh whose fingers were chopped off in a combing operation by security forces in Chhattisgarh in 2009.
On February 7 Scroll.com reporter Malini Subramanium's home was attacked in Jagdalpur
, the police refused to file an FIR for two days and she was forced to leave. On Feb 20th Soni Sori, a tribal activist who had a week back been warned by the police that her house could be demolished, was attacked and threatened in Dantewada. In the same week, Police visited Bela Bhatia
– a researcher who had been part of many fact finding teams investigating the excesses of security forces in Bastar – and questioned her landlord.
At the face of it, these seem unrelated. At least they don't seem to be connected to Make In India. But when we look at the larger picture, a whole new reality emerges.
What does any industry need? Resources - coal, minerals, material, water etc. Where do you find these? Under the ground, in the jungles of India. How do you get them out? By getting rid of those that are over it - the tribal or Adivasi. How do you get rid of the tribal? By relocating him and if he refuses, by killing him.
But we are not allowed to kill anyone needlessly in a democracy? So what do we do? Remove people – journalists, concerned citizens and the occasional tribal who can point out that these people are being killed needlessly. And how do we do that: by coercing them, intimidating and threatening them to abandon post and go someplace else.
This was exactly why Dr. Binayak Sen was put into prison. He raised his voice against the atrocities committed against tribals of Chhattisgarh. This is exactly why activists like Himanshu Kumar - who had made his base in Dantewada – were hounded out of the state in 2009-10. The roll call of those – citizens, journalists, activists who have been pushed out in that first purge, is long.
What emerged in the vacuum was a new line of defenders of democracy, who were mostly women. Hence the ones being attacked in Chhattisgarh now are all women. The Jagdalpur Legal Aid Cell (JagLAG as the nickname goes) - the only semblance of an institution trying to provide justice to the disenfranchised in the entire region – is an all woman's team of Shalini Gera, Guneet Kaur, Isha Khandelwal and Parijata Bhardwaj.
To understand the present and why these people being forced out, we have to go back in history a bit. In 2000, the state of Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh. It not only has large tracks of forests, it has some of the largest reserves of metals, minerals and coal buried in its womb. The coal makes us electricity. The metal and minerals go into various things we use from something as simple as a needle to as complicated as mobile phone.
Tribals who lives in these jungles is a problem because he lives over these resources. They have been living here for thousands of years and not only have our modern 'development' and 'progress' not reached them, we i.e. the nation or you, me and everyone we know, have not cared to ensure that even the basics reach them. Random individuals like Dr. Binayak and Ilina Sen, Himanshu Kumar, Bela Bhatia and many others, have tried to bridge this gap.
The naked truth however is that the great republic of India has not cared for them, not before independence and not after it. And the tribal has not bothered the great republic either, unaware and unconcerned that they are also the 'public' in the 'republic'. This relationship of mutual ignorance continued till 2005, when the Centre and the State government, signed hundreds of Memorandum of Understandings with national and global companies. And on its side-lines, realising that it won't be easy to fight the resisting tribal, the state also clandestinely perpetrated the formation and arming of vigilante groups like Salwa Judum.
The result was wide scale massacres and clearing of land. 644 villages (official figures) were burnt to the ground or were deserted and there is no real account of the dead because there was no agency in these far flung places to count, keep a register of them. Women were raped. Children we killed and in one case a two year old child's fingers were cut off by the security forces.
Of course there is, and can be, democratic ways of dealing with the tribals. But that requires negotiations, trust building. Why do that when the government can simply pass a law, declare something in their favour and send forces to enforce it. Most of us have such a sanctimonious view of the law that we fail to realise that laws that harm people, are illegal.
In 2009, the Congress government in the centre, launched Operation Green Hunt to weed out the tribal from his dwellings. The state attack on tribal population increased. The Naxals who had built their base here, began recruiting this disenfranchised tribal clinging to the last straw. Operation Green Hunt led to a low intensity war fought between the forces of the State and Naxalites/Tribal. The result was heavy casualties on both sides with the casualties on the States' side being heavily reported while the other side is forgotten in obscurity.
This reportage the state government and centre – which finally has the distinction of being ruled by the same party - cannot afford anymore. Make In India has to lead to India Shining and investments cannot wait anymore. A lot of these corporate had funded the election expenses of the BJP and they demand their pound of flesh. The hounding out of any semblance of resistance from the state, is the attempt by the Chhattisgarh government to lay the ground for a second, obviously more intense round of attack, for Operation Green Hunt 2.0.
The future looks bleak. We will hear of Maoist killed in encounters more often. Sometimes they will actually be armed insurgents fighting to overthrow the state but mostly it will be innocents killed to clear the land for development related activities.
Once in a while some intrepid reporter will sneak deep into the Chhattisgarhi jungle and we will have a first-hand account of the magnitude of the horrors. We will tch-tch them, say how terrible all this is and go on to check out the latest Whatsapp jokes on mobile phones which will carry inside it minerals extracted out of the same horror.
The problem for the state, is someone like Soni Sori. Because she is a fearless woman who is not only unafraid to die (why be afraid when you only die once she had told this reporter), but who refuses to take up guns and who wants to fight within the ambit of the law. Because for the state with mighty powers of guns, huge armies and missiles at its disposal, there's no easier target than someone who has taken up arms. They can be eliminated rapidly and with precision.
But a headstrong woman with a strong sense of fairness and justice and a sense that she has nothing to lose is the most dangerous weapon against form corny capitalism.
Like it is happening in JNU right now, anyone opposing these will be branded an anti-national or worst, a terrorist with lies manufactured by the government and media and believed by a willingly gullible nation. Those in cities who'd raise their voice against tribal violence will be labelled Maoist/ Naxal-sympathisers, hunted and imprisoned like a Kabir Kala Manch or a Sudhir Dhawale and the government PR machinery will go on and created cute sobriquet to match the series currently running to packed mouths: libtards, sickular etc.
In the jungles meanwhile the pushed, beaten and disenfranchised will strengthen the Naxals and Maoists which will prompt the State to increase the intensity of its war and though the last time the Air Force refused to be deployed against its own people, we might not be so lucky this time and India might just have its own private Vietnam.
Is it a co-incidence that all the people who have been attacked in Chhattisgarh are women? No. Because women have been at the forefront of the fight for justice in Chhattisgarh, be it a Ilina Sen or Sudha Bharadwaj. While tribal men have been summarily killed in this fight, the chosen weapon of choice for the state has been rapes and all these women now hounded out had been either reporting or providing legal aid to rape survivors of Chhattisgarh among others. One only has to read Malini Subramaniam's reports from Chhattisgarh
to understand this and also why the government there wants her out.
Contrary to popular belief, truth is not the first casualty of war. War happens only after the truth is assassinated.
Under the Congress regime, 644 villages were burnt in Chhattisgarh. This time, under the weight of the Make In India campaign we will have much more violence. But, there will be no one to record or report them because those who can – like Malini, Soni Sori or the JagLAG, have not been allowed to survive.
So what indeed does Make In India mean to a tribal in Chhattisgarh? It means homelessness, rape, destruction of his culture and tradition and worst of all, for thousands of them it might end up meaning their very death. For a tribal, Make in India is nothing but Take In India where the government and we the people, 'take' everything that was once his.
(Satyen K. Bordoloi is a writer based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)