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Abduction of the District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh--Response of the Indian State

by G HARAGOPAL

The kidnapping of the Sukma district collector in April 2012 and the issues that came up in the CPI (Maoist) party's statements had much to do with a model of development that is surrendering rich natural resources to corporates and multinationals for a pittance in the name of growth. This article, written by one of the two mediators who negotiated with both the Chhattisgarh government's nominees and CPI (Maoist) representatives to secure the collector's release, describes the twists and turns the talks took and points to a few salutary lessons that Indian democracy would do well to pay heed to.

The Background

Chhattisgarh was back in the news two months after activists of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) abducted Alex Paul Menon, the district collector of the newly created Sukma district, on 21 April 2012. While the abduction brought the sorry plight of Bastar's tribals to wider public attention, what made the headlines this time was the massacre of 17 tribals, including five children, at Basaguda village in Bijapur district on 29 June. Though fact-finding teams said that those killed were innocent civilians, the security forces and Union Home Minister p Chidambaram held they were hardcore Maoist guerrillas.

The police force maintained that it had been taken by surprise and had "exercised maximum restraint and fired in self-defence". It complimented itself when it said, "We did not use any area weapons such as grenades or rocket launchers. If we really wanted to, we could have razed the entire village." This speaks volumes about the character and attitude of armed law-enforcing agencies to citizens. Chidambaram praised the forces for their courage and skill but the Chhattisgarh Congress Party contradicted him, saying he had been given wrong information. Indeed, its fact-finding team described the encounter as "completely fake" and said the victims were innocent adivasis. This was supported by Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Food Processing Charan Das Mahant.

The security establishment expressed unhappiness with the quality of information passed on to the paramilitary forces, saying "pure imagination is being passed off as intelligence". E N Rammohan, a former director general of the Border Security Force (BSF), found fault with the approach of the central and state governments to tribal development.' Adding to this, Union Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo asked, "If those killed were 'extremists', then why were most of them unarmed? No arms were recovered from them." He also said, "I have always had my reservations about the notorious Salwa Judum created by the government ... while the Maoist problem has to be dealt with, until the government addresses the root of the problem, there will be no solution".

Notwithstanding the observations of his cabinet colleague and his own party's fact-finding team, Chidambaram maintained he had been "transparent" and "upfront" about the encounter in Chhattisgarh but added he was "deeply sorry" for the killing of innocent persons. On the demand for an enquiry, he passed the buck, saying "it was for the Chhattisgarh government to take a call on it as the operation was conducted under the state police". Vijay Kumar, the director general of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), was neither willing to reflect on the matter nor order a probe into it. He asked, "What options did we have? We would have been dying and you would be saying we are incompetent." Senior police officer Prakash Singh maintained that some collateral damage was unavoidable; and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh endorsed the view that the encounter had not been faked.

Reign of Terror

In a press release, Maoist spokesperson Pratap said about a hundred villagers from three tribal habitats - Sankinguda, Kottaguda, Rajampeta - had met at Basaguda village to decide on the allotment of land and how to go about agricultural activities that had suffered a serious setback because of the loss of cattle and agricultural implements. The spot was surrounded by the police who opened fire from all sides. Seventeen persons, including women and children, died; eight women also complained they were raped. The press release, published in Andhra Jyothi, a Telugu daily, noted that the Basaguda attack seemed only a prelude to the state declaring fullfledged war on its own people.

To go back a little in time, the atrocities in this region came to my notice when B D Sharma and I acted as mediators in the wake of the abduction of the Sukma collector. On the way to our meeting with the Maoist leadership, there were hundreds of tribals waiting for us and each one wanted to share his or her anguish. Many of them narrated the horrendous experiences they had with the security forces and Salwa Judum, an unlawful armed mafia unleashed against them on the pretext of fighting the Maoists. We could not hear all of them as time was a constraint, but what we did hear gave us a feel of the terror that Salwa Judum and the state had unleashed on the tribals.

Yadar Bodidar said his father, who was on his way to the Avapally market to buy rice, was killed and his body had not been found. Mari Bandi was killed when he was going to the Tirupan Gadu market. A woman from Tana Jagargunda village said her daughter Palki was tortured and abused in filthy language. Emla Bandhi complained her son, who had three children, was killed when he was tilling the land and his body was buried by the police and Salwa Judum. Sodi Baudh said her son Sodi Masec, who had two children, was killed when he was going to the market and his body had not been found. Bade Aite said her son Badke Edma was thrown into a fire with his hands and legs tied. Umga said her husband Torno Rosi was brutally killed. Andal of Jarimil village said her husband Kudam Andal was killed in 2006 and there was no trace of his body. Madkampenki's husband Kadmal was picked up from home and beheaded - there were innumerable such accounts. In addition, more than 2,000 tribals languish in Chhattisgarh's jails without any legal aid or assistance; it is an unending tragic story.

All this presents a picture of war - or Operation Green Hunt as characterises by the media - being waged against the tribals. Salwa Judum's systematic terror is patronised by the state; the Maoists hold it is part of a larger design to terrorise the people and make them desert villages so that the land can be handed over to multinational corporations (MNCS) for mining. We informed the chief minister of this alarming situation in our meeting with him. He responded by narrating how the Maoists killed police personnel and others, branding them informers. He said a judicial enquiry had been ordered into these incidents but the tribals were not coming forward to depose before the judge. It is strange that while a large number of tribals were anxious to talk to us, not many were willing to meet the judge. This is a sad reflection on our institutions, which are not able to inspire confidence in the common people, particularly the tribals.

Menon's Abduction

This was the context in which district collector Alex Paul Menon was abducted. This is not to justify the abduction but to describe the circumstances in which such episodes occur. The demands made by the Maoist party to set the collector free made this evident. They were, one, stop Operation Green Hunt, all combing operations and confine the police to barracks; two, withdraw the false cases against the thousands of innocent villagers in the Raipur and Dantewada jails and release them; and three, release Kartam Joga, Vijay Godi, Sannu Madavi, Sudaru Kunjam, Lala Kunjam, Rajesh Nayak Banjara, Madvidula and Burkha detained in the Dantewada and Jagdalpur jails. All these persons, the Maoists claimed, had been falsely implicated in an attack on a Congress leader at Kuwakonda. They also wanted party members Madkam Gopanna (Sat yam Reddy), Nirmalakka (C Vijaya Laxmi), Jaipal (Chandrashekhar Reddy), Malati, Meena Choudhary and Padma released, in addition to journalists P K Jha and Asit Kumar Sen. The deadline set for the government was 25 April; if it did not respond, the future of the district collector would be decided by a people's court.

The Maoist party appealed to the general public and also urged Menon's wife, friends and relatives and the lAS Officers' Association to put pressure on the government to meet their demands. It expressed concern about Menon's health and urged that medicines for his asthmatic condition be sent through the mediators. In the statement, it suggested the names of B D Sharma (former collector of undivided Bastar district and former chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes), Prashant Bhushan (Supreme Court lawyer) and Maneesh Kunjam (Adivasi Mahasabha president) as its mediators and stated that only these three persons were welcome to Tadimetla. While B D Sharma readily agreed, the others expressed their inability to do so. It was then that I was asked to join B D Sharma as a mediator.

On 26 April, the Maoists said in a statement that instead of responding to their demands, the government had held a high-level meeting to reinforce the armed forces and intensify surveillance by unmanned aircraft.' The government's campaign for the release of the collector said he was a pro-poor officer and a dalit. Several groups and individuals appealed to the Maoists that he be set free on humanitarian grounds. On 29 April, the Maoist party's south regional committee issued a press release to clarify the party's stand to the general public. It focused on humanitarian grounds and asked why a similar appeal had not been made in the last six years when the state had brutally attacked innocent tribal people. It said that during Menon's tenure, a young boy; Podium Mada, was illegally detained for four days in a police station, his genitals burnt after sprinkling petrol on them, and killed. It was declared that he had hung himself in the lock-up.

On 11 February, Podium Sanna of Polampally village was picked up from his home by the police and killed. In October 2011, Soni Sori, the warden of a girl's hostel, was not only detained and raped, but also tortured, with the police pushing pebbles into her genitals. This had come to light in medical reports. Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg was awarded the President's Gold Medal. All the district officers were silent. The statement stressed that Raman Singh's government had solved no problem of the people in eight years but the so-called "development" programmes at the behest of the World Bank had been forcefully implemented despite opposition from local tribals. The party asked why those who spoke of humanitarianism remained mute spectators when an anti-people development model was being imposed using brutal force, causing enormous suffering to the tribals. Naming a few officers and politicians who it said were corrupt, the statement added that officers like Menon could not have been unaware of all this.

Civil Society's Role

The statement observed that concerns about the health of the collector were understandable but such concerns were absent in the case of hundreds of tribals who were detained in Jagadalpur, Dantewada, Raipur and Rajnandgaon, huddled into already overcrowded prisons and treated worse than cattle. The Dantewada jail alone had 700 prisoners while its capacity was 150; the condition of women prisoners was much worse. It added that "Jaipal Dad" (Chandrashekhar Reddy), who had been implicated under Section 149, was more than 60 years old and suffering from Hepatitis B. It asked why members of civil society who were concerned about Menon's health were not similarly concerned about these prisoners; why did they not pressure the government to be humanitarian in its approach.

The statement went on to say the police had been carrying out a vicious campaign against the Maoists in new forms by organising rallies of students, traders and businessmen to protest against the abduction; but the same police lathi-charged anganwadi workers, including women, when they went in a procession to press their demands. The police had unleashed unprecedented violence and burnt 300 adivasi dwellings and molested women, but would they allow rallies against such atrocities? They did not even care for a Supreme Court judgment asking them to vacate school buildings and allow children to study. It charged that Menon, who as collector was in charge of the district administration and law and order, had remained silent when unlawful activities went on right under his nose. Officers cannot pretend innocence and claim they were propoor, it said, and demanded to know if Menon had taken a pro-poor stand and submitted a report on the conditions of the poor when the central government convened a meeting of district collectors of Maoist -affected districts.

The statement pointed out that the government did not allow any democratic activity to mobilise public opinion, citing a meeting at Charla in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh to oppose Operation Green Hunt, which was forcefully broken up. In March 2010, the police and paramilitary forces attacked and burnt down several villages, destroying livelihoods in the name of Operation Vijay. An innocent tribal, Doorga Dhruv of Toke village, was beaten to death. The statement alleged that such misdeeds had the consent of district collectors. It also recommended that those talking of humanitarianism and democracy go to the root of the problem and ponder over basic values; they would then see the logic behind the collector's abduction. It was against this backdrop that we carried out the task of mediation.

Negotiations with Government

B D Sharma and I had several rounds of talks with the Chhattisgarh government's nominees - Nirmala Buch, a former chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh, and Suyogya Kumar Mishra, a former chief secretary of Chhattisgarh. This was in contrast to the approach of the Andhra Pradesh and Odisha governments that had agreed that the mediators chosen by Maoists could be the government's mediators as well. The issues raised by the Maoists in their press release were brought to the notice of the government nominees. The two retired officials took a rigid and inflexible stand, as instructed by the Chhattisgarh government, which was receiving directives from the union home ministry and, perhaps, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Our plea that at least some of the demands be considered - such as releasing falsely implicated tribals and detainees whose health was precarious - did not evoke any positive response. They stuck to the point that the collector had to be freed as a precondition to considering any demand. The mood of the government seemed to be one of indifference and the anxiety the Odisha and Andhra Pradesh governments had shown to get their officers released was missing. The only promise the government was willing to make was that it would constitute a high-powered committee to look into all the issues once the collector was set free.

The government nominees maintained that there was nothing like Operation Green Hunt and therefore the issue of stopping it did not arise. The police and military forces were already confined to barracks and there were no combing operations. To our suggestion that peace talks could be initiated if both sides suspended all armed action, they wanted to know what the Maoist party's line would be on this. On releasing the activists the Maoist party demanded, they said the matter was subjudice because a public interest litigation (PIL) had been filed by a retired army officer in the Supreme Court pleading that no exchange of prisoners take place. As for releasing the adivasis in jails, the response was that it would be a time-consuming process involving a case-by-case review but this would be considered sympathetically once the collector returned. The options before us were to either walk out of the talks or brief the Maoist party and ask for its response. The government facilitated a meeting with the Maoist leaders and took care of our travel arrangements. The meeting took place in the forest on the evening of 27 April.

Maoist Response

In the four to five-hour discussion, we conveyed the state's response to the kidnapping. On the issue of stopping armed action, the Maoist leaders said their response would be conveyed the next day after due consideration. Mention of the PIL in the Supreme Court evoked laughter; they gave a graphic account of the lawless behaviour of state forces in Bastar and maintained that the rulers remembered the law only when they were in trouble. The situation would not have reached this stage if the rulers had respected their own laws and the constitutional scheme of things, they added, pointing out that legal niceties were just a pretext and stressed that their six leaders and the two journalists who had been implicated in false cases had to be freed.

Their reaction to the humanitarian appeal was very sharp - those talking of humanitarianism should realise that several of the jailed tribals deserved to be released on the same grounds, they said. Drawing our attention to appeals saying that Menon's wife was in the family way they recounted how eight months pregnant Korsa Sanni had been arrested and delivered a baby in jail. They were sceptical about the proposed high-powered committee, pointing to several such committees that had done nothing to help the struggling people. The discussion ended with the Maoist representatives saying the release of at least four of their leaders was the minimum condition for setting the collector free. In the event of the government not agreeing to it, the issue would be taken to a people's court. They specifically asked us not to appeal for the collector's release or set any deadline for it if no demand was conceded.

On 29 April, the Maoists sent a communication as promised, the heading of which was "Abduction of the Collector is a part of intensification of the peoples struggle". It stated that despite the collector being in their custody, the mediators doing all that they could, and five rounds of talks with government representatives for the release of the adivasis and their comrades in jail, there was no positive response from the government. On the contrary, it was clear was that government was adopting a systematic policy of unleashing terror through Operation Green Hunt, simultaneously mobilising public sympathy and support. It charged that the high-powered committee announced by the Chhattisgarh government was being constituted under instructions from the union home ministry, which in turn was acting on the advice of the us Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

According to the note, this approach was a part of the development model impelled by the forces of globalisation, privatisation and marketisation. Unless district collectors fully grasped the dangers of this model, they would not have any clarity of their own role in the system. The note said the government was committed to transferring rich natural resources to private corporations in the name of development and those who opposed it were brutally attacked. Terms like "civic action programme" and "good governance" were used to carry on looting without any resistance, it added. The statement questioned Chief Minister Raman Singh's stand that there was no Operation Green Hunt and asked what justification there was for the presence of thousands of police and paramilitary forces in rural areas. It demanded to know how he explained the ruthless repression by security forces in Abuz Mad in the name of Operation Haka and the brutal attacks in Singanmadugu, Somili and Tadimetla where huts were burnt and women raped. The communication appealed to intellectuals, democrats, humanists and the media who are anxious about the collector to have similar concerns about the struggling tribals.

The Maoist party also held that a highpowered committee with Nirmala Buch as the chairperson and the chief secretary and director general of police (DGP) as members would have no credibility. If the committee took its task seriously, it would have to be willing to go into the causes of the arrests and the evidence for the offences the tribals were accused of, but this would not be possible with a senior police officer and chief secretary as members of the committee. The note also pointed out that the committee had not been in its demands and asked why such a committee had not been constituted before the abduction if the rulers were so sensitive to the sufferings of the people.

The attitude and approach of the Chhattisgarh government and Maoist party led to a stalemate, and at one point it looked like the mediation efforts would break down. That was when we reconsidered the idea of the high-powered committee despite the Maoists' opposition to it. B D Sharma personally knew the chief secretary and Buch as they had been his colleagues. The chief secretary repeatedly claimed he was Sharma's disciple, while Buch implored we have full confidence in her, promising she would be tough with the government and make sure that the agreement we arrived at was enforced. This was when a meeting was arranged between us and the chief minister who promised that the agreement would be fully respected and implemented.

Final Push

The whole mediation effort was thus reduced to reposing faith in a few officers, which had its risks. However, we felt that breaking the mediation process would leave the issue unresolved and unduly prolong the detention of the collector. We thought that despite the suspicions of the Maoist party, trusting the high-powered committee was the only option available in the circumstances. We insisted on an agreement between us, the mediators, and the government as a direct party. N K Aswal, the home secretary, was the signatory on behalf of the Chhattisgarh government.

Once we expressed our willingness to appeal to the Maoists to free the collector, the agreement was drafted in a manner that any outsider reading it would feel we had given in to the tactics of the government." Frankly, the government made no firm commitment and was not willing to incorporate any of our suggestions. We expressed our deep dissatisfaction with the way the agreement was drafted; the nominees, particularly Buch, maintained that the government for various legal and technical reasons could not commit much on paper, but the spirit of understanding would prevail and most of the Maoist demands would be favourably reviewed. The understanding was that the cases of the tribals in the Raipur and Dantewada jails would be reviewed on a fast track basis and the committee would take a sympathetic view of the six Maoist party members, initiating steps for their release. This was later publicised as a "secret deal" by the clamorous media.

We appealed to the Maoist party to set the collector free in 48 hours, despite having been told not to do so.? In a conversation on the phone later, they said it would have been better if we had not appealed but chose to respect it and only asked for an extension of the deadline to 72 hours. They also asked us to go to the forest to accompany the collector and hand him over safely to his family. When we reached the forest, the secondrung leadership was waiting for us. That they were not happy with our appeal was evident and we had to argue at length to convince them of its reasonableness and the conditions in which it had been made; however, they still did not seem fully convinced. Their problem with the appeal was that the abduction had not brought any relief to the tribals and this made it difficult to explain it to their social and political supporters. In a confrontation between a powerful and adamant state and an armed resistance, the limitations of the mediators - human and circumstantial- become the limitation of the movement.

Menon was handed over to us in the late hours of 3 May. The process took a lot of time and the restless media persons, who had been waiting for this exciting moment to let their imagination run wild, began spinning one story after another. We chose to address a press conference and a note entitled "Our Concerns" was released. Two questions that were hurled at us were how much money had changed hands and what the secret deal was between the Maoists and the Chhattisgarh government. Taken aback, we retaliated by saying that a corporate media looking for profits that had never bothered about the suffering of Bastar's tribals had no moral right to question our credentials. "Our Concerns'" was distributed at the press conference but did not find any mention in the print or electronic media.

The Aftermath

The Chhattisgarh government's response to the abduction of the Sukma district collector was in sharp contrast to how the Andhra Pradesh and Odisha governments had reacted in similar circumstances. In Andhra Pradesh, when seven Indian Administrative Service (lAS) officers were kidnapped in 1987 with a demand that seven prisoners be released, the government not only agreed to the release but also acted with an unusual sense of urgency. In another kidnapping in 1993, known as the Koyyur kidnapping, where an lAS officer, a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) and five district officers were kidnapped, the Government of Andhra Pradesh sought the mediation of civil liberties leaders who took almost three weeks to get the hostages released. The demand that one of the People's War Group leaders be released was met, though a week after the hostages were released."

In the Malkangiri kidnapping in Odisha in 2011, the Maoist party made 14 demands, mostly related to the tribals. The Odisha government responded promptly to most of the demands and showed considerable anxiety to get the collector released. Once the collector was released, the government began dragging its feet. Committees were constituted to address two issues - the release of Maoist activists and adivasis; and the question of tribal land - but they were not even convened. On the whole, the results have been disappointing. The abduction of the Sukma district collector brought out how attitudes had hardened and the state's increasing belief in the use of force to tackle issues that could be resolved through democratic dialogue. The Chhattisgarh government carried out a nominal dialogue through its trusted nominees, who were more rigid than the government itself, but its response to even genuine demands like the release of innocent tribals and falsely implicated leaders was lukewarm. There was little anxiety to get the officer released.

The entire episode raised several questions about the lawful and democratic functioning of the state, bureaucracy and civil society.

Civil society and the middle classes believe that there is no place for abduction and violence in a democracy. Yes, they have no place in a democracy; but if we analyse the Chhattisgarh episode and the behaviour of the state armed forces and an unlawful state-promoted force like Salwa Judum, how are we to interpret Indian democracy? Political scientists who have been focusing on institutions, electoral politics and shifting power balances have to grapple with how a democratic system negotiates a crisis and how it responds to the struggles for survival and sustenance by excluded sections. Such an approach would give an insight into the dynamics of a substantive democracy.

Politics of Resistance

The state's indifference to the detention of thousands of innocent tribals is interpreted by the media and political analysts as showing a chief minister's democratic determination. This model does not auger well to the future of Indian democracy. The central question of why there is politics of resistance and why ordinary people feel compelled to take to arms has to be looked into. There is no point in summarily dismissing the resistance as undesirable and undemocratic and characterising it as the "greatest national security threat". A democratic society is one which arrives at conclusions through causation and what Amartya Sen calls public reasoning. Public debate in India, fuelled by a largely irresponsible print and electronic media, is more opinionated than rational. Indeed, the manner in which the Maoist movement is characterised, it would seem as if everything is right with the existing social and economic order.

Of course, one of the problems with the Maoist movement is its public pronouncements on a protracted armed struggle and the overthrow of the Indian state, as if these are its only preoccupations. However, in the peace talks in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists demanded self-reliance, democratic rights, land reforms, tribal rights, and a separate Telangana. In Odisha and Chhattisgarh, they presented a charter of demands that mostly related to the tribals. This may be seen as a tactic to expose the hollowness of the state and subvert its legitimacy, but the effort to secure some relief and the belief in mediation to resolve issues also suggests there are immediate concerns and democratic expectations.

A central issue for the outside world to consider is not the violence of the Maoists but its support structure. It is time we asked why the entire tribal belt in India supports the movement and the basic issues that need to be addressed. Seeing all tribal struggles as Maoist-instigated obstacles is a distortion of widespread tribal unrest, which is a result of the growth-driven development model. The kidnapping of the Sukma district collector and the issues that came up in the Maoist party's statements had much to do with a model of development that is surrendering rich natural resources to corporates and multinationals for a pittance in the name of growth.

The very character and function of a nation state demands that it protect the capital and natural resources within its territory, backed by the sovereign power of its people; becoming an agent facilitating the movement of global capital negates the very purpose of being a nation state. The Indian state is caught between its increasing loyalty to global capital and the resistance of its own people; and it increasingly believes in the use of force to tackle politically resolvable questions. If people's resistance movements - peaceful and militant - are not viewed in their proper context, we are giving in either knowingly or unknowingly to the rise of a fascist state.

NOTES

1 Outlook, 16 July 2012.

2 The Hindu, 4 July 2012.

3 Press release, Pratap, spokesperson, Central Regional Bureau, CPI (Maoist), 30 June 2012 (in Telugu).

4  Press release, CPI (Maoist), Dakshin Regional Committee Dandakaranya, 26 April 2012 (in Hindi).

5 Press release, CPI (Maoist), Dakshin Regional Committee, Dandakaranya, 29 April 2012 (in Hindi).

6 The agreement between the Government of Chhattisgarh and the mediators.

(a) The mediators were concerned with the safe return of the district collector and as a goodwill gesture would appeal to the Maoist party to ensure his safe return within 48 hours.

(b) The state government had agreed to set up a high-powered committee to be a standing committee to regularly review all cases of persons in respect of whom investigation and prosecution is pending. This includes Maoist-related cases. It was agreed that since the prisoners are in distress in view of the long time taken by investigation/prosecution for various reasons and great inconvenience was caused to their families.

(c) The high-powered committee will be chaired by Nirmala Buch and shall have the chief secretary, Government of Chhattisgarh and director general of police of the state as members.

(d) This committee will review the lists of cases received by the mediators in respect of tribals of Bastar and surrounding areas shall be given priority. The committee will give its recommendations to the state government which will consider these cases with a sense of urgency.

7 Appeal to the Maoists by the mediators. The mediators nominated by the Maoist party have had discussions with Nirmala Buch and S K Mishra after their meeting with the Maoist party. The government assures on the following points:

(1) The government will constitute a highpowered committee under the chairpersonship of Nirmala Buch with chief secretary and director general of police (DGP) of Chhattisgarh as members. This committee will review the cases of all prisoners who have been languishing in

8 Chhattisgarh jails including the cases demanded by the Maoist party. The committee will review the cases periodically to expedite the disposal of maximum number of cases especially related to tribals. (2) Relief will be provided in all cases where there is proof of human rights violations. Under the given circumstances, we as mediators feel that this was the agreement that could be worked out. We appeal to Maoist party Southern Regional Committee, Dandakaranya to consider this proposal favourably and ensure safe return of the collector Alex Paul Menon, whose spouse is in the family way. The concern for human life will promote higher human values. Press release, "Our Concerns" by the mediators. We all are extremely happy that Alex Paul Menon, collector, Sukma is back with the people and is joining his family. We are confident that he will stand by the poor, defend their natural rights and earn a place in the hearts of the vulnerable sections of our society. We also thank the Communist Party of India (Maoist), south Bastar, for the trust they have reposed in us and hope that meaningful deliberations will continue. We appreciate the gesture of Chhattisgarh government for agreeing to our mediation. The mediation process, notwithstanding its limitations, does mark the beginning of a transformative process that would pave the way for peace and development in the state. In our view it is also marked with the beginning of an era where the draconian terms like Operation Green Hunt, combing operations and violations of human rights of the simplest people on the earth, about whom we are so proud, will be erased from the wonderful enchanting world of Bastar. We will be reverting to the regime of self-governance of the community on whom colonial laws were imposed ironically after Independence. We will bid goodbye to the era of eminent domain of the state in favour of traditional commands of the community. In this frame the rich resources will be under the control of the community and not the state. Prior consent of the community before undertaking any enterprise shall be strictly enforced. Community ownership of industrial enterprises, as recommended by Bhuria Committee, shall be effectively implemented. Entrepreneurs of industrial enterprise, if any, will be junior partners of the community and not its masters.

The so-called development of all descriptions has invariably led to displacement of the tribal people uprooting them from their livelihood, resources and habitat. Influx of outsiders commanding vantage positions has resulted in large-scale land alienation, deprivation and distress. The constitutional protection of the people under Article 19(5), which has provided protective shield to the tribal people in the north-east, has remained dysfunctional in the extensive tribal territories of central India. This must be operationalised forthwith so that simple tribal people can develop according to their own genius.

In our view, it is this approach, which will be the real mark of progress and development, will bring back lasting peace in this extensive region. This is our personal concern as also that of the Maoist party.

We may also refer at this stage to the Excise Policy 1974 whose seeds had been sown by me (B D Sharma) as collector, Bastar in 1969. Commercial vending of liquor was abolished in 1974 with power to the gram sabhas for effective control there on. The results were fabulous. It remained in effect till about 1985. Today, neither the union nor the concerned states are aware about that policy, let alone the question of controlling the same. It is being pursued for earning revenue, wages of sin, with no questions asked. The 1974 policy must be revived effectively. This intervention against this policy remained unattended for more than a year now.

Lastly, we may refer to the situation in Abuj mar that has been kept outside the purview of revenue and forest policy since 1933. I (B D Sharma) as collector Bastar reinforced the policy in 1968 - toured extensively in this "Unknown Hill". There are serious intrusions in this territory for about two decades. This intrusion is in violation of the hoary traditions and also the spirit of UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People. I (B D Sharma) drew the attention of the governor, Chhattisgarh to protect especially the area of Abuj mar, but with no response.

9 G Haragopal (2012): "Maoist Movement and the Indian State: Mediating Peace", Socio-Legal Review, Law and Society Committee, National Law School of India University, Bangalore, Vol 8.

- J Devika, Mary E John, Kalpana Kannabiran, Sharmila Reqe, Samita Sen, Padmini Swaminathan

- Mridu Eapen, Aasha Kapur Mehta

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I am thankful to the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, particularly its director, S Japhet, and his colleagues for a congenial academic atmosphere for research work. I am equally thankful to Shashikala whose professional competence and commitment, coupled with patience in negotiating my handwriting, helped me complete this article. I am also grateful to Bastar's tribals who intimately shared their unbelievable experiences. We owe them an apology for not getting any relief from the Chhattisgarh government.

G Haragopal (proJharagopal@gmail.com) is with the Centre for the study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

 

From OCTOBER 27, 2012 VOL XLVII NO 43 Economic & Political WEEKLY