Even as semi-literate journalists and supposed pundits in the Capital celebrated the 60 years of the “world’s largest democracy”(incidentally the greatest and most grotesque cliché of our times), away from the “watchful eyes” of the media, other less savoury stories have been playing themselves out. Brave and self-effacing women activists like Roma, have been arrested under the National Security Act and have now been labeled as ‘Maoist’, according to a report in the Jansatta (Ambarish Kumar, 17 August, “Manavidhikar Karyakarta to Ab Naxali Banane ki Muhim”). This is no small and isolated happening. It is, in a microcosm, the story of what this ‘largest democracy’ is all about. The ultimate weapon of a desperate police force (widely used all across the length and breath of the country) of ‘labeling a dog mad before killing it’ is being brought into play to deal with peaceful struggles of ordinary people.
For those who have any idea of the activities of activists like Roma, this is a lie of the most blatant sort. Roma has been long active in organizing the tribals and landless Dalits, and especially, of late, landless women to fight for their property rights. Roma’s struggle has been fought under the banner of Dr Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, Savitri Bai Phule, Birsa Munda and Rani Lakshmibai and has never resorted to any kind of violent means. Nonetheless, her arrest, along with Shanta Bhattacharya and Malati, in Sonbhadra district of UP, shows that even such non-violent and constitutional struggle is becoming impossible in large parts of the country today. It is the state and the police that are producing Maoists by the hour. It is not without reason that former Prime Minister VP Singh had to proclaim in utter exasperation that he too wants to become a Maoist. It is the utter cynical contempt with which the state, the judiciary and the media have treated a long and peaceful struggle against land acquisition – the Narmada Bachao Andolan – that sends out the signal, loud and clear that the only language that the state and the cohorts of corporate capital understand is that of the gun.
If there is any doubt about the impunity with which the police operates when dealing with even the most legitimate dissent and opposition, then witness this statement made before the media by a police official of Sonbhadra district, in the context of Roma’s arrest. This official, Ajay Shankar by name, tells the press: “Us aurat ko to jail mein hi theek kar diya jaayega. Vaheen phaad diyaa jaayega” [That woman will be set right in jail. We shall tear her apart, right there]. The reporter goes on to say that these were the most ‘civilized’ of the statements made by them; the rest are unprintable.
Anybody who has the slightest idea of how the police works, even in big cities like Delhi, with complete impunity, framing people for any ‘crime’ (especially where they are themselves involved and thus need to protect the real offenders and yet, to show that they have ‘caught’ the offenders) will know that ninety percent of the crime flourishes because of the police. It is they who produce criminals. The story of the rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, where this drama is being enacted, is really no different. The struggle for rights over land, water and forest (jal, jangal aur zameen) is of course what is creating the real problem here. Organizations like Kaimur Khsetra Mahila Kisan Sangharsha Samiti (Sonbhadra), Bhu Adhikar Manch (Jaunpur), Patha Dalit Adivasi Adhikar Manch (Manikpur) have been involved in the struggle for land rights in these areas. In districts like Sonbhadra, Mirzapur and Chandoli, the land mafia has control over large tracts forest land, according to the organizers of the struggle. In their view, this mafia has a section of the local police at its service – for reasons that are not difficult to seek.
This is not an isolated case. The story of the state-sponsored counter-insurgency operation Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, as it now plays itself out, turns out to be more and more deeply implicated in the dangerous and violent game of corporate land acquisition and dispossession of the tribals. Salwa Judum and counter-insurgency in Chhattisgarh is the smokescreen behind which the farce of local, gram sabha consent for land acquisition is being enacted.
In this situation, an ‘isolated’ Roma or a Binayak Sen is hardly what interests the corporate media. In the cacophony produced by its self-righteous media figures, its comic heroes and heroines, people like Roma or Binayak Sen, who have chosen the difficult and unglamorous work of organizing the poorest of the rural people for their rights (or treating them as a doctor), appear, if at all, under derogatory labels such as ‘jholawalas’. And yet, let it be stated that the world does not end with the media…a single Roma is worth much more than the Barkha Dutts, Shekhar Guptas, Sardesais, Tavleen Singhs – all put together.