This is a review by JUSTIN PODUR of Nirmalangshu Mukherji’s book Maoists in India: Tribals Under Siege (Pluto Press 2012)
Central India is a place where all the fault lines of “development” in today’s world converge. Indigenous people, vast stretches of natural forest, mineral-hungry corporations; media, government institutions, and political parties heavily compromised by private interests; people’s struggles, armed insurgency, counterinsurgency, military occupation, paramilitarism – all are present, and until recently, it has all been a well-kept secret.
The struggles play out differently in different parts of Central India. In Orissa, indigenous people’s movements have battled mining companies and stalled projects for years, in Kashipur and Lanjigarh. In Chhattisgarh, in the northern Bastar region, one of India’s billionaires, Naveen Jindal of the Jindal Group (also a polo player and a Congress Party Member of Parliament for a different district), wields tremendous economic and political power. The mines use captive power plants, coal or hydro, so each mine causes massive ecological and agricultural damage. In a profile by Mehboob Jeelani in Caravan Magazine on March 1, 2013, Jindal explained his philosophy: “We don’t control all the raw materials, but we have captive mines for 60 or 70 percent. This is something my father really believed in—that we must control our raw materials. If we don’t, then other people control us. So we made a conscious effort to acquire coal and iron ore mines.” In southern Bastar in Chhattisgarh, a Maoist insurgency is fighting against government forces, police, paramilitaries, and vigilante groups, from bases deep in the forest, in a war that was largely unknown for decades.
In India, the secret of the insurgency was broken by a series of atrocities committed by a group called Salwa Judum, starting around 2005. Salwa Judum in the Americas would be called paramilitaries, but in India is called a vigilante group. Salwa Judum was organized by the state and headed by a Congress Party politician named Mahendra Karma. It burned hundreds of villages, committed murder and rape, and tried to channel the indigenous people of the forest villages into roadside camps, where their movements could be controlled. This was all done in the name of fighting the Maoist insurgency, and it largely failed on those terms: Maoist numbers increased, the indigenous people went deeper into the forest. But it was a human disaster, and that human disaster has continued. The objective is the lands where the indigenous people (in India called adivasis) live – specifically the minerals underneath those lands, which put them in the way of the extractive development model and hence, in the line of fire. Continue reading To Break a Siege: Justin Podur