In a statement issued on April 16th 2018, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) claimed that the ‘National Policy and Action Plan’ to combat Left Wing Extremism (LWE) is ‘a multi-pronged strategy involving security and development related measures’. This new policy, apparently in place since the NDA government came to power at the centre, claims to have ‘zero tolerance towards violence coupled with a big push to developmental activities so that benefits of development reached the poor and vulnerable in the affected areas’. The statement talks of substantial improvement in the LWE scenario by indicating reduced incidents of violence over the last four years. Within a week of this statement to the press, several Maoists are killed in an alleged encounter in Gadchiroli district of Maharastra and, then, in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh. The Maharashtra state police immediately issued press notes and organised a press conference on April 24th declaring the operation an unmitigated success. A week later, Chhattisgarh police did the same. Even as the death count of Maoists kept rising, the police claimed that none of their personnel, primarily the elite C-60 force in Maharashtra and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), were seriously injured let alone killed in action.
Himanshu Kumar is a Gandhian activist who, together with his wife, ran the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh for 22 years. He learned the local adivasi language (Gondi) and worked through the Ashram to help adivasis access their rights under the law. Starting in 2005, during the murderous Salwa Judum campaigns of vigilante groups against the adivasis of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, Himanshu worked to try to get villagers back to their homes, get people falsely accused out of jail, and win justice for the victims of police and vigilante crimes. His Ashram was eventually bulldozed and he was forced to move to Delhi, from where he continues to try to follow up with legal cases on the state’s treatment of the adivasis. JUSTIN PODUR interviewed him there in February 2013.
The Supreme Court has held that the use of extra-legal armed forces in Chhattisgarh is unconstitutional. Responding to a PIL filed by Nandini Sundar, Ramachandra Guha and E.A.S. Sharma, the court’s decision turns on the nature of the Salwa Judum and the appointment of special police officers under the Chhattisgarh Police Act. But if it were a judgment that had merely ruled on the technicalities, it would have been a welcome and competent order, but would have missed its moment of constitutional greatness. This judgment attains such greatness by virtue of its deft combination of insightful legal analysis, the articulation of a moral vision of constitutionalism and development and its sharp invocation of rhetoric (in the best sense of the term) and fiction to buttress its arguments.
Fiction, William Gass reminds us is the figure of truth. Law has always produced and promoted legal fictions and the substantive interpretation of law often rests upon on a body of rhetorical figures and scenarios. The imaginative and moral character of legal fiction can often be found wanting, but there are times when the courts produce inspired moral visions that outdo even literature. Although fiction in the manner of its making, is pure philosophy, Gass says that no novelist has created a more dashing hero than the handsome absolute, or conceived more dramatic extrications- the soul’s escape from the body, for instance, or the will’s from cause. Nandini Sundar v. State of Chattisgarh is an excellent example of the ways in which the law can productively use metaphor as legal argument (‘our constitution is not a pact for national suicide’)
Ujjwal Kumar Singh, Professor of Political Science, Delhi University and I have just returned (January 1st) from a visit to the police state of Chhattisgarh. Ujjwal had gone for research and I had gone for a combination of research and verification purposes to assess the livelihood situation of villagers for our case before the SC, both entirely legitimate activities. In Dantewada, we had checked into Hotel Madhuban on the 29th of December around 2 pm without any problems, only to be told later that night that the management required the entire hotel to be instantly emptied out because they were doing some puja to mark the death anniversary of the hotel owner. We refused to leave at night, and were told we would have to leave at 6 am instead because the rooms had to be cleaned. As expected, other guests checked in the next morning, puja notwithstanding. Continue reading Police States, Anthropology and Human Rights: Nandini Sundar→
(An edited version of this piece appeared as the cover story in Himal Southasian in December 2007. The report is based on travels across Andhra to Bihar in October of the same year. At a time when most of the media is pushing the same binaries we must avoid, this may help in conveying the enormous complexity of the issue. Some facts may be outdated, and Kafila readers will be more familiar with certain issues like Salwa Judum than this reporter, but the broad argument may still have some relevance. I will follow this up with posts on the Nepali process and Indian Naxalites.)
A people’s movement. The greatest internal security challenge. Struggle for the rights of the poor, tribals, Dalits, landless. Compact Revolutionary Zone with influence in almost 200 districts. A socio economic problem rooted in exploitation and idealism. A law and order threat . True people’s democracy. A criminal, authoritarian and opportunistic outfit. The revolution will smash the Indian state. The Maoists are ants and can be crushed anytime .
Neat black and white portrayals have come to characterise one of the most complex stories of our times. The Naxal as the saviour and the state as the oppressor. The state as protector and Naxal as the villain. Numbers and scale of action act as the judge of Maoist spread and activity. 1608 incidents of Naxalite violence and 677 people killed in 2005; 1509 incidents and 678 killed in 2006; 249 persons killed till June 2007. Continue reading Complicating the ‘Naxalite’ debate→
How does the media in Chhattisgarh report the conflict between the Naxalites and the Salwa Judum, or the conflict between local communities and corporations? Quite simply, it doesn’t. The pressures on journalists in Chhattisgarh are unique. They are paid not to report stories that are critical of the powers-that-be, whether they are industrial lobbies or state authorities.