Friday, July 29, 2016

Irom Sharmila and the Will to Live a Normal Life

On March 30, 2016 a Delhi trial court acquitted Irom Sharmila on charges of attempting to commit suicide, recognising that hers was a political fight for the right to life, and not a death wish. When a friend and I visited her the previous evening in Manipur house, she expressed satisfaction that she had been able to make her point freely before the judge. Denied the opportunity to talk to friends or political comrades, shut up alone in a hospital room for nearly 16 years with only her minders for company, Sharmila’s fast was always about more than abstinence from food – it was also simultaneously the story of India’s longest serving political prisoner and her singular courage under incarceration.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Ester Boserup Lecture 2016

Opening Remarks of Boserup Lecture: 

I am deeply honoured to be asked to give the 2016 Ester Boserup lecture. I first read Women’s Role in Economic Development, as a graduate student in the late 1980s.  In preparing for this lecture, it was with such a sense of delight that I re-discovered some of her remarkable insights – for instance, female support for polygamy as a way of minimizing the burden of housework and husband care. Her description of how colonial economies led to the deterioration of women’s status vis-à-vis men and how they relied on the unpaid labour of women, predates much of the work of contemporary historians on this subject, locating it firmly within an ecological and technological base.

In her memoirs, ‘My professional life and publications’ one can see how at the core of all Boserup’s thought is a commitment to internationalism, to socialism, to interdisciplinarity and truth. In the context of the area that I will talk about today, the predominantly indigenous and forested belt of central India, which is facing a protracted war between Maoist guerillas and the Indian state, what is particularly important about Boserup is her refusal to accept easy characterisations of certain parts of the world as backward or certain practices as irrational, showing how rationality is located in the way communities manage the relationship between population, land and technology.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

In Bastar, it looks as if the failed Salwa Judum idea is being given a fresh lease of life

The security establishment never tires of claiming that human rights activists are partisan, and only blame the state. But when they do expose Maoist crimes, the police is not interested. One wonders if the establishment’s problem is really the Maoists – in whose name the state is spending several thousand crores on militarisation – or rights activists and the idea of democracy they uphold.   

Last week, four of us, including a colleague from JNU, visited Bastar division. The press release we issued upon our return is unequivocal in blaming both the Maoists and the police for the current vulnerabilities of villagers. However, the police have drummed up a campaign vilifying us, claiming, ridiculously, that we threatened villagers with Maoist retaliation and instigated them against the police. The Bastar collector, Amit Kataria, has added to this by circulating fake complaints on social media, fuelling the ongoing anti-JNU hysteria.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A continuous history of harassment by the Chhattisgarh police

List of incidents when Chhattisgarh police has tried to harass me, because of my human rights work and litigation in the Supreme Court.

1.     2005: During Salwa Judum, a human rights team of which I was a member was aggressively surrounded in the camps, not allowed to visit villages freely, stopped at checkpoints.
2.     2006: Independent Citizen Initiative members were detained in Bhairamgarh police station, mob nearly lynched RG, rumours spread that we had offered 1 lakh to the villagers to help us cross the river to join the Maoists; we escaped only because a local NGO director spoke to the SJ leaders. The Judum took away my camera – it was returned several months later by the Collector, with no apology.
3.     2007: After we filed a case in the Supreme Court, police photo-shopped an image of me with my arms around Maoist women cadres and showed it to visiting journalists and others to show how I was partisan and representing the Maoists. When I protested in writing, the SP Rahul Sharma replied saying it was one “Ms Jeet.” Nothing has ever been heard of this Ms. Jeet before or after and when I asked to see the photo, it “could not be found”.
4.     July 2009: Four of us, including two other profs, were detained in Mirtur CRPF camp and police station till 1 am on the SP’s orders despite giving prior information to the Collector that we were visiting the area. The Judum and SPOs took away JP’s mobile phone and charger. It has never been returned.
5.     December 2009: A DU colleague and I were asked to leave a Dantewada hotel late at night on the police’s instructions; denied any lodging in Dantewada and Sukma, surrounded by SPOs at night, and followed by SPOs in un-numbered vehicles till we left the district. We had to advance our ticket.
6.     July 2010: SRP Kalluri put out a statement, reported widely in the media saying that Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar and I, among others, were linked to the attack on Congressman Avdhesh Gautam’s house, masterminded by Lingaram Kodopi.
7.     October 2010: We were asked by the ASG and Chhattisgarh’s lawyers in the Supreme Court to visit Bastar. Taking their assurance at face value, a journalist friend and I visited. We were picked up from a village which I have been visiting for decades (on the basis of tapped phone conversations) by an SDOP accompanied by 50 armed SPOs. They refused to let us out of their sight for a week, even following us to the airport to make sure we left. (We used the opportunity to visit Salwa Judum camps).
8.     2011-15: I have been stopped at every CRPF camp, checked, sometimes made to wait for hours, even while on my way to attend a wedding. The only reason I was not harassed even more during this period was because I usually went on visits to do with the CBI enquiry ordered by the SC on attacks on village Tadmetla and others.  However, during this period the CBI team itself was physically attacked by SPOs, and police personnel in February 2012, and threatened in November 2015.
9.     2013: Media stories were circulated that I was in regular touch with Maoists in Raoghat and was leading demonstrations of the Raoghat Rail Sangharsh Samiti at their behest (even as I was teaching classes in Delhi).
10. 2014: Media stories put about that I had coached villagers what to say before the TP Sharma Commission (investigating the attacks on Tadmetla and Swami Agnivesh), and that I was in direct touch with the Naxalites. Lawyer’s notice for defamation sent to the newspapers.
11. April 2016: My effigy was burnt by the Mahila Ekta Manch, after we filed a fresh application in the SC.
May 2016: Completely false charges made up that ‘JNU profs’ had instigated villagers to join Maoists, threatening to burn their homes if they did not support Maoists. Police staged demonstration of alleged villagers in front of thana demanding that an FIR be registered against us. Media vilification campaign carried through Zee news, Chhattisgarh whatsapp groups, media, and Collector Amit Kataria’s facebook page. All the persons who accompanied us and whom we met have been cross-questioned and intimidated, including the driver of the hired car.
12.  For the last ten years, my phones have been tapped, my emails read and so on. Vilification in the court is a constant feature – that we are fronts for the Maoists etc.

2016 is the first time that I have used a pseudonym (Richa Keshav) – and that too, only verbally to one policeman who claimed to be making a friendly enquiry in order to avoid being stopped. I have always told the villagers who I am and why I am there, including in this instance. And yet, this name change is the story that the media choses to highlight, not the years of persecution. Apart from a few brave Chhattisgarh reporters, the national media has also not chosen to report it as part of a recent pattern in which journalists, lawyers, and activists have been arrested, landlords intimidated into denying housing, and a variety of other vigilante attacks have taken place at the behest of the police, especially IG SRP Kalluri.  

My public stand on the state-Maoist conflict is also well known, where I have consistently criticized Maoist violence. This is what makes this current charge even more ridiculous – that we would threaten villagers that their houses would be burnt if they did not support the Maoists.

I am deeply grateful to all the friends and colleagues who have accompanied me on these trips, and suffered police intimidation. I have not named them here for obvious reasons. 

This photo is of October 2010 - I had gone to the market to buy toffees, and was followed by two SPOs 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Press Release on Recent Fact-Finding Trip to Bastar

18th May 2016

A delegation comprising of Sanjay Parate, Chhattisgarh State Secretary CPI-M, Vineet Tiwari, Joshi-Adhikari Institute, CPI member, New Delhi, Archana Prasad, Professor Jawaharlal Nehru University and CC member AIDWA, and Nandini Sundar, Professor, Delhi University visited Bastar Division from 12 to 16 May 2016. We visited the following districts: Bijapur, Sukma, Bastar and Kanker.  The focus of the visit was on the situation of ordinary villagers who are living through the conflict between the state and Maoists.
The level of Maoist presence and scale of state repression varies somewhat across the districts. The worst affected at the moment appear to be Sukma district, portions of Bijapur district and the Darbha/Tongpal areas of Bastar/Sukma district, but fake encounters, rapes and arrests by police and security forces, beatings (by both police and Maoists), IED blasts and killing of informers (by Maoists) are a serious problem everywhere.
Rise of a new form of Salwa Judum: The most recent and worrying development we observed was the manner in which villagers in and around the Kanger national park - in Tongpal and Darbha blocks - are being arrested and made to surrender by police, and then threatened and brutally beaten by Maoists. The police are holding Jan Jagran Abhiyans (the original name of Salwa Judum), both threatening and distributing all kind of goodies to the villages, including cell phones, if they inform on the Maoists. This is very similar to the origins of Salwa Judum.  In Kumakoleng village, 50 persons were forced to ‘surrender’ in March, and are now living in different police and CRPF camps. On 15th April, the police/CRPF held a Jan Jagran Abhiyan in Kumakoleng. On 17th April, the Maoists beat up villagers, including women, for asking for a CRPF camp to come up near their village. Two-thirds of the entire village of Kumakoleng has now fled and is living outside the village for fear of Maoists.
In neighbouring Soutnar panchayat, the villagers have resolved to keep the Maoists out and have been patrolling the villages with bows, arrows and axes for the last three months. In the past, the Maoists have beaten and killed people in the village, on charges of being informers. The villagers say the police have refused to set up camp, telling them that the Maoists will go away if they patrol, thus making them vulnerable in the first place and then leaving them to their own devices. We are extremely concerned that such developments will lead to large-scale divisions and displacement as happened during Salwa Judum and urge all parties to work in the best interests of the adivasi population.
The fact that the police is not interested in any peaceful and honest approach to the problem is indicated by the planted “breaking news” they have circulated that our group asked the villagers to side with the Maoists and threatened them that their villages would be burnt by the Maoists if they did not do so. Nothing could be further from the truth. We feel a proper dialogue process and a genuine people oriented democratic model of development is essential for the well being of the people of Bastar. In the current context neither the State nor the Maoists are addressing this urgent need.