Tuesday, February 22, 2011
February 17, 2011
For the first time, to my knowledge, the dreaded and hated Maoists have released five hostages. These hostages were from the Chhattisgarh armed forces. They had been held captive for nearly 18 days. They were released without any precondition on 11 January.
Two surprises awaited me when I went to receive these jawans, into the thick forests of Ambujh Marh in Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur district. One was the serenity of the jungle. Could this really be a place of war? The second surprise was the Maoist resolve to stick to their word. We had gotten delayed by two to three hours on account of not knowing the routes too well. But they had waited.
I was accompanied by Gautam Navlakha and Harish Dhawan of PUDR, Kavita Srivastava and V Suresh of PUCL and Manu Singh of Sarva Dharma Sansad. After having walked for nearly 10 kilometres to a village (I don’t want to name this village so that their inhabitants are not harassed) we were greeted by songs of welcome in their traditional Gondi, and by uniformed cadres with rifles slung over their shoulders. We were seated under a make-shift canopy. Around us sat nearly two thousand tribal men and women. A loudspeaker set up near us was run on battery, as there was no electricity.
Then the five jawans who were held hostage walked in. What followed was very moving. The relatives of hostages, who had accompanied us, hugged their close ones, each crying on the other’s shoulder. While setting out on this journey, we would never have believed that things would come to this pass - so peacefully.
The stillness of the jungle was broken finally – by shouts of Lal Salaam. We joined in. What struck me was that almost each member of the Maoist cadre – man and woman – seemed to be in their early twenties. They looked lean and thin, emaciated – and yet so determined. But what has left a lasting impression on me from this day is the hostages themselves. Not one had a scratch on them. Each one of them testified on the loudspeaker that the Maoists had treated them “like family members”.
Unfortunately, the national media has not taken an interest in highlighting this peaceful release. If a few of these jawans had been beheaded the media would have rejoiced in flashing sensational bloodcurdling images 24/7. Here, stringers from the national media had walked with us in good numbers. But with a few exceptions this story – which was well covered locally for Chhattisgarh – was not broadcast to national audiences.
Now it is the turn of the government of Chhattisgarh and the Government of India to reciprocate this unconditional release of the jawans. I made this demand when I addressed a joint press conference with the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister the very next day on 12 January.
This brings me to the darker side of what transpired at Ambujh Marh. The poor tribals gathered there told heart rending stories of torture and brutality they have to suffer day-in and day-out, at the hands of the state. Women complained about husbands, brothers and sons being thrown into prison – either on flimsy charges, or without any charge at all. More than 300 such poor tribals are today languishing in different jails of the region.
I have seen exploitation written large across the faces of these original inhabitants of the land during this brief visit. Traveling here gives you the feeling of a genocide that is going on secretly – through sixty three long years of independence. Sixty three years which have seen a willful and systematic abdication of the constitutional mandate for these people. Travel here and you will not ask questions like “Why have young men and women been forced to take up arms?” Not many of the people here understand what Maoism is – but they do believe that armed resistance is the only way to end the exploitation they are subjected to.
Another aspect of the darker side was the prevalence of several well equipped CRPF Camps at Chhattisgarh. These camps have been the faces of Operation Greenhunt so far – the state’s response to the Naxal problem. Now the state has a new face – the military training centre.
One of India’s biggest Military training centres is coming up at Chhattisgarh. Would it not be logical to suspect that this military training centre will be a cover for the launching of military operations on the lines of what has happened in the North East and in Kashmir, facilitated by the AFSPA?
On the one side the Chief Minister Raman Singh has gone on record saying the Salwa Judum and its new incarnation SPO have been huge blunders and highly counterproductive. How I wish this realization had dawned on the powers that be much before the Supreme Court had to take them to task (on the Salwa Judum). But it didn’t.
Is it not high time, even now, for the Ministry of Defence to consider the counterproductive nature of this military training centre – and the devastating collateral damage it could wreak?
So here we have the centre and the state playing on two different planks. The same Chief Minister who would earlier stridently demand strong action against the Maoists is now supporting the need for a sustained dialogue – as the only way to resolve things. If this is a genuine need, then why is it not being felt by the central government.
The government of India through the home minister’s letter dated 11 May, 2010, has suggested 5 steps that my lead to peace in the region. The most important step is the cessation of violence from the Maoist side for 72 hours, to be reciprocated by the paramilitary forces. This should be followed by a long term ceasefire and formal invitation to the Maoist leaders for dialogue. Dialogue, which should center around crucial points like the release of prisoners arrested under flimsy grounds – under the UAPA or Chhattisgarh Public Safety Act.
Going back to when the hostages had not been released, I had spoken to the Home Secretary G K Pillai and he had promised that there would be no paramilitary intervention till the release took place.
This 42 hours of suspension of operations – by both the government and the Maoists – proved crucial in paving the way for us civilians walking into dense forests and securing the hostages’ safety. This could be the model ahead – extended to 72 hours.
During my brief conversation with the Maoist leaders present there I had urged them to fix me a time and date for meeting their senior most leaders, such as Ganapathy – during such a 72 hour ceasefire period.
The success of this release operation was pegged on trust on the part of both sides – and both sides honored this trust.
If the same could be carried forward then not only the interim period of ceasefire, but even as long term cease fire can be the light around the corner.
I urge the Government of India, particularly the home minister and the prime minister, to seize this opportunity to renew their offer of peace talks.
A word of warning here. The first peace initiative taken up by me immediately after getting a letter from Mr P C Chidambaram, had gotten a very positive response when the CPI(Maoist) leader Azad had in a letter dated May 31 2010 expressed the Maoist keenness to join the peace process – and in fact demanded a longer term of ceasefire.
The prospects of this interim ceasefire – the three day ceasefire, starting on the 10th or 15th of July, 2010, receded completely, and the peace process got completely derailed due to the (alleged) brutal and cold blooded murder of Azad.
Now, in spite of assurances from the Prime Minister and Rahul Gandhi that a judicial enquiry will be conducted, nothing happened for six months - so the whole thing will be decided by the Supreme Court which has served notice on the Government of India, and the matter is coming up for hearing on 14 March.
But let there be a new beginning with confidence building measures from both sides. The first step has already been taken by the Maoists by the unconditional release of the hostages. It is the turn of the government to respond and build on this.
My services as a peace activist are available as always.
NEW DELHI: Maoist prisoner Srivinas Srimalu was released from Malkangiri jail on Tuesday. Maoists were demanding Srimalu's release in exchange for Orissa district collector R V Krishna.
Srimalu had filed a bail application in the district fast track court on February 19. Srimalu was among the seven prisoners the Maoists want released in return for the district collector and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi.
Additional District Judge of the Fast Track Court P K Karna granted bail to Srinivasulu in a case involving criminal conspiracy and sedition charges on a bond of Rs 25,000 and surety of equal amount.
Sriramulu had been lodged in Malkangiri jail since 2007. In the last four years, he had been tried in six cases. All the cases resulted in his acquittal.
"After six successive acquittals, in September 2009, he was implicated in a case dating back to July 2007. The FIR of the incident did not name him. It simply said unnamed Maoists. Our contention is that he has been falsely implicated in this case, and so we are seeking bail," said Ram Patnaik, Sriramulu's lawyer.
Meanwhile, Maoist-chosen mediators held discussions with hardcore Naxal leader Ganti Prasadam on the release of the abducted Malkangiri district collector and an engineer and said they were hopeful of resolution of the six-day crisis "very soon, may be today".
District collector R V Krishna and junior engineer Pabitra Manjhi were taken hostage by Maoists while they were inspecting development schemes in Jantapai village last week.
The bail plea of Maoist leader Ganti Prasadam, facing charges in about 100 cases in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, Padma, wife of a senior Maoist leader, and three others would be taken up in the Orissa high court tomorrow.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Bhubaneshwar: The Orissa government may give in to the Maoists demand of release of their jailed leaders in exchange for abducted Malkangiri collector and an engineer, sources said Sunday.
Sources said the government has also begun process of evaluating charges against some of the rebels lodged in various jails. To facilitate the negotiation process, the government may ask its lawyers not to object bail petitions moved by their lawyers.
R. Vineel Krishna, the district collector of Malkangiri, was abducted along with junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi by Maoists Wednesday evening.
The state government Friday requested two human rights activists and academics G. Haragopal and R. Someswar Rao to mediate after Maoists suggested their names.
Although officials declined to make any comments, sources said efforts are also on for the release of Maoist ideologue Ganti Prasadam after one of the mediators said his release will speed up the process of dialogue.
'I appeal to the government of Orissa to release Ganti Prasadam,' Hargopal said in an interview from Delhi to a local television channel Saturday.
'Most of the cases against him are in Andhra Pradesh and the high court has already granted him bail,' he said.
'Once he is out, perhaps I and R.S. Rao (the other mediator) will try to intervene in the situation. Prasadam can speak on behalf of the party (Communist Party of India-Maoist). Perhaps we can find some solution,' he said.
According to sources, the state police secured a prison transfer warrant from a court and already have brought Prasadam from a jail in Andhra Pradesh Saturday night.
'He is now in Koraput jail,' senior state police official told IANS confirming the development.
Prasadam's lawyer moved a petition in a local court Saturday seeking grant of bail which was rejected. His lawyer may move the bail petition again Monday, he said.
The rebels have also sought release of their colleagues languishing in different jails in the state. At least seven of them are hard core Maoists, he said.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
The present uprising cannot be brushed away as a protest against long standing dictatorship. Democrats, republicans, communists, socialists, fundamentalists and dictators all around the world should learn from this uprising that the tolerance of the people have a limited period of warranty and once the warranty period expires the revolt of the people cannot be stopped even if their army and their security personelle are mightiest in the world.
If the uprising of these people had only one intention of upthrowing the dictator then they will suffer again in the hands of armed forces/ religious fundamentalists/ one more dictator. But whoever comes to the leading position should be aware that their people are capable to revolt if a just and equal administration is not given.
Herewith we congratulate the people of Tunisia and Egypt for inspiring millions of oppressed of the world. They will be the example in future revolutions. At same time we would like to remind these brave people that their work is not over. It has just begun.
"LONG LIVE REVOLUTION"