The Unreality of Wasseypur

by Javed Iqbal

‘The ending of the film was shown properly,’ Speak unanimous voices, the well-known folklore of Wasseypur, Dhanbad, ‘Gangster Shafiq Khan was really gunned down at the Topchachi petrol pump like it was shown in the first part of the film.’

‘That’s how it’s done in Dhanbad.’

And there are long lists of assassinations and murders in Dhanbad. MLA Gurdas Chaterjee of the Marxist Co-ordination Committee was gunned down on the highway. Superintendent of Police Randhir Verma was murdered by dacoits during a botched bank robbery. Santosen Gupta of the Forward Bloc was gunned down. Mukul Dev of the RJD was murdered. S K Rai, a union leader is murdered. Samin Khan, a gangster, gets bail and leaves court and is shot to death, while still in the custody of the police. Sakel Dev Singh, of the coal mafia is killed at the bypass, his brother who works with him, is killed at Shakti chowk, gunned down by an AK47. Manoj Singh alias Dabloo from Matkuria village, who allegedly terrorized the muslims of Wasseypur was gunned down. Chottna Khan, 18 years old, the son of Shafiq Khan was gunned down. Mohd Irfan a railway contractor was killed by a gang. Najeer Ahmed, a ward commissioner, is murdered. A woman home guard who once shared a love with a police officer, who would eventually take him on after their affair turned bitter, would find the dead body of her cut-up nephew in a well at the Dhanbad Polytechnic.

These are just a few high profile murder cases, say the locals, who on one level shy away from the violence that represented their city and on another level take pride in the knowledge of who was gunning down who at what point.

Wasseypur, now a part of Dhanbad district in Jharkhand, has grown, over the decades from a culture of violence and gang warfare, parts of which are depicted in the film.

The film tells the story of three generations of a family, starting with a backdrop to mining in Dhanbad, with the murder of Shahid Khan in the hands of coal mafia leader Ramadhir Singh, and the revenge promised by his son Sardar Khan (in reality Shafiq Khan), and his sons Faisal Khan (in reality Faheem Khan).

‘There was never any revenge story,’ Said Iqbal (24), the son of Faheem Khan (50), grandson of (Shafiq), sitting in the very room where a rival gang had attacked late at night, and even fired onto a police check post as shown in the opening sequence of the film, ‘My great grandfather died of natural causes, he was never murdered by any Singh. And there was another thing, a twist. I had a grand uncle Hanif, who had wanted my father Faheem dead and who had hired a man called Sagir.’

‘And it’s for the murder of Sagir that my father is in Hazaribagh jail now.’

‘None of this is in the film.’ Continued Iqbal, who adds that the sequence where Sardar Khan would call for the rescue of an abducted woman, fictitious, as well as one-time affair of Sardar Khan’s wife, or the Romeo-Juliet type inter-gang marriages, or the arbitrariness of names of characters such as ‘Perpendicular’ and ‘Definite’. There are instead, Prince Khans and Goodwin Khans.

‘There are two kinds of laws in Dhanbad. There’s the law to arrest for the Faheem Khan Family and there’s the law to investigate for the Singh Mansion.’ Says Iqbal, himself just released on bail for murder, referring to the fact that the Singh family is still at large.

The Violent Landscape of Dhanbad

Dhanbad is an unreal place. A small mining town with extreme poverty and a rich labour history. A small town with a bustling middle class bursting through the one main road. You can expect to be stuck in an hour long traffic jam in Dhanbad over Wasseypur, you can find shopping complexes, or remnants of a burnt truck where four people were killed in police firing last year on the 27th of April, or you can find the dead body of a lawaris young man in a seedy hotel near the bus stop. It’s a city of myths, half-truths, and blatant lies. A city where a man called Suraj Deo Singh is also Suryadev Singh, or A K Rai, is also A K Roy. Now an old mansion of a private mine owner who owned 85 mines lay in ruin while the police still continues to extort money from the poorest who pick off scraps of coal to sell. A district partially affected by Maoists, two blocks – Topchachi and Tundi, have been sights of arrests and ambushes. It’s a town with massive migration, massive amounts of pollution owing to the coal mines, many left abandoned and unfilled, other’s now open-cast, and massive amounts of exploitation by the mafia that literally sells labour across the district border.

Dhanbad is where the Chasnala mining accident took place in December 1975 that claimed over 380 lives. A lake vanished into the mines. No one survived. Kala Patthar was made and still remembered. And in September of 1995, the Gazlitang mining accident claimed 96 lives.

Yet what also followed the mining, were the mafias.

‘There are many gangs here.’ Says a lawyer, ‘If you want to tell the story of Dhanbad, you’d need to spend three months here.’

A lot of gangs simply fight over scraps of urbanization: ‘Agenty’ the term for extortion from private bus services was apparently a cause of conflict between the son of Sardar/Shafiq Khan and another gangster called Babla (this was all denied by the home of Sardar/Shafiq/Faheem Khan). Eventually, Faheem Khan, the son of Sardar/Shafiq Khan allegedly instigated a conflict with a businessman Shabir who refused to be extorted and Shabir found himself, on common ground with Babla. Faheem, however struck, allegedly murdering Wahid Alam, Shabir’s brother, a while after Wahid had organized an attack on his home that left one dead and another injured. And Shabir was allegedly responsible, convicted and now out on bail for the murders of Faheem Khan’s mother, or Shafiq Khan’s widow, the aged Nazama Khatoon, who at one point was a known leader at Wasseypur.

‘The rivalry of Shafiq Khan and Faheem Khan with the ‘Singh Mansion’ is not so much,’ Said the Superintendent of Police RK Dhan, ‘It’s really them fighting themselves.’

The ‘Singh Mansion’ is really a collection of different Singhs who often share public office, especially standing on BJP tickets in contemporary times. They include Suryadev Singh (apparently Ramadhir Singh in the film), Baccha Singh, Ramadhin Singh, Shashi Singh and Khunti Singh. Suryadev was alleged responsible for the murder of one of the biggest mine owners V P Sinha decades ago and he died of natural causes in 1991. The Mansion had called for the banning of the film due to the negative portrayal they had received. Yet it is commonly known that the Singh Mansion had their own conflict with Suresh Singh who was murdered in December last year. The conflict between the Singhs was over the coal mines while it is generally known in Dhanbad that Shafiq Khan and his sons were never involved in the mines.

‘Shashi Singh murdered Suresh Singh, according to many witnesses’ Continues the Superintendent of Police.

Yet at the home of Faheem Khan, in Wasseypur, antagonism against the Singh Mansion exists, as it had become no secret that they were involved in providing assistance to the enemies of the family. Sultan, who lived close to Naya Bazaar was in open conflict with Shafiq and had the support of the Singh Mansion. Shabir who lived a mere ten seconds from Faheem Khan, had the support of the Singh Mansion. And spoken in whispers, the ambition of the Khans, led them onto a direct conflict course with the Singh Mansion.

A Dissenter Among the Violence

‘When I was young, a man was hacked up in front of us.’ Says W, a family member of one of the gangs of Dhanbad.

‘In front of you?’

‘Not really in front of me, but we saw the body parts in different bags.’

‘And?’

‘After that all of us were called later to talk to uncle. And uncle, was talking to us about something else, we never gave eye contact, and somehow we pretended nothing had happened.  The thing is, Javed Bhai, we really like to keep ourselves different from them, we know how they might use us, for this or that.’

The Man Who Wore Recycled Tires

A frail old man with glasses, sits quietly holding his arms at the ICU in Dhanbad Central Hospital – he can barely speak yet there was a time that his name was synonymous with the name of Dhanbad. A K Rai, was a chemical engineer, turned trade unionist who helped organize a majority of the mine workers on private mines in Dhanbad, who would be elected three times to office – , and would be in open conflict with the state machinery, the coal mafia and the private mine owners who’d dismiss workers on the slightest hint of organizing, or would hire goons to deal violently with the organizers and strikes.

‘We must’ve lost around 25 to 30 comrades in the 70’s.’ Said Comrade Ramlal, once a miner, than an organizer. He sits back to recall a story that started long before liberalization, long before nationalization, long before Naxalbari and the thousands of days of violence.

‘Before 1962, there were two central government collieries that had some wage structure, but there were some 60-65 private collieries where there was no minimum wages system.’

‘Back then, the bosses never even gave money in some of the collieries, they just had booze shops and their own ration shops. The message to the workers was to just work, and take what you get. And the workers were kept in camps, so they won’t run away. And there was no safety, nothing. There were a lot of movements then also, but the workers were often beaten into submission and there were many murders.’

‘It was during this time that A K Rai had come as a chemical engineer in some company. By day he used to work, by night he would teach in a school in one of the nearby villages.’

Strike after strike, beatings after beatings, the workers would even find themselves in a war of attrition with the coal mafia, especially against Suryadev Singh, who had workers killed and would find that the workers could also defend themselves. At one point A K Rai was convinced by the mine workers to stand for election. He would win for the first time in 1967 on an Assembly seat, then in 1969 to the Vidhan Sabha, again in 1972, then in 1977 after being arrested during the Emergency and only started to lose after 1991. The status of the three-time MP and the MLA stayed intact as a minister would be seen around Dhanbad standing in line to pay his electricity bill, or travel by train, standing in general compartment. Even today miners speak of a time in the 1970’s during the apex of the power of the unions and there is a legacy of the work that was done. Just this year, a one-day strike had helped increase the wages for the miners from Rs.17,000 to Rs.21,000 – this from virtual slave labour before unionization. However there are still no signs of health benefits or for pensions.

‘A K Rai, was probably the only minister who said that ministers should not take pensions.’ Said Divan, a colleague, and it was well known that the battle for pensions amongst the miners was never won. Today, an older generation of unionists speak of failures and the inability to combat the cultural hegemony that came with liberalization. Their children work as managers or in the private sector, a growing middle class has controlled elections, and they’ve slowly seen the diminishing of the power of the unions due to mechanization and less prominence of the Bharat Coking Coal Limited, who were the voting bank of A K Rai, who finally lost the elections in a landslide to the widow of a murdered Superintendent of Police in 1991.

There is even a well known story in Dhanbad of the assassins who had gone to kill A K Rai over a decade ago. They found a frail old man, who was elected to office three times, sweeping a party office early in the morning. They saw his shoes, made of recycled tire rubber, his meager demeanor and walked across a shop to confirm who is A K Rai. When they were sure they knew who it was, they entered the office, drank water, turned around and walked away.

‘Something about that man affected them,’ Said Divan, who also says that the board ‘Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union’ on their office, was the only thing about AK Rai and the labour movement visible in the film Gangs of Wasseypur. ‘I think the mind of this filmmaker was also globalized.’ He laughs.

The coal mafia was born the minute the coal started to leave earth with colliery after colliery owned by private individuals with their own private armies who’d all find themselves in conflict with the miners who began to organize themselves, and there seems to be a reason why every man above the age of forty who has lived in Dhanbad all his life seems to know the name of A K Rai, yet his name is even known amongst the youth.

‘There was probably no man who had done so much for the poor in Dhanbad.’ Said 24 year old Iqbal Khan, gangster or student, who would even say: ‘Krantikari.’

Yet the gang war seems to never end, as Shabir who was released from prison on bail still vows for revenge against the family of Faheem Khan, and local newspapers report that Iqbal, who had a ‘supari’ on his name when he was in the 12th, and is now merely 24, promising to continue the fight.

Meanwhile, a quiet old man who shook the earth is living the last of his days at Dhanbad Central Hospital, while the names of the miners who died in Chasnala fade from the memorial built for them.

***

Earlier this year, assigned to do a piece on ‘Gangs of Wasseypur: Reality vs. Movie’ for a magazine who agreed to fund a trip to Jharkand, the author took the chance to ask what the gangsters and mafia were really doing in Dhanbad over the last fifty years. However, the piece was re-written and published late by the magazine and WordPress has been blocked by certain internet connections. So, the author released an unedited version as a note on Facebook. 

Javed Iqbal is a freelance journalist and photographer who blogs at moon chasing.wordpress.com

Other articles by him on chai kadai-

A Short History of Death and Madness in Bastar. 09 July 2012

“Even if they don’t let us settle here…” 04 May 2012

The Last of The Asbestos Miners of Roro 23 January 2012

The War Dogma 19 October 2011.

When Individuality means Waging War Against the State. 11 October 2011

 

A Short History of Death and Madness in Bastar

by Javed Iqbal

A young boy outside Basaguda police station in Bijapur district of Chattisgarh. Photo by Javed Iqbal.

The list of villages are endless. Operation Green Hunt was only the second phase, Operation Hakka and Vijay are only new names to an old war. But the names of villages touched by war can sometimes repeat themselves. Gompad, Singaram, Gacchanpalli, Lingagiri, Nendra, Rajpenta, Tatemargu,Tadmetla, Vechapalli, Gaganpalli, Kottacheru, Maraigudem, Pallecharma, Munder, Pollampalli, Kotrapal, Burgil, Bhejji, Goomiyapal, Hiroli, Jangla, Dhampenta, Hariyal Cherli, Karremarka, Mankelli, Sameli, Regadgatta, Pusnar: these are just a few villages where adivasis have been killed in the last 8 years in undivided Bastar district, with testimonies collected by journalists and anthropologists and political activists whose own list was submitted as petitions to the Supreme Court.

Since 2004-2005, the Salwa Judum rallies conducted themselves completely out of sight and out of mind like they did in Basaguda block.

From the testimonies of the villagers themselves, ‘On the 5th of December, 2005, the workforce of Salwa Judum and the CRPF visited Basaguda and stuck posters that said that a Salwa Judum meeting is going to be held at Avapalli on the 1st of January, 2006, and if the villagers do not turn up, they shall be called Naxalites. We attended the meeting on the 1st of January 2006. We were told that, if those who are members of the Sangam (village-level Naxalite groups) do not surrender right away, all of us will be killed. Nine of the villagers who were not members of the Sangam were forcefully made to admit that they were members of the Sangam. After this, we stayed till the meeting ended and came back to our village. After some days, on the 21st of February 2006, the Salwa Judum workforce came to Basaguda and asked us to deliver a speech against the Naxalites, and those who would not, would be deemed as a Naxalite.

Two days later, villagers from (names withheld) were made to carry out a rally at Lingagiri, Korsaguda, Sarkeguda, Mallepalli, Borguda, where many houses were burnt, people were beaten and many women were raped. Out of rage, a few days after the rally, the Naxalites came to Basaguda on the fifth of March, 2006 at 9pm. They attacked the villagers and killed four people. The villagers then went to the police station to file a report, and after the post-mortem of the deceased, they returned back across the river. Meanwhile, the Salwa Judum and CRPF came and beat us, grabbed us from our necks and took us to the camps on the other side of the river, where we were kept for two months, and the mistreatment continued.

Three years after that, with the help of a Supreme Court order that gave the villagers the right to go back home, did the villagers from Basaguda block return back, to live in a tentative peace that was shattered by the killing of 18 people in Sarkeguda on the 28th of July, this year. In 2010, Basaguda block was hit by a ‘cholera’/dysentry epidemic that claimed more than sixty lives. Those who never went back to their homes in Chhattisgarh still continue to face violence in Andhra. Just recently, on the 2nd of July, another IDP settlement was destroyed by the Forest Department in Khammam.

The state has never shied away from geography of murder: everyone who lives beyond a certain village, further into the forests is a potential Naxalite and can be killed. The mandarins of the mainstream media can call it collateral damage when they’re confronted by overwhelming evidence of an unjustified killing. And at the same time, they’ve never taken themselves into the civil war whose brutality raged for six years in complete silence, until Herr Chidambaram would finally make his exhortations of development, and the Tadmetla massacre of 76 jawaans had journalists in newsrooms wondering where is Dantewada.

‘Did any journalist come to the village the last time it was burnt down? I had asked the villagers of Badepalli of Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh.

‘No.’ They said.

‘Did any human rights activists come?’

‘No.’

‘Did any lawyer, or anyone from Manish Kunjam’s party, (Communist Party of India) come?’

‘No.’

‘How many homes were burnt down that time?’

‘All.’ Said the Sarpanch, ‘But this time, only two survived.’

The above conversation took place in the village of Badepalli, in Kuakonda block of Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh in May, 2009, a few days after the village was burnt down by security forces for the second time in five years. The first time was in the summer of 2006 when it didn’t even make a statistic, while violence was perpetrated by both the state and the Maoists on a daily basis. The second time in the summer of 2009.

This too, in an area where the government exempted around 108 villages from the 2010 survey due to inaccessibility of terrain and ‘prevention by the Maoists.’

Its existence, forget its burning, did not exist as a statistic, nor did it exist as an complaint against the police in any charge-sheet, or in any of the petitions that were filed in the Supreme Court.

So how many villages were really burnt down in undivided Bastar district by the Salwa Judum or the security forces when there was a chance that some were never even counted, and many were burnt down more than once? How many people were really killed in those eight years?

What is rarely mentioned in mainstream debates is the extent of violence perpetrated against the local population, starting from the mass forceful displacement by the Salwa Judum where village after village was burnt down, and people were forcefully driven into ‘resettlement camps’. There are thousands of testimonies of the same, that are repeatedly and categorically denied by the state of Chhattisgarh, who once, in a moment of pride a few years ago, mentioned that 644 villages were ‘liberated’ from the Maoists and its inhabitants were now living in the camps supporting the Salwa Judum movement. That is 644 villages, whose villagers were driven away from their homes and taken into camps. Then there were the Matwada Camp killings where three men had their eye sockets smashes by SPOs.

And burnings preceded killings, and killings preceded burnings.

Fifteeen killed in Gaganpalli. Ten killed in Nendra. A man talks about his brother from Kottacheru who was killed by the CRPF. ‘He was shot in the stomach, his shit was all over the place.’

Of course, Salwa Judum backfired, Maoist recruitment rose. Then came Operation Greenhunt.

Nine killed in Gompad. Five killed in Gacchanpalli. Three killed in Pallecharma. Six killed in Goomiyapal. Two killed a few months later in Goomiyapal. One fiteen year old boy killed again a few months later.

Seven killed in Tatemargu. Two killed in Pallodi on the same day. Ask the villagers about what happened five years ago, and again they would talk about the dead and murdered. Sarkeguda, the epicentre of Chhattisgarh’s newest atrocity of the year, was burnt down in 2005. Their memories don’t fade. Last year when Tademetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram was burnt down, it was not the first time they were attacked. Sodi Nanda s/o Adma of Tadmetla was killed by the security forces in 2007. Barse Lakma s/o Bhima of Morpalli was going for ration at Chintalnar market when he was picked up by the security forces two years ago.

From Phulanpad village where Barse Bhima and Manu Yadav were killed last year, around three years ago, Aimla Sukka (20) s/o Chola and Aimla Joga (20) s/o Choma were killed when their village was raided by security forces.

The memory of violence in Chhattisgarh stays in the present tense. But how will the rest of the world beyond Dantewada remember something it never knew? Earlier there was silence, now the Murdochian media calls the dead collateral damage. When will the casualties of war be robbed of their gravestones, those nouns: Maoists, Maoist supporters, SPOs, Salwa Judum leaders, adivasis, CRPF jawaans, when will we start talking about killing itself as the war crime, and not who was killed? This is a war of attrition, a dance of death, a class war to some, yet the greatest inhumanity is to believe this is a war someone will win.

***

Journalist Rito Paul from DNA has also visited the site of the latest killing with Kopa Kunjam, who worked to rehabilitate the villages in Basaguda block but would eventually be arrested for murder of a man who the Maoists had killed and who Kopa had tried to save. Rito’s report and the people’s reaction to meeting Kopa is here.

***

The author is a 27 year old freelance journalist, who has worked as an investigative reporter for The New Indian Express from November 2009 to April 2011. This article has been reprinted from his blog ‘moon chasing‘. This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 8th of July, 2012.

Related posts – 

x. PUCL – Fact-finding report on the Salwa Judum, Dantewara District – November to December 2005. 

x. Where Individuality Means Waging War Against the State by Javed Iqbal 

x. ‘Even if they don’t let us settle here…’ by Javed Iqbal

x. The Last of the Asbestos Miners of Roro by Javed Iqbal

x. The War Dogma by Javed Iqbal

‘Even if they don’t let us settle here…’

by Javed Iqbal

Image

Conflict and displacement in Bastar leads to deprivation and forest loss in neighbouring Khammam.

Around 43 families from the villages of Millampalli, Simalpenta, Raygudem, Darba and Singaram in Dantewada District, lost their makeshift homes for the second time in three months in the Mothe Reserve Forest of Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh on the 26th of March, 2012, when the Forest Department, mandated to protect the forests, would evict them using force.

A large number of families are Internally Displaced Persons who’ve escaped the Salwa Judum-Maoist conflict of Dantewada and have lived in Khammam as informal labour.

Most originated from Millampalli, that was burnt down by the Salwa Judum in 2006 and Maoists have killed at least three people – Sodi Dola, Komaram Muthaiya and Madkam Jogaiya in the past ten years. Another resident of Millampalli, Dusaru Sodi, used to be a member of the Maoist Sangam but would eventually become a Special Police Officer who witnesses from Tadmentla and Morpalli alleged was present during the burnings of the villages or Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram in March of 2011 by security forces. His name again re-appeared in testimonies by victims of rape, submitted to the National Commission of Women and the Supreme Court by Anthropologist Nandini Sundar.

Madvi Samaiya and Madvi Muthaiya from the village of Raygudem were also killed by the Maoists.

In Simalpenta, the Sarpanch’s brother Kurra Anda was killed by the Maoists in 2006.

In Singaram, an alleged encounter that took place on the 9th of January of 2009, where 19 adivasis were killed by security forces as alleged Maoists.

In Khammam, most of the IDPs/migrants have worked as informal labour during the mircchi cutting season, earning around Rs.100 per day and live off their savings in the summer season when there is no work, and little access to water to a majority of the settlements. The Muria from Chhattisgarh, or the Gotti Koya as they are known in Andhra along with Koyas from Chhattisgarh, have been in a struggle to appropriate the Reserve Forest land of Khammam for podu cultivation, often leading the Forest Department to evict them, aware that the entire forest cover is turning into a ‘honeycomb,’ as described by the DFO Shafiullah, who pointed out to satellite imagery of a pockmarked forest in Khammam, in 2010 itself.

The influx of migrants and Displaced persons has even led to conflicts with local adivasi Koya tribes over land and resources, sometimes leading to deadly clashes, such as an incident in Mamallivaye in Aswapuram Mandal where the local Koya burned down the homes of the Gotti Koya, or in Kamantome settlement in 2009where one man would be killed as a Maoist by the police after an erroneous tip-off from the neighbouring village of migrants who had settled before the civil war.

Recently the Forest Survey of India, Ministry of Forest and Environment, published a controversial report that almost exonerates mining and land acquisition yet claimed that over 367 square kilometres of forest has been lost since 2009, pushing Khammam district to one of the worst affected districts where 182 square kilometres of forest cover have been lost.

In a recorded conversation between an activist and Home Minister P.Chidambaram during the first months of Operation Green Hunt in late 2009, when repeated combing operations in Dantewada/Bijapur led to further influx’s of IDPs into Andhra Pradesh, the activist Himanshu Kumar had urged P.Chidambaram to look into the plight of the IDPs and the migrants yet his claims were refuted by the Home Minister as an exaggeration.

Yet there have been many recent reports of IDPs from the previously independently estimated 203 settlements who have returned back to their villages owing to a decline in the frequency of combing operations and violent actions in their villages in Chhattisgarh and further difficulty to settle in Andhra Pradesh. After the villages of Nendra, Lingagiri and Basaguda block were rehabilitated with the help of NGOs and activists using Supreme Court orders, many others have simply moved back to their villages on their own accord, including those of Kistaram, Uskowaya, Kanaiguda, Mullempanda, Gompad and Gaganpalli, to mention a few. Both Gompad, and Gaganpalli have faced a large number of killings – nine people were killed in Gompad on the 1st of October, 2009 by security forces, and in the village of Gaganpalli, from where one of the leaders of the Salwa Judum originates, ten people were killed in 2006 during the burning of the village by the Salwa Judum.

While the Forest Survey of India Report 2011 has put the blame on leftwing extremists for massive deforestation in Khammam, the villages of Millampalli repeatedly exhorted and listed all the violent actions by the Maoists in their villages in Chhattisgarh. In fact, one of the most educated villagers of the settlement, Komaram Rajesh, is the brother of a Special Police Officer and has repeatedly claimed that the Salwa Judum didn’t oppress his people, often denying that his village was burnt down by the Salwa Judum, when the rest of his neighbours said it was indeed the Salwa Judum.

Beyond conflict with the Forest Department, other tribes, the Salwa Judum and the Maoists, another conflict takes place within settlements themselves where a growing tendency to cut down a large number of the forests for podu cultivation, has brought individuals in conflict with their own villagers who feel there should be more moderate felling of trees. Certain settlments cultivate rice without cutting larger trees while others have destroyed acres of forests.

‘If we cut the entire forest down, where will we live?’ A man from Kamantome once exhorted during a summer season when there was little access to food, or water for the settlement.

Ironically, in Millampalli, one of the men killed by the Maoists, Kumaram Muthaiya, was killed in 2002 because he refused to share his 70 acres of land with other villagers.

A Shrinking Space

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Land alienation for all the adivasi tribes of Khammam isn’t a new phenomena, and was adequately studied by late civil servant J. M. Girglani, who had commented in his report that, ‘The most atrocious violation of the LTR (Land Transfer Regulation) and regulation 1 of 70 is that all the lands in Bhadrachalam Municipal town and the peripheral urbanized and urbanizable area is occupied by non-tribals with commercial buildings, hotels, residential buildings, colleges including an engineering college. The market value of this land on an average is Rs.4,000/- per square yard. This was confirmed to me not only by local enquiry but also by responsible District officers. This would work out to about 5,000 crores worth of land, which should have been the property of the tribals. It is now the property of the non-tribals and is commercially used by them.’

Just two kilometres away from land that was meant to belong to the adivasis, is the latest Koya settlement that was destroyed by the Forest Department.

‘They (the Forest Department) destroyed our homes in January, and in February, and they came in March and even took away all the wood we used to make our homes. Now, we will rebuild our homes and if they come again and destroy them, we will rebuild them again.’ Said Komaram Rajesh of the village of Millampalli.

Villagers alleged that Forest Guards held them down and beat them on the soles of their feet, asking them why they had settled in the forest, and who had pointed them out to this patch of the forest. One man embarassing recollected in humour as his neighbours laughed, that one of the Gaurds threathened him saying, ‘ghaand mein mirrchi ghussa doonga.’

Officials would arrive a day later to convince all the Koyas, to leave the Reserve Forest but the residents protested. When the tractor arrived to carry away all the timber that was being used to make their homes, the adivasis willingly piled the timber onto the seat of the tractor, threathening to burn it down but refrained.

‘Even if they don’t let us settle here, we will manage somehow,’ continued Komaram Rajesh.

***

The author is a 27 year old freelance journalist, who has worked as an investigative reporter for The New Indian Express from November 2009 to April 2011. This article has been reprinted from his blog ‘moon chasing, which appeared in Daily News & Analysis on May 4, 2012 as ‘The unending struggle of Bastar adivasis.’

Other posts by Javed Iqbal:

+ Last of the Asbestos Miners of Roro. Jan 23. 2012.

+ The War Dogma. Oct 19. 2011.

+ Where Individuality Means Waging War Against the State. Oct 11. 2011.

Where Individuality Means Waging War Against The State

by Javed Iqbal

The Curious Case Of Lingaram Kodopi

Testimonies from the burnings of the villages of Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram were also collected by Lingaram and can be found on youtube here.

I got a call around midnight in the Delhi summer. It was Lingaram, the young Muria adivasi from Sameli village in Dantewada, then studying in Noida’s International Media Institute of India. Linga’s misfortunes never seem to end: first he was accused of helping the Maoists, then tortured in the police station toilet, forced to be a Special Police Officer, then released with the help of a habeas corpus petition. In a few months, he would be dealing with encounter killings in his village that left three dead, to only add to the targetting of his family members by the Chhattisgarh police, and then to be accused in a press conference by Senior Superintendent of Police Kalluri of being a mastermind of an attack on a Congress leader and the sucessor to Maoist leader Azad.

‘Javed bhai,’ He asked me that night in Delhi, ‘do you know where I can get a Che Guevara t-shirt?’

Silence.

‘Linga, you wear that T-shirt in Dantewada, you’d be the first man in jail.’

Lingaram chuckled uncontrollably.

Prankster.

A young man who is repeatedly targetted by the state of Chhattisgarh wants to wear a t-shirt with a face of a revolutionary while he traipses around the forests as a newly-trained video journalist, with the clearest of intentions of trying to help his people.

That alone, is his first crime against the state. Lingaram wants to help the adivasis, his own people, which means, to ensure them a fair stake in their forests, their lands, and their rights, which is completely against the policies of the state of Chhattisgarh. That alone, is a crime. That alone, makes him a Maoist sympathizer.

A simple idea, enshrined in the idea of the dignity of the human being: that he should not be shot, that she should not be raped, that they should not lose their children to war, that they should not lose their forests and their way of life to the profit margins of companies, and the idea of economic growth.

Lingaram was arrested again on the 9th of September, 2011 from his village of Sameli in Dantewada, for allegedly facilitating Essar Steel’s payment of protection money to the Maoists.

He was arrested along with B.K Lala, a contractor.

That Essar Steel pays the Maoists is a fact that was well-known in Dantewada. In 2009, when the Maoists blasted the 267km pipeline that carried iron ore slurry to Vishakapatnam, one local journalist was quick to quip: ‘It’s collection time!’

Essar Steel pays local journalists too to keep their mouths shut. That also everyone knew. Local journalists need to collect their own advertising revenue and they get that from companies.

As for Essar Steel paying the Maoists, this is no new phenomena. Contractors and companies have paid the Maoists in almost all the districts where they have a ‘liberated zone’. You don’t cut a single beedi leaf or mine a single rock of ore without paying the Maoists.

Lingaram, would’ve been one of the rarest breeds of journalists in a district of Muria and Koya adivasis: he would be one who knew Gondi, who spoke the language of the people in the furthest hills, with the quietest whispers.

His story on the Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram burnings is available on youtube, and his story quotes adivasis who want justice, who want ‘karvai’, nor ‘kranti’, they want investigations, not anything else. It is there for everyone to see, called ‘Dantewada burning 1.mov

Linga knew his district too and what his people would tell you. He would tell you that the development by the Essars and Tatas is not development for his people. He would tell you how even though the National Mineral Development Corporation and the Bailadila mines have been around since the 1960s, it has not brought any upliftment to the hundreds of adivasi villages around it.

But why is he really in jail?

The state of Chhattisgarh has an unwritten set of rules about how an adivasi is meant to behave. You don’t organize, you don’t agitate, you don’t protest human rights violations, you don’t protest against the state, and you certiainly don’t protest against industrial development, which the drafters of the new Land Acquisition bill will tell you in the introduction to the bill, that ‘urbanization is inevitable’….. and these adivasis better understand that.

Lingaram joins all the other adivasis who stood up for their rights and started to ask questions about the kind of development that was thrown onto them without a choice: Manish Kunjam, an ex-MLA was given death threats and has been living on borrowed time, Kartam Joga, Supreme Court petitioner against the Salwa Judum who is in jail on absurd charges, Kopa Kunjam, human rights activist who refused to be bought by the state.

They’re all guilty of trying to help their people.

The Maoists too, claim to help the Adivasis. And while some people would like to ensure that those two things, ‘the Maoists’ and the ‘adivasis’ are the same thing, there’s also another adivasi voice dissenting amidst the dissenters that says, ‘but they kill our own people.’ Lingaram, the so-called Maoist sympathizer, would last call me when he needed help to ensure his uncle could get treatment after the Maoists shot him in his leg.

Linga also had that voice, the voice to profess his complete independence: free of being called something. I still remember the one thing he said with most emphasis, the first time I met him: ‘I just want to be my own person.’

Individuality, according to the state of Chhattisgarh, is also called Waging War Against the State now. Individuality would mean, that a young boy who is being forced by two warring parties to come to their side, doesn’t need to choose his allegiances but can be his own person.

**

A Brief Note on Kuakonda Block: Lingaram’s Testimony

One day in Kuakonda block: a mother and her child look on as security forces who commandeered their vehicle return to base camp, about thirty minutes after an IED blast that injured three security personnel and led to the arbitrary detention of four adivasis, including a young boy. The incident took place on the 2nd of May, 2009.

Lingaram had given a testimony in the Independent People’s Tribunal in Delhi on the 9th of April, 2010, three days after the Tadmetla killings that left 76 security personnel dead. The entire testimony is here:

“My name is Lingaram, from Sameli, Dantewada. I am a driver and my family has a car, in which I can ferry people. We have some land on which we farm. I am not very literate.

I was watching TV at home, around September last year. Five motorcycles came, with 10 people, who were holding AK 47s. They took me to Koukonda. They asked me questions such as “where did you get the bike from? How do you go about in style?” My family is fairly comfortably off, but they accused me of being a Naxalite. They tortured me and wanted me to become an SPO.

In the meanwile, my family members filed a writ of habeus corpus. I should have been released. But they kept threatening me that I would either be killed by them—in a fake encournter, or by the Naxalites. Finally, I agreed to be an Special Police Officer. They took me for the Court hearing and kept me in a fancy hotel—but before the judge, I said that although I have come here of my own will, I now wish to return to my family and village. So the police had to let me go.

But on the way back, while I was being accompanied by my family and villagers in cars, the security forces stopped us again, and arrested me again and were trying to force me to go back to the police station. However, I managed to flee, but my brother was taken by them instead. A few days later, they again came for me. And have been threatening my father also.

I have been living in hiding since. The police are still looking for me.

Who is not grieved by the killings of 76 people? But I feel that even though the stated target of the police is the naxalites, the real target is somewhere else? Why are we (adivasis) being harassed by the police because of what the Naxalites do? Why can’t we adivasis wear a good watch, drive a car without being picked up by the police?

Our village has 1800 people, the block has 30,000 people.

I fear that because of what has happened recently (the killing of 76 security forces), the entire town of Chintalnar will be razed. Just because of coming here to testify, God knows what will happen to me. But I have to die in any case, how long can I live in hiding?

There is news that some mineral has been discovered in the hills close to our village. And I think that is the real reason that the police is there, not because of the Naxalites.

We have a Gram Panchayat but it has no meaning. It is full of Marwaris and non-tribals. If we write and send them something, they bury it and make sure that it doesn’t reach any of the authorities. We have no education, no health, nothing. Calling us Naxalites is simply an excuse to terrorize us.

We have a school in our village upto the 5th class. The teachers come for only one day in a month, and collect a full month’s pay. We want real education.

The only time the politicians come is during the elections. No one comes to our areas except the police force. We complained about the teachers—but to no avail. We are told that till Maoists are there, we can’t get any relief. When we tell the Maoists we want education, they tell us that they aren’t here for us, adivasis, but for a ‘class war’.

There is no NREGA in our region. We were organized under an organization to collect forest produce, but were told that we are Naxalites. How is it that the Marwaris can come and steal our forest produce and make high profits, but when we, adivasis try to collect it, we are called Naxalites?

We get enough from our land to feed us. What is development? NMDC has operated in our area for 52 years but has only caused destruction. Naxalites don’t help us, but they don’t hurt us either. If having a company nearby could give us development, then considering that Bailadila (NMDC mines) is 20 km from us and has been there before the Naxalites, then we should have had a lot of development. What is the reason that we still have no education and no hospital? Not one hospital in 52 years! When our Adivasis go to Bailadila for treatment, they humiliate us and don’t admit us to their hospitals.”

**

The author is a 27 year old freelance journalist, who has worked as an investigative reporter for The New Indian Express from November 2009 to April 2011. This article has been reprinted from his blog ‘moon chasing‘. Anabridged version of this article was printed in DNA on 26 September 2011.

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