My Nagaland

by Vibi Yhokha

“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes  is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story….Stories matter, many stories matter, stories have been used to dispossess and to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize, stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity…..”

– Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi, The Danger of a Single Story

People, especially mainland Indians, have only a single story of Nagaland. No, in fact they have different single stories. They associate the Nagas with headhunting, Hornbill festival, Rock music, fashion and yes, Conflict. Nagaland the land of myths, where life is one long festival but is also a place where life is one long, long war….

Naga Youth ready to perform their cultural dance at Hornbill festival

But there is so much more to Nagaland than just conflict, music, fashion and headhunting. There are so many things that India and the world should know. What they know is just the single story, a stereotype, a mindset. They need to know the whole. To explain the whole is complicated, it is too broad, but let me tell you of what I know, about the Nagaland I grew up with.

Nagaland is a beautiful mountainous place, located in the northeastern part of India. It is a land rich in flora and fauna. Yet it is a land torn between two worlds. It struggles between modernity and tradition; it struggles between India and Nagalim; it struggles between conflict and peace. And it struggles with so many diversities in culture, in tribes…

I’ll be talking on three current issues – Corruption, Factional clashes and armed conflicts, and Identity crisis.

4th Dec 2007. A Peace Rally call by NSUD (Naga Student Union Delhi).

Today, Corruption and Nagaland have almost become synonyms. From the politicians to the civil society, from the bureaucrats to the student union, corruption has become too common, to the extent, that it is almost becoming normal. Naga elders often use the phrase, “Today, everything has to be bought with money,” meaning that even jobs have to be bought with money. In Nagaland, if you have the money and the contacts, you get the job!! Classism is slowly emerging and now we can see a clear division between the rich and the poor. There is a huge increase in unemployment and privatization. Public hospitals, industries are being privatized. The Nagas were once known for their integrity and honesty. The Naga society had its own flaws yet it was based on equality and democracy and was corruption-free. But now, within a span of 15 years especially after the Ceasefire agreement between the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) and the Government of India, corruption has become more prominent than before. The Government of India is pouring in a lot of money for development, but we can hardly see development. What I see is development from the top of the ladder and not from the bottom up. Our health, living standards, education, the roads, electricity and water supply has not improved at all.

Factional conflicts and military conflicts – In Nagaland, armies patrolling is normal. Every single day armies patrol right at the road near your house. If you are traveling by car you’ll be checked at least once a day. In the locality where I live, I cannot enjoy an evening walk – an activity which most people take for granted – because of the fear of being hit by a bullet due to factional clashes. There are also cases where young men are beaten up by the paramilitary forces for no reason. These paramilitary groups, the Indian Reserved battalions recruits our own people. On one hand we have the factional clashes where the different insurgent groups have started waging war against each other, disrupting the public life. On the other hand we have the Indian armed forces (The Assam Rifles) who were once a terror for the Nagas, and who by the way killed 200,000 Nagas between 1950  and the late 1980s but have now so easily labeled themselves as the “Friends of the hill people.” It confuses me why the most developed and largest growing sector in Nagaland has to be the police forces and the paramilitary forces such as the Indian Reserved Batallions. We have reached a situation where we don’t know who is by our side…The Indian army or the Naga army.

5th May 2010. Student Welcoming Th-1. Muivah (NACN-IM) at Viswema Village, Kohima

Identity crisis – My grandparents’ generation and my parent’s generation were pretty confident of their identity because they all had seen and experienced the Naga independence struggle unlike my generation today. My grandmother still considers India as a separate country and Nagalim as a separate nation. Like my grandmother, all Naga elders have the same ideals, they refer to Indians as “they” and Nagas as “us.” However, today my generation is faced with an identity crisis. If you walk down the streets of Kohima, the capital city or Dimapur, the commercial hub, you will find confident fashionistas strutting down the road full on high street fashion. Yet these are the same people struggling with their identity, an identity lost between India and Nagalim. They do not know who they really are. Do we call ourselves Nagas or Indians? For many of us, we feel calling ourselves Indians is a forced identity. We might be forced to call ourselves Indians but when we move to metro cities, many mainland Indians have no idea of who the Nagas are. In schools, right from the beginning, we were made to study the history of India, the Indian freedom struggles, draw the Indian map, sing the Indian anthem. Hindi is a compulsory language you have to take up till your 8th standard. However, our history and our culture were never taught. This crisis has been manifested because on the one hand, we have the section of Nagas who wants complete sovereignty for the Naga nation whereas there is the other group of Nagas who are willing to compromise and become a part of India. Our generation has been kept in the oblivion; we’re just hanging in there. I have often come across so many young people and even kids questioning “Are we Indians or are we Nagas?” You will notice this confused identity in music, art, lifestyles and even in the way we dress.

10th May 2010 A Rally call by NSF condemning the killing of two inocent student by Security forces in Mao, Manipur

To end, I leave my confusion with you. I, like my generation, am equally confused with the things happening in Nagaland. We do not know who is responsible for whatever is happening. Is this society just evolving, or is this a tactic played by the Indian Government to suppress our struggle for freedom? The freedom movement which has become diluted and has almost become a lost cause? I am confused. Yet what I know is that I want normalcy — a normalcy where my generation can be sure of who they really are and be proud of our identity; a normalcy devoid of army patrols and checkings every single day; that kind of normalcy where I can enjoy a cool evening walk without the fear of being killed; that normalcy where jobs are not bought but achieved. That kind of normalcy which you take for granted…..

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On 13 August 2012, Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, organized a discussion – Does non violence have a future in India? – conversations with Sudeep Chakravarti, the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land (Travels through Nagaland and Manipur). Beginning the evening, Vibi Yhokha, a student of journalism in the college, spoke about how her Nagaland is caught in an identity crisis, pressured by corruption, army and paramilitary violence, and nationalist sentiments.

A brief background on the discussion –  The Government of India has negotiated or is negotiating peace accords with several dozen armed insurgent groups in the Northeast. In what is called the ‘Red Corridor,’ State and Central governments continue their racist policies towards indigenous peoples in their efforts to free up access to natural resources for corporate grab. Here too, a violent conflict continues well into its fifth decade, with periodic agreements of ceasefire and deals between the maoists and the government. Simultaneously, though, non-violent struggles such as the decade-long hunger strike by Irom Sharmila, the 28-year old struggle by Bhopal survivors and the 2-year dharna by Haryanavi farmers against the Gorakhpur nuclear plant are first visited upon by violence, then humiliated , and finally ignored. In Koodankulam, cases of sedition and waging war against the state have been made out against more than 8000 people. In all, nearly 70,000 people (mostly unnamed) are charged with various crimes ranging from protesting without authorisation, to rioting and waging war against the Government of India. Considering the markedly different response of the Government to non-violent and violent struggles, is it safe to say that non-violent struggles have no future?

Since, history textbooks in schools or colleges, mainstream media will not suffice as sources for news or analysis to further this discussion, along with the help of Sudeep Chakravarti, Vibi Yokha and Nityanand Jayaraman, we have compiled some related links and readings.

Morung Express (Nagaland): A local daily online newspaper that covers current affairs in Nagaland. 

+ Color-speaking people by Al Ngullie writes on the prejudices within the tribes in Nagalim.

+ Are Naga leaders listening to the voices of the younger generation? Weekly Poll.

+ Quo Vidas Naga Nationalism? Ambraham Lotha. Perspective.

+ A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR):

+ A Brief Paper Presentation in a Seminar on Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Presented by Neingulo Krome, former Secretary General, NPMHR. Festival of Hope, Justice and Peace held at Imphal from November 2 – 6, 2010.

+ Operation Bluebird. – Area of Operation Within 24 hours of raiding, the Assam rifles have sealed off the area, and on July 11, 1987 an extensive combing operation was launched with the code name “Operation Bluebird” with a view to genocide the Naga public under the cover of recovering the looted arms and ammunition. Operation-Bluebird was carried out in surrounding thirty villages of Oinam- Oinam, Thingba Khullen, Thigba Khunou, Khabung, Sorbung, Ngamju, Purul Akutpa, Purul Atongba, Koide Maiba, Phuba Thapham, Phuba khuman, Liyai, Chingmei khullen, Chingmei khunou, Phaibung khullen, Phaibung khunou, Lakhamai Sirong, Sirong Shofii, Kodom Khravo, Khongdei khuman, Khongdei Shimgphum, Khonggei Ngawar, Thiwa, Ngairi Khullen, Ngairi Leishang, Ngiri Raiduloumai, Tingsong and Khamson. The Operation carried out for nearly four months lasted till the end of October 1987.

Seven Sisters Post The Newspaper of the Northeast:

+ South Asian History did not begin with India’s Independence. 22 August 2012. Kaka D Iralu.

+ Naga People’s right to nationhood. 24 July 2012. Kaka D Iralu.

+ Know the ‘Northeast People’. 24 August 2012. Teresa Rehman.

E-Pao.netNow the World Knows (Manipur):

+ E Pao Radio. (music)

+ Profile of Ratan Thiyam and Chorus Repertory Theatre Company. By Donny Luwang.

+ Profile of Heisnam Kanhailal and his theatre group Kalakshetra. By Donny Luwang.

Books (links to Flipkart):

+ Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. by Sudeep Chakravarti. Penguin. Blurb – Spread over fifteen of the country’s twenty-eight states, India’s Maoist movement is now one of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated extreme-left movements. Hardly a week passes without people dying in strikes and counter-strikes by the Maoists— interchangeably known as the Naxalites— and the police and paramilitary forces. In this brilliant and sobering examination of the ‘Other India’, Sudeep Chakravarti combines reportage, political analysis and individual case histories as he takes us to the heart of Maoist zones in the country— areas of extreme destitution, bad governance and perpetual war.

+ Highway 39: Journeys Through a Fractured Land. Fourth Estate. Blurb – In Highway 39, Sudeep Chakravarti attempts to unravel the brutal history of Nagaland and Manipur, their violent and restive present, and their uncertain and yet desperately hopeful future, as he travels along Dimapur, Kohima, Senapati, Imphal, Thoubal, and their hinterlands – all touch points of brutalized aspiration, identity, conflict and tragedy. These are the lands that nurture deadly acronyms –like AFSPA, an act of Parliament that with impunity hurts and kills citizens. Lands where militants not only battle the Indian government but also each other in a frenzy of ego, politics and survival, and enforce ‘parallel’ administrations. Sudeep Chakravarti’s journey introduces the reader to stories that chill, anger and offer uneasy reflection. Chakravarti also interacts with security and military officials, senior bureaucrats, top rebel leaders, and human rights and social activists to paint a terrifying picture of a society and a people brought repeatedly to breakdown through years of political conceit and deceit, and stress and conflict. (Click to read review of this book in BIBLIO)

+ Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India. Oxford University Press India. by Sanjib Baruah. Blurb –  This book explores the political meaning and significance of prolonged low-intensity conflicts in Northeast India. The author argues that if peace and development are to be brought to the region, India’s policy will have to be reoriented and linked to a new foreign policy towards Southeast Asia. The paperback edition includes a new preface where the author discusses issues of the insider/outsider and the politics of location in response to reviews of his work. 

Uramili (the song of our people), a travel and film project by Anushka Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar:

+ Sangai Express, song by Rewben Mashangva. 17 August 2012. Friday Release. (Youtube)

+ Tetseo Sisters, Nagaland. April 20th 2012. Friday Release. (Youtube)

Countercurrents:

+ Tale of Two Gandhians: Anna Hazare and Irom Sharmila. 22 April 2011. Mahtab Alam

+ Of Hotel Jantar Mantar and Irom Sharmila’s Prison Cell. 09 August 2011. Samar

Locales or Mapping Indian Theatre. Presentation by Samik Bandhopadhyay. (Audio – Part 1 and Part 2). Not the Drama Seminar, March 2008 Ninasam, Heggodu. Indian Theatre Forum. (theatreforum.in)

La Mashale. A one woman play on Manipur devised and performed by Ojas Sunity Vinay. The play has been re-interpreted and now performed in Tamil by Jeny, produced and toured by Marapaachi, a theatre group in Chennai. Ojas has opened the play to be re-interpreted by women performers in their native languages all over the country. Recording of Ojas performing Le Mashale, 10 December 2010. World Human Rights Day. (English and Hindi. Youtube)

Approaching a Tipping PointMassive dislocation of people in parts of lower Assam masked a familiar and muscular play elsewhere in the north-eastern region. writes Sudeep Chakravarti. 23 August 2012. Live Mint. Columns – Root Cause.

Home is Hardly the Best.  The moral of the story: there are multiple visions of Indian citizenship, and the state’s promises to protect and secure citizens have remained an illusion for the majority of the people who are often swept under the grand narrative of citizenship and equality. writes Dolly Kikon. 20 August 2012. The Hindu. Op-Ed.

Engaging Naga NationalismAny resolution of conflicts in the north-east, including the Naga one, could begin when both sides negotiate from a position of equals, and by an end to the process of militarisation that has tended to largely view dissent as a sign of subversion and anti-nationalism. writes Dolly Kikon. 25 June 2005

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

by Javed Iqbal

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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.”

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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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