Governance · Law · Politics

Land to the tiller?

“The single biggest security challenge ever faced by our country”, these were the words used by our former prime minister Mr. Manmohan Singh to describe Naxalites.

Before we start, let me tell you what this is not. This is not a Wikipedia page providing information on the Naxals. This is not an article which provides facts of the various wrong doings of the Naxals. This is not an article about whether Naxalites are terrorists. In fact, its quite the opposite. Because that’s not who they are. This article will give you a brief overview of what instigated their first movement and why their actions today do not represent their basic ideology.

There are various communist guerilla groups in India. A Naxal or a Naxalite is a member of any such group (mostly associated with the Communist Party of India- Maosists). Maoism was Mao Zedong’s ideology and it strived to establish an egalitarian society in China with the help of an armed insurgency and finally achieve the political transformation of China towards socialism. On the basis of this ideology, Naxalism was initiated in eastern India as a revolt by the workers against the landlords and the lack of development in the rural areas and went on to increase to such a great extent.

The term, ‘Naxalites’, originated from ‘Naxalbari’ , a small village in West Bengal where the uprising initially took place. In 1793, the British established the Permanent Settlement Act which was introduced in India when the East India Company took over West Bengal. The main aim of this act was to impart stability in the revenue system but this Act subsequently made the zamindars the owners of the lands. They were not involved in cultivating crops and other agricultural activities and instead hired a large number of tenant farmers/ sharecroppers (people who did not own a land but would take part in the agricultural activities in exchange for a part of the total produce). Although the sharecroppers would hardly get anything from the total produce and their own tenure would also be insecure (they could be ejected anytime because they were not the owners of the land), they would still take into service agricultural labourers who didn’t earn alot because of obvious reasons. This continued even after India became independent because of a loophole in the Land Reforms Act of India,1955 which stated that although the sharecroppers have the right to permanent use of the land leased out to them, they cannot claim these rights if the zamindars wanted the land for personal cultivation.  Abusing this ambiguity, the landlords would regularly evict them to keep them on a leash. This is the point that I am basing my argument on. At this point, the revolt wasn’t about overthrowing the government. Nor was it about fighting for the rights of the less privileged. The Naxalbari uprising (1967) organized under the leadership of Kanu Sanyal, Charu Mazumdar and Jangal Santhal was actually a revolt against the unequal distribution of agricultural land among the poor people.

But it stopped  being that right there. It went on to become so much more than demand for equal rights over the land. The police reacted by firing people who were demanding their right to crops grown on a particular piece of land. The tribals retaliated by attacking the police. After the Communist Party of India (Marxist) split, Sanyal and Mazumdar’s followers believed that violence against the upper class Indians was the only way to establish a socialist/Communist Indian state. The Congress Government striked back by torturing anybody suspected to be a Naxal irrespective of whether that person was even remotely related to the Naxals or not, or whether there was any evidence against that person or not. It seems like the then Congress Government was furious with the Naxals because the torture just kept worsening till and during the national emergency of 1975. Activists opposing the emergency were either arrested and killed or tortured so badly that they became physically or mentally disabled. Women were incessantly raped. On seeing that the innocent were being dragged into this, the Naxals interjected by stating that the fundamental human rights were being violated but the state shut them up by retorting that the Naxals were people who had no norms of decency or civilization and thus, human rights could not be a basis of their argument.

Under such circumstances, what hit the Naxals really hard was Mazumdar’s death because it led to splinters in the group which continued till the 70s and the 80s. Two groups- the People’s War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh (under the leadership of Kondapalli Seetharamiah) and CPI(M-L) (Unity Organization) in Bihar (under N. Prasad)- with different strategies and ideologies were formed which led to further factionalism of the movement.  “Operation Barga”, initiated by the LEFT Government when it came into power in Bengal in 1977, partially solved the problem but the police and the Naxal conflict was still going on. Tortures, rapes, fake encounters, massacre of police officers had become everyday affairs. The Maoists were still killing people from the upper castes which led to formation of another group in vengeance called the Ranvir Sena in Bihar, which started killing Dalits in response. Due to this, attempts that were being made since a long time to combine all the splinter groups finally bore some fruit and the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) came into being. Now, the irony here was that the leadership of the Naxals, who claimed to be fighting for the less privileged, was under members of the upper caste. When probed about this, all that the Naxals said was that they believed in equality. It appeared as if everything would now go well for the Naxals but contrary to that belief, this merger brought about the downfall of the Naxals in Andhra Pradesh because of the continuous attacks by the police and the Greyhound, an anti-Naxal group formed by the Andhra government, that led to fake encounters and deaths of the leaders. It is suspected that the Naxals support the formation of Telangana because the much smaller state as compared to Andhra Pradesh would not be able to organize the muscle power and the financial resources required to ward them off. The Naxals’ then shifted to Chhattisgarh where they ensured that the tendu-leave collectors got decent wages and the female workers were not harassed by the managers. But the Naxals must have started becoming a menace there as well because Mahendra Karma of the Congress party introduced ‘Salwa Judum’ where the Special Protection Officers (SPOs) were tribals armed with guns to shoot the tribals who were the Naxalist foot soldiers. Under the “Salwa Judum”, violence by the way of looting of villages, torturing of suspects “for extracting information”, rape of women escalated in Dantewad, Chhattisgarh. It was finally banned by the landmark judgement passed by the Supreme court in 2011 for violation of human rights and the constitution.

But this didn’t end there. In 2009, the government unofficially introduced a coordinated operation with the idea of conquering an area and freeing it of the Naxals called “Operation Greenhunt” in response to which the Naxalites further launched several high profile attacks on the Indian Security Forces.

These were some instances that actually changed my mind about Naxalites. The problem is that they are not as bad as they are shown to be and they are not as good as they think of themselves to be. They have suffered a great deal at the hands of the then government and once they reached their breaking point, they fought back. Their recent actions show criminal activity. They seem to have forgotten that their initial ideology was fighting for human rights. How does killing people off strike them as human rights? They were revolting against the oppressive government. But now, they are the ones that have become oppressive. So much so that they have been branded as “Terrorists”. The Naxalites had been terrorized for too long and once they found a way to counter it, they never stopped.  So what are they, terrorists or misled people who seem to have forgotten their movement’s root cause?

By: Khushmi Valia

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