Thursday, May 8, 2008

Extracts from 'Red Sun, Travels in Naxal Country'

Extracts from Red Sun, Travels in Naxal Country by Sudeep Chakravarty….

“200 hardcore Maoists with some technical expertise can control vast areas across three districts?..It took only 19 radically converted young Islamist men to bring down the towers of the World Trade Centre....Numbers, I’ve told by many don’t need to be large. They merely need to be effective...”

We speed on towards Shantiniketan. We are to meet my parents-in-law. My father-in-law is a former revolutionary who lapsed into the corporate world and later into aeronautical engineering, and I am eager to talk to him about the old times..

We pass endless fields of paddy.

Place names flash past. Shaktigarh, Bardhaman, Panagarh. Between Bardhaman and Panagar, the paddies have an accompaniment—brick kilns, or bhattas. This eastern edge of the Gangetic plains is well known for it. The soil is rich, and has provided food and shelter for millennia. It’s from where Kolkata’s growth comes, a brick at a time. This region and others like it in a ring around Kolkata will help build International City.

Brick kilns like these are also symbols of some of the greatest exploitations in the area and other parts of the country, where profits are made on the back of cheap labour from dirt-poor tribal men and women trucked in by brokers or sardars, often tribal themselves, hardened by their own ordeal and survival for reduced pay and maximum work to lead lives of bonded labour. What they get at home is often less, their traditional rights over forest land lost to legislation that allowed land grab by the state- revenue land- and to local and migrant traders, petty businessmen, landlords and moneylenders.

‘The sardars prefer young unmarried girls. They are better workers and good for sale,’ activist and writer Mahasweta Devi elaborates in a recent collection of her work, Dust on the Road. The brokers, she writes, force the girls to sleep with owners, the supervising staff, the truck drivers, ‘khalasis and local mastans’. …..‘In political conscious West Bengal these [people] are denied a minimum wage, medical facilities, maternity leave or any kind of leave, and of course, the right to form a union. There is no attendance or pay register, identity card or employment card….These unfortunate beings live in jhopris worse than pig holes. There are no sanitary arrangements or drinking water where they work through the summer days. The kiln is closed with the onset of the monsoons and [they are] sent home.’

Mahasweta Devi wrote this in 1981, in the fourth year of CPI (M) rule. Till 2006, the government of West Bengal refused to even acknowledge bonded labour existed in the state.

This habit of denial continues. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, in a fit of pique against card carriers of the extreme Left who use his cadre as target practice and pick them off at will, claimed in 2006 that West Bengal didn’t really have a Maoist problem of its own. Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar, the states that share borders with West Bengal, were to blame for it.

R. K. Majumdar, self professed Naxal-hunter, and director general of West Bengal Armed Police, had claimed to me in an interview that Bhattacharjee is partly right. That West Bengal’s Maoist problem ‘is a two on a scale of ten, compared to states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra’, which he said were close to the top of the scale. ‘We don’t have much of a problem,’ he told me, ‘an average of a couple of murders a month. That’s hardly….’

On seeing my raised eyebrows, he had stopped.

‘Tribals are fighting back, aren’t they?’ I queried. ‘How many armed Maoists are there in West Bengal?’

‘The core strength would not be more than 200. Hardcore. People who have been trained in tactics, weapons and so on. When they go to a village, the entire village is theirs.’-------

‘You’re saying 200 hardcore Maoists with some technical expertise can control vast areas across three districts?’ I persist, despite having similar assertions from other security officials. One of them, from Andhra Pradesh, had waxed about the Maoist philosophy of ‘destroy to build’ and ‘kill one to terrorize 10,000’-pretty much the standard doctrine of political violence. It took only 19 radically converted young Islamist men to bring down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, attack the Pentagon and trigger the still unwinable global war against terror.

So numbers, I’ve been told by many, as I was by Majumdar, don’t need to be large. They merely need to be effective for the purpose at hand.

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