The following is one chapter of the Report of the Expert Group on “Development Issues to Deal with the Causes of Discontent, Unrest and Extremism”, set up by the Planning Commission, in May 2006. With D. Bandyopadhyay, the architect of ‘Operation Barga’ of West Bengal in the eighties and former Secretary, Rural Development, Government of India, as the Chairman, the Group consisted of sixteen members. Besides D. Bandyopadhyay, the other members were S.R. Sankaran, Dr B.D. Sharma, Kamala Prasad, Prakash Singh, Ajit Doval, Sukhdeo Thorat, K. Balagopal, Ms Bela Bhatia, Dr E. A. S. Sarma, K.B. Saxena, Saibal Gupta, Dilip Singh Bhuria, Ram Dayal Munda, Dr N. J. Kurian and Santosh Mehrotra. The Group completed its work in April 2008. Apart from Prakash Singh and Ajit Doval who supported the Salwa Judum movement, the remaining fourteen members unequivocally opposed the project. Two other chapters of the Report will be carried in the subsequent issues of this journal. —Editor
The roots of discontent, unrest and extremism follow extensive discussions based on official reports in the past, publications from the extremist groups, reports of human rights groups, books by observers of such developments, and media coverage in the background of field insight and interaction of members of the Expert Group. This has revealed that the causes are varied depending on characteristics of an area; social, economic and cultural background; depth of historical lack of working out solutions to lingering structural problems; and ineffective application of ameliorative steps undertaken since Independence and more so since mid-sixties of the last century. Dissent movements, including the extremist Naxalite movement, are not confined to difficult hilly and forested areas but cover large contiguous tracts in the plains. They are not limited to dryland areas of recurring crop failures but extend to irrigated commands of major irrigation systems as in the State of Bihar. The causes are, therefore, complex. The intensity of unrest resulting in extremist methods and effort to resolve issues through violent means as a challenge to state authority is in response to the gathering of unresolved social and economic issues for long durations. It creates the impression that policy- making and administration respond to extreme means. The more recent development is in the emergence of CPI (Maoist) after the merger and consolidation two powerful Naxalite streams in September 2004. This new formation, since its inception, is defining the official understanding of the extremist phenomenon of the level of the State as well as the Union Government. This has appeared in the public perception as simplistic law and order face-off between the official coercive machinery and this more radical extremist political formation. The social consequence results, then, in undermining instruments of social and economic amelioration as well as processes of democratic exchange to resolve persisting issues. This is the crux of the problem.
Perhaps due to the attention of the Union Government drawn by the CPI (Maoist) [formed by the merger of the CPI-ML (People’s War) with the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in September 2004] to the Naxalite phenomenon, that party and its method of functioning have started defining the official understanding of the Naxalite movement. That is neither factually accurate nor adequate for discussing the proper governmental response to it. There is no need to go into the history and genealogy of the Naxalite movement, but it is necessary to state that there are a very large number of Naxalite groups/parties, and their method of functioning differs in the extent of mobilisation of the people, participation of people in their actions, role of armed underground cadre, etc., though all of them owe allegiance to the idea that the Indian State must be overthrown by force as a precondition for heralding a revolutionary change in our society. Some of them even have representatives in elected bodies from the panchayats to the legislatures. The unrest this report is concerned about is also not reducible to dramatic incidents such as blowing up or blasting of police stations but encompasses also mass unrest. Mass participation in militant protest has always been a characteristic of Naxalite mobilisation, especially not only in Bihar, but also elsewhere. The ban placed by many State Governments, and at the national level by the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, on the Maoist party and its mass organisations, and the formal and informal prohibition imposed by the police on such activity in the case of other Naxalite groups, has often rendered such mass activity virtually impossible. But this is no reason for ignoring the fact that the unrest this report is concerned with has often had mass character.
In what follows various issues concerning the life and livelihood of the people are discussed wherein the failure, inadequacy or injustice of the State mechanisms and institutions created space for Naxalite activities. Such a description may help people to appreciate why Naxalites derive support. It is the purpose of this report to see how the government may eliminate the causes of unrest by constitutional and legal means and restore faith of the affected population to the system of governance established by the Constitution and law.
However, the fact that the Naxalites employ methods of violence in tackling these issues has other consequences, which include injury, fear and disruption of normal life. It is also a fact that Naxalite activity is not confined to solving people’s grievances. They are engaged in a violent fight against the State for overpowering and overthrowing it. This fight has its adverse consequences in terms of the injury and disruption it causes. The link between what the report deals with, and what it does not, lies in the fact that it is in the course of providing answers to the people’s problems and needs that the Naxalite movement seeks to obtain their support from the masses.
Land related Factors
THE origin of the popular slogan “land to the killer” is in absentee landlordism, where the landlord would merely take the lion’s share of the produce without contributing anything to the production of the crop. It was in this context that the freedom fighters demanded that the one who tills the land must own it, and the post-independence Government was committed to it. Absentee landlords do exist even today, but today’s land relations are much more complex. So though the aspiration of “land to the tiller” continues to be given, the focus of the Naxalite movement is on trying to provide land, whether the land of landlords or government land, to the landless. In occupying landlords’ land, the Naxalites have not taken law as their reference point. It is not the ceiling-surplus land of the landlords that they have sought to put in the possession of the landless. Rather, they have targeted landholders whose holding is sizeable as they see it, or who are otherwise oppressive or cruel in their conduct, or hostile towards the Naxalite movement, even if they are not big landlords. Such landholders have in many cases been driven away from the villages and their land sought to be put in the possession of the landless poor. On some occasions, led by armed Naxalite cadre, the poor have sought to march on to the land and plant red flags in it, in symbolic occupation of the land. However, in many cases, the police have intervened, filed criminal cases against such landless poor, including cases under TADA/POTA when those Acts were in force, and ensured that the poor do not enjoy the land on the ground that they are encroachers. Where the landholder feels too threatened to come back and take possession of the land, the land remains fallow. This is the situation in parts of Andhra Pradesh. There is no estimate of the total extent of such land lying fallow in the State, but there is little doubt that it runs into tens of thousands of acres, especially in Warangal, Karimnagar and Adilabad disricts.1 The erstwhile landlord himself is in many cases willing to let the Government of Andhra Pradesh assign the land to the poor identified by the Maoists provided some of it is left to him, but the Government has resisted this resolution of the problem on the ground that it would sanctify lawlessness. Thousands of acres of land thus remain fallow. Where the landholder is prepared to re-occupy the land, as in much of Bihar, the entire efforts of the Naxalites to redistribute the land fails. But all said and done, considering the central place the slogan of land to the tiller has in Naxalite politics, their attempt at redistribution of private land has been meagre. And even that little has been defeated by the State’s determined opposition to letting lawless means succeed, even for the beneficial purpose of giving land to the landless. If the Government can get over these unnecessary qualms, it should be possible to devise legal means appropriate to each instance to ensure that the landless get the land. Some of the land can probably be taken over under land reform laws and distributed to the poor. Some may have to be purchased or acquired from the landholder. But where the landholder has been targeted by the Naxalites for political reasons and not because he has unconscionable extent of land, it may be the right thing to hand back the land to the landholder. Equity and law require that all lands of the owners having less than ceiling should be handed back to the owners subject to prevailing laws. Excesses of the Naxalites in this regard are not only unjustified but deserve utmost censure.
The Naxalites seem to have had greater success with Government lands. Though no precise estimates are available, it is a fact that in some cases the Naxalite movement has succeeded in helping the landless to occupy substantial extents of government land whether for homesteads or for cultivation. In Bihar all the Naxalite parties have attempted to assist, in their respective areas of influence, the landless Musahars, the lowest among the Dalits, to take possession of sizable extents of such land. But the poor remain without title to the land because the administration again feels that giving them title or even a conditional assignment (in which the assignee can use the land and pas it on to the heirs but cannot sell the land) would sanctify law-breaking and strengthen the Naxalites. Such qualms appear reasonable only if they are divorced from the reality that the Government has the power to distribute such land to the poor, but has failed to do so. To defuse social tension the Government may regularise these occupations if the occupiers are otherwise eligible.
In the case of forest land, occupation by the adivasis with the encouragement and assistance of the Naxalites has taken place on an extensive scale in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, Orissa and Jharkhand. In fact much of it is not fresh occupation but re-assertion of traditional usufructory rights declared by the law to be illegal. Properly conducted forest settlement proceedings should have protected at least the pre-existing rights, but much of forest settlement proceedings has taken place behind the back and over the head of the adivasi forest dwellers.
The Government’s statistics show that 39 per cent of what is called forest encroachment in the whole country has taken place in the above region. Much of it, as said above, is not encroachment but occupation that far pre-dates forest reservation and forest laws. Prior to 1980 the various State Governments would off and on acknowledge this fact by regularising the occupation, thereby giving back what has been unilaterally taken away. But the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 put an end to such regularisation, and put the forest dwellers perpetually on the brink of eviction from their own habitat. This enabled the Naxalites to step into the vacuum to espouse the popular cause and secure popular support. The fear of Naxalite armed resistence deterred the repressive and depredatory moves of the authorities.
However, this occupation has remained a major bone of contention between the adivasis and the State. While the Forest Department is inhibited by the threat of the Naxalites or the Naxalite-supported militancy of the adivasis, the police see in many a tribal a ‘Naxalite’ in the affected areas and subject them to considerable harassment. A feeble attempt at providing a right of regularisation of at least pre-1980 occupation was made by the Union Government in the year 1990 following the recommendations of the 29th Report of the Commissioner for SCs and STs, but that remedy remained on paper because the proof of occupation the claimant had to produce was onerous, and in any case no effort was made to educate the likely beneficiaries about the policy. But now with the enactment of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2007 (Act 2 of 2007), it should be possible to resolve the issue by giving formal recognition to such rights. One can envisage some difficulties such as proof of occupation as on December 13, 2005, and if they are not dealt with imaginatively, the imaginatively drafted law may not give all that it promises. But it still holds a promise of better deal for such forest dwellers.
In the matter of tenancy rights, in Bihar, the form of tenancy has over the years shifted to sharecropping in the areas of Naxalite influence. Perhaps a comprehensive registration of sharecroppers on the lines of the registration of bargadars in West Bengal would consolidate this gain.
The High Level Committee constituted by the Planning Commission to review the National Mineral Policy has made several far-reaching recommendations on simplification and streamlining of the procedures for granting mineral leases with a view to provide an impetus to mineral development. The Government has considered these recommendations and, by and large, adopted them. Considering that mineral resources are largely located in the predominantly tribal tracts in the country, it is important that mineral exploration and development activity is carried out in such a way that (i) it is consistent with and non-intrusive of the rights and privileges conferred on the tribals under the Fifth Schedule, and (ii) it causes least disturbance to the ecology that surrounds the tribal habitats. In this regard, it is necessary to keep in view the guidelines laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the Samata case. The local tribal communities, through their Gram Sabhas, should be fully involved in any decision taken on taking up mining in the first instance. Even if mining were to be taken up in exceptional cases, the constitutional rights of the tribals in regard to ownership of the land and its resources should be fully protected.
Displacement and Forced Evictions
INTERNAL displacement caused by irrigation/mining/industrial projects, resulting in landlessness and hunger, is a major cause of distress among the poor, especially the adivasis. It is well known that 40 per cent of all the people displaced by dams in the last sixty years are forest-dwelling adivasis. Other forms of distress have added to this unconscionable figure. The law and administration provides no succour to displaced people, and in fact often treats them with hostility since such internally displaced forest-dwellers tend to settle down again in some forest region, which is prohibited by the law. The Naxalite movement has come to the aid of such victims of enforced migration in the teeth of the law.
Adivasis displaced by irrigation projects in Orissa have migrated to the forests of Visakhapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh in large numbers. They would have been evicted from there by the Forest Department of Andhra Pradesh but for the presence of the Naxalite movement. However, the perceived support of the Naxalites for these immigrants has led to harassment caused to them by the police. They have been repeatedly arrested and jailed for sheltering the Naxalites. Over the years, the administration too has come to accept the presence of these internally displaced adivasis. And the recently enacted Forest Dwellers Act of 2007 may now put an end to the State’s confrontation with them. However, a legal problem remains. The Presidential Order issued under Article 342 of the Constitution declares the list of Scheduled Tribes State-wise. A tribe that migrates from one State to another where it is not habitually resident would not be a Scheduled Tribe in that State and would get none of the protection the law offers. The immigrants from Orissa were initially identified as the Samantha tribe, which finds no mention in the list of Scheduled Tribes in AP. The recognition that they are Kondhs has resolved the problem for these people, but such a situation could repeat itself. Unless the law declares that at least insofaras Central legislation or administrative orders are concerned, a Scheduled Tribe recognised as such in any State is eligible for the benefits all over the country, internally displaced adivasis who have crossed State borders will remain without any protection in law. Since non-inclusion of a Tribe in a State’s list only means that the tribe is not found there, and not that it lacks tribal characteristics in that State, such a prescription would do no harm to the purpose of identification of Scheduled tribes under the Constitution. Indeed there is no reason why the same rule cannot be adopted for State legislation too. A group of adivasis recognised ST in any State should be recognised all over the country in respect of the legal and other development entitlements.
But displacement cannot by major projects is not the only cause of migration. Landlessness, extremes of poverty and social oppression can also be causes of displacement. Landless adivasis, mainly of the Muria or Gothi Koya tribe of Chhattisgarh, have long been crossing over into the forests of Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh in search of land, with the support of the Naxalites. Again, both the Forest and Police Departments came down heavily on them and set their hamlets on fire in incident after incident from 1989 till about 2002. But due to the interventions of civil society bodies the immigrants have stood their ground and today their presence is informally accepted by the administration. The same Act of 2007 can come to their rescue but Muria is not a recognised Scheduled Tribe in AP, and the issue whether its other name, Gothi Koya, is the same as the Kottu Koya found in the AP list of Scheduled Tribes is as yet unresolved.
In many places local inhabitants formed resistance groups when the Naxalites severally integrated with their traditional life-style. However, these resistance groups were converted into vigilante groups sponsored by the authorities over a period of time. In Chhattisgarh, the group is called Salwa Judum. Some members of this group are appointed as Special Police Officers (SPOs). Some of them are given arms training and are provided with firearms. Often these vigilante groups fight with armed Naxalite groups making the tribal fight the tribal. As a principle of good governance such a situation is not desirable.
These vigilante groups, inhabitants of tribal villages, who had moved out are put in camps along with some arterial roads. Such migrants have left behind their agricultural land, some of their livestock and other means of production and livelihood. Most of them do not like their camp life which has discipline and constraints.
Moreover, through this process of forced migration, many tribals have left their villages and even State and migrated into neighbouring States. This involuntary displacement and migration has caused further distress among the tribals and created administrative problems for the host State. In the State of Bihar, through social oppression, many Dalits had to move from their traditional habitat and moved elsewhere. They were victims of upper caste atrocities. New habitats of such migrant Dalits have become a source of further social tension. It is, therefore, time to think about a comprehensive policy- frame in which such internal displacement of different groups of population, whether tribal or Dalit, does not take place and in case it happens there should be a government policy to take care of such a situation. Through this process of forced migration large mineral areas got vacated where the mining corporate lessees are starting operation. Often the displaced persons look on hopelessly and sometimes they seek support of the Naxalite groups. Such situations create space for Naxalite interventions.
In Bihar there have been many instances where Dalits, suffering social oppression, and in recent times victims of the massacres perpetrated by the caste Senas such as Ranbir Sena, have had to flee their hamlets and settle elsewhere. Indeed, prevention of the depredations of the caste Senas is its duty at the very first instance. It has failed not only in that but also in providing protection to the victims so that they are not forced to migrate, or at least shelter and livelihood at he places where they have migrated to. The victims have received that help from the Naxalites. The trauma of displacement for which the State does not provide succour creates space for violent movement.
Considering the widespread phenomenon of internal displacement in the country, it is time the Government devised a policy to provide minimal security to such displaced populations. Their immediate problems are shelter and livelihood. In the absence of any policy in this regard, they are prey to all manner of exploitation. The Muria (Gothi Koya) immigrants from Chhattisgarh have, in their desperation, been a source of extremely cheap labour in building construction and civil works of all kinds in the parts of AP that they have migrated to.
THE Minimum Wages Act remains an Act on paper in much of rural India. Agricultural labour is governed by the Act but the minimum wage rates under the Act are not implemented, except where the prosperity of the farmers and the demand for labour makes it unavoidable. In the areas of their activity, it is reported that Naxalites have ensured payment of decent wage rates, though they have not usually gone by the statutory minimum wage rates. The rates they have ensured are sometimes higher and sometimes lower than the statutory rate. Their orientation to right is in general not governed by statutory entitlement but what they regard as just and fair, taking all factors that they believe to be relevant into consideration.
There are also large areas of labour not governed by the Minimum Wages Act. This includes categories where there is no discernible employer, which is for this reason included in the category of self-employment. Since the Naxalites are in any case not bothered whether or not there is a law governing the right they are espousing, they have intervened and determined fair wage rates in their perception in all labour processes in their areas of influences. This includes wages for washing clothes, making pots, tending cattle, repairing implements, etc. Naxalites have secured increases in the rate of payment for the picking of tendu leaf which is used for rolling beedies, in the forest areas of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand. This was a very major source of exploitation of adivasi labour, and while the Government knowingly ignored it, the Naxalites put an effective end to it. The exploitation was so severe that the rates have over the years increased up to fifty times what the tendu patta contractors used to pay before the Naxalites stepped in. It is therefore necessary for the State to provide for Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all types of minor minerals and forest produce and institutionally efficient procurement systems.
For quite some time the Central Government has been toying with the idea of an umbrella legislation for unorganised labour, and in general for all forms of labour left out of labour welfare legislation. The Second National Labour Commission’s recommendations are with the Government. Perhaps soon we will see a law made, but quite apart from the adequacy of the recommendations made by the said Commission and indeed the suitability of the very notion of a single umbrella legislation to provide a cushion in times of needs rather than detailed entitlements, any such law will be of little use unless effective measures are taken to see that it is implemented. Otherwise, such law will meet the same fate as the Minimum Wages Act. The Report of the National Commission for Enterprise in the Unorganised Sector, August 2007, recommends a legislation for the workers of this sector and also provides a draft of the proposed bill.
Enjoyment of common property resources as a traditional right by cattle-herds, fishing communities, toddy toppers, stone workers has become vulnerable due to the appropriation of these resources by the dominant sections of society or by the others with their support. The Naxalites have tried to ensure the protection of this right wherever they are active. This is an area where there is in general no legislative protection at all of traditional rights, though some States have some policies which tend in that direction. Legislative protection of an umbrella nature should be considered by the Central Government.
The Equal Remuneration Act which mandates payment of equal wages for men and women for work requiring the same skill and effort is another law that is observed exclusively in the breach. The Naxalites too have not paid much attention to ensuring payment of equal wage for the sexes but it is without doubt a source of discontent.
THE fight against the social oppression that the Dalits and the lower among the OBCs have been regularly subjected to is perhaps the most significant among the issues used by the Naxalite movement. Besides taking up and resolving individual issues, the movement has given confidence to the oppressed to assert their equality and demand respect and dignity from the dominant castes and classes. Impolite forms of address that the Dalits were subjected to, and the prohibition in the matter of wearing clean clothes and footwear in the presence of the upper castes, or while passing through their localities, and the compulsion to address them as dora or malik and other such oppressive practices, have by and large been brought to an end in their areas of work. The everyday humiliation and sexual exploitation of labouring women of Dalit communities by upper caste men is another form of oppression that has been successfully fought. Forced labour (begari and vetti chakri) by which the toiling castes had to provide their caste obligations free to the upper castes was also put an end to in many parts of the country, especially the Telangana district of Andhra Pradesh.
This is an area where the duty of the State is laid down unambiguously by the Constitution. The task of putting an end to social discrimination should not have required the threat of Naxalite-inspired militancy. Discrimination on grounds of caste, sex, religion etc, is barred by the Constitution in Articles 14 to 17. Positive enactments for penalising discrimination have been legislated in the case of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is not merely a penal law. It envisages the setting up of an elaborate system for prevention of such atrocities. The law has, however, been seen as merely a penal law which the victims have to set in motion. Its full potential has not been actualised by the administration. Instead much time is spent discussing its misuse.
‘Begar’, or forced labour in all its forms, is also prohibited by the Constitution in Article 23. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act was enacted in the year 1976 to give concrete form to this prohibition. The Act is, however, concerned only with debt bondage and not all forms of forced labour. There is no law penalising forced labour in other forms. Therefore it flourished in the most medieval forms in the Telangana district in Karimnagar, and it took a major upsurge led by the Naxalites in the late seventies and early eighties of the last centuy to put an end to it.
Apart from the concrete issues undertaken by the Naxalites against social oppression, the fact that the cadre and also most of the leaders at the local level of the Naxalite organisations consist mostly of poor villagers of castes looked down upon as lowly has endowed the oppressed with a lot of strength. A sense of powerlessness is a characteristic feature of the psychological make-up of the oppressed classes. The typical Naxalite cadre, however, is a confident (most probably gun-wielding) teenager from those very classes. To see young boys and girls of their own villages and their own class/caste active in the Naxalite movement, and wielding power over the ‘big’ men of the village and the high and mighty tahsildar has given a sense of empowerment to the oppressed that has inestimable value. This indeed was one of the benefits that the Panchayat Raj system was expected to give the oppressed communities, but with the empowerment of the local bodies, as envisaged by the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution remaining a mere promise in most States, and with the cooptation of the leaders generated by the Panchayat institutions in the corrupt political system, the hope has been largely belied. A very genuine empowerment of the local bodies and of the representatives of the oppressed communities within the system alone can fill this need.
Issues arising out of Non- or Mal-governance
DISSATISFACTION with improper and often mal-governance created anger among the suffering population. The Naxalites exploit the situation for their own political gain by giving the affected persons some semblance of relief or response. Thereby they tend to legitimise in the eyes of the masses their own legal or even illegal activities.
In the initial stages, the Naxalite movement took advantage of the presence of Forest Department personnel in the adivasi areas, and gave some relief to the adivasis. The uncertain existence of adivasis in the forests has resulted in tremendous power of harassment in the hands of Forest Department personnel. It is permissible to pick edible forest produce but not to undertake cultivation of the same produce in the forests. It is permissible to gather dry twigs and logs of uprooted trees but not to cut standing timber. It is permissible to graze cattle in the forests, but it should be ensured that the cattle do not nibble at the nurseries of the Forest Department. In some States timber can be gathered for house construction but not for any other purpose. Quite apart from the injustice of the restrictions, the dividing line between what can be done and what cannot is often so slight that there is considerable ground for arbitrary action by the enforcer of the restrictions. Wherever there is a basis for discretion on the part of government officials, Forest Department personnel have had to be appeared in different ways to avoid harassment. It was only after the Naxalites entered the picture that the adivasis got protection from this harassment, which was well known to the administration but was normally ignored.
But after the initial impact on extortionate practices of the Forest Department officials, the movement’s impact on official corruption has been slight. The level of corruption in the Naxalite affected areas is not noticeably less than elsewhere. It may be due to the understanding that corruption is an internal affair of the administration. Or that it cannot be rooted out within the present political-economic system. Whatever the reason it leaves the corruption intact and, therefore, the dissatification among the people intact, unlike in a situation where, for instance, the minimum wages not ensured by the administration are ensured by the pressure exerted by the civil society. Cooption of some elements of the Naxal movement into the corrupt system was a fact.
On some occasions the Naxalites have been able to put pressure upon lower level administrators to perform their job effectively. The pressure exerted by the Naxalite movement has had some effect in ensuring proper attendance of teachers, doctors etc. in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, but it is also true that such employees have made the presence of the Naxalites an excuse for not attending to their duties properly in the interior areas. In the matter of physical infrastructure like roads, school buildings, etc., the Naxalite movement has on certain occasions exerted pressure for its improvement, but in many places they have themselves obstructed the laying of roads for the reason that it would increase police and paramilitary raids. In Chhattisgarh they have demolished pucca buildings such as schools so that the police and paramilitary may have no shelter in the forests. All said and done, it cannot be said that there has been any general improvement in the administration in the areas of Naxalite influence.
The fact is that the Naxalites do not see it as their job to reform the administration, but to supplant it where possible and debunk it otherwise. Similarly, their hostile attitude towards the electoral process has meant that they have not had much effect on the political system and the functioning of the local bodies. Instead they have concentrated on establishing their organisations as alternatives. But since these organisastions of parallel administration set up by them cannot replicate all the functions of the Government, the gap remains and so does the dissatisfaction.
In the matter of resolution of disputes among the people and finding redressal, the contribution of the Naxalite movement has been significant. There is in general no administrative or judicial mechanism in our country for resolution of day-to-day conflicts and disputes. The people have been traditionally taking these disputes to local dispute-resolution mechanisms. In the best case the entire community sits and hears the dispute. This is usually the case in tribal villages. Outside the tribal areas, a dispute within a caste is usually—at any rate among tightly knit communities—decided by the caste panchayat. The caste panchayat itself may function democratically or under the dictates of a group of elders. Disputes between persons of different castes are decided by the two sides getting their respective caste elders (or persons they trust) to sit together. In some places disputes are commonly taken to the dominant person or persons in the village, whether or not justice is done. Sometimes there is a compulsion that all disputes must be brought to the village landlord, where the dispensation of justice is usually in favour of the strong. All told, the need of a quick, fair and effective dispute resolution mechanism remains.
The Naxalite movement has provided a mechanism (usually describted as a ‘People’s Court’) whereby these disputes are resolved in a rough and ready manner, and generally in the interests of the weaker party. It has the two elements of speed and effectiveness. Justice and fairness are, however, often disputed. In particular, use of force disproportionate to the issue involved is fairly common. Those who are not loyal to the Naxalites often do not attend the People’s Court at all. It is attended only by loyalists who agree with the conclusion indicated and the resolution proposed by the Naxalites. Many times the consultation with the people is a mere formality. It is the Naxalite armed squad that decides the matter. While some sort of justice is attempted to be done in disputes arisng from economic inequalities/exploitation, decisions in other matters, particularly the matrimonial disputes for instance, have quite often been characterised by a certain degree of crudeness, highhandedness and even cruelty.
Nevertheless these People’s Courts, however imperfectly adverse illegally, met some unmet demands of the community. Society must evolve a tradition of resolution of disputes by the local community in the fullness of its knowledge of all the tangible and intangible, the express and the implicit aspects of the problem, and in a manner that inspires faith in its impartiality. Elected Nyaya Panchayats may be an alternative which should be explored with diligence and sincerity.
EFFICIENT and impartial policing is an important requirement of good administration. But the fact is that the weaker sections of the people do not have much trust in the police. They have no trust that justice will be done to them against the powerful. Nor do they trust that the police will take interest in doing their duty where the poor alone are involved, because the poor do not have the wherewithal to make it worthwhile. Often it is as frustrating an experience to go to the police station as a complainant as it is fraught with danger to go as a suspect. Women who go to a police station to complain of sexual abuse or domestic harassment are made painfully aware of this fact. Here lies one of the attractions of the Naxalite movement. The movement does provide protection to the weak against the powerful, and takes the security of, and justice for, the weak and the socially marginal seriously. Even-handedness may still be a problem since instances where one party to an offence has influenced the Naxalite cadre are not unknown, but at least they have the satisfaction of being taken seriously. The other problem when the Naxalites interfere in providing security for one against another in society is that the level of violence they use tends to be on the high side. They tend to resort to severe corporal punishment, including capital punishment.
However, the Naxalite movement itself brings further police repression on the poor as a matter of State policy. Any agitation, supported or encouraged by the Naxalites, is brutally suppressed without regard to the justice of its demands. In such matters, it becomes more vital in the eyes of the administration to prevent the strengthening or growth of Naxalite influence than to answer the just aspiration. Often any individual who speaks out against the powerful is dubbed a Naxalite and jailed or otherwise silenced. The search for Naxalite cadre leads to severe harassment and torture of its supporters and sympathisers, and the kith and kin of the cadre. What is to be pointed out here is that the method chosen by the Government to deal with the Naxalite phenomenon has increased the people’s distrust of the police and consequent unrest. Protest against police harassment is itself a major instance of unrest, frequently leading to further violence by the police, in the areas under Naxalite influence. The response of the Naxalites, at least the Maoists, has been to target the police and subject them to violence, which in effect triggers the second round of the spiral. Rural policing under the Panchayat system in the pattern of the old Bengal Rural Police Act 1913 might be tried in these areas.
The rights and entitlements of the people underlying these find expression in the Constitution, the laws enacted by the various Governments and the policy declarations. The administration should not have waited for the Naxalite movement to remind it of its obligations towards the people in these matters. But at least now that he reminder has been given, it should begin rectifying its own deficiencies. It should be recognised that such a responsibility would lie upon the Indian State even if the Naxalites were not there, and even in regions where the Naxalite movement does not exist.