Saturday, June 7, 2008

Red carpet

The calm has been shattered. Tribals in five districts of the Santhal Parganas in Jharkhand have taken up arms against the state. Death threats, extortion and encounters are becoming commonplace. Welcome to Dumka, Godda, Sahibganj, Pakur and Deoghar.The lid first blew off on 26 April, when the Santhal Parganas witnessed its first encounter between the police and Maoists at Pokhria village in the Shikaripada area in Dumka district. It left three policemen dead including the officer-in-charge of the Shikaripada thana, Samshad Ahmed. The police apprehended Manoj Dehri, an area commander of the extremist outfit, after the encounter.What followed was a series of investigations and combing operations. They revealed “extremely disturbing facts” for the state’s intelligence department. Before the encounter, senior leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoists) had met in the villages of Salbona and Lobapara on 24 and 25 April. A contingent of around 25 extremists had taken refuge in the Pahariatola area of Pokhria on the night of 25 April. The police got a tip-off from the village, which led to the encounter. Of great significance was the fact that the encounter took place in Pahariatola. The Paharias are one of the dominant tribes of the Santhal Parganas. It has two sects ~ the Souriya and the Mal Paharia. Collectively they have a population of around 1.25 lakhs spread across the districts of Dumka, Pakur, Godda and Sahibganj. Intelligence reports have revealed that the Maoist extremists are getting direct support from the Paharias and entrenching themselves across the five districts.“It’s not only the Paharias. The other two dominant tribes of the Santhal Parganas are the Santhals and Ghotwals and reports indicate that the extremists are getting support from both these tribes. Moreover, the area is rich in minerals, which attract the Maoists to extract lucrative levies from the miners, contractors and transporters,” says Mr RK Mallick, deputy inspector-general (personnel).But why are the traditionally peace-loving Paharias or the Santhals and Ghotwals providing a safe haven for the extremists? The answer dates back to 27 December 2007, when reports of three Paharia girls being raped by some police personnel came to light. The Maoists, who were waiting to build a base amongst these tribes, lapped up the opportunity. They used the anger against the police and started mobilising the Paharias to join the armed struggle. Mr Mallick also cites a complete lack of development in the Santhal Parganas as one of the main reasons behind tribals gravitating towards the Maoists.Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren, former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi and present Deputy Chief Minister Stephen Marandi are all from the Santhal Parganas. The region still continues to be neglected from the development point of view. The Paharias have suffered the most. Its representatives have never been allowed to enter the political process. Not a single member of the tribe has ever represented the population at any forum. In undivided Bihar, a Paharia Development Committee had been constituted in 1995, to be headed by the divisional commissioner of Santhal Parganas. It met just once ~ in 1995. Since the Paharias have no political representation, major political parties can afford to neglect them. The area is now reaping the fruits of this neglect, with the Maoists making serious incursions.The arrest of Maoist sub-zonal commander Badri Rai last year and subsequent interrogations revealed that at least 45 young girls of the Paharia and Santhal tribes have been recruited by the extremists and are being used to mobilise other tribals. Intelligence reports have revealed that during a recently concluded meeting of the Bihar-Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh special area committee of the CPI (Maoist) and members of its Eastern Regional Bureau, clear directions have been issued to the Jharkhand cadres to spread more rapidly into virgin territories and reclaim areas that have been lost either to the police or to rival factions. Directions have also been issued to the take the police and local resistance groups head-on.Dumka district served as the entry point. Sharing borders with North Bengal and Bihar, Dumka first saw Maoist activity in 1992. But attempts to penetrate the district were resisted by the local tribes. Of late, however, the extremists have poured in from the Katoria and Dhoraiya blocks in the Banka district of Bihar and state intelligence agencies say the dormant Santi Pal faction of the CPI (Maoists) has acted as a catalyst in laying a Red corridor across Bihar and Jharkhand. Dhoraiya and Sundar Pahari blocks in Godda; Ramgarh, Kathikund and Gopikandar blocks in Dumka; and Amrapara and Littipara blocks of Pakur serve as a corridor.After the creation of Khunti and Ramgarh districts recently, the total number of districts in Jharkhand has gone up to 24. The Union home ministry admits heightened Maoist activities in 16 out of the earlier 22 districts. Khunti and Ramgarh are waiting to go the Maoist way. With the “extremely disturbing facts” filtering out from the Santhal Parganas, the deep Red map will have to be redrawn and will probably leave no corner of Jharkhand free from extremism. “The police force in Santhal Parganas is lackadaisical and much needs to be done in terms of police modernisation to cope with the rising threats of Maoist extremism. Had there been enough intelligence back-up and tactical knowledge, the Shikaripada incident would not have happened,” says Mr VD Ram, director-general of police, Jharkhand.The murder of a local contractor, Balaram Pal, by the extremists in Dumka’s Ramgarh and the burning of coal dumpers in the Pannem coal mines of Amrapara after an extortion attempt should have acted as eye-openers. Unfortunately it took the loss of Samshad Ahmed’s life ~ he was recommended for a gallantry award for his contributions towards controlling Maoist activities in Lohardaga district ~ and the lives of two of his colleagues to bring home the gravity of the Maoist threat in the Santhal Parganas to the Jharkhand administration

No comments: