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Statement against Govt of India’s planned military offensive in tribal areas

sanhati | 16.10.2009 12:18 | Repression | Social Struggles | Workers' Movements

Sanhati (, a collective of activists/academics who have been working in solidarity with peoples’ movements in India by providing information and analysis, took the initiative to bring together voices from around the world against the Government of India’s planned military offensive in Central India. A statement and a background note were drafted in consultation with Indian activists, and duly circulated for endorsement - several eminent intellectuals/acadmics along with hundreds of others from across the world have endorsed. Attached to the statement and signatories, is a background note providing the political perspective of this conflict.


Dr. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister,
Government of India,
South Block, Raisina Hill,
New Delhi,
India-110 011.

We are deeply concerned by the Indian government's plans for launching
an unprecedented military offensive by army and paramilitary forces in
the adivasi (indigenous people)-populated regions of Andhra Pradesh,
Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal states.
The stated objective of the offensive is to "liberate" these areas
from the influence of Maoist rebels. Such a military campaign will
endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions of the poorest people
living in those areas, resulting in massive displacement, destitution
and human rights violation of ordinary citizens. To hunt down the
poorest of Indian citizens in the name of trying to curb the shadow of
an insurgency is both counter-productive and vicious. The ongoing
campaigns by paramilitary forces, buttressed by anti-rebel militias,
organised and funded by government agencies, have already created a
civil war like situation in some parts of Chattisgarh and West Bengal,
with hundreds killed and thousands displaced. The proposed armed
offensive will not only aggravate the poverty, hunger, humiliation and
insecurity of the adivasi people, but also spread it over a larger

Grinding poverty and abysmal living conditions that has been the lot
of India’s adivasi population has been complemented by increasing
state violence since the neoliberal turn
in the policy framework of the Indian state in the early 1990s.
Whatever little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common
pastures, village tanks and other common property resources has come
under increasing attack by the Indian state in the guise of Special
Economic Zones (SEZs) and other "development" projects related to
mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc. The
geographical terrain, where the government's military offensive is
planned to be carried out, is very rich in natural resources like
minerals, forest wealth and water, and has been the target of large
scale appropriation by several corporations. The desperate resistance
of the local indigenous people against their displacement and
dispossession has in many cases prevented the government-backed
corporations from making inroads into these areas. We fear that the
government's offensive is also an attempt to crush such popular
resistances in order to facilitate the entry and operation of these
corporations and to pave the way for unbridled exploitation of the
natural resources and the people of these regions. It is the widening
levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation
and structural violence, and the state repression on the non-violent
resistance of the poor and marginalized against their dispossession,
which gives rise to social anger and unrest and takes the form of
political violence by the poor. Instead of addressing the source of
the problem, the Indian state has decided to launch a military
offensive to deal with this problem: kill the poor and not the
poverty, seems to be the implicit slogan of the Indian government.

We feel that it would deliver a crippling blow to Indian democracy if
the government tries to subjugate its own people militarily without
addressing their grievances. Even as the short-term military success
of such a venture is very doubtful, enormous misery for the common
people is not in doubt, as has been witnessed in the case of numerous
insurgent movements in the world. We urge the Indian government to
immediately withdraw the armed forces and stop all plans for carrying
out such military operations that has the potential for triggering a
civil war which will inflict widespread misery on the poorest and most
vulnerable section of the Indian population and clear the way for the
plundering of their resources by corporations. We call upon all
democratic-minded people to join us in this appeal.

National Signatories

Arundhati Roy, Author and Activist, India
Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Center for Economic Studies and
Planning, JNU, India
Sandeep Pandey, Social Activist, N.A.P.M., India
Manoranjan Mohanty, Durgabai Deshmukh Professor of Social Development,
Council for Social Development, India
Prashant Bhushan, Supreme Court Advocate, India
Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics,
University of Delhi, India
Colin Gonzalves, Supreme Court Advocate, India
Arvind Kejriwal, Social Activist, India
Arundhati Dhuru, Activist, N.A.P.M., India
Swapna Banerjee-Guha, Department of Geography, University of Mumbai, India
Anand Patwardhan, Film Maker, India
Dipankar Bhattachararya, General Secretary, Communist Party of India
(Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, India
Bernard D’Mello, Associate Editor, Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), India
Sumit Sarkar, Retired Professor of History, Delhi University, India
Tanika Sarkar, Professor of History, J.N.U., India
Gautam Navlakha, Consulting Editor, Economic and Political Weekly, India
Madhu Bhaduri, Ex-ambassador
Sumanta Banerjee, Writer, India
Dr. Vandana Shiva, Philosopher, Writer, Environmental Activist, India
M.V. Ramana, Visiting Research Scholar, Program in Science, Technology,
and Environmental Policy; Program on Science and Global Security,
Princeton University, USA
Dipanjan Rai Chaudhari, Retired Professor, Presidency College, India
G. N. Saibaba, Assistant Professor, University of Delhi
Amit Bhattacharyya, Professor, Department of History. Jadavpur University,
D.N. Jha, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Delhi, India
Paromita Vohra, Devi Pictures
Sunil Shanbag, Theater Director
Saroj Giri, Lecturer in Political Science, Delhi University, India
Sudeshna Banerjee, Department of History, Jadavpur University, India
Achin Chakraborty, Professor of Economics, Institute of Development
Studies, Calcutta University Alipore, India
Anand Chakravarty, Retired Professor, Delhi University, India
Anjan Chakrabarti, Professor of Economics, Calcutta University, India
Subha Chakraborty Dasgupta, Professor, Jadavpur University, India
Uma Chakravarty, Retired Professor, Delhi University, India
Kunal Chattopadhyay, Professor of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur
University, India
Amiya Dev, Emiritus Professor of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur
University, India
Subhash Gatade, Writer and Social Activisit, India
Abhijit Guha, Vidyasagar University, India
Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA, India
Gauri Lankesh, Editor, Lankesh Patrike, India
Pulin B. Nayak, Professor of Economics, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi
University, India
Imrana Qadeer, Retired Professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community
Health, J.N.U., India
Neshant Quaiser, Associate Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, Central
University, Department of Sociology, India
Ramdas Rao, President, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Bangalore Unit,
Shereen Ratnagar, Retired Professor, Center for Historical Studies, JNU,
Rahul Varman, Professor, Department of Industrial and Management
Engineering, IIT Kanpur, India
Padma Velaskar, Professor, Center for Studies in the Sociology of
Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India
Hilal Ahmed, Associate Fellow, Center for the Studies of Development of
Societies, India
Reetha Balsavar
Sriparna Bandopadhyay, India
Chinmoy Banerjee
Kaushik Banyopadhyay, Student, IIT KGP, India
Pranab Kanti Basu, Department of Economics and Politics, Vishwa Bharati
University, India
Harsh Bora, Student, Delhi Law Faculty, India
Kaushik Bose, Reader, Vidyasagar University, India
Shitansu Shekhar Chakraborty, Student, IIT Kharagpur, India
Rabin Chakraborty
Indira Chakravarthi, Public Health Researcher, India
Nandini Chandra, Member of Faculty, Delhi University, India
Navin Chandra, Visiting Senior Fellow, Institude of Human Development, India
Jagadish Chandra, New Socialist Alternative, CWI, India
Pratyush Chandra, Activist, Freelance Journalist, and Researcher, India
Dhiman Chatterjee, IIT Chennai, India
Debarshi Das, IIT Guwahati, India
Probal Dasgupta, Linguistic Research Unit, I.S.I., India
Surya Shankar Dash, Independent Filmmaker, India
Ashokankur Datta, Graduate Student, I.S.I. (Planning Unit), India
Soumik Dutta
S. Dutta, Delhi Platform, India
Madhumita Dutta, Green Youth Movement, India, Based in Chennai
Durga Prasad Duvvuri, Independent Management Consultant, India
Ajit Eapen, Mumbai, India
Sampath G, Mumbai, India
Lena Ganesh
M.S. Ganesh
Pothik Ghosh, Editor, Radical Notes, India
Rajeev Godara, General Secretary, Sampooran Kranti Manch, Haryana
(associated with Lok Rajniti Manch), India (Also an Advocatein Punjab and
Haryana High Courts)
Jacob, South Asia Study Center
Manish Jain, Assistant Professor, Center for Studies of Sociology of
Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India
Shishir K. Jha, IIT Mumbai, India
Avinash K. Jha, Assistant Professor of Economics, Shri Ram College of
Commerce, India
Bodhisattva Kar, Fellow in History, Center for Studies in Social Science,
Harish Karnick, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Kanpur,
Sumbul Jawed Khan, Biological Sciences and Bio. Eng. Department, IIT
Kanpur, India
Ravi Kumar, Editor of Radical Notes and Assistant Professor, Jamia Millia
Islamia, Central University, India
Abhijit Kundu, Faculty, Sociology, University of Delhi
Soumik Majumder
Dishery Malakar
Julie Koppel Maldonado
Dr Nandini Manjrekar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
Soma Marik
Satyabrata Mitra
Siddhartha Mitra
Tista Mitra, Journalist, India
Najeeb Mubarki, Assistant Editor, Editorial page, Economic Times, India
Dipankar Mukherjee, PDF, Delhi, India
Subhasis Mukhopadhyay, Frontier
Sakuntala Narsimhan, Writer, India
Nalini Nayak, Reader in Economics, PGDAV College, Delhi University, India
Soheb ur Rahman Niazi, Student, Jamia Milia Islamia, India
Rahul Pandey
Jai Pushp, Activist, Naujawan Bharat Sabha, India
Divya Rajagopal
Ramendra, Delhi Shramik Sangathan, India
V. Nagendra Rao, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad, India
Sankar Ray, Columnist
Kirity Roy, MASUM and PACTI, India
Atanu Roy
Anindyo Roy
Dunu Roy, Social Activist, India
Sanjoy Kumar Saha, Reader, CSE department, Jadavpur University, India
Sandeep, Freelance Journalist
Dr. K. Saradamoni, Retired Academic
Madhu Sarin, Social Activist
Satyam, Rahul Foundation and Dayitvbodh, India
Jhuma Sen, Delhi
Samita Sen, Professor, Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University, India
Santanu Sengupta, UDML College of Engineering, India
Ajay Kishor Shaw, Mumbai, India
Dr. Mira Shiva
Jagmohan Singh, Voices for Freedom Punjab, India
Sandeep Singh, Mumbai, India
Harindar Pal Singh Ishar, Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court, India
Preeti Sinha, Editor of Philhal, Patna, India
Oishik Sircar, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School, India
K. Sriram
Viviek Sundara, Mumbai, India
Saswati Swetlena, Programme Officer, Governance and Advocacy Unit,
National Center for Advocacy Studies, India
Damayanti Talukdar, Kolkata
Divya Trivedi, The Hindu Business Line, India
Satyam Varma, Rahul Foundation
G. Vijay, Lecturer, Department of Economics, University of Hyderabad, India
R.M. Vikas, IIT Kanpur, India

International Signatories

Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, M.I.T., USA
David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, The C.U.N.Y.
Graduate Center, USA
Michael Lebowitz, Director, Program in Transformative Practice and Human
Development, Centro Internacional Mirana, Venezuela
John Bellamy Foster, Editor of Monthly Review and Professor of
Sociology,University of Oregon Eugene,USA
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor and Director of the
Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University, USA
James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science, Yale University, USA
Michael Watts, Professor of Geography and Development Studies, University
of California Berkeley, USA
Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, Departments of
Anthropoogy and Political Science, Columbia University, USA
Mira Nair, Filmmaker, Mirabai Films, USA
Howard Zinn, Historian, Playwright, and Social Activisit, USA
Abha Sur, Women’s Studies, M.I.T., USA
Richard Peet, Professor of Geography, Clark University, USA
Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies and International
Relations, School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London,
Massimo De Angelis, Professor of Political Economy, University of East
London, UK
Gyanendra Pandey, Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of History,
Emory University, USA
Brian Stross, Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas Austin, USA
J. Mohan Rao, Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts at
Amherst, USA
Vinay Lal, Professor of History & Asian American Studies, University of
California Los Angeles, USA
James Crotty, Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst,
Haluk Gerger, Political Scientist, Activist, Political Prisoner, Turkey
Justin Podur, Journalist, Canada
Hari Kunzru, Novelist, U.K.
Louis Proyect, Columbia University
Biju Mathew, Associate Professor, Rider University, USA
Balmurli Natrajan, Campaign to Stop Funding Hate and South Asia Solidarity
Initiative, USA
Harsh Kapoor, South Asia Citizens Web
Kim Berry, Professor of Women’s Studies, Humboldt State University, USA
Shefali Chandra, Professor of South Asian History, Washington University
at St Louis, USA
Angana Chatterji, Professor, California Institute of Integral Studies, San
Francisco, USA
Stan Cox, Senior Scientist, The Land Institute, USA
Martin Doornbos, Professor Emeritus, International Institute of Social
Studies, Erasmus University, Netherlands
Robert A Hueckstedt, Professor, University of Virginia, USA
Louis Kampf, Professor of Literature Emeritus, MIT, USA
Emily Kawano, Director, Center for Popular Economics, USA
Arthur MacEwan, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of
Massachusetts Boston, USA
Bill Martin, Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University, USA
Ali Mir, Professor, William Paterson University, USA
Anuradha Dingwaney Needham, Longman Professor of English, Oberlin College,
Kavita Philip, Associate Professor, University of California, Irvine, USA
Nicholas De Genova, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Latino
Studies, Columbia University, USA
Peter Custers, Academic researcher on militarisation, Netherlands
Radha D’Souza, School of Law, University of Westminster , UK
Gary Aboud, Secretary, Fisherman and Friends of the Sea, Trinidad and Tobago
Mysara Abu-Hashem, Ph.D. Student, American University, USA
Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Professor of English, Montclair University, USA
Nadim Asrar, Ph.D. student, University of Minnesota, USA
Margaret E Sheehan, Attorney at Law, USA
Arpita Banerjee, Lecturer, Whittemore School of Business and Economics,
University of New Hampshire, USA
Oyman Basaran, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Deepankar Basu, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of
Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Sharmadip Basu, Syracuse University, USA
Joseph A Belisle
Varuni Bhatia, Assistant Professor, Religous Studies Program, N.Y.U., USA
Anindya Bhattacharya, Faculty, University of York, UK
Sourav Bhattacharya, University of Pittsburgh, USA
Peter J. Bloom, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, University
of California Santa Barbara, USA
Swati Birla, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Sister Maureen Catabian, Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Philippines
Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor, Department of Communications,
University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Ipsita Chatterjee, Assistant Professor, University of Texas, Austin, USA
Piya Chatterjee, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, University of
California Riverside, USA
Ruchi Chaturvedi, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Hunter College,
City University of New York, USA
Chitrabhanu Chaudhuri, Ph.D. Student, Department of Mathematics,
Northwestern University, USA
Len Cooper,Victorian Branch,Communication Workers Union Australia
Priti Gulati Cox, Artist, USA
Linda Cullen, Canada
Huma Dar, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of British Columbia, Canada
Koel Das, UCSB, USA
Atreyi Dasgupta, MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA
Grace de Haro, APDH Human Rights Organization, Argentina
Nandini Dhar, Ph.D. student, University of Texas Austin, U.S.A.
Emily Durham-Shapiro, Student, University of Minnesotta, USA
Arindam Dutta, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, MIT, USA
Anne Dwyer, University of Washington, USA
Ilgin Erdem, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. USA
T. Robert Fetter, USA
Kade Finnoff, Doctoral Candidate, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Kaushik Ghosh, University of Texas, Austin, USA
Bishnupriya Ghosh, Professor of English, University of California Santa
Barbara, USA
Vinay Gidwani, Professor of Geography, Graduate Center, City University of
New York, USA
Wendy Glauser, MA candidate, Political Science. York University. Toronto,
Ted Glick, Climate Crisis Coalition, Climate Crisis Coalition and
Chesapeake Climate Action Network, USA
Ozlem Goner, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Inderpal Grewal, Yale University, USA
Shubhra Gururani, Associate Professor of Anthropology, York University,
Anna L. Gust, University College London, UK
Shalmali Guttal, Focus on the Global South
Arne Harns, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Social and Political Sciences,
Free University of Berlin, Germany
Amrit Singh Heer, Graduate student, Social and Political Thought, York
University, Canada
Helen Hintjens, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands
Zeba Imam, Ph.D. student, Texas A&M University, USA
Kajri Jain, University of Toronto, Canada
Dhruv Jain, Graduate student, York University, Canada
Mohamad Junaid, Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology, City
University of New York, USA
Jyotsna Kapur, Associate Professor, Southern Illinois University,
Carbondale, USA
Nada Khader , Executive Director, WESPAC Foundation
Jesse Knutson, University of Chicago, USA
Peter Lackowski, Writer/Activist, USA
Maire Leadbeater (human rights activist Auckland New Zealand)
Joseph Levine, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of
Massachusetts Amherst, USA
George Levinger, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts
Amherst, USA
David W. Lewit, Alliance for Democracy, USA
Jinee Lokaneeta, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Drew
University, USA
Ania Loomba, Catherine Bryson Professor of English, University of
Pennsylvania, USA
Sanjeev Mahajan
Sunaina Maira, Associate Professor, University of California Davis, USA
Panayiotis “Taki” Manolakos, Writer/Activist, USA
Carlos Marentes,, USA
Erika Marquez, New York, USA
Thomas Masterson, Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, USA
Yasser Munif, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. USA
Jim McCorry, Belfast, N. Ireland
Victor Menotti, Executive Director, International Forum on Globalization, USA
James Miehls, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts
Amherst, USA
Stephen Miesher, Associate Professor, University of California Santa
Barbara, USA
Raza Mir, Professor of Management, William Paterson University, USA
Katherine Miranda, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras.
Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director, Oakland Institute, USA
Roger Moody, Association for Progressive Communication, UK
Agrotosh Mookerji, Statistician and student, UK
Joshua Moufawad-Paul, Ph.D. student, York University, Canada
Sudipto Muhuri
Alan Muller, Executive Director, Green Delaware, USA
Sirisha Naidu, Assistant Professor of Economics, Wright State University, USA
Sriram Natrajan, Independent Researcher, Thailand
Nandini Nayak, SOAS, University of London, UK
Ipsita Pal Bhaumik, NIH, USA
Shailja Patel, USA
Saswat Pattanayak, Editor, Radical Notes, USA
Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project
Mike Alexander Pozo, Political Affairs Magazine
Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of
California Irvine, USA
Kaveri Rajaraman, Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, USA
K. Ravi Raman, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Manchester, UK
Leena Ranade, AID India, USA
Nagesh Rao, Assistant Professor, The College of New Jersey, USA
Ravi Ravishankar, Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, USA
Chandan Reddy, Assistant Professor, University of Washington, USA
Bruce Rich, Attorney, USA
Dr. Andrew Robinson, UK
Rachel Rosen, International Workers of the World and OSSTF, USA
Seth Sandronsky, Journalist, USA
Amit Sarkar, Visiting Fellow, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID/NIH, USA
Bhaskar Sarkar, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, University
of California Santa Barbara, USA
Helen Scharber, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Anna Schultz, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology, School of Music,
University of Minnesota, USA
Svati Shah, Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies, University of
Massachusetts Amherst, USA
Shaheen Shasa, USA
Snehal Shinghavi, Assistant Professor, University of Texas, Austin, USA
Tyler Shipley, Department of Political Science, York University, Canada
Samira Shirdel, Community Advocate, Chaya: a Resource for South Asian
Women, USA
Jon Short, Department of Communications Studies, Wilfrid Laurier
University, Canada
Kuver Sinha, Texas A&M University, USA
Subir Sinha, SOAS, University of London, U.K
Julietta Singh, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA
Preethy Sivakumar, York University, Canada
Ajay Skaria, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota, USA
Stephen C Snyder
Nidhi Srinivas, Associate Professor of Nonprofit Management, The New
School, USA
Chukka Srinivas
Poonam Srivastav, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Minnesota, USA
Priyanka Srivastava, Ph.D. candidate, University of Cincinnati, USA
Rachel Steiger-Meister, Graduate Student, Wright State University, USA
Raja Swamy, Campaign to Stop Funding Hate, USA
Usha Titikshu, Photojournalist, Nepal
Wendel Trio, Former Chair, European Alliance with Indigenous Peoples
Shivali Tukdeo, University of Illinois, USA
Sandeep Vaidya, India Support Group, Ireland
Rashmi Varma, University of Warwick, U.K
Nalini Visvanathan, Lecturer in Asian American Studies, University of
Massachusetts Boston, USA
Daphna Whitmore, Secretary, Workers’ Party, New Zealand
T. Wignesan, Editor, Asianists’ Asia, Centre de Recherches, CERPICO and
CREA, France
Daphne Wysham, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies, USA



It has been widely reported in the press that the Indian government is
planning an unprecedented military offensive against alleged Maoist
rebels, using paramilitary and counter-insurgency forces, possibly the
Indian Armed Forces and even the Indian Air Force. This military operation
is going to be carried out in the forested and semi-forested rural areas
of the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand,West Bengal and
Maharashtra, populated mainly by the tribal (indigenous) people of India.
Reportedly, the offensive has been planned in consultation with US
counter-insurgency agencies. To put the Indian government’s proposed
military offensive in proper perspective one needs to understand the
economic, social and political background to the conflict. In particular,
there are three dimensions of the crisis that needs to be emphasized,
because it is often overlooked: (a) the development failure of the
post-colonial Indian state, (b) the continued existence and often
exacerbation of the structural violence faced by the poor and
marginalized, and (c) the full-scale assault on the meager resource base
of the peasantry and the tribal (indigenous people) in the name of
“development”. Let us look at each of these in turn, but before we do so
it needs to be stressed that the facts we mention below are not novel;
they are well-known if only conveniently forgotten. Most of these facts
were pointed out by the April 2008 Report of the Expert Group of the
Planning Commission of the Indian Government (headed by retired civil
servant D. Bandopadhyay) to study “development challenges in extremist
affected areas”.

The post-colonial Indian State, both in its earlier Nehruvian and the more
recent neoliberal variant, has failed miserably to solve the basic
problems of poverty, employment and income, housing, primary health care,
education and inequality and social discrimination of the people of the
country. The utter failure of the development strategy of the
post-colonial State is the ground on which the current conflict arises. To
recount some well known but oft-forgotten facts, recall that about 77
percent of the Indian population in 2004-05 had a per capita daily
consumption expenditure of less than Rs. 20; that is less than 50 cents by
the current nominal exchange rate between the rupee and the US dollar and
about $2 in purchasing power parity terms. According to the 2001 Census,
even 62 years after political independence, only about 42 percent of
Indian households have access to electricity. About 80 percent of the
households do not have access to safe drinking water; that is a staggering
800 million people lacking access to potable water.

What is the condition of the working people in the country? 93 percent of
the workforce, the overwhelming majority of the working people in India,
are what the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector
(NCEUS) called “informal workers”; these workers lack any employment
security, work security and social security. About 58 percent of them work
in the agricultural sector and the rest is engaged in manufacturing and
services. Wages are very low and working conditions extremely onerous,
leading to persistent and deep poverty, which has been increasing over the
last decade and a half in absolute terms: the number of what the National
Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) called the
“poor and vulnerable” increased from 811 million in 1999-00 to 836 million
in 2004-05. Since majority of the working people still work in the
agricultural sector, the economic stagnation in agriculture is a major
cause for the continued poverty of the vast majority of the people. Since
the Indian state did not undertake land reforms in any meaningful sense,
the distribution of land remains extremely skewed to this day. Close to 60
percent of rural households are effectively landless; and extreme economic
vulnerability and despair among the small and marginal peasantry has
resulted in the largest wave of suicides in history: between 1997 and
2007, 182,936 farmers committed suicide. This is the economic setting of
the current conflict.

But in this sea of poverty and misery, there are two sections of the
population that are much worse off than the rest: the Scheduled Caste (SC)
and Scheduled Tribes (ST) population. On almost all indicators of social
well being, the SCs and STs are worse off than the general population:
poverty rates are higher, landlessness is higher, infant mortality rates
are higher, levels of formal education are lower, and so on. To understand
this differential in social and economic deprivation we need to look at
the second aspect of the current crisis that we had alluded to: structural

There are two dimensions of this structural violence: (a) oppression,
humiliation and discrimination along the lines of caste and ethnicity and
(b) regular harassment, violence and torture by arms of the State. For the
SC and ST population, therefore, the violence of poverty, hunger and
abysmal living conditions has been complemented and worsened by the
structural violence that they encounter daily. It is the combination of
the two, general poverty and the brutality and injustice of the age old
caste system, kept alive by countless social practices despite numerous
legislative measures by the Indian state, that makes this the most
economically deprived and socially marginalized section of the Indian
population. This social discrimination, humiliation and oppression is of
course very faithfully reflected in the behavior of the police and other
law-enforcing agencies of the State towards the poor SC and ST population,
who are constantly harassed, beaten up and arrested on the slightest
pretext. For this population, therefore, the State has not only totally
neglected their economic and social development, it is an oppressor and
exploiter. While the SC and ST population together account for close to a
quarter of the Indian population, they are the overwhelming majority in
the areas where the Indian government proposes to carry out its military
offensive against alleged Maoist rebels. This, then, is the social
background of the current conflict.

This brings us to the third dimension of the problem: unprecedented attack
on the access of the marginalized and poor to common property resources.
Compounding the persistent poverty and the continuing structural violence
has been the State’s recent attempt to usurp the meager resource base of
the poor and marginalized, a resource base that was so far largely outside
the ambit of the market. The neoliberal turn in the policy framework of
the Indian state since the mid 1980s has, therefore, only further worsened
the problems of economic vulnerability and social deprivation. Whatever
little access the poor had to forests, land, rivers, common pastures,
village tanks and other common property resources to cushion their
inevitable slide into poverty and immiserization has come under increasing
attack by the Indian state in the guise of so-called development projects:
Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and other “development” projects related to
mining, industrial development, Information Technology parks, etc. Despite
numerous protests from people and warnings from academics, the Indian
State has gone ahead with the establishment of 531 SEZs. The SEZs are
areas of the country where labour and tax laws have been consciously
weakened, if not totally abrogated by the State to “attract” foreign and
domestic capital; SEZs, almost by definition, require a large and compact
tract of land, and thus inevitably mean the loss of land, and thus
livelihood, by the peasantry. To the best of our knowledge, there have
been no serious, rigorous cost-benefit analysis of these projects to date;
but this does not prevent the government from claiming that the benefits
of these projects, in terms of employment generation and income growth,
will far outweigh the costs of revenue loss from foregone taxes and lost
livelihoods due to the assault on land.

The opposition to the acquisition of land for these SEZ and similar
projects have another dimension to it. Dr. Walter Fernandes, who has
studied the process of displacement in post-independence India in great
detail, suggests that around 60 million people have faced displacement
between 1947 and 2004; this process of displacement has involved about 25
million hectares of land, which includes 7 million hectares of forests and
6 million hectares of other common property resources. How many of these
displaced people have been resettled? Only one in every three. Thus, there
is every reason for people not tobelieve the government’s claims that
those displaced from their land will be, in any meaningful sense,
resettled. This is one of the most basic reasons for the opposition to
displacement and dispossession.

But, how have the rich done during this period of unmitigated disaster for
the poor? While the poor have seen their incomes and purchasing power
tumble down precipitously in real terms, the rich have, by all accounts,
prospered beyond their wildest dreams since the onset of the
liberalization of the Indian economy. There is widespread evidence from
recent research that the levels of income and wealth inequality in India
has increased steadily and drastically since the mid 1980s. A rough
overview of this growing inequality is found by juxtaposing two well known
facts: (a) in 2004-05, 77 percent of the population spent less than Rs. 20
a day on consumption expenditure; and (b) according to the annual World
Wealth Report released by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini in 2008, the
millionaire population in India grew in 2007 by 22.6 per cent from the
previous year, which is higher than in any other country in the world.

It is, thus, the development disaster of the Indian State, the widening
levels of disparity and the continuing problems of social deprivation and
structural violence when compounded by the all-out effort to restrict
access to common property resources that, according to the Expert Group of
the Planning Commission, give rise to social anger, desperation and
unrest. In almost all cases the affected people try to ventilate their
grievances using peaceful means of protest; they take our processions,
they sit on demonstrations, they submit petitions. The response of the
State is remarkably consistent in all these cases: it cracks down on the
peaceful protestors, sends in armed goons to attack the people, slaps
false charges against the leaders and arrests them and often also resorts
to police firing and violence to terrorize the people. We only need to
remember Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar and countless other instances
where peaceful and democratic forms of protest were crushed by the state
with ruthless force. It is, thus, the action of the State that blocks off
all forms of democratic protest and forces the poor and dispossessed to
take up arms to defend their rights, as has been pointed out by social
activists like Arundhati Roy. The Indian government’s proposed military
offensive will repeat that story all over again. Instead of addressing the
source of the conflict, instead of addressing the genuine grievances of
the marginalized people along the three dimensions that we have pointed
to, the Indian state seems to have decided to opt for the extremely myopic
option of launching a military offensive.

It is also worth remembering that the geographical terrain, where the
government’s military offensive is planned, is very well-endowed with
natural resources like minerals, forest wealth, biodiversity and water
resources, and has of late been the target of systematic usurpation by
several large, both Indian and foreign, corporations. So far, the
resistance of the local indigenous people against their displacement and
dispossession has prevented the government-backed corporates from
exploiting the natural resources for their own profits and without regard
to ecological and social concerns. We fear that the government’s offensive
is also an attempt to crush such democratic and popular resistance against
dispossession and impoverishment; the whole move seems to be geared
towards facilitating the entry and operation of these large corporations
and paving the way for unbridled exploitation of the natural resources and
people of these regions.

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