In the last 40 years Naxalite (Maoist) insurrections have spread like a forest fire from just one village to 170 districts in 13 states. The ?Red Corridor? has penetrated to the heart of India from the Nepal border through Bihar (30 out of 38 districts), Jharkhand (15 out of 22 districts), Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh right down to a few districts in Maharashtra and Karnataka. In a note submitted to a recently held J.R.D. Tata Memorial Seminar, Shri A.D. Moddie pointed out that the Naxalite fire has spread faster since 1990, with the neglect of rural India after liberalisation, the Naxal movement getting better armed with Kalashuikovs, landmines, wireless and country-made weapons.
It is an open question how such weapons have been amassed and through which sources though one always has the example of the Virappan villain to go by. What is shocking is that state governments seem utterly insensitive to what is going on within their boundaries. According to Shri Moddie, the general causes for the fast spread of Naxalism are the failure of land reforms, the plight of poor peasants and Vanvasis, lack of participative development and alienation of Vanvasis towards sarkari development which has dispossessed them of their land and livelihood. According to Shri Moddie some 50 million have been affected by the construction of big dams alone. The figure is disputed, but is believable. Thus, a study conducted under the auspices of the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) in 1994 noted that about 21.3 million people had been displaced between 1950 and 1990 to make way for mines, dams, industries and wild life sanctuaries. It is a frightening figure, considering that it does no include the number of people displaced in urban areas.
Shri Moddie can conceivably be right since more people have been displaced since 1994 or some twelve years ago. Very little is heard about them. The significance of the number of displaced people in India is better understood when one realises that out of 195 member countries of the United Nations, as many as 112 have a population of less than 50 million and that includes Argentina (38 million), Canada (31 million) Ghana (20 million), Kenya (31 million), Myanmar (49 million), Poland (39 million) and Tanzania (35 million). Australia has a population of 20 million and France 59 million. There are several countries like Belgium (10 million), Denmark (5 million), New Zealand (4 million) that pale into insignificance in the face of the number of people merely displaced in India. If that is not frightening, what else is?
The tragedy is that the number of Vanvasis and people belonging to weaker section displaced is disproportionately high. According to Usha Ramanathan, an Honorary Fellow of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies writing in The Hindu (April 14), in West Bengal alone about 70 lakh (7 million) had been adversely affected by projects between 1947 and 2000, of whom 30 lakh had been physically displaced and only some three lakh had been ?resettled?. Fancy 36 lakh people having to fend for themselves without any help whatsoever from the state. It is a matter of disgrace.
Vanvasis made up 20 per cent of this number and weaker section 30 per cent. Thirty one lakh lost their land and livelihood without being physically relocated. In the same period, in Assam, around 25 lakh people were deprived or dislocated. We speak of them as ?people?, when they are our fellow human beings and deserve every help they can get. Usha Ramanathan mentions other instances that are soul-wrenching. On January 2, 2006 police opened fire on Vanvasis who were preventing the takeover of their land for setting up industries in Kalinganagar in Orissa. A total of 634 families were displaced from the site of the Neelachal Ispat Nigam Ltd but only 53 persons apparently got employed. Some 430 families were displaced for Visa Steel but no more than 42 were given employment or approximately one individual in ten families.
If Usha Ramanathan is to be believed?and there is no reason why she shouldn?t, the state Government bought the land from the Vanvasis at Rs 35,000 an acre and sold it to the industry at Rs 3.35 lakh an acre. That is some business deal?at the cost of the Vanvasis. The State Government must have thought that even in giving Rs 35,000 an acre it was being charitable to the poor landowners. Officially, in Orissa, 81,176 families from 1,446 villages have been displaced due to development projects between 1950 and 1993 which required acquisition of 14,82,626 acres of land. When the Hirakud Dam was built between 1948 and 1957, as many as 285 villages were affected of which 249 were in Orissa. Around 4,744 families, all belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes were forcibly displaced of whom, it is claimed, 2,185 families were resettled in 17 rehabilitation camps.
Nobody knows what has become of them. One of the phonetic words in the English language is ?rehabilitation?. It can mean anything. What needs to be remembered is that the state is not doling out charity to these ?people?. Displacement can be very painful. People are removed from their natural environment which can be emotionally draining. They are pushed from one natural surrounding to another which can be totally alien and disturbing. And then there is the process of having to make a living and getting adjusted to a totally new way of life. It is inhuman to treat Vanvasis and weaker section that way. Given this background is it any wonder then that Naxalism is thriving and what is more, spreading throughout the country? Admittedly, violence cannot be tolerated, but do we ask why there is violence in the first place? And to think that some 50 million people have been displaced! Fancy throwing out the entire population of Canada, Australia and New Zealand in order to satisfy the demands for industrial or agricultural development! How thoughtless? and inhuman?can one be? The great public must speak up for the lowly and dispossessed and demand that justice be done to them.
That is the only?and most sensible?way of fighting Naxalism. Fighting violence with counter-violence doesn'tmeet the ends of justice.