I received a call last week from a senior police officer in one of the states acutely affected by the Maoist rebellion. He said he was searching for a cure. It involved the best of intentions and the most difficult of practices: taking people away from a zone of conflict to one of relative peace to offer them a chance at life and livelihood. And, as and when things settle, return home.
People at gound zero, he explained, belong to one of several categories. One lot is unambiguously with the Maoists; out of anger against poverty or exploitation. Another group is with the police and paramilitary and, through them, the administration. A third lot, sometimes a corollary of the second category, is with thugs of the political party that holds sway in these parts. The fourth— the largest—are “innocents”, victims of “collateral damage”. They are often forced to take sides for survival, and are always squeezed by fear and frustration: at the receiving end of someone else’s power play. The police officer is most concerned about this lot, folks he wants to take away from the influence of the first three categories.
As we talked, the enormity and near-impossibility of such a task hit home. But more than probe, the relative naivete of such an exercise, born of deep frustration with the prevalent rot in governance, I decided to follow through our conversation. Various states such as Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra have ad hoc surrender and rehabilitation policies in place that differ for categories of rebels—lowest cadre to area commander to member of the zonal committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist)—and the sort of weapons they bring with them: a few thousand rupees for a “countrymade” revolver to several times that amount for an AK-series rifle.
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Rehabilitation packages are also sometimes provided for victims of Maoist excess— though, naturally, not for victims of police or political excess—on the lines of, say, victims of natural disasters such as floods, cyclones, drought or earthquakes, or man-made events such as riots or those displaced on account of projects. The point: One has to be a victim of a sort recognized by the political leadership and bureaucracy to make the cut. No template exists for anything else except forced relocation of the sort practised through Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, arguably the greatest human rights violation in recent Indian history since the Naga and Mizo wars; the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir; and the Sardar Sarovar, or “Narmada”, project. And relief, as we have come to know well, is nearly always fleeting, incomplete, and callous.
Anyway, I promised the police officer that I would bring his thoughts to my acquaintances and friends across a swathe of professions from activists and lawyers to development economists, conflict resolution specialists and soldiers. A conflict resolution specialist spoke of the case in Sri Lanka, where large sections of the Muslim population opted to move to the southern part of the island on account of the conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan forces. They were welcomed by the locals, who thought they would one day return. Now, many second-generation settlers have no intention of returning, and that is causing heartburn in these areas. (The relocation and incarceration of Tamils, of course, is a separate story altogether.)
In India, said a lawyer friend, Hindus who left the Kashmir valley were provided squalid resettlement spaces in which many have lived for two decades as conflict and politics rage in their former home. A brigadier in the Indian Army with long experience in the north-eastern states spoke of the disaster of forced resettlement practised by government forces to break rebels; and even of the British practice of carting labour from eastern India to Assam to grow tea. Both moves continue to brew socio-political tension and great resentment among sections of the population in these parts.
A development economist friend said nothing could realistically be done in the present situation: The police officer would simply have to leave such issues until conflict in Maoist zones entered a decisive stage. A few youngsters, boys and girls, could be provided scholarships or training and jobs, but these would, at best, be token gestures, and not lead to any great shift in the battle between the rebels and the state.
The police officer will have to wait for a time of good governance. But he already knows what a bum deal that is.
Sudeep Chakravarti writes on issues related to conflict in South Asia. He is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. He writes a column alternate Thursdays on conflicts that directly affect business.
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