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'There could have been a couple of Maoists'

April 07, 2010 20:13 IST
Himanshu Kumar's non governmental organisation Vanvasi Chetna Ashram worked amongst the tribals in Chhattisgarh for 18 years.

In a telephone interview with rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore, Himanshu Kumar -- who was compelled to evacuate the ashram land for his 'pro-Maoist' stand -- says that angry tribals, who had been at the mercy of the state government's law and order machinery and central paramilitary forces since Operation Greenhunt began could have led Tuesday's massacre.

"There could not have been more than a couple of Maoists," he claims, amongst those who killed 75 of the 80-strong Central Reserve Police Force batallion that traveled deep inside the jungles of Mukarna, Dantewada, on patrol.

Himanshu Kumar declared he is ready to lay down his life for the sake of peace in Dantewada and laid out his plan of how this can be still done.

"We still have time to redress the problems of the tribals," he said.

Mr Himanshu Kumar, what is your view of the massacre of 75 CRPF personnel?

When tribals die, there is no such hue and cry as if we don't think that tribals are Indian citizens.

We don't also accept that when somebody is persistently attacked, raped and butchered the person is bound to hit back. That is a natural law.

If the police continue to beat you and torture you every other day it is natural for you to turn against the police. Think about it.

Nobody is justifying the torture against the tribals. But one cannot justify the brutalities committed by the Maoists...

See, when the media keeps mum on tribal killings and massacres, when the courts deny justice to these tribal victims...

We had tried to bring the Gompad case to the Supreme Court in which a CRPF battalion brutally murdered 16 tribal people with knives and swords on October 1 last year. This was not expected of the CRPF.

Which country's law says that the people of the same country should be killed using swords and knives just because they protest against your machinations?

Is this an allegation or do you have proof of this?

I have filed a case in the Supreme Court against this incident along with the family members of the victims. The state (of Chhattisgarh) detained the victims (who survived) as well as their families. Even the petitioners (who were kin of the victims) were kidnapped.

For 45 days they were tortured and beaten in jails and later brought to the Supreme Court. We requested the Supreme Court to keep these people away from the police for a week and then record their statement. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not accept our plea.

We are not talking about tribals here. We are talking about the massacre in which 75 CRPF personnel were killed by the Maoists in Dantewada...

Mere bhai (my brother), tell me, can there be 1,000 Maoists?

Do you mean the massacre was not the handiwork of Maoists...

I have been working in those jungles for the last 18 years. I know their (the Maoists) complete formation, how many make up for Maoists and how many are ordinary villagers and tribals.

Are you trying to indicate that the tribals killed the CRPF personnel and not the Maoists?

There could have been a couple of Maoists amongst them...

And could the rest of them be tribals?

Absolutely, absolutely. The police have gathered evidence from there that includes some bows and arrows from the place. The police party was later attacked using arrows.

Is this bloodshed justified? From whoever is perpetrating such acts of violence on the tribals or the police?

Of course, it is not justified at all. There is no space in a democracy for such acts of violence and (Home Minister P) Chidambaram should talk to the tribals.

We had asked him to come and talk to these people, he had promised but later usne hum se gaddari ki (he betrayed us)).

He promised that he will come to Dantewada and talk to the tribals but later in connivance with the chief minister (Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh) he asked to finish our entire village, got our workers arrested, detained victims who suffered various atrocities at the hands of the police and the state... he betrayed us.

He thinks he can win this battle on the strength of guns, but he is further helping deteriorate the situation.

If such an opportunity were ever to arise, would you take the lead in brokering peace between the state and the tribals/Maoists?

Yes, very much. I am going (to Delhi) today (April 7) for exactly that purpose. I am trying again to touch base with some people in the government and tell them that Chidambaram doesn't understand democracy and its meaning.

Democracy means talking to the people to solve problems.

Who will you mediate on behalf of -- the Maoists or the tribals?

Without doubt, on behalf of the tribals. I have got nothing to do with the Maoists.

Then do you condemn the attacks on the CRPF personnel like you condemn the attacks and brutalities against the tribals?

My understanding is that the security forces comprise the children of poor people and they have come to work in these forests to help alleviate their own poverty.

Do you condemn the attacks? Like whenever there are atrocities against poor tribals of this region you raise a banner of protest, go to the Supreme Court. In similar vein do you condemn Tuesday's attacks?

We are worried about the violence prevailing in this entire region.

But do you specifically condemn Tuesday's attacks?

Look the language the media uses that you condemn such an incident (in which 75 CRPF personnel were killed). Look, I also know those people (tribal girls) who were raped by these very people (the security forces) and killed their family members.

If I forget this, do not take that into account and shut that out from my mind then I can easily condemn such acts (killing of 75 CRPF personnel). Otherwise, I can very well understand why this (the killing of 75 CRPF personnel) has happened.

So you are giving reasons why the tribals/Maoists killed the CRPF personnel, but do not justify their acts?

Yes.

What could be the way ahead? What can be done to stop this violence?

We still have time to redress the problems of the tribals. We should ensure that each and every tribal is made to understand that his or her land is not going to be taken away.

The forces (central and paramilitary) must be withdrawn and only the police should remain there. And those who are guilty of serious crimes against the tribals should be brought to court.

Development work with good intentions must be carried out in full swing, NGOs like us should be allowed to function in the area.

This is what you want the government to do. What can you assure the government from the side of the tribals if you, if at all, are their representative?

When a people have all the comforts in life, why will they fight?

If you go to their lands, try to take it away and beat them black and blue they are bound to beat you back.

If you are giving them rations, good schools, good anganwadis (schools for small children), good healthcare facilities, then why would they fight against you?

In the RTI (Right to Information Act) petition that we had filed to know how many health workers and teachers were killed by the Maoists the government's answer was not a single such death happened.

What can you do to stop this bloodshed?

I can even lay down my life to stop this meaningless cycle of bloodshed and violence.

I am ready and I had been doing the same thing there (in Dantewada) for the last 18 years. I was working in the midst of this conflict. But the government (of Chhattisgarh) made me run from there.

What do you fear now?

I don't fear anything (that will happen to me). The fact is that the tribals will be attacked more brutally; they will kill more innocent people. They are now saying that ab hum ghus ke marenge (now we will penetrate their jungles and kill them).

Who will you kill? Tribals? Then there will be retaliation from their side.

Do you fear the vicious cycle will continue?

Haan (yes). If the government does not understand then that is exactly what will happen.

Any message for Mr Chidambaram?

Yes, he should go and talk to the people. He should learn how democracy functions.

Who will/should he talk to? Who are the representatives of the tribals?

There are so many, there are so many. Talk directly to the people who were meted out unheard of injustices, who were killed and tortured, whose houses were burned, whose daughters were raped, go and ask them what happened to them, what their problems are.

Help these people get justice that's what their (the government's) job is. Why do you need a representative?

You haven't still answered my question. Do you condemn Tuesday's killings?

I am sad about what happened.

But you will not condemn the massacre?

Main Hindi me keh toh raha hoon ki mujhe dukh hain? (Am I not speaking in clear Hindi that I am sad about it?).

So you condemn it?

I am sorry for that, I feel very sorry for that.

But that's not the word Sir. You are not condemning it?

Yes.