Independent People's Tribunal on Operation Greenhunt: Arundhati Roy
Cinematographer: Faiza Ahmad Khan
Duration: 00:19:34; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 30.358; Saturation: 0.098; Lightness: 0.444; Volume: 0.291; Cuts per Minute: 8.887; Words per Minute: 137.347
The Independent People’s Tribunal took place from 9th – 11th April, 2010, at the Constitution Club, New Delhi. This was organized by a collective of civil society groups, social movements, activists, academics and concerned citizens in the country. The people’s jury, comprising of Hon’ble Justice P. B. Sawant, Justice H. Suresh, Professor Yash Pal, Dr. V. Mohini Giri, Dr. P. M. Bhargava, and Dr. K.S. Subramanian heard testimonies from the affected people, social activists and experts from Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and West Bengal.
Central India is home to the Adivasis and Dalits, India’s first people. It is also home to the richest concentration of natural resources in the country. Today, as powerful Indian and global corporations race each other to gain control of the land, water, forest and mineral wealth of the region, this natural wealth has become a curse to these indigenous but marginalised communities. What comes between corporate greed and natural resources are the tribals asserting their customary rights, right to life and livelihood, as well as their constitutional rights over the same natural resources. Corrupt corporations, joining hands with corrupt states, are helping destroy India’s vibrant natural heritage and mineral wealth. Human rights abuses by police, paramilitary forces and state-sponsored militia are spreading in the name of Operation Green Hunt, which seems to make it a war against the very citizens it promises to protect. A virtual information blockade prevents information from coming out of states like Chhattisgarh which are bearing the brunt of Operation Green Hunt. Our country needs to know the truth about such a massive war against our own people. That is why an Independent People’s Tribunal, consisting of eminent jury members, has been called to hear testimonies from affected people, deliberate and submit a report on the matter to the public.
Arundhati Roy on 'Linkages between Forced Displacement, Rights Abuses and Violence'
AR: To the government war means creating a good investment climate. And that is what this war is about - creating a good investment climate. Because the fact is that there are - Orissa, Jharkhand, and so on to the armed struggles in the forest, this bandwidth of resistance, this biodiversity of resistance has held off for more than 5 years the biggest, most vicious mining corporations in the world, and I want to salute them, because this is a great victory, I would think. It's happened in many places.
AR: So we don't necessarily always have to look at ourselves as victims. These are great victories that have been won. We are always talking about the fact that nothing has been gained. Plenty has been gained by stopping this destruction those forests still exist, some rivers still exist. The Vedanta is not being allowed to carry on for now. These are very fragile struggles.
SR: But I think we do need to understand that we are getting somewhere. As Kavita said, today when you have a meeting against Operation Green Hunt, it's reported as though you're celebrating the death of the people, the CRPF jawans that were killed in the forest. Because there is a kind of binary that is being created. And it is not being created by argument. It is being created because this war is something that the government needs, in order to push people off their land.
AR: I sometimes think that the most honest reporting that is ever done, is done in business papers, because they are so un-selfconscious, they've lost perspective in some way. In Business Week there's a lovely article which says that after the attack on the security forces it says that 'the deadliest attack on Indian Security Forces underscores the challenge that companies including ArcelorMittal, POSCO, NMDC and so on face in investing in mineral rich districts. If the global players had got a footprint in India they could have really made a good return on their investment' - said Abhisar Jain, Metals and Mining Analyst with ICICI.
AR: 'Most of the mining assets in India are present in the maoist belt which is a threat and more mining can't take place and new leases can't be executed' - said Shanta Sheela Nair, Secretary at the Mines Ministry. 'Containing the massive movement is integral to raising India's energy and mineral self-sufficiency' - this is Deutsche Bank's A.G. Abhay Laijawala. And so on. Anyway.
AR: So the huge mining companies and huge infrastructural projects because when we talk about the mining of bauxite in Niyamgiri. One thing is to mine the mountain. Then Bauxite uses such a lot of water to process into Alumina and then from Alumina into Aluminium, it uses such a lot of electricity, you're going to have to have dams, you're going to have to have power projects. So it sort of radiates out.
AR: So my... I mean we think, especially when the jury has asked questions of those who've made presentations, one thing you keep coming up again and again against is what are we to do? Because the fact is from Dr. B.V. Sharma who told you the history of how tribal people have actually been criminalised in our constitution - actually they were disenfranchised, they were made squatters on their own land. And since then ofcourse they have been given some security in the Forest Dwellers Act and (?) but those have been subverted. Sudha Bhardwaj told us about how the Gram Sabhas are being subverted. How lands are being taken while the rituals of democracy are maintained but hollowed out.
AR: I think really what I've been thinking about over and over again for some years now, this is ofcourse not the first time - many poeple in this room have been involved in movements that span 20 years, knocking on the door of every democratic institution, believing that somewhere someone will be heard. But it hasn't happened. So people have watched the Narmada Bachao Andolan being spurned and ridiculed. People have watched the Bhopal Gas Movement being spurned and ridiculed. People have watched the closing down of democratic spaces. People have read about the (?) of Tata Steel in Lohariguda and so on.
AR: So I think we need to begin to reflect on what is this democracy that we practise? I mean in the 1970s, Bianca will tell you that the big imperial powers were genuinely scared of democracy. Why else did they overturn democracy after democracy after democracy? In Chile, in Iran, and so on, there was a toppling of democracy because democracy was a real threat. It was a real threat to the free market, to the corporate, to the capitalist world. And now wars are being fought to install democracy. Why is that? Because each of those institutions that make up a democracy - the press, the courts, the media, all of this has been hollowed out ad replaced as a shell through which the free market operates.
AR: So you have a media which makes it's money on corporate advertising. You have a Supreme Court that allowed the displacement of those who are being drowned by the Narmada reservoirs. That same court pushes people out of the city, that same court says the river should be interlinked, that same court criminalises squatters. So you created a situation where the poor have really got no place in this country, they are just being pushed from here to there, from here to there. And now there is an insurrection.
AR: I mean one of the ways I try to think about it is that in 1989 where the great capitalist jihad against the Soviet Unjion was won in the oblique mountains of Afghanistan, the government of India did a somersault, and from being non-aligned it became completely aligned with Israel and the US.
AR: And then, it did 2 things - it opened 2 locks. One was the lock of the Babri masjid. And one was the lock of the free market. And the opening of these 2 locks unleashed 2 kinds of totalitarianism - Hindu fundamentalism and Market fundamentalism. Both these created at the end of their process 2 kinds of terrorism - Islamist terrorism and Red Maoist terror. Not to say that Hindu fundamentalism didn't exist before 1989 or that the naxal movement started in 1967. Yes, we know that. But the burners were just turned too high after this.
AR: And as the advent of the free market has created a situation in which surely the maoists do say that they want to overturn the Indian state. But the Indian state, I would submit, has already been overturned by the corporates, and by Hindu fundamentalism.
AR: And... ruppee for ruppee, what the RSS says about the Indian constitution is much worse than what the Maoists say. But 2 prime ministers, a chief minister, a home minister - all of them belong to the RSS - but it's fine, right? They are not violent, they didn't kill people in Gujarat, they didn't kill people in Bombay. They haven't annihilated Sikhs in Delhi. As long as you participate in elections it's fine, you're not a bad guy, however much genocide you do, it's alright.
AR: So anyway, I think that... I as I'm sure all of you know, have spent some time in the forests of Dantewada and I just want to read to you for 5 minutes - this is just the end of a lecture that I recently delivered at Harvard, but I think that it somehow sums up what is actually going on here. Because I don't believe anymore that we can easily use words like India and America and China and Pakistan - I don't believe these concepts exist anymore; because the elites of these countries have succeeded into outer space and they are a country on their own. And their people are all left at the bottom there. There is a process that is going on, which I just want to read to you about.
AR: A few weeks ago I spent time in the forests of Dantewada, in south Bastar with villagers and maoist guerillas. We crossed the Indravati river into maoist controlled territory that the police call Pakistan. Ofcourse in Gujarat where the Muslims live its called Pakistan. So slowly India is becoming Pakistan.
AR: On a previous trip to Dantewada the superintendant of police had said to me, 'out there ma'am, my boys shoot to kill'. In the forest people describe what life is like when democracy declares war on it's poorest people. The police come at night they told me, 300... 400... sometimes 1000 of them. They lay a cordon around the village and lie in wait. At one they catch the first people who go out into the fields and use them as human shields to enter the village, to show them where the booby traps are.
AR: Once the police enter the village, they loot and steal and burn houses. They come with dogs, the dogs catch those who try and run. They chase chickens and pigs, and the police kill them and take them away in sacks. Special police officers, that is Salwa Judum, come along with the police because they are the ones who know where people hide their money and their jewellery. In a village you don't have banks, so you have to bury your money in some place under the ground or something. All the SPOs know that.
AR: They catch people and take them away and extract money before they release them. They always carry some extra maoist uniforms with them, in case they can find someone with them to kill, because they get money for killing maoists. So it helps to manufacture some.
AR: Most people are too frightened to stay at home, so they live in the forest at night and come home only in the day. As many of you know something like 640 villages have been emptied by the Salwa Judum in south Dantewada. Many of those villages have been burnt. Initially something like 50,000 people moved in to the Salwa Judum roadside police camps, and the rest of the 300,000 either migrated to other states or they were hiding in the forest. Many of them are still hiding in the forest. Many of the people from the Salwa Judum camps have now gone back to their villages where they still hide in the forests. Only the Special Police Officers remain.
AR: The people live in the forest at night and come home only in the day. They have an elaborate system of patrols and sentries to alert them about strangers approaching. The people I met told me how so many old people, ill people, deaf, dumb, blind and disabled people had been the first to die because they weren't quick enough to run away. They told me how people had built tunnels under their homes to hide their children when the police came. They told me about the blind man who has hollowed out a log of wood which he climbs into and hides when the police come. And after the police leave, people go and knock on that log and take him out.
AR: In the forest I met Chhavi, mother of Dilip, a member of the village maoist millitia who was shot dead in July 2009. She said that after they killed him, the police tied her son's body to a pole like an animal and carried it with them, because they need to produce the bodies to get their cash rewards before someone else muscles(?) in on the kill.
AR: Chhavi ran behind them all the way to the police station. And by the time they reached, the body didn't have a scrap of clothing on it. On the way Chhavi said that they left the body by the roadside while they stopped at a dhaba to have tea and biscuits which they didn't pay for. Picture his mother for a moment - following her son's corpse through the forest, stopping at a distance to wait for his murderers to finish their tea. They did not let her have her son's body back so that she could give him a proper funeral.
AR: In this tranquil looking forest, life was completely militarised. Gondi speaking people, now speaking more English words like 'cordon and search', 'firing', 'advance' and 'retreat'. To harvest their crops they need the guerilla army to do a sentry patrol. Just going to the market is a military operation. The markets are full of mukhbirs
who the police have lured from the villages with money.
AR: Basically they can't go to the market, they can't buy their rations because rations are kept in police stations. So these people who are literally living on the edge of survival as Dr. Binayak Sen told us, they're suffering from what is called nutritional aids, which is malnutrition so high that your whole autoimmune system has stopped to work and you're totally vulnerable to disease. And these are the people that are being put under siege.
AR: There are no doctors and only a couple of small clinics in an area that covers 60,000 kilometres. The one doctor I met told me about all the diseases that there are. He says the haemoglobin count of the people he's seeing is between 5 - 6, and the standard for Indian women is 11.
AR: There tuberculosis scores by more than 2 years of chronic anemia. Apart from this, malaria, osteoporosis, tapeworm, severe ear and tooth infections and primary amenorrhea which is when malnutrition during puberty causes a woman's menstrual cycle to disappear or never appear in the first place. In a sense, that you're stopping their ability to reproduce.
AR: Young people suffer from protein-energy malnutrition grade 2, which in medical terminology is called Kwashiorkor. It's an epidemic here like (?) said - I've worked in villages before but I've never seen anything like this. So you go to read this with the UN definition of what constitutes genocide. If you like I can read it for you in a second.
AR: Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide is defined like this: Any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole or part a national ethnic, ratial or religious group as such -
a> killing members of the group
b> causing serious bodily harm or mental harm to members of the group
c> deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about it's physical destruction in whole or part
d> imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
AR: So the point is who are the stake-holders in this? So... basically the point I'm just trying to make is that this growth has come at a tremendous cost and we cannot have these policies, these mining policies that everybody has spoken of, and democracy. We cannot have it. So there has to be a choice that is made. Do we believe in GDP - in the growth, in the 10% growth; or do we believe in democracy.
AR: And I'll just read the last paragraph which says that the first step towards imagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop annihilating those who have a different imagination. An imagination that is outside of capitalism and for that matter, of communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment. To gain this philosophical space, it would be necessary to conceive some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past, but who may really be the guides to our future. To do this, we have to ask that instead of extracting all this mineral to trade on our futures market, when the chances of there being a future are getting very bleak, can we leave the bauxite in the mountain? Can we leave the water in the rivers? And the trees in the forest? And if we cannot then it's not going to help to preach morality to the victims of this war.
AR: Thank you.