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Open Reply to Independent Citizens' Initiative on Dantewada

Open Reply to Independent Citizens

Discussion

Open Reply to IndependentCitizens’ Initiative

on Dantewada

GANAPATHI

O
n behalf of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI (Maoist)] I thank you all for your letter (‘Open Letters to Government and Maoists’, EPW, July 8-15, 2006, pp 2977-79) and the responsible attitude and genuine desire shown by you to put an end to the armed conflict in Dantewada between the oppressed adivasis on the one hand and the statesponsored Salwa Judum (SJ), state police and central paramilitary forces on the other. I convey my apologies to you for the long delay in replying.

Our party appreciates the serious efforts made by you in your genuine quest in finding a resolution to the tragic conflict that had suddenly flared up in Dantewada since June 2005 and has taken over 400 lives until now. It is indeed heartening to all of us waging a just war for the liberation of the most oppressed sections of the Indian society to see democratic intellectuals like you seeking to explore the truth and place it before the world. Allow me to refer to an article written by one of you, namely, E A S Sarma in The Hindu, which made an attempt to present the truth in a more objective manner. He has correctly analysed the origin and nature of SJ in sharp contrast to the barrage of false propaganda that it is a spontaneous movement and an uprising against the Maoists: “It is certainly not a ‘people’s movement’ as it has been made out to be. It is a state-sponsored campaign in which unsuspecting adivasis are used as ammunition in a war that will serve the private interests of a few.” He had also traced the exploitation of the adivasis by the non-tribal trader-contractor nexus: “For decades, unethical land-grabbers, wily traders, and exploitative contractors, all non-tribals, have dominated the lives of the adivasis in this area, undeterred”.

I would make it crystal-clear at the outset that our party too believes “that the wellbeing and all-round development of the adivasis in Dantewada and elsewhere should be the central theme of any discussion or effort that impacts their lives, either directly or indirectly”. However, unlike you, we do not believe “that the defence of the rights of the adivasis can be ensured more effectively through political, nonviolent and open means, rather than through armed struggle”. And it is precisely these diametrically opposite ideological-political beliefs regarding the means to be adopted to defend the rights of the adivasis that have led to two differing viewpoints in grasping the reality of the class war in Dantewada. And it is these differing perceptions, outlooks and class biases that are coming in the way of arriving at a correct solution to the ongoing conflict, or what could be more correctly described as a war between the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces that is going on, not only in Dantewada, but in various parts of the country. Can you show us one instance from the pages of Indian history where the rights of the adivasis were ensured through non-violent and open means? And not just in India but anywhere in the world for that matter? What have the tribals of Kalinganagar received for their peaceful protest against Tata Steel?

You have placed nine questions before our party. In brief, these are:

  • Our lack of response to your call for a dialogue with the government and declaration of ceasefire;
  • Our “casual attitude towards taking life”;
  • The legitimacy of ‘jan adalats’, like the one held in Manikonta;
  • Claim that our party is laying mines “all over”;
  • That we are training minors under 18
  • years of age in the use of arms and destroying schools used by the CRPF;

  • Claim that our party is opposed to the right to vote, road construction and access to government funds for development;
  • Putting people to risk and inviting greater repression by resorting to armed struggle;
  • Claim that we are subordinating the interests of the people of Bastar and Dantewada to our wider goal of capture of state power; and
  • Claim that we show no distinction between civilians and combatants.
  • Before answering these questions, the tenor and tone of which unmistakably betray the mind and attitude of the liberal democratic intelligentsia, I wish to ask you one straight question: How does one get to know the truth from a plethora of facts? Can you say with full confidence that your perception of the reality in Dantewada is not tainted by your ideological biases against the Maoist movement and violent revolution? Is it possible for anyone, even if one claims to be a neutral or impartial intellectual, to analyse facts and arrive at conclusions correctly if she/he has an inherent aversion for armed struggle?

    We know that our answers will not satisfy you. How is it possible when we have different ideological and political perceptions towards the means to be adopted to bring the oppressed out of their miserable conditions of existence? There is no levelplaying field in the merciless class war between the cruelly exploited and brutally oppressed majority on the one hand, and the wealthy, enriched at the expense of the hundreds of millions of poor on the other. In a class-divided society there cannot be any absolute truth in the matters under discussion. The truth of the oppressed is different from the truth of the oppressor. This has been true right from the time of Spartacus and the unsung slave heroes who waged their struggles against slavery. Either you were with the slaves, in which case Spartacus and the rebels represented a just cause and spoke the truth, or you were with the slave owners for whom the revolts were merely the unjust acts of the slaves who had strayed from their duty of serving their masters. Likewise if Bhagat Singh was a hero for the Indian people, he was the greatest terrorist and villain for the British colonialists.

    Economic and Political Weekly January 6, 2007

    In class conflicts, unlike in ordinary sport, it is impossible to have an impartial referee who cries foul whenever there is a violation of the rules by either side. For class war is no game played out between equals based on rules that apply to both sides equally. It is an unequal war between the mighty militarised state that stands in defence of the propertied classes and their “right” to exploit the majority at will, and the vast majority of the wretched of the earth who, in the eyes of the ruling elites, are not much distinct from the slaves of bygone millennia. The exploiters through their constitution preset rules with enough provisions for violating the same. Those who imagine themselves to be impartial referees in class war and try to set the rules equally for both sides will ultimately end up as apologists for the oppressors, in spite of their good intentions and sincere attitude. Anyone who thinks that he/she is being impartial in a class-divided society is only a victim of his/her fanciful imagination.

    You have condemned both types of violence, i e, violence unleashed by the state and SJ goons (at the behest of the multinationals, large business houses, unscrupulous traders, and contractors, as well as collaborationist adivasi leaders who have become part of the ruling elite) on the awakened adivasi masses who are struggling for their liberation under the leadership of our party on one hand, and the legitimate revolutionary violence resorted to by the oppressed adivasis on the other. You have held both sides responsible for the unfortunate situation. How can you equate the violence of the oppressor with the legitimate violence of the oppressed? Whom would such a stand help ultimately? Would taking such a stand not provide added strength to the oppressors and help perpetuate their domination? Democratic-minded intellectuals need to consider all these aspects. We sincerely appeal to you to stand more firmly on the side of the oppressed and then it will not be so difficult to find answers to most of the seemingly perplexing questions.

    We shall now try to answer the nine questions you have raised.

    On Ceasefire and Dialogue

    You had called on us to declare a ceasefire and enter into a dialogue with the government. You were dismayed that we had not responded to your call and had even escalated the violence. You also seemed to doubt whether we are prepared for a dialogue. When the enemies of the people have a single agenda of suppressing the struggling masses through ever-increasing brute force, where does the question of dialogue come in? In fact, ever since 1998 we had always been responding positively for a dialogue on issues concerning the people, provided the government cried a halt to its repression and oppression of adivasis and created a conducive atmosphere for dialogue by withdrawing the police and paramilitary camps from the countryside, punish the guilty officers responsible for murders and rapes, and so on.

    Demands

    Today, along with the above preconditions, other demands such as: immediate disbanding of SJ, punishment to the perpetrators of atrocities on the people, suspension of the Public Security Act, 2006, and removing obstructions on adivasis who want to go back to their villages from the so-called relief camps have also come to the fore. Is there any fairness in asking us to one-sidedly declare a ceasefire and go for dialogue without the government first creating a conducive atmosphere? The talks in Andhra Pradesh in 2004 had exposed the hypocrisy and heinous game plans of the Indian ruling classes when the government refused to extend the ceasefire, commenced brutal attacks and created conditions which made a second round of talks impossible. These bitter lessons have naturally become a deterrent for such talks anywhere in the country. To ask us to declare ceasefire even as the exploiting classes continue their barbaric campaign against the people is akin to asking us to commit suicide. We appeal to you to think over the dangerous implications of your call to us to one-sidedly declare a ceasefire in today’s conditions.

    You conveyed your concern at our “casual attitude towards taking away life”. Deaths of members of the marriage party returning from Gadchiroli or of the traders in Kanker were unfortunate incidents that occurred due to mistaken identity. No revolutionary would ever think of committing such attacks on innocent people. Social scientists and investigative journalists do not stop at mere facts. They would go into thecauses behind these incidents, the history and ideology of those who committed such acts, and the overall prevalent atmosphere that triggered such incidents. Such incidents are exceptions in our long-drawn revolutionary struggle spanning over 25 years in Dandakaranya. Our ideology and politics teach us to protect the people as the pupils of our eyes. We value life and peace as no other party or humanist does. It is our love and commitment to the people that has drawn us away from our homes and families and goads us on to sacrifice our lives so that the vast majority can live in peace. To accuse us of having a casual attitude towards taking away life is a myth fabricated by the bourgeois media. Even the sharpest critics of the ruling classes are bound to be influenced, at least to some extent, by this subtle propaganda. With greater care and more meticulous planning we assure you that we shall strive to avoid such unfortunate incidents in future.

    We are as much grieved as you are when policemen are killed in our ambushes and raids. We made several appeals to the policemen and their families not to kill innocent people or launch attacks on our cadre. We had issued leaflets appealing the Naga battalion jawans and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans to defy orders from their superiors and to desist from attacks. We have composed a number of songs describing the plight of poor and unemployed youth who are forced to join the police force due to lack of alternative employment. Whenever we attack the police, we try to minimise bloodshed. We had never killed any policeman who surrendered. We do not harbour any anger towards ordinary policemen but we cannot remain silent when people are tortured, killed, women are raped, and houses and property destroyed by the police, the paramilitary and SJ goondas. We stand for the defence of the people’s rights and it is for this reason that we are compelled to attack those who are snatching away the people’s right to live. You would not have suggested a reconsideration of the strategy of people’s war itself just because a few mistakes were committed had you known why, in the first place, we had taken up arms.

    Legitimacy of Jan Adalats

    Regarding the jan adalat in Manikonta village, the first point we would like to place before you is that those who were punished were not villagers as you describe them but were paid special police officers (SPOs) and SJ goons who had committed terrible atrocities on the people in the name of the SJ. Retribution for these atrocities is a necessity to control thesegoons. Common people, generally speaking, do not go to the extent of killing those who had committed

    Economic and Political Weekly January 6, 2007

    crimes. The fact that hundreds of people who were present in the jan adalat resorted to this extreme measure shows the pentup anger and righteous indignation of the local people who had been intimidated since June 2005 without a let-up.

    You had asked for evidence that due process was followed in the jan adalats. Before posing the question of due process, we request you to examine the so-called justice system that is being implemented by the state in the Dantewada-Bastar region or anywhere in our country for that matter. Does due process mean engaging professional lawyers (who often turn out to be liars) in a country where real-life criminals occupy the highest positions of power while hundreds of thousands of innocents languish in jails without trial for years without end? When it is a universally known fact that nine out of ten cases do not get justice through the so-called courts, why should you find fault with people when they themselves punish the culprits, as in the jan adalats held under the leadership of our party? The very fact that out of the 57 people taken away by the jan militia led by our People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) from the concentration camp, 44 of them were let off after due investigation of their deeds speaks of the fairness of the jan adalats. Indeed, this is most unlike the so-called courts that let off the real culprits and incarcerate innocents over extended periods of time. Moreover, if you examine our past record, you will find that several times we had let off police officers after detaining them for days when their crimes were not proved in the investigation. Many anti-social elements were simply censured and let off. It is only the most notorious antipeople, criminal-lumpen elements and proven agents of the enemy who were given the highest punishment of death.

    In principle, we are against death penalty and our new system that would evolve after the seizure of power will scrap death sentence. But for now the oppressed people and the revolutionaries are compelled to resort to it for their defence; after all, our very survival is at stake if proven counterrevolutionaries are allowed to create havoc with people’s lives and pass on information about our movements to the police. As for evidence, let me share with you that recorded cassettes of the entire investigation in the jan adalat, which we had placed by the side of the dead bodies for the world to know, had been taken away by the police. We request you to bring pressure on the government and also ask the courts to direct the police to produce the cassettes. That would answer your question regarding evidence about whether due process was followed in the conduct of the jan adalats. If you are ready to collect oral evidence, then thousands of people in Dantewada are prepared to place the facts before you whenever you come.

    Allegation of Laying Mines

    It is a baseless allegation that we had laid mines all over. People, to defend their very existence, are compelled to plant mines here and there in order to check the influx of hundreds of state forces and SJ goons who are creating a reign of terror in the villages. Neither is this indiscriminate nor is it done on an extensive scale. We also do not believe we can prevent the SJ by using mines. We are with the people of the world in condemning the use of mines and all other weapons of mass destruction that create more “collateral damage”, to borrow a phrase from the greatest terrorist of our time, George Bush Jr, and we stand for total ban on these weapons. If the indiscriminate use of grenades, mortars and aerial bombing by the state’s forces, which are deployed in thousands in the Dantewada-Bastar region and are killing or wounding hundreds of people, is stopped, then there is no need for us to use land mines.

    We believe that it is people, and the people alone, who can smash SJ through mass political movements and mass armed retaliation. Weapons are used by our PLGA and the people’s militia to counter an enemy that is armed with the deadliest of weapons, which are used to suppress the just and peaceful movements of the people. In fact, it is the large-scale atrocities by the police, the paramilitary forces and the SJ that have led the people to arm themselves en masse and build an armed self-defence force. They have every right to defend themselves with whatever kinds of weapons available.

    Minors in Armed Conflict

    As regards training minors under 18 years of age in the use of arms, we wish to make it clear that our policy and the PLGA constitution stipulate that those below 16 years of age cannot be inducted into our army. And, this age limit is strictly followed while recruiting. In the specific conditions prevailing in the war zone, children attain mental and political maturity by the time they complete 16 years of age because they are directly or indirectly involved in revolutionary activity from their very childhood. They receive basic education and political training early in their lives and have organisational experience as members of ‘balala sangham’ (children’s associations).

    But now the enemy has changed the entire situation in this region by pursuing a policy of “kill all, burn all, destroy all”, not sparing even children and the elderly, who are forced to flee the villages and stay in forests and have to arm themselves for their self-defence. When the enemy is erasing every norm of international law, the oppressed people have the full right to arm themselves and fight. Making a fuss over age has no relevance in a situation where the enemies of the people are targeting children too, without any mercy. If the boys and girls do not do resist with arms they will be eliminated completely. Intellectuals should understand this inhumane and cruel situation created by the enemy and take the side of the people instead of raising all sorts of idealistic objections.

    As for destroying schools used by the CRPF as their camps, neither the people nor our party think it is wrong. The schools, once they are occupied by these forces, are transformed into torture chambers and concentration camps and there is no hope that they will once again be used as schools in the near future. Moreover, in many villages that did not have a school for the past six decades after so-called Independence, new RCC ‘school’ buildings are now coming up on a war footing for providing the needed infrastructure for the “carpet security system”. People living in the villages know for what purpose these buildings are being built. That is why they have decided to destroy them and our party fully stands by the people.

    Education of the adivasis is not affected by destruction of school buildings used by the security forces but by the destruction of entire villages (up to 900 villages had been uprooted since June 2005) by the state police, paramilitary forces and SJ goondas with active police support. In mid-July, thousands of students whose education was disturbed by SJ goondas came into the streets demanding education and raised slogans against police-SJ gangs for depriving them of education. We must all demand the immediate withdrawal of all police-CRPF camps from schools and colleges in villages and towns, stop the destruction of villages and killing of teachers and students by SJ goons, allow people to go back to their villages from the so-called

    Economic and Political Weekly January 6, 2007 rehabilitation centres, and provide all facilities for education. While destruction of school buildings had taken place in a few villages where people’s very existence had become a question mark, you still think that this is affecting the education of the children rather than seeing it in a larger perspective, affecting the lives of the entire people. We are curious to hear what you would say of hundreds of other villages that do not have schools although the “Maoist threat” does not exist in those villages. It is for you to ponder over whether we are in any way responsible for the lack of education to the children of Dantewada.

    Right to Development

    Another white lie doing the rounds ever since the Maoist movement began to be recognised by a significant section of the people as the only alternative to solve their basic problems is that we are against development and that we obstruct people from exercising their right to vote and to participate in government-sponsored development works. Nothing can be farther from truth. We were surprised to see that you too had fallen prey to this vicious disinformation campaign unleashed by the government and the media, both controlled by the big moneybags. You wrote: “Not all the lack of development can be blamed on the government. People have a right to vote, to work on road construction schemes, to access panchayat money, all of which your party has opposed.”

    Is it true that we are in any way responsible for the lack of development? We had never, I repeat never, opposed any schemes of the government if those really helped in ameliorating the lives of the people. You can verify this assertion of ours through independent investigation and not based on complaints from those bigwigs like Mahendra Karma and his agents among the adivasis and the non-adivasi exploiters, who feel deprived of the funds that would flow into their pockets if the Maoists were not present.

    Our party spokesperson, Azad has already explained what model of development our party stands for (‘Maoists in India: A Rejoinder’, EPW, October 14, 2006) and hence I will not elaborate much on this aspect. The main point, for our purpose over here, is that we oppose any development that plays havoc with the lives of the people. You might have known how an Essar and a Tata managed to get the consent of the adivasis by holding fake gram sabhas at gunpoint (see Down to Earth, October 31, 2006). There is immense wealth in the areas inhabited by adivasis, from Jharkhand to Andhra Pradesh, and all the big guns have their greedy eyes fixed on this wealth. They leave no stone upturned to grab this wealth, even if it means massacring the indigenous people, razing entire villages to the ground and suspending all fundamental rights of the people. In just the three states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa, over Rs 3,00,000 crore are likely to be pumped in to extract a surplus several times more to fill the coffers of the steel and aluminium barons of India and the imperialist countries. So-called adivasi leaders like Mahendra Karma expect fat commissions and bribes from their masters for clearing the areas of Maoists. This is the logic behind the SJ.

    We haven’t placed a blanket ban on all kinds of roads and railway lines. We oppose the laying of only those roads and railway lines that are meant for looting the wealth of the region and for enemy troop movement. It is an open secret that the railway line from Waltair to Kirandul was meant to loot the raw material from Bastar for imperialist countries like Japan, just as the British did during their colonial rule. The proposed line from Raoghat to Jagdalpur is meant for the same purpose. Would you, as enlightened intellectuals, support these megadevelopment projects that result in underdevelopment and misery for the vast masses?

    We support the just demand of the adivasis that the raw materials of the region belong to them, that they should not be displaced from their homes due to socalled development projects such as mines and steel plants, and that roads and railway lines should not be laid for looting the wealth of the region. We stand in the forefront of their struggle against these huge projects and the roads and railway lines meant for the drain of wealth from the adivasi areas. We expect support from democratic intellectuals like you to prevent wealth from flowing out of the adivasi regions and from our country itself. We have our own model of development that you can see in the areas where we had established the real democratic rule of the masses. You know very well that most of the development

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    funds do not reach the really needy. So much about the story of development.

    Right to Vote

    Even more amusing is the charge that we prevent people from voting. The very same marauders who trample underfoot all the fundamental rights of the people guaranteed by our so-called Constitution, lament when the Maoists take up an election boycott campaign. Here we wish to make it clear that people have not only the right to vote but also the right to boycott. But this right is snatched away at gunpoint by the rulers who deploy huge contingents of central forces to intimidate and force people against their will to vote for their very oppressors. This has been most conspicuous in Andhra Pradesh where people are threatened with dire consequences if they dared to boycott and, in several instances, even pulled out of their houses on the polling day and brought to the booths. During the last elections in 2003 and 2004 in Chattisgarh, helicopters were used to create terror and a huge paramilitary force was deployed in the name of preventing the Maoists from foiling the elections. Just as other political parties have the right to campaign for electing them to power, the CPI (Maoist) too has the right to call upon the people to boycott the elections that are only meant to suppress them. Never was force used by our party to prevent people from exercising their franchise. This is easily verifiable from the people in our areas of armed struggle.

    Boycott of election is a political tactic of our party to mobilise, organise and rouse the oppressed masses against the rotten system and to make them realise the necessity to destroy it through people’s war. It is only then that election of a genuine people’s democratic government becomes possible. With this aim, under the leadership of our party and with the protection of the PLGA, the oppressed masses of Dantewada-Bastar region are not only boycotting the elections, which are a farce imposed by the oppressors, but are also electing their own organs of political power, ‘Janathana Sarkars’, with deep political conviction.

    People’s War and the People

    We shall deal with the seventh and eighth questions together as they are closely related. Both these question the very strategy of people’s war and try to set up an artificial wall between our party and the masses. As one of the great founder-leaders of our party, comrade Charu Majumdar, pointed out, the “People’s interests are (the) Party’s interests”. There cannot be any other interest for a genuine Communist Party than that of the vast masses. It is not our armed squads that are waging the actual war but the people themselves.

    We believe that it is the people, and people alone, who make history. It is they who have to liberate themselves from all kinds of oppression. Tomorrow if the Communist Party itself changes colour and becomes a bureaucratic ruler after capturing power, as in Russia and China, people will wage a bitter struggle against the party itself. Our party and armed squads are mere catalysts that help the masses to achieve their liberation. It is the people who are the real heroes and we awaken them and equip them with the scientific theory of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Theory becomes a material force once it is correctly grasped by the masses. Our party and the PLGA are able to survive the severest repression of the enemy because we are protected by the masses that act as a fortress of steel. One must have a correct dialectical understanding of the interrelationship between the party and the masses or else mistakes such as separating one from the other are bound to occur.

    When you ask us, are we not “inviting greater repression by taking up armed struggle”, we would say yes. But without armed struggle people will continue to live like slaves without self-respect or dignity and will perish of hunger and destitution. That is why the slogan “better to die in struggle rather than succumbing to hunger!” has become so popular with the masses. You might be aware of the chilling fact that the number of people who died of hunger and disease in just the past one decade far exceeds (by five times according to an estimate) those who died in all the revolutionary wars that occurred in the last two centuries?

    The ruling classes will not abandon political power or exploitation, oppression and suppression of the people until they are forcefully overthrown. The question is whether to live a life of slavery and indignity and die of hunger by remaining docile or engage in peaceful protests (we all know the fate of those displaced by the Sardar Sarovar project even after two decades of nonviolent struggle, just to take one instance), or take up arms to completely eradicate the grounds that give birth to all kinds of suppression and oppression in order to live as free and independent human beings.

    Our armed struggle is to draw the curtain on the pre-history of humankind and herald the dawn of real history where people become the makers of their own destinies.

    As for measuring the support our party enjoys among the masses, anyone can easily verify this. The police could not find a single informer in hundreds of villages, which made their task of suppression extremely difficult. In fact, it is the immense support that we enjoy among the masses that made the ruling classes sit up and think of ways and means to suppress us, besides deploying the security forces. That was how the heinous strategy of SJ evolved by mobilising the non-tribal exploiters, lumpen elements among the adivasis who were punished by the jan adalats for their anti-people deeds, and people from villages falling outside the areas of our struggle. Our support can also be gauged in the local turnout in the elections, with several villages boycotting the polls completely or registering extremely low percentages of votes.

    Civilians and Combatants

    We totally agree with your last point that “there must be a distinction between civilians and combatants” and that “those who claim to struggle for the people must struggle responsibly and with full accountability”. Our party had always made a demarcation between civilians and combatants. But you say that such a distinction does not exist today. We earnestly appeal to you to point out where we have not made the distinction and we shall certainly correct ourselves if it were true. We do not consider all those who joined SJ or those who are forced to become SPOs as our enemies. Nor are the people who are herded into the so-called relief camps set up by the government to be treated as enemies. We only consider those who unleash brutal attacks against villages with the help of the state’s forces as enemies of the people and punish them. For outsiders, the SPOs might appear as poor adivasis, but to the masses of adivasis who had borne the brunt of their cruel attacks, the hardcore among the SPOs are even more dangerous and brutal than the police. Any independent and impartial enquiry will bring this truth out. We assure you that we shall take even greater caution with regard to the distinction between civilians and combatants.

    EPW

    [Ganapathi is the general secretary of the CPI (Maoist). This is an edited version of the original manuscript.]

    Economic and Political Weekly January 6, 2007

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