Indian Civil Society Initiative Seeks to End Government-Maoist Conflict | Conflict News

Calcutta, India – “If I leave, they will kill me,” said the voice of an Indian policeman fearing reprisals from leftist rebels. He regrets not having been able to visit his family in a village in central India.

In another audio recording, a poor local tribe says their brother was jailed by police last year after being falsely accused of being a guerrilla.

“Why did he stop cultivating? Why does he sleep in houses other than his own? She said, echoing the accusations from the police.

These are two of many testimonies recorded in an ongoing civil society effort to document the testimonies of those who have suffered from a long-standing violent conflict between state forces and left-wing fighters, also known as Maoists or ” naxalites ”in central India. .

The Maoists are known as the Naxalites because the leftist rebellion began in 1967 in the village of Naxalbari in eastern West Bengal.

Stories of loss and suffering

Entitled the Register of Victims, the current initiative seeks to rally public opinion by highlighting such stories of loss and suffering.

The aim is to pressure both the government and the Maoists to lay down their arms in an effort to restore peace to the region and resolve the victims’ issues.

Victims of long-standing conflict take part in Chhattisgarh peace march in October 2019 [Courtesy of Diptendu Roy/Kosal Katha]

The Register of Victims is inspired by similar initiatives in Colombia that preceded a decisive truce signed between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2016.

The conflict with the Maoists, who claim to defend the rights of indigenous tribes and other marginalized groups, is one of India’s oldest conflicts and affects large swathes of the country.

It has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced many more since it began as an armed peasant rebellion in the late 1960s.

More than 10,000 lives have been lost since 2000 alone, according to data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

The registry is an extension of a New Peace Process (NPP) launched by local civil society organizations in June 2018. It aims to design new methods of peacebuilding to end left-wing conflict.

“The first step towards resolution is to listen,” said Shubhranshu Choudhary, the head of the nuclear power plant.

Efforts as part of this process have included campaigns to grant land tenure rights to conflict-affected communities, protest marches as well as a crowdfunding campaign last year to send menstrual hygiene kits. to women, including those belonging to the ranks of the Maoists.

The next step is to initiate conversations and document the stories of victims.

“What we need to do is intensify our turmoil on the pitch. This is what the register of victims is aimed at, ”adds Choudhary. “The victims are everywhere and the list is growing every day. An eye for an eye cannot be the solution.

The registry accounts, supported by photos and as well as multimedia content, will be available for public consultation online at the nuclear power plant’s website – a “virtual monument” to both state and Maoist victims of violence.

Tribal resident interviewed for victim registry initiative in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh in August 2020 [Courtesy of Diptendu Roy/Kosal Katha]

A dedicated phone line was opened for the registry in January to allow residents, many of whom live in remote areas, to call and record their testimonies.

They responded, sharing their stories in the indigenous Gondi and Halbi languages ​​- an average of three accounts per day. Residents are also trained to record video interviews and share them using WhatsApp.

A peace committee, made up of activists, journalists and social workers, was also formed in February to initiate a dialogue between the Maoists and the government.

Leadership crisis

At least two public attempts at talks between the two warring parties have failed since 2000, one of the main sticking points being the condition that the Maoists renounce violence.

This new attempt at peace comes at a critical time as the Maoist movement today grapples with aging leadership and lacks a second generation of leaders capable of continuing to provide strategic vision and direction.

In the absence of such leadership, Choudhary says the Maoists’ “disciplined political violence” could escalate into “senseless gang warfare” as early as ten years old.

Parts of central India, he fears, could then end up riddled with factional violence perpetrated by disparate warlords with interests ranging from drug trafficking to kidnapping, making any possibility of peace even more elusive.

“So we have that window of opportunity now because in about five years there won’t be much left to try,” he adds.

The team responsible for managing the registry, which includes around ten full-time workers in addition to volunteers, drew up a list of around 20,000 victims interviewed.

However, their accounts are not verified. “We will have the warning that it is the people who tell their stories,” Choudhary said.

Over the years, the recurring violence in this conflict, which rarely makes headlines in the country unless it is perpetrated by a major attack, has devastated many families.

This is something that moved Rimjhim Gour, a freelance journalist who volunteered to document some of the victims’ testimonies.

One of the stories she recorded is that of five children born to a policeman from a local tribal community who was killed by the Maoists in 2011.

He was married to two women – polygamy is an accepted tradition here – who died soon after due to illnesses that worsened from the trauma of their husbands’ death.

The five orphans – three brothers and two sisters between the ages of 18 and 10 – were adopted by Christian missionaries and are currently staying in a government boarding school, with little possibility of contact between them.

“The youngest don’t even have any memory of their parents,” she added. “When you start to see how violence affects families, you start to empathize, and empathy can lead to a lot of things.”

A public meeting organized by the team behind the register of victims in Bastar in August 2020 [Courtesy of Diptendu Roy/Kosal Katha]

However, the state reacted with caution to this initiative.

Subrat Sahoo, additional chief secretary (at home) of the state government of Chhattisgarh, the epicenter of the conflict, said that an “attempt to alleviate the problems faced by those who have suffered the brunt of the naxalite violence is welcome ”.

“But that cannot be an official endorsement of an individual’s attempt. Neither can the government detach itself or take off directly from what they are doing because we do not know their modus operandi and the methodology they have adopted, ”he added.

In 2019, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said talks with the Maoists were only possible if they renounced violence and respected India’s constitution.

Sahoo did not share any details of the state’s continued attempts to negotiate peace with the Maoists, who have in the past publicly criticized NPP campaigns.

Colombian model

Government support, however, is essential for any victim registry to have a meaningful impact, according to Lina Marcela Cuartas Villa, a Colombia-based social communicator.

Cuartas Villa helped two Colombian state agencies implement the peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

She also provided informal advice to the Victims Registry team in India.

“For any peace process to be successful, it is important that all parties involved and affected by the conflict demonstrate their commitment to the process and actively participate,” she said.

Colombia legislated the Victims and Land Restitution Law in 2011 with the aim of providing reparations to victims of the armed conflict, including through economic compensation and land restitution.

This included the establishment of the Victims Assistance and Reparation Unit and the Land Restitution Unit in 2012.

“The law on victims has been a gateway to reparation and a path to reconciliation,” Cuartas Villa said. “Since the state has an important role to play in granting rights to citizens, it must play a large role in such an effort.”

The register in India was inspired by the work that civil society organizations have done in Colombia to document human rights violations, laying the groundwork for the state to step in and enact the Victims and Victims Act. land restitution.

It is in the hope of a similar state intervention that the register of victims is being created.

His team in India will organize a protest march on Friday by victims on both sides of the conflict to pressure the government as well as the Maoists to negotiate a peace treaty.

The marchers will walk from Abujhmad in the Narayanpur district in Chhattisgarh, an area that once served as a key base for the Maoists, to the state capital, Raipur – a distance of around 222 km (137 miles).

March 12, the date of the protest march, is significant. It was on this day in 1930 that iconic Indian freedom fighter Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi launched his famous Dandi March, a movement of non-violent civil disobedience against British colonial rule.

“This will be our ‘satyagraha’ (nonviolent resistance), our way of asking the government as well as the Maoists to come to the discussion table and resolve the conflict once and for all,” Choudhary said.

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