Mainstream, VOL LIII No 49 New Delhi November 28, 2015
Restoring Peace and Democracy in Chhattisgarh: Inherent Message of a Political Memoir
Friday 27 November 2015, by
Inside Chhattisgarh: A Political Memoir by Ilina Sen; Penguin Books India; 2014; pages: 307; Price: Rs 399.
This is an extraordinary book, based on an unusual life-journey, rooted in search of solidarity and democratic transformation of society. It is unfortunate that Ilina and Binayak Sen have been in the national and international limelight because of the trumped-up Binayak Sen case and the subsequent “Free Binayak Sen Campaign” which was, of course, very positive. This book helps to put the case in perspective of that larger search and opens our eyes regarding the plight of Adivasi populations deprived of the foundations of their life by a development process which destroys the life-base of forest dwellers and ruthlessly eradicates their culture and right to life and livelihood. This happens by violently appropriating the minerals under their feet and selling them to big companies, while terrorising the population with police and paramilitary oppression.
Unavoidably, the book opens with the Binayak Sen case even while stating that it is about a much wider search for meaning. This opening shows the shock of sudden events and the venomous press campaign against the activists in Chhattisgarh. It also records the enormous support which came forward. It requires great mental balance and detachment to take a deep breath and clear the way for the larger focus which this life-search was and is all about.
This focus unfolds in three phases: the first one is an exploratory phase which slowly leads Binayak and Ilina into the organisational work with the CMSS and CMM of Shankar Guha Niyogi in Dalli Rajhara and ends not very long before the murder of the iconic leader.
The second phase is the continued search for a culture of solidarity inherent in the adivasi way of life reaching out to other parts of Chhattisgarh and moving in the footsteps of Dr Richharia, who spent much of his life in documenting indigenous rice varieties. Unfortunately, his life-work was hijacked and sold to the Rice Research Institute in Manila to benefit the corporates. The Sens belonged to a band of activists who made it part of their life-mission to recover the indigenous varieties in the hands of the people, while at the same time trying to recover a culture of sharing.
The third phase deals with the experience of Chhattisgarh as a State cut out of the larger State of Madhya Pradesh and promising new heights of development, while the indigenous culture and ordinary people’s aspirations get more and more crushed. Interestingly, each of these phases is written in a somewhat different style, adjusted to the changing contents the author is dealing with.
1. The Road to Dalli Rajhara
The Sens started their search for integration in Chhattisgarh in 1981 when they worked with the Friends Rural Centre, Rasulia, Hoshangabad in MP. They had joined the PUCL “in the first flush of post-Emergency excitement”, and were concerned about the arrest of Niyogi and Sahadev Sahu in the course of their union work with the iron-ore mine workers of the Durg-Dalli area through the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMSS). They had been exposed to the debates in the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, but had spent the early seventies in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, where Binayak Sen specialised as a pediatrician and Ilina Sen taught English to children in a school. The work in Hoshangabad brought them into contact with the Quakers and Gandhians. However, the concept of agriculture in these circles (Friends Rural Centre, Hoshangabad, FRCH) followed a Western model, while at the same time an innovative Science Teaching Programme was also developed with Kishore Bharti (KB). Reading these familiar debates after several decades makes me wonder why these discrepancies, even today, have not been resolved in a more constructive way, for example, why organic agriculture versus Green Revolution, forest-based life versus “development” are still jostling for space, while the power of the state, guided by international business standards, pushes its dominant line through with the help of police and paramilitary forces.
Reading about the Emergency and the spirit of democratic resistance of that time creates a mild nostalgia, because this was the period of building alliances of hope across ideological boundaries. I remember the British Quaker Majorie Sykes, whom Ilina also mentions, travelling all over the country in the eighth decade of her life in the wake of the JP movement, to meet with the democratic forces. It was also not so clear at that time that a certain amount of common cause with the forces of the RSS during the “total revolution” would come home to roost in the beginning of the new century in the shape of Narendra Modi.
It is instructive to see how the decisions, which led to the Sens’ involvement in Dalli Rajhara, came out of their desire to meaningfully involve with the underprivileged and to be part of a collective process of reflection and organisational work. For Binayak, the entry-point was clearly through the medical work, while Ilina got attracted by the strong women’s participation in the organisation of the CMSS and by “falling in love with the local culture”. Niyogi had been arrested under MISA during the Emergency but after 1977, when the CMSS had just been formed, the workers visited him at the nearby Damitola mines and convinced him to come and strengthen the organisational and intellectual work of the organisation. This and the new chapter for Chhattisgarh and the Indian labour movement ignited the minds of the post-Emergency generation.
I myself feel extremely beholden to this history, because it was a point at which it seemed that a comprehensive transformation could be achieved. Niyogi was a person of extraordinary appeal. Having lived in Assam and North Bengal, he came to Bhilai in the mid-sixties and underwent training in the ITI attached to the Bhilai Steel Plant, which was served by the captive iron ore mines in Dalli Rajhara. Niyogi worked night shifts in the coke oven and studied in a college during day time; he also built strong rapport with a critical band of workers before being thrown out of the job. Binayak first moved to Dalli because of the struggle for health and for involvement in the plan of building the workers’ own hospital, triggered by the death of Kusum bai, a woman who could not get admission for delivery and had died in child birth.
It appears a bit ironic that the Bhilai Steel Plant, of which Dalli Rajhara provided the captive mines, was a Soviet model, inaugurated in 1959, while the radicalisation of the Left in India had led to a certain critique of the one-dimensional model of progress symbolised by the BSP. While it is not known whether Niyogi in his early years had links with the CPI-ML of Charu Mazumdar, he clearly had links during the seventies with a variety of workers organisations, among others also the Samyukta Khadan Mazdoor Sangh (SKMS) affiliated to the AITUC in the Dalli mines. He also worked for some time at the Damitola quartz mines, 40 kms north of Dalli Rajhara.
He even worked as a goat herd in Keri Junera, a village in the forest bordering the Dalli Rajhara mines. He was arrested under MISA during the Emergency and spent time in Raipur Central Jail till 1977, after which he started his work in Dalli Rajhara. This was indeed a decisive period of great creativity.
Ilina describes the enormous difference between the regular work force of the BSP and the “Camp” of the contract workers, the former equipped with basic amenities and decent wages, while the latter were housed in unlit mud houses and worked back-breaking shifts for a pittance. They did manual excavations and the breaking and loading of the material went on around the clock. Since the work was not “permanent” there was little investment in mechanical equipment. The work was categorised as “unskilled”. Characteristically, the regular unions of the skilled workers in the BSP did not recognise the basic problems of the contract workers and the latter were suffering from a deep sense of alienation due to migration and lack of facilities, which was aggravated by drinking habits and family violence.
Niyogi had the capacity to grasp all these contradictions and to integrate them into the organisational process. It is also important to understand that the eighties were a period when organisation in the unorganised sector found many new forms, be it among the fish workers, construction workers and other manual labourers. New links between such organisations were brought about and due to this, the new energy set free by the CMSS in Dalli Rajhara could attract a lot of hope, enthusiasm and curiosity.
The demand for recognition of the manual workers through “departmentalisation” was combined with a struggle for “semi-mecha-nisation”. This was a highly unorthodox approach, which was of great interest to other workers in the unorganised sector. It was strengthened by a research team from the JNU and the debates which went along with this process had great attraction for the upcoming trade union in the unorganised sector elsewhere. The chapter on the Life World of the CMSS reads like a who’s who of activism of this period, though one could add many names of people whom we all met in Dalli, but who could not be incorporated in this memoir. “Years later, Dr Ashish Kundu was to remember this period as ‘the golden age of the Dalli Rajhara Movement’, when intellectuals from all over flocked to the little mining town, and where visitors ranged from Anand Patwaradhan, the film-maker, and Ghadar, the mesmeric Telugu poet and country singer, to V.P. Singh, the former Prime Minister, and Dr Sushila Nayyar, a former Health Minister.” (p. 75)
The struggle in Dalli Rajhara was also closely related with the struggle for Jharkhand and Comrade A.K. Roy, who had moved away from the CITU and CPI-M, had formed his independent organisation, Marxist Co-ordination Committee (MCC). Though A.K. Roy was rooted in Dhanbad among the coal miners, he interacted with Niyogi regularly and his writings were highly influential among independent Leftists during the eighties.
Ilina sums up: “Many represented the last frontiers of a generation, bearing some vestiges of idealism that was trying to square the promises of the freedom struggle with the reality of unequal India and hoped that the Dalli Rajhara promise would never end. Just catching up on visitors’ life-stories and listening to the life-struggle of the workers was a fascinating experience.” (p. 81) However, this is only a capturing of the atmosphere, which in itself is a great gift of this book to the thousands of fellow-travellers who kept floating in an out over the years and to the younger generation. The more enduring contribution was the combination of Sangharsh aur Nirman, Struggle and Constructive Work, ever since. “Between 1977 and 1988, the Dalli Rajhara workers started eleven schools, built and put into place the Shaheed Hospital, created the cultural unit known as Nawa Anjor and discovered the history of Chhattisgarh’s iconic leader in the person of Veer Narayan Singh, besides honing their experience of democracy through the running of the CMSS.” (p. 81)
The chapter on Sangharsh aur Nirman gives a clear picture of the dynamism of the workers struggles, the need to engage with children’s education, the debates on appropriate technology, the building and functioning of the Shaheed hospital, the need for extension work by training health workers, low cost drug treatment, but at the same time also the need to create a history of struggle, starting with the uprising of 1857 symbolised in the figure of Veer Narayan Singh and reaching into the present by commemo-rating the martyrs of the police firing in 1977, whose sacrifice was held in collective memory by marking the site of their death near the union office and revisiting their sacrifice on Martyrs’ Day in December. The cultural awareness was promoted by a journal Mitan, which covered a lot of union news and was read out in families by the younger generation. Obviously, it was difficult to include the wider national perspectives in this. The newly-acquired history of Veer Narayan Singh was vigorously promoted through a popular theatre group which adopted the style of nacha mandalis. The Nawa Anjor group succeeded in roping in Laxman Deshmukh, a cultural worker, who was able to mould the style and content of the particulars in such a way that they became a massive success in many places.
While all these were considerable achieve-ments, the success of the union also had its downside. The material gains led to changes in lifestyle. This had especially effects on the women’s organisation, the Mahila Mukti Morcha, through which women had established a very strong voice in the movement. This changed over time: “It was almost as if when life was basic, women were comrades, when it improved, they were wives.” (p. 110) There was also a general trend that the new leadership did not come up in the same way as earlier. Retired workers, going back to their villages, started building big houses, which appeared strange in the environment of the village community. Politicking and mistrust started creeping in and open criticism was easily suppressed to safeguard “the larger common good”.
The next two chapters deal with the expansion of the movements into the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM), a broader network which corresponded to the need to go beyond the union work in Dalli Rajhara, to expand into other areas and to also address the needs of the peasantry, the ecology and the wider identity of Chhattisgarh. The Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) moved from an umbrella organisation to form a political party.
Binayak had gotten involved in organising the textile workers in Rajnandgaon, when Niyogi expanded work in that direction. However, his new involvement brought him into some tension with his role as a doctor and also with the structure of the union.
The early eighties had been a time of exploration, discussions, searching for direction, also a time when A.K. Roy, the independent Marxist trade unionist from Jharkhand, who was an MP from Dhanbad, had taken frequent interest in the situation in Dalli Rajhara. With the broadening of the movement, organisational problems became more complicated and repression from the companies also became more intense.
It was very striking that religious polarisation, which could be perceived in many parts of the country after the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, never got hold of Chhattisgarh and Niyogi explained it with the spread of the Adivasi values of the region. My own feeling from fairly frequent visits tends to be that the Shaheed ethos of the movement also had its own limitations, as it glorified and encouraged sacrifice, but lacked a life-affirming quality which was badly needed in the wresting for hegemony in a protracted struggle. Ilina observes: “Had the CMM been fully able to imagine a different politics it would have manifested itself in many ways like the composition of elected bodies, in village governance or in the new articulation of what to do with political power. None of this happened.” (p. 137)
This part closes with three questions raised by Niyogi himself in a letter and earlier quoted by Anil Sadgopal and Shyam Bahadur Namrai: “1) What will be the shape of industrial development? To what extent can the problems of ordinary people be solved through technology and mechanisation? 2) How can we extend irrigation to over 50 per cent of the area under cropping? How are agricultural prices to be determined? 3) How are the various sub-nationalities in the country to preserve their identities and how is a wider unity to be forged among them?” (p. 138f)
2. The Rural Reconstruction Phase
In the late eighties the situation all over the country was one of introspection and re-assessment. It led to many new beginnings. I personally remember a meeting in Trivandrum where the PCO centre was in a phase of transition, when we had discussions with likeminded comrades, among others the Sens with their young daughter Pranhita, Deleep Kamat, the textile trade unionist from Belgaum, Nalini Nayak and John Kurien, who discussed problems of Entropy and renewable energy with the fish workers organisation, pertaining to the differences between artisanal and mechanical fishing, which were also accentuated by caste and religious factors.
This may have been around the time when the Sens moved to the mission hospital in Tilda, the only time when Binayak had a ‘regular job’ as a doctor for a short phase, which was essential to hold the family afloat after leaving the CMSS. It was also the time of the Nari Mukti Sangarsh Sammelan, the largest and most spectacular of the “autonomous” women’s conferences, before the greater NGOisation of the women’s movement of the nineties had made its impact. Here, women of the JP movement, who later launched the Bodhgaya land struggle, and women of different Leftist formations from Bihar, Maharashtra, Assam as well as autonomous organisations from the South, came together. The final 10,000 strong rally was very impressive. While Ilina connected with this through her experiences in Chhattisgarh many other streams came together as well. Ilina’s edited book, A Space within the Struggle, draws on many of these experiences, but the stagnation in the Left was part of a paralysis which was not conducive to widen that space or to carry forward the analysis. During the time in Tilda, there was also contact with the Satnamis, a group based on the teaching of Guru Ghasidas, some of whom were also migrants displaced by dam construction on the Mahanadi. This history, partly spread through migrations up to Assam, is still in the process of being explored and it is questionable whether the progressive contents can be salvaged or whether dominant upper-caste values can push people towards Hindutva appropriations of such history. Ilina did her study on women migrant workers in the early nineties, which was published in English in 1995.
By that time, the Sens relocated to Raipur from where they built up their educational work through Rupantar, which was registered in 1994. The process of starting health work and educational work in some of the villages, took into account earlier struggles and political histories in the area. I remember encountering the remnants of the Socialist Lal Thopi Movement in the Maang gaons, an area where land struggles took place when dams were built in the upper parts of the Mahanadi. There were also contacts with movements like Bharat Jan Andolan and the slogans of decentralised self-government resonated in different parts of the country as new movements came up in different areas, taking up Sangharsh aur Nirman in different contexts. The chapters describing the building of basic education and health work also have abundant historical material on an underlying culture of collective effort in the Gond villages, be it in sustaining the family structure and religious connections over distances or in organising new school and health centures of cooperation through Kappadi matches. Apart from evolving creative methods of learning, Binayak’s health work in malaria prevention and diagnosing and prevention of tuberculosis saved many lives by transmitting basic skills to the local people.
The significance of the health programme was later documented by Nandita Haksar in her book, Indian Doctor in Jail. (See p. 197ff) The other innovative activity was to document the indigeneous rice varieties of the region (around 450) and working with local roots and tubers as well. This is even more significant considering the fact that in several tribal areas of Chhattisgarh, it is the women who are in charge of the agriculture and even do the ploughing. This also led to cooperative efforts in seed multiplication and documentation. This was an important contribution against the rapid monetisation of the economy, drawing on the resources of a more convivial society with traditions which could be transformed in the face of new challenges.
The last chapter of this section (ch. Fourteen) has a fascinating narrative of the era of Bodal Diwan, a local leader of the Gonds in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, whose weapons are still preserved by his family and whose memory played an important role in the maang gaon struggles. This memory is alive in contemporary leadership figures. It was also reflected in music and cultural traditions. It is significant that it lives on in folk traditions which are quite different from the official historical records of the region. At the same time, there is no romanticising of the Adivasi tradition, as the chapter also critically reflects on the tragic suicide of a young woman in one of the villages.
3. The Encounter with the new State
The final part of the book is short but certainly not sweet. It becomes clear in this chapter that even before the formation of the new State, development always happened at the cost of the tribal areas. Loss of forest due to big dams and mining always served larger development projects and inflow of a more educated workforce from outside, while the poverty of the adivasi population only aggravated. The feudal heritage in the planes area accommodated a certain type of modernity, but the collective spirit of the forest-based population did not find resonance with the powers that be.
The struggle of the CMSS and later the CMM was more focused on workers’ rights than on the State formation and even when this aspect was taken up, it was more an effort of overcoming the status of an internal colony.
However, the reality evolved differently: “It soon became clear that the new State had been born in the context of globalisation and that political agenda behind the policy of power devolution was the opening up of the resource bases of the Third World countries of the South for the capital and markets of the First World. In this agenda there has been no change since 2000, although there has been a change in the elected governments.” (p. 231)
It is very clear that the Chhattisgarh industrial policy (2004-2008) was aiming to achieve value addition to the abundant natural resources through foreign direct investment (FDI). Typically, there is no awareness of ecology, equity, human development or participatory governance. Ilina observes: “The policy-makers seem quite unaware of the worldwide discourse on reduction of green house gases, of the debates on energy and entropy, or of the emerging concerns about limits to the eminent domain of the state.” (p. 235) People and their livelihoods are no concern in the face of this foreign-dominated development. Obligations of the investors towards the workers are no item on the agenda.
This is supplemented by the captive power policy of Chhattisgarh, which aims at developing the State as a power hub in the interest of industries, privatisation of energy production and resources like coal, hydel and land are taken for granted. It is very ironic to read side by side the objectives of the Chhattisgarh Women’s Empower-ment Policy, aiming at “equality and democratic participation”.
The planners were obviously oblivious of the devastating effects which this aggressive industria-lisation policy would have on displacement, destruction of primary production and traditional livelihoods and thus implicitly on the lives of women.
The planning documents saw the high forest cover of the State and the tribal reliance on the forest as a hindrance to mineral recovery and thus during the first twelve years, efforts were made to change this situation. The dominant feudal forces put in place policies which broke people’s hold over the mineral-rich forest area. Mining and industrial expansion became the priority. However, this also led to industrial accidents, expansion of contract labour and outsourcing of the contracts. The working class was kept under duress. Corruption in the shape of coal block scams also surfaces in the public perception. The chapter on the “Promise of Chhattisgarh’s Development” gives a series of hair-raising examples of privatisation of state owned industries (for example, BALCO), while Sterlite Industries Ltd., an affiliate of Vedanta, is stepping in. Sterlite is notorious for poisoning the environment in Tuticorin, Tamilnadu and of course Vedanta is notorious for trying to ruin Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills with the Bauxite mining, so far only held up by the massive resistance of the Dongiriya Khond population. The next thing heard about BALCO is a major industrial accident. (p. 243) The contradictions encountered are uncannily familiar. The assaults on the working class, on nature and on safety, are going hand in hand all over the country. It is a pattern inherent in the type of development promoted by the state, hand in glove with the international forces who push for the global rule of capitalism. Some of the accidents like the collapse of a fly-ash hopper crashing through four flours, killing five people, are quite unimaginable though they are very well-documented by different human rights teams. (p. 244) Coal-block scams, elephant attacks on human settlements, all sound eerily familiar, as they are part of a pattern engulfing the whole country. Land acquisition by the Jindal group of companies has been resisted especially in Raigarh District, but the company knew how to deal with the former freedom fighter, Ram Kumar Agarwal, who was also an MLA, by chasing him with defamation cases through the courts in different parts of the country.
Privatisation of water sources is another misdeed the State has been famous for. Protest is dealt with as a breach of law and order, if necessary by using paramilitary forces. Forced land acquisition in tribal areas is another contentious item, reinforced by the “anti-naxalite” Salwa Judum, which is used to intimidate people to conform to a fabricated consent.
The last two chapters, titled “Our Engagement with the State” and “Dark Clouds Gathering” witness to the tenacious attempts of civil society activists to salvage their vision of democratic participation in the building of society. Of course, it had a dampening effect that the vision document of the new State was outsourced to Pricewater-house Coopers, but the hope for the possibility of a dialogue stayed alive.
There was a dire need to expand literacy and education, as well as health services, which were woefully inadequate. Ilina describes how she was roped in to draft the women’s policy of the new State, since she was a well-known personality in women’s studies, but all this happened without any acknowledgement of her contribution and without any understanding of how the prevailing growth-oriented land, water, forest-grabbing policies were violating women’s rights and livelihoods.
Since Rupantar had worked mostly in the field of education and health, the Sens also had a hope to be able to feed some of the experiences into the new policies in these fields and possibly to also access state funding for the work in some of the local communities. On the one hand, this looks like a reasonable expectation, but given the enormous contradictions between the interests of the state powers and the survival needs of the people, one rather feels that the expectations bordered on the naïve, or were at least some kind of wishful thinking. Binayak took a line of making the contradictions of interests in the government health programme visible. He demanded transfer of resources and decision-making power to the local health workers (Mitamin). Instead, the bureaucracy put the Mitamin under unrealistic and unbearable premises. As Binyak published his views in the bulletin of the Medico Friends Circle, there were repercussions. During the first few years of the new State, Ilina too was involved in different events of the WSF (Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad 2003 and WSF Mumbai 2004) and was also active in the peace movement, especially the CNDP. It is unlikely that this would have endeared her to the state, but she apparently ignored the contradiction and kept whistling in the dark. This was possible because civil society groups could still hold peace exhibitions at that time. Finally, the membership in the PUCL, taken “in the flush of enthusiasm of the post-Emergency years”, caught up with them, as the accumulated human rights violations in the State made more and more local investigations necessary.
It is only in the final chapter, titled Darkening Clouds Gather, that the full picture of state power used against forest dwellers becomes entirely visible. It is significant that the responsibility for the Salwa Judum, the para-military force recruited by the government among unemployed youth, cannot be laid at the doorstep of the NDA alone, but was already promoted with the active support of the tribal leader, Mahendra Karma, from the Opposition party. This only shows that the sell-out of resources in the guise of “development” transcends party lines and also co-opts some adivasi elites.
The chapter shows clearly the saffronisation of civil society and several NGOs. It also shows how the NCW completely landed up in the clutches of the NDA forces when a hearing on the situation of women in Chhattisgarh was held and Ilina herself got very much sidelined. The writer, Hari Thakur, who was involved in establishing Chhattisgarhi cultural identity, got deeply involved in locating certain sites with the puranic geography and the itinerary of Rama’s exile. Unavoidably, this also led to Sanskritisation of the language and of tribal mother goddesses. Ghar wapsi for people converted to Christianity became an ordinary event and in 2006, an additional fifth Kumbh Mela was decreed by the NDA Government, beyond the traditional ones in Nashik, Haridwar, Allahabad, and Ujjain to be held at Rajim, the confluence of Mahanandi, Sondur and Pairi rivers, not far from Raipur.
Ilina observes: “The tragedy is the devaluation in this process of the indigenous heritage of Chhattisgarh which was one of its greatest strengths.” (p. 270) This process also entails the loss of agricultural knowledge and the collective functioning of the village community. It also means a spreading of patriarchal values which were much less prevalent in the Adivasi culture. Ilina rues the loss of the school which she was able to run in Kekrakkoli, but she reaffirms the validity of that attempt.
In the final pages she makes again visible how the social structure disintegrated under the onslaught on land, water and indigenous seeds. She invokes again the violation of Dr Richharia’s research and the ruthlessness of the Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya in selling out people’s knowledge to the seed companies in violation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which implies a clause on in situ conservation of biological diversity responsible towards the local community.
This is the context in which the outburst of Salwa Judum (“Sacred Hunt” in Gondi) was engineered with the help of Mahendra Karna, a tribal Congress MLA and leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. While some presence of Naxalites in Dantewada was known to have existed since several decades, the State had not taken much interest in the phenomenon. It was only when the State aggressively pushed its development policies that the presence of Naxalites in the area was experienced and became interesting for local people. The recruiting and use of the newly employed SPOs (Special Police Officers) was depicted as an attempt at “pacifying” the area. However, the actual violence made new interventions and inquiries by the PUCL urgently necessary.
The results of such inquiry are detailed and alarming. (pp. 277-279f) The report castigates the systematic militarisation of Dantewada by the administration and the coercive atmosphere in which any dissent will be construed to be pro-Naxal thus warranting the label of being an enemy of the state.
Since Binayak Sen was the General Secretary of the PUCL in the State, it was quite unavoidable that he attracted the labels of being an enemy and a traitor, guilty of sedition. It was a small consolation that the Supreme Court, in response to a PIL filed by academician Nandini Sundar and activist Kartam Joga, “had declared the arming of adivasi youth, validating a policy of ‘guns for the poor and tax breaks for the rich’ by the state as illegal”. (p. 279)
Ilina characterises the Salwa Judum as the military wing of the India Shining brigade. She untiringly remembers the anti-colonial history of Dantewada’s last king, Pravir Chandra Bhanj Deo, and conjures up the collective attempts at resource-sharing in that period. Actually, the ruler was killed under the Congress Government in 1966 in police firing on the steps of his own palace, together with some of his followers.
Ilina upholds the history of Chhattisgarh with participation in governance, negotiations with the rulers and resistance to injustice, including revolt against unjust governance. She is convinced that “reason and sanity will never be restored unless peace and democracy are restored in Chhattisgarh”. (p. 283) This, ultimately, is the message of the book and it is valid to reflect on it for the whole of the country. Democracy is in far greater danger than most people are willing to realise. The book is a warning and a great inspiration. It needs to be widely read and discussed in this situation of rising Hindutva and rampant destruction of natural resources together with social sources of solidarity. It has special relevance for women’s movements, alliance of workers and peasants and collective uprising of internal colonies.
Dr Gabriele Dietrich is a Professor Emeritus, Centre for Social Analysis, Madurai. She is an activist with women’s organisations and in the National Alliance of People’s Morements (NAPM).