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BackYou are here: AnalysisMedia CNN-IBN Interview with Arundhati Roy and Gladston Dungdung


CNN-IBN Interview with Arundhati Roy and Gladston Dungdung

New Delhi, October 21, 2009. It was an evening of an explosive confession on CNN-IBN. Naxal leader Kishenji has for the first time claimed responsibility for the beheading of Jharkhand police officer Francis Induvar two weeks ago. Even more chilling are his threats that they will kill again on a day when Naxals attacked another police station in West Midnapore on Tuesday. The question that was being asked on CNN-IBN's India At 9 was: Is it possible for the Government and Naxals to come to the dialogue table? To try and answer the question on the panel of experts were writer and activist Arundhati Roy and Jharkhand-based activist Gladson Dungdung.

CNN-IBN : Naxal leader Kishenji has said clearly that there will be more violence. In this violent climate, how can you expect the Government of India to reach out and call for a dialogue which is what you, Arundhati Roy and other civil rights activists are asking for. What about asking the Naxals to abjure violence.

Arundhati Roy: I saw the letter which Mr Chidambaram has written asking whether civil society groups can persuade the Naxals to abjure violence. I think it is a bit disingenuous, because this binary which has been created - of the Naxals on one side and the Government on the other side and the human rights activists in the middle - is a simplification of a very, very complex picture. I don't think there is anything as human rights activists for they all belong to different groups. There is a whole range of non-violent, democratic resistances which are all being called Naxal which are all being asked to negotiate. So if the Government wants to negotiate with the Naxals, then it should specifically negotiate with them.

CNN-IBN : The Government is very specifically asking citizen groups to speak to the CPI-Maoists and to bring them into the political mainstream. What's wrong with that?

Arundhati Roy: I am not a citizens' group. I am an activist.

CNN-IBN : But you are a citizens' group that came out publicly on Tuesday and asked that the offensive should be called off.

Arundhati Roy: Of course. You have to look at this historically in terms of why this has happened. For 30 years in places like Chhattisgarh, there have been Naxals. Why is the situation now being made to sound like there is this huge upsurge? The real fact is - and I believe this - that it is the Government that wants a war to clear out the forest areas because there is a huge backlog of MoUs in Jharkhand as well as Chhattisgarh that are not being activated.

CNN-IBN : The Home Minister told CNN-IBN about a month ago - in answer to this very same question - that the Government would like to do development work in these areas, but when we build roads the Naxals blow them up, when we build schools the Naxals blow them up, they mine everything and they do not allow development to take place. You say it is binary but it is also a bit chicken and egg. What is the Government of India supposed to do if the force that is opposed to them is taking arms, is beheading policemen, is resorting to violence?

Arundhati Roy: Himanshu Kumar - who lives in Dantewada - on Tuesday asked the Government under the Right to Information Act that which anganwadi worker, which teacher, which person who does any kind of social development work has ever been killed by the Naxals and the answer was none. What Mr Chidambaram means by development is not what the people living in that area mean by development. I have been to Dantewada and I have seen the roads that are being built. Let me tell you those are not roads that are being built for adivasi (tribal) people to walk on. But I am against the mining of roads.

CNN-IBN : Do you accept that the violence must end in that sense? The Home Minister said very clearly - 'as far as I can see, the only hurdle to holding talks with the CPI-Maoists is the violence which stalks the area in which they operate'. Now, surely they must give up arms.

Arundhati Roy: That is what I am saying is disingenuous. When the attack is from the Government forces - a Government which is bringing in the Army and the Air Force, calling for war on the poorest people in the country - it becomes tough. And this is when they are willing to talk to China, they are willing to talk to Pakistan. What kind of policy is this?

CNN-IBN : But who has the weapons? The Government of India says the Naxals have the weapons.

Arundhati Roy: The Government has the weapons.

CNN-IBN : So do the Naxals. The Naxals are well-armed now.

Arundhati Roy: How do you know that?

CNN-IBN : You say that poor people are dying but the Naxals have also lost the moral rights that they had 10-20 years ago. When they kill children, when they kill women, who is responsible?

Arundhati Roy: Nobody ever talks about the violence that goes unnoticed. In Dantewada there are 644 villages that have been emptied. From 2005 there are 3.5 lakh people that have gone missing.

CNN-IBN : One violence does not justify the other.

Arundhati Roy: It does not. But you are making an equivalent of somebody who has air power and nuclear power and armies against poor people.

CNN-IBN : Arundhati Roy says that not one anganwadi worker has been killed but we do know that 659 people have died because of them of which 259 were police officers and 400 civilians, so just to come back to our original question Gladson, do you think coming back to the talks table is even a remote possibility right now?

Gladson Dungdung: We have to come to the real issue. Why is the Government shouting in Jharkhand? Take my case. My parents were brutally murdered, 20 acres of land was taken away for a dam but we were not compensated. If I had joined the Naxals, who would have been responsible? Today I came to know that the Government of India is going to start an assault from tomorrow onwards, CRPF is ready in the Singhbhum region of Jharkhand and that is a low-Naxal infested area, the highest being Palamu. They are starting in Singhbhum because the Jharkhand government has signed 102 MoUs most of them for this region.

CNN-IBN : Are you saying that the Government of India is essentially batting for large corporate MNCs who want the forest land cleared?

Gladson Dungdung: Yes, yes.

CNN-IBN : But that maybe true of a particular part possibly but it can't be true of an entire Red Corridor which has now been formed from Chhattisgarh to West Bengal.

Arundhati Roy: If you look at the mineral deposits in this so-called Red Corridor, you will see that this is true. The Jindals, the Tatas, SR - all these companies have MoUs. The year that the Salwa Judum was started was the year when several of these MoUs were signed.

CNN-IBN : But then why don't they come into the democratic process and take up these causes. This is a point that the Home Minister has made time and again that the Naxals must come into the fold of the Indian democratic process. But if they don't have any faith in the state, then naturally the Indian state will be forced to strike back.

Arundhati Roy: I want to say two things. One is that we are using this term Naxal very, very loosely. The Government has very clearly said that all the people who were with the Salwa Judum - which is a form of strategic hamleting that was used in the Vietnam war - are with them and the rest are not with the Government.

CNN-IBN : The Salwa Judum was perhaps of a policy of some previous government because we have not seen much of the Salwa Judum in the last few years. This is the same Government which in 2004 went into talks with the Naxal groups.

Arundhati Roy: That is just not true and the person who runs the Salwa Judum is a Congress man. There is a river called the Indravati and across it is Pakistan and all of us are being told that if you cross the river we are free to shoot you.

CNN-IBN : Answer the central question. Why aren't Naxals made to come into the democratic process? Let us raise the issue of land displacement but through democratic dialogue.

Arundhati Roy: Let us look at the democratic process. The Indian elections cost more than the American elections. Ninety-nine per cent of independent candidates lost. Most of the MPs are millionaires. Now you are going to tell someone like Gladson here to come and join the process when he hasn't got any money to buy space in the media, any money to get from corporations.

CNN-IBN : So if there are elections for example in Jharkhand - in a couple of months like they are - you believe that no one is ready to come into the electoral process to have their voices heard? If they have so much popular support, if issues like land displacement are critical, then why not come into the electoral process?

Gladson Dungdung: Last time when the government representatives were in Jharkhand, many people connected with the displacement went and started a dialogue process. But neither Shibu Soren, nor the governor - no one listened.

CNN-IBN : I know the Home Minister is watching the programme right now because we told him you would be on it. What is it that you would like to tell him?

Gladson Dungdung: I will say that if you want to address the issue of Naxalites then you first address the economic, social and cultural injustice which has been done to the adivasis and address the developmental issues.

CNN-IBN : To this Mr Chidambaram is going to say that if you want these issues addressed and development, then abjure the gun. That comes first - give up the gun and then we will talk.

Arundhati Roy: You have a security force that runs into tens of thousands, heavily armed, surrounding an area. You have all these MoUs. If you look at a map of India, the minerals, forests and tribals are all stacked up on top of each other. And if you say that we are surrounding a forest and we have all these weapons trained on you and you have vigilante groups and peoples' militia going into villages raping and killing women - something which the Salwa Judum does as a policy - and then you are saying abjure the gun, we will come and take over your land, how much sense does that make?

CNN-IBN : So then we are in a zero sum game. One form of violence is going to be responded to by another form of violence.

Arundhati Roy: I think these people need to be promised that there will be no displacement, that all these MoUs will be made public, get a clear idea of the development planned for this area, have people at public forums discuss these issues and take up the opinion of those of Ground Zero and then you can talk.

CNN-IBN : So your answer to the Government's request of citizens' groups - that it is their responsibility to bring groups like the CPI-Maoists into the political mainstream - is that this is not possible.

Arundhati Roy: How can i say it, who am I to say it? I think it is the Government's responsibility. These groups are complex.

CNN-IBN : You want the Government to take the entire responsibility? Shouldn't civil society and activists be taking some of this responsibility?

Arundhati Roy: They are taking the responsibility of bringing out these issues, but they are not the people who have been voted to power.

CNN-IBN : Let's leave the last word to Gladson.

Gladson Dungdung: See the problem is that two decades ago what Rajiv Gandhi used to say that only 15 per cent of the money used to reach the poor is the same thing that Rahul Gandhi is saying now. That means they have not done anything.

CNN-IBN : You are saying that the democratic process has remained unchanged in this country for the last 25 years.

Gladson Dungdung: Yes. Another thing when Priyanka Gandhi meets the killer of Rajiv Gandhi, she becomes the messiah for the people - or is at least projected like that. When someone like Binayak Sen treats an adivasi, he becomes a Naxal supporter. How is this fair?

CNN-IBN : It's a complex issue. It will require a long time to address but obviously we need to look at the shades of gray and there are many shades of gray in what is being positioned - as some believe - as a binary issue with the Naxals on the one side and the State on the other. It will require people like you Arundhati Roy to perhaps reach out to Mr Chidambaram and have a dialogue but not in a spirit of confrontation but in the hope that you can reach a solution. You need solutions now and the violence must end from both sides.