Kerala's Maoist Question
By Aishik Chanda
21 February, 2015
“January 26: Sham Republic Day” and “Kick out Yankee monster Obama” were some of the posters stuck to the walls of Tamarind Easy hotel of Kerala Tourism Development Corporation in Thirunelly, Wayanad district in northern Kerala in what is supposed to be the latest Maoist attack in the state on Sunday. This government resort is near to private resort Agraharam that came under similar Maoist attack on November 18.
Naxal activities in the state have seen a steady rise since the last year and a half. In the beginning of this phase, the main agenda of the armed red rebels was to provide shelter to their brethren from Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. Since then, the Maoists have put up a steady show of attacking resorts, forest outposts, stone crushing units and American retail food outlets. However, most of the fire has been aimed at the resorts, which the Naxals treat as symbols of oppression built on Adivasi lands.
Adivasis in Kerala, who make up less than 3 per cent of the population, are concentrated in the hilly forested regions of Kannur, Mallapuram, Kozhikode and Wayanad and Idukki districts. Activists and researchers claim that Adivasis are the people who have completely been bypassed by the “Kerala model” of development.
Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha (AGM), an umbrella organisation of Adivasi groups of the state, claims that Forest Rights Act-2006 has not been implemented in the state fully. The group had, for more than five months, staged Nilpu Samaram or “standing stir” in front of the Kerala Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, demanding land for the landless Adivasis and stopping privatization of Aralam farmland.
In the protest, more than 50 Adivasis from the northern districts kept standing on the pavements in front of the Secretariat against non-implementation of the promised land distribution during a previous 48-day Kudiletti Samaram protest in 2001, during the tenure of former Congress Chief Minister A.K. Anthony. The “Standing stir” was called off following similar promises by the present government.
AGM leader C.K. Janu had, during the protest, claimed that the previous promises of A.K. Anthony had not only been not implemented but the number of landless Adivasis rose from 35,000 in 2001 to 75,000 in 2014.
C.K. Janu had in 2003 led more than 1,000 Adivasis to illegally occupy a wildlife sanctuary in Wayanad district. The government led its armed police into the region, personnel of which opened fire on the protesters, leading to death of 4 of them. One policeman also died in the confrontation.
Ironically, the reason for the Adivasi struggle in the state – land – has long been distributed among the populace. This shows that one of the first land reforms in the country has completely bypassed its most depressed and deprived population. Lack of land or jobs has also led to innumerous malnutrition deaths in the northern districts over the years.
Banking on this resentment and continual deprivation, Maoists, under the CPI (Maoist) Western Ghats Regional Committee of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA), are hoping to make inroads into the Adivasi hamlets of the northern districts of Malabar region of the state. Hence, they are attacking the very signs of oppression on the Adivasis – the stone crushers and the resorts – that have come up on the Adivasi lands, denying them any rights on their lands.
Only one incident of exchange of fire between Thunderbolts, a counter-Naxal commando force of Kerala police, and suspected Maoists was reported in Vellamunda in Wayanad district on December 7 last year. This shows that the Naxals are avoiding direct confrontation with the armed forces as of now.
While the state has responded in increased combing operations in the forested region, activists fear this may lead to more tortures, arrests and harassment of the Adivasis. Previous Naxal experiences in the country have shown that Maoist ranks swell from local recruits following such police harassment and torture. Many Adivasi youth have been arrested in the name of counter-insurgency operations. The government needs to check this or see rise in Maoist ranks in the state.
Murali Kannambali, former secretary of CPI (ML) Naxalbari before the party merged with CPI (Maoist) on May 1 last year, is said to be the tallest Maoist leader in the state. Son of former diplomat Kannambali Karunakara Menon, Murali has been inducted into the central committee of CPI (Maoist) after the merger.
Coming from the group of Naxals that emerged in the state during the initial years of Naxalism in India in the late 60s and early 70s, Murali is said to have spent a year in Paris in 1984 looking after the activities of the Revolutionary International Movement, the international forum of Maoist parties. As a Naxalite leader, Murali was instrumental in turning many engineering students into Naxalites in the mid-70s.
Even as Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala claimed that anti-social elements under the garb of Naxals are behind the attacks and there is “no need to panic” as the Maoist movement in the state does not enjoy popular support, government chief whip P.C. George had called for an end to anti-Naxal operations and spending crores of rupees to nab a “few dozen Maoists”. He said that the state should fight the Maoists with ideology and not with arms and was pulled up by Mr Chennithala for his statement. The Home Minister said that first, the Naxals have to put down arms, only then can the counter-insurgency operations stop.
On the other hand, the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha has claimed that there has been an effort from both the state and the Maoists to enlarge the story of terror and make sure that the Adivasi areas are left isolated, so that the ganja (marijuana) cultivation and stone quarrying thrives. AGM has claimed that ganja cultivation has grown in areas where the Maoists have stronger presence.
However, many Adivasi activists have claimed that the Maoist story is being propagated larger than what is ground reality. As of now, this story has hampered inflow of tourists in the state, which have gone down by 30-35 per cent since last year.
The state should immediately start considering Adivasis as very-much residents of Kerala. Then Forest Rights Act, Panchayati Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA), distribution of “cultivable land” to Adivasis and reduction of malnutrition deaths will follow automatically.
As far as the Maoists are concerned, experiences of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh have shown that they can be flushed out of a state, but they will continue returning back till they find fertile grounds for “revolution”.
The writer is pursuing M.A. in Dalit and Tribal Studies and Action at Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. He was a working journalist at The New Indian Express and Deccan Chronicle in Hyderabad. He continues to write as an independent journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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