War on People

If you can’t change ‘em, change village – Govt seeks to snap ‘helpline’ to Maoists by relocating all families from a Purulia hamlet

bengleadKalabera (Purulia), Aug. 11: British officer Harold Briggs tried it in Malaya in 1949. The Bengal government is doing so now. The government wants to shift a village of 32 families from the slopes of the Ayodhya hills in Purulia to one-room concrete houses in the plains, a strategy to stop Maoists from accessing the forested settlement. Some security experts said the move to relocate Kalabera village in Purulia was a “panic reaction” to intelligence that Maoists were regrouping in some areas of Jungle Mahal. Going by history, the state’s idea of relocating settlements has several precedents. P.V. Ramana, a fellow at the think tank Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis in Delhi, said: “Relocation has been done elsewhere in the world to put down communist insurgencies.” Ramana, who has been writing on the Maoist insurgency in India for many years, gave the example of the Malaya insurgency in 1949, which was combated by the British using a similar strategy.
It was known as the Briggs Plan as it was devised by Lt General Harold Briggs. The plan was to create new villages surrounded by fences to cut off supplies to communist insurgents. The residents of Kalabera would have to move about 2km down the slopes of the Ayodhya hills to a plains area where the government has built the settlement for them. They are loath to relocate as the one-room structures don’t have toilets and kitchens. Nor are there shelters to keep farm animals.
The second example of community relocation, done in India not too long ago, was during the Salwa Judum movement in Chhattisgarh. The Salwa Judum was an anti-Maoist militia accused of a six-year reign of terror in Bastar’s villages before being disbanded in 2011 on the Supreme Court’s orders. The Judum began as a spontaneous movement of tribals tired of constant harassment by police looking for insurgents. So, the villagers decided to hunt the rebels out themselves.
The state government provided funds to set up camps for villagers coaxed or coerced by the Judum to join up. For two years, the government provided free ration and medical facilities to everyone in these camps, which at one point housed 70,000 to 80,000 people. Around 5,000 people from these camps were trained to use firearms and were given the label of special police officers. But the results of the movement proved disastrous as it pitted tribal against tribal.
The Bengal government has not cited any elaborate goals like setting up state-funded camps, but the effort to break the Maoists’ supply chain is a common thread with the Judum. If the Judum camps are compared to the Briggs plan, it did not work well in the wake of allegations of human rights violations and resentment among the local population. “The Bengal government should consider the fallout in Chhattisgarh,” said a security expert, unwilling to be named. Asked if the relocation strategy was a good one, Vishwaranjan, a former director-general of police in Chhattisgarh, said: “It is no strategy. It is panic. If one village is relocated, they (Maoists) will go to some other place.” Kalabera is tried and tested territory for the Maoists. The village in Purulia came under the security forces’ scanner during the Maoist movement in Lalgarh in West Midnapore and Purulia in 2009.


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