Hindustan Times feature article on lumpen fascism in Jharkhand
..Jharkhand lies in the middle of the so-called “red corridor”, a string of states infested with Maoist insurgents who claim to be fighting for the rights of peasants, tribals and landless labourers. For years, the mineral-rich state served as a base for the insurgents who have been at the centre of India’s longest-running internal conflict that has taken more lives than the conflict in Kashmir. But unlike other “red-corridor” states, Jharkhand also has more than a dozen armed groups active in its forests, many of them breakaway factions of the CPI (Maoist). Though the state government has banned activities of several Left Wing Extremist (LWE) groups and security forces claim to be going after them, rights activists allege security agencies have covertly propped these terror gangs to use them against the Maoists. “In the early 2000s, police suffered severe losses at the hands of the Maoists.
As a strategy, they tried to split the CPI (Maoists) which led to the creation of several splinter groups. Police used these groups to gather information against the Maoists and pitched them to fight against them,” said a senior state police official. “The strategy to pitch one guerrilla gang against the other worked initially and security forces patted their backs as the Maoists receded from several areas. But today the other groups are out of the police’s control.” It’s tough to tell members of these armed gangs from the Maoists. They wear similar battle uniforms, camp in hiding in dense forests and control forest territories where they extort a levy from mining and development projects by the power of the gun. “The original Naxals (Maoists) had some kind of ideology, although questionable, and some principles. But the so-called splinter groups are nothing but corrupt extortionists and murderers,” said SN Pradhan, additional director general of police in Jharkhand.
As security agencies take sides in the war between Maoists and anti-Maoists, people’s lives and rights are the biggest casualty. A study by the Bindrai Institute of Research, Study and Action (BIRSA), a Jharkhand-based non-profit working on mining and tribal rights, shows that out of 519 civilian killings in the insurgency between 2009 and 2014, almost 50% were by non-Maoist groups. Every year, civilian killings by Maoists have come down but killings by non-Maoist groups have gone up. In 2014, more than 75% of civilian killings were caused by non-Maoist groups. “Earlier Maoists killed civilians, calling them police informers. Now anti-Maoist gangs kill them, calling them Maoist informers.
In a situation where so many armed groups are fighting a turf war and security forces are running several covert operations siding with one group or the other, as a civilian, you don’t know which side you should be on. You can be pulled into the war anytime,” said Gopinath Ghosh, a researcher at BIRSA. The Satbarua encounter is a classic example. According to the CPI (Maoist) statement, security agencies laid a trap using an “underground, anti-rebel armed group … nurtured by the security agencies” called the Jharkhand Jana Mukti Parishad (JJMP) to kill a Maoist area commander named Dr RK who planned to betray the party. Yadav – who knew the commander, police and JJMP members – was used as mediator to fix the meeting between Dr RK and JJMP kingpin Pappu Lohra at Satbarua. The commander had called his son and nephew to Satbarua in a taxi and another villager was asked to deliver food to the meeting. Once all the men gathered, they were killed in “cold blood” by Pappu Lohra “under the guidance” of security forces. Police also passed on some arms seized from Dr RK to the JJMP, said the statement. The allegation of collusion between the JJMP and security forces is not unfounded, admits a senior police official.
According to him, the JJMP came up in 2005 when Sanjay Yadav, a CPI (Maoist) area commander, started his own gang. “He was later killed and the gang became defunct. Intelligence agencies then inducted Pappu Lohra, another former Maoist commander, to revive the gang and pitched it against the Maoists. Today, Lohra acts as the main source of information against the Maoists,” he said. In another case that shows how the JJMP is violating human rights, Pappu Lohra and his men picked up 30-year-old Mahendra Thakur from his house in Latehar at gun-point in front of his family on August 31. The para-legal volunteer who provided legal aid to tribals and the poor in far-flung villages was brutally beaten for two days before his family secured his release. “I had been fighting against village level corruption in the Public Distribution System and panchayat scheme … Lohra and his men asked me why I was so concerned about the rights of the people. They threatened me not to trouble the officials. They released me after my family members made a police official call Lohra,” said Thakur, who now lives in hiding in Ranchi. He said police had taken no action on his FIR against Lohra so far.
THE ROGUE GANGS
The JJMP is not the only anti-Maoist armed group active in the state. The People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), the Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee (TSPC), Pahadi Cheetah, Shanti Sena and Jairam Sahu Giroh are among a long list of such groups in Jharkhand. Today, almost every district with a Maoist presence also has a powerful non-Maoist armed group. The first to emerge was the TSPC following a caste dispute within the Maoists. In 2004, Dalit and tribal members in the CPI (Maoist) felt their concerns were not being addressed by upper caste Yadavs, prompting them to form their own gang under their leader Brajesh Ganju – with the backing of local police. The group controls coal-rich areas in Chatra and Palamu district, and wields more power than the Maoists in the coal belt. It also has enormous political clout in some districts with some members elected to local panchayats.
“In the initial years when the Maoists were after TSPC cadres, the police helped Ganju and his family. Since then, the group has only grown in size and power, and has waged a constant war against the Maoists,” said Ranchi-based journalist, Manob Chowdhury who has followed the activities of these groups for more than a decade. “In Lawalong block of Chatra, most panchayats have elected TSPC members as mukhias uncontested. Lawalong has huge mansions built by TSPC commanders. They even control a huge area in a tiger reserve where they cultivate opium.” One of the apparent victims of the clout of the TSPC was social activist Sunil Pandey who was killed on December 5 in Bhandar village by masked bikers in broad daylight.
Pandey had filed a PIL in the Ranchi High Court demanding an independent investigation into the alleged collusion of the state administration with the TSPC. Pandey had mentioned the names and phone numbers of some senior police officials, politicians and TSPC leaders in his PIL, and demanded an investigation into their call details. “He was under pressure to withdraw the petition. He was attacked twice in the past one year by unidentified men,” said Luv Pandey, Sunil’s elder brother. When asked if the TSPC was behind the killing, Luv said: “I won’t take names but the truth is police are growing one snake to kill the other. All these snakes are biting people.”
Groups like the JJMP and TSPC thrive on a levy collected from mining in the state. Jharkhand accounts for nearly a third of India’s coal, a quarter of its iron ore and 16% of copper. It is also rich in cobalt, bauxite, uranium, manganese and limestone. “Every mining company, private or PSU, has to pay a levy to the most powerful groups,” said a state intelligence official. “On average, Rs 80 crore is collected as a levy annually from one coal mine. The annual figure of extortion from mining and other bussinesses in the state can be anywhere between Rs 7,000 – Rs 10,000 crore. Easy money from mining also gets easy recruits in unemployed youth for the armed groups.” In return, the armed groups provide protection to mining companies and contractors, and at times, intimidate villagers to facilitate land acquisition on behalf of the companies. In a PIL filed in the Ranchi high court in December 2014, the Gram Sabha of Jala village in Latehar district alleged TSPC men threatened villagers when they opposed land acquisition for coal mining. “If a local doesn’t agree to give away land, the armed groups come into the picture and threaten with a gun,” said a resident of Khulari village near Magadh Coal mines…