Operation Samadhan-Prahar is a relatively new initiative of the union government of India, propagated as an effort to “combat Maoist insurgency in the tribal pockets of the country”. In actuality however, under this operation, lethal weapons have been used to eliminate tribal (Adivasi) resistance to steal the “right to life” of the Adivasis of the country. This new strategy, is based on robber Robin Hood’s maxim to rob Peter (Adivasi/tribal) to pay Paul (corporates).
Operation Samadhan-Prahar has to be seen in the context of the Changing Nature of the Indian State, a new feature of the Second Republic that is in the offing, now called ‘New India.’
It is estimated that the Adivasi (indigenous peoples’) population is about 10 crores, 40 lakhs in India. They live primarily concentrated in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, etc. These states are richly endowed with natural resources that have underground mineral wealth that needs to be mined. These regions also have dense forests that have to be shorn and cut for this exploitation of mineral wealth.
Even though the areas where Operation Samadhan-Prahar is deployed are protected under the Provisions of the PESA or Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, of 1996 and Schedules V and VI of the Indian Constitution, the government has auctioned the mines located there to several corporates houses like Adani, Birla, and Vedanta, TATA and Jindal groups of industries without requisite consent of the gram sabhas of communities authorised under statute for prior sanction.
Adani is exploiting Hasdeo Aranya and Dantewada for Coal and Iron Ore. Aditya Birla, L&T, and Utkal Alumina are exploiting Rayagada/Kashipur in Odisha for Bauxite, Vedanta for Bauxite in Lanjigarh, Niyamgiri, Odisha, TATA steel for Iron ore in Jajpur, Kalinganagar, Odisha and JSW Utkal Steel in Dhinkia village, Jagatsinghpur for Iron. All this assault on India’s forests where Adivasis and indigenous peoples live has and will have a severe impact on climate change but then, who cares?
These corporates are allegedly paying the bureaucrat of the state and union governments to freely exploit minerals resources. However, this institutionalised plunder is also being met with stiff resistance by the indigenous population. The tribal gram sabhas empowered under the PESA Act have been organising rallies, dharnas, and other forms of peaceful protests to resist the exploitation of their natural habitat and natural resources. Cynically, the government (Indian State) has erringly dubbed them as “Maoist insurgency.’
It is in this context that Operation Samadhan-Prahar needs to be assessed, especially in terms of methods employed to eliminate the indigenous population of India. In January 2023, Home Minister Amit Shah said that the government’s effort is to make the country “free of Maoism” and this narrative is likely to be central to the upcoming 2024 parliamentary polls. Later in March 2023 he again reiterated that the fight against “the Maoist is in its final phase”. In saying this, he has vowed to “eliminate the tribal resistance” in the country.
Violence under operation Samadhan-Prahar
On April 7, 2023, bombs were dropped aerially with the help of drones on the tribal of Bhattum, Kavurugatta, Meenagatta, and Jabbagatta villages of Bastar district, Chhattisgarh. This was the fourth bombing since 2021, the first happened on April 19, 2021, the second on April 15, 2022, third on January 11, 2023. After the bombing, three helicopters were used by the Air Force for firing at the local tribal population.
Integral to Operation Samadhan-Prahar, are the government-established military camps in the tribal areas. The armed forces have turned the rich, forested local habitat of Adivasis including their land, forest, and water bodies into jails or concentration camps!
On May 17, 2021, four Adivasis were killed by CRPF for protesting against the setting up of a CRPF camp on a 10-acre agricultural field in Silger, Bastar. On May 22, 2021, an Adivasi youth was shot dead by CRPF for collecting mangoes near the CRPF camp in Silger. On January 14, 2022, the villagers were physically attacked ruthlessly by 500-member paramilitary and state police after they protested against the encroachment of their land.
It is not only government forces but also the private militia of corporates that are deployed against the indigenous tribal and forest dweller population in the region. The infamous Salwa Judum militia which widely burned houses and murdered and was even accused of raping Adivasis was allegedly funded by TATA and trained by government forces. In fact, close to a dozen years back, in 2011, the Supreme Court had declared as illegal and unconstitutional the deployment of tribal youths as Special Police Officers. Though the primary source for funding the government forces is public money, in reality and practice, large sections of the Indian armed forces (in these regions at least) have become the private armies of the corporates.
In 2016, the government introduced the Road Connectivity Project in the Left Wing Extremism Affected Areas (RCPLWEA) for “development purposes of the region”. Though proclaiming development, in reality, these roads were used by corporate companies to move their vehicles, transport their mining machinery, and for patrolling local populations and movement. The security forces reportedly used military vehicles manufactured by TATA to protect the corporates.
Defaming the Resistance
The union government has therefore left no stone unturned to defame the local, indigenous and tribal resistance to the state and corporate encroachment of their habitat. The state has actually unleashed a barrage of fake news and propaganda, a sinister campaign to defame this resistance through the mass media. When Adivasis have resisted the security forces’ occupation of their schools, the news flashed carried headlines like, “Maoist’s attack schools.” The extra-judicial targeted killings of protesters were presented “as genuine, in the public interest” by the media and the dead were described as “Maoist insurgents”. In later days when public memory faded, judicial investigations have found many of them to be fake encounters.
Often, in the changed and polarised public atmosphere with an increasingly aggressive Indian state, even the courts are now being used to defame this tribal resistance blaming Maoist insurgency. Chhatisgarh-based Gandhian, Himanshu Kumar has been penalised five lakhs by Supreme Court along while dismissing a petition filed by him and 12 Adivasi villagers in 2009 that demanded an independent probe into the extra-judicial killings of Adivasis in Gompad, Chattisgarh. The judgement that has attracted widespread criticism was passed on July 13, 2022.
The infamous Gompad Massacre led to 16 Adivasis belonging to the villages of Belpocha, Nulkatong, Gompad, and Gachanpalli being murdered by armed forces and Salwa Judum militia between 17 September 2009 and October 1, 2009. During the same onslaught, a two-year-old baby’s finger was chopped off by those wielding guns for the Indian state after allegedly raping and killing his mother.
However the Supreme Court, based on the version put forward by the state, concluded that it was Maoists who had killed the Adivasis despite relatives of victims, villagers, human rights organisations, and social activists saying that the massacre was committed by the forces representing the government.
Arrests of activists and human rights defenders under UAPA are also strategies employed by Operation Samadhan Prahar. The murder of Fr. Stan Swamy who fought for Adivasis and against their displacement, the jailing of Prof GN Saibaba for protesting against corporatisation and militarization, and the incarceration of Adivasi woman Hidma Marke for leading the protest against Adani’s Bailadila iron-ore mine in Chhattisgarh are all directly or indirectly connected with operation Samadhan Prahar.
Under Operation Samadhan Prahar such fake encounters, torture, sexual violence, rape, and enforced disappearances are reportedly deployed as “tactics of counter-insurgency”. The government justifies combing operations against left-wing extremism as a counter-insurgency method, but in reality, it is indirectly facilitating corporates to plunder the natural wealth of the region and displace the local, indigenous tribal population inhabiting those places.
“Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas- Report of an Expert Group to India’s Planning Commission”, has concluded with the finding that military suppression cannot finish the resistance of Adivasis and Maoists. It also analyses the phenomenon of locals support for the Maoists in terms of the one-sided exploitation by the Indian state that includes violent and enforced displacement and capture of resources by corporates. This is the primary factor responsible for compelling people to engage in this “war to protect themselves” against the government which is under Oath to the Constitution to protect lives, liberty and resources of all its citizens.
The unilateral war declared under Operation Samadhan Prahar by the Indian state is aimed at more than the ten crore forty lacks Adivasis and their natural habitats. It is in fact a war against all the Indian people, the entire country, motivated by a desire to align with and help a handful of corporates. This is the unique feature of New India. This will be proclaimed as as the Second Republic, in all likelihood, in 2024.
(The author is a journalist based in Chennai)
In a blow to both the Chhattisgarh government—then ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the union government led by the Congress dominated United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the Supreme Court had declared as illegal and unconstitutional the deployment of tribal youths as Special Police Officers – either as ‘Koya Commandos’, Salwa Judum or any other force – in the fight against the Maoist insurgency and ordered their immediate disarming. The ruling, delivered by Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjar on a writ petition filed by social anthropologist Prof. Nandini Sundar and others – strongly indicted the Indian State for violating Constitutional principles in arming youth who had passed only fifth standard and conferring on them the powers of police.