Cannon fodder – OrissaPOST

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While gloating and claiming a non-existent success, a Union Cabinet Minister had recently stated that there has virtually been no terror or Left Wing Extremist attack across the country because of the strong policies adopted by the Modi government. Barely a few weeks would have passed and that balloon has now burst. Seventeen policemen have been killed in a Maoist ambush near Elmaguda village in Sukma district, Chhattisgarh. It is reaffirmation that the armed movement against the state continues as strong as ever.

According to reports, at least 300 rebels participated in the ambush, believed to be retaliation for the killing of a key combatant in a previous police operation. The new leader of the Maoists is reported to be an expert at guerrilla warfare and putting together improvised explosive devices that have, in the past, had lethal success. He is also said to be operating on a motto of inflicting maximum damage while keeping own losses minimal.

The attack is yet another wake-up call for the Union and state governments as also the police forces fighting Maoists in the tough terrain and jungles of central India. With each attack, one thing that is becoming very clear is that the Maoist movement has taken roots in the hearts and minds of the local tribal as well as non tribal populations. It may even be perceived as hardening of attitudes after very many wrong and anti people policies of the governments of the day.

These natives of the land, who consider themselves custodians and guardians of the forest, its wealth and the delicate balance to be maintained among its different elements, are feeling increasingly threatened by the governments and the moneybags they back. It is clear that tribals in the region are being ‘mainstreamed’ by various means in the name of government interventions and support. What is being ignored, though, is that every step the governments and the interests to which they are pandering are taking will spell doom to rich and diverse forest cultures, which have been shaped through millions of years of evolution, and the forests themselves. The mineral wealth that the forests of this region are standing over are drawing mining barons like moths to a lamp. But catering to these interests will destroy forests which are extremely vital to the sustenance of humanity. The armed rebellion may have been the sole beacon that has kept global attention riveted on the region and in its absence the forests would long have disappeared without trace.

This is a fight that the government itself has to disengage from. It is essential that serious efforts are put in to preserve tribals and their cultures. If anything, what is required are studies of the life and practices of these tribes people and the protection of forests they call home. The extreme greed of industries to extract minerals from pristine reaches is bound to backfire on the health of the entire nation. The country today has adequate reserves of metal and minerals that have already been dug out of the earth and processed. What is required is a system that enables the reclamation of the whole lot of these minerals after they are past their lifecycle in the form of various things.

The armed rebellion that has continued in the country is mere indicators of the suppression of a culture and violent reactions against it. The forces the government has mobilised against this movement are also not approaching the issue from the human perspective. Their role has to go beyond attaining a victory by batons and bayonets. The tribals are disenfranchised. They need to be given the necessary space to regain status as protectors of forests and their own ways of life. The state needs to win their trust to be able to combat left wing extremism in the region. It will also have to ensure that external elements are not allowed to play mischief by inciting the tribals to join forces with violent, subversive elements. The real war against Maoism has to be fought outside the jungle, against the forces that are trying to exploit tribals for personal profit.

Else, the jungles of Chhattisgarh and other parts of the country will devour more cannon fodder with benefit to none.

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