Narayanpatna: The Arrest of Tapan Mishra

Satyabrata

On the 29th of November, 2009, Tapan Mishra, a democratic political activist who was about to board his train to Narayanpatna from Parvatipuram railway station was arrested by police in civilian uniform. Throughout his life of 42 years Tapan Mishra has been linked to several left groups and has been part of popular dissent movements. He was once a member of AIDSO (All India Democratic Students Organisation), the student wing of the SUCI and the President of the Ravenshaw College Students’ Union. Later he joined the CPI(ML)(Liberation) and was an active participant in the then agrarian struggles and struggles of forest dwellers. Tapan Mishra was the councilor of Athamalic NAC and also contested the last Assembly elections from Athamalic: the later two facts show that he had no strategic ideological compatibility with the CPI(Maoist).

Before leaving for Parvatipuram, he met several press people in Bhubaneshwar and had assured them that he would provide reliable information on what was going on in Narayanpatna. It is also worth noting that Tapan Mishra was a potential leader of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh of Narayanpatna having experience in agrarian and forest dwellers movements. He is also a sympathizer of the Narayanpatna movement and is closely associated with its leadership.

Today, most of the leadership of the Narayanpatna movement is under arrest or is underground. This has been due to the brutal repressive measures that the state government has taken in the region using the police. Nachika Linga, leader of the CMAS, is underground. The police have destroyed his house. Two leaders have earlier been killed in police firing. Anyone like Tapan Mishra who knows the significance of the Narayanpatna movement would be a spontaneous positive contribution to the movement: this, probably, the State knew better than anyone. Tapan has been projected by the police as a ‘hardcore Maoist’ who is in charge of training cadres in military offensive. His arrest has already been linked to the police’s finding of ammunition elsewhere. The police in Narayanpatna are part of the larger nexus of landlords and liquor mafia – it is evident from the way the truth has been distorted by them in general and in Tapan’s case in particular. But what about the government of Orissa (or to be more appropriate the whole bourgeois Assembly as there has been no voice from the opposition also)? The government of Orissa is part of a larger nexus the scope of whose explication is beyond the limitations of this report. Suffice to say that the rulers of Orissa are one of the most authoritarian anti-people lot that gives no space to democratic voice which it apprehends shall, in the long run, bring an end to the brutalities of its nexus. This is precisely the reason why Tapan is being silenced.

Video: Nov 13 Meeting in Delhi University

A public meeting organised by Campaign Against War on People in Delhi University on November 13 2009 to protest against the Indian State’s war on tribals of Central India.

Part I

Part II

Farmers’ organisations under attack in Punjab

NK Jeet,
President, Lok Morcha Punjab

The peasants’ organizations in Punjab have been in the forefront in the struggle against the anti-people new economic policies of globalization, liberalization and privatization. They have fought for remunerative prices for agricultural produce, its procurement by state agencies, writing off farm loans, and against arrests of farmers due to non-payment of farm loans advanced by Cooperative Societies, attachments and sales of their lands at the instances of Commission Agents and money lenders etc. They have also led glorious struggles against setting up of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the state, forcible acquisition of agricultural land for setting up giant industrial complexes, power projects, multi-lane roads etc. and against unbundling and ultimate privatization of the Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB). Faced with stiff resistance from the farmers’ organization, the Punjab Government was forced to abandon or curtail many projects. Irritated at this, the Akali-BJP Government in Punjab launched a massive offensive against the organizations of the farmers. A large number of leaders and activists of these organizations were implicated in false criminal cases. On September 8 2009, when Bharatiya Kisan Union Ekta (Ugrahan) held a massive demonstration at Chandigarh to oppose unbundling of the State Electricity Board, 4 FIRs were registered against all of its State Office-bearers. The leaders of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union and Lok Morcha Punjab were also implicated in these cases. Hundreds of farmers were injured in the brutal lathicharge by the police. Their vehicles were badly damaged. As a result of the police brutalities, four persons lost their lives. The sacrifices of these farmers did not go in vain. Akali-BJP Govt was forced to postpone the unbundling/ corporatisation of the PSEB, till mid-December.

Now as the day of reckoning is reaching near, and the farmers’ organizations have started mobilizing the people against the privatization of the PSEB, the Akali-BJP Govt has launched another attack. On November 17 2009, President of BKU (Krantikari), Sh Surjit Singh Phul was arrested from the court premises when he had gone there to attend a hearing. The police would have kept him in illegal confinement and subjected to torture, but the democratic-minded advocates and farmer activists approached the Sub Divisional Judicial Magistrate (SDJM) and apprised him of the illegal act of the police. The SDJM immediately called the SHO of the concerned police station. Fearing exposure, the police registered a case under Section 10, 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against Mr. Surjit Singh, branded him a member of the CPI (Maoist), planning to illegally overthrow the Government through armed struggle. He was immediately arrested in this case. Next day the police obtained his custody for 8 days by producing him before the Magistrate at his residence after court hours, and he was immediately sent to the infamous Joint Investigation Centre, Amritsar, which is Punjab’s Guantanamo.

On November 26 2009, Mr. Surjit Singh was to be produced before the SDJM Phul for further remand. The police with a view to hoodwink his lawyers, made elaborate security arrangements at Phul Courts. Riot-police commandoes in full battle gear were deployed not only in and around the court-premises, but also on all entrances of the town, and at important road-junctions leading to this town throughout the district. But it was merely a drama. In fact the police filed an application before the District and Sessions Judge Bathinda, expressing false and baseless apprehensions that people at Phul might take away Mr. Surjit Singh forcibly from the police, and obtained permission to produce him before the CJM at Bathinda. The real intention was to deprive Mr. Surjit Singh of any legal aid and exposure of the third degree methods adopted by the police. The police succeeded in obtaining his remand in its custody for another 8 days till December 3 2009.

As soon as this information reached his lawyers, who were camping at Phul Town, they immediately moved the court to obtain permission to meet Surjit Singh in police custody and for his interrogation only in the presence of his lawyers. The court allowed the lawyers to meet him on November 26 and 27, and informed the police about this order. But the police did not care about the Court’s order and sent him to Joint Interrogation Centre, Amritsar again without informing the Court. When the lawyers tried to contact the Investigating Officer to fix the venue of the meeting, he switched off his mobile phone.

On November 27, the lawyers filed another application before the CJM Bathinda, seeking initiation of contempt of court proceedings against the police officials, and fixing new time and date for meeting with Surjit Singh. Acting on this application, the court granted permission to the lawyers, to meet Mr Surjit Singh during his detention at Joint Interrogation Centre Amritsar, everyday from 5 to 6 PM from November 30 onwards.

Although the game-plan of the police has been foiled for the present, but its attack can be repulsed only by mobilizing masses against these anti-people, undemocratic, and repressive measures.

Orissa Bandh – a report

Satyabrata

A state-wide 12-hour bandh was observed on the 28th of November (Saturday) in Orissa to protest against the police firing on tribals and to condemn the killing of two Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) leaders in Narayanpatna. The protest demanded an immediate withdrawal of CRPF, Cobra and other paramilitary forces from the region and to grant compensation of 10 lakhs to the family of those dead. Several organizations, including, CPI(ML) (Liberation), CPI(ML) New Democracy, Orissa Forest Mazdoor Sangh, Malkanagiri Adivasi Sangh, CPI M-L, CMAS, Lok Sangram Manch, and many progressive activists took the initiative after the fact finding team on the Narayanpatna incident submitted its report.

On the 28th, several demonstrations were organised in the state, especially in Southern Orissa. There were protest rallies in Koraput. In Rayagada, several people organized by CPI(ML) (Liberation) were arrested for protesting and blocking a road. In Muniguda block, a road block was organized by Lok Sangram Manch. A huge protest demonstration was staged in Matili block of Malkanagiri. Here thousands of tribals came out on streets armed with their traditional weaponry. Four trains, including Rajdhani Express, were stranded at Bhubaneswar railway station for three hours due to the dawn-to-dusk protests.

In spite of state-wide protests, combing operations still continue in Narayanpatna and adjoining regions. Cobra battalions have been sent to adjoining Bandhugaon where activities of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh have throughout been peaceful. Media reports arrests of several ‘Naxals’. Police says ‘peace’ is being restored in the region and that people are no more sympathetic to the movement of CMAS. According to the police, several illiterate tribals have given in ‘writing’ that they won’t support the ‘Sangh activities’ any more. The government of Orissa has least regard for public opinion and the ‘opposition’ is also silent on this issue. They want to retain ‘order’ in the state of Orissa; but where order is injustice, disobedience will inevitably spring up to establish justice.

Convention Against War on People, Dec 4 2009

INVITATION

Convention Against War On People
Venue: Speaker’s Hall, Constitution Club, Rafi Marg, New Delhi
Date: 4 December 2009 (Friday) Time: 10 am—7 pm

Friends,

As you read this invite, Indian state’s ongoing war on people that began on the 1st of November, will already complete several weeks. The body-count of the adivasis –the prime victims of the Indian government’s ‘hunt’– also started to mount. As per the sporadic news from the Ground Zero trickles in through the media, the casualty is escalating by each passing day, as grow the number of burnt villages, persons displaced, injured or arrested. We hear of battalions of CRPF, COBRA, C-60, Grey Hounds, ITBP, Anti-Naxal Task Force and a whole assortment of armed paramilitary and police forces stepping up their operation in Dandakaranya and adjoining regions, backed by air force helicopters and US intelligence satellites, commanded by army top brass. As reports are pouring in already thousands of adivasis have been displaced from their homes as the ruthless state repressive machine has let loose a reign of terror in these areas. The renewed offensive by the joint forces in Lalgarh too has left hundreds of protesting adivasis homeless. There is every possibility that the number of dead and injured people, along with the displaced and destroyed villages will only mount in the coming weeks, if the Indian government does not call for an immediate halt to this all-encompassing military offensive. As has been the case with nationality movements in Kashmir and the North East, the Indian state’s endeavour to find a ‘military solution’ through war will only endanger the lives and livelihood of lakhs of citizens.

Indian government has been preparing for this massive military operation for months, lining up nearly one lakh troops and arming them with sophisticated weapons, mobilising the air force for aerial strikes and involving the Indian army not only for training and logistical purposes, but for operational command and even active combat if required. There are also reports of US intelligence and security officials ‘advising’ the Indian government in conducting this war. As reported by the media, the entire forested regions of central and eastern India have been divided into seven Operating Areas, which the government wants to ‘clear’ within the next five years of all resistance, including that of the Maoists and other Naxalite organisations. An outlay of Rs.7300 crores has already been earmarked for this war.

None is in illusion as to the objectives of this war against the people. This war is being fought by the Indian government at the behest of the corporates and for their benefit, targeting the life and livelihood of the adivasis. The worldwide imperialist economy presently faces its most severe crisis after 1929. The military-industrial complex, which includes multinational and Indian big business interests, is looking for wars that have the potential to artificially generate the much-needed demand for their products in a crisis-ridden market. Moreover, both domestic and foreign corporations desperately want to lay their hands on the minerals worth billions of dollars deposited in the vast forest regions of central and eastern India. Once accessed, this can guarantee the corporations super-profits for several decades. Hundreds of agreements and MoUs that allow free plunder of people’s resources have already been concluded by mining corporations with the central and state governments. The corporations easily cleared all the legal hurdles between themselves and the natural resources. The only barrier that now stands between them and their prize is people’s resistance, whether unarmed or armed. From Nandigram to Niyamgiri, Lalgarh to Dandakaranya, Koraput to Kalinganagar, Dadri to Narayanpatna, people have refused to be mere victims of state-sponsored policies of Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation (LPG) in the name of ‘development’. After trying all forceful measures from police repression to Salwa Judum which have failed to deter the people’s movements, the Indian government is now waging war not only against the Naxalite and Maoist movements which have been termed as the ‘biggest internal security threat’, but against all people’s movements that challenge its policies. By doing so, it not only is trying to bulldoze all kinds of dissenting voices and democratic rights, but is also aiming to exterminate the aspirations of the exploited and oppressed people for a better society, a life with dignity.

Forum Against war on People invites you to this All-India Convention which is an effort to examine the ongoing war on people in all its dimensions. More importantly, it seeks to become a strong voice of resistance against this war. We urge you to participate in the Convention and make it an occasion to collectively demand that the Indian government must immediately and unconditionally stop this war, waged in our name against our own people.

Inaugural Address: Prof. Randhir Singh (Retd. Political Science, DU)

Speakers

Justice AS Bains

BD Sharma

Vara Vara Rao (Revolutionary Poet)

PA Sebastian (CPDR, Maharashtra)

Prof. Jagmohan (AFDR, Punjab)

Arundhati Roy (Writer)

Bullu Bahan, (Chhattisgarh)

Madhuri (MP)

Prof. Amit Bhattacharyya

Ajit Bhuyan (Editor, Asomiya Pratidin)

Prashant Bhushan

Shashi Bhushan Pathak (PUCL Jharkhand)

Bernard D’Mello (Deputy Editor, EPW)

Lachit Bordoloi (MASS, Assam)

Dr. N Venuh (NPMHR)

Sudhir Patnaik (Lok Pakhya, Orissa)

Prof N K Bhattacharya (Jan Hastakshep)

Malem Ningthouja (CPDM, Manipur)

Harish Dhawan (PUDR)

Shamsher Singh Bisht (Uttarakhand Lok Vahini)

Lateef Mohd. Khan (Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee)

Gautam Navlakha

Kavita Krishnan (CPI-ML [Liberation])

Sheomangal Siddhantkar (CPI-ML [New Proletarian])

SS Mahal (CPI-ML [New Democracy])

SAR Geelani (CRPP)

GN Saibaba

Prof. Jagmohan Singh (Voices for Freedom)

Santosh Mahapatra (Orissa)

Arjun Prasad Singh (PDFI)

Dr. Animesh Das (IFTU)

Raminder Singh (NBS)

Alok (KYS)

PUCL

JNU Forum Against War on People

DU Campaign Against War on People     Correspondence, Campaign Against War on People, Committee Against Violence On Women (CAVOW), Naga Students Union Delhi (NSUD), Navjawan Bharat Sabha (NBS), KRALOS, Krantikari Yuva Sanghathan (KYS), Manipur Students Association Delhi (MSAD), PDSU, PUCL, MKP, Campaign for Peace & Democracy Manipur (CPDM), DSU, CRPP, DGMF, People’s Front (PF), Mazdoor Ekta Manch (MEM), Left Democratic Teacher’s Front (LDTF), RDF, PDFI, CPI (ML) (Liberation), CPI (ML) (New Proletarian), Kashipur Solidarity Forum, Nari Mukti Sangh (NMS), Mehnatkash Majdoor Morcha (MMM), B D Sharma, Arundhati Roy, Tripta Wahi, Vijay Singh, Neshat Quaiser, Laltu and others

Video: Anger against Narayanpatna Killings

Courtesy: Samadrusti

The Great Resource Grab Continues: People fight for law, Government throws it to the winds

Campaign for Survival and Dignity

On November 20th, the police opened fire on an unarmed protest rally in Narayanpatna, Orissa, by the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha and killed three people. The Campaign condemns these murders – for that is what they are – in the strongest possible terms. Meanwhile, adivasi groups organised demonstrations across Andhra Pradesh yesterday against the State government’s illegal move to record community forest management rights and powers in the name of Joint Forest Management committees – which function as proxies of the Forest Department. In Andhra Pradesh or in Orissa, the irony is the same: it is the people who are fighting for the law, and the government that is using all the force possible to break it. In Delhi we find the Prime Minister and the Home Minister talking of the “rule of law” all the time, but for the government it seems that the “rule of law” is just another word for the rule of brute force.

The Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha is an adivasi movement that came to attention earlier this year when it mobilised to take back adivasi lands. The lands had been illegally taken over by non-tribals, in violation of the Orissa Land Reforms Act and the Orissa Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property Regulation. Though the government insists, as usual, on calling the Sangha a “Maoist front” and a “Maoist overground organisation”, the Sangha’s leaders have always been very clear that they are not linked to the CPI(Maoist) and have publicly stated their differences with the Maoists. They have organised people in a mass movement for adivasi land rights. This movement, of course, is intolerable for the government and for powerful interests; so, as usual, those fighting for people’s rights are labelled Maoists and, on this pretext, killing, beatings and torture all are considered justifiable.

On the 20th, the adivasis gathered to protest harassment of women and children, including beatings, that had taken place during so-called “combing operations” in the preceding days. According to fact finding reports, they were not carrying even their traditional bows and arrows. The police opened fire within half an hour of the protest reaching the police station. An estimated 60 people have been injured (no injuries to police have been reported) and those injured are not receiving medical treatment. The police are still engaged in combing operations and have arrested a number of other adivasis. There is no report of any action being taken against those responsible for the killings.

In Andhra Pradesh, meanwhile, a quieter attack on democracy is underway. The Forest Rights Act recognises the right and power of forest dwellers to protect, conserve and manage their “community forest resources”. This was the biggest step forward in this law, and it is the one part that the government appears most keen not to respect. In AP, the Forest Department has found a new trick to get around these provisions – it has persuaded the State government to confer community management rights under the Act on Joint Forest Management committees, which have forest guards as their secretaries / joint account holders and are effectively controlled by the Department. This is completely illegal and amounts to robbing people’s resources through the back door. But, once again, we find deafening silence or active support from the Central government for these illegal activities, and reportedly AP has even been cited as a ‘model’ by Central officials for this action.

Thus the struggle of the people for control over their resources and their livelihoods continues. The question that the government has to answer is very simple: does it actually believe in the rule of law? Or does it believe in crushing all those who fight for the very laws that it has passed?

Narayanpatna: An Interview with Gananath Patra

Satyabrata

On the 20th of November three adivasis, including a leader of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), were gunned down near the police station of Narayanpatna. The CMAS has been struggling for the redistribution of land among tribals in the region. Nachika Linga and Gananath Patra have been spearheading the movement since its inception. The police alleges the CMAS of conducting violence. According to the police, hundreds of adivasis had come to loot the police station; the police had to fire in retaliation and hence the incident. Later, a section of media claimed that the government has issued a shoot-at-sight order against Nachika Linga. Kumudini Behera, another leader of the CMAS, is already under arrest. The following is a telephonic interview with Com. Gananath Patra.

Satyabrata: The media is projecting that hundreds of members of CMAS had organized themselves around the police station in order to loot weaponry. How much truth does this statement of the police carry?

Gananath Patra: It is ridiculous that the police is even able to say such things. Firstly, there were only hundred and fifty adivasis who had come to the police station. There was a genuine reason for that. The previous night, in the name of hunting down the Maoists, innocent adivasis were beaten, looted and women were molested in Kumbhari panchayat. They had only come to seek an explanation. They were naturally agitated because of what they had to face the night before but they had no intentions of looting the police station, they were unarmed; they came without even their traditional weaponry. Moreover, if they had intentions of looting the police station, they could have easily conspired that in the night. Why would they, in broad daylight, come to the police station unarmed!

Satyabrata: Curfew has been declared in the region with the enforcement of Section 144 of the IPC. Cobra battalions have reached the region. The situation is being militaristically dealt with by the government. Why so?

Gananath Patra: Due to the pressure of our movement, several landlords and liquor merchants ran away from the area, and they have organised themselves in adjoining Laxmipur in the name of a Shanti (Peace) Committee under the patronage of the BJD, the ruling party of Orissa. The State has its class character and this move only explicates it. The State is against the movement of the adivasis for their rights because their rights mean loss to the landed propertied classes which are the class base of the ruling party in that region.

Satyabrata: The state has militarized itself. What will its effect be on the movement?

Gananath Patra: We know very well that behind the military intervention of the State is its intention to militarize our movement in order to find a plea to brutally subjugate it. We know their intentions and we are careful about any move we shall be taking. The movement must continue.

Satyabrata: The CMAS is being projected as the frontal organization of the Maoists. Is that true?

Gananath Patra: You mean the CPI(Maoist). No. we have considerable differences with the CPI(Maoist) line, though they are our sympathizers and critics. I believe in Marxism-Leninism- Mao Tse-tung Thought, which has considerable differences with the Maoism of the CPI(Maoist). Our method of occupying and cultivating land is mass line task and has nothing in common with the CPI(Maoist).

Satyabrata: Why are you being projected as Maoists then?

Gananath Patra: We pose a danger to the status quo the ruling class wants to maintain and hence it wants us to be branded as Maoists. Then the matter becomes simple; pick up anyone who is against this status quo, brand him a Maoist and rob him of his movemental potentiality by either putting him behind bars or by gunning him down. History has been spectator to this strategy of several States at several conjunctures in the past. The state has banned the CPI(Maoist) to facilitate this purpose.

Satyabrata: Your message to the people who will be going through this interview.

Gananath Patra: The movement at Narayanpatna is the struggle of the indigenous adivasis against the exploiters. Time will show, if things go our way, we will be able to produce agricultural products in a quantity many times more than that produced under exploitation, and the produce will go to the producers. We don’t need any Green Revolution. Of course, the State is trying its best to subjugate the movement, but, this is our struggle – the struggle of indigenous adivasis against our exploiters. The State and the media have joined hands in projecting it as a terrorist movement and CMAS as a terrorist outfit. Let us join hands to prove them wrong.

A Public Meeting on the “Right to Dissent”

Janhastakshep, Campaign Against Fascist Designs invite you for a public meeting
on
THE RIGHT TO DISSENT
Date & Time : November 26 at 5 P.M.
Venue: Gandhi Peace Foundation, Deen Dayal Upadhaya Marg, ITO, New Delhi.
Panelists: Mr. Surendra Mohan (Former M.P.), Mr. Rajendra Sachar (Former Chief Justice Delhi High Court), Mr. Neelabh Mishra (Journalist), Mr. Prashant Bhushan (Advocate Supreme Court), Mr. Manoj Mitta (Journalist), Mr. Jaspal Sidhu (Journalist) and others

On November 16, thousands of people gathered in the village Nanda Ka Pura in the district of Kaushambi in U.P. to pay their respectful homage to Uda Devi, a well known dalit martyr of the 1857 Indian War of Independence. To prevent the assembly the State Administration had imposed preventive measures U/s 144 of Cr. P.C. leading to lathi charge and firing on the people. People there were not deterred even by such repressive measures wherein 30 peoples sustained injuries.

On November 3, when the Sikh community in Punjab was protesting against the anti-Sikh violence of 1984 and against the denial of justice for the victims of that violence, a group of tenant- peasants of village Khanna-Chamiara were subjected to unprovoked and indiscriminate firing. These peasants were protesting against the attempts to vacate the land being cultivated by them for the past 60 to 70 years. The irony is; the entire operation culminating in the killing of two and injuring many peasants, was ordered by the so-called Task Force of S.G.P.C., which was supposed to protect the interest of Sikhs.

The country is witness to widespread popular movements on the issues of displacements of dalits and tribals in the States of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. The rulers in different States are resorting to the draconian provisions under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) for suppressing the voice of dissent. In Chattisgarh mere criticism of the state government invites black laws such as “sedition” to be slammed upon members of the press, intellectuals and civil liberties activists. In West Bengal well know intellectuals such as Aparna Sen and Mahashweta Devi have been threatened under the UAPA.

Recently contempt proceedings have been initiated against Shri Prashant Bhushan, a noted Human Rights activist in the Supreme Court for his reported statement that Hon’ble Mr. Justice S.H.Kapadia should have recused himself from hearing matters relating to the Vedanta Group of Companies since there was an element of conflict of interest.

In his reported statement, Shri Prashant Bhushan had only raised the issue of judicial propriety wherein Hon’ble Mr. Justice S.H. Kapadia had candidly observed in the open court that he was holding shares in the Vedanta/Sterlite Group of Companies; and even after making such observation he proceeded in the hearing and passing orders in the matters involving the said Vedanta/Sterlite Group of Companies. It is the basic postulate in the Rule of Law that no person shall be judge in his own cause and justice should not only be done but seen to be done. The reported observation of Shri Prashant Bhushan was made with a view to bring about transparency in the judicial functioning. The fact that in a subsequent development, Hon’ble Mr. Justice Kapadia has recused himself from hearing matters relating to Vedanta/Sterlite Group of Companies on the self – same ground is also indicative of the prima facie correct view on the part of Shri Prashant Bhushan.

The resort to invoking contempt jurisdiction of the Superior Courts to deal with such situations is nothing but an attempt to gag the fearless voice of human rights activists who are striving to bring forward issues of judicial transparency and accountability to public domain. From being the institution which has been entrusted to protect the citizens constitutionally guaranteed rights, the courts are increasingly becoming willing instruments for further suppression and curtailment of people’s rights and freedom by the state and ruling political powers.

Jan Hastakshep as a part of its constant endeavor to raise basic issues concerning the working masses would request your participation in the meeting to be held on November 26 at 5 P.M. at Gandhi Peace Foundation, Deen Dayal Upadhaya Marg, New Delhi.

Prof. N.K. Bhattacharya
Convener

The Sri Lankan National Question and the People’s Right to Self-Determination

Asvaththaamaa

Introduction

Post-war Sri Lanka has taken new directions in its political form with the LTTE militarily defeated and the liberation struggle of the Tamils facing a major setback. Against this backdrop, triumphalism of the Sinhala majoritarian chauvinism in its different forms is placing new constraints on the resolution of the Sri Lankan national question. Its impact has been almost instant.

The latest line of the NGOs and ‘civil society spokespersons’ is the idea of “non-devolutionary constitutional reform”. Newly coined terms are used to persuade the government that it could introduce constitutional reforms with little consideration for the rights and aspirations of the people. On the other hand the Tamil nationalists among the diaspora remain stuck to the mythical notion of Vaddukoddai resolution and claiming that separate state Tamil Eelam is the solution for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Both approaches contain their fair share of vested interests.

Although the thirty-year civil war is over, the causes of the conflict still remain to be addressed. The national question, remains the main contradiction in Sri Lanka, and unresolved. Chauvinistic oppression and denial of the basic rights of the minorities remain strong, the oppression being two-fold, political and military. The reluctance of the government to propose a political solution has serous long-term implications.

While a just solution to the national question should be based on ensuring the right to self determination of all the nationalities in Sri Lanka, the term ‘right to self determination’ itself is being interpreted by different political actors, each in a way to suit its own agenda. Thus there is a need to understand the concept of the right to self determination and examine its role in finding a solution to the Sri Lankan national question.

Right to self determination

The concept of the right to self-determination has its origins in the Russian revolution. The founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922 brought together more than 120 distinct peoples, each with its own language and culture, who had been oppressed by the fallen Russian Czarist Empire. This great achievement was made possible by the 1917 October Revolution. Elimination of national oppression and arriving at a correct position on what was then known as “the national question” would not have been possible without a profound struggle.

Marx’s analysis of the Irish question was a pioneering contribution to the understanding of self-determination for oppressed nations. Marx, who initially doubted the ability of the Irish nation to achieve independence on its own or even the need for it, expected that the Irish nation and workers would be liberated when the English working class overthrew the English bourgeoisie. His view was based on the idea that the English workers living in an advanced capitalist country were best placed to overthrow capitalism in the colonizing country of Britain. By the late 1860s, on recognising the virulent racism and chauvinism among the English workers themselves against the Irish people, he supported the right to independence of the Irish nation as the best means for the Irish workers to fight capitalism. He urged the English workers to stand up for Irish independence.

Marx further argued that an English workers’ party, representing workers of an oppressor nation, was duty bound to support an oppressed nation’s independence. This attitude became a central aspect of Lenin’s stand on the national question in relation to oppressed nations. Lenin was later to write: “The policy of Marx and Engels on the Irish question serves as a splendid example of the attitude the proletariat of the oppressor nations should adopt towards national movements, an example which has lost none of its immense practical importance”. Lenin, in upholding the Marxist approach, had to struggle repeatedly against other socialists who were opposed in principle to the right to national self-determination.

Lenin explained the right to self determination thus: “The right of nations to self-determination means only the right to independence in a political sense, the right to free, political secession from the oppressing nation. Concretely, this political, democratic demand implies complete freedom to carry on agitation in favour of secession, and freedom to settle the question of secession by means of a referendum of the nation that desires to secede. Consequently, this demand is by no means identical with the demand for secession, for partition, for the formation of small states. It is merely the logical expression of the struggle against national oppression in every form. The more closely the democratic system of state approximates to complete freedom of secession, the rarer and weaker will the striving for secession be in practice; for the advantages of large states, both from the point of view of economic progress and from the point of view of the interests of the masses, are beyond doubt, and these advantages increase with the growth of capitalism. The recognition of self-determination is not the same as making federation a principle. One may be a determined opponent of this principle and a partisan of democratic centralism and yet prefer federation to national inequality as the only path towards complete democratic centralism”.

It was after Lenin explained and defined the right to self determination that others, notably Woodrow Wilson, defined the right to self determination as the right of peoples to govern themselves. Right to self determination implies that no one can legitimately govern a people without their consent. Wilson promulgated the right to self-determination in his “Fourteen Points” speech. The fundamental difference between Wilson and Lenin was that the latter accepted the right to secede, if it becomes impossible to stay together so that self determination meant the right to secede but not necessarily the act of secession. Lenin illustrated this with the example of the right to divorce, which does not mean that every marriage should be dissolved but ensures that every person gets into the contract of marriage while reserving one’s right to divorce. Without the right to divorce, marriage does not guarantee the survival of marriage. The right to separate makes the relationship more equal and stable than without. Lenin thus argued that by giving the right to secession the nations or nationalities in a union explore possibilities to coexist.

In the later years, the right to self determination acquired political as well as legal meanings, with the political principle having a wider scope than the legal. Article 1 (2) of the United Nations Charter, drawn up in 1945, stipulates that the UN is to “develop a friendly relationship among nations based on respect of the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and to take other measures to strengthen universal peace”. Further, the principles of self-determination were embedded in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of the 1966. These covenants affirmed self-determination as a “right of peoples” and guaranteed it by treaty laws. The impact of these UN ratifications of the right to self determination were more political than legal; and for political reasons the right to self determination is being interpreted and explained in different ways.

Right to self determination in Sri Lanka

The Marxist Leninist position on the national question in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, has been unambiguous. It has historically identified the development of chauvinism and its development into national oppression, and recognised the development of the national contradiction into the main contradiction in Sri Lanka. Marxist Leninists have always maintained that ensuring the right to self determination of all nationalities in Sri Lanka should be the basis for the solution to the national question. Any proposal for a solution undermining the right to self determination of the nationalities in Sri Lanka is of dubious value.

The class and class interests that constitute the essence of the national question in Sri Lanka are not readily visible. Thus, limiting one’s search for solutions to the existing political framework, the executive powers of parliament within it, and to legislation will not permit one to appreciate the national and class aspects of the national question or the need to recognise the right of the nationalities in Sri Lanka to self determination. Hence claims of finding a solution within the existing framework will fail to address the root causes of the conflict and the issues involved. It has to be recognised that during the last thirty years, the contradictions among nationalities which constitute the main contradiction have grown and need to be addressed in a way that satisfies all the communities. Thus, when the government or the spokespersons for the “civil society” talk of non-devolutionary reforms, they implicitly declare that they are unwilling to accept the people’s rights as the cornerstone of the solution.

The Marxist Leninist position, to be valid, should look closely at the development of the national question, which has entered a phase where national oppression involves local and foreign elements. When a nation, a nationality or a community is oppressed as a social group, inevitably its struggle against oppression will be based on its identity. Marxist Leninists hold that to deny the right to such struggle is to support social oppression. It is on this basis that they have supported anti-colonial liberation struggles as well as liberation struggles of oppressed nationalities and social groups.

Tamil nationalism in all its forms and identities is a product of history. The evolution of Tamil identity into a Tamil national identity was due to various social, economic and historical factors. Tamil national identity itself has kept changing, and its form today is markedly different from the one that preceded it. In the 1970s Tamil nationalist leaders propagated the notion of a “separate state of Tamil Eelam” and passed the Vaddukoddai resolution in 1976 for opportunistic parliamentary political reasons. The solution for the problems faced by the Tamils cannot be based on that resolution. To be fair, any solution put forwarded on behalf of the Tamils should duly recognise the rights of the other minorities, especially the Muslims and Hill Country Tamils. But the Vaddukoddai Resolution calling for a separate state of Tamil Eelam failed to address the issues of the Muslims and Hill Country Tamils. Notably, until recently, Tamil nationalist parties have been reluctant to seek solutions based on ensuring the right to self determination for all the nationalities.

The concept of the right to self determination is not a product of bourgeois democracy but of the revolutionary ideology of the working class. The national question in the post-colonial era qualitatively differs from that in the colonial era; and self determination needs to be seen in a broader perspective than at the dawn of the 20th Century when the question mainly concerned an oppressor nation and an oppressed nation. One should also take a historical view of how imperialism has used session to advance its hegemonic interests. Tamil nationalists calling for secession, based merely on the right to self-determination, have their interests tied up with the imperialist agenda. While Marxist Leninists accept the right to secede, they do not see secession as a panacea for national conflicts. They have, in particular, warned against the prospect of imperialists using secession to serve their interests, the recent example being Kosovo. Thus seeking secession as solution for the Sri Lankan national question is not likely to be in the interest of any nationality.

The need of the moment is to ensure the right of all the nationalities in Sri Lanka to self determination. Sections of the Tamil Diaspora and Tamil media propagate the view that the right to self determination is merely a right to secession. This is misleading and harmful. The right to self determination is much more than the right to secession. Tamil nationalists as well as Sinhala chauvinists continue to mislead the masses on the principle of right to self determination. Meanwhile, some Tamil parliamentary politicians talk about “internal self determination” as a solution to the national question. This once again is an effort to dismantle the concept of self determination and in the process reject the right of the nationalities in Sri Lanka to self determination.

At this point it is important to reiterate the stand of the Marxist Leninists on secession. The use of secession as an imperialist tool does not make it right to oppose the right to secession. The right to secession is an integral part of the right to self determination and not a licence to secede at will. If at all, it is a proven way to avert secession and conflicts between nationalities. The vested interests of Sinhala chauvinism and Tamil narrow nationalism ensured that they always undermined people’s struggles for social justice. Their conduct in the past and present merely confirms their aim to retain their political power by dividing people and denying the rights of the nationalists.

Conclusion

The right to self-determination cannot be applied blindly or be imposed on a nationality or an ethnic group. A nationality struggles for its right to self-determination or for secession when its identity or its very survival is threatened. Struggles of oppressed nationalities are complex and continuously evolving, with no two struggles alike. In several instances, including Sri Lanka, issues have been made more complex by foreign intervention driven by hegemonic intentions. The situation in Sri Lanka is worrying, with rights of the nationalities under great threat, and upholding the rights of the minorities has become a momentous task. It is time for the progressive forces to unite and fight for the right to self determination of all nationalities, to ensure a just solution to the Sri Lankan national question.

Courtesy: New Democracy 35 – Theoretical Organ of New Democratic Party (Sri Lanka)

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