August 31, 2010

'CPI (Maoist) can't be judge, jury and executioner'

P Chidambaram / July 18, 2010, 0:01 IST

You are aware that CPI (Maoist) is the principal Left-wing extremist organisation. As long as CPI (Maoist) was not challenged effectively, it expanded its area of activity, recruited more cadres, kidnapped more persons, extorted more money, acquired or looted more weapons, asserted its dominance in more areas, and targeted the security forces as well as civilians.

Between 2004 and 2008, on an average, 500 civilians were killed every year — many of them after being named ‘police informers’. We are especially concerned that ordinary citizens should be labelled as ‘police informers’ and killed by CPI (Maoist). CPI (Maoist) has no right to set itself up as judge, jury and executioner. In fact, it has no right to carry arms. It is a banned organisation and functions outside the pale of the law.

The efforts of the state governments, assisted by central paramilitary forces, have met with mixed results. Key leaders of CPI (Maoist) have been apprehended. Many attacks were repulsed. Security forces have asserted their control over some areas in the districts of Gadchiroli and Kanker. However, there have been setbacks too.

The most serious setbacks were in Silda (West Bengal) and in Tarmetla, Chingawaram and Dhaudhai (all in Chhattisgarh). Besides, there was the derailment of the Gnaneswari Express that claimed the lives of 149 innocent civilians. There have been some lapses on the part of the security forces in failing to follow standard operating procedure. There can be no gain in saying that the attacks by the CPI (Maoist) were pre-meditated and carried out with the object of inflicting maximum damage on the security forces and overawing the people and the elected governments.

We would do well to remember that the attacks by CPI (Maoist), whether opportunistic or pre-planned, are part of their strategy of an ‘armed liberation struggle’ and in furtherance of their goal of ‘seizure of political power through a protracted people’s war’.

The Central government acknowledges its role and responsibility to assist the state governments in every way — deploying central paramilitary forces, sharing intelligence, funding the modernisation of police forces and providing logistics and other support. In the light of the experience gained in the last six months, we have reviewed the level of support that we can provide to the state governments and we have taken some decisions.

These include providing more helicopters for logistics support, troop movement, supplies and evacuation; to fund the establishment/strengthening of 400 police stations in the affected districts at the rate of Rs 2 crore per police station on 80:20 basis over a period of two years; to sanction additional SPOs to the states; to request the state governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal to create a Unified Command for anti-naxal operations; and to appoint a retired Major General of the army as a member of the Unified Command.

In addition, it has been decided to set up an empowered group chaired by Member-Secretary, Planning Commission, to modify existing norms/guidelines in the implementation of various development schemes in the affected districts and to improve road connectivity in 34 districts most affected by Left-wing extremism. A number of roads and bridges are proposed to be included, at a cost of Rs 950 crore, by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways under RRP-I.

In the course of your interventions, I would request each one of you – the Governor and the Chief Ministers – to give your views on the measures that I have outlined above. I would also request you to tell us what more measures are required to be taken to curb the menace of Left-wing extremism. I hope that each one of you will bring to the table the things that we are doing right and the things that we are doing wrong, and that we can have a free and frank discussion on this very serious subject.

(Excerpts from Home Minister P Chidambaram’s address to the meeting of Chief Ministers of states affected by Left-wing extremism in New Delhi on July 14)

August 30, 2010

Naxal woman leader, who alleged sexual abuse, surrenders

TNN, Aug 28, 2010, 03.58am IST
KOLKATA: Maoist woman leader Shobha Mandi alias Uma, who had narrated a sordid saga of rape and sexual abuse in an exclusive interview to TOI published on August 24, surrendered to the police in West Midnapore on Friday. After four months on the run, the CPI-Maoist Jhargram area commander walked into West Midnapore SP Manoj Verma's office around 7pm. Clad in a green salwar-kameez with a cream dupatta covering her head, she handed over a bag containing Rs 55,500 and her personal belongings to the cops. She wasn't carrying any weapons.

Mandi said she belonged to People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA), the Maoist-led group responsible for the mass upsurge against police and CPM cadres in Lalgarh. She had mentored PCPA members involved in the Jnaneswari train blast that killed 148 people.

"She will be kept in a secure transit camp. Her parents have been informed. They can come and meet her. We will write to the Screening and Rehabilitation officer who will decide what benefits she will be entitled to as per the surrender policy," Verma told TOI. Uma had got in touch with the district police 7-8 days ago through her own network expressing her intention to surrender, said Verma. Wanted in five cases in Belpahari and Jhargram, she has not been arrested though.

After her case is scrutinized by the government and police, she will be entitled to a host of benefits that the government gives to encourage former Naxals to join the mainstream. These include a fixed deposit of Rs 1.5 lakh which can be withdrawn after three years subject to good behaviour; monthly stipend of Rs 2,000 for maximum 36 months and vocational training for skill development.

The 23-year-old woman who commanded 25-30 armed Maoist squad members deftly fielded questions by reporters. She said she ran away from her commanding post in April this year but denied reports that she had been in police custody all this while. She said she hadn't been home for two years and was living in hideouts in forests and other places since she deserted the red ranks. She refused to divulge the locations for fear of exposing those who shielded her from the wrath of Naxals.
Why did she surrender? "I want to lead an ordinary life, a life that all normal people life," she told reporters. Earlier, she had told TOI she had been wanting to run away from day 1. She had alleged that she had been raped by senior Maoist leaders, including key Maoist leader Bikash. When she complained, she was isolated and threatened with dire consequences if she protested again. "They commit injustices against which they claimed they are fighting," Uma had told TOI.

Her father Jamadar Mandi told TOI he was happy that his daughter was back. "We have seen her twice in the last seven years. Last time we saw her, she was in fatigues and went back the same day."

Raped repeatedly, Naxal leader quits Red ranks

By Rakhi Chakrabarty, TNN, Aug 24, 2010, 01.02am IST

Somewhere On The Bengal-Jharkhand Border: The eerie calm in the dense sal forest is deafening. Walking along a snaking dirt track, a clear patch appears. Sitting on a rock, hidden by thick, emerald green foliage, is the diminutive figure of a woman, a gamchha (thin towel) covering her head. Her blue salwar-kameez meld with the surroundings. Her eyes dart around at the slightest hint of sound. Shobha Mandi, alias Uma, alias Shikha, gives a searching look and then smiles. The 23-year-old CPI-Maoist Jhargram area commander says she was expecting us.

From commanding 25-30 armed Maoist squad members, Uma turned a fugitive four months ago. She fled her command post on the plea of seeing a doctor. She hid with her aunt for a short while; and now she says she wants the world to know her story. She wants to surrender and is likely to give up Naxalism on August 26.

Why did she decide to shed her battle fatigues seven years after she joined the Naxals? "They committed injustices against which they claimed they were fighting," said Uma. "As a recruit, I protested against the habits of some leaders in the presence of Kishanji. Nobody liked it. The leaders instructed the squad members not to speak to me. I was isolated and warned of dire consequences if I protested," she said.

What didn't she like about the leaders? "They rape," she shot back, eyes flashing with rage. "After about a year of joining Naxals, I was put on night-long sentry duty at a forest camp in Jharkhand. Suddenly, out of the dark, Bikash (now, head of the state military commission) came up and asked me for water. As I turned to fetch it, he grabbed me and tried to do 'kharap kaaj' (indecent acts)." When she objected, Bikash threatened to strangle her. After forcing her into submission, Bikash raped her, she said. She was 17 then.

"He warned me against telling anyone about this. But, I told Akash (Kishanji's confidant and a state committee member). He said he would look into it but did nothing. In fact, Akash's wife, Anu, lives with Kishanji," Uma said.

Most women recruits are exploited by senior Maoists. Senior women leaders, too, have multiple sexual partners, Uma said. "If a member gets pregnant, she has no choice but to abort: A child is seen as a burden that hampers the agility of guerrillas."

Uma has heard tales of brutalization of other women Naxals, too. "Seema (then a recruit) told me that Akash raped her as well. Rahul (alias Ranjit Pal) raped Belpahari squad commander Madan Mahato's wife, Jaba. In this case, the party punished Rahul, who is a key weapons trainer at Maoist camps. He was removed from the regional committee for three months," said Uma.

State committee secretary Sudip Chongdar, alias Goutam, was also punished for similar acts, she said, and transferred to Jharkhand's West Singbhum district. Maoists divide time between forest camps and hideouts in villages. Villagers can't refuse shelter to gun-toting Maoists. Also, they must keep all night vigil to alert them against police raids. "When Sudip took shelter in villages, he raped women in their homes. They were too scared to protest," said Uma.
Many of her senior leaders exploited her sexually. One day, says Uma, Kamal Maity, who is a Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa regional committee member, came to her rescue. At a meeting attended by Kishanji and other top Maoists, Kamal proposed a relationship with Uma. The leaders agreed. "After Jaba's incident, I learnt that a woman cadre is protected against sexual exploitation only if she is with a senior leader," she said. That was a turning point and she rose steadily in Naxal ranks.
Uma is on the police's most wanted list. She is suspected to have planned and executed a series of attacks, including the massacre of 24 EFR jawans in Silda (February 2010); a raid on Sankrail police station in which two policemen were killed and an officer abducted (October 2009). She is also one of the suspects in Jharkhand MP Sunil Mahato's murder in 2007.
She mentored PCPA members, including Bapi Mahato who is in jail for the Jnaneswari train sabotage. Last year, when the joint central and state forces advanced into Lalgarh to break an eight-month siege, she along with other Maoists fired at the police. In Jhargram, she is known as didi. According to a source, Uma single-handedly built up the PCPA at Jhargram.
Uma joined the rebels in 2003. CPI-Maoist hadn't been formed then. "I joined the People's War ( PW) which later merged with MCC in 2004 to form CPI-Maoist," she said. She was given a new name, Uma. "I was plump. Anu (Akash's wife; Kishanji's companion) said I looked like Uma Bharti. So, she named me Uma."

Maoist leaders spotted her organizational skills. She was asked to mobilize tribals women at Jamboni and Dahijuri in West Midnapore. She also underwent three-month arms training at Jharkhand's Gorabandha forest. "First, we are taught with dummy weapons using tree branches. All recruits have to fire three bullets in their first session. Those who hit the target are picked for armed squads," she said.
In spite of guns and guerrilla warfare, the woman in her sometimes longs for simple pleasures like painting her nails or wearing earrings. But, she says, "We were not permitted to use even fragrant soaps, lest we get detected. Only Lifebuoy is used by cadres."

Did she join the rebels of her own free will? Circumstances, she said. Uma is second of four siblings. Along with their parents, they worked as wage earners on farms or collected sal leaves, mahua and red ants (kurkut) to sell. "I was good in studies but weak in math. I worked all day and studied at night," the girl from Khayerpahari village in West Bengal's Bankura district recounted. "I couldn't pass the Class X board."
This was in 2002. Younger brother Sanjay, who was in Class VIII, was already taken away by the extremists. He became a Lalgarh squad member and is in jail now. "My father, Jamadar Mandi, was an alcoholic suffering from tuberculosis. There was no money to buy him medicines. We sold our land and also borrowed money," Uma said.

While the family struggled, some "party" members offered help. "They gave my father some money and told me to join them. They said I could leave if I didn't like working with them," said Uma. The prospect of a job spurred her.
But only after she signed up did she realize she could never go home. "Whoever comes here, never returns," a senior leader told her. She wanted freedom from poverty but found herself chained to an ideology she couldn't understand.

After seven years of witnessing bloodletting, she has no fear of death. She now hopes the state she has fought against will rehabilitate her. "There are many in the Maoist ranks who would flee given half a chance," she said.