Democracy in Crisis: PUDR

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) is another of the groups ridiculously labelled by the government as a front organisation for the Maoists. Here’s some words from one of their activists, Preeti Chauhan, who had just returned from a fact-finding mission in the forest region along the border of Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, where several thousand refugees have settled after fleeing Maoist and security forces violence in Chattisgarh. She said it was a frustrating experience.

We visited 3 or 4 villages, including Cherla from 12 to 14 February. People had been coming for three or four months. We met two women who had witnessed the killings in Gompad village. They refused to talk. They were very fearful of what would happen.

We tried to meet people who had been systematically evicted, particularly in the last 6 months, by the Salwa Judum. There was confusion and people were not forthcoming. They worry that people will force them to go back. They want to claim rations [and worry they will lose them if they cause trouble].

There were people who had come recently in Cherla. Many have gone to other places in Andhra Pradesh. There is no way you can clearly assess the actions [of the military]. Homes are being burned, cattle taken, villages destroyed. How much is the military, how much is Salwa Judum? No civil rights groups have been able to move freely in Chattisgarh since January. Local journalists can’t go there.

Society is collapsing in on itself – both sides [government and Maoists] blame each other. They are locked in a battle with each other. There are ways and means in which a peaceful situation can be brought about.

Operation Green Hunt is being put on this country because of mining corporations. There are ways to resolve these problems without violence if the government takes a proper approach. There are provisions in the constitution for adivasis to choose their own way of life, which give them autonomy. All we are saying is that the government stop violating its own document, to take the constitution seriously.

People will find a way to resist, whether you call it Maoism or anything else. They will rise again.

Mr Chidambaram says we provide intellectual and material support to the Maoists. This is a direct attack on civil society. These are very troubling times for democracy in India. It represents a shrinking of the space for dissent. Witnesses are being intimidated – what can the courts do? Its own institutions don’t work. People are forced to circumvent them by the security forces – they are forced to protest.

200,000 to 300,000 families have been divided. Women stay in the village. There is ghastly violence.

Dotspad, December. Put oil in rice, smash up their stuff. Take their animals. Kill them. The Salwa Judum had been lying low, but it ramped up the violence in the last months of 2009. The government are very much in control, and now they are upping the ante. The thinking is to break the support of Maoists by spreading terror around. But people will continue to resist development works and mines. [The government] want the area completely sanitised.

Even if people aren’t using the Maoists for protection, the government needs the excuse that they are there.

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