At a time when people of India, already under socio-economic and even physical threat of death, violence and eviction by Neo-liberal Indian State and its corporate sponsors, are vigorously debating the pros and cons of capital punishment in this country; It is rather bemusing and baffling to read the callous treatment being given to the subject of death penalty by Maoist spokesperson in their recent Statement of ‘self-criticism’ dated 1st September 2011.
On March 2, this year, Niyamat Ansari, a resident of Jerua village, Kope Gram Panchayat, District of Latehar (Jharkhand), who was a NREGA activist was brutally murdered by the local Maoist squad on the charge of being a ‘police informer’ and ‘cheating local people’ of their forest land. His colleague Bhukan Singh was also threatened with death on the same charges.
The truth, however, is to the contrary. Nearly 86 families in Kope, including Bhukhan and Niyamat, were at the forefront of a mass struggle, as a part of a larger movement in the area, to establish claims on local forest lands under the Forest’s Right Act 2006 (meant to protect the rights of Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers).
According to Deputy Commissioner, Latehar, forest rights claims in this area are pending in respect of 94 acres of land. This claim of deprived villagers to local forest land was, however, opposed by the influential sections of Kope Gram Panchayat who were in turn led by the same corrupt contractors involved in committing malpractices in NREGA Programme. Niyamat and Bhukan had also been waging a struggle against high level of corruption, which even siphons off the limited funds that are given for development activities.
Such corruption flourishes through a nexus of local administration and vested interests. To cite a few examples, it was because of Niyamat along with his team and villagers’ effort that seventy-eight workers from Kope and Jerua Gram Panchayats of Manika Block (Latehar) were awarded Rs. 1,38,000 as unemployment allowance, paid on the spot in a Lok Adalat held on February 7, 2009. This was the first instance of payment of the unemployment allowance in Jharkhand. Immediately after this Lok Adalat, false cases were slapped against Niyamat and his team. In Fenruary 2011, Niyamat once again exposed a scam involving Rs 2.5 lakhs, after which an FIR was filed against the local block development officer. Within days of this development he was abducted and brutally beaten. He succumbed to his injuries on way to the Latehar Sadar Hospital.
The Maoists, who claimed responsibility, maintained that Niyamat and Bhukan failed to produce themselves before the ‘Jan Adalat’ constituted by the party. There was strong condemnation of the Maoist action by intellectuals and activists including Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze, who demanded that the guilty be punished and that the threat to Bhukan Singh and others be withdrawn.
In May, a team comprising Gokul Vasant, a senior journalist and Nand Lal Singh, advocate and former chairman of the Jharkhand Bar Association, conducted an independent enquiry to ascertain the facts of the case as well as the allegations against Niyamat and others. They concluded that the charges were baseless. At best the Maoists had been misguided by local anti-social elements and at worst the Maoists were colluding openly with anti-social elements against those exposing their nefarious activities. There is an increasing suspicion that Maoists cadres are in nexus with local mafia.
However, instead of either substantiating their charges or taking corrective action against their members for their criminal act, the Maoists once again threatened to ‘punish’ those supporting the deceased activist and his colleague. As always, they presumed the guilt of these persons and even passed a verdict without ever attempting to hear them out. This time the threat had been issued against all Gram Swaraj Abhiyan members, Bhukan Singh, as well as Nand Lal, Gokul Vasant, Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze (the last two on charges of being members of National Advisory Council).
This response by Maoist was taken by the people to be a grave threat to democratic dissent and freedom of speech. Democratic rights are the foundation on which the people of India have resisted corporate plunder and State repression all these decades. Murder or the threat to kill those who hold a different opinion or dissenting views critically endangers democratic values and mass struggles against Neo-liberalism in its various avatars.
The killing of Niyamat Ansari needs to be seen in this context. His brutal murder is not an isolated event. Such act has a clear message that taking on local vested interests and exposing corruption could prove fatal. The concern here is not only about two NREGA activists but all those grass-root level people and even those at lower positions in government schemes like NREGA, ICDS, primary health care etc., who work for democracy, accountability and transparency.
It is only after prolonged silence by Maoist leadership over the murder of Niyamat and subsequent threats to others by their squads in Jharkhand, their spokesperson has finally come out with a statement that looks more like an ‘act of appeasement’ directed towards some of their disgruntled ‘intellectual friends’. This seems a way to buy off a negative image because of their earlier ‘mistake’ of targeting some prominent civil society activists rather than a genuine apology for actions, rectification and prevention of such heinous crimes against people like Niyamat and Bhukan in the future.
In this case, the Maoists have ‘apologised’ only to all justice loving intellectuals mainly for the mindless act by one of their lower level committee member of putting up posters asking for action against these ‘intellectual friends’ in their ‘people’s court’. There is not even hint of any action being taken against atleast that ‘one member of their local level committee’.
Even after 6 months of the heinous crime Maoists have not even expressed sorrow, leave alone any regret for their heinous crime at least to his co-workers and close relations. The response from government is expectedly very slow and discouraging. Recent media reports on this matter continue to paint the same grim picture.
One can also sense a patronising tone when the Maoists, addressing the PUCL, PUDR and all the justice loving intellectuals seem to be seeking absurd justification, in their purported ‘fact’ finding mission to unearth ‘truth’, for their already executed self-granted ‘right to pronounce death penalty’ to Niyamat, while at the same time benevolently granting others, especially intellectuals, “right to express” their opinion.
It seems that an "apology for themselves" is what Maoist thought that these ‘concerned intellectuals’ wanted all the way, not a call for justice. Bhukhan has been given ‘reprieve’ "for the time being" and regarding Niyamat\\\’s murder their fact-finding teams seem to be taking into account several ‘facts’ provided by the same ‘lower level committee’ who were responsible for this gruesome murder. They are yet to arrive at a final conclusion!
A fearsome sense of déjà vu lurks around whenever Maoists claim to be arriving at a final conclusion on the ‘truth’ behind their killing of any person on the basis of ‘trial and judgement’ pronounced in their so called ‘Jan Adalat’. Will this be another repetition of their story of ‘police informer’ and ‘cheating local people’? Or will this be another balancing act of appeasement versus apology to soothe the troubled conscience of their ‘intellectual friends’? All this raises serious questions over the political methods of Maoist who presume the guilt of those they accuse and justify punishment without any respect for universally accepted procedures of law and jurisprudence. This regressiveness, insensitivity and mindlessness cannot be justified through any rhetoric in the name of revolutionary class politics.
Such actions are highly reprehensible and should be unequivocally condemned. The CPI (Maoist) should put an end to their settling political or other differences through threat to life and murder.
there are some other concerns as following:-
1. The enquiry into Niyamat Ansari’s killing should be expedited. A thorough investigation must be done to find all those complicit in hatching the conspiracy.
2. Adequate compensation along with secured job should be provided to Niyamat\\\’s wife and sister.
3. A larger policy must be framed for protection of grass root level activists, who are working among the oppressed masses of the country, with provision of strict punishment for local level vested interests if found guilty of harming them. This can also be tied to the efforts being made for protection of whistleblowers.