Sunday, January 23, 2011

When preparations were made to kill Ramachandra Guha after he was branded a Naxalite - Himanshu Kumar

These days, anyone who raises their voice against Government corruption and injustice is branded a Maoist and a terrorist, the two words being synonymous in the lexicon of our ruling elite, and since anyone who is a Maoist can be killed with impunity by the State, this perverse syllogism is sufficient to silence any but the most fearless dissenting voice. Our middle and upper middle classes who live a life of luxury without lifting a finger and without doing a day of useful, productive work, willingly buy into such patently crude propaganda because they dread the day when the situation changes and they are forced to work for a living. That is why anyone who dares to raise their voice for the poor and the wretched of this country is either murdered or is framed on flimsy charges and put into prison. But can you believe that police had even managed to 'prove' that the internationally famous historian, writer and intellectual Ramachandra Guha was a Maoist, and preparations were made to kill him, and it was with much difficulty that he escaped this fate?

This incident happened in June of 2007. Government had just started Salwa Judum. Salwa Judum and police were together burning adivasi houses, murdering adivasi boys, and raping adivasi girls with impunity. It was during this time that a team consisting of Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar; senior journalist BG Verghese who was at one time Indira Gandhi's Press Adviser; former Energy Secretary E.A.S. Sarma; Farah Naqvi; and the editor of the well known Jharkhand daily  Prabhat Khabar Harivansh et al came to Dantewada to understand the situation of adivasis. A subgroup  went to meet the adivasis residing in a village 60 km from Dantewada. After finding this out, 'beholden' as it is to the law and the constitution, the police along with security forces also arrived there. Members of the subgroup had parked their jeep on this side of the river and had gone to the village across the river. The security forces put a knife to the jeep driver's neck and were able to discover present and past activities of the subgroup. When the subgroup returned to their van, they were stopped and interrogated, but were then allowed to resume their journey back. However the Bhairamgarh police station which is en route, was given certain necessary directives. As soon as the jeep carrying Ramachandra Guha, Nandini Sundar et al reached the Bhairamgarh police station, they found a roadblock, and were forced to stop. The police ordered them to go to the station with them. SPOs ruled the roost inside the station. One SPO pointed his finger at Ramachandra Guha and said that he knew Guha and knew that he was a naxalite. It is easy to find witnesses in Chhattisgarh, who would testify to anything the SPOs or police can conjure up. So they immediately produced three witnesses. They all confirmed that they had seen Guha in naxalite meetings. In fraction of a second, the police station metamorphosed into a lynch mob which was bent on killing Guha, and group of SPOs took him aside. Meanwhile another group of SPOs and Salwa Judum folks snatched Nandini Sundar's purse and emptied its contents. They also seized her camera. Nandini called the Collector who assured her he would ask the SP to take care of the situation. The station in charge refused to pick up the phone when the SP called, he left the whole police station to Salwa Judum and SPOs and locked himself in a room. 

I was in Raipur at the time. Nandini called my wife Veena at the Kanwalnar Ashram. Veena called me and said that Nandini and her friends were in big trouble, and that I should do something immediately. I called up Bhairamgarh's Salwa Judum leader Ajay Singh. At the time our organization was quite well established and had earned the respect of even our enemies. A large number of adivasis were with our organization and with workers like Kopa Kunjam. (It is only because we had such strong grassroots support that we could survive for so long). I told Ajay Singh that nothing should happen to Ramachandra Guha or others from his team. That is how Guha and his fellow travelers were able to escape the jaws of death. Nandini was quite astounded, and told me that as soon as they received my call, they released them. Ramachandra Guha visited us at Vanvasi Chetna Ashram the next day, and vented rage at the hooliganism of the Salwa Judum. It took another six months for the Collector to return Nandini's camera.

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