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Militancy and Mass Protests Saw a Huge Jump

In the run up to the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi sought a debate on Article 370, the Constitutional provision meant to protect the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir. For the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had made the abrogation of Article 370 part of its core agenda, this was a softening of sorts. A new conciliatory mood seemed to be coupled with promises of development for the conflict-torn state. But when Modi made his first prime ministerial visit to Kashmir, he was met with shutdowns organised by separatist leaders.

Modi persisted in his attentions, which culminated with the symbolic Diwali visit in October 2014. Soon afterwards, he promised Rs 80,000 crore in Central aid to the flood-ravaged Valley. After the assembly elections of December 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time, joining a coalition government led by the People’s Democratic Party.

Since then, the state has seen the rise of militancy, mass protests against the government, a growing death toll, a drift away from electoral politics and polarisation between Muslim-majority Kashmir and Hindu-majority Jammu. In June 2018, the state government collapsed as the BJP walked out of the coalition and governor’s rule was imposed. Overall, the Centre has relied on a military response to militancy and civilian protests in the Valley and an increasingly heated Line of Control.

The Burhan Wani Generation

Early in 2015, a poster of 11 militants posing with guns went viral in Kashmir. Local militancy, which had almost died out after the early 2000s, seemed to have entered a new phase, powered by the social media outreach of Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander who became a household name in the Valley and was killed in 2016.

Estimates of how many youth have joined up vary, but figures compiled by the Multi-Agency Centre, the nodal body for sharing intelligence outputs, show the rising graph of local militancy over the past few years: from 63 militants recruited in 2014, the number doubled to 128 in 2017. In 2018, 82 had joined militant ranks till just July.

As recruitment swelled, so did anti-militancy operations. In 2017, Operation All Out was launched by security forces, resulting in frequent gunfights which killed 213 militants that year. Already in 2018, 225 militants have been killed.

Meanwhile, civilians began rushing in between militants and security forces. This has meant a heavy civilian death toll in gunfights as well: 51 in 2017 and 50 in 2018. The government remained silent as army chief Bipin Rawat said civilians who intervened in gunfights would be treated as “terrorists”.

Protests of 2016

The drift between government and the civilian population sharpened in the mass protests of 2016, sparked off by Wani’s killing on July 8 that year. The next few months would see curfew and internet shutdowns imposed by the state administration and strikes called by the separatist leadership. Stone pelters chanting slogans for “azadi” were met with bullets and shotgun pellets fired by security forces.Close to a hundered civilians were killed and hundreds more blinded or maimed.

Meanwhile, in Parliament, jingoistic speeches asserted that Kashmir was an “integral part” of India and blamed Pakistan for fomenting unrest. Modi, whose frequent visits to the Valley had long ended, broke his silence more than a month into the protests. Youth in the Valley should have “laptops”, not “stones” in their hands, the prime minister said, invoking the old binary between “terror” and “development”.

Surgical Strikes

Delhi’s answer to the protests and rising ceasefire violations was a fresh show of strength against Pakistan. On September 28, the army announced that they had conducted “surgical strikes” along the Line of Control, killing militants lodged in “terror launchpads” in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir

If the alleged strikes were meant to curb ceasefire violations, they did not work. The Indo-Pak Conflict Monitor has compiled both Indian and Pakistani estimates of ceasefire violations over the years. According to Indian estimates, there were 583 violations in 2014, 405 in 2015, 449 in 2016, 971 in 2017 and 1,432 in 2018. The figures also show a sharp rise from the United Progressive Alliance years.

The Human Shield

In the Valley, sporadic protests continued, spiking during the Lok Sabha by-polls in April 2017, where at least eight civilians were killed. It was also during these elections that Leetul Gogoi, an officer in the Indian Army,tied up a civilian to the front of a jeep, allegedly to ward off stone pelters. While pictures of the “human shield” went viral, sparking outrage in the Valley, Gogoi was commended by the army. His actions were also supported by then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley.

Attempts at Dialogue

But in the Independence Day address that year, Modi suggested Delhi was willing to soften its approach: the Kashmir conflict could not be solved with bullets and abuse, he said, but through “embracing” Kashmiris. In October 2017, the Centre appointed Dineshwar Sharma, a former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, to start engaging various stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir. But the conditions for dialogue were not promising.

Shortly before the interlocutor was appointed the National Investigation Agency started a crackdown on separatist leaders, charging them with involvement in “terror funding”. Besides, the scope of Sharma’s engagement was circumscribed. The Centre announced that he was to hold dialogue to understand the “legitimate aspirations” of the people. It soon became clear that these aspirations did not extend even to demands for greater autonomy, let alone “azadi”. When Congress leader P Chidambaram suggested the “azadi” demand really represented a desire for greater autonomy, Modi termed it an “insult” to soldiers at the front.

In May 2018, the Centre announced a ceasefire for the month of Ramzan, an overture rejected by militant groups. After a month in which militant attacks on security forces escalated, the ceasefire was called off.

Hindutva Mobilisations

While the conflict deepened, growing saffron mobilisations in Jammu, which had largely voted BJP, also had reverberations in the Valley. They peaked after an eight-year-old Muslim Bakerwal girl was allegedly gangraped and killed in Jammu’s Kathua district in January 2018. All the accused were Hindu. Rallies launched in defence of the accused were attended by prominent leaders of the BJP. Meanwhile, in the Kashmir Valley, there were protest marches demanding justice for the murdered child.

Government Collapse

Soon after the ceasefire ended, the BJP walked out of the coalition and the state went under governor’s rule. In a Valley already disillusioned with electoral politics, the collapse of the state government was greeted with indifference.

Anger against government was apparent as early as June 2016, when bye-elections for the Anantnag assembly seat were held. Amid boycott calls by separatists, it was evident that the People’s Democratic Party, which came to power promising to keep saffron forces out of Kashmir, had lost support because of the alliance. After the protests, election turnouts touched record lows. In the violent Lok Sabha bye-elections of April 2017, it was 7.14% and bye-elections to the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat had to be postponed indefinitely.

After the coalition collapsed, regional parties made a last push to form government. In November, an unprecedented coalition of the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, traditional rivals in the Valley, joined forces with the Congress to make a bid for power. The BJP propped up the People’s Conference in a rival claim to government formation. Governor Satya Pal Malik responded by dissolving the assembly altogether.

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IF THE WOMEN WANT, THE WORLD STANDS STILL

With the initiative of a women’s strike in Argentina and Poland, the call for an international women’s strike on 8 of March has spread in more and more countries since 2017.

With the women’s strike, an old means of working class struggle is claimed and applied by the women.

Drawing on the experiences of previous historical strike actions by women, the women’s strike is one of the symbols of the rise of a new international women’s movement. The masses of working women are using the means of strike for their most basic rights on the streets: right to abortion and any decision about one’s own body, equal pay, the right to physical integrity, an end to violence and feminicides are just a few common ones in addition to numerous concrete demands.

These demands, as well as the resistances of women against sexist, fascist elected state representatives such as Trump and Bolsonaro, have gained an incomparable mobilizing power.

In the 21st century, the achievements of all past struggles for women’s liberation have raised gender awareness to an unprecedented level. Women’s movements are increasingly becoming the engine of social struggles and are more and more taking the lead in them. The gender of women is re-forming as a social and historical force. We can compare this phase with the time of the First International (3), in which the working class has formed itself as a historical force. A similar meaning is given to today’s phase for the role of the female gender in the social revolution. Together with the women’s revolution in Rojava (4), as a concrete experience and guidepost to the women’s liberation struggle, today’s mass movements reiterate that this century will pave the way for women’s freedom as a precondition for communism.

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War only benefits a handful of influential profiteering interests who feed on hatred and fear. It is the people who never wish for war that face its repercussions.” At a time when divisive and warmongering narratives have strained Indo-Pak relations to virtually breaking point, Indian and Pakistani scholars and students of Oxford University held a solidarity demonstration at the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford on Saturday. The group also issued a statement, reproduced in full below:

We are a group of Indian and Pakistani students at the University of Oxford who are deeply disturbed by the escalation of tensions over an impending war between India and Pakistan. We strongly condemn the suicide bombing in Pulwama, Kashmir on February 14, 2019 which claimed the lives of around 44 Indian soldiers. We denounce terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

As students in a land that is foreign to our homes – India and Pakistan – we’ve always marvelled at how we seamlessly gravitate towards each other, and how we are able to come together in community in ways we can’t back home. We often talk about the similarities we share in our food, culture, histories and the challenges we face. The Indo-Pak community has emerged as a place of refuge and comfort for us. However, when we imagine visiting each other’s homes we realise all the ways in which visas and politics restrict us. As we sit together now, watching the increasingly violent direction the current discourse is taking, we are frightened.

We come from parts of the world where the rhetoric of war isn’t new, and its consequences aren’t abstract. War only benefits a handful of influential profiteering interests who feed on hatred and fear. It is the people who never wish for war that face its repercussions. It is a luxury to be able to debate the possibility of war when the death, grief and loss that accompany it are not part of your everyday. For some people, especially the already dispossessed, the human cost of war is no cliché. It is lived reality.

We urge our fellow Pakistanis and Indians both within and outside the subcontinent to stand together in unity, focus on our commonalities, and reject divisive narratives. We call upon the leaders of our countries to develop de-escalation protocols, organise constructive peace talks and dialogue for the resolution of all bilateral issues.

War and warmongering are always unequivocally deplorable. At a time when India and Pakistan are lurching from crisis to crisis, we condemn the irresponsible rhetoric flooding the media in both countries in the strongest possible terms.

We dare to imagine a future that is free of divisions and violence, and unshadowed by the politics of war. We refuse to succumb to this environment of fear and suspicion. We refuse to see our friends as enemies. We refuse to hate those we hold dear.

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Protesting against the SC order calling for forcible eviction of millions of adivasi families from their habitats, the leading Adivasi organizations called for Bharat Bandh on 5th March joined by the Adivasi Bharat Mahasabha (ABM). Under the banner of the ABM at Ganjam in Odisha, Kodagu in Karnataka, Palamau in Jharkhand, Mahasamund in Chhattisgarh hundreds of adivasis and progressive forces organized rasta rook and other programs. In Odisha about 50 comrades were arrested while they were staging Rasta Roko movement. Many adivasi and dalits organisation participated in the bandh. Supporting the bandh call, president of Adivasi Bharat Mahasabha, comrade Bhojlal Netam issued following Statement.

Adivasi Bharat Mahasabha (ABM) Declares Solidarity with the Bharat Bandh on March 5. The Adivasi Bharat Mahasabha (ABM) upholds the genuine demands raised by various Adivasi organizations and whole-heartedly supports the Bharat Bandh called by them on March 5.

In spite of the temporary stay issued by Supreme Court against the eviction of Adivasis from their habitat, there is every possibility that it can be overturned. What is required is an appropriate law to protect the habitat and livelihood of the tribal people in accordance with the Forest Right Act. The double-speak of the Modi regime in this regard needs to be exposed.

In this context, the ABM calls upon all progressive democratic forces to join hands with the struggling adivasi organizations and make the March 5th Bharat Bandh a success. n

STORM OF PROTESTS AGAINST SEXUAL ASSAULTS IN TN

A Storm of protests and outrage has broken out in Tamil Nadu in the fortnight since the case of serial sexual assault and extortion in Pollachi in Coimbatore district came to public attention. Leaked video and audio recordings, police missteps, and alleged political interference have fuelled the protests.  On March 13, students from 150 colleges and universities in the State boycotted classes to carry out demonstrations. 

The issue came to light in the third week of February when a woman approached the police, initially with a complaint of chain snatching. It was later revealed that four men had allegedly sexually harassed and blackmailed her. The arrest of the suspects revealed a huge racket of blackmailing women for sexual favours or money which has been going on since 2013, with officials stating that at least 50 women may have been sexually harassed. On March 12, the case was transferred from the Tamil Nadu Police to the CB-CID and the next day, the government announced that the CBI would conduct the investigation. Despite these steps, there is a general distrust of the fairness of the probe, especially due to the lapses in the investigation so far.

For instance, Coimbatore SP R. Pandiyarajan, who was initially responsible for the investigation, actually revealed the name of the survivor in a press conference. Both the Pollachi police and a Government Order reportedly also revealed her name too. Though the IPC clearly protects survivors from such disclosures, the repeated instances of such revelations are being viewed as a means of intimidation to prevent women from coming forward and complaining. “This is gross injustice. Just this one act will function in keeping other women from coming forward, threatening them effectively into silence.

The Editor of Tamil journal Nakheeran, has come under fire from the state wing of the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI). In a statement shared by a member on Facebook, they strongly condemned “…the publication of audio-visual content pertaining to a horrific incident of rape through various platforms. The content, unambiguously, belongs to Nakkheeran, and Mr. Gopal has also urged people to “watch the video” … Contrary to the claim that the video has served the purpose of initiating outrage, it has only taken perversion into homes via mobile and television screens, as perverted and voyeuristic content, and we do hope you will take all efforts to remove that content forthwith from all fora, including social media.”

These events have led to massive outrage in the State. Opposition parties and civil society organisations have mobilised strongly on the issue. The protests intensified after an AIADMK worker, A. Nagaraj, was reported to have assaulted the brother of the survivor. Nagaraj was expelled, citing ‘actions that run contrary to the beliefs and aims of the party’ in a statement co-signed by Chief Minister  Most of the opposition organisations have expressed scepticism of SP Pandiyarajan’s claim that there is no “political connection” to this issue. n

SAY NO TO NUCLEAR POWER

Even as a growing list of countries from Belgium and Denmark to Germany and Japan – among many others – pledges to phase out nuclear power, the Indian ruling class has reaffirmed its allegiance to US imperialism by signing a fresh deal to build six American nuclear power plants in India. This was declared in a joint statement issued by India and the US at the conclusion of the 9th round of India-US Strategic Security Dialogue, co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security this week. “They committed to strengthen bilateral security and civil nuclear cooperation, including the establishment of 6 US nuclear power plants in India,” the joint statement said. Nuclear power projects have always met with stiff resistance throughout our country. However, the government is determined to go ahead with more and more nuclear plants, endangering millions of lives. A strong and determined anti-nuclear movement is needed to foil this nefarious plan. n

As India is moving towards the election of a new government at the Centre, at the 9th round of US-India Strategic Security Dialogue in Washington on May 13, the Modi regime in violation of established precedents has succumbed to Trump’s pressure for establishing 6 US nuclear power plants in India.

The Modi regime has already yielded to the US diktat by agreeing to a review its import of cheap oil from Venezuela in continuation of agreeing in principle to the Yankee demand to cut oil import from Iran.  As of now, India is the second largest buyer of crude oil from Venezuela, and the new US challenge that follows in the aftermath of US trade sanctions for not providing “equitable and reasonable access to the markets of India” is going to aggravate the worst economic downturn and inflation that the country is confronting under the Modi regime.  Trump administration that has already prepared a blueprint for regime change in Venezuela is planning an economic embargo over it and its diktat to Modi regime to stop oil import from that country should be seen as part of this agenda. Following this, while directives have been issued to public sector oil refineries, Reliance, India’s largest refiner is reportedly in close coordination with US State Department to ensure full compliance.

It is in this context that US imperialism has strengthened its pressure on Modi to accept its supply of 6 nuclear reactors as an alternate source of energy. The American lackeys in Modi regime who have taken part in the Strategic Security Dialogue is reported to have agreed to the US ‘offer’ in view of US support of India’s membership in Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Details on all issues including liability rules especially relating to who should shoulder the costs and responsibility of an accident are not yet known. Ironically, to overcome the US isolation in relation to the Paris Climate Agreement, American think-tanks and ruling establishment have once again started proposing “carbon-free” nuclear energy as a “catch-all solution” to climate change and the Indian technocrats are also echoing the same despite the extreme mistrust on nuclear plants prevailing India among all concerned, especially with regard to nuclear accidents, waste disposal and high expenses.

Therefore, it is high time on the part of all sections to come out strongly resisting and defeating this anti-national move by Modi regime, that too at the fag-end of its rule. n

We the undersigned, with deep anger and profound sorrow, condemn the killing of the dalit activist Dani Batra at the gate of the Vedanta Alumina refinery plant at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district yesterday morning.  Sujit Kumar Minj of the OISF has also been killed. Over 50 people were badly injured in the brutal lathi-charge by the Odisha Industrial Security Force (OISF) and admitted to the Lanjigarh hospital.

As per media reports, a heavy clash took place between contract employees of the refinery plant and the OISF personnel. The contract workers were demanding permanent jobs, education for their children and provision of jobs for more people. As villagers from Rengopali, Chatrapur and Bandhaguda too joined the protest, the OISF forces present took the law into their own hands. 

We deplore the violent suppression on contract workers of the Lanjigarh plant and on people from surrounding villages. Their demands are an outcome of years of simmering discontent ever since the company had acquired their land by making false promises of employment, education, health care facilities among others. The Odisha state government too has failed completely in making the company fulfil its promises. Instead of listening to their just grievances on March 18, 2019, the company let loose a reign of terror at the hands of the OISF. The entire area is now under Section 144. .

The state government has asked for 150 companies of Central Armed Police Force from the Centre with the approach of the Lok Sabha and assembly elections. It is in this atmosphere of tension and intimidation that people are continuing to press for their just demands. It is deplorable that instead of the government implementing the 2013 Gram Sabha verdict of the people, the local administration has only increased the presence of CRPF and its surveillance. The entire of Niyamgiri has been subject to relentless state repression ever since the gram sabha verdict. It is evident from the more recent arrest of Lingaraj Azad who has been at the forefront of the struggle of the people against bauxite mining. 

The largely dalit community living around the Lanjigarh plant at the foothills of the Niyamgiri mountain have been putting up with untold suffering. The pollution caused by effluents discharged into the Vamsadhara  river has caused both deaths and diseases among the people dependent on the river. The creation of ash ponds too has been the biggest environmental hazard to the Niyamgiri habitat with its rich diversity of flora and fauna. Indeed, the corporate greed for bauxite from the mountain is making the company flout all existing laws while the state government aids in providing security forces and crushing the voices of its citizens.

In recent months, the administration has undertaken a series of repressive measures curtailing people’s Right to Dissent. Dadi Kadraka and Jamu Gouda have been through intense interrogation.  Lada Sikaka was picked up by the Raygada police and physically roughed up and interrogated and their protest rally for October 23, 2018  was asked to be called off despite their having obtained police permission.  The demand of the rally was to withdraw the CRPF and stop the routine harassment of local people through daily surveillance and combing operations. A public hearing was held near Trilochanpur where people unanimously decried the setting up of yet another CRPF camp in the area.  Earlier, British Kumar, a dalit youth leader of the   Bhumi Adhikar Surakshya Samiti  and a member of the CPI (M) had been detained in the office of the SP of Kalahandi and severely beaten.  In recent years many random arrests of Dongria Kondhs have taken place such as Saiba Pusika, Dasuru Kadraka and Bako Jakasika. Allegations of having connections with Maoists had led to the detention of Kuni Sikaka and Drimbli Jakasika in May 2017. The intense mental torture has led to the suicide of Drika soon after emerging from prison life. There are many more such incidents.

The adivasis and dalits of Niyamgiri are paying a very heavy price living in the midst of combing operations and daily surveillance. Their struggle to save Niyamgiri by claiming the rights of the dalits and adivasis over the mountain, its forests and land continues. Niyamgiri is not only a source of life and livelihood but their identity and cultural heritage too. Very recently, thousands of adivasis and dalits, largely forest dwellers, had marched in protest demanding the scrapping of the Supreme Court order of February 13 that directed 21 states to evict 11.8 lakh forest dwellers whose claims to forest land had been rejected.  They were supported by many mass organizations and Ambekarite organizations.

We demand strict accountability from the government and all political leaders to ensure that lives, livelihoods and rights of all citizens of the Niyamgiri region be upheld. Their struggle is a struggle for justice; for the mountains, rivers, and streams; for a place on this planet that belongs to them.

We urge all democratic and progressive forces to protest against corporate violence against people! We demand that the Odisha government:

n         Initiate cases against Vedanta on charges of criminal conspiracy and murder.

n         Institute an enquiry into the incidents of killings and lathicharge by SIT.

n         Announce compensation of Rs 1 croreto  next of kin of victims.

n         Repeal of all cases pending against villagers for opposing Vedanta!

n         Independent probe into the alleged encounter death of Manda Kadraka and Bari Pidika.

n         Withdrawal of CRPF and other security forces from the area.

n         Thorough enquiry into the pollution and destruction caused by Vedanta and their violation of environmental laws.

n         Ensure a cleanup of the entire area that has been contaminated by toxic discharge and effluents from the Lanjigarh plant.

n         Implement the 2013 Gram Sabha verdict of the people of Niyamgiri!!

Signed: Narendra Mohanty (Campaign against False and Fabricated Cases), Biswapriya Kanungo (Advocate and Activist), Pramodini Pradhan (PUCL), Pramila Behera (CPI-ML Red Star) and other prominent activists and intellectuals of Odisha, 9th March. n

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The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.