An open letter to Chetan of Chikkabasavanahalli

Chetan, with his mother Nethravathi Devi, at the funeral of slain CRPF jawan Shivappa, who was killed in a Naxal ambush in Dantewada last month

My dear Chetan

You are barely nine years of age and you have lost your beloved father. Your mother, Netravathi Devi, who is in her prime, has also lost the anchor of her life.

Your father, Shivappa, has been killed thousands of kilometres away by the bullets of those who are fighting for the cause of the adivasis in the dense forests of Dantewada.

Dantewada: a place you had never heard of; a place you cannot spot.

Not less than 40 men from your little village of Chikkabasavanahalli are serving in the Indian army and police forces across the country. After hearing the news of your father’s death, perhaps the families of all those soldiers are worried too of what lies in store.

Chetan, your father Shivappa was a true patriot who wanted to serve his country. He loved his country just as much as he loved you, your mother, your uncles and aunts.

I have heard that whenever he came home on breaks from duty he would enquire about the wellbeing of everyone and had thus earned the love and affection of your village.

Chetan, there are many honest people like your father who was the son of a poor farmer. They strive hard to earn a living. They accept difficult postings in various parts of the country so that they can fend for their families.

You are still too young to understand the world of the grown-ups.

What is the CRPF?

Who are the Maoists?

Who is P.Chidambaram who has mourned your father’s death?

Where is Chattisgarh?

Who are these adivasis?

Why can’t they just cast their votes every once in five years instead of rebelling?

Why did your father and others like him go to Kashmir, Kargil, Chattisgarh and other such places instead of staying in their hometowns like Chikkabasavanahalli?

***

Chetan, you are still a fourth standard student. You probably don’t know anything about the Vedanta company. Your school text books will certainly not contain such information.

Not just you, even the other poor farmers of your Chikkabasavanahalli will certainly not have heard of the Vedanta company.

I am mentioning this because somewhere in the matrix of your father’s death is the Vedanta company.

When you enter high school, your social studies text books will tell you which parts of India contain rich mineral resources. Those books will definitely tell you where in India you will find gold, bauxite, iron ore, aluminum and copper deposits.

You will come to know that in states like Orissa and Chattisgarh there are millions of  tonnes of such precious minerals.

Vedanta is a mining company headquartered in London. Two extremely rich brothers called Anil Aggarwal and Naveen Aggarwal are the owners of this company.

They are also the owners of almost half of the aluminum deposits in this country.

Besides the 75 million tonnes of bauxite mine at Lanjigarh they also own a five lakh tonne iron ore plant at Jarasugarh. In the Dantewada and Bijapur districts of Chattisgarh there are iron and bauxite deposits worth several crores of rupees.

The Aggarwal brothers wanted to lay their hands on all these precious minerals. Our government very kindly said to them “Please help yourselves.”

Unfortunately, a problem arose.

The forests of Chattisgarh which contain these mineral deposits are also home to lakhs of adivasi tribals who are variously called Koli, Munda, etc. Though 63 years have lapsed since our country won its freedom, till this date  no government has provided the adivasis with even basic amenities like education, roads, ration cards, etc.

The condition in those areas is so miserable that hardly any of the people there live beyond the age of 40 years. In this short lifespan they have to survive on the little that the forests provide them.

Without driving the hapless adivasis out of the forests, Vedanta company could not start mining for the precious deposits.

In the beginning, the advasis refused to move out. Then the government made some devious plans to force them out. The adivasis protested. Government sent in the police. The adivasis left their villages and ran into the forests.

The government created a semi army called Salwa Judum, which burnt down villages, beat up children and men and raped women. When harassment by the government continued, the adivasis had no option left but to rally behind the Naxalites and take up an armed struggle.

Naturally, the government could not tolerate this audacity and wanted to finish off the adivasis. That is why it started sending thousands of CRPF policemen like your father to wage a war against those adivasis who are, incidentally, as much Indian as your father was.

***

Now, Chetan, I would like to tell you a few things about Chidambaram who is the leader of this war. He is the Home minister of our beloved country.

It is his job to maintain peace and order in this country. Five to six lakh policemen like your father Shivappa work under him.

Though Chidambaram is always dressed in a white shirt and white panche, he was for some time also a lawyer.

In 2003 when one company called Sterlite cheated the government crores of rupees in taxes and got caught, the person who took up their legal case was this same Chidambaram.

This Sterlite company is also owned by the Vedanta group.

For a while, Chidambaram was also a member on the board of directors of Vedanta company.

This is the man who is now our Home minister.

This is the same man who sent people like your father to finish off the adivasis so that Vedanta can start mining in those forests.

Chetan, just think, for whose cause did your father die?

***

Chetan, you must also think about the situation the poor farmers of your Chikkabasavanahalli are in today.

About ten years ago, lands belonging to the poor farmers of Chikkabasavanahalli and other villages on the outskirts of Hassan were taken away by the government in the name of industrialisation and development.

Hadn’t the government then promised jobs in the factories which would come up the land which had earlier belonged to farmers?

Despite this, how come more than 40 men of your village have joined the police and the army? Why did they not get jobs in Hassan? Where are the farmers today who lost their lands ten years ago? Did they even get proper compensation for their lands?

Chetan, no one has the answers to these questions.

While this is the situation in an area like Hassan which is represented by big political leaders in Parliament and has even contributed a prime minister called H.D. Deve Gowda, imagine what must be the situation in a place like Chattisgarh where the adivasis do not even have basic amenities, no education, and no awareness of their fundamental rights?

Imagine another situation.

In case the government comes once again to take over the remaining two acres of dry land from your family so that it can hand it over to some Tata or some Vedanta, what will the people of your village do?

Will they not protest?

In case the people’s protest cannot be controlled by the local police then the government will definitely send a Naga battalion or some other CRPF battalion to crush your people.

And when the war between the people and the state escalates, people on both sides will be killed. At which point the government will do nothing but merely place orders for more coffins.

Before I forget, I must mention that the former lawyer of the Vedanta company and now the honourable Home minister of this country Chidambaram has recently threatened:

“I don’t care how many men I lose, I will win this war.”

Unfortunately, no one is discussing about the injustice of all this. The government is not talking about the wrongs it is committing. In the meanwhile, Chetan, hundreds of innocent patriots like your father are needlessly sacrificing their lives.

They brought your father’s remains in a coffin, didn’t they?

Let me tell you a story with regard to these coffins. When the honourable Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of our country, his government too had bought coffins from the United States in order to transport the remains of people like your father who had died in the Kargil war. What was disgusting was that the government had taken a commission in the coffins deal too.

Chetan, you are still too young to understand the complexities of all this. I hope that when you grow up you will make an attempt to comprehend it all.

Today, you and your mother are grieving your loss in Chikkabasavanahalli. But remember that thousands of adivasi men, women and children are also grieving their losses in places like Chattisgarh.

The reasons for your grief and their grief might be different but the grief is the same.

Chetan, do you know that the government of Chattisgarh has imprisoned many boys your age because it thinks they are a threat to the security of this country?

Just the way you are an innocent little boy, so are they.

Just the way your father became a victim of the vile machinations of Chidambaram and Vedanta, thousands of adivasi fathers, mothers and children are also becoming victims of the same duo.

I hope you understand that the real criminal here is none other than our government.

With my heartfelt condolences,

B.Parvateesha

(This is the translation of a letter that appeared recently in Gauri Lankesh‘s Kannada weekly, Lankesh)

Photograph: Nethravathi, wife of slain CRPF subinspector Shivappa offering pooja to his mortal remains on April 10. Chetan is by her side (courtesy The Hindu)

***

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