Thursday, December 03, 2009

The People vs The State

Geetisha Dasgupta

The Salva Judum (meaning the Peace Hunt) was constituted in Chattisgarh to make way for peaceful acquisition of the natural resources by the bodies that pull the purse strings. The organization is a state sponsored and supported movement arming the civilians to keep the Naxalites at bay. They kept a tab on public reaction while villages together were turned upside down and ultimately razed to the ground. The Salva Judum is supplied with fire arms by the central police forces.

The Salva Judum was actually led by Mahendra Karma, elected on a Congress ticket, and the leader of the Opposition and had all out support of the BJP to ratify all he did. The organization was peopled by the Murias, a cadre which supported the Maoists earlier. Pulling the purse strings, there were people belonging to the contractor and miner communities who lend their support now to this group, waiting to see the success of their business plans. For example, the first financiers of the Salva Judum were Tata Steel and Essar who vouched for ‘peace’ as it may be interpreted against the business context. All these and much more have been revealed in a passage from a report published in 2009 by the Land Reforms Committee in set up by the UPA-1. The report reckons that the Salva Judum was principally set up to bring back ‘peace’ in the area: a peace by virtue of which all development business could be carried out without any humdrum.

What followed subsequently was an all out war between ideological brothers: the Salva Judum soon came to fight bitterly with the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The first strife was seen against and in the Muria village. The result was that, “640 villages as per official statistics were laid bare, burnt to the ground and emptied with the force of the gun and the blessings of the state. 350,000 tribals, half the total population of Dantewada district are displaced, their womenfolk raped, their daughters killed, and their youth maimed. Those who could not escape into the jungle were herded together into refugee camps run and managed by the Salva Judum.” Many others stay hidden in the forests or have moved out into nearby tribal habitats of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh etc. this is an open war now and would dig really deep holes on the landscape of this tribal tract.

Both Tata Steel and Essar Steel are now tightening their nets for the final bid to occupy these 640 deserted villages for mining and other allied business activities. Each of them wanted 7 villages originally and believed that these villages sat on the richest variety of iron ore available in India. Hindrance was created by the residents who put up slogans like “…don’t mess with the Murias…” or “…the Murias do not fear death…” These villages are otherwise available to the highest bidder.

A big question that emerges is one of violence and counter violence in which the state certainly appears somewhere and even takes a position definitively. A more difficult question however would be whether the state strikes first or merely retaliates!

For further information, please see Land Reforms Committee Report 2009 &

The Lives and Livelihoods of those Affected by the Zangmu Dam

Priyanca Mathur Velath

On 18 October, 2009, China revealed an ‘official’ plan to relocate a huge population of people who would be displaced by the Zangmu Dam. This is going to be China’s second largest resettlement plan, after the resettlement of the 1.27 million people displaced by the Three Gorges Hydro-Power Project. The people who are being evacuated from their homes are those living in the area around the proposed Danjiangkou reservoir in the Hubei and Hunan provinces, where a sluice will be built to divert water from the Yangtze river and its tributaries, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Information has been received that the Nanshan Regional Administration had issued orders as early as October 30, 2007 for the evacuation of people from the area from November 1, 2007. According to this order, the dam site was to include all areas upto 3310 m above sea level and people inhabiting these areas were asked to vacate. According to Indian media reports, resettlement authorities in Henan have already chalked out a huge resettlement project affecting 3.3. Lakh people spread over the central Chinese provinces of Henan and Hubei. The end-time of the resettlement process has been fixed at 2011, Xinhua said, citing Henan provincial authorities.

According to information with the Indian media, there is evidence that China has begun constructing a dam on the river that is known as the Yarlungzangbo (or Yarlong Tsangpo to the Tibetans). The plan is to build a series of five medium-sized dams along the river in the Nanshan region at Zangmu, Jiacha or Gyatsa, Zhongda, Jiexu and Langzhen, with the one at Zangmu being the first one. More information is available on the Zangmu hydrolectrical project, that was inaugurated on March 16, 2009 and where the first concrete was poured on April 2 this year. This Zangmu dam is supposed to be a gravity dam with water blocking structures that could mean the construction of a reservoir. It is expected to generate 540 MW; its height will be 116m, length 389.5m and it is to be 19 m wide at the top and 76 m wide at the bottom. It’s a 1.138 billion Yuan project that has been awarded to a five-company consortium, the Huaeneng Corporation, one of China’s biggest power companies. The tendering process for this entire project is being overseen by the Three Gorges International Corporation. In fact this water-diversion project could be nearly three times as expensive as the world’s largest hydroelectric project, the Three Gorges Dam, where the villages of the affected people had been flooded by a 660 km (410 mile) long reservoir that that dam had created in the middle of the Yangtze River.

A month ago, the Gezhouba group is believed to have publicly noted that the setting up of the concrete feed line to the Zangmu Dam had been successfully completed. In fact since February, satellite images have shown construction activity in Zangmu and Ziacha with evidence of labour quarters. Yet, let alone informing India of its plans, China has continuously just issued bald-faced denials when questioned about this dam.

The essential idea of this entire project is to divert water hundreds of kilometers to provide water to booming cities in China’s arid north like Beijing, Tianjin, Henan and Hubei. Its three routes are supposed to move billions of tons of water from China’s central, southern and western regions through pipes and canals to the fast growing northern cities. In fact, the central route, which is expected to supply one-fourth of Beijing’s water, is expected to be completed by 2014. But what needs to be noted in that there have been warnings issued by critics that ‘environmental damage will be created by this water diversion and boomtown’s thirst will not be quenched.’ There is also growing concern among opponents about the mass scale displacement that this project is going to entail.

The Chinese provincial government is assuring its people that each relocated family will be allotted new arable land in the newly built villages according to a standard of 0.1 hectare per person. It has also been insisting that not only will the soil of the approved new resettlement areas be good but that these sites will also have convenient traffic conditions. It has also been saying that it will come up with ‘preferential policies’ to help compensate for the relocation losses suffered by the evacuated people. People have been promised compensation for unmovable property like old house and also an annual subsidy of 600 yuan ($88) per person for twenty years according to the official media quote of Duan Shiyao, Deputy Chief of the Hubei Provincial Resettlement Bureau. But earlier this year there were also reports of complaints from some villagers that they had been forced by officials to sign agreements to relocate and that they had been offered less than half the land they currently use for farming and other means of income. Thus there are valid fears among people that post displacement they may face unequal and forced resettlement.

The biggest fear is the impact that this project may have on lower riparian economies like India and Bangladesh. The reality is that India has no robust water-sharing agreements with China and so may end up being at the losing end if a large share of the Tsangpo river, flowing into India as the Brahmaputra, gets robbed. India needs to institutionalize a sharing mechanism before it is too late, and before Beijing presents New Delhi with a fait accompli about its dams. According to Ramaswamy Iyer, former Water Resources Secretary of the Government of India, the water issue needs to be given more attention, and made as important a part of the agenda as the border issue. The lives and livelihoods of many people dependent on the flowing waters and lush fertile banks of this river, in India and Bangladesh, stands to get affected. On top of all this, one can also never be sure of how far and to what extent the R&R plans outlined by the Chinese authorities actually see the light of the day.


1.Pranab Dhal Samanta, ‘China begins building dam on its side of the Brahmaputra’,, October 15, 2009.
2.Ananth Krishnan, ‘India, China and Water Security’, The Hindu, October 21, 2009.

Esmeralda: A Transgender Detainee Speaks by Break Through

Suha Priyadarshini Chakravorty

Despite the Obama Administration’s assurance to alter the functionality of the Detention System, not much has been done. The much ambitious Detention System is stretched across over 500 country jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities, with immigration detention being a $ 1.8 billion business (estimated to hold approx. 442 941 detainees in custody in 2009 alone). The accounts from these detention centres portray horrifying depictions of ruthless and brutal existences of detainees where they are denied basic facilities such as visitation, access to lawyers, medical care, and are subject to regular physical and verbal abuse. Vulnerable people including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents as well as US citizens find themselves amongst those detained in these centres.

The short video ‘Esmeralda: A Transgender Detainee Speaks’ by Break Through as part of the Restore Fairness Campaign is a similar vignette that depicts a dismal chronicle of the US detention system, whereby transgender detainees undergo severe mental turmoil and physical abuse in centres which are meant for protection. The video deals with plight of Esmeralda, a transgender who seeks asylum in the United States of America, which she considered as having a more conducive environment than her home country, Mexico. Her aspiration to lead a ‘normal’ life at a free environment of the US turned out to be her worst nightmare. Facing discrimination at Mexico even from her family she wanted to pursue her ambitions at the United States and therefore had applied for asylum in the country. Subsequently she was detained. At the detention centre she was (like other transgender detainees) kept in a segregated cell and would even be taken to the bathroom in handcuffs. She says, “They would handcuff us as if we were murderers and were trying to escape.... but we were not trying to run away.” Esmeralda was also not allowed to drink or do anything that the other detainees were. Further she faced severe sexual abuse by an immigration guard who forced himself on her since she was handcuffed in a cell and could do little to defend herself. Additionally, when she protested against it and the immigration guard was sentenced to jail for a 6 months term, Esmeralda began to be watched even more closely for the guards were angry with her on telling on one of them. She felt so claustrophobic and suicidal that she wanted psychiatric help, which she was further denied. Following this, she cancelled her asylum and went back to Mexico and on applying for it the second time, she was detained with male detainees which was further more shocking for her and for as long as she lived in the detention centre, she lived in constant terror. Finally, she was granted asylum in the US. Esmeralda currently finds herself as a successful advocate fighting for the cause of sexual violence and its survivors in the US. Thus even while on the one hand, the video exudes a strong pessimistic undertone it ends on an optimistic flavour of ‘hope’ for positive change.

Watch video at: