Ajmal Khan, TISS Mumbai. He was part of a fact finding commission that enquired into the killings of migrant workers in Seshachalam, Andhra Pradesh on 7th April, 2015. The killings, claimed by the Special task Force to have been in “self defense” created a nationwide controversy.
Tribal migrant wood cutters from Tamilnadu to Andhra Pradesh are again in news after the killings of 20 laborers by Special Task Force which was set up to curb the smuggling of red sanders. Tamilnadu was one of the states that used to be a principal contributor of the migrants to the Indian cities during the seventies. However, there has been huge decrease in the number of emigrants from the state recently after the state government was able to provide better welfare measures. However, migration of labour still continues from the state. The migration of wood cutters from Tamilnadu still continues. Their issues come out when some of them are arrested or are killed by the government forces. The migrant workers who get killed are mainly from the Thiruvannamalai and Dharmapuri districts adjacent to Andhra Padesh. Those who come to chop down the red sanders wood are generally tribals and scheduled caste people from these two districts. The situations of the hamlets from where the migrants are coming are almost always ignored whenever there is a discussion on red sanders cutting. They are categorized as “smugglers” which they are not . They remain the laborers who happened to occupy the bottom most position in the big mafia network that exports the valuable red sanders to the countries like Japan and China. The economic conditions of the Hamlets of these two districts are extremely poor that compels these men to go for such risky jobs. The livelihood options that are available to them are mostly construction works in the nearest cities which also involves migration. There are thousands of such wood cutters in different jails of Andhra Pradesh who are arrested while they enter into the state. Recently ten laborers are killed by the forces in the different fake encounters and around 2500 are being imprisoned. The recent killings are evidently seen to be the result of a fake encounter and many questions have already been raised against the credibility of the government version of the encounters story.
Seschachalam killing incident is not the first one there are examples of fake encounters of Tamil laborers who come to cut the wood. All the Ten men were below the age of 30 years, brutally killed after grabbing them in different places. It indicates that, there has not been an encounter anywhere as the police version of the story says. As the evidences suggest, the workers might have been killed somewhere else and later on police has placed the dead bodies in the fores. There is also a chance that they might have been taken to the forest killed pointblank. After that they have placed the bodies and the logs to cook up the story as it has been told.
The important question here is that, if these are all fake encounters then what is the motive to kill these poor laborers? Since the mafia that controls the red sanders smuggling is strong, the killing of laborers are the manifestations of the relationship between government, ruling and other political parties and the dynamics between these relations. The motive behind the Seschachalam killing can be that the government of Andhra Pradesh wants to give a message to the private and other smugglers who belongs to the opposition parties. The message is loud and clear that, if anyone comes to cut the woods, they will kill them. The Chandrababu Naidu government might want to give a message to Reddies that, they are in power and they will not allow the Reddies and their friends to smuggle now. Moreover it also projects the fact that only they will control the red sanders wood business with a monopoly. However, the people who are the victims for this are the poor Adivasi and most backward caste laborers. Poverty and hunger makes them migrant laborers. They take up these life threatening jobs even without knowing the kind of illegal activity they are taken up. If the government of Andhra Pradesh is genuinely committed to the protection of red sanders tree, instead of killing and arresting the poor migrant laborers they should have arrested the real smugglers and mafias who are involved in the red sanders smuggling. None of the Governments so far been able to do that, because, these smugglers form one of the most important financial resource for the political parties who are closely associated to the government, police, forest and other departments. As far as the socio-economic situations in these two districts of Tamilnadu continues to be the same and there is no government commitment for protection and initiation of a state owned trading of the read sanders, the migration of these laborers and using them for wood cutting will continue. These poor people will continue to get arrested and killed for no reason.