Sunday, January 22, 2006 (Naugarh):
Eastern Uttar Pradesh is not just one of the least developed but also one of the most unsafe parts of India.This is particularly for the large scheduled caste and scheduled tribe community, who live under the threat of the gun from Maoist insurgents on the one hand and the heavy-handed police on the other.
When Javed Ahmed, an agricultural worker from Chupepur village asked for just Rs 5 more than what his landlord gave him, he was threatened with imprisonment on charges of being a Maoist or a sympathiser of their party the MCC.
"I was threatened that I will be tied to a tree and shot. When we ask for our wages, we ask for our rights, we are branded Naxalites and harassed," said Javed Ahmed.
Javed has never earned more than Rs 30 for a full day’s work, which is less than half the minimum wage fixed by the government.
But across the Chandauli, Mirzapur and Sonbhadra districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh, any fight for justice is being smashed by the landlord-police nexus.
Most of these people belong to the scheduled castes and tribes and have in recent years shifted their vote to the BSP.
BSP chief Mayawati’s recent success in the panchayat elections has also sharpened caste tensions.
For instance, in Bhulai when a group of Muslims, adivasis and Dalit labourers tried to occupy a government wasteland, they were forcibly stopped by the big farmers of the village.
The farmers, belonging to the upper castes, began cultivating the land for themselves and nobody stopped them.
"The police only beats up the adivasis and Dalits and only a few boys amongst them who have studied a little are being targeted, because the feudal elements are scared of them. So they always single them out to the police, saying that these boys can create trouble, they are Naxalites," said a victim.
Reign of terror
The harassment they say has increased in the last one year after a PAC van was blown up in Chandauli district in November 2004 killing 17 security personnel.
A special operations group of armed policemen in plainclothes was formed by the SP government to hunt down the attackers.
But villagers allege that the men have unleashed a reign of terror in the area.
The police however, have denied the charges.
"The SOG does not do this. And if they do, it is out of line. The SOG was formed to dig out information about Naxalite activity, their hideouts, their sympathisers by mingling with the villagers," said R N Singh Yadav, DIG, Varanasi Zone.
Human rights groups
With the Maoists and police forces training their guns on each other, human rights groups say innocent men and women are also getting caught in the crossfire with no recourse to justice.
"People of these areas are very poor. They cannot even keep a lawyer or move bail applications and so they are languishing in jail," said Tanvir Ahmed Siddiqui, Advocate, Human Rights Law Network.
Whether they are victims of political or caste violence, no government in Lucknow has ever addressed the needs of the people of this most backward region of Uttar Pradesh.
While crores are being spent to fight the Naxalites, most villages in the region are without water and electricity.