Tribals are soft targets for police and rebels: Sociologist Nandini Sundar

By Abu Zafar, IANS,

New Delhi: Even as the Supreme Court gets tough with the Chhattisgarh government following public interest litigation (PIL) filed against the anti-Maoist Salwa Judum, sociologist Nandini Sundar says that by arming civilians, the state government has failed in its responsibility.

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“Salwa Judum is like a private army which went around burning villages, killing people and raping women, and it had no accountability,” Sundar, one of the petitioners and the winner of the Infosys Prize 2010 for her contribution to social sciences, told IANS in an interview. In the process tribals have become soft targets for both security forces and the Maoists, she said.

Sundar, along with other concerned citizens, had in 2007 filed the PIL against the Chhattisgarh government for supporting Salwa Judum, the controversial anti-Maoist vigilante group.

The Supreme Court Jan 18 ordered the state government to vacate schools occupied by security forces as Salwa Judum camps within four months and also sought a comprehensive report from the government on its plan to disband the camps to which tribals were forced to move.

The court also asked the Chhattisgarh government to give compensation to all the victims of violence, whether they were attacked by the Naxalites, Salwa Judum or security forces.

“The Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission and even the Chhattisgarh counsel have all accepted that Salwa Judum was engaged in violence against the common people,” she said.

According to the leading sociologist, who is head of the department of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics and dean of the faculty of social sciences, the tribals were the worst affected in all anti-Maoist operations.

The tribals are soft targets for the security forces and Maoists, in turn, often suspect them to be informers, Sundar said.

Sundar was named for the Infosis Prize for her contributions to social science and in recognition of her analysis of social identities, including tribe and caste, and the politics of knowledge in modern India.

She shared the prize in 2010 with Amita Baviskar of the Institute of Economic Growth.

The annual Infosys Prize is awarded to scientists, researchers, engineers and social scientists in India and carries a cash prize of Rs.50 lakh and a gold medallion.

Sundar has published several books, including “Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar (1854-2006)”.

Inequality and impunity were the country’s biggest challenges, Sundar lamented, noting that the government machinery, even when guilty, usually managed to escape any punishment.

“No one has been punished for the 1984 riots in Delhi, the Gujarat genocide of 2002 or for Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. When these kinds of huge crimes are committed by the government or with their support, then who will ensure the rule of law?” she asked.

“Our job as social scientists is to bring a sense of reality among the people while getting the facts right. After providing them with the facts it should be left to the people to make a decision about their life.

“We have a certain limit and within that limit, we have to make the people understand,” said Sundar, who is also editor of sociology journal “Contribution to Indian Sociology.”

Talking about the future of social science in India, she said: “It is a very exciting subject in an exciting country. I think there is a good and bright future for social science in our country”.

Sundar voiced her concern about the privatisation of education in India.

“The government will have to pay special attention to the field of education. Since not many people can afford private education, the government will have to be main funding body.”

“Nobody can do anything without the government. The private sector can provide additional help, but it can never substitute the help given by the government. It is dangerous if the government withdraws, allowing the private sector to monopolise.” Sundar said.

(Abu Zafar can be contacted at [email protected])