Explainer: The problem with Kerala's surrender-and-rehabilitation scheme for Maoists

The program, which offers monetary compensation for Maoists who surrender, has not yielded any results in Kerala, but activists say the issue lies in the design of the policy.
Explainer: The problem with Kerala's surrender-and-rehabilitation scheme for Maoists
Explainer: The problem with Kerala's surrender-and-rehabilitation scheme for Maoists
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Nearly six months have passed since Kerala launched its surrender-and-rehabilitation policy for Maoists currently active and operating in the state, yet the results are not promising. So far, not a single member of Maoist groups have utilised the program — which offers monetary compensation for surrendering to the police — in Kerala.

While police say the program is still too new in Kerala to be overtly effective just yet, activists believe the issue runs deeper. Though the policy has been successful in other states with an active Maoist presence (Odisha and Chattisgarh, for example, saw results within months of the program’s launch), the starkly different socio-economic and political reality of Kerala, and the unique way through which Maoism occurs here in the state makes such a program largely irrelevant to tackling Maoism as it exists in Kerala.

Kerala’s “surrender and rehabilitation” program for Maoists

The surrender and rehabilitation policy announced by the Kerala government in May 2018 is part of a larger effort announced by the Central Government in 2014.

Under the Kerala government’s policy, Maoists have been divided into three categories. Those in the first category are members in the high committees of the organisation, and will receive Rs 5 lakh upon surrender, to be given in instalments. Rs 3 lakh will be given in instalments to members belonging to Category 2A and 2B.

Those who wanted to continue their studies would be given Rs 15,000, while Rs 25,000 would be given to those who wished to get married. Those who wanted to complete vocational employment training would receive Rs 10,000 for up to 3 months.

There are also additional incentives for surrendering weapons to the police. Under Kerala’s program, if a Maoist surrenders an AK47 rifle to the police, they will be given Rs 25,000 (in addition to the respective amount for surrendering themselves). Surrendering Maoists who do not have homes will also be directed to various existing government’s housing schemes.

No results yet

However, despite this array of incentives, in the six months since the Kerala government approved the program for the state, not a single Maoist in the state has surrendered to the police.

TK Vinod Kumar IPS (Addl. Director General of Police, Intelligence), told TNM that the reason for this non-existent response could be because the five-month-old program is still in its infancy. “Kerala’s policy is still very new. It’s not as though as soon as you roll out the program, people will start surrendering. In other states, the surrender and rehabilitation programs have been in place for 4 to 5 years.”

Malappuram SP Prateesh Kumar also says that such programs take time to yield results, and that the government doesn’t place time-bound targets on the number of surrenders the program is supposed to yield. “It’s not about a ‘lot of people’ coming and surrendering, only those people who want to surrender will come forward. Many of their members, especially disgruntled youth, are well aware that the activities they undertake are illegal, but until now, such a policy was not in existence. There was no way for these people to surrender and come back. This new policy is a good one, but results take time."

However, a 2014 release from the Press Information Bureau reveals that even six months is not an unreasonable period of time for such a surrender-and-rehabilitation program to have an impact. That press release, based on a written reply by then-Home Minister Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary, details the results of such a policy in some states in the six months since its implementation in May 2014. It reads, “a total of 437 LWE (Left Wing Extremist) cadres have surrendered during the period 1st May to 15th November, 2014 in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha and Telangana.” So why hasn’t even a single Maoist come forward in Kerala as yet?

What sets Kerala apart

A senior intelligence official told The New Indian Express that, “After the Nilambur encounter in which two Maoists were killed in a police shoot-out, the Maoists sympathisers and activists have become wary of the adamant anti-Maoist stand taken by the state government. There is a lack of trust among Maoists on the real intention of the state.”

But activist and writer CR Neelakandan has a contrasting view. “The situation in Kerala is totally different from states like Chattisgarh and Orissa, where the violence is at its highest. There is no Maoist violence per se in Kerala, like killings and other violence against the public. In Odisha and Chattisgarh, you have bomb blasts and violence against the public. The public is directly affected there. There is no visible violence in Kerala per se due to Maoist activities. So in that way, there is no real public pressure for the surrender of Maoists on the government and on the Maoists themselves.”

He says that such a program wasn’t designed to benefit most of the so-called Maoists in Kerala: highly educated intellectuals or those visible in activist circles, with no criminal cases against them. Moreover, they have little to gain from a program that allows them to avail a few thousand rupees. “Here the literacy level is high, so the policy cannot be done as it is done in Odisha or Chattisgarh.”

Though there may be small, scattered groups of violent Maoists in remote parts of the state, like the forest areas of Wayanad and Nilambur, “since there are no visible violent activities by Maoists in Kerala, there is not much pressure for them to surrender.” 

This is largely true. Statistics from the South Asia Terrorism Portal show, for example, that while Odisha saw 18 deaths of civilians from LWE violence in 2017, and Chattisgarh saw 32, Bihar saw 15, and Madhya Pradesh saw 7, there were no civilian deaths in Kerala due to LWE violence in 2017. In fact, according to the SATP, in stark contrast to many other Maoist-affected states, Kerala has had no civilian casualties at all from LWE violence between 2014 and 2018.

He also elucidates other features distinct to Kerala. “Even though we have many struggles going on here, the social security system is strong, and there are activist networks working in Kerala which are not aligned to Maoism, that can support and address grassroots struggles. The media in Kerala also, unlike other states, gives voice to such issues. There is a democratic civil society movement that can take up these issues to the public sphere, which means that the people here have viable avenues to turn to outside of Maoism. So the government in Kerala need not go forward as violently as it does in other states. In fact, State violence is a good reason for Maoists to apply violence.”

Given these factors, the way forward does not lie in the government or police launching violent attacks against the few Maoist outfits that do exist, nor should it simple reproduce policies aimed at other states. Instead, Neelakandan says, they should engage meaningfully with the active struggles that cause people to turn to Maoism in desperation when suitably provoked, or when all other avenues have been abandoned. “For the government, the best way is not to take up violence, but to actively take up and engage with the issues, like tribal and Dalit struggles, and land rights struggles, that may act as a catalyst for the [rise and spread] of violent Maoism in Kerala. There is a democratic way out.”

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