There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic – Albert Camus
India’s Maoist movement (named Naxalism, after thana Naxalbari in Darjeeling district) began in April 1967. The Chinese Communist Party accorded it the title Spring Thunder Over India. Its leader was a little-known district leader of the CPI (M) named Charu Mazumdar, who went on to found the CPI (ML). Forty two years later, the movement has split many times. But it is still in the news. Armed attacks are increasing, and so are reports of brutality on both sides. The recent beheading of a police officer named Francis Induvar aroused so much disgust that the Maoists found it necessary to express regret. Militancy is a defence of the oppressed, they say, and brutality merely an aberration. They cite instances of state violence to justify actions undertaken in self-defence. There is more to this than meets the eye. Maoist theory holds that India is a semi-colonial polity with a bogus constitution that must be overthrown by armed force. The comrades view all their actions as part of a revolutionary war. Their foundational documents declare armed struggle to be “the highest and main form of struggle” and the “people’s army” its main organisation. In war, morality is suspended and limits cast aside. War also results in something the Pentagon calls “collateral damage.” Is it true that Naxalite brutality is only an aberration?
On August 15, 2004, the Maoists killed nine persons in Andhra Pradesh, including a legislator, a driver and a municipal worker. On August 14, 2005, Saleema 52, a cook in a mid-day kitchen in Karimnagar was beaten to death by Maoists for being a “police informer.” This was the second woman killed by them in a fortnight. A former Naxalite, Bhukya Padma 18, was hacked to death in Marimadla village on July 30. On September 12, 2005 it slit the throats of 17 villagers in Belwadari village in Giridih. Landmine blasts in February 2006 killed 26 tribals and injured 50 in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. The victims were returning from religious festivals, and some from anti-Naxalite rallys. Another blast on March 25 killed 13 persons.
Some of these killings may be incorrectly reported, some carried out by local cadre on their own. But the comrades clearly believe in political assassination, and often enough they kill with primitive weapons. Moreover, the decisions to kill are taken in a shadowy realm wherein the fault of the victim is decided by whim. Truth and falsehood are dispensed with because the Party is Always Right. Their targets have no chance of appealing for mercy, and no one will be punished for collateral damage. And all this is justified because the Maoists are at war – a circular argument, because whether or not we are at war is another whim.
But there is an elephant in India’s drawing room. Maoists openly defy the Constitution, which they say is a mask for a brutal order. Are not our mainstream parties equally contemptuous of the law? Why did the NDA regime try and do away with Schedule 5 of the Constitution, that protects tribal lands from encroachment? The plain truth is that the tribals are sitting on vast amounts of mineral wealth, and omnipotent capitalists the world over are prepared to do virtually anything to obtain contracts to exploit these resources. The fact that vast areas in the tribal-occupied tracts of eastern India are in the throes of insurgency is proof of India’s disdain for its own Constitution. Again: is there not prima-facie evidence of politicians’ involvement in massacres in Delhi and Gujarat in 1984 and 2002? Why haven’t they been brought to justice? In 1987, 40 Muslims of Meerut were killed while in the custody of the Provincial Armed Constabulary. The case took eighteen years to come to court. In Chhatisgarh, for the past several years, the BJP and the Congress ganged up to support a private army named Salwa Judum with disastrous consequences for the population. Even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court criticised the recklessness and illegality of the government’s actions. In 2007 the West Bengal government despatched an illegal armed force to crush its opponents in Nandigram. India’s rulers regularly protect criminals, and part of the public is complicit in this. Policemen in dereliction of duty get promoted. Mass murderers are hailed as heroes. It’s a bit rich to see this ruthless and corrupt ruling class throw the rule-book at Maoists.
As for the comrades, today we hear these practitioners of virtuous murder calling upon the democratic conscience. Does democracy include the right to kill? Our left-extremists have changed the world for the worse. Along with right-wing radicals, they ground their arguments on passionate rhetoric and a claim to superior knowledge of Indian reality. Fighters for justice have become judge and executioner rolled into one – in a word, pure tyrants. Every killing launches yet another cycle of trauma and revenge. Will Francis Induvar’s son ever dream of becoming a socialist? Should not socialists hold themselves to a higher standard than the system they oppose?
Symbolism counts for a lot in Indian politics. If the Maoist party is interested in negotiations, I suggest a demand that will expose the hypocritical nature of our polity: ask the government to remove the portrait of Hindutva icon Vinayak Damodar Savarkar from the Central Hall of Parliament, placed there in 2003 during the NDA regime. If this demand is rejected, they should ask for Charu Mazumdar’s portrait to be placed alongside. Why not? Both were extreme patriots. Both believed in political assassination, both hated Gandhi and both insisted that the end justifies the means.
My suggestion will meet with indignation. But the deep link between these two currents of extremism is the unutterable truth of Indian history. Hindutva is the Maoism of the elite. In 1969, an ultra-leftist Hindi writer penned a diatribe titled Gandhi Benakaab that praised Godse as a true son of India. In 42 years of activity, the Naxalites have hardly ever confronted the communalists; although to be fair, one ultra-left group in Punjab did combat the Khalistanis. The assassination of a VHP Swami in Kandhamal in August 2008 is the only example. The Maoists owned the crime, but the Sangh Parivar vented its wrath upon Christian villagers. Thousands were displaced and over 30 were killed. The comrades were unwilling or unable to prevent the carnage. So much for their defence of the oppressed.
Savarkar’s acolyte Nathuram Godse murdered Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948. In 1969, the Justice Jiwanlal Kapur Commission concluded that the conspiracy was hatched by Savarkar and his group. Sardar Patel said as much to Nehru in February 1948. If Savarkar deserves to be honoured by the Nation, so does Charu. Since the government is unlikely to accept either option, we may finally come to a debate about why one kind of political murder is anti-national, while the other is patriotic virtue.
How Chhattisgarh shames "us" – dreams , nightmares and our dark underbellies
"As a person born and brought up in Bastar I have been studying the recent happenings in this district with deep concern and I have come to the conclusion that in the long drawn out battle of nerves between the Government and you-know-who, the obvious casualty is the poor Adivasi, who has been constantly ignored and misunderstood. The Government has completely failed in understanding the sentiments of the people of this region. Economically depressed, and perpetually exploited by the urban settlers, these tribals are easy prey to the corrupt and high-handed administrative and police machinery. As a result, a permanent wedge has been driven between them and the Government. Community development schemes and tribal welfare departments of doubtful utility will not save the situation" – reads a letter by a certain S R Naidu to the editor of a weekly magazine.
Of late, most of us have heard similar views which seek to paint the state as a corrupt force, ruling by police intervention in Chhattisgarh. Such writers do not want to understand that development schemes take time to show effect and harbour sympathy for the Maoists at their root – right? Wrong. S R Naidu was really talking about Prabir Chandra Bhanj Deo, local Member of the Legislative Assembly and ex-ruler of the area. The letter was published on 6th May in NOW – a political and cultural weekly. In 1966.
Looking into the thoughts that rushed through our heads and the conclusions we made before we were told it was 1966 can give us a few insights into the automated consumers of packaged "information" we have become. None of this is new – not the packaging nor the consumption. Naxalbari in 1966 was still an unknown village in Darjeeling district. There were no armed Maoists in India then. In the 1967 general elections, in Bastar, Congress came fifth after two independents (including the winner), Jan Sangh and the Samyukta Socialist Party candidates. Times change. Or do they?
In 1967, 40 percent of the 20 million babies born in India each year were projected to eventually suffer from some degree of brain damage. The International Food Policy Research Institute in its 2008 India State Hunger Index classified the state of hunger in Chhattisgarh as "alarming". The best performance came from Punjab, classified as "serious", a notch better. An Indira Congress minister admitted to Time magazine in an interview in 1967 "we are producing millions of subhumans annually". That ministers name was Chidambaram – Chidambaram Subramanium. He died in 2000. We have a different Chidambaram – P Chidambaram ruling over this hungry multitude.Times change.
Some of the subhuman babies of 1967 are 38 years old now. What creatures have they developed into? Some of them inhabit Chhattisgarh. According to the much-denounced Arjun Sengupta commission report, in 2004-05, a total of 836 million (77 percent of the population) lived on below INR 20 a day. To people caught between 20-20, Sensex and MacAloo Tikki, these numbers come as anti-national conspiracies to denigrate the emerging giant that is India. What image are we projecting to the world – we ask detractors. Shouldnt we be united in this hour of initiation at the big table? We are preoccupied with what the world thinks of us. I wonder what do those millions of subhumans think of us – what do they think of our cafés, our news anchors, our "sufi" music, our engineering colleges, our BPO "revolution", our Dial-a-pizza.
When the sun goes down in Chhattisgarh tonight, when one of the subhuman women tries to close her eyes in sleep – what does she see. Does she dream that a four-lane highway come to her village? Are there cars on those roads? Is that me at the steering wheel of one of those cars? or is that you? How do we appear to these creatures in their dreams and nightmares – do we look human?
Abujhmad for the Gonds of Chhattisgarh is the unknown forest. For the Madia Gonds, this is their universe and reality of existence – the forest holding within itself chronicles, snake-bites, culture and much more. And this reality permeates much of Madia Desh [what is true?]. In 1978-1998, 91 percent of the Madia Gonds lived below the poverty. These are the people of whom Verrier Elwin wrote "These are the real swadeshi products of India, in whose presence all others are foreign. These are ancient people with moral rights and claims thousands of years old." Our cities are expanding – our gated communities need iron gates and wrought iron furniture is all the rage. Our eyeing at their land and the iron-ore beneath them is not new – their eyeing us back is not new either. They have been there since the Iron Age. They are not "innocent" tribals – they have never been. No human is. Those of us, living in sun-lit megalopolis, who learn the past from history books with worlds as broad as TV channels, feel distinctly uneasy about all this talk of moral rights and thousand-year-old claims. We know of our high cholesterol and lack of exercise epidemics, while overworked anaemic Gonds live in our republic. The possibility of a connection is bound to be distinctly unpalatable. I might even change the channel.
Godless ideologues of the Maoist variety, who possibly imagine the ghotuls, or youth dormitories, as future Red-Guard communes, are now arming the Gonds for their own violent ideological ends – pawns in their macabre "revolutionary" game. But what paths have we left for the Gonds – we, who think that an armed Gond is unnatural but a hungry Gond is natural. What happens when all that constitutes a peoples dignity – Gods, histories, grandmothers tales, stubbornness, honour, ghotuls, groves, hills – have been off? Should they apply for a stay-order through the proper channel, in triplicate? Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian if there ever was one, and an untiring satyagrahi in Chhattisgarh, says with a sad rage "For how long will middle class ‘bhadralok’ remain silent spectators to the State’s colonization of tribal territory to subsidize urban growth in the name of ‘tribal development?" It does not portend well for our democratic society.
During a showing of his documentary on the NGO Narmada Bachao Andolan, film-maker Sanjay Kak told me in almost a resigned voice that he was possibly filming an obituary of non-violent struggles in India. Is Himanshu Kumar a voice in the wilderness? Have we finally accomplished what Nathuram Godse tried to do? In these troubled times, Himanshu Kumar and his satyagrahi ways might actually appear insane to those deeply entrenched in urban society. Like some Aztec shaaman in a trance, Himanshu Kumar is talking a language which appears eeriely unfamiliar to us – non-violence, dignity, humanity.
In 1966, Prabir Chandra Bhanj Deo led the Bastar Gonds into a non-violent struggle for famine relief and cheaper rice against the Madhya Pradesh government. The government declared he was insane and finally shot him dead at his home along with many of his supporters when the Gonds had come to greet him during dusshera. The Gonds still revere his memory and were recently dispersed by force on his memorial day. That is how that story ended. I shudder at what new story ideas our collective greed is coming up with. We have no shame.
“The struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” – Milan Kundera
Garga Chatterjee is a researcher at Harvard University and an observer of contemporary power, self-identities and plurality in the Indic context. He used to be a physician but now investigation into the psyche dominates his mind.