I have written this on the presumption that the leaders of our country and the Naxalite parties are really sincere about the idea of peace. This is, of course, a big presumption. It is also a big presumption that a war motivated by economic means can find a peaceful resolution.
Yet I had to write this, barring my naiveté, my own desperation, to bring myself to entertain a foolish hope, and obviously, to help clarify my position as a journalist, and my motivations as a human being.
Questioning the idea of peace talks between the Government of India and the Maoists
We’re constantly talking about ‘addressing the socio-economic problem’ that feeds the Naxalite base yet no one is yet to tell me how to address it, and to whom, and when?
Answer: if anyone is aware of what happened at Andhra Pradesh in 2004, peace talks between the Government of India and the CPI (Maoist) Party, as of now would lead to nothing. The government isn’t going to turn the entire system upside-down nor are the revolutionary parties ever going to lay down their arms considering what it really took them to gain them. Neither party has anything to lose as of now, nor anything to gain from peace talks. The further the military operation continues, the further the base of the Naxalites shall grow and the further the GOI manages to destroy the sustainable livelihoods of agrarian societies that have existed for thousands of years without outside interference, the further they can justify industrial development.
(On another note: Mr.Chidambaram, why can’t we allow the agricultural sector to grow to feed out GDP? Don’t you think, considering that more than 70% of this country lives in rural India, we’d have a phenomenal rate of growth if they, the poor, and not corporations, were allowed profit?)
Now, let us get back to the topic of peace talks, which at this present moment, seems as improbable as hell freezing over.
A few days ago, I met Shankaran of the Committee of Concerned Citizens. In all my time being confronted with the tragedies of the Naxalite issue, somewhere within the room with that gentle old man, I could sense one of the graver tragedies of this whole mesh of violence and counter-violence. He holds himself morally accountable to the failures of the talks, for he was in a position to do something. Yet the talks fell apart. Clause 7 was a monster. Both parties blamed the other for the failure of the talks. Violence erupts. Bloodshed. Silence. And the violence spilled over to other states.
Irrespective of how the Centre views the Andhra model of dealing with the Maoists, one shouldn’t discount the obvious truth that there is relative peace in Andhra because all the violence shifted to other districts. Most of the higher-up Naxalites in those districts are from Andhra Pradesh. And now things are a lot more complicated. This isn’t just about the peace talks between the Government of Andhra Pradesh and the Naxalites. Now, there’s the Salwa Judum, respective state governments, corporate interests, the Government of India and the international stage – a spotlight for the Naxalites, for each and every one of those buses that they set alight in the last four years as a form of protest. And all of this, is for the poor, invisible, oppressed poor. This of course, is another big presumption.
Now, the issue has our attention. Now, we must talk. First, let us differentiate between ‘dialogue’ and ‘peace talks.’
Peace talks, as the Naxalites coming out of their hideouts to meet the GOI leaders, is an act of idiocy considering that the IB will be trailing every shadow and the reclusive Politburo members know that.
Peace talks are theatrical and we don’t need drama, we need an environment where dialogue is possible – where debate is possible – debate that is followed by sustainable action on the ground. We, firstly, obviously need a bilateral ceasefire. A cessation on the use of IEDs, the killing of so-called informants, and the targeting of off-duty policemen as a matter of sport. We need a cessation on the murder of SPOs, their families and members of the Salwa Judum. We need a cessation of fake encounters and combing operations that always seem to only further aggravate the general population who always believed that this war would never touch them. As I have said before, just because every fake encounter and burning of a village is not reported in the mainstream press, it doesn’t mean that it ceases to exist – it doesn’t mean that it fails to act as a stimulus to push grieving, desperate villagers over the edge.
This entire campaign against the free press and the ‘no access’ idea that the government is trying to impose onto brave and insane muckraking reporters and activists is also highly questionable. I think, this has to do with the idea of hubris more than credibility – as it is, the Indian government doesn’t have much credibility in the Red Corridor, and I don’t know why it’s trying to protect itself from the crimes it commits in the Dantewadas and Lalgarhs.
The adivasis are very well aware of who they kill, and it’s easy for them to know that, as they are the ones who are being killed. But it’s not the adivasis who the government wants to hide the truth from – it’s the higher-upper-middle classes. The government doesn’t care a hoot about what the adivasis think of them. The adivasis are not one unit – they do not possess a political unity as other groups do. This disunity does not seriously threaten them. The starvation deaths of the Birhors do not affect the Baiga who are being displaced, or the Muria who are being hunted down or turned against one another, or the Dongria-Kondh who helplessly watch their Mountain God chewed up by mining companies.
The state pays little to no attention to them and I don’t remember a single time in the recent past, that it’s even seriously considered their grievances. Mr.Chidambaram’s upcoming public hearing in Dantewada is a positive step, but it is a redundant public relations stunt unless it is followed up with serious policy changes. And it must address the people who live further in the jungles. These are tribes that have existed for centuries without outside interference and they can very well exist for centuries without them, provided their symbiotic relationship to the jungle is kept intact. And that is the very thing they’d be coming to him for – their jal, jangal, jameen – their lives.
Along with another very certain thing – they’d want security, thus they’d want a cessation of combing operations – a military ceasefire.
And along with a military ceasefire, it is absolutely imperative that we have a ‘cultural’ ceasefire – where there is freedom to express your views without a witch-hunt, freedom to resist the state, to portray dissent, without being branded off as a ‘naxalite sympathizer’, (yet what is a Naxalite sympathizer really? It is quite contentious as it is and some clarity is required. And of this, we shall get to, as well). Yet coming back to a cultural ceasefire, we need a guarantee that not all resistance movements are branded off as ‘Maoist fronts’, simply so the state can justify violence onto them. No one gave the Maoists a monopoly over resistance movements but the Government and the media itself.
Now, we need a guarantee that grievances are addressed and calling for more troops becomes unnecessary. Let all the men who scream for blood drink their own.
Of course, the greater emphasis is on the Maoists themselves for an initiative for peace. To an extent, they are morally responsible for the well-being of the people they represent. They can’t possibly take them through a brutal war for political power. The adivasi way of life is already under threat and the poor bear the brunt of police action. How many fake encounters and how many arbitrary arrests have taken place, one will never know. The pervasive environment of fear and suspicion has driven all sides to commit atrocities and this isn’t benefiting anyone but those who thrive in war and benefit from it. This environment of fear has further been exacerbated by the ‘no access’ policies of the administration. Hopefully, the upcoming Satyagraha and Padhyatra in Dantewada would help to negate this fear and help to create an environment for peace.
One of the reasons I talk to the villagers, is for this reason – for an environment for dialogue, for understanding, for truth. For applicable dialogue, you need reality – a stone to shatter any idea of a status quo that defends itself with nothing but brute force. For dialogue, you need to shatter the myths – every policeman is a monster, every Naxalite is a monster, and death and murder is the only solution – no, it is not, no, they are not, and no matter how much we’re trying to demonize one another, I can guarantee to you that peace is possible. And this is not a war between gun-toting Naxalites and policemen and neat little terms for innocent civilians such as ‘collateral damage’. Mothers don’t call their dead children collateral damage, and orphans will never grow up to think their parents were just collateral damage. We must shatter the myths of a public that believes war is for heroism and the protection of good over evil. Let the people know what war is – visceral and brutal beyond words, it exists beyond abstractions, beyond concepts of nations, ideologies and heroism.
It shouldn’t be easy for the manufacture of consent to war in the country of Gandhi, even though it surprisingly is. It shouldn’t be easy for us to be complicit in the murder of peoples who did no wrong to anyone, even though it always has been. Let us leave our comfort zones and put ourselves on the front lines.
And this is why we need aggressive reporting. Why every drop of blood must be investigated. Why every voice must be heard.
In Sri Lanka, the murder of the free press made it easier for the general public to accept denial. The voices of dissent were systematically shot down. Because there was no real free press, the issue of atrocities and war crimes became a question of tit-for-tat violence and idiotically-justified eye-for-an-eye counter-violence; along with whether atrocities were taking place, or not – when in reality, there shouldn’t have been any question about whether they were taking place or not, and their legitimacy should be questioned – yes, so we’re killing innocent people, is this the best that we can do in this situation? Do they deserve it? Or is there an alternative? Can we have dialogue?
Now, dialogue is unimportant with particular Islamic fundamentalist groups who only call for the entire destruction of people. The question of dialogue is important in this case, because the Naxalites claim to be representing an oppressed people whose oppression cannot, under any circumstances, be disregarded. To an extent, this claim to representation is entirely justified, and is further inevitable, every time the security forces enter villagers and behave as naturally as they usually do – taking the psychology of a soldier, out of fear and hatred, atrocity is inevitable.
The Naxalites, meanwhile are not stupid enough to believe that there will be no collateral damage every time they fire on off-duty policemen or blow up anti-landmine vehicles with landmines. The villages adjacent to these attacks often bear the brunt of state repression. Yet what do we see? We see state repression – not the fact that the Naxalites helped to manifest a situation where the biggest losers are the innocent people who had nothing to do with what happened.
Someday, I shall meet revolutionaries who fight for the people but don’t expect the people to fight and die for them. Someday.
Propagating a peaceful environment: step 1
The first thing we need to do is to get the Arnab Goswamis of the media to shut up. If that bigoted idiot even uses ‘Maoists’ and ‘Taliban’ in the same sentence, I’m going to personally take him into the red corridor and leave him to the hospitality of the so-called Maoist sympathizers – villages of the Muria where there’d be no electricity, no healthcare, no ration, no nothing and everyday they live in fear of being raided by the security forces – of losing their loved ones, their homes, their lives. And let him be fed their rice even when they have none for themselves, and let him try to write them off as ‘collateral damage.’
Most people often race to judgments as a matter of closure. No one wants to sit out and sift through all the details. Details make mediocre minds uncomfortable. One simple conclusion is enough – the Naxalites are bad and we must kill them, or the state and the police are working for corporate interests and it must be stopped. The media, of course, has the most blame for this. It plays by the nouns and it dies by them. People go off screaming bloody murder on the ‘naxalite sympathizer’ and does anyone have any idea what a ‘naxalite sympathizer’ is?
Semantically speaking, a majority of the so-called intelligentsia and general public are ‘tribal sympathizers’ and 90% of the Naxalites are tribals, fighting for their land, fighting for their homes, fighting for their families, and most have little to no option in securing another choice – it is a matter of geography – they live in areas where the state has never entered – places where they have grown up their whole lives, or have their land. As the women of Tatemargu would say: ‘if you want to live here, you need to bear a few beatings.’
And what sympathies do these people have for the Naxalites? Do they send Hallmark cards to the Politburo members for Chairman Mao’s birthday? They mostly, wish for the Naxalites to leave them alone. And pray not, all of the higher-up Naxalites, are evil gun-toting madmen. The late Anuradha Gandhi, Kobad Gandhi’s wife, is still spoken of affectionately by the adivasis of Kutroo block – one of the bastions for the Salwa Judum. The same people would still go about to insult other members of the Dalam or the ‘higher-ups’ whose atrocities they remain witnesses of. Yet she remains closer to their hearts.
This, of course brings us to a question for the Naxalites that I can also ask the Indian government: do you have a free press and a judicial system where you can be held accountable for the crimes you commit on the adivasis?
Now this also brings us to the other breed of the ‘Naxalite sympathizer’. The lawyers and the activists and the social workers who have bled their souls dry, trying to make this democracy, a democracy. After failure, after failure, after failure, they sit down and watch all their efforts go in vain. A failing judicial system, a failing administration and peaceful protests that accomplish nothing as the people who they represent lose faith in them and their courts, and their means. If the government fails these people, what other option do they have? What purpose do you serve by arresting the Chhatradhar Mahatos of the country? What purpose do you serve by brutally repressing peaceful resistance movements? By murdering soldiers/social activists such as Colonel Pratap Save and Gangaram Kalundia who were one of your own, who stood up for the poor, the oppressed?
‘Fine then, you don’t want to deal with us through the courts and peaceful protests, you can go deal with those fellas.’
Of course, a majority of the people who have those moments of weakness go back to sleep and wake up in the morning to continue in their absurd existences, their spirits unbroken, their throbbing hearts still yearning for the days where justice shall be something definable, something graspable. Of course, the world shall never change, we’d all keep fighting all our days, today, this government, tomorrow another. It’s the means to struggle that change, the ends remain the same – a distant dream.
Violent insurrection itself, is an absurd means. The only difference between the peaceful protest – the rock held in a fist and violent insurrection, is catharsis. Violence is catharsis. It is Fanon’s Wretched Earth. And if someone crosses over the line, they’re entering a world where the idea of justice will get far more convoluted, especially if you manage to keep your conscience. For the revolutionary with a conscience, the justification of murder can only be justified by the utopian dream. Yet what happens if there is no utopian dream? What happens to the justification of murder when the utopian dream gets more distant by the day, and all one is left with, is a compulsion to continue the violence, to continue the pursuit of the dream, justifying murder after murder after murder, for that is the only way out of the trap?
Today we have the Law, a bruised, battered abstract that is flouted and abused and left a toothless abstraction, and I see, some of them, chose the gun as a means for justice. Tomorrow, if they smash it all to bits, what shall I be doing? I shall still be documenting their crimes, I shall still be taking them to court. The struggle shall go on. Just the means shall change.
And right now, the guns need to be holstered, for they can be. You can fight your war with policy changes, with dialogue, by shifting back to a development-centric model that actually considers the grievances of the poor – a drought, a failing crop, encroaching corporations, land rights. To the poor, those are the ends – not the annihilation of the Maoists, nor the bringing down of the semi-bourgeoisie, semi-imperialist Government and all that yahoo.
The poor don’t want iron ore mines, nor do they want a market democracy. They want their land, they want their livelihoods, they want their environment. They want their handpumps and their roads. They want healthcare. And most importantly, they want their security and that can only be guaranteed by all warring parties yet someone has to take the initiative and declare unilateral ceasefire if the other does not.
War against your own people is an act of genocidal seppuku. Eventually, we shall reach a point where too many people shall be killed and there’d be no more turning back (if we haven’t reached that point already), and I shudder to know that there shall be a time, where the truth shall be, that violence is justified. And I know I am not just being a peacenik here.
During one of my visits to Bijapur in Chhattisgarh in January of this year, I met an experienced inspector who told me something very interesting. His superior, the Superintendent of Police had asked him what he’d need to deal with the Naxalites. He replied that even if he had ten battalions, he still wouldn’t have managed to do anything about the Naxalites. He was aware that there is no military solution to this insurgency and there never has been. The world is wrought with insurgencies today. And everywhere, where there is an insurgency, there’s a cruel repressive state machinery at place. This is the cause-effect-cause problem of our age. Terror breeds terror breeds terror. Action breeds reaction breeds reaction. Ad infinitum.
Unless there is dialogue. Unless there is restraint. Unless there can be an environment created that is capable of peace. This environment is impossible as the killings continue, and there are obviously two parties culpable. Rage and vengeance knows no dialogue, no words, no hopes – there’s an unfathomable darkness in that jungle that knows no politics, no human rights, no chairman Mao, no Chidambaram, no neo-liberalism: it knows nothing but sheer terror – death, the machine, hidden from the world, where people die and continue to die.
Of course, I met another policeman during that same period who told me something else, he said, ‘f— your human rights, and we can fix this whole problem.’
I think we know who among the two policemen, is having the last laugh now. Tomorrow, I shall f— my human rights and not call back. After all, who in this country is really being accountable for their actions?