Waging War (is Peace) Against The State

March 5, 2010

A hunger for justice: On the 13th of April, 2009, the villagers of Hiroli marched, in unison, to the police station to demand the body of a 19 year-old boy who was shot dead in an encounter. These 'marches' are common occurances and take place everytime the adivasis have to protest, or undo an injustice done to them.

This Op-ed was published in The New Indian Express on the 5th of March, 2010.

I like to imagine that when the Home Minister Chidambaram called Maoist Kishenji over his offer for a ceasefire, he was confronted with an outrageous caller tune. I’d like to use my imagination and hope the two of them started to exchange smileys via SMS as well.

‘Sorry about waging war against the state. It’s not personal. :P’

‘Just abjure violence in writing. :)’

That’s probably the closest any of us will ever get to an environment of peace with two warring parties who it seems, have neither the intention nor the humility to put the interests of the other before their own – for both claim to be committed to the highest ideal – the will of the people.

The idea of a just peace may be Utopian as well as any hope that the adivasis and the poorest of the poor have a say in their own fate. Yet if one were to dream, one could believe that this longed-for bilateral ceasefire is followed up with massive land reform, the protection of the forest rights – the reparation of the adivasis to their jal, jungle and jameen. Yet if it were the people who win, the biggest losers would be none other than the MNCs and India’s industrial growth model. And Vedanta’s lawyer PC Chidambaram is not going to accept that the simple demands of the Dongria Kondh (who are in no way linked to the Maoists) for a mountain are key to the idea of a just peace.

Kishenji’s 72 day call for an unconditional ceasefire is proof that the Maoists are a political force. Only a politician could make such a perfectly calculated move. He is aware he can’t hold a gun to the head of a MNC or a SEZ as easy as the head of a corrupt landlord or exploitive contractor. And he is aware, he is in no position to undo the evil effects of displacement or the brutal repression unleashed onto the adivasis by the state. Yet he can try to capture the imagination of the people, as he obviously has done so creatively.

And why would a legally-endorsed (no matter how corrupt or criminal) government give the poor their rights on the behest of an armed revolutionary group? Would the state allow the Maoists such a political victory?

One should forgot any idea of peace whether it is the state’s trigger-happy belligerent police solution to everything that has almost no care for the number of police personnel it is exposing to the terrifying arbitrariness of guerilla warfare, or the Maoist’s desire to abjure violence when a majority of its terror activities over the last four decades involved the acquisition of arms (a kind of hatyaar-kabbaddi, when the Maoists, come over-ground, steal weapons and cross the line to disappear back into the jungles before the security forces can nab them.)

Yet what both parties can do, is to help create an environment for democratic space. And a bilateral ceasefire is obviously the first step, but when the state is arresting the Mahatos, and calling everyone who stands up for the rights of the poor as a ‘Naxalite’ or a ‘Naxalite sympathizer, it is obviously missing the point. The Maoists too need to stop targeting cadre of different political parties, or alleged informants, or using IEDs and landmines to blow up off-duty police personnel as a matter of cruel sport.

Yet the emphasis is really on the state to cease combing operations that are not just isolated acts of random violence. I have spent months around the Andhra-Chhattisgarh border, collecting testimonies from villagers of the so-called ‘liberated zones’ whose villages have been attacked by the security forces. And there is a definite pattern.

‘The police came, we ran, and those who couldn’t escape were either caught and taken away or they were killed.’ – they would tell me, again and again in different words.

This is a known counterinsurgency tactic. The idea isn’t to merely kill known-Maoists and Maoist sympathizers but to terrorize and brutalize the society and the people, from where they come from. For that reason, you need to break the will of the people and their desire to fight and resist. For that reason, you sever them from their support bases – their community leaders, their press, their judiciary, their activists and every idea of hope. You don’t govern them, you don’t administer them. You entirely alienate them. You administer collective punishment and you turn murder into a part of everyday life.

Human rights activists and independent observers would be screaming themselves hoarse about the creation of more Maoists and more violence, from the whole hate-breeds-hate, violence-begets-violence, logic. But they have to accept that a machine-gunned silence over a population who has accepted injustice, along with learned helplessness, is the very goal of counterinsurgency.

Why would the poor fight for their rights if they would lose all hope in them?

Peace for the adivasi can’t exist without justice. If every Politburo member is killed in an encounter tomorrow, and every dalam has been disarmed, there’s no guarantee that deep-rooted injustice, held together by structural violence, wouldn’t help lead to bloodier, more violent revolutions. There have been adivasi uprisings for centuries long before there were any Maoists. Countless more contemporary uprisings are written off as influenced by the Maoists so the state can deal with it militarily – with callous, brutal repression, without any need to address the real causes of unrest.

And these issues need to be addressed. Not just by activists, politicians and Maoists, but by the people of the country. As long as there is a violent apathy in the hearts of the citizens of India, manufactured by an immature media, one shouldn’t even care about peace. When the concerns of the adivasi in the jungle, or the Iron in Irom Sharmila’s soul, isn’t the concern of every Indian, then one should just forget about any idea of a nation. As the saying goes, it is not how deep you feel, but how wide.



  1. I met some CRPF guys from punjab in train who were joining Pakhanjore camp….I just enquired why all the school buildings have been occupied by the forces…

    since they were young guys they told me laughingly that they are the one who live like as if they are in Jail..they are not allowed to go out of the camp alone to even make a phone call…mobiles are down for days altogether…and ultimately when they go out on patrol they are like hungry animals..looking at innocent tribal as their enemies …no wonder so many fake encounters happen in Bastar..prabhat

  2. i think that’s a terrible generalization. Although i’d agree with you on the fear psychosis.

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