Yes, Minister, My Sympathies

May 10, 2010

The parents of 19 year-old Channu Mandavi waiting for the police to release the body of their son. Channu Mandavi was shot dead in an encounter as an alleged Maoist in 2009.

This Op-ed appears in The New Indian Express on the 13th of May, 2010.

Sympathy • noun (pl. sympathies) 1 feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. 2 understanding between people; common feeling.3 support for or approval of something. 4 (in sympathy) relating harmoniously to something else; in keeping. 5 the state or fact of responding in a way corresponding to an action elsewhere.

— ORIGIN Greek sumpatheia, from sun- ‘with’ + pathos ‘feeling’.

Mahasweta Devi challenged Chidambaram to put her in jail for 10 years, in response to the centre’s newly found enthusiasm for using the UAPA to arrest so-called Maoists sympathizers. As of now, I truly sympathize with the home minister for being humiliated by a gutsy 84 year-old woman.

Yet sympathy is a thought-crime thanks to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and accordingly, ‘any person who commits the offence of supporting such a terrorist organization with inter alia intention to further the activities of such terrorist organizations would be liable to be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or with fine or with both.’

I like to place some emphasis on ‘intention to further the activities’ of the Maoists. Since we have brought public debate on Operation Green Hunt down to the ludicrous and the farcical, I’d like to ask one question: who has really furthered the activities of the Maoist any more than the exploitive economic policies of the state and their counter-insurgency tactics? I mean, what’s more useful to the Maoists, a Writ Petition filed by activists for the adivasis, or the state’s security apparatus that terrorizes the population on mere suspicion and suppresses dissent and civil society?

Maoist sympathizers, or supporters, according to the state, are simply anyone who stands up for the rights of the adivasi. Not long ago in the Supreme Court, an accusation was hurled at just-another-activist who was fighting for the rights of the adivasi, for being a Maoist supporter. The response by the judges was fitting. ‘Suppose somebody fights their (victims) case, so what does that imply? First you say they are Naxals, then you say they are sympathisers, then you say they are sympathisers of sympathisers… Why all these innuendos?’

‘Sympathy is fighting for their cause (victims). Nobody is advocating their cause. They are not saying their action should be condoned.’

And who is really advocating the Maoist cause? Anyone with even half a brain would know that even if the Maoists do capture state power, we’d merely be dealing with a whole bunch of clowns, who’d merely shoot the students at JNU, if there was even a single squeak of dissent.

And unfortunately I need to have yet another fashionable pot-shot at Mr. Chidambaram whose policies are single-handedly the greatest support for the Maoists to help ‘further their activities’. First, let’s start with the Salwa Judum, that was given unbridled freedom to do as it pleases – burn, rape, loot and murder in every place that was known to have a strong Maoist presence, and the Maoists had the last laugh – as recruitment was an all-time high. How much did the Salwa Judum help to ‘further the activities’ of the Maoists? Does the centre now know that the Salwa Judum had even burnt down villages that had no Maoist links? And killed people who had no grudge against the state?

That the same misguided counterinsurgency rationale is being used again with Operation Green Hunt, is indicative enough that the centre learnt nothing from the terrible experiment that was the Salwa Judum. COBRA battalions that are directly under the Union government have been singlehandedly responsible for a majority of adivasi deaths since September of last year.

Counterinsurgency isn’t really an exact science – it’s a methodology of killing, of keeping kill-ratios, of area domination. It’s really measured by ‘who is more effective to terrorize the local population’ – the insurgents or the state? And both the state and the Maoists are trapped in their own contradictions, they exist violently for the other is – the brutal killing of alleged informants by the Maoists as a deterrence, follows the same logic of the state that brutally cracks down on the local adivasi population that it considers ‘supporters’.

‘Agar woh Maovadi the ya nahi, woh unke supporter toh the.’ (whether they were Maoists or not, they were definitely their supporters)’, Said a forest official to me about the Singaram massacre of 2009, when 19 tribals were killed.

We know the home minister believes that the state has a philosophical right to violence, yet so does the right to fight back that is very easily propagated to the Adivasis of Dandakaranya. And the Maoist version of the truth, is truth to the adivasi who has no other option.

It’s almost impossible not to sympathize (emotionally) with everyone in such terrifying consequences.

‘Naxali hai bimari, hum hai dhulayi.’ Said an inspector to me at Kirandul, during a ‘casual chat’ outside the police station. We were all waiting for the police to release the body of a 19 year-old adivasi boy to his parents.

Adivasi women don’t weep – they cry in song, a rhythm of grief, and Channu’s mother ‘sung’ continuously for over two hours outside the police station. Fifteen feet beyond barbwire, an autopsy was being conducted on her son, in the open, shielded from the eyes of the passing world, by blue tarpaulin sheets. She sung across barbwire until two SPOs with masked faces yelled at her to get lost. That if she wants to cry for her son, she shouldn’t do it in front of the police station.

Meanwhile, the inspector would tell me his own version of ‘1084 ki Ma’. There was yet another encounter in Bastar and an old frail woman had come to the police station all the way from Andhra Pradesh to claim the body of her son.

After putting her son onto the bullock-cart, she stoically, turned towards the inspector and told him that this was her second son who was a Maoist, who was killed in an encounter.

The callous inspector had sympathized.



  1. very impressive indeed!! btw…why don’t you throw some light on that arms deal which was silently carried out by the retired police official,crpf jawan etc. for some maoist link…I would like to know more coz I think other people have not covered the issue well.

  2. What can be done? And where should we start? I’m not trying to corner you, I swear. I’m as passionate about freedom as anyone. I’m asking honestly for ideas, as there may be better ones than the silly, city-bug, movie induced ones I have.

    • there is no single answer for what you ask. but if i had to tell you something i an a few lines what i’ve learnt in all my time here, is that ‘struggle is freedom itself’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: