He had once been shot by Maoists in Balrampur in Chhattisgarh’s Sarguja district, bordering Jharkhand. He was later transferred to the Maoist-infested belt of Kanker district where he was caught in a Naxalite ambush in the state’s tribal Bastar region. Both times, he survived.
So, on the July 12th last year when he heard Naxals had killed two policemen in the remote forest area of Madanwada in Rajnandgaon, the officer reacted as he had always been known to do. He personally led his men into battle. The sources said the Maoists, who had taken up position on both sides along a one-and-a-half-kilometre stretch, exploded landmines before opening fire. It was to be the last of SP V K Choubey’s many fearless campaigns.
I didn’t know SP V K Choubey.
But, on the 13th of July I came across news in college, news that disturbed my conscience, news that got me furious with those rebels. That afternoon I heard that Swamil’s father had died last night fighting the Maoists.
I knew Swamil Choubey and suddenly, I knew SP V K Choubey.
To start with let me enlighten those of you unaware of the term “Maoism”. Maoism can be defined as a revolutionary struggle against the exploiting classes and their state structures. They offer heavy emphasis on political transformation through the mass involvement of the people from the lower sections of our society.
Analyzing them in greater detail, the Maoists’ are a community whose support in India comes mainly from the aboriginal tribal groups, those who see themselves suffering at the hands of the rich and are displaced by industrialization. The displacement of their homes for the construction of steel mills and power stations in the mineral-rich states of our country and the fact that there are no economic benefits that trickle down to these affected villagers have angered these tribal groups and led them in support of the Maoists. In 2008, a government-sponsored committee found that the majority of these Maoists are tribals and dalits–the people once called “untouchables”, at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. They together make up almost a quarter of our country’s population.
Once know as Robin Hood figures, these Maoists claim to represent the out casted and the dispossessed of our society, especially the tribal groups who suffer some of the country’s highest rates of poverty, illiteracy and infant mortality. Unlike most communist parties, the Maoists have taken a stand to organize with landless farmers and tribal people located in the economically marginalized areas a people’s war with the objective of redistributing land back to the people through force against the ruling government.
The Maoist movement first coalesced after a violent 1967 uprising by local Communists over a land dispute in a West Bengal village known as Naxalbari, since then they have been labeled as the Naxalites. What began as a small disparity of groups has today turned into a formidable uprising.
Today, India’s Maoist rebels are present over 22 states and have evolved into a potent and lethal insurgency. In the last four years, the Maoists have killed more than 900 Indian security officers as compared to the 1,100 members of the coalition forces who were killed in Afghanistan during the same period. Their violent acts and heinous crimes continue on a day to day basis. The Maoists dominate thousands of square miles of territory over the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, part of a so-called Red Corridor stretching across central and eastern India.
On being an Indian citizen one might be justified to question the actions taken by our government to avert this uprising. After years of neglect, our government has begun a confrontation with the rebels.
“Operation Green Hunt” is to send paramilitary troops to Maoist-affected states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, augmenting the forces already there. In all, as many as 100,000 troops may be involved to restore peace for the people who lead everyday life amidst gunshot battles and gruesome murders and to flush out the estimated 12,000 fighters in the area.
The government has also begun advertisement campaigns that exhibit the violent nature of the Maoists. The objective of these advertisements is to rally public opinion against the rebels. “Naxals are nothing but cold-blooded murderers” screams a half-page advertisement in Chhattisgarh’s newspapers. The advertisement displayed seven pictures of gruesome murders in Chhattisgarh during 2006-09 under a bold headline which said “look at these innocent people – victims of Naxal violence”. The ads are part of the government’s strategy in its battle against naxalism. This is the first time that the home ministry has come out with such an advertisement against Maoists.
But, let’s analyze the situation from the point of view of the people from the oppressed communities in these Maoist dominated regions; do they have a reason to join the rebels?
Booker Prize-winning novelist Arundathi Roy recently voiced out her thoughts on the Maoists and their actions in an interview to CNN IBN. She quoted “If I was a person who is being dispossessed, whose wife has been raped, who is being pushed of their land and who is being faced with this ‘police force’, I would say that I am justified in taking up arms.
We should stop thinking about who is justified. You have an army of very poor people being faced down by an army of rich that are corporate-backed. I am sorry but it is like that. So you can’t extract morality from the heinous act of violence that each commits against the other“
Her theory does to an extent voice out the thought of many in our country who believe that these Maoists have resorted to violence as their last means.
There is more reason to justify that statement.
Fearing the Maoist forces, the state and rich landowners have mobilized private armies and Para-military groups to fight the Naxalites and terrorize their base of support among the people. One of these groups the Ranvir Sena, rule in Bihar and Jharkhand. They have been known to murder and terrorize tribal people, dalits and landless farmers. Another of these anti-Naxalite groups is the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, a vigilante group built to hunt down and kill rebels.
So with such groups terrorizing the tribal people and with the Indian government deploying more and more soldiers to battle in these districts, the question of whether if we are actually giving them any choice other than to retaliate does seem to enter one’s head.
But the whole issue of whether the actions of the Maoists are justified is a wholly different debate.
Even upon carefully weighing the dreadful actions of the Maoists to the highly discriminated class of society that prevails in our society whom they protect, one can’t judge if their actions are justified.
But one thing that we can conclude on is that compared to both the government and the Maoist forces, the people who actually endure more pain and suffering in this wretched battle are the villagers who lie unaware of the side that protects them.
I once saw this interview on television where the locals in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district were interviewed and were questioned on their experiences with the Maoists and the Salwa Judum.
This one particular person, a tall dark complexioned man somewhere in his early twenties, came up to the camera and said a few words. His words I strongly believe summarize the states of affairs over this entire issue. No better a conclusion on the question of “whose actions are justified” can ever be agreed upon. That man said and I quote
“Earlier, we used to fear the tigers and wild boars. Now we fear the guns of the Naxalites and the police. Life is very difficult. The Naxalites think we are helping the police. The police think we are helping the Naxalites. Nowadays, we are living in fear over who will kill us first.”
The writer is a Raipur based correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.