ByÂ Arunabh Saikia:
Siliguri-Katihar line with stops (which are mostly obscure and hardly heard of small towns and even smaller villages) was one of the last surviving metre gauge lines in mainland India, with conversion work having completed only this year. Three stations off is Siliguri, another such non-descript dusty stop — at least on the face of it. But then this village on the Terai region at the base of the Himalayas has many stories hidden in the dust of its pastoral humdrumness – all eerie ones though. It is here where the first spark of a fire that was to engulf the whole region and, much beyond, over the next four decades was lit. The village is a part of urban folklore today for the most massive anti-establishment movement of Independent India takes its name from it. Naxalbari has moved on since that exceptionally hot summer of 1967 but the heat can still be very much felt in parts of neighbouring Jharkhand, the state I’ve been living in for the past two and a half years now.
More than 6000 deaths in just the last twenty years and loss of human spirit not estimable in cold numbers in the most unambiguous fashion, suggest that something is seriously wrong with the bubble of democracy and equality in which we as a country have become so smugly comfortable in over the years. I have very consciously decided not to include too many figures, for in the absoluteness of them, a lot that is not tamable in them goes unnoticed and because the problem is more profound- way beyond what rigid statistical figures can ever reveal. They blow up Panchayats offices and schools; the forces rape the women. Police vehicles are blown up by their land mines; their leaders are killed in encounters. Surely, this is not what the largest democracy in the world should breed, or putting it more politically correctly, let be bred.
I’m reminded of a conversation with a paramilitary personal on a train a few months back. Both of us did not have tickets and needed some sleep. I had to go attend classes the next morning; he had to fight a war. Finally, both of us talked the night away. He said he knew the people he was actually fighting weren’t his real enemy; the problem was the people who didn’t want the fighting to ever end. And unfortunately, they are the ones who matter. Every order of arms count, every kill is a step towards political advantage. I know he is honest, for people who’ve seen death from as close as he has, usually are. His best friend, he said rather dispassionately, was shot in the head the previous week. They say you’ve got to put emotions on the back burner when you’re a soldier, but a soldier, as he morosely maintained throughout, fights for his countrymen and not against them according to the whims and fancies of some Neta. The bloodshot eyes get even bloodier with rage. The sleep, I realize, has long left the premises.
No one is right. Not them, not the forces, not our leaders. Not, the least, us. We’ve failed as a democracy, as a nation and most importantly as humans, and we are answerable to kids whose schools are used as base camps for paramilitary forces, kids who are handed guns even before they can hold a pen properly. In fact, there are so many layers to this tale of tragedy and trauma that each one peeled leads way to another layer we are so not ready for. What essentially began as a farmers’ emancipation movement has somewhere, amidst the merciless violence and hypocritical diplomacy, spiraled into a morbid malaise whose cure seems dauntingly tough. The class battles will not be over so soon, Mao Zedong’s war sermons will not whimper off so easily but an effort has to be made to heal the wounds and soothe nerves- an effort that does not reek of aluminum and mica interests.
Jharkhand is a state of sad paradoxes. It accounts for more almost ninety percent of the country’s mica and cooking coal deposits but remains one of the most economically backward regions of the country. The crippling malady of Naxalism coupled with a notoriously corrupt political class has plagued progress in a way that even hurts a blasÃ© outsider like me. BlasÃ©, I call myself, for in those initial days of college I had honestly hated the place but then like all things that start to grow on you slowly and sweetly, Jharkhand is an indispensible part of me now. It’s my second home, it’s the place I’ve spent some of the most important years of life and have made bonds that will last a lifetime. For Jharkhand’s sake, I know, the bloodshed has to end. And we have to show the way; the pain has to be relieved, the anger has to be pacified and the void has to be filled. We’ve all made our share of mistakes, but we can still make up for them. Grass-root connections will reinstall the belief in our country once again and I’m sure the effort is worth it. Guns and grenades will hurt us all for an eye for an eye still makes the world blind.