It is easy to understand R.K. Vij’s article (‘Old new war’, IE, December 6) as a defensive attempt to keep high the morale of the CRPF. After all, while Maoist cadres are surrendering in larger numbers, there is also a high attrition rate among the CRPF. In 2013, India Today reported that 13,658 CRPF personnel left their jobs between 2009 and 2012, tired of their jungle postings, the malaria and the working conditions, among other things. While this may not be a large percentage of the force as a whole, and there are plenty more waiting to be recruited in these jobless times, it does indicate a weariness with this endless, pointless war. Spectacles of the corpses of jawans being loaded onto garbage trucks or blood spattered boots and uniforms lying in rubbish dumps can hardly induce much enthusiasm. If anyone is violating the “human rights” of the jawans, it is the government.
Vij tells us that a thousand jawans have died since Chhattisgarh was formed, and that many more must be prepared to die before victory shall surely be won. This sounds exactly like the Maoists telling their cadre to be prepared for sacrifice. Both sides describe their warriors as martyrs. The Maoists have more claim to this term, since their cadres are fighting only for a cause, and not for pay. Few jawans would be willing to fight if they did not need the job. This is not, of course, to minimise the tragedy of the death of jawans, but simply to point out that the media does itself and its audience no favours when it unthinkingly adopts the government’s terminology.
Calling the jawans martyrs and the Maoists terrorists simply advances the cause of war from the perspective of the state, rather than helping the cause of peace, which requires that the full cost of this war be brought before the readers. If the jawans come from dirt-poor families, so too do the Maoists they are killing and so too do the villagers, who never signed up for any war at all. This war is destroying an entire society. While a thousand jawans is a thousand too many, there have been even more casualties on the civilian side.
In the heyday of the Salwa Judum, between 2005-07, at least a thousand ordinary villagers were killed by the security forces, the special police officers (SPO) and Salwa Judum leaders, and countless more have been killed since. Vij notes that in 2005 the Maoists had only one military company; by 2010 they had 10. Where did all the recruits for these companies come from, if not from people whose homes had been burnt and relatives killed or raped? This is a fact that both the Intelligence Bureau and the Maoists themselves have acknowledged in the past. And yet, Vij coyly refers to the Judum as a revolt by the population of western Bastar against the Maoists.
The Chhattisgarh government had a golden opportunity to address the conflict through non-military means by simply following the Supreme Court’s orders on disbanding the SPOs, prosecuting those responsible for heinous crimes and giving compensation to all those affected by the Salwa Judum. But they chose not to do any of this. Instead, they regularised the SPOs, brought in more CRPF camps, and continued to beat up, torture and arrest villagers. They have converted the whole area into a garrison state. The outgoing CRPF director, Dilip Trivedi, was absolutely right when he said that Naxal-affected states have a vested interest in letting the war continue because of the massive funds they get from the Centre.
Each side claims that history is on their side, and while the government may have more reasons to back its claim, the Maoists can also point to the fact that guerilla struggles can last for a long time as in Colombia or Kashmir. While the government has more or less succeeded in hemming the Maoists into Chhattisgarh, a struggle whose basic causes are not addressed is never finished. If the Modi government succeeds in its decimation of environmental regulation and its mining cum industrialisation policy, Bastar as we know it will be finished. But there will also be a mass of displaced villagers angry at the acquisition of their land. And who knows where their anger will turn?
The government is unwilling to talk peace, because it feels it is winning overall. In the past, the police have refused talks on the grounds that it would give the Maoists time to regroup. The Maoists may be more ready for talks now, but to lay down their weapons unconditionally will be seen as unthinkable surrender. A sensible government would chose this moment to offer a ceasefire, since it is clearly the stronger partner. While the police may claim the Maoists’ ultimate aim is to claim Delhi, they know, and the Maoists know, this will never happen. The real issues are Adivasi rights, and they both know it. And it is these that must form the basis of dialogue.
In the absence of talks, this senseless civil war will continue indefinitely. After all, it will soon be 50 years since Naxalbari began. As Bob Dylan sang: How many deaths will it take till [we know] that too many people have died?
The writer is professor of sociology at Delhi University
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