The Labs of Boston, Woolwich and Chhattisgarh
“As we heard the instant matters before us, we could not but help be reminded of the novella, “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, who perceived darkness at three levels: the darkness of the forest, representing a struggle for life and the sublime; (ii) the darkness of colonial expansion for resources; and finally (iii) the darkness, represented by inhumanity and evil, to which individual human beings are capable of descending, when supreme and unaccounted force is vested, rationalized by a warped world view that parades itself as pragmatic and inevitable, in each individual level of command…Joseph Conrad describes the grisly, and the macabre states of mind and justifications advanced by men, who secure and wield force without reason, sans humanity, and any sense of balance. The main perpetrator in the novella, Kurtz, breathes his last with the words: ‘The horror! The horror!’”
Blood. Death. Hate spreads. I do not know where sympathy should begin and for whom, anymore. We know the bad guys, with cleavers and rudimentary weapons, talking, walking with ruthless strides, dancing near corpses. That they do not look squishy clean like our sanitised toilet bowl gives us the power to screw up our noses.
We have seen the horror in the last few weeks, the latest being on May 25 in the tribal belt of India. Why is the quote at the beginning important? It comes from an unlikely source. In its report on the anti-Naxalite organisation, the Supreme Court of India pulled up the government and got the Salwa Judum banned.
The FBI spies on Americans. India sets up a counter-insurgency group against its citizens. They might call it ‘necessary evil’ but if after decades the problems persist, then it may be implied that the solutions infect the problem, hoping the virus spreads and falls dead. That is not how it works; it never has.
At 5.30 pm on Saturday at Darbha Ghati in the tribal area of Bastar in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh, a state carved out of Madhya Pradesh in central India, Naxalites rained gunfire at a convoy that was on its way to bring about change through its ‘Parivartan Yatra’ before the assembly elections. Over 25 people were shot dead by 200; many were injured. The figures change, but that is not the point.
The point is that this time it was not about innocent civilians. Political leaders of the Congress Party and, more importantly, Mahendra Karma, who started the Salwa Judum were the targets. Although the Supreme Court disbanded it in 2011, the very idea that the government backed a terrorist outfit to deal with insurgency and got away with it reveals a conscientious and devious manoeuvre to obstruct not only the execution but the very concept of justice.
News channels and papers kept talking about how Karma was tortured. It was indeed brutal, as though the group was performing a ritual sacrifice through this purging. However, in 2010 the same government sent out photographs of a female Maoist’s body carried tied to a pole like an animal. What was the reason for it? I had written then that this does not send out a message to the Naxals, who are ready to die for their cause. And it does not send out any message to civil society. The last thing people need to believe they are safe from terrorism is to see armed soldiers enacting a theatre of the absurd.
Using a word like terrorism loosely is only giving more teeth to the establishment to pursue innocents, who might turn out to be what they are stereotyped to be. What puts the three incidents in diverse countries on par is that ‘national pride’ was aimed at.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother Dzhokhar once wanted to represent the United States, until something changed. They then planned to strike on July 4. The pressure cooker bombs were ready. They did a recce of police stations, looking for officers as possible targets. They could not wait, so on April 15 they struck at the symbol of hope and aspiration, of breasting the tape. The Boston Marathon stood for all that is good – adrenalin throbbing in the muscles of different-coloured bodies, flags fluttering in the background to convey varied ethnicities. This was the mass congregation version of the American Sweetheart.
The U.S. was afraid to bury the dead Tamerlan because it feared the site would become a cult memorial. Something has got to be wrong if this were to happen. But then, has not the superpower’s Department of Defense called all protest “low-level terrorism”? This is how it went about it: “The FBI deemed OWS (Occupy Wall Street) to be a terrorist organization and went into ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mode. Many of the FBI descriptions of possible OWS actions or those of affiliated organizations like Adbusters consistently look to have taken the most inflammatory snippets and presented them out of context.”
In Woolwich, Michael Adebolajo – a ten-year ‘Islamist’ (he converted in 2003) – was sought by M15, even offered cash. Just the sort of guy in whose mouth you can stuff some food so that he does not rant against the system and assists it. He, along with his accomplice Michael Adebowale, hit at the concept of security in the form of a young soldier, Lee Rigby. British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “they are trying to divide us”. Hugely ironic, considering it comes from the masters of divide-and-rule policy. Much has been written about the brave white woman who tried to reason with the killer. Perhaps, this is what Cameron meant by ‘they’ and ‘us’.
He has set up the Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation Task Force (TERFOR) “to stop extremist clerics using schools, colleges, prisons and mosques to spread their ‘poison’…It will also urge Muslim ‘whistleblowers’ to report clerics who act as terrorist apologists to the police”. This sort of vigilantism makes everyone a suspect.
The Guardian quoted former British soldier Joe Glenton, who served in the war in Afghanistan:
“While nothing can justify the savage killing in Woolwich yesterday of a man since confirmed to have been a serving British soldier, it should not be hard to explain why the murder happened… It should by now be self-evident that by attacking Muslims overseas, you will occasionally spawn twisted and, as we saw yesterday, even murderous hatred at home. We need to recognise that, given the continued role our government has chosen to play in the US imperial project in the Middle East, we are lucky that these attacks are so few and far between.”
How lucky, indeed. And this is heralded as a liberal point of view, whereas it is just more shit hitting the fan. It adds to the pan-Islamic prototype, of every darned Muslim being concerned about every country with a population that follows the faith and could get murderous in adopted lands.
Strangely, nationalistic fervour is a mirror image of the Ummah it so detests. In Chhattisgarh, the government is treating the Naxals as “kufr”, non-believers of poodle democracy.
The reason the subject has become an even more important issue is because it highlights how the government uses subversive tactics through insidious means. In the major attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) that killed 76 soldiers, the reportage and political drama hinged on ‘embarrassment’ and ‘blot’. It was the image factory at work. No emotions for the dead or the very reasons behind such insurgency,
When the then home minister P. Chidambaram said, “I accept full responsibility for what happened’’, was he willing to accept that the forces were outnumbered and they did not have adequate equipment? There is also the inconvenient question: Was it a license for the air attacks by shrugging with helplessness about ground failure?
It is no wonder that our flaky patriots are missing him. The rightwing BJP whose government is in power in Chhattisgarh had also supported him then. One would imagine that this is real democracy where all parties want to fight a group of insurgents. The reason is a bit more complex. Late last year, a suspected Naxalite Arun Ferreira revealed that the funding of Naxal activities in Mumbai was done by the Shiv Sena and the BJP student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
The Shiv Sena said that a drugged person would say anything, dismissing the narco tests. However, a June 20, 2006 report mentioned how worried its chief, the late Bal Thackeray, was about Muslims increasing their numbers in the Lok Sabha; his heartfelt appeal to Hindus was to “foil the attempt…We will even take help of Naxalites”. He even suggested that the government should hold talks with Naxals to resolve their grievances. “If they can hold negotiations with Muslim terrorists, why can’t they do the same with Naxals?”
In an escapist move, the former chief of CRPF K Vijay Kumar had given his 70,000 troops another dark auditorium moment to deal with the Naxalites: “Your adversary is far too inferior than you – in training, in equipment, in physical strength, in tactics, in weaponry, in number, in food he takes. He cannot give you a face to fight. He believes in hiding, hitting and running. This is his strength. Let us also modify our tactics – be like hunters, hide in his area and hit him hard. Learn to be a junglee.”
If this was supposed to be a morale booster, then there is nothing new. Guerilla tactics are employed by security forces; they use camouflage. When the political machinery is inept, then the forces reflect it. The police have complained about inadequate supplies and support. The strategy of isolating the civilian population from the insurgents is a smokescreen because many among the civilian population are the insurgents or are used by the government. Official documents with the helpful mainstream media talk about the Red Corridor, the Maoist hub, as being out of bounds. How did the government use young tribals as Special Police Officers, then?
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said: “[Maoists] have no faith whatsoever in our political system, in democracy, in electoral politics and constitutional values and all the talk of tribal welfare for them is a sham, is an excuse, and an alibi for perpetrating the violent overthrow of a democratic system.” The Naxals are a political force. They do not need to contest elections because they do not want electoral power, well-aware that these powers are misused. The Salwa Judum co-opted some of their own people to fight them. Didn’t these politicians consider the organisation a quasi political party?
The minister also made the shocking comment, “What happened yesterday was a holocaust.” One never hears such exaggerated descriptions when not only Naxals, but civilians are killed. Politicians might like to revisit the SC report again:
“It should be recognized that there are different kinds of movements, and that calling and treating them generally as unrest, a disruption of law and order, is little more than a rationale for suppressing them by force. It is necessary to the tensions in terms of social, economic and political background and bring back on the agenda the issues of the people – the right to livelihood, the right to life and a dignified and honourable existence. The State itself should feel committed to the democratic and human rights and humane objectives that are inscribed in the Preamble, the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of the Constitution.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls the Maoists “India’s biggest internal security threat”. This is smart, as is the fact that there is no emphasis on China or Pakistan, both generally accused of having a stake in India’s rebel causes. This is not altruism; it is simply calculative. The Geneva Convention cannot interfere in what is our business. Also, the National Human Rights Commission has its hands tied up because it has to depend on government reports to probe into atrocities by security forces.
Therefore, doubt should be factored in when accepting just about any activist involvement. There is always a rash of outsiders seeking the glory of sedition. We have short memories. Chhattisgarh is the place where Dr. Binayak Sen worked among the tribals, ministering to their health. Quoting from my earlier piece here, he was arrested on May 14, 2007 for conspiracy, for war against the state and treason, and for being a member of a banned organisation – the CPI (M). A 1000-page chargesheet deemed him to be anti-national and slapped sedition charges against him for possession of Naxalite literature.” He was sentenced to life imprisonment based on skeletal evidence.
Today, he is with the Planning Commission. This was the government’s soft option when compared with operating an illegitimate violent ‘army’. Nihilism seems to be the prerogative of rulers everywhere.
“Drop him out a window, and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage.” (Joseph Heller, Catch-22)
Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer. She can be reached at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.in/