Biswajit Roy


Human rights groups are still silent even 48 hours after the Maoist attack on a passenger train at Jamui in Bihar that killed three persons—two passengers and a railway policeman— and injured six including the guard and driver of the train.


This deafening silence and failure to condemn the attack till now will be handy for the ruling establishment and its media supporters to make Maoists and civil society dissenters to governments’ policies indistinguishable in the public eye. Our moral integrity and political rights to denounce the State violence got compromised once again.


This ghastly attack will also give credence to the CPM and Trinamul governments’ charges that Maoists were responsible for the horrific Gyaneswari Express derailment that claimed 158 lives, despite the latter’s denial.


Some friends in HR circle advised ‘wait and watch’ in view of the ‘initial confusion over the identity of the attackers in Jamui’. But it does not hold good after Maoists have owned up to the ambush. According to Prabhat Khabar, Patna edition (14 June, 2013), the spokesman of Jharkhand- East Bihar zonal committee spokesperson Abinash accepted the responsibility of the attack on the same day. He called it a ‘Fouzi Karbai’ or ‘military action’ to snatch away weapons from the Railway Policemen who were traveling in the train.


Nevertheless, some of our friends felt it was an action by hot-headed local commanders. They hoped for a revised view from the higher leadership of the Maoists which they had issued after few such occasions earlier. But the absence of any such disclaimer or regret in media as well as in websites known as Maoist outlets marred that hope.


Passenger Train Can’t Be a Military Target


In no way could the Dhanbad- Patna Intercity Express be described as a legitimate military target in a war situation. There was no troop movement in the train except the presence of five to six armed RPF and RPSF jawans who were on duty to guard the passengers from train robbers and other miscreants. Though armed Maoist cadres reportedly succeeded in snatching three weapons from the railway force after a gun-battle, the attack on a passenger train can’t be justified on military ground. Even if the three lives were lost in the crossfire, Maoists can’t be absolved from the crime of murdering the three including two passengers, one of them was an off-duty policeman. Three weapons at the cost of three lives! What a great symmetry in the revolutionary means and the end!


The passengers’ versions in the media pointed to indiscriminate firing towards AC and non-AC coaches from outside while the outnumbered RPF/RPSF men retaliated from inside. How can an attack on a military target risk so many civilian lives?  There was no warning to the passengers from the Maoist side either to lie down or get off the train which had happened in earlier occasions.


In fact, the latest attack sets a dangerous precedent even by the Maoist version of war norms. Earlier, Maoist leadership used to apologize for attacks on passenger trains or buses and assured no repetition of such ‘mistakes’.


In one such incident, a public transport bus was ambushed in Chattisgarh. Some civilian passengers got killed along with the targeted members of Koya commandos who were also traveling by the same bus. Maoist leadership later sought public apology, though critics attributed it to Maoist fears of adverse impact of public wrath on their core support base. Similar regret was expressed during an earlier attack on a passenger train, probably in Andhra. In those days, even the security mandarins credited the guerrillas for caring for civilian lives.


But such military restraints, based on ideological-political compunctions have been missing since last few years. The ferocity of the war between government forces and Maoists has given an alarming rise to barbarity on both sides in recent months in complete disregard to war norms codified by Geneva Convention and our indigenous martial tradition. The moral compass of military actions is now being guided more by the mad desire to outsmart the enemy in terror tactics or killing spree. This cycle of competitive violence left no room for concerns for civilian or POW lives. The infamous Bush-era cynical justification for collateral damage is being catered both by the ruling high priests of democracy and equally high-horsed revolutionaries. Both sides are mirroring each other more and more.


The use of tribal villagers as human shields by the government forces and booby-trapping of slain jawans’ bodies by Maoists in Jharkhand’s Latehar few months back led to the loss of five innocent lives including a teenager. The bizarre justification of their respective actions by the state police and Maoists made it clear that similar fate awaits civilians and dead in uniforms.  The civilian fatalities is Bihar-Jharkhand region since 2010 included death of eight persons, including five children, were killed and 11 others injured when a bomb, allegedly planted by Maoists exploded in Pachokhar village in Aurangabad District. In another incident, at least 12 villagers, including three women and one child, were killed when nearly 150 heavily-armed CPI-Maoist cadres attacked Phulwariya village in Jamui District. It was initially justified as a retaliatory killing but later regretted.


On the other hand, the ‘god-fearing and patriotic’ government forces and their bosses who swear by rule of law conveniently forgot all democratic niceties and war norms umpteen times.  Ten mid-level Maoist leaders were gunned down in a joint action of the CRPF and anti-Maoist TPC in Chatra few months earlier, reportedly by using some locals as human shields. Maoists said that seven of their leaders were mowed down in cold blood after their capture. HR fact-findings in Gaya-Palamu region prior to this killing pointed to the increasing number of civilian victims in the spiraling violence between the Maoists Vs TPC and other government-supported armed gangs in Jharkhand.


As a member of the team, I found that scores were settled over petty village feuds by the supporters of both sides who belong to same class and sometimes, to the same castes also. The cycle of violence that include mutual destruction of houses, standing crops, killings and torture is justified by perpetrators or their apologists as ‘retaliation and resistance’ to the ‘enemy aggression’. But the truth remains that there is hardly any politics and ideology involved in these violence. The vengeful herd mentality and ruthless turf war as we have witnessed in Bengal between CPM and Trinamul rule the roost.


It’s also a repetition of what had happened in Chattisgarh during the vigilante Salwa Judum campaign and Maoist retaliation as well as thereafter. Twenty-five tribal villagers including women and children were killed by CRPF in most two horrifying incidents in between last and this May in Chattisgarh in the name of exterminating Maoists. In a matching action that offered short-term military mileage for Maoists, a PLGA ambush killed three major Congress leaders including the leader of Salwa Judum, Mahendra Karma, in May.


But this ambush claimed also another 25-27 lives. Most of these victims are ordinary congress workers, car drivers and policemen. Maoists regretted the loss of ordinary lives but that hardly offset the losses of the bereaved families. But it is evident from the Maoist releases that the regrets and sympathies were politically correct public relations gestures. More genuine is the gloat and glee over the killing of three high-profile ruling party leaders and the effects of the aftershock on the security mandarins who had been claiming almost near-total decimation of the rebels. Maoists have reasons to rejoice in their ability to bounce back after series of losses.


But the government has already decided to hit back with a more lethal and orchestrated crackdown to retaliate the ‘attack on democracy’. It’s only the matter of time when we would hear about another round of carnage in which civilians would die either in crossfire or in deliberate slaughter.


The Division in the HR Movement


The human rights groups are bitterly divided on their responses. While the Chattisgarh unit of the PUCL has condemned the Maoist ambush in Darva, the PUDR has only taken ‘note(s) with concern the sad loss of 30 lives’ while mildly criticizing ‘the killing of two people who were taken into custody in this instance as an act that cannot be justified and against the rules of war.’


The last observation apparently referred to custody killing of Chattisgarh Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and his son. Though Karma was reportedly unarmed and surrendered to the PLGA after the ambush, the numerous knife and bullet wounds inflicted in his body and its reported desecration did not evoke any condemnation from the PUDR. His crimes apparently weighed down the concerns for violation of war norms that prohibits killing of POWs. Other HR groups largely stood in between.


While it is understood that Karma’s killing was bound to be a divisive issue, the loss of so many ‘ordinary lives’ in the ambush did not trigger the same censure from the HR circle which had earlier deplored the ‘bestial acts’ of both sides after the Latehar carnage. Same is the difference between their reaction to ‘reckless killings of Jamui kind’ that reminded Maoist attacks on civilians there and the latest attack on a passenger train.


Militarization of HR Creed


Perhaps, they find the military logic of Maoist actions acceptable in the wake of increasing militarization of government’s moves. But it would be travesty of the ideals and creeds of international and national human rights movement, if we see the ongoing bloodbath through the prisms of the combatants of the either camp or weigh the morality and legality of their actions with the standards of war norms only. This amounts to be the militarization of human rights movements and its standards which inevitably leads to condoning the war excesses under emergency situations by the warring sides.


Such trap, though it may sound patriotic, nationalist or revolutionary, would ring the death-knell of independent HR movement and its moral strength. A movement that stands for humanity, values human lives and strives to fight for basic rights of millions of lesser mortals amid the madness of war will lose its wider social-political legitimacy and public appreciation if we continue to speak with forked tongue.  The cry over the ‘absurdity of the war’ that ends with blaming government alone will not help the HR movement and larger civil society to create public opinion against the government’s mining, land and forest policies. Instead, it offers the alibi for crushing other grassroots movements against such policies and actions.


This criticism is not aimed at denying the legitimacy of popular armed resistance against oppressive governments which has been upheld by bourgeois liberals as well as revolutionary philosophers since American and French Revolutions down to post WW-II UN conventions etc. But history neither teaches us to equate mass uprising and vanguardist violence, nor does it allow us to remain silent when the liberator’s violence is turned on the liberated or people suffer indefinitely during the conflict between the State and revolutionaries. Our contemporary world is replete with the examples of damages done by non-state violence to the peoples’ cause. While the global terrorist groups with no qualms about mass murders are the main perpetrators of such violence, many local ethnocentric, religious, ultranationalist insurgents follow their suit. The difference between them and the militaristic left-wing revolutionaries have become blurred time and again.


Who Demands Our Attention First?


If the HR movement primary commitment is to the tribal communities in the mineral-rich areas which the government-corporate nexus are plundering, time has come to call for new paradigms that will give priority to the affected people’s plight and their demands in stead of focusing on claims and counter-claims over the agency to represent the indigenous communities.


But irony lies in the fact that any independent effort to ascertain the people’s perception at the contested land meets with hostile opposition from Maoists and their civil society sympathizers. Invariably initiators of any such efforts will be labeled as votaries of ‘sandwich theory’.  I met similar resistance in Jharkhand as I had tried to know the affected people’s versions about state and Maoist violence and sequence of encounters that led to killings of civilians and combatants.


Some activists were more than eager to suppress the accounts of Maoist attacks that had triggered CRPF retaliation leading to civilian deaths or crossfire deaths. They blamed security forces for all crossfire casualties and discouraged a doubting Thomas like me to gauge the social impact of Maoist destructions of school buildings after the government had turned them into CRPF camps. Once again, these destructions were justified as legitimate military targets irrespective of its social impact.


In the meantime, “Peace’ has become a dirty word for some leading human rights activists and their fellow-travelers who feel close to the Maoist path. Most of them are hostile and dismissive to those who condemn both the state and non-state violence from Kashmir to North-east, Chattisgarh to West Bengal, particularly which leads to civilian casualties.  Some of them were so hostile to peace initiatives by a section of the civil society that they ‘pissed in the peace’ after the killings of Maoist top guns, Azad and Kishenji by the government.


While the rage over government’s dirty tricks and failures of central and state-level talks is justified, throwing out the baby with the bathwater hardly gels with the creed of the HR movement and its larger social-political imperatives. Maoist leadership had gone for talks despite failures by responding to the democratic public opinion as Varvara Rao put it after botched up Bengal talks. But the naysayers seemed to be more radical than the Maoists themselves.


A recent proposal for a peace and justice mission by a veteran Gandhian from Andhra’s Khammam who runs ashrams at Chattisgarh-Andhra-Orissa border received the same skepticism and hostility. His proposals included formation of a volunteer peace corps at the violence-hit areas and ground-level interactions with affected tribals as well as Maoists and administration. It’s true that the government’s refusal to make room even for its non-violent critics has been exposed following the eviction of Himanshu Kumar, the demolition of his ashram, the  attacks on peace march by BD Sharma, Swami Agnivesh and arrests of people like Binayak Sen and Soni Sori, et al. But that only underlines the dangers that the non-Maoists too suffer in their efforts for peace and dialogue. So the ridicule that the pro-Maoist activists hurl at the ‘peaceniks’ reflect their myopia, sectarianism and intolerance which is ultimately self-defeating.


(Frontline Weekly, June 15, 2013)

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