Archive for the ‘Conflict’ Category

The Story that was not!

3 July 2010
These heartrending pictures of grief over loss of near & dear ones to violence would move the most inured hearts. The woman on the left is Kovasi Dhoole, and on the right is Madkam Hidme; both lost their husbands to the State violence unleashed in the jungles of Dandakaranya. Dhoole was feeding her youngest daughter in her hut while Hidme was busy winnowing grains outside her home; when the joint search party of Chhattisgarh Police & CRPF arrived in their village on the morning of 29th June 2010 during a search & comb operation, rounded up the villagers from the surrounding fields, and shot dead 4 people on suspicion of being Maoists. The husbands of these two women were among the dead. Correspondents, who reached the remote & inaccessible village after an arduous journey by bus, motorcycle and finally on foot, brought out this story of blatant violations of human rights taking place away from all the din of our metropolises. They worked against great odds and by taking huge risks in face of the blockade imposed by the central & state government on access to these areas.
But do the women in the picture above look like Adivasis? I don’t know if there is a template for Adivasi-looks, but the pictures above are not of Adivasi women. Both women by coincidence are Mrs. Das & belong to Assam (Dadara & Sibsagar). In fact they are the wives of two men among the 27 security personnel killed in the ambush by Maoists near Daudhani in Narayanpur District of Chhattisgarh state. Just because they are wives of CRPF men doesn’t make their tragedy any less poignant or less human than my imagined story, which too approximates countless stories of victims on the other side of Operation Green Hunt (OGH). Only difference is, and it is a defining difference, that when victims of OGH are from among the ranks of security forces then mainstream media saturates the sound bytes of news; but when victims are from among the Adivasis the same media enthusiastically reacts with deafening silence. There are notable exceptions though, but alas they are pitifully few. Stories of brutal State violence would have died an obscure death but for a few courageous journalists (& publications) from mainstream media such as, Tusha Mittal/ Ajit Sahi  of Tahelka, Aman Sethi of The Hindu, Javed Iqbal of New Indian Express, Smita Gupta/ Tribhuvan Tiwari of Outlook, etc. Maoist excesses too haven’t escaped their radars & their accounts have faithfully recorded these too in the true spirit of independent journalism. But they have also unwittingly helped save the pretense of an independent media – acting without fear or favour – alive, but just barely. Mainstream media by & large has become so seamlessly embedded in the narrative that Indian State would like its citizenry to believe as to appear the government’s “Department of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP)”.

When reporting on such tragic deaths of security personnel in Maoist violence the media professes great love & respect for them by showering encomiums like patriots, brave soldiers, हुतात्मा, शहीद, and so on. A case in point is of young 27 year old Jatin Gulati, Assistant Commandant, who died in the ambush near Daudhani, where he had arrived just days earlier after a training stint in Assam.

Usually it is the Defense Forces (Army, Navy & Air Force), the keepers of our borders, that enjoy the prestige of valour & patriotism. Has anyone ever heard of joining CRPF or CISF out of a sense of patriotism? CRPF were to be used for controlling public unrest and restoring “law & order” when police have failed. They come into the picture when tempers have frayed and are trained to use physical intimidation, baton charge or bullets, to disperse mob. However they have been routinely used to quell people’s democratic resistance to forcible land acquisition, industrial disputes, & to social or economic injustices. There is very little goodwill for them among the populace. But the situation is not of their doing. It is due to the savage way in which they are treated by the State machinery and are then expected to behave in the same manner with the people. The working conditions among the police and paramilitary forces are pathetic, but among the CRPF they are worst.
“…..JUST WALK around the paramilitary headquarters in Delhi and this honour fatigue begins to unravel. Talk to a constable under a tree and word spreads that someone is asking about their troubles. The jawan inside the canteen, the jawan walking with heaps of files to the grievance department, the jawan loading trucks, all stop to listen in. Everyone wants your number on a scrap of paper. They can’t talk now, but they all have a story to tell. Of how they have lived in torn tents with no drinking water. Of how the holes were big enough for heat waves and pouring rain. Of how the officers live in concrete houses with three servants. Of how it’s not the government, but their own departments that ensure the welfare schemes never reach them. Of how salaries are cut even when they are injured on duty. Of how a jawan does not get paid if he is in hospital for more than six months”.
These men are queuing up to quit the force, and may be take up some jobs as private security guards somewhere. The above paragraph is from Tehelka’s Raman Kirpals’ report on the brewing crisis in the paramilitary forces : “soldiers of MISFORTUNE”.
Have you ever seen mainstream media demanding of the Home Ministry and P Chidambaram to do something, and do urgently, about these pathetic work conditions of the security forces? No! But minute they die in a conflict, which has been foisted on both the Adivasis and the security forces alike by the ruling gentry who owns the media anyway, there are wild protestations of love & admiration for the patriotism of the security forces. Does the state itself behave any differently? P Chidambaram on 30th June tells Raipur, Revisit CRPF deployment : “….that the increase in attacks on Central forces had something to do with the manner in which they were deployed by the state government in “difficult” and “extremely vulnerable” areas, possibly without much operational justification”. The next day DGP Vishwa Ranjan retorts, If CRPF keeps getting ambushed, what can we do : “….It is our responsibility to deploy the Central forces. If the CRPF is frequently getting caught in ambush, can we do anything? Can we teach them how to go about it? “. Doesn’t this exchange between two of the highest ranking functionaries of state – one darling of the national media the other of state – smack of utter callousness towards the forces they are supposed to lead.

P Sainath captured this duplicity very eloquently :
How agonized we are about how people die.
How untroubled we are by how they live.
Tribals are resisting once again their forcible eviction from the forests as they have done from the time of the Mahabharata to right up to colonial times and after. They have no choice in the matter. Security forces have been sent there to evict them. They don’t have a choice either. This is a war from which neither of them is going to benefit. But the war nonetheless is brutalizing both of them; it is depriving them of their humanity. Only those who are not amidst the conflict have the luxury to choose one death over the other.