Divided Human Rights Movement

Social Trust Declines

Biswajit Roy

Human Rights groups are still silent even after 48 hours of the Maoist attack on a passenger train at Jumui 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 today 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. If anything moral integrity and political credibility 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 activists in HR circle advised 'wait and watch' in view of the 'initial confusion over the identity of the attackers in Jamui'. But it did not hold good after Maoists had owned up the ambush. According to Prabhat Khabar, Patna edition (14 June, 2013), the CPI(Maoist) spokesman for Jharkhand- East Bihar zonal committee, 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 had been deployed in the train.

In no way the Dhanbad- Patna Intercity Express could 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 protection 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 rifles 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 did the People's Liberation Guerilla Army chose to make the passenger train a military target risking 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 on earlier occasions.

In fact, the latest attack sets a dangerous precedence 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 including tribals got killed along with the targeted members of Koya commondos who were also traveling by the same bus. Maoist leadership later sought public apology, though critics attributed it to the party's fears of adverse impact of the attack on its 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 ideo-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 at both sides in recent months in complete disregard to war norms codified by Geneva Convention or valued in India's 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 a slain jawan's body 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 more and more. The civilian fatalities in Bihar-Jharkhand region since 2010 included the death of eight persons when a bomb, allegedly planted by Maoists exploded in Pachokhar village in Aurangabad District. The victims included five children while 11 others sustained injuries. In another incident, at least 12 villagers, including three women and one child, were killed when nearly 150 heavily armed Maoist cadres attacked Phulwariya village in Jamui District. It was initially justified as a retaliatory killing but was regretted later.

On the other hand, the '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 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 HR team, this writer found that the supporters of the both sides who belonged to same class, and sometimes to the same castes also settled scores over petty village feuds. The cycle of violence that includes 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 this type of violence. It may be easy to blame one or other side for particular incident but the job becomes impossible in the larger context considering spirally nature of the conflicts. A vengeful herd mentality, similar to what one has witnessed in Bengal between CPM and Trinamul rules the roost in this ruthless turf war.

It's also a repetition of what had happened in Chattisgarh during the vigilante Salwa Judum campaign and Maoist retaliation as well as thereafter. CRPF in most two horrifying incidents in between last and this May in Chattisgarh killed twenty-five tribal villagers including women and children in the pretext of exterminating Maoists. In a matching action that assured short-term military mileage and media attention for Maoists, the PLGA in an ambush scored a toll of 24-27 lives including three major Congress leaders on 25 May this year. The biggest kill was the top leader of the Salwa Judum, Mahendra Karma who had survived the several Maoist attacks earlier.

But most of the victims were ordinary Congress workers, car drivers and policemen. Maoists regretted the loss of ordinary lives but that hardly offset the losses of the bereaved families. Further, it is evident from the Maoist releases that the regrets and sympathies were politically correct public relations gestures only. More genuine is the gloat and glee over the killing of three high-profiled ruling party leaders and the shock that the ruling establishment and its security mandarins suffered. As the latter have been claiming almost near-total decimation of the rebels, Maoists have reasons to rejoice 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 people will hear about another round of carnages in which civilians will die either in crossfire or in deliberate slaughters.

The human rights groups are bitterly divided on their responses despite this escalation in violence and increasing militarization of both sides. 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 who were captured alive. Though Karma was reportedly unarmed and also surrendered to the PLGA, the numerous knife and bullet wounds inflicted in his body and its reported desecration did not evoke any condemnation from the PUDR. His crimes as the leader of a murderous horde apparently weighted down the concerns for violation of war norms that prohibits killing of POWs, however hated. 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 same HR circle, which had earlier deplored the 'bestial acts' of both sides after the Latehar carnage. The sharp contrast between their indignation to the 'reckless killings of Jamui kind' earlier that decried the Maoist attacks on civilians and their silence after the latest attack on a passenger train is unmistakable.

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 one sees 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 standard, which will make Chidambarams happy since it befits their paradigms that condone the war excesses under emergency situations by security forces.

Such trap, though sounding patriotic, nationalist or revolutionary, would ring the death-knell of independent HR movement and its moral strength. It will corrode the wider social-political legitimacy and appeal of a movement that stands for humanity, values human lives, demands same dignity and basic rights for all members of the species and fights for the survival of millions of lesser mortals amid the madness of war. The movement will lose the public appreciation if activists continue to speak with forked tongue. The cry over the 'absurdity of the war" that ends with blaming government alone does 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 right and legitimacy of popular armed resistance against oppressive governments. This right has been upheld by bourgeois liberal as well as revolutionary philosophers since American and French Revolutions down to post WW-II UN conventions etc. But history neither teaches people to equate mass uprising and vanguardist violence, nor does it allow them to remain silent when the liberator's violence is turned on the liberated or when people suffer indefinitely during the conflict between the State and revolutionaries. The contemporary world is replete with the examples of damages done by the non-state violence to the peoples' cause. The global terrorist groups are the main perpetrators of such violence, which have no qualms about mass murders. Many local ethnocentric, religious, ultranationalist insurgents follow their suit. The differences between them and the left-wing revolutionaries who are obsessed with militarism have been blurred time and again.

If the HR movement's 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. Instead, the movement is focusing on claims and counter-claims over the agency to represent the best interests of the indigenous communities.

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 Northeast, Chattisgarh to West Bengal, particularly when actions led 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 Kisenji by the governments.

While the rage over government's dirty tricks and failures of central and state-level talks is justified, their insistence on throwing 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 veteran Varvara Rao put it after the 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 V B Chandrase-kharan, a veteran Gandhian from Andhra's Khammam who runs ashrams at Chattisgrah-Andhra-Orissa border received 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 possibility of success is bleak in view of the government's refusal to make room even for its non-violent critics. The eviction of Himansu Kumar and demolition of his ashram as well as attacks on peace march by BD Sharma, Swami Agnivesh and arrests of people like Binayak Sen and Soni Sori et al revealed the government's fascist mind.

Vol. 46, No. 1, Jul 14- 20, 2013

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