The horrific killings of Congress leaders by armed Maoist guerillas that took place at Jiram Ghati in Chhattisgarh on May 25 have drawn the world’s attention. The latest victim was Vidya Charan Shukla, who succumbed to his wounds on June 11, at the age of 84. The victims included Nandkumar Patel and his son Dinesh, who were shot in cold blood after being led away. The bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs. Sixteen of the victims were unarmed Congress workers, who were returning from an open political rally organised by the Congress in preparation for the coming Assembly elections.
In a statement issued after the incident, the Maoist spokesperson regretted the loss of lives of the unintended victims, in an argument that chillingly echoed the justification provided by the government for the killing of eight unarmed civilians, including four children, by CRPF commandos at Edesmata a week earlier. The militarisation and existence of dual state power have transformed political discourse into a hall of mirrors.
Many today recognise and accept the legitimacy of the resistance of tribal communities against the forcible acquisition of land, water, minerals and other natural resources by the state for handing over to large-scale corporate interests in the current climate of neo-liberalisation. Displacement and dispossession in the course of these developments have become a threat to the very survival of these communities, dependent, as they are, on their access to common property resources. Many would also accept that in case of widespread militarisation of state intervention in campaigns like Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt, these targeted communities had the right to defend themselves and their interests.
However, the reduction of the terms of discourse to military resolution only precludes any other points of view from being articulated. What we would also like to emphasise is that the so-called ‘collateral damage’ of battle is actually the main product of violent conflict, a huge proportion of which is paid for by women, children and other vulnerable sections of society. Thus, while much of the discourse centred on this confrontation is about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of different components of this violence, perhaps it may be more productive to shift our focus on ways and means to get past this current impasse and concentrate instead on the possibilities of inducting a discourse that is centred on the restoration of peace and well-being of the communities that live in conflict areas.
We are more than conscious of the fact that such declarations of peaceful intent are greeted in most circles with raucous laughter. However, people who are thus amused should remind themselves that those opting for a scaling up of conflict have little to show for the strategies they have advocated. Political declarations made by the ruling elite, as well as the advocates of revolutionary violence, that have been made after the Jiram Ghati incident, as a necessary step to ensure justice, do not give much hope for the possibilities of peace. Perhaps, that is why, at this juncture, it is more necessary than ever for those who believe in peace and the possibilities of a strategy based on peace, to declare themselves and commit to work towards creative alternatives.
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