April 12, 2010

The wars we forgot

I called it "Sounds like a synonym", in print it is titled "The wars we forgot". Either way, my essay about mud, 250 km distances and a massacre is in the Hindustan Times today. Please take a look.

As ever, your comments welcome.

PS: I'm not responsible for that "pezzzzzzzzzach".


Dhimant Parekh said...

Thanks for writing this piece Dilip.

Pub Chick said...

An anecdote as narrative journalism should be banned. Mostly because people don't seem to know how to use it. And everyone seems to assume they write for The New Yorker.

On the same topic Dilip, are you saying if I don't care for the violence -- as I clearly do not -- I don't need to care for the poor person who can't feed his family?

I won't care regardless of what you say is besides the point. The jarring aspect is that your equivalence makes no sense.

Jai_C said...

0. Agree on:
"..When we fail to provide healthcare, [education], justice and simple governance to large stretches of this country, we prepare fertile ground for..."

1. Will be back later after reading up on "structural violence" but my gut reaction now:

The term *violence* sets off a deep, abiding and negative reaction so I dont like using it without great scrutiny.

I could read this piece with 'discrimination' or even 'violation' instead and not have this impact.

2. The first pass at SV has NOT helped. From Wikipedia:

"...Gilligan largely describes these "excess deaths" as "non-natural" and attributes them to the stress, shame, discrimination and denigration that results from lower status..."

What has been described here is a struggle for survival not a "contest for dignity" - people dying from hunger not shame.

The wiki entry seems to be a case of "if you look hard enough for SV you will find some somehow"

3. Since I had problems even at the 'violence' level of SV, the next level of Dilip's escalation:

SV == war

did not follow at all.

4. I'd be happy to have some links to (not overlong) articles on the subject. I'm currently reading:



Chandru K said...

Yes, but the actual kid who eats dirt( atrocious as that is) or his parents, are not the ones going around ambushing CRPF personnel. Those are groups claiming to struggle on behalf of the kid and his family, whom arguably have a grievance with the state or with someone or other. Which shows that the Naxal issue is almost purely ideological. Naxals are doing all this killing, not really because some kid in Kumaon is forced to eat dirt, but because those Naxals want power, and are willing to use extreme violence in order to obtain it, then establish a Khmer Rouge type regime.

Ketan said...


That was an evocative article.

A bit off-topic, but there seems to be small misunderstanding that many people have. Children end up eating mud not because of hunger, but because nutrient deficiency (especially of iron & B vitamins) alters their taste sensation, & they develop a craving for substances like mud, chalk powder, paint, etc. The condition is called pica. No doubt, it indicates malnourishment, but does not occur because of starvation, & can occur even in children of affluent families if they suffer from hookworn infestation (& consequent iron deficiency).

Coming to your article, there's no doubt a huge proportion of Indian population, & significant chunk of which lives in Naxal-affected areas, does so in pathetic condition, especially when juxtaposed with affluence of urban people, & now, even some pockets of rural India.

I am glad that you have termed Maoists rogue people to begin with. Because some people even claim that Maoists are misguided & angered people who are genuinely concerned of the welfare of tribals.

But the point where I tend to disagree with you is the suggestion that tribals actively support them because of their frustration with the Indian "State". I feel the support Maoists are able to garner is more out of terrorizing & coercion.

Let me put up a mini-hypothesis. Of course, I am no expert in these matters and hence it would not stand others' scrutiny.

In every society, there are people with criminal tendencies, usually belonging to a certain age bracket. They are not driven by grudge for having been suppressed, but rather a desire to dominate over others. Such people suffer from overt or minor form of antisocial personality disorder, simply put, "ends justify the means"-kind, with those ends being purely selfish (I want a lot) & narcissistic (I am better than others, & this I can prove by showing them down). Such people are also given to wanton cruelty. It's not difficult to find such people right from school days. By the time they reach college, they would have indulged in violence several times. Many such people in places like Mumbai end up in political parties or the 'underworld'. Some become as successful as Dawood Ibrahim. Just note, till this point in hypothesis, there was no need for antisocial people to espouse an altruistic cause....

Ketan said...

...To begin with, many people harbor such tendencies, let's say 5% of population. But because of factors like education, punishment by teachers, recourse to other more legitimate means to achieve their goals, etc., very few of these people suffering from antisocial tendencies actually turn to big time crime (say less than 1%). And even those who turn to crime are not actively supported by their neighbors, & many times not even by the family. They do not get any moral support from the family & neighborhood, have no altruistic causes & YET they end up in crime.

These kind of criminals occur even in most affluent societies in the world.

Now assuming basic human nature does not change with region, how many of those with criminal tendencies would be dissuaded from turning criminal in places of the kind affected by Naxal violence? Very few, I guess. Their basic goal remains same - to earn easy luxury & show others (peers, in particular) down. And that is what the youngsters recruited by Maoists are doing! Extorting, looting, running parallel government. A lot of this is done to the "outsiders", but the "insiders" are not spared, either. With this I end my hypothesis.

Naxals have killed tribal people, too. This I believe they do to keep them 'in line'. They have killed doctors also, further worsening the health care condition. If you might be wondering what's the difference between your & my speculations, it is this: tribals do not support Naxals morally.

They are threatened with 'exemplary' violence. You can imagine what sliting of throats & hanging people before unarmed family members could do to their courage in facing Maoists with (sometimes) sophisticated weapons.

The difference my hypothesis (if valid) makes is that it is not poverty alleviation that will cure the problem, but gradually by making the tribals/villagers feel secure from Maoists, that might. I know this would be extremely challenging or may be even impossible to achieve, given the huge advantage Maoists have over Indian forces. But if what you suggest is true, then tribals will keep on supporting Maoists as long as their living conditions do not improve. Of course, since Maoists do not have any plans of doing that themselves, it would have to be done by the Indian state, which Maoists will not allow! As that would mean greater accessibility into remote areas & increased ease of hunting them down.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I won't care regardless of what you say is besides the point.

I honestly have no idea what you are trying to say.

The jarring aspect is that your equivalence makes no sense.

Which means I may be doing my job right. I write to give people things to think about that may be jarring and may not make sense to them. Part of the old journalists' maxim says it best: the idea must be to afflict the comfortable.

Dilip D'Souza said...


Children end up eating mud not because of hunger ... [etc]

Maybe so.

In the case of Padman whom I mentioned in my article, it happened when his family's food supply for the week ran out and his father could not get a loan to buy more food, so all six in the family did not eat. The boy was emaciated, the father became weaker too and could not complete his assigned work. (See the doctor's article here).

In the case of Padman, it sounds to me like he ate mud because he was hungry. Not because he "developed a craving" for the stuff.

Re: your mention of "tribals". Let's also be clear that not everyone in these areas is a "tribal".

It is something of a fantasy to imagine that an insurgency that's now spread across a huge area of India has done so by slitting throats and hanging people and thus "keeping in line" everybody else.

I prefer, as always, the simpler explanation: people who are weary with the lack of healthcare/education/justice/opportunity/etc form fertile ground for a message that says "help us overthrow the government and bring in this other Utopia".

Ketan said...

Thanks, Dilip for the link! Yes, then I was wrong in my guessing pica to be the cause of Padman's eating mud.

Why do you call your hypothesis simpler?

Isn't it equally or more fanciful as my hypothesis to believe Maoists slit throats of & hang villagers to inspire confidence of family-members & other villagers in exclusively their "government-overthrowing-abilities" & not to terrorize them? Isn't it also fanciful to believe, villagers/tribals do not get terrorized by such exemplary acts?

Recently, Seema Mustafa (of NewsX) had been to Islamabad, & two of the three interviewees there had felt Bhagat Singh was a terrorist. This had made me think, why he was not a terrorist. Firstly, (if I remember correctly) he had murdered only one person (a British), but much more significantly, he did not require to kill & hang Indians to make them share the same goal as him (overthrowing British rule).

We need not believe completely, but Times NOW had shown a village elder on camera recounting that Maoists would take away children every morning for 'training', & if parents opposed, they would be killed/beaten. From the same village a widow had recounted how her husband had been hung to death before her & the children. If this news is to be believed, I would be surprised if those villagers 'support' the Maoists of their own volition.

I know, not everyone in Maoist-affected areas are tribals, hence I had also used "tribals/villagers" in my previous comment also.

Dilip D'Souza said...


It may be hard for us to believe and swallow, but the Maoists have plenty of support among the local people of the areas they operate in. (As, in earlier times and a different place, did ULFA, for only one example).

Why do they have this support?
Because they are slitting the throats of many of those local people? Or because they appear to offer an alternative to the lack of governance over 60+ years?

To me, the second option seems simpler. Others may have different opinions.

Jai_C said...

Ketan, Dilip,

Mafia/ mob even in city structures served as a kind of "lower court" Movies like Naayakan/ Dayavaan were not unreal? They attained "judicial" powers mainly by gaining and retaining a near-monopoly on the use of force in their domains (rivaling or sometimes dominating state forces).

They absolutely enriched themselves of course taking cuts from everyone they 'administered' over but some gaps in our systems do enable or make easier their rise.

But I have never been under the impression that the public welcomed or supported mob rule. Once established, they were forced to tolerate it and would literally be killed for 'defecting' to the other (ironically, legal) side.

Am I mistaken? or how does it differ for the areas under naxal influence?


Chandru K said...

In the last 4 days these Naxals have killed 4 people, two in West Bengal and two in Bihar. If their movement is visionary i.e offering alternative governance where none or grossly deficient existed, what is the explanation for all these killings, over and over again? That's why people rightly see the Naxals as power mongering and ruthless in the pursuit of power. Bhagat Singh, Nehru and Gandhi were not like that.
If the idea behind these killings is to punish 'police informers', what message are they sending to the people at large? That if/when they obtain power and governance, they will be tolerant and pluralistic? Yeah, right.

blueshift said...

"Bhagat Singh, Nehru and Gandhi were not like that."

chandru....you are so nice to some people lol do you really think like this? or you just act like that?

Ketan said...


Let me clarify one thing. I am in total agreement with you that Maoists enjoy significant support, if you talk of absolute numbers. But I'm talking of fraction of tribals/villagers supporting them. As I tried to illustrate earlier, possibly only 5% of population is engaged in war actively, & the rest are not bothered or do not have means & courage to oppose those thus engaged. But this 5% because of sheer huge absolute number, & better knowledge, plus without the worry of causing collateral damage to 'civilians' are much more effective. I am only arguing about percentage of population actually supporting Maoism, & not whether substantial number of people are involved or not (which of course they are).

Also, from tribals' perspective look at one thing. True, government had not been able to provide much development for 6 decades, but nor have Maoists done anything for them in at least 3 decades! If anything, they've destroyed schools, roads & hospitals. Moreover, the Indian state considering tribals below poverty line does not tax them, whereas, they are (possibly forcibly) taxed by the Maoists! Why would they support Maoists if they were to be pragmatic?

Think of Padman's father for a moment, would he have voluntarily given five out of forty rupees he earned every week to overthrow the government? And for how many weeks, no, how many years would he continue to donate voluntarily to the cause of overthrowing government without seeing any improvement in his condition? How come his patience would wear thin only with Indian government, but not the Maoists?


I'd meant something similar to what you pointed out. Don't know if difference in your & my views is only of semantics. I would tend to believe that the chastizing they would do as a part of their 'justice' system would not be based on ethics or evidence, but largely directed at randomly terrorizing people. Nothing terrorizes people more than random death. I have not watched the movies you mentioned, but probably it's similar to Sarkar, except that in it, protagonists were shown to be conscientious! :P

Moreover, needs to be asked of Maoist justice system is, is 'insubordination' considered a crime? Answering that would put everything in perspective. Probably situation of those who're trained by Maoists is somewhat illustrated by 'Naked weapon' in that young kids were abducted for training.

Ketan said...

Chandru K,

Dilip hasn't said that Maoists' will set things right.

In your description what I am worried a lot about is, even if those killed were not police informers, their purpose of keeping common people in line would be served.

And if you got agitated reading my comment mentioning Bhagat Singh, then never mind, those words were spoken in Islamabad to defend the fidayeen attacks. The interviewees' intelligence level could be guaged from their not even considering the fact that suicide bombers usually kill those who they purport to free as a part of their "freedom fight"! And why did you even make a mention of Gandhi & Nehru? They were a different breed altogether. :)

Jai_C said...


I think the maoists got started with a lot more than 5% support. It may have declined significantly now that they know they have no real "solution". It is likely that they are retaining their hold by the same monopoly on force that the state once had. I hope and wish that --you-- are right. Reality may still be closer to --Dilip--

The origins of this per Arundhati Roy* (Outlook article)

At least initially, the maoists strengthened the tribals/ forest dwellers to get better prices for their tendu leaves. They helped them forage and use forest resources beating back forest guards.

Later she traces the forced displacement of tribals for mining projects which ironically decimate the surrounding forest.

If and to the extent true, the state:

- governed if at all from ultra-far
- denied them the only livelihood skills they knew without offering or facilitating any alternative
- evicted them from their homes and environment (again unclear what alternative was provided).

I am NOT taking Ms.Roy's word as gospel truth, she aggressively pushes one side of the discourse.


*PS: Notwithstanding this comment I am very uncomfortable with Ms.Roy. One of Dilip's dicta, or my understanding of it is that:

the humanity of an (ideological) opponent is not in question

I find myself struggling now to extend this to Ms.Roy. Her disillusionment with the dam verdict possibly started a process of slow radicalization that is now in full bloom.

I have begun to believe that she celebrates the maoist killings as a kind of payback to the uncaring state.

I believed AB Vajpayee had a "masked" mode. I now believe the same for Ms.Roy.

Chandru K said...

"Dilip hasn't said that Maoists' will set things right..."

The whole manner and pattern of their( the Naxalite/Maoist) 'struggle' is not one that suggests that they are advocating and promoting an alternative system of governance that will bring the greatest good to the greatest number in the most humane fashion. Rather, that they are ruthlessly pursuing power for themselves, and willing to kill large numbers of even poor people-the same group they claim to represent-with the idea of obtaining power and wealth. Later, once having acquired(putatively) their coveted power, they will get down to the business of governance and development. In a ruthless,non-democratic and tyrannical way, like the Khmer Rouge or the early Chinese Maoists.

Jai_C said...

On SV: (from the linked article of Kathleen Ho)

I havent a problem with "structuralism" but with the definition of violence.

Violence: "avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs or, to
put it in more general terms, the impairment of human life, which lowers the actual degree to which
someone is able to meet their needs below that which would otherwise be possible..."

I can identify this with discrimination, bias and appreciate the systemic nature of some like racism and casteism. Hopefully that is close enough to SV.

One of my problems is, during my search I came across this statement:

Binayak Sen : "We condemn both the violence by the Maoists and the violence both direct and structural by the state..."

The neat violence == violence equation (and implied threat to keep going until structures are leveled ) bothers me and is impeding my reading of an otherwise useful piece

(for example: the underlying problem is, the power to decide over the distribution of resources is unevenly distributed)

I wont litter this space with more comments. If I can keep this up and come up with thoughts on how much of it applies to Maoism and this Dilip article IMO I will post a final comment on this thread.