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Tehelka: How Many Deaths Before Too Many Die

Author: Shoma Chaudhury
April 15, 2010


As India struggles with its Naxalite armed movement, Shoma Chaudhury raises important questions on possible solutions and the futility of violent confrontation without addressing underlying concerns.

A few weeks after he was released from two years in jail, Binayak Sen, the gentle and now famous doctor from Chhattisgarh, was asked what he thought of the Maoist crisis and the government's response to it. It's like watching two locomotives hurtling towards each other, he replied. Bent upon colliding even when all the warning signals are clearly flashing. And you can do nothing to stop it.

On April 6, not the first but the loudest of many tragic collisions came to pass. The Maoists ambushed a heavily armed CRPF battalion in the jungles of Dantewada, and blew up an armoured vehicle. Within hours, 76 jawans were dead. The sheer, staggering loss of life - the spiraling pain that would ripple through small anonymous homesteads in UP and Haryana and Delhi - took your breath away. Here again, were the poorest of the poor, being sent out to execute the most draconian face of the State. These 76 dead were just a punctuation: more jawans would be sent out, more jawans would be killed. The poor being set to kill the poor. If ever there was reason to rethink strategy, surely, here it was.

But if you watched television studio debates that night or read many of the newspapers the next morning, something more terrifying - and tragic - than the physical image of hurtling locomotives would have become evident: you'd have seen the pistons driving these locomotives to self destruct. Livid, one-sided conversations: ill-informed, deaf, uncurious. And, most damagingly, simple-minded.

Exterminate the terrorists! Wipe them out! The entire nation is united: launch an all-out war. Bring on the airforce. Didn't we pull it off in Punjab? Haven't the Sri Lankans pulled it off with the LTTE? Why are you "intellectual sympathisers" talking of root causes and development and urging other approaches? Are you on the side of the savages? Are you condoning Maoist violence? Why are you raising questions about police atrocities and State neglect? How can you equate our violence with their violence? How can you lump the good guys with the bad guys?

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