Red terror...deadly attack… attack on democracy. These are some of the words we’ve been greeted with since Saturday night when Maoists attacked a convoy of senior Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh, killing Mahendra Karma, the founder of Salwa Judum.

Salwa Judum is another word that was little used in the media, or by the political leadership, but over the last 36 hours or so has become a household term. Many of us who probably did not know about this entity are now, at least, familiar with the words. But, the attack, which has been widely criticised, and rightly so, was only a question of when and not if. What I find curious is the “hero’s death” Karma has got.

The establishment appears to have used a lot of energy over the last so many years in denying the very existence of Salwa Judum, a shameful blot on the face of a “democratic” country. Yet, now, senior leaders and media alike seem to have adopted a proud tenor in calling Karma the founder of the Judum. The same Salwa Judum which the Supreme Court had declared as illegal and unconstitutional in 2011. Salwa Judum, which was designed by Karma as anti-insurgency operation, means “purification hunt.” Purification? Of what exactly? Of whom? And hunt? A dictatorial regime could be expected to hunt people, but what about the world’s biggest ‘democracy’? Democracy, which according to Rahul Gandhi, was attacked on Saturday night, was murdered the day the State armed civilians, giving them the right to shoot at will. The day the State decided to brush the dirt of atrocities and human rights violation against our most deprived under the carpet. The day policemen who allegedly raped and tortured adivasi women in custody were given gallantry awards.

I was very young when I first heard stories of the Naxal uprising from my parents, when they were young. At that time, West Bengal was the epicenter of the movement. My parents knew many who joined the movement. Who left all the luxuries behind to follow a cause they believed in. The methods, of course, are questionable. But the idea behind the movement was pure. The idea is still pure. But the means to the end have only become more grotesque — on both sides. Like the chicken-and-egg question, whether the State atrocities led to the Naxalite movement becoming more violent or the other way round is difficult to say. But one cannot deny the gross violations on the part of the State.

Ever since I was young, when I first started reading on the Maoist movement in India, one question troubled me. Why would people send young children and women out onto the battlefield where they are likely to be raped, tortured, killed? How desperate must their situation be that they find no other alternative? Bereft of infrastructure, educational opportunities, job opportunities, the Government has, time and again, even stripped them of their basic right of a life of dignity forcing them out of their land. I have met some people who have been evicted not once but twice or thrice over their lives to make way for “development” that they did not get a slice of.

These people didn’t turn to violence, but in the face of injustice, many others took to weapons. It is a failure of the State. If you talk to Bengalis many of them will tell you how they knew so-and-so who became a naxalite when he was young but then left it…after he/she got a job. That is to say, after they felt they were integrated into the cycle of ‘development’. Instead, the Government forced these people out of their land, denied them decent life, education, jobs. And when they protested, put them behind bars, raped their women, closed all doors of justice. The solution to all ills: Start an annihilation operation, kill their leaders (who reportedly supported peace talks) treacherously, and then thump your chest proudly. The Bard had once written, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

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