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Let’s listen to common sense

Do you wonder why so many activists and self-proclaimed scholars take the positions of lay people and then caricature them so that they can construct men of straw to attack? Let’s listen to common sense, writes Vir Sanghvi.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2009 08:26 IST

Do you sometimes feel that intellectuals and experts like complicating issues needlessly so that lay people like you and me are not only excluded from the discussion but are also left hopelessly confused?

Do you wonder why so many activists and self-proclaimed scholars take the positions of lay people and then caricature them so that they can construct men of straw to attack?

If you do, join the club.

Certainly, on the Naxalite issue, I am astonished by the way in which intellectuals and activists treat lay people with contempt. They have created a caricature position according to which all of us are heartless, prosperous fat cats who are immune to the suffering of poor people. When the poor dare to protest, we want to send the Army in or to bomb them to nothingness so that they do not inconvenience us as we cheerfully go about living our privileged lives.

This caricature is so far removed from reality that it puzzles me why so many hours of television time and so many column inches are wasted in airing this man of straw again and again.

The truth is that among most educated Indians, a fair and reasonable consensus already exists on the Naxalite issue. These are the principal components of that consensus.

One, many of the people who have been recruited by the Naxalites lie on the margins of our society. They have been shamefully neglected by the Indian State, denied employment opportunities, refused basic health care and ignored by the education system.

Worse still, Indian politicians have treated adivasis and others like them with a neglect that borders on contempt, taking the line that they are too weak to protest and can, therefore, be forgotten about.

Two: one attempt by politicians to counter the Naxalite movement has been the creation of a private army called the Salwa Judum whose men have behaved like thugs, raping women, herding adivasis into camps, destroying their villages and unleashing a reign of terror. The Salwa Judum is no solution to the problem. Rather, it is another manifestation of the contempt with which these poor people are treated.

Three, the Naxalite violence is a wake-up call to the Indian State. Few people — particularly those so weak and so marginalised — take to arms willingly. They do this only when they feel that there is nothing to lose.

If India is to have any sense of social justice then we must quickly move to redress the wrongs that we have done to adivasis and others on the margin. There is no point bragging about our country as an emerging superpower when we are unable to offer dignity or sustenance to our own citizens.

Clearly the politicians in those states have failed India. And something dramatic and drastic must be done.

Four, while we recognise the factors that led these people to turn to violence, we also recognise that no State can tolerate a violent movement within its borders. The job of the State is to look after its citizens and it can only do this if law and order are maintained. It is true that the State has failed to look after some of its citizens. But equally it will be impossible for the State to set this right if this area is a battlefield and if the State’s agencies cannot operate in those regions. So, peace first and everything else second.

Five, this does not mean that we wish to declare war on the people who are protesting or that we are a fascist middle class that will use the organs of the State to suppress the poor as some have suggested. Peace and the rule of law are the basis of civilisation. There is nothing to be ashamed about in asking for these to be established.

Six, nor are we treating the protestors as terrorists. In fact, there is considerable sympathy for them and much empathy with their problems. When it came to terrorists, rarely did we believe that they had grounds for protest. For example, few Indians believe that the Kashmiris are any worse off than people in other parts of India. And they’re certainly a lot better off than they would be in the anarchic violent collapsing mess that is today’s Pakistan.

Much the same is true of other militancies. Till the end, the vast majority of Indians did not believe that the Sikhs had any grounds for a violent protest or that Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale made any sense.

So there are few parallels with the way in which we have handled other militancies or insurgencies. We understand what this protest is about and we recognise that the Indian State has failed.

Seven, it does not follow however that just because we understand where we’ve gone wrong, we are obliged to support a Marxist or Maoist view of the world where all free enterprise is terrible, where all elections are a joke and where political power only comes out of the barrel of a gun.

It is entirely possible to sympathise with the victims but to disagree profoundly with the people who claim to represent them.

Eight, what many of us want, therefore, is an end to the violence. There is a sense that it is now spiralling out of control. The photograph released by the Naxalites of the Bengal police officer surrounded by hooded men with automatic weapons is uncomfortably reminiscent of the sort of photo that al-Qaeda terrorists release when they have hostages in custody. The image does the Maoist cause no good and should shame those who support the Naxalites.

Ideally, we would like a situation where the Naxalite armies are disarmed and peace returns to those regions. We would hope that once this happens the government moves swiftly to redress the causes of the suffering. We accept that the existing promises made by governments have not been kept but hope that now that this is an all-India issue, public awareness and pressure will achieve what violence can never do.

Is all this so unreasonable? Does it amount to wanting to wage war on the poor?

Then why is it so wilfully misunderstood? Why are we obliged to support murderers who behead policemen only to show that we care about the poor?

It’s time that ordinary people stopped being taken for granted. I, for one, am fed up of all this activist nonsense spouted in television studios by those who can only make their points by refusing to understand ours.

In the end, no problem can ever be solved if we don’t listen to common sense. Or to the people of India.


The views expressed by the author are personal