Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bringing out the kill

It was a black and white picture. That too, not of very clear resolution. But what was clear was that a body of a dead was being carried by security personnel. The hands and legs were tied to a pole, and the body was being carried out like that of a carcass by the grim faced security forces.

According to the police authorities, she was a Maoist killed in an encounter. At a distance, she seemed to have civilian clothes, but clothes do not make a Maoist, one can claim.
But is this the way to treat the dead? Even if the dead is an “enemy combatant”, after all a citizen of the state?

When the mutilated bodies of 16 Indian security personnel were returned by Bangladesh several years ago, there was a huge uproar. People were not so much upset by the alleged incident of border violation by the Bangladesh Rifles police force. What seemed unbearable was the way the bodies were hanged from the poles, akin to that of the carcasses of wild animals. It seemed to be the ultimate form of disrespect. As a nation, citizens rose up and demanded justice against this humiliation. It was a blow to the national pride.

Will there be any such hue and cry over similar treatment of the body of a woman, a citizen of the country, though one who had purportedly taken up arms against the state?
One strongly doubts if this will be the case. For the last few months had seen one debacle after another for the Indian state in its war against the Maoists. First there was the horrific massacre of 76 security personnel in the forests of Dantewada. Barring the few initial shots of bloodied bodies, all one was left with was a long row of caskets. And then there was the tragic incident of the ambush of the bus near Sukhma, not too far from Dantewada, which claimed 35 more lives. This time, as there were no security personnel involved (apart from “special police officers”), there were no caskets. All that remained was some twisted remains of a bus and bodies by the broken road, bodies covered by sheets.

A respect for the dead. The security personnel who gave their lives for the sake of the state, and the civilians who were caught in the conflict. In the end, they were all citizens of India.

Respect for the dead goes beyond any specific writ in the constitution or legal law. A dead person cannot pose any danger, nor can he or she continue working on any cause, good or bad. In death, strangely enough, we all become human. While it is in our nature to commemorate a well-lived live by paying the final respects to the mortal remains as the person passes forever from our sights, it is also in us to acknowledge that human being in all by showing respect to a dead person, however ill-lived that life had been. It is not in us to desecrate or disrespect dead bodies.

Then why was the body of the woman shown that way in the media? What purpose does it serve?
Perhaps it is an implicit acknowledgement of how adivasis are viewed n Indian society. Since the invasion by the Aryans, these people have always been treated as if they were subhumans. And today, when the rest of India rushes headlong into “development”, these people living in the “museum cultures” are being even more left behind. Their marginalisation has led them to join the Maoist movement in large numbers, and also have led them to protest by other means. In response, instead of trying to address the root causes of the problem, the state has launched “Operation Green Hunt”. The people who have dared to take up arms against the state will need to be exterminated, like wild animals that pose dangers to humans. What we see is a kill being trumpeted as a trophy.

Looking closely, one fails to see why the body was carried out in the first place. Very likely, this woman, Maoist or not, was a tribal living in the forest. The boy with the disheveled hair and vacant look, who was captured in the same operation, who we now know is dumb and possibly mentally challenged, does seem to be one such. He certainly was not like the very different looking army personnel, possibly from the cities and plains of Northern India, who were escorting him. Since the woman was allegedly in the same group, very likely she was a tribal as well. As the personnel had reached the body, they could have easily searched and confiscated any relevant papers or arms and ammunition, and left the body, possibly to be taken away by her comrades or relatives for a tribal burial.

The only rationale that explains this is one of making a statement. A statement of the crudest and most vindictive kind. The state needed a victory. Blood for blood, eye for an eye. Body for a body. If it cannot show the face of shining success, it can at least show that it is not beaten. If it cannot eradicate the structural violence that leads the poorest to stand up against it, it can at least show the shining India that those people who stand up will not get the claim to being a human, something that was denied to them in life.

Strangely enough, this is not the first time that the bodies of people standing against the state has been marked for desecration. Lalmohan Tudu, the mild-mannered elderly leader of the PCAPA, who was brutally gunned down as he was walking unarmed near his house, and that of Laxman Jamuda, the innocent villager who was killed in Kalinganagar, Orissa, were both taken to the police station, out of bonds of their mourners and relatives. In fact, the reign of terror was so complete, that their relatives did not dare ask for their bodies. Reports indicate that the return of the bodies could lead to independent examinations and exposure of the illegality of their executions. Something that the state understandably wanted to cover up. But for all purposes, their relatives and their friends just wanted to pay their final respects. By denying them that last wish, the authorities could have the free hand in humiliating their memories, leaving Lalmohan and Jamuda forever in a cloud of false suspicion.

The possession of the bodies could be the cover of the failure of state. But how long can the starving masses, deprived of their livelihoods, can be hidden in the recesses of the darkness that engulfs the narrow beam of light that is the shining India? Can the millions of starving carcasses be carried out of their forest dwellings to clear that darkness? Or by bringing that darkness out, are we not accepting the failure of the light to shine?

By failing to honour the dead civilian, the state has implicitly acknowledged its failure to live up to the rights of the people. It is not a march of triumph, but a march of failure. And what was carried out was representative of the death of the once vibrant living community that formed the heart of the country. We can at least give that body its final dues in memory of what should be and could have been.

Article by:
Siddharth Mitra

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