The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, April 22, 2001
Speaking generally

Carrying on with an endless fight
By Chanchal Sarkar

TODAY'S Bihar is an unknown country. Districts like Jahanabad, Arwal, Gaya and Aurangabad are not what we imagine rural India to be. There are two distinct images. Unfortunately, we receive the images only from hearsay. These are areas where the ‘militants’ or ‘naxalites’ hold sway over much of the forest areas and particular village clusters. According to the police and bureaucrats, these militants attempt to run a parallel government, impose an economic blockade, siphon off some 30 per cent of the funds allotted for ‘development’ by the government, run parallel courts where they dispense quick justice with severe punishment, and do not hesitate for an instant to kill.

The other image that some people paint is of an egalitarian band of young men and women, who stand up for villagers, help those who have been allotted land but have not got it, protect them from landlords and fight against cruel private armies like the Ranvir Sena raised by landlords .They also protect people from the ravages of the police.

Which of these two images is true? Urban people like myself cannot tell because we never get near the militants. People avoid highways at night or travel with armed bodyguards. Very often there comes news of so and so being executed for corruption or rape by the militants or of policemen being shot.


One hears of the ideology of the militants. Some say they are Marxists and do not believe in democratic elections. Other groups do take part in elections but also carry on underground work. They have front organisations of workers, labourers and women and have armouries of weapons— modern as well as country-made. They use landmines and have an excellent courier system. They have links with the LTTE of Sri Lanka and the ISI of Pakistan who supply arms and also help with training. There is a civilian force and an armed force which carries out the decisions of the civilian squad. Though few, there are also women present in these squads.

Living in Bihar towns, within a perimeter of protection and extreme caution, one is filled with curiosity and questions about these young women and men. Why do they leave home? What is their long-term objective? How long will they carry on their fight? They represent an unknown India and all that they stand for cannot be bad.

Mofussil superiority

I once had a quarrel with a dear friend. She and her husband were avid Hindi-lovers and believed that Hindi in India should be given infinitely more encouragement and resources. My view was that Hindi is like any other major Indian language and only those whose mother tongue is Hindi take advantage of it, not bothering to learn or know about any other Indian languages and being frightfully arrogant about Hindi.

Over all this I remember we had a sharp exchange of words one day and I asserted that there are Bengali magazines to which no Hindi ones could be compared. She didn’t believe this at all and I remember mailing her a set. Neither did she change her mind, nor have I mine. I cannot read Malayalam, Marathi or Telugu, for instance, so I cannot compare. Maybe, magazines in these languages are just as high-class. But there is at least one Bengali fortnightly, Desh, that I read regularly, not merely read but eagerly wait for. There are short stories, of course, but that there would be in any magazine. In the latest month there are a bunch of love stories which are very readable. It is the articles I am talking about, on science, economics, art, literature, sport, detective writers, religion, psychiatry and so on. Most of all, I am taken up by the letters to the editor. They are long and detailed and show how much knowledge readers have and how carefully they read every article and can pounce on every mistake. One long letter recently published was about "Jyoti Babu’s career" following an issue of Desh which had articles on various aspects of Jyoti Basu’s 24-year rule. It was a remarkably critical letter which I would recommend everyone to read. What surprises and pleases me is that most of such letters are not from Calcutta but from the mofussil, showing how well-read people are in small towns.

Sense and Census

Two things struck me about Census, the most recent one and that of ten years ago. In 1991, all women who worked in the home and did not have a specific "job" as such were classified as "workless", even though such women often worked right from sun rise to late night. In this time’s Census, sex-workers have been classified as "beggars". The bigger English papers have just now cottoned on to this but important regional papers had pointed out this terrible and humiliating mistake over a month ago.

A well-known writer has said that sex-workers give, they do not take, so how can they be beggers? Under the Vagrancy Act, beggars are clearly defined and do not include sex-workers. Under the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act, prostitution is not illegal. However, if anyone lives off the earnings of a sex-worker, it is illegal and punishable. Women who earn as sex-workers are part of the production process of the country and can never be called beggars. The Census can be a cruel document.

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