From Violence To Nonviolence- Lessons From Bhagat Singh,
An Open Letter To My Naxal Friends
By Anurag Modi
14 July, 2012
Indian State’s response to the Sarkeguda-killings in Chattisgarh reminds us of US authority’s response to the civilian killings by security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. We all know, the state guided by capitalist interest knows no limits. It has been proved time and again in Chhattisgarh also, and I am in no doubt that the present Sarkeguda -killing was not the case of mistaken identity. Instead, it was an exercise by the state agencies in its ongoing war against , ‘Naxals’, to prove that it would be more brutal with civilian population to warn them against being sympathetic to, ‘Naxals’. Moreover, the state’s adamancy to continue with Salwa-Judum in the face of the highest court in the country passing order against it further proves the point.
Though, we differ in ideology; you believe in violent means and we, in nonviolent. We both are hard to crack on ideology; perhaps impossible. And I have no intention either, or have enough intellectual ability or deep understanding to lecture you on the ideology. Yet, before you conclude on your strategy sessions to plan out your response to recent killings, I would venture to share some thoughts with you. One, on my understanding of Adivasis and second, on history of transition of strategy in various movements across the globe, which have been churning in my mind for a while now.
While we see profound change in the strategies of nonviolent movements across the globes, you have more to learn from Bhagat Singh than Mao. Though, Bhagat Singh was influenced by Marxist ideology, when it came to adaption of strategy, he was found more close to his Indian counterpart, i.e., Gandhi. Not only that, if you look at the history of violent movements across the globe, you will see: The Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), in pre independence India- FMLN of El-Salvador-African National Congress & other movements of South Africa- Maoist in Nepal- Palestine and Jammu and Kashmir- all the nonviolent movements have observed great shift in their strategy with time. In these movements, the adaption of nonviolent form of protest had left governments isolated in their brutality and provided the movements with sudden advantage over the government. After decades of violent struggle in Manipur, non violent protest is gaining ground in the form of support to ten long years of hunger strike by Irom Sharmila.
In my opinion, understanding of Adivasis is important as they are the single largest group, be it associated with violent or nonviolent movements, fighting for their share of freedom ever-since independence. My two decade long experience of activism with the Adivasi community suggests that Adivasis are very much contented; they have immense ability, but no craving for power. This gets reflected in their way of life; they don’t believe in accumulation; have minimum land to survive; and possess bare minimum resources. Have they had any craving for power, they would have been the biggest landlords of the country and not the forest department, and like other erstwhile rulers, they would have been part of the power game in today’s politics. It does not mean they have no understanding of Marx or Gandhi. With the adaption of salt-movement into Jangal-Satyagraha, they have shown their ability to understand the essence of Gandhi’s call. They have been on forefront in armed rebellion against the British. An understanding of freedom is the essence of Adivasi life; he loves his traditions and does not like anyone controlling his life, nor does he has any craving for controlling other’s life, by acquiring power; be it through bullet or ballet. His confrontation with British power was more against infringement on his way of life; influence and interference of outsiders in his life leading to exploitation, and less for power. Freedom was so crucial to Adivasi that he did not think twice before fighting a battle before British guns and canon with his bows and arrows, which resulted in the loss of thousands of lives of his people. Even to date, he is not concerned much with our ideologies of violence or nonviolence, if he had believed in you he would fight with you without calculating the gains; ready to pay any cost for their freedom.
Actually, the western mode of development has proved to be Adivasi’s biggest enemy and has brought them displacement and destruction. Who knows this better than you? The growing need of resources has been the reason for terming the, 'Naxalism' as the biggest internal security threats. The basic foundation of modern development is not going to change with the mere change of power. The ever increasing need of resources has brought immense repression on violent and nonviolent movements alike. While authorities have been using strategies like operation green hunt and Salwa-Judum against you, they have forest protection committees and various sections of IPCs and draconian laws for the non-violent crusaders. Both the strategies have one thing in common; pitch Adivasi community against each other. Even, political parties like Congress and BJP, which don’t see eye to eye with each other, have befriended over the issue. The Salwa-Judum launched by the BJP run state government of Chattishgarh was led by then leader of opposition of congress in the assembly, Mr. Mahendra Karma.
Now, with the example of pre-independence Indian revolutionary movements (HSRA) and Palestinian movements, we can understand the transition of strategies in the violent movements: They were nonviolent at one time and later taken to violence but, eventually, switched back to nonviolence as they found it to be the best suited strategy. The HSRA of Bhagat Singh and the Palestinians movements have many things in common. First, we take the example of Palestinians. Around 1930, with the beginning of growing Jews settlements, Palestinians opposed it by way of peaceful demonstrations. In the face off all the repression, the movement remained nonviolent until 1933, when, during a rally British mounted policeman injured famous Palestinian leader, 81-year-old, Musa Al-Hussein Kajim, who, few months later, succumbed to his injuries. The incident led to the sudden transition from nonviolent to violent protest. Similarly in India, famous leader Lala Lajpat Rai succumbing to his injuries caused by blow of lathis by British mounted Police, led to British officers Saunders’ murder and sudden upsurge in revolutionary movement led by HSRA.
The nonviolent Palestinian movement, which lasted unabated for almost 7 long decades; attained epitome of Guerrilla-war with introduction of suicide attacks, is passing through another sea changes. They have been shifting to more innovative ways of non-violent protests; like big rallies and hunger strikes by 10 thousand Palestinians prisoners locked inside the Israel jails. Though, these protests have not yet officially been supported by any big Palestinian party, they have been coming so naturally and having huge public support that it is only a matter of time before it gets backing from these big parties. Israel Defense Force (IDF), which is known for developing and supplying deadly weapons world over, has been finding it difficult to deal with these nonviolent protests. Like Palestine, the movements in Jammu and Kashmir have also witnessed profound change of strategy: After nonviolent groups taking over the movement by 1989 which reached its peak with suicide bombing in 1999, now we see months of protest by thousands of protesters. In Jammu and Kashmir & Palestine protests have one thing in common, both the protests are marred by incidents of stone pelting, but looking at their history of military occupation and state violence, we will have to be a little bit moderate in terming them nonviolent.
HSRA transition of strategy, without leaving their Marxist ideology, from Saunders murder to the assembly bombing and then the trial at the British court followed by a hunger strike at the jail, can be interesting to analyse. On 8th April, 1929, with throwing a bomb in the central assembly at Delhi, they had shown how a ‘Nonviolent-Bomb’ can be more effective. Unlike their earlier efforts, this time due care was taken that none of the people of British authority got injured in the attack. Yet, the echo of the bomb can be heard even today; louder than any bomb ever used in the history of violent movements across the globe. This was followed by willful surrender by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt, as they knew the Bomb could hurt only few but the historic opportunity they would get through trial court hearings would give them an opportunity to reach their ideology, the “ideology of bomb” to the larger people. Then, from 15th June to 4th October the longest hunger strike ever known of 112 days in the jail, which continued for another 20 days despite their revolutionary jail-inmate, Jatin Das’s death on the 92nd day of hunger strike. It was followed by two hunger strikes in 1930. With these timely adaption of strategy, in few years time Bhagatsingh’s popularity rose equivalent to Gandhi; no other violent or nonviolent movement in the world has got such a huge recognition in such a shortest period of time.
At this historic juncture, you shouldn’t be investing your energy fighting a lone war, remaining cut off from the masses. The adaption of nonviolent protest and giving away violence will leave government’s operation green-hunt exposed and redundant. In the backdrop of entire Adivasi population of the country facing state repression, the shift in strategy will not only save Adivasis from a war unleashed by the nexus of government and the corporate lobby, but, will make your effort of larger change more effective.
Anurag Modi belongs to Samajwadi Jan Parishad, Kothi Bazar/Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, Betul (MP), India firstname.lastname@example.org
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