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‘We deplore military approaches to alter social situations’

From: The Times of India, 31 July 2009

Since his release on bail after two years in a Chhattisgarh jail on charges of being a Naxalite, PUCL vice-president Binayak Sen has been consumed with the idea of a ‘peace initiative’ to counter the growing ‘military campaign’ of the state. Sen explains to Jyoti Punwani why civil society must say no to violence:

What do you mean by the state’s ‘military campaign’?

Responsible people at the Centre have been making bellicose statements about launching a military campaign against those opposing the state. There’s talk of doing what Sri Lanka did. Such talk is an obscenity in the light of the deprivation faced by majority of our people. I won’t call it poverty. A lot of energy and discipline have to be extended to keep this poverty in its place. Till now, Adivasis and Dalits have had to face structural violence that deprives them of nutrition and basic survival needs. Thousands of our children are paying with their lives for the economic policies of the state; there’s a continuous famine for certain sections of our citizens. But now, they may have to face guns and bombs if they protest.

Why has this happened?

We are at a particular historical juncture where the state acts as the guarantor for those who appropriate national resources for their own profit. The activities of the government should decrease, not increase, inequalities. The use of national resources must be manifestly for the public good. Instead, the government backs the unconstitutional expropriation of resources that leads to increased polarities. The state is engaged in displacing huge masses of population; people with guns provided by the state are getting villages emptied out. What is this if not a military campaign? Unfortunately, many people seem equivocal about state violence. Civil society must assert that military strategies are not a legitimate means of solving social problems. We must all try to establish an imperative for peace and against military confrontation, a peace that comes with equity and justice. We must question those who speak about following the Sri Lanka example.

What about the violence of those opposed to the state?

We deplore all military approaches to alter social situations. There is no legitimate justification for violence except in self-defence. No human rights group true to its mandate can approve of planned violence as a means of solving social problems. Such deployment of planned violence by organisations against the state ties us to a circle of violence from which it’s difficult to emerge. We have certain institutions of democratic governance, rights which people have gained over long years of struggle. All are teetering on the brink of collapse. We have to make these institutions work whether it is Parliament, or the devolution of power to gram sabhas. We should draw lessons from our neighbouring countries. If violence is met with violence, these institutions will become defunct.