Lalgarh: an analysis of the media’s war hysteria

Partho Sarathi Ray, Sanhati.

War-hysteria in media: cobras, shields, and sanitization

We have been witnessing what can only be described as “war hysteria” in the media coverage of the current situation in Lalgarh and adjoining areas. It appears as if the great protectors of the “rule of law”, the West Bengal state police, propped up by the CRPF and a plethora of other armed forces, with suitably scary acronyms like COBRA, are out to regain a chunk of Indian territory occupied by a hostile country. What is conveniently not being mentioned is that for ages the police itself has behaved like invaders in the area, willfully torturing and humiliating people, and that is why they had been boycotted in that area for the past six months. With blow-by-blow accounts of their progress, and description of how they are penetrating “human shields”, and “sanitizing” whole areas, it doesn’t seem that their adversaries are the poorest of the poor, the most marginalized sections of Indian society, the adivasis who are armed with traditional weapons like bows and arrows, and some Maoist cadre, who would be a few dozen at the most, and armed mostly with weapons looted from the police and improvised explosive devices.

The trigger in Dharampur: a popular response to rampaging harmad militias

More importantly, what is being represented as a war between the Maoists and the Indian state, conveniently glosses over some points that we need to pay our attention to. The rural area of Lalgarh has been out of bounds for the administrative machinery of the state since last November, since the uprising of the adivasi-moolvasi people of the area against police atrocities. With the setting up of the PCPA, the adivasis had been running their own affairs, and even taking up much-needed developmental work, a whiff of functioning democracy in the middle of the hoax that goes on by the name of democratic governance in large parts of India.

Then, what suddenly triggered this confrontation, and this cascade of events that is today witnessing police dragging out women from houses in the Lalgarh area and beating them blue and black and hundreds of people fleeing to relief camps?

It points to the incident which happened in Dharampur, near Lalgarh town, on June 14th. It was reported in the press on that day, but now has been conveniently forgotten as the press is busy to set up the Maoists, and the PCPA, which they repeatedly call Maoist-controlled contrary to all evidence and denials by the PCPA leadership, as the arch-villains in this episode.

Dharampur is near Lalgarh town, and it was a CPI(M) stronghold where the house of the zonal committee member, Anuj Pandey, was located. On 14th June, a PCPA rally was proceeding towards that place, called to protest against the arrest and reported rape of adivasi women who had gone to a meeting in Chakulia in Jharkhand. It was a usual PCPA rally, with traditional weapons and led by women as usual. When it neared Dharampur, it was attacked by CPI(M) harmads, targeting the women. The rallyists couldn’t resist this attack and dispersed, but then a Maoist squad arrived and started a gun battle with the CPI(M) cadres, which continued till late in the night.

With their superior firepower, the Maoists gunned down at least nine of the CPI(M) attackers. Thereafter, the next day there were multiple rallies called by the PCPA, and the people in these rallies, who were incensed by the CPI(M) attack of the previous day, decided to take over the CPI(M) strongholds of Dharampur, a major operating base for the CPI(M) harmads, and Lalgarh town which was still under the administrative control of the government. The Maoist squad accompanied them, to resist attacks by the CPI(M), and not allow a repetition of the past day’s incident.

20,000 Maoists and “frontal organisations”?

What followed has been widely reported, how CPI(M) party offices were burnt down, how the palatial house of Anuj Pandey, the widely hated CPI(M) leader, was broken down, and how some CPI(M) members were killed. It was a spontaneous outburst of pent up fury of the people, people who had been subjected to humiliation and exploitation by these same CPI(M) leaders on a daily basis. They acted out of a sense of deliverance from the hegemony and corruption of the CPI(M). The Maoists were definitely present, but the 10,000-20,000 people who participated in this uprising were definitely not Maoists, as has been represented by the press. They were common people, and their anger and frustration found expression in this outburst. Although a number of political leaders, including those from the Trinamool Congress and Congress, made statements to this effect, it has completely been glossed over by the mainstream press.

Human shields – a physical protection of liberty and development

In order to reinforce this idea, multiple press reports have tried to represent the human walls set up by the adivasis as “human shields” being used by the Maoists to protect themselves from the police and paramilitary. It is possibly incomprehensible to the corporate media that these people were standing there not to protect the Maoists, but to protect the freedom that they have enjoyed for the past six months, freedom from daily harassment and humiliation, and to preserve the gains that they had made during that time, like the building of a few roads and digging of a few ponds, meeting the immediate needs of the people, things that Indian state has not provided in the past sixty-two years.

Teaching adivasis a few lessons along the way

However, as expected, they could not resist the brute force unleashed by the same state that had failed them so miserably. The police and paramilitary dispersed them by teargas and lathicharging, and since then there has been innumerable reports of atrocities being committed by the police. Remarkably, much of these atrocities were committed in the villages on the way to Lalgarh town, which were not even within the zone that was under the control of the PCPA. It appears that the state is bent upon teaching the adivasis a lesson for standing up for their dignity, and the Maoists represented a suitable bogey for doing so. The Maoists, according to their stated policy of guerrilla warfare, would not engage in a frontal confrontation with the paramilitary forces. So what have effectively taken place are a few skirmishes between vastly assymetrical adversaries, and the brave saviours of “law and order” have vented their righteous ire on the unarmed adivasis.

Maoist presence: an old fact and a rehashed bogey

The Maoists have been active in the entire jangalmahal area for a long time, and have been fighting a running battle with the state. The adivasis in the area have long been victimized by the police for this, and it was the police brutalities in the wake of the landmine attack on the West Bengal CM’s convoy by the Maoists that triggered this uprising. The Maoists have been with the adivasis of Lalgarh in this uprising against the state, just as members of many other political parties including the Congress, have been with them. What we are witnessing today is that the Indian state is using this as an excuse to delegitimize the just demands and aspirations of the adivasis, which stemmed from a simple demand for the recognition of their dignity. Attacks on indigeneous people are taking place all over the world, whenever they are resisting the state and the corporations attempt to deprive them of their land, water, forests and dignity, as we recently saw in the attacks on the Peruvian indigeneous people in the Amazon area. All attempts to resist and retaliate are being represented as insurgency and a breakdown of “law and order”. The corporate press is playing along with this, as we see in the case of Lalgarh, and deliberately glossing over facts and issues, to represent the struggle of the indigeneous people, in which armed struggle is increasingly playing a part, as a loss of sovereign authority by the state, which has to be regained at any cost.

Ground dynamics and civil society

The “civil society” in West Bengal, and all over India, has rightly been very distressed over these incidents and condemned both the atrocities committed by the state and what many think to be the reckless behaviour of the Maoists. However, it is also to be expected that the civil society cannot decide, or dictate, what course a movement on the ground will take. A movement develops its own dynamics, based on the ground conditions, and always does not follow a linear path to the most desirable end. Therefore, it becomes the duty of civil society to stand up and be counted when common people are at the receiving end of oppression by the state. We should express our solidarity with the struggle of the adivasis for justice and development, deplore the atrocities being committed on them by the armed forces of the state and demand the immediate withdrawal of the latter from the area as a necessary condition for normalization of the situation and also condemn all the attempts by the state to use this excuse to impinge on the democratic rights of the people. The adivasis had risen up with the demand of a small apology from the police, if what is happening now does not stop, the Indian state will owe them a much bigger one.


  1. D. Bhattacharjya Tato says:

    Dear Mr Ray,

    I have read your article with much attention. I had also sent a mail to an acquaintance of mine Garga Chatterjee on Lalgarg affair. Although he never replied to that mail because I guess that I do not belong to a politically-conscious elite group to which most of the activists respond to in India.

    I really don’t think that your information on Maoists and the adivasis are “armed with traditional weapons like bows and arrows, and some Maoist cadre, who would be a few dozen at the most, and armed mostly with weapons looted from the police and improvised explosive devices.” is at all true. I remember an acquaintance of mine in 1996-1997 was arrested with gelatin sticks. I really think that some other organization (like Chinese government, LTTE) must be supporting them.

    The Maoist training camp on Indian tv channels shows that they have the same weapons as US army, Indian army. It is unbelievable but true that Maoists, Government armies, other so called Liberation Groups, Islamic Fundamentalists— all of them buy the same brand of arms from the same dealer.

    Last month I was protesting about uprooting of my daily vendors in New Delhi due to Commonwealth Games and alone … Before that I participated in an protest of unlawful imprisonment of Binayak Sen. It was my conscience which pushed me into such activities not any political ideology.

    What I want to mean here is like if there is an oppression any human being should react to it, but do you need to have an ideology (such as marxism, maoism, etc.)?

    If there were problems in Lalgarg area for ages, then why did not the elite political commentators react then? I guess a person of your stature should have taken it up seriously … perhaps decades back and we could have addressed these problems in a peaceful manner.

    What I really don’t like in your article is that, as an average Indian, I have a feeling that everybody is taking the advantage of Lalgarh (CPIM, CPI Maoists, Congress, Mamta and Trinamool, Naxalites, Elite Socialites like Aparna Sen & Saonli Mitra et al and also political commentators). But at the cost of others’ life. Today I saw a picture of WB chief secretary arriving in a chopper while a poor village woman was looking on…. I think the sharp contrast between the State and the people is there … it captures a kind of reality… But it does not mean that we have to kill or support the killers of either of the two.

    So please do let us know if you foresee a case of oppression here and there … there are many people like us in this country (who might not believe in a religion called Marxism, Hindutva etc) who will try to protest in a peaceful manner and try to change things.

    Do let me know if I am wrong…. it is only through a dialogue we can live in a society.

  2. anonymous says:

    Well an armed uprising can only lead to the liberation of mankind, and end of exploitation of man by man. Let me tell you why-
    On one hand are the corporates, multinationals who in collusion with the state displace people. The very same nexus controls the media, the judiciary, the press and even the civil society now now with the coming up of the NGOs. So it happens when this is going on, the rest of the urban liberal elite is made to believe that it is for the greater good of mankind On the other hand are the poor peasants-who have nothing but their huge numbers. They can only organise themselves and resist this. To believe that they can fight within the framework of law-using the press or the judiciary or parliamentary means(all of which are suited to protect the interests of the ruling elite) is a naive and an impossible assumption.

  3. Dear Mr. bhattarjya,

    .. to some extent I do agree with you, only violence can never be the solution to all problems. would likt to comment on these lines too..

    … ” What I want to mean here is like if there is an oppression any human being should react to it, but do you need to have an ideology (such as marxism, maoism, etc.)? ”

    .. sir i shall ask you a question , can we have have HONEY without beehives ???
    If yes then yes we do not need any Marxism or Maoism and on the other hand if we do need them ..then i am afraid you can be practically bit wrong in assuming that we do not need any kind of ideology . Yet I agree that what is of prime importance is the solution or peace and not the idology. So those who treats ideology as DOGMA are the danger to progression of humanity not the ideolgy itself.

    .. also PROBLEM of the middle class is that we are always chatting and having drawing room discussions BUT what are the problems what is the character of the State, what can be the possible solutions they all can only be discussed and answered only in the society ( in villages among adivasis ) not on net. So I believe all the middle class hysteria can be overwhelmed not through any debate but being among the people.

    .. I am a law student in Punjab University Chandigarh and have recently witnessed a small but very strong agrarian labor movement here in deep countryside of Punjab, In MANSA. While sitting in Chandigarh and university canteen I have discussed lots of Marxism and human rights Yet on being among the people we can know that intellectual debate of VIOLENCE and VIOLENCE is all non sense just a term thrown by ruling classes to keep on the intelligentsia on the edge. It is simple, THERE is most inhuman exploitation in India’s villages and there is exploitation and then even you want peace to prevail .. NA not possible.

    .. and one thing More you have used Hindutva and Marxism in same line as they are two sides of same coin !! …hahah GREAT But must absolutely OBJECT . SIRE, Marxism is not just a political ideology it is not been written out of fancy or wish of one individual, it is the the DISCOVERY of LAWS of Motion of our SOCIETY (definate laws that nature obey while it allows humans to enter from one stage to another from ancient to medieval to modern .. )
    which were intact and working well before Marx and shall always work. This is just like the discovery of GRAVITY now you believe it or not Gravity is always there and always existed before NEWTON.

    … and lastly thought I do not exactly support these CPI Maoist, but you too should chose carefully from where u are deducing this information of Maoists having help from LTTE and all that stuff… If u do not believe Maoists on the 1st instance then why you should believe in the information which is completely state sponsored ??? where is our sense of justice here ?

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