Saturday, 10 April 2010

A very old War

Khandava Forest was an ancient forest mentioned in the epic Mahabharata. It lay to the west of Yamuna river, in modern day Delhi territory. Pandavas cleared this forest to construct their capital city called Indraprastha. This forest was earlier inhabited by Naga tribes. Arjuna and Vasudeva Krishna cleared this forest by setting up a fire. The inhabitants of this forest were displaced. This was the root cause of the enimity of the Naga Takshaka towards the Kuru kings who ruled from Indraprastha and Hastinapura.

. . . . . . . . .

Emperor Janamejaya ascended to the throne of Hastinapura upon the death of his father Parikshit. According to legend, Parikshit, the lone descendant of the House of Pandu, had died of snakebite. He had been cursed by a sage to die so, the curse having been consummated by the serpent-chieftain Takshak.
Janamejaya bore a deep grudge against the serpents for this act, and thus decided to wipe them out altogether. He attempted this by performing a great Sarpa satra - a sacrifice that would destroy all living serpents.
At that time, a learned sage named Astika, a boy in age, came and interfered. His mother Manasa was a Naga and father was a Brahmin. Janamejaya had to listen to the words of the learned Astika and set Takshaka free. He also stopped the massacre of the Nagas and ended all the enemity with them (1,56). From then onwards the Nagas and Kurus lived in peace.

from Wikipedia.

Well, as Dantewada has shown us again, they are living in peace no longer.

Notice how the locals (who were presumably referred to as serpents, or perhaps the words for serpent and the local tribes just happened to be the same) are now referred to as serpents literally. Dehumanised in the stories we tell our children, so we can collectively forget that thousands of years ago the 'aryan' invaders cleared the forests and displaced the locals and formed the Vedic Civilization that most modern Indians are descended from.

The story of the burning of the Khandva forest by Krishna and Arjuna - in the Mahabharata - tells us how they set the forest on fire and killed every living thing in it. An exaggeration obviously, but perhaps it captures the brutality of the violence that was perpetrated. The capital of modern India stands where the Khandva forest used to be. Where Takshaka's people were massacred.
I like the irony.

Throughout history, the forest people have not been a part of our civilization. It exists only where we burnt their forests down. Gazni and Ghori and Timur never looted them, the British never really ruled them and the Indian state was conceived and implemented without their participation. And on paper their lands suddenly belonged to the powers that be - in the city Arjuna cleared land to create.
Oh yes, I like the irony.

It is not a law and order problem, it is not merely an insurgency, it is very much a clash of civilisations. To solve it, we must address the problem of somehow including the Adivasi stories and dreams in a composite vision for the future of the land that constitutes the Republic of India. We need to assure them - and change ourselves to make our assertions a reality - that our civilisation is not antagonistic to theirs. The maoists will wither and die if the Adivasis are with us.

Or, bring them to the table through force followed by a place within the Indian Democratic setup. However we go about it, we must first internalize the fact that they are a civilisation seperate from ours which needs to somehow be brought round a point where we can share a nation without risk of future conflict. One way or another.

It is my view that the only way to make sensible policy decisions is to face the truth, and there is much to be said for the paradigm of the clash of civilisations. Looked at from this perspective, it is easy to see why and how events started spiralling out of control once we wanted the lands they lived on. If it was obvious to us that Iraq was about Oil, it should be equally obvious to us that Dandakaranya is about Land. It always has been. For several thousand years.

There are no heroes and villains in this, no great virtuous proletariat fighting for some serene Utopia. There are interests. Do we really care if some large companies make even more money ? Or is it more important to us that the discord and violence that has plagued our country for millennia is finally resolved ? Do we want the freedom to roam through our forests welcomed by our fellow countrymen or are we content to let economics take its course and exacerbate the violence ? what is in our best interest ? Perhaps the market is not the best mechanism to handle this. Perhaps we need a more creative, more innovative approach. Perhaps we need to declare our forests sacrosanct since people depend on them for their livelihoods. Perhaps we need to work out some concept of collective land ownership for tribes that have lived there for hundreds of years. Perhaps we need to do the fair and right thing by the tribals we have forgotten and ignored throughout history, and THEN crush the maoists.

If we cannot be sensitive and innovative, we must at least be decisive and firm. To dither mouthing platitudes is plain cowardice and spinelessness. Are we the "virtuous" ? then lets act like it. Lets do the magnanimous and fair thing. If we are not, lets do the pragmatic thing that has worked for countless empires before us, and subjugate the "enemies" who stand in our way and challenge our state. Its been done before, even by us (excellent article by Shekhar Gupta), countless times.

People who believe their own propaganda seldom solve real problems. We must face the truth about our history, all aspects of it. Every invader and immigrant brings with him new tensions and conflicts. India is a multilayered closely packed collection of such conflicts accumulated over millennia - from the ancient Aryans to the more recent Muslims and British. To pretend that everything has always been hunky dory - while the stories handed down from generation to generation in every language tell of strife and conflict - does not help bridge the divides and disaffections and mistrust that plague our country.

Problems don't go away simply because we try hard to forget them and the harsh bracing truth is always better than the palliative lie and those who forget the past, are condemned to repeat it.


Critic Roshan said...

Dude, I tried to look into this, these naxal people have no demands. They just want to rule their land! They have no idea what they'll do with it. Are kendu leaves and mines the reason? In the US such people opened casinos when given liberty! There are no ideals here.
We are extrapolating the problem. The current event is plain lawless-ness.

Juhi said...

Like the article, although I don't agree with it totally.

Particularly enjoyed the way you started with the Mahabharat.

Arjun said...

Nice piece, and echoes much in the wise strain of Himanshu Kumar's words.

I am not sure if I like the irony, for it seems much too common a method of history, to write itself, for us to pretend it is an aberration to marvel at its subtlety.

I like how you say that it is a clash of civilizations, for that seems true. Which is also why it is one of those peripheral-vision problems that you can miss if you have your focus starkly on the present -- which then is just a "law-and-order problem".

Though, when I think about it, it seems rather like we are clashing against our own civilizations. For isn't it only when the foes take up our weapons, our modes of politicization, and our form of demonizing rhetoric -- that we recognize the 'terror' and the 'evil' in them? And promptly launch wars from the middle east to the central indian forests. Rather like we are coming to terms with our own history, through such conflicts.

But then again, sometimes I think we are getting none the wiser -- like here:

Juhi said...

Oh, I am blogging again...yaay! It feels good :)

comet said...

Very interesting historical perspective. Thanks!

I am reminded of Cooper's 'The Last of The Mohicans' in the context of this apparent 'war' between civilization and non-civilization. Of course, there might be vested interests involved and I am particularly suspicious about media-savvy naxal leaders such as Kishen; but at the end of the day, it might actually be a fight for justice (im not really sure).

If my people were staying in a forest for hundreds of years and then one day all of a sudden, someone with a flag and a uniform wants me to go away for some larger good that I do not understand (and nobody seems to care enough to make me understand), I would be angry. Very angry. Especially if those people do not respect my forest.

Im not sure what the solution is though. The least we can do is to have zero tolerance for corruption involved in giving away mining leases and stuff.

If we lose or delay some material progress, big deal! but can we really afford to lose more of our humanity?

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