When the Wolf Masquerades as the Sheep

“I suffer from multiple handicaps… I'm a double Shudra…An allegation against a Shudra needn't be proved; it's the Shudra who must prove his innocence…”

Are those the words of the adivasis and dalits who are branded as 'Naxalites,' thrown in jail or summarily executed?

Wrong. Those are the words of Vishwaranjan, the DGP of Chhattisgarh.

In a recent article “A Khaki Shudra To Our New Brahmins” in Outlook magazine, February 22, 2010, Vishwaranjan has declared that as a “policeman and Hindi poet”, he is a Shudra (in contrast to English-speaking metropolitan intellectual critics of Operation Greenhunt), and that his article is an attempt to defend himself and his police force “despite the heavy odds”.

It is worth quoting at length from Vishwaranjan's piece:

“I'm aware that I suffer from multiple handicaps as I stand to defend myself and my police force for planning and executing 'Operation Green Hunt'. …in India's transformed caste system of today, a policeman is a Shudra, someone to be ridiculed, shouted at, spat upon. …I have expanded the Shudra label to include writers, poets, intellectuals, journalists and teachers from mofussil towns… those who essentially know and think in Hindi or other regional languages of India. And, by extension of that metaphor, who are the Brahmins? The Anglophile Indians are the Brahminsthose who write and think in English, those who teach in the colleges of Delhi and other big cities. …Therefore, as policeman and Hindi poet, I'm a double Shudra.

According to ancient Indian jurisprudence, as a Shudra, my evidence is of little value. A Shudra's cry is a cry in the wilderness. An allegation against a Shudra needn't be proved; it's the Shudra who must prove his innocence. Despite the heavy odds, I must still defend myself and my force.”

Let us interrupt Mr. Vishwaranjan's plaintive “cry in the wilderness” to ask certain inconvenient questions.

In Mr. Vishwaranjan's simple reworking of Indian caste system, there are just two protagonists - the 'shudra' policeman and the metropolitan English-speaking intellectual 'brahman.' Where, in this cast(e) of characters, is the adivasi man or woman of Chhattisgarh? His or her identity has vanished as - hey presto - Mr. Vishvaranjan performs the magic trick of recasting the might of the Indian State's repressive machinery in mould of martyrdom.

A police officer in Vishwaranjan's force, asked by a visiting writer for proof that people killed in an 'encounter' were actually 'naxalites,' answered (blithely unconscious of any irony) “Why, of course they're Maoists, ma'am they have malaria medicine and dettol from the outside.” Who is the “Shudra” here - the adivasi summarily executed as 'naxalite' for possessing quinine or dettol - or the police force that fakes these encounters?!

Does the DGP of Chhattisgarh recall the case of the six adivasi women of Bastar who managed to file complaints (before a judicial magistrate) of rape against SPOs and Salwa Judum, in spite of intense intimidation and threats to them and their families? When the Supreme Court asked the Chhattisgarh Government about these rape complaints, the latter, (basing itself no doubt on 'evidence' provided by Mr Vishwaranjan's police force), told the Court that they had 'witnesses' to prove that the women were liars, coached by Naxalites to malign the government. And who, pray, were these witnesses? Well, the list of 'witnesses' overlapped heavily with the list of the very men accused of rape! The Chhattisgarh Government said that their police force established the “truth” simply by “questioning the accused who insisted they were innocent.” Adivasi women who dare to cry rape in the “wilderness” of Bastar are branded as liars on the evidence of the members of Vishwaranjan's police force whom they accuse of rape! Who is the “Shudra” here who is by definition “guilty”, Mr. Vishwaranjan?

Mr Vishwaranjan mentions Sodi Sambho. Sodi is an eyewitness to a massacre at Gompad village in October last year, when police shot three men, three women and a 12-year-old girl, cut off a two-year-old infant's fingers and chopped off an old woman's breasts. Mr. Vishwaranjan's force has made sure of the fact that the voice of Sodi and the other 12 eyewitnesses who petitioned the Supreme Court in this case, remains a “cry in the wilderness.” The witnesses have been prevented from meeting lawyers or activists and have been kept firmly in the custody of the very police force that stands accused of the massacre, to be reluctantly produced upon insistent demand by the Supreme Court (then, too in small doses - i.e six of the 13 witnesses) only once it is ensured that they have recanted from their indictment of the police!

Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano writes of how “Peace and Justice” was the name of the paramilitary group that in 1997 shot forty-five peasants, nearly all of them women and children, in the back as they prayed in the town church in Acteal, Chiapas, Mexico. We can hear the echoes of “Peace and Justice” in the phrases “Salwa Judum” (Peace Hunt in the Gondi language) and “Green Hunt” for the Operation intended to facilitate grab of forest land by mining corporations! In a similar case of doublespeak, DGP Vishwaranjan appropriates the identity of 'shudra' and thereby denies the adivasi people being repressed by his police force even the dignity of recognition as 'downtrodden.'

Mr. Vishwaranjan's moving masquerade as subaltern “shudra” - an act of breathtaking gall and audacity - is about convincing as that of a wolf claiming he is actually a sheep.

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