Soumyajit is a common Bengali first name, but Soumyajit Basu’s wife’s name is rather unusual: Swachhotoya. A bit of a tongue-twister for people unfamiliar with the Bengali language, the word means a river of transparent waters. His son’s name is even more remarkable, Aranyak, which means of the forests. At home, the boy is called Roddur, Sunlight. Aranyak is also the name of a beautiful autobiographical novel by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay. A forest is the main character in the novel. Soumyajit was fond of Bibhutibhushan and Jibanananda Das, the finest writers on Nature in Bengali, respectively in prose and verse.
Soumyajit grew up in the teagardens of Assam. Since childhood, he was fond of plants, animals, birds, and butterflies. As a child, he had a pet deer. His love for Mother Nature didn’t end after he grew up. Once, when he saw an owl with a broken wing, tears came to his eyes. Owls were his favourite birds. He would nurse birds and squirrels with broken limbs back to health. Even now, there is a tailor bird’s nest in the front veranda of his house, and an old beehive. These were some of the collections from his numerous trips to remote places.
Fond of travelling and trekking, he earned his living by teaching geography in a school, an apt profession for someone who lived with a river and a forest at home. Last October, he went to the Ayodhya Hills of Purulia to watch full moon from the top of the hill. He never came back.
In the treacherous terrain of the Ayodhya Hills, steep peaks hide tiny hamlets peopled by the wretched of the earth. For outsiders, the unmarked alleys, narrow passes and small streams are quite a maze. The Indian government is irrelevant in the area; it is ruled by Maoists.
|Partha Sarathi and Soumyajit|
According to newspaper reports, the reason for their abduction was not clear. Police said Partha and Soumyajit were both involved with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working on wildlife conservation and tribal issues. They had not informed the local police and administration about their visit.
Five months later, two decomposed bodies were found from a jungle near Ayodhya hills in Purulia. The bodies were identified to be that of Partha and Soumyajit through DNA tests.
Why did the Maoists kill them? Partha Sarathi’s police identity would certainly have gone against him. Maybe, the Maoists presumed he was spying. Even if he was, he committed no offense. He was doing his duty. It doesn't justify his murder. If it did, the government forces too would be "justified" to kill suspected Maoists.
While condemning state violence, how do we deal with Maoist counter-violence? How could they kill someone like Soumyajit Basu? Perhaps a group of people can kill, in cold blood, an unarmed man who hasn’t committed any offence only when they cease to be humans. Shorn of their rhetoric, the Maoist movement is exactly that, an exercise in inhumanity. That doesn’t mean the social and economic inequities that breed such violent rebellions are any less inhuman. But let’s keep it aside for another day.
Police often torture and kill politically inconvenient people. State violence against rebels, whether in Kashmir or Chhattisgarh, must stop. In a civilised society, the government must follow its own laws. This is more or less a settled principle. No one, not even the staunchest advocate of the state would say otherwise, at least in public.
But there is a lot of vagueness when it comes to reflecting on Maoist violence. There are sections of intelligentsia that tacitly or openly support the Maoists, which means their violence too, because you cannot think of Maoists without their wanton violence.
No one can fight a war unless they believe they are fighting for a just cause. And the support that Maoists get from well-meaning Left intellectuals certainly helps them to keep their faith alive. Sooner this moral support ends, the better it is.
Bengaluru, 08 October, 2011