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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 26, June 15, 2013

Killing of Mahendra Karma: An Act of Popular Justice

Saturday 15 June 2013, by Arup Kumar Sen


The Indian state characterised the Maoist insurgency as the biggest internal security problem for the country. The spectre of Maoism has returned to haunt the state in the wake of the brutal killing of a number of top Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh including the founder of anti-Maoist forces, Mahendra Karma, by the Maoists.

Mahendra Karma, who represented Bastar in the Lok Sabha and Dantewada in the State Assembly, founded two anti-Maoist forces in Chhattisgarh: Jan Jagaran Abhiyan in the mid-1990s and Salwa Judum in 2005. The latter played a big role in fomenting bloodbath in Bastar with the Maoist rebels targeting those who supported the Salwa Judum movement and state-sponsored vigilante groups attacking those who opposed them.

Salwa Judum is implicated in many cases of human rights violations and the killing of inno-cent people.1 It should be mentioned in this connection that in a verdict on July 5, 2011, the Supreme Court restrained the Chhattisgarh Government and the Centre from arming Special PoliceOfficers (SPOs), calling the force “uncons-titutional”. A Bench of the Court gave this order on a petition filed by sociologist Nandini Sundar, historian Ramchandra Guha and others. The petition sought a direction to the State Govern-ment to refrain from allegedly supporting Salwa Judum comprising about 5000 tribal youths, who helped the police and security forces in the Bastar region to fight against the Maoists. Given a list of 537 killings by Salwa Judum and security forces, the State Government has ordered magisterial inquiries into eight cases since 2008, of which seven are still pending! Instead, the fortification of SPOs with better guns and more money as the renamed ‘Armed Auxiliary Forces’ has aggravated the violence-prone situation in the region.2

Alex Paul Menon, one of the District Collectors in Chhattisgarh, was taken hostage by the Maoists a year ago. In the 13-day custody, Menon had long conversations with his Maoist kidnappers. Of the over 100 rebels he had a chance to interact with, as many as 70 per cent told him that they had taken to arms in reaction to Salwa Judum.3

The above context makes us understand the brutal manner in which Mahendra Karma was murdered by the Maoists. It is reported that on the day of massacre (May 26) of Congressmen, armed Maoists peered into every vehicle asking “Where is MahendraKarma?” and spraying bullets at the occupants as they failed to respond. Suddenly, an elderly man stepped out of the eighth vehicle of the Congress convoy and said in a calm voice: “I am Mahendra Karma”.4

The dead body of the ‘Bastar tiger’, Mahendra Karma, bore 78 stabs and 50 bullet wounds. It is reported that after he was captured, Karma was taken away from the roadside into a thicket. With Karma’s hands tied behind his back, a female cadre fired a shot in his back. He did not fall. Another woman broke his leg with a log and he fell down. Then, a handful of female Maoists took turns to stab him 78 times, making sure that they inflicted maximum pain before he met his end.5 To put it in the words of a Congress leader, Shivnarayan Dwivedi, who was with the slain leader:

The scene was really gruesome as the Naxals started dancing on the body of Mahendra Karma after spraying bullets on him till they ran out of bullets. They also stabbed the lifeless body repeatedly with the bayonets of their rifles. The ultras, all in the age group of 19-24, were also using abusive language while indulging in sadistic activities... The Naxals also kicked the body like a football before leaving the body on the spot.6

A few days after the massacre, the CPI (Maoist) strongly defended the killing of senior tribal leader, Mahendra Karma, and Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress CommitteePresident, Nand Kumar Patel, for their role in Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt, but expressed regrets over the death of other “innocent” Congressmen. Minutes before Mahendra Karma’s funeral, the villagers brought a message from the Maoists to his family: They wouldn’t allow the Karma family to stay in Bastar and asked them to flee within a week’s time.7

One can understand the animal anger of the Maoists against Mahendra Karma from the above episodes. No sane person can support the brutal murder of Mahendra Karma and others by the Maoists. At the same time, we should not glorify the brute force symbolised by Karma. A few years back, a journalist heard the BJP Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, glorifying Salwa Judum as a legacy of Gandhian non-violence, before a roomful of police and intelligence officials. Immediately after the murder of Mahendra Karma, Raman Singh praised him as a brave man “who dedicated his life to the fight against the Maoists and never bowed before the rebels”.8

The reason behind violent expressions of popular justice in Chhattisgarh can be under-stood if one remembers the numerous atrocities committed by Salwa Judum in the region. To put it in the words of Nandini Sundar:

At least 644 villages were affected, over a thousand people killed, hundreds raped, and some 1,50,000 displaced. Small children were bashed to death or thrown into ponds; old people who could not run away were burnt alive. Yet there has been no prosecution or compensation, despite the Supreme Court’s repeated orders.9

The whole-hearted support extended by the State of Chhattisgarh to the extra-judicial and non-constitutional force, Salwa Judum, increased the intensity of bloody conflict in the tribal land. If the State decides to continue the legacy of Mahendra Karma, there is no doubt that violence and counter-violence will remain the dominant language of politics in the region, leading to more bloodbaths in the coming days.


1. Rashmi Drolia, ‘Karma founded 2 anti-Maoist movements’ in The Times of India, May 26, 2013.

2. See Nandini Sundar, ‘The Bloodstained Karmic Cycle’ in Outlook, June 10, 2013.

3. Harinder Baweja, ‘The dark side of a very red moon’ in Hindustan Times, June 3, 2013.

4. Sheena K. and Rasheed Kidwai, ‘Noble Karma in Death’ in The Telegraph, May 27, 2013.

5. P. Naveen, ‘Karma was stabbed 78 times by women Maoists’ in The Times of India, May 29, 2013.

6. The Asian Age, May 27, 2013.

7. See The Times of India, May 29, 2013.

8. Quoted in The Telegraph, May 27, 2013.

9. Nandini Sundar, op. cit.

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