TEN THOUSAND ADDITIONAL SOLDIERS are now being sent to the forests of central and eastern India to counter Maoist insurgents, but most signs point towards protraction and stalemate. In the past decade of fighting, we have gotten used to the routines of this war. Newspaper dispatches from the conflict zone read like a lullaby of arrests and deaths—a few here, a few there, with names rarely mentioned. But every so often, like an alarm going off during a dream, the routine is interrupted, and headlines blare that the Maoist “infestation” still lurks, its destructiveness had only lain dormant. Passenger trains are bombed and derailed, a government convoy ambushed, influential politicians summarily shot—and we recall that somewhere out there, in places from which we are far removed, India is at war with itself.
Two such alarms went off in the span of one week in mid May 2007, when Binayak Sen and Arun Ferreira were both arrested, albeit in separate cases and in separate states. Ferreira was accused of taking part in the planning of various terrorist attacks, while Sen was accused of acting as a courier between a jailed Maoist operative and a businessman sympathetic to the Maoist cause. Their arrests were alarming and memorable to many because both men belonged to the urban middle class. Ferreira, then a social activist and now a student of law, hails from a Catholic family in Bandra, a peaceful and prosperous Mumbai suburb. Sen, from Kolkata, graduated from Christian Medical College in Vellore, one of India’s best training grounds for the profession, and founded a public health non-profit.