The train derailment that left 148 dead in one of the hotbeds of India’s internal war could well be a classic example of how peaceful resistance can spin easily out of control if handled badly.
The sabotage took place on 28 May in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal, an area the press likes to call “infested” with Maoist rebels. The saboteurs removed about 50 feet of padrol clips, which keep the railway track in place, causing the Gyaneshwari Express passenger train to derail and leaving it in the path of an oncoming goods train which rammed into its side about five minutes later.
The Maoists, who tend to be quite up-front about the attacks they perpetrate, denied any involvement – perhaps unsurprising considering the horrendous loss of civilian life. It is worth considering, however, that the death toll is only marginally less than the 173 killed in the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. Derailing trains is a typical tactic for the Maoists, who were responsible for 58 attacks on infrastructure targets in 2009, according to the Ministry for Railways. In November, two people died when Maoists derailed a train in the state of Jharkhand. The difference with the May 2010 attack was timing: another train coming from a different direction crossed the train’s path and compounded the destruction – a catastrophe facilitated by the absence of any emergency warning system.