Vol – XLVII No. 31, August 04, 2012
Is the deliberate targeting of the support base of the Maoists good counter-insurgency policy?
The counter-insurgency operations to wipe out the Maoists have gone hi-tech – unmanned aerial vehicles are now being deployed for, among other things, “remote sensing” of “left-wing extremists”. On 28 June, a couple of hours after the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and its elite Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) troops aided by Chhattisgarh state police began returning to their camps, CRPF officials in New Delhi began to dish out details of the “biggest encounter”, the “big victory of the security forces in Chhattisgarh” in which they killed “19 Maoists”. But in Raipur, the state capital, the Chhattisgarh police had its own version of the specific intelligence input, the episode and the singling out of the dead, and the two did not match.
The CRPF version traced the 17 deaths (two more in a separate incident nearby) to prolonged exchange of fire with the dreaded Maoists in which six of its commandos sustained injuries. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram duly parroted the same, of course, commending the forces for their courage and their skills, and claiming that three important Maoist leaders were among the dead. But his own local Congress Party unit had a different tale to tell – according to its version, the official story of the encounter of the security forces with the Maoists was cooked up; it was a “fake” encounter, and the victims were “innocent adivasis”. Going by the local Congress version then, the security forces, whose job it was to prevent unlawful activities on the part of the Maoists, had themselves engaged in activities that render them culpable under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code and under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, besides being accused of the sexual molestation of women and the destruction and looting of properties.
The villagers of Sarkeguda, Kothaguda and Rajpenta who had survived the attack of the security forces had an altogether different account of the incident. According to them, as related by the report of the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO), there were no Maoists around that night when the CRPF and its CoBRA commandos and the state police cordoned off those villages and fired indiscriminately and without warning on the unarmed residents. Indeed, there was no exchange of fire; it was just that security forces first fired from the west, and then from three other directions and so some stray bullets may have injured some members of the forces themselves. And the brutality: those who did not die from their bullet wounds were put to death with axes that the police could lay their hands on in the villages.
When the local Congress version of what happened came to light, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader, dished out the old yarn that the Maoists had used the innocent adivasis as human shields and so they perished. Thus, the 12-year old girl, Kaka Saraswati – who was hit by a bullet and died as she was fleeing towards her house – was forced to act as a human shield of the Maoists, according to those who peddle such falsehoods. So were 16-year-olds, Kaka Rahul and Madkam Ramvilas, Class X students in a Basaguda school, now dead and gone. When it was pointed out that there were no Maoists around, then it was argued that whoever supports the Maoists deserves to be killed, and, according to intelligence, these were villages that had backed the Maoists. The National Human Rights Commission, instead of independently investigating the incident, is (reportedly) relying on the CRPF version. And the judicial inquiry: will it hold its major sittings at the venue of the so-called encounter? Going by past precedence, with the dead buried, the truth will also be consigned to the grave.
Now, the very office holders of the Indian state, the union home minister and the Chhattisgarh chief minister, seem to have no commitment to the rule of law or the Constitution. So what do we tell them? We are reminded of an old message from Robert Thompson, who was a veteran of the Malayan civil service, as also the chief of the British advisory mission to South Vietnam during 1961-65. In his book, Defeating Communist Insurgency: Experiences from Malaya and Vietnam (1966), Thompson argued that it was imperative that the security forces operate within the ambit of the law. Yes, we need to draw the attention of P Chidambaram and Raman Singh to the very counter-productiveness of their acts of omission and commission in achieving the objectives they have set for their counter-insurgency strategy. From June 2005, when the vigilante group Salwa Judum began to be deployed in the counter-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh, up to today, when it is soon going to be three years since the launch of Operation Green Hunt, no one really knows the actual count of the number of innocent tribal peasants killed. But as Thompson would have surely felt, these acts of killing by the security forces have only served to “create more communists than they [have] kill[ed]”. The Indian state refuses to admit that it is in a state of civil war, but its citizens should force it to admit to this truth and agree to abide by the fourth Geneva Convention in not harming non-combatants/civilians.