INDIA: Democratic pretentions and administrative follies
— Asian Human Rights Commission
Extremists exploit democratic failures
In two separate incidents on 7 April 2010 and 17 May 2010, the Maoists operating in India killed 98 Central Reserve Police officers and 11 civilians in Chhattisgarh state. In at least one incident that resulted in the murder of civilians, the Maoists used an Improvised Explosive Device (IEV). Both attacks seriously injured several persons. It is reported that immediately after the explosion that killed 11 civilians on May 17, the Maoists fired indiscriminately at the injured and at those who tried to escape. The use of IEDs similar to landmines in circumstances as reported in Chingavaram is prohibited in international humanitarian law.52 The attack also violates Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, a law that applies to non?international armed conflicts and to extremist groups like the Maoists and Naxalites in India.
The magnitude of the extremist problem, its root causes and the development paradigm
It is estimated that 156 districts in 15 states face ‘threats’ from armed movements with the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh the worst affected. Today the Maoist and Naxalite movements in the country have evolved into an armed and rebelling group, well organised and fighting locally against the ‘state’. Though the theory and practice of these movements are questionable, they liberally exploit the anger and frustration from decades of neglect and oppression of the rural populace in India, particularly the tribal communities. Parallels of this form of emotional exploitation can be drawn also to the insurgent activities in the northeastern states in India. The Maoist and Naxalite movements in the country are mostly rooted in the government’s failure to guarantee the basic norms of a democratic state to a large section of the country’s population, particularly in rural regions and remote villages. This explains why these parallel extremist movements are mainly spread across the remotest villages in the country.
Many such villages are home to various tribal groups. These communities depend upon forest and agricultural produce for their survival. Owing to negligent government policies and the drastic exploitation of natural and forest resources, with complete disregard for the population that depended upon these products for hundreds of generations, large sections of the rural population have lost both their habitat and livelihood options. Brutal police actions were taken to ‘deal’ with those who resisted. Many tribal communities today are on the verge of extinction and the government is in no mood to listen or engage in dialogue, as evidenced in the recent attack upon the Anti?POSCO movement in Orissa. Voices of protest, and requests by the native population for consultations with the government, have faced not just rejection, but stiff oppression where state forces were used plentifully. In fact in some incidents, the police officers were hired by private companies to ‘deal’ with the leaders of protest movements. Police were used to gather information about local resistance movements, thereby reducing the state police to the role of mere mercenaries.
The situation is also plentifully exploited by the extremist movements as evidenced in the events prior to the police assault on the Anti?POSCO protesters. It is reported tha minutes before the police charged against the protesters, shots were fired and country bombs hurled at the police.
The government policy on mining is spelled out in the National Mining Policy released in April 2008.53 The policy aims at boosting national development through mining and disregards completely the concerns and welfare of the original inhabitants of the land. Accepting tenders from corporations with deplorablerecords and supporting their activities using state resources stands proof to the government’s lack of commitment to the people. Left with no means to survive and their original habitats rapidly being depleted, the rural populations in the country have become more vulnerable to exploitation by landlords and corrupt politicians. Exploitation often takes the shape of bonded labour, a practice criminalised in laws that are hardly enforced. Police and other state agencies, like the forest department, are easily bought over by landlords owing to the widespread corruption in the system.
In frustration, the oppressed populations fall prey to extremist ideologies like those promoted and professed by the Maoists and the Naxalites, finding in them a means of fighting back to regain dignity at the very minimum. Such fights, of varying intensity, have spread to an alarmingly large area of the country. Unfortunately, the government response has been equally violent, resulting in murders and widespread loss of property. The legal and moral question the government must answer is can development be forced upon a population?
Exploitation of violence
Lopsided, religiously coloured and politically motivated defence tactics ? like the formation of the ‘Salwa Judum’? have resulted either in standoffs between government?backed forces like the Judum and the extremists or in combat, in which lives are lost on both sides. In some parts of the country, the Judum has replaced the state and those leading the Judum are using it as a tool for oppression in the excuse of fighting extremism. It is reported that groups like the Judum as well as the Maoists and the Naxalites are armed with weapons that cannot be procured from licensed arms dealers in India and for which no private licences are issued. Procuring weapons and the ammunition required for these weapons is a matter that the state as well as the central government must investigate and plug holes with immediate priority. It could be a hard task since even some parliamentarians and other local political leaders in the extremist affected regions employ private militiamen and armed private guards who brandish imported unlicensed weapons. Any attempt to disarm these private armies will be sabotaged by the local politicians. At the core of this is an important question regarding the quality of law enforcement in the country. The Maoists and Naxalites are only exploiting the failure of an important state apparatus, the local police.
An equally worrying factor is the recruitment of tribal youth as members of the village defence forces. On the periphery, volunteering to become a member of the village defence force is a mere gesture to assist the state in combating violence. However the constitution of the village defence force has deeper implications. Often becoming a member of the village defence force is not a matter of choice, but an issue of survival for the tribal youth.
The extremist groups force the tribal youth to join their cadres accusing those who refuse of being state agents. Incidents are common where those who refused to take up arms are murdered, their houses burned, or they are dispossessed of theirlivestock and forced to flee the villages. On the other hand the state agencies, in particular the state police, seek information from the members of the tribal communities and once again those who refuse to cooperate are accused of being Maoist or Naxalite cadres and are arbitrarily detained, tortured and even executed. Such murders are whitewashed as ‘encounter killings’, a convenient euphemism used by the state agencies for murdering civilians and circumventing the due process of law in the excuse of combating violence. Caught between these two oppsing and equally violent forces, the unemployed tribal youth finds the government’s offer as a means of employment and a source of security.
The very concept of village defence force defies accepted norms of state responsibility to offer protection and security to the life and property of the citizens. The members of the village defence force are given inadequate combat training; they are not considered as the employees of the state and their acts, irrespective of its nature, are offered implied impunity. This unique position exposes the members of the village defence force to exploitation to carry out the ‘dirty work’ for the state agencies. Many tribal youth are recruited with the false promise that after the operation, they would be inducted to the state police. On these grounds the recruitment and deployment of the village defence force have no higher morale or legitimacy than the recruitment strategies used by the Maoists and Naxalites.
In the fight between the state and the extremists, both sides have committed atrocities, as would be the case in any unregulated war where might and connivance make right. Hundreds of policemen have lost their lives or been seriously injured in these wars; a similar number of extremists have also been killed or injured. This is in addition to the large number of innocent persons killed by both sides because of mere accusations and suspicion. Worst of all is the number of innocent persons killed in fake ‘encounter killings’ organised by the state agencies. Men and women are almost daily arrested, tortured and killed by state agencies in the name of fighting extremism. Such murders are in no way different from those carried out by the extremist groups. They are equally cold?blooded and criminal. However, so far not a single such case has been investigated or the perpetrators punished.
Encounter killings and the use of torture defy the basic premise of democracy and it negates the fundamentals of fair trial. Encounter killings violate India’s legally binding obligations as mandated in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, an international document to which India is a party. By all means encounter killings have no place of acceptance within the existing legal framework in the country. The National Human Rights Commission of India has repeatedly required state agencies to conduct independent investigations and video document the autopsy of victims of encounter killings and file reports on each incident to the Commission.
Though a rule sought to be enforced by the Commission, filing of these reports thus far has remained an exception. Murder and violence cannot be justified for any reason. On that ground alone, extremist activities in the country have no moral basis, even though they woulddefine their activity as a radical political movement, necessary to fight oppression. When murdering innocent persons and imparting fear among the populace becomes a means to political ends, the Maoist and Naxalite movement runs parallel with other terrorist organisations in the world. The Naxalite and Maoist problem is complex. A concoction of caste issues, feudalism and lawlessness in rural India intoxicates the people, so their minds become fertile ground for extremist ideologies.
The government has responded by opting principally to counter violence with violence, adding fuel to the fire. Between these two diametrically opposing forces is no middle ground, which leaves the common people no way to avoid violence. The murder of civilians and police officers, destruction of private and government property including vital transportation links like the rail network by the Maoists and Naxalites has to be analysed and understood as part of a well calculated and executed strategy to increase state offensive. It appears that the Maoists and the Naxalites look forward more towards the state’s use of aerial combat operations, an option the state has refused to initiate until today. The continuing offer by the Union Home Minister for dialogue and a peaceful way of settling disputes with the extremists shows the intention to deal with the issue in a mature way, a democratic principle the Maoists, Naxalites and the leading opposition parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) repeatedly fails to understand. This is no surprise since the ideological framework based on violence of these two political groups runs parallel to that of the Maoists and the Naxalites. Arbitrary violence used by the state in combating extremism will only inflate the situation, an opportunity eagerly awaited by the extremists. It will also further alienate the citizens affected by the violence from the state, an essential requirement for the extremist group to expand and sustain.
The democratic way forward
The expanding network of Maoist activities in the country and their improving sophistication in attacks must be an eye?opener to the government. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister have been lamenting against the Maoists, accusing them as “the single largest threat to India’s internal security” since 2006. Other than for the failed attempts to engage in a peaceful dialogue with the Maoists, the government’s response to the Maoist threat has been largely offensive in nature, wit repeatedly demonstrated lack of coordination resulting in loss of life among the security forces, Maoists and that of innocent villagers. Probably a way of dealing with the Maoists is for the government to take immediate measures to address Maoist recruitment in rural India. Sheer use of force and other ill?conceived tactics adopted by the government so far, like the formation of village defence forces and forced migration of villagers into guarded camps with limited freedom have not only divided the rural population, but has also resulted in generating grievances against the state. Such steps have only benefited the locallandlords and those politicians with tainted credentials like some in the Chhattisgarh State Assembly.
It is not only the Maoists who promote violence. The statement issued by Mr. Rajeev Prathap Rudy, the national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), immediately after the April 7 incident demanded an immediate end to the offer of dialogues by the government, and an all?open offensive against the Maoists is an example. Rudy cannot however wash his hands by placing an irresponsible demand on behalf of his party demanding the government to engage the Maoists in an all?offensive war. The Maoist movement gained momentum when Rudy was the Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry in 1999. Some of the industrial policies Rudy emulated from the Singapore model and conceived and executed in the country have sumptuously helped the Maoists to spread out in the country, expanding the length and breadth of the Maoist red?corridor. Indeed, an offensive as called by the BJP against the Maoists will get complete cooperation from the Chhattisgarh state administration. This is not only because the state is ruled by a BJP led government that has shamelessly lobbied for Maoist support during the election, but also since some of the state’s corrupt politicians can use the fight against Maoists as an excuse to wipe off the remaining tribal population from their dwellings. The Chhattisgarh state government has been doing this in the past few yeas and has a record of selling much of the state’s natural resources, including rivers and forests, to private corporations.
Among the manifold causes for the Maoist insurgency in India are extreme poverty, loss of livelihood options, feudalism and caste?based discrimination. Unfortunately, some of the state governments, like the one in Chhattisgarh, have a large number of corrupt politicians who have not spared an opportunity to steal whatever little the poor landless peasants have. While emphasising the country’s need to develop, the government must also take measures to provide reasonable and just options for those who do not want to support at all costs the development paradigm. For instance, industrial and infrastructure development must not be an excuse to force distress migration of the rural population and end in loss of livelihood options as the case in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.
Development that lacks the emotional ownership of the ordinary people cannot sustain itself. Such forced developments alienate the people from the state. Secessionist forces reap the benefit of this intellectual animosity between the state and the citizens, and the Maoists are no exception.
The government of India has a constitutional mandate to guarantee the security and prosperity of its citizens. The constitution that empowers the state to use force to contain internal threats also requires the state to address the threat within the framework of the constitution. Ending feudalism, extreme poverty and landlessness are as equally important as containing internal insecurity. These responsibilities are notto be prioritised by the government at will, but rather given immediate attention. It is likely that a solution to the Maoist insurgency in India also lies in this. It requires however, the government to have the resolve to address these real problems that affect ordinary Indians.
The Maoists know that many of India’s mainstream politicians will find it difficult to give away their rural power banks that rest in feudal and corrupt frameworks. It will not be surprising if it is exposed later tha the Maoists are in fact supported by some of these corrupt politicians who pretend that they are fighting internal insecurity. The moral ground for the state to fight the extremist group must not be thus based on the use of counter violence. The fight against extremism must begin from a considered approach of gaining confidence of the citizens, the worst affected rural population in particular. In doing so the government must be able to prove that the country is a matured democracy and not a chaotic state of intense vested interests. One of the important steps towards this is the enactment and prompt implementation of a national land reforms policy augmented by the revision of some existing laws, such as those limiting the rights of the tribal community to use the forest and forest produce as they did for hundreds of generations in the past.
International Human Rights Day 2010 – NEPAL
52 Second Protocol to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects.
53 Please see Government of Orissa Department of Steel and Mines, released in 2008, in conjunction with National Mining Policy 2008
54 There has been an increase in the issue of employment cards to the poor this year. But as explementation of the MNREGS is plagued with corruption and plained later in this chapter, the imcaste prejudices.
55 UNDP reports on India, 2007,08,09
56 Primary Health Care in India : Review of Policy, Plans and Reports , WHO 2005.
57 See further National Mining Policy 2009, government of india.
58 Korean civil ,society expects the Committee to make a fair and prompt december 2010
ision on POSCO project in Orissa, AHRC?FOL?013?2010, 17 September
59 Orissa Poverty, Corporate Plunder and Ressistance : Reflections of a Rebel, Prafulla Samantra & Asit Das, Counter Currents, 24 July 2010
COURTESY:Asian Human Rights Commision