with love to indore

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A civil war in Bastar

AFTER HIS DETAILED seven-part interview with Daily Chhattisgarh, I was glad to see Chhattisgarh DGP, Vishwaranjan’s article that appeared in this newspaper on September 15. I am highly impressed by his deep knowledge of naxalism, police and the history of this country in general as is evident from that interview. Although I don’t agree with him on most of the points of the article “ardh satya, tadarth chintan and rumaniyat se pare naxalwaad ka satya”, it is rare in this country that one sees a top ranking government official responding to public questions and criticisms. I have heard from a lot of people that Vishwaranjan is one of the most brilliant police officers in the country and the fact that the DGP took time to present his views publicly, proves that assertion once again. A person is judged by not what he/she believes in, but how he/she reacts to the people with opposing views.

I have pointed out that I don’t agree with him. Let me specify why and how. Firstly, I am surprised to see Vishwaranjan say that, “ordinary Indians are used to static thinking and can be easily misled.” I am responding as a very ordinary Indian citizen. The entire Chhattisgarh police’s salary, as well as the money for campaigns like Salwa Judum, comes from the taxes paid by this ‘ordinary Indian citizen.’ Hence to term them as static and non-serious is not only an affront to democracy; it is actually questioning one’s own infallibility. As an ordinary Indian, I would not mind my taxes to fund any genuine anti-insurgent operations, I would encourage higher salaries and better facilities for the police who are working for my safety, and would be glad if more money is pumped into improving infrastructure, health and education of all Indians, especially in naxal affected areas. But this is not what I see from the ground. What I do mind, is if my money is being used to fund arson, rapes and murders of innocent villagers in the name of Salwa Judum.

There has been several serious allegations against this movement, which I found convincing enough to distress me a lot. If even one per cent of those are true, then my culpability in the crime increases if I don’t speak up against the wrongs. Forget about Salwa Judum for a moment, there are rape allegations against one of the top district police officers of Chhattisgarh, and I as an ordinary citizen, haven’t seen any action taken against that particular “alleged rapist police officer”. Assuming that most of the policemen/women in Chhattisgarh are honest, upright and hardworking, what can be more demoralizing for them that such serious charges not being acted upon against one of their senior officers? How can morale be kept up in any department if an “alleged rapist” is promoted and preserved?

I have also seen the video of Chhattisgarh police hitting old men and women using their shoes in Ambikapur a couple of months back. Being a student of psychology, I know about the famous Milgram’s obedience experiment conducted during 1961-1964. The results of the experiment was that “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work becomes patently clear and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.” In other words, given an explicit order from an authority, normal people will rather follow the order, than ponder about the moral and legal obligations of it. That explains much of the behaviour of the police in Ambikapur. Most of the times whenever such injustice happens, it happens because “orders came from the top”. So, if people at the top are not being acted against, then nothing can be more damaging in sinking the morale of an ordinary policeman/woman. This disgruntlement can then be used by forces like naxalites to further their agenda. Like NGOs, the police become equally vulnerable to infiltration by the naxalites. How equipped is our police in handling such scenarios?

It is also puzzling to see Vishwaranjan define strategic hamletting as segregating the part of the population that supports the army, and use them to enclose the rebels from all four sides to cut their supply lines. He is wrong!!! Being an ordinary citizen, who unlike his claim, does not look for easy ways out, and who is also not scared of technical terms, let me clarify the true meaning of this term. Internationally, strategic hamlets as a military strategy have only one meaning, as defined and implemented by British military strategist RKG Thompson in Malaya.

In the years during 1948 to 1960, he "took villages and fortified them, and then controlled the flow of rice and food and ammunition and so on and so forth". Since then this tactic has been used across the world, most notably by the United States during the Vietnam War. Initially, like in Malaya, the villages were fortified with barbed wire fences erected around them and heavy security was deployed around these fortified villages. When this was not found to be working because of the sheer volume of the villages, the people were forcefully shifted to many designated camps in Vietnam-Cambodia border. The basic aim of strategic hamletting was/is "isolating the rural population from the (Viet Cong) communist guerrillas". These camps were notorious for keeping their inmates in forced detention inside and that was the reason the whole program failed miserably and the eventual defeat of the United States in that war.

How different is Salwa Judum? Why is it that all public amenities on the other side of the Indravati river have been suspended since the start of Salwa Judum? I have seen sworn affidavits from the people living there. Why is it that the people living in villages are not allowed to come to the haats? Why do they need to go to as far as Narayanpur to get a packet of salt? I am not sure if somewhere in some police or home ministry office, someone actually sat down and said, "Aha!! Look, this thing called Strategic Hamlets is a nice little thing that the Americans had tried in Vietnam against the communist guerrillas. Let’s do the same thing here in Dantewada." Such a meeting might not have ever happened. What I do know is that there is a remarkable similarity between the acts and execution of Salwa Judum with what we read/hear about Strategic Hamlet programme. People are forced to shift into designated camps. The camps are fortified. Those who don’t come to camps are attacked. The people who choose to live in villages have their houses burnt down, their crops destroyed, hitting them economically. All connections between those living in the villages and the outer world are systematically broken down. All allegations are summarily dismissed as naxal propaganda. (For more details please read JFK’s biography ’To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy’ by Kennedy’s pointsman in Vietnam and one time advocate of strategic hamlet programme Roger Hilsman. The pentagon papers describe what went wrong in Vietnam in detail. Also see "The Vietnamese ’Strategic Hamlets’: A preliminary report" by Donnell and Gerald and ’The Journal of Strategic Studies 1947-1972’ by Sylvia Potter).

The DGP also points out that there is little similarity between Darfur crisis and Salwa Judum. David Loyn of BBC, who visited both Dantewada and Darfur was the first person to point out the similarities between the two. It might be too simplistic to claim that Darfur crisis is nothing but sectoral violence between two ethnic groups of Arab and Black Muslims, as does the Sudanese government. I am sad to see our DGP’s summary dismissal of this most reprehensible genocide in Darfur. Like Dantewada, the roots of the problem lie in the years of neglect that the Darfur province faced in the hands of Sudanese government.

Darfur had a massive famine in 1983-84 killing thousands of people, and that laid the seeds of rebellion (Bastar also had a famine in 1966-67 during which popular Raja Pravir Chandra Bhanj Deo was killed in a police firing). Water, a precious resource in Sahara lies at the root of the conflict. After two rebel groups started an armed uprising in 2003, the Janjaweed, that is a ragtag bunch of private goons with sophisticated arms, attacked the entire population. Janjaweed would burn the entire villages. They would rape the women, and kill at random. The rebels of Darfur also suppressed the people, but their atrocities appear tame when compared to that done by Janjaweed. Janjaweed would, after burning the villages and looting them, take possession of the limited number of water points. On Monday, September 17, UN Secretary General said, "This region’s future also depends on supplies of water." The kind of stories that came from Darfur are not very dissimilar to what the people of Dantewada are saying in sworn affidavits. Why did the Darfur crisis aggravate so much that around 200,000 people were killed and 2.5 million people are living in refugee camps of Chad. Of course, the scale of casualties in Dantewada in last two and a half years is nowhere close to what has happened in Darfur. But the politics and philosophy behind the crisis is the same.

The philosophy is that of "arming local resistance groups". In May 2005, the top Janjaweed leader, Musa Hilal, admitted that his militia was funded and supported by the Sudanese national government. He said that in many regions, it was the government that backed and directed the militia activities. This has been proven as fact in numerous international fact finding missions. It is this philosophy of forming, arming and supporting private armies to do the state’s bidding, which sets the parallels between Salwa Judum and the events across the globe.

Another place where such things were successfully tried is in Peru, in the 90s, where its ex-president, Alberto Fujimori armed private gangs to suppress a maoist kind of uprising in that country. Last month, Fujimori was proclaimed a human rights offender in his country, and is now an absconder from Peru.

Why would the state ever arm and support private militia? Are the police not smart, capable and equipped enough to fight insurgency? In almost all cases, these untrained and unaccountable private militias are recruited to do the dirty job. The jobs that the state armed forces cannot do because of international obligations and the limits imposed by the constitution of India. Who are these private armies accountable to?

Let me remind the DGP that such tactics, although might seem to give results in short term, they have always had disastrous consequences in the end. The private militia always had proven to be a larger headache than the original rebellion. Like, in Sierra Leone, the private militia turned into a private army doing the bidding for diamond giant De Beers. They solved by force the conflicts that the international diamond company had with the local population.

What is the future of Salwa Judum? What will the SPO (Special Police Officers) do after, let’s suppose, the naxalites are driven out of Bastar. Will they be regularised into the police force? Or will they end up doing the bidding for Tata and Essar, two organisations that have already become notorious in Bastar for cheating the public.

Six years ago, George W Bush asked the world to choose between liberty, freedom and democracy on one side and mass murder, slaughter of innocents and terrorism on the other. But using his excuse of protecting liberty, promoting freedom and preserving democracy, Mr. Bush soon turned his attention towards the oil-rich Iraq even before the attack on Al-Qaeda could reach a logical conclusion. Some American companies considered close to the republicans, like Halliburton (the oil company), Blackwater (the private security group), DynCorp and CACI, to name a few, benefited immensely from this war. But Al Qaeda has gotten stronger, America is more hated now, and more than one million Iraqis lost their lives in the ensuing years.

However genuine might be his intentions, we don’t want to be led down that path ever again. Vishwaranjan asked us to take our pick between ‘constitution and democracy’ vs ‘people who want to destroy it using violence’.

A very prominent civil war is going on in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh in the name of Naxalism and Salwa Judum. All of us have a right to know who the real beneficiaries are in this civil war. The stories of Essar and Tata steel plants, Essar funds for Salwa Judum camps, their mining leases, the MoUs being kept under wraps, the forced, undemocratic and unconstitutional acquisition of land for these plants, the arrests, the murders, the rapes, and the brazenness of the whole affair might give us some clues.

Being an unabashed constitutionalist and democrat myself like our DGP, I wish Chhattisgarh police all the success in their war against the naxalites. I would also offer all my technical expertise, and share my knowledge in computers, in helping the police in their fight. But, just like you cannot have sex to preserve virginity, you cannot destroy or mess with the constitution to preserve it. If there are serious questions regarding police’s conduct, it is the moral responsibility of the DGP to own them, and to find out ways to correct the institutional maladies. I know that if there is anyone who is courageous enough to admit mistakes and punish the wrongdoers, it is the current DGP of Chhattisgarh, Vishwaranjan. Doing so will be the biggest morale booster for Chhattisgarh police.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Arohan, for leaving a comment on the little article on Chitrakoot in my blog. It has been a revelation to visit your blog. Unfortunately, I am barely literate in Hindi, and hence, cannot read your Hindi posts.

    I am absolutely stunned by such an informative and cogently argued article. One rarely comes across analysis of such quality in the mainstream media. Of course, the mainstream media have little time for the fringes that "Bharat" has become; they are more interested in the "India" of highways and shopping malls.

    I am also surprised that there has been no comment on this post. I will inform my readers (not that I have many) about this article in particular and your blogs in general. Needless to say that I will find time to read more of your posts.

    Wish you a happy New Year. Let's hope 2009 will be a better year for the unfortunate people of Chattisgarh and elsewhere. Let's hope Dr. Binayak Sen and everyone like him will be freed soon.

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