A Friendly Take on Murder in Maoist Country

Underlining their ability to call the shots, the Maoists yesterday responded to the home minister’s proposal of a 72-hour ceasefire by calling for a 72-day ceasefire. Then attacked a camp in West Midnapore.

While the government ponders its next move, it can at least rely on support from the press, which is largely treating the recent violence as that of evil terrorists sabotaging the government’s attempts to bring peace and prosperity. Take today’s news piece from DNA:

Waking up to the reality that the use of force alone won’t suffice in the regions hit by Maoist insurgency, the government has decided to unfold a Rs7,300-crore package for the development of these areas.

Here we have the government taking a sensible, holistic and caring approach to the underlying problems of the insurgency. But, of course, this is not the first time that has been said. In fact, then home minister Shivraj Patel said the same thing in July 2007 just after the Maoists killed 24 policemen in the same state as last week’s violence (see last post).  

But what is really amazing is that this latest promise was made during a case in the Supreme Court, which should have had nothing to do with the government’s overall Maoist strategy. The case was actually about the alleged murder of tribal villagers in Chhattisgarh by state forces – the case I mentioned in a recent article involving Sodi Sambo, who activists and journalists say was held captive by state police to prevent her giving evidence. In the end, the Supreme Court had to pass a specific order demanding that she and other witnesses be brought to give evidence.

Not that you would get this impression from the story in DNA which simply said:

The AG’s statement came during the hearing of the suspected ‘killing’ of 12 tribals by security forces in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. Six of the supposedly dead tribals were found alive. The court has directed the presence of the remaining six. All of them had disappeared soon after they filed a petition demanding a CBI probe into the allegations of excesses by the forces.

Sodi Sambo’s claims are not reported in the story, nor her treatment by authorities in Chhattisgarh. The newspaper has clearly swallowed the government line that the human rights activists who want to investigate the alleged murders are just Maoists in disguise. Why else would anyone want to investigate a mass murder?

All this comes a week after the Maoists’ high-profile raids on security force camps in West Bengal and Bihar, which . The attacks showed up the shoddy training, equipment and security of the government’s frontline troops and casts further doubts over the prospects of Operation Green Hunt, and its clear, hold and build rationale.

However, as an opponent of the current campaign told me the other day, short-term losses actually fit quite neatly in the government’s chosen narrative. “At the moment, the government wants to show itself as the victim and the Maoists as the bad guys” because this provides a justification for stepping up military operations in the jungle which, away from prying eyes, may be targeting Maoists and – more importantly – anyone else who stands in the way of development proposals.

Regardless of the moral rights and wrongs, the government faces a serious shortfall in the capability of its security forces. As an article by Praveen Swami (in this journal) argues, the problem is not just on the frontline but endemic to the whole structure of law enforcement in India:

Just how poor the training of India’s police personnel was graphically illustrated in June, when Ghanshyam Kewat, a small-time bandit, engaged over 400 policemen for nearly 50 hours—killing four and securing his escape before finally dying in chance engagement with a separate police patrol.

The problem lies in training, the lack of local intelligence, poor equipment, dismal pay and promotion structures and much else.

National Crime Records Bureau data shows that Chhattisgarh has in service only two thirds of the 318 Deputy Superintendents of Police and Superintendents of Police who should be on its rolls; the state had only 1,392 Sub-Inspectors and Assistant Sub Inspectors instead of the 2,194 who ought be in service. In 2006, as the Maoist insurgency in Chhattisgarh was gathering momentum, Bastar Division had been assigned just 8 of 38 sub-inspectors who are sanctioned to guard the area.

Until these issues are thoroughly tackled, the Maoists will continue to hit and run with ease and human rights abuses from both sides will continue to cloud the real issues that need to be discussed.

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