Friday, April 04, 2008

The Hindu on Salwa Judum

Today's editorial asking for the disbandment of Salwa Judum is not very surprising. The left and human rights outfits have long been critical of it as being prone to abuse and called for it to end. Yet, I find it disconcerting that the Hindu recommends its dissolution without recommending any alternative. Naxalite violence has been a dangerous menace in that part of India and it is no surprise that the backward tribal regions are their preferred recruitment spot. No government in this part of the country has devised a successful answer to the problem and it is time to ask the Hindu how, were it in power, go about solving this problem. After criticizing all the excesses of the task force, the only thing the paper has to say about that is:

Naxalism needs to be countered resourcefully but the response must not end up preying on the very people the government claims it wants to save.

Resourcefully yes but how? No answer. There is some analogy to the village defense committees in Kashmir because in both cases, private militias are armed and trained by the state to defend themselves, especially in remote and interior parts where state security forces may not be available in sufficient number or the region may not be accessible readily enough for them to intervene at short notice. There is an issue of logistics here for which a critique needs to offer a more serious solution than to just say 'do it resourcefully'. My suspicion is that this is just a codeword for development - leftists have long argued that naxalism is caused by backwardness and can be made to go away through development measures. This is sadly a dangerous myth; while it is correct to say that such backward and impoversished regions are the breeding ground for extremism, once naxalism has actually taken root, pumping money into those regions has only ended up consolidating the very forces that threaten the state, every ceasefire effort has only been used by such outfits to regroup and strengthen their cadres and finances and advance their 'revolution'.

So what are the problems that this has created?

Sponsored, armed, and financed by the State government with the support of the Centre in the egregious belief that fuelling a civil war in the heart of India is the best way of countering Naxalism, the Salwa Judum has exterminat ed more than 500 innocent civilians and caused the forcible displacement of tens of thousands of tribal people. Substantial numbers have fled to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and are living in pathetic conditions. Neither the State nor the Central government can evade responsibility for trampling on the rule of law and for the human calamity that has been amply documented by a host of official and unofficial inquiries. As Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan justly observed, during the hearing of a public interest petition calling for the disbanding of the Salwa Judum, the distribution of arms to private persons by the government is tantamount to abetting murder.

There certainly have been other reports of atrocities caused by these armed squads. I do not deny that some of this is true but which counterinsurgency effort has not been associated with abuses? The Punjab police were routinely accused of torture and abuse of authority during the days of the Khalistan insurgency. The reports of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documenting abuses in Kashmir are too numerous to count. And the same is very much true of virtually every country - the civil war in Nicaragua, Peruvian government forces fighting Maoist Shining path guerrillas in Peru, the numerous conflicts in Africa, the Sri Lankan government versus the Tigers etc. In every instance, we find a violent insurgency being confronted by government forces who routinely indulge in brutality. None of this is to say that abuses need to be condoned but the debate ought to be on how to sensitize forces and provide sufficient procedural protections for potential victims to mitigate its likelihood. Instead, the Hindu is calling for the complete abandonment of the strategy without offering any worthwhile alternative to put in its place. Further, it seeks to distinguish this from Kashmir's VDCs:

In the light of mounting evidence that the vigilante outfit is involved in large-scale atrocities, the Chhattisgarh government has made two flagrantly false claims. The first is that it is a “spontaneous” people’s initiative. The second is that it is similar to the village defence committees set up in parts of Jammu and Kashmir to protect villagers from terrorist attacks. VDCs are defensive formations rooted in accountable institutions like the village panchayat. The Salwa Judum, on the other hand, is an unaccountable extension of the state designed to apply violence minus the government’s fingerprints. Gondi for ‘purification hunt,’ it is a roving, offensive formation led by anti-social elements — not dissimilar to the death squads sponsored by dictators around the world to deal with insurgencies and all manner of deemed opponents. Far from bringing peace, the Salwa Judum proved counterproductive: it is no coincidence that Chhattisgarh has the highest number of casualties at the hands of the Naxalites.

Is this a spontaneous initiative? What the government means by saying so is simply that it arms those voluntarily choosing to be enlisted. No one is actually forced into joining the effort. Secondly, the paper claims that the effort is an offensive one unlike the VDCs where it is defensive. A distinction between the two is not so easy to make. If one is aware of Naxalites organizing to attack, are people expected to stay put and wait for it materialize before they respond? Should the attacker always be given the advantage of seizing the initiative even when it may be obvious that a confrontation is imminent? So, what is the evidence offered in support of its claim? The Hindu says that 'it is no coincidence that Chhattisgarh has the highest number of casualties at the hands of the Naxalites.' In response, the question needs to be asked: what is the one factor that correlates extremely well in every study with high crime? Is it poverty, rich-poor differences, abortion statistics, lead poisoning, population growth rate, lack of health/education or one of the myriad other excuses for crime that apologists love to cite? Answer: None of those. The one statistic that correlates strongly with crime is law enforcement. The more active cops are in confronting crime, the more incidents of crime end up being documented and the more casualties both sides end up taking, making the place a crime-prone region in popular parlance. For example, studies have been done asking why European crime rates are lower than those of America. What was found that the police are more active in America than their counterparts in Europe who are more willing to condone certain types of crime. The same may well hold true here: if more people are dying fighting naxalites, it may simply mean that the state is more active against insurgents, not less. If that is the case, it would imply an indictment of the soft approach of other governments - the lower number of casualties may be due to the fact that there are fewer confrontations, an outcome attributable to their laxity, not resourcefulness as the Hindu interprets. Not only that but the Hindu goes further:

Although there are enough reasons to warrant the immediate disbandment of the Salwa Judum, an independent inquiry monitored by the Supreme Court will be a welcome interim measure.

If Manmohan Singh blamed the NDA's hardline policies for naxalism spreading during the years of the latter's rule, his own government's policy of ceding leadership to the states allowing them to independently call for ceasefires and negotiate with these outfits has only worsened matters by taking the pressure off and giving them breathing space precisely when they were facing the heat. Faced with a difficult problem that is amenable to few good and ready solutions, the Hindu's call for the Supreme Court to investigate the effort takes this pacifism one step further - it is an attempt to intimidate governments from coming up with innovative strategies to deal with the menace. It is hard not to see this as a partisan effort directed to embarass the BJP government, especially when such harsh strategies by the Chinese government has met with silence on its part.


Dirt Digger said...

Impressive analysis Pilid,
it reminds me of a story where a bunch of people always complained about inaction or action. Chindu does not think rationally about this, primarily because this situation gives it an opportunity to take out the BJP. Also the lack of objectivity when it comes to reacting to a situation. The crazy rationale to reacting differently to similar situation works because people dont hold their newspapers to any accountability.
The worst part of the story is the poor people living in the area. They were already harassed by the naxals and now if the Govt. drops its hands, its end of the line.

Anonymous said...


Nice analysis. I was thinking of the article as I was driving down to office.

However, I am not sure of your reasoning that the high no. of casualities indicates that the law enforcement is less effective.

Apart from the fact that it is counter intuitive, this makes proving that law enforcement actually helps, very difficult. I mean all the empirical data in the end should show a corresponding decrease in crime with effective policing. This point seemed like a bit of a stretch to me.

I understand that we might not use this parameter alone to justify the effectiveness of law enforcement, nonetheless it does remain a very important measure.

pilid said...

Good points guys. Dirt digger, I agree with you that were it not for the fact that the BJP is in charge, we would probably not have seen this sort of trenchant criticism.

Kiran, I was actually trying to suggest the opposite, i.e., that the high number of casualties is suggestive of its effectiveness.
You are right - if law enforcement is indeed effective, one would expect to see a decline in crime trends. Unfortunately, long-term studies have failed to note such a correlation. Does this imply that law enforcement is useless? Not necessarily but it may simply not be effective in reducing the incidence of crime beyond a certain level or there may be other yet to be identified factors that have confounded analysis. Much of the study on crime trends has been controversial with short-range studies and longer term studies coming to very different conclusions.
Here, the purpose was to simply show that the Hindu's claim based on that one piece of data was questionable and lent itself to other plausible interpretations, especially when these artifactual considerations were included in the analysis.

Anonymous said...

A few weeks ago we presented here Chindu's report softpedalling violent intercaste problems in a super "secular" minority religion in TN.

Here is some more stuff on the same problem from Chindu, as usual superficial and non-committal.

Eraiyur Catholics agree to sink differences

VILLUPURAM: The warring factions of Catholics at Eraiyur near Ulundurpet decided to sink their differences at a peace committee meeting held there on Wednesday.

Archdiocese representative C. Antonysamy, parish priests, panchayat president Arokkiyadas, Vanniya Christians, Dalit Christians and police officers attended the meeting.

....However, at the cemetery, the existing practice will continue -- separate burial grounds.

First of all, whether the Christians sink (or swim) their differences, why should the police officers be present? If it is such a serious law and order problem, then it should be treated as such and no attempts to sidestep it.

But, more interestingly, Chindu (again, reporting as a matter of fact) says that the existing practise of "separate" burial grounds will continue!

Chindu could have as well carried the headline "Atrocities on Dalit Christians. Shameful practice of separate burial grounds continues".

However much Chindu wants to sink or bury the differences within Chindu's favourite minority religion, the reality is glaring, striking on Chindu's face.

In the same issue of Chindu, the Chief writes a sermonising editorial on some Dalit issue in UP (verbal clash among politicians) and Chindu does not hesitate to take up the cause of the Dalit CM.

May be Chindu is reluctant to take on the Catholic church or it is afraid of the "Vanniyar" Christians, to rub them on the wrong side.