INDIA: A comparison between India and three African states

What is common between the governments in Uganda, Sudan, India and Nigeria? The past or present governments in these four states had employed a policy of arming the local population against its own people. After implementing this policy the African states named above soon found that the situation what they sought to contain in fact worsened. Thousands died in Uganda, Sudan and Nigeria. The situation in Sudan as of today is considered to be the one of the worst in the entire world.

The government of India is also not new to the idea of arming the local population to counter opposition. It was used several times by various governments in India in the past and is now actively used in Chhattisgarh state of India.

Chhattisgarh, a state that was formed in 2000 has not witnessed a single day in its recent history without violence. Violence – either against the state by the rebelling factions or by the state and its private militia against the rebels. No state is justified in using violence to curb violence. The excuse the Chhattisgarh state administration posses for arming a faction of the local tribes men is that the rebels within the state cannot be controlled without resorting to a counter-violence strategy involving the ordinary people. Use of violence by the state and the rebels has left the ordinary people with no middle ground.

The only visible state response thus far to cub the violence within Chhattisgarh was the formation of a private army named Salwa Judum under the leadership of a local politician Mr. Mahendra Karma. The armed militia had all support from the central government in Delhi until the recent past. Even minors are armed with weapons and trained to kill. The result was a direct confrontation with the people. Thousands of innocent civilians are being forcefully displaced and many lost their life or were injured. As of today, several villages are forcefully evicted and the people forced to live in makeshift camps organised by the Salwa Judum and the state. A similar move like this was employed by Adolf Hitler to screen the Jews.

The state police in Chhattisgarh regularly conduct random attacks and targeted arrests violating all legal norms. The recent arrest of two persons associated with the well known human rights group, the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberty and their continuing detention is one such incident. Among the two, one person is a medical doctor who did nothing other than providing treatment to his patients. It is alleged that his wife is also now under the threat of arrest. To protect the state agents with impunity the government also enacted a special law which contradicts the Constitution of the country. This law, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 is known for its draconian provisions.

India is not new to such draconian laws. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 – later amended and reshaped by the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2004, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and the National Security Act, 1980, are legislations currently in force in India enacted by the Central Government. The state governments were not different. The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978, the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, 1992 and the latest, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 are enacted by various state governments. All these legislations violate the constitutional safeguards on fundamental rights of the citizens and are also against the accepted norms of international law, the Syracuse Principles in particular.

The above sited domestic laws are legislative sanctions for the use of brute and unjustified force. These laws have equipped the law enforcement agencies in India with unparalleled powers to kill, injure and torture ordinary citizens. Violence perpetuated by the state agents in several parts of India in the cover of these shortcut legislations is the result of a counterproductive policy of meeting violence with violence.

The citizens are also not justified in using violence to force the government to meet their demands. If a citizen or a group of citizens are resorting to violence in their process of  trying to communicate with the government, the primary blame is indeed upon the government.

Violence within a state is always the result of a government failing to address the needs of its people. It is also often the whiplash effect of uncontrolled use of force against a community. The fundamentals of governance include listening to and addressing the needs of the people. But this requires the possibility of a peaceful discussion about issues. Use of violence is definitely not an invitation for discussion but rather a cowardly attempt to avoid it. The riot witnessed in Rajastan in the past weeks is a cruel insinuation of what happens if violence is resorted to by the parties to a dispute. A socio-cultural issue with economic overtones that could have been discussed and probably settled over a table was taken to the streets of Rajastan resulting in loss of life.

Chhattisgarh is a state that has some of the worst records in terms of meeting basic human needs like food security and effective implementation of antidiscrimination policies. The state has the largest tribal concentration in terms of population ratio within India. The people of Chhattisgarh are neglected by their administration – in the past by the Madhya Pradesh government when it was part of Madhya Pradesh – and later by its own administration. Instances of abuse of authority by state officials ranging from the forest department to the local police are regularly reported from Chhattisgarh. Starvation deaths are common among the tribal communities. Health and sanitation conditions are the worst in the state. Several calls for help by the people, individual and collective, were not heard by the government.

Any place that is reeling in severe chaos due to malgovernance is a fertile ground for indoctrination of new ideas, sometimes advocating violence. The people in Chhattisgargh, the descendents of heroes like Vir Narain Singh are no different in their tolerance to neglect and abuse. It is natural at that point for an ordinary person to think of the available options – to resist and fight or face impending death.

Instead of resorting to ways and means to figure out why the people are protesting, the approach of the lopsided state administration was to resort to violence. A government is not justified at any point to sanction formation of private armed groups to silence the people who are crying out for help. Such a move is the demonstration of the utter lack of concern by the government to its people and their needs. By resorting to this the state government is employing a despicable policy of divide and rule.

By employing private armed groups to silence opposition the government also tried to shield its agents from the responsibility of maintaining law and order through acceptable means sanctioned by good legislations. How can a government maintain control over an armed private militia when it has already failed to discipline its own agencies like the police? The intention of the state administration in these circumstances is clear. Let the people kill each other. The central government, by abstaining from interfering and further supporting these armed groups, played worse politics to retain their power in the centre. The result of these games is what Chhattisgarh is today.

Rule of law and peace can never be attained through the barrel of the gun. A government that has resorted to violence has no legal or moral standing to claim the privileges of an administrator. The Chhattisgarh State Government has made a mockery of the Constitution of the country. By resorting to violence the State Government has declared that it does not believe in constitutional mandates. It has also isolated the administration further from the people.

The Chhattisgarh state requires a democratically functioning administration. Such an administration will provide for functioning courts, good prosecutors and make sure that its law enforcement agents also observe the law. Only such an administration can expect to negotiate terms with warring rebels.

A decade long rule of Idi Amin and his military cost about 300,000 lives in Uganda. Ugnada, just about double the size of Chhattisgarh in area has but improved a lot in its human rights record since the end of Amin’s reign of terror. In Chhattisgarh, the state administration is racing as if to compete with late Amin on malgovernance. But what excuse does the Chhattisgarh government have to push its people to such a colossal and imminent tragedy? What explanation does the Government of India has to offer in allowing regions like Chhattisgarh to become the tragedy of modern India?

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-115-2007
Countries : India,