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Killing With A Human Face

“I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” Clarence Darrow.

As a seminar on Human rights violations in Counter Insurgency Operations gets underway in Prajna Bhawan organized by Tripura Police and Institute of Social Science from today (August 4, 2010) where police officials at various ranks would be discussing one of the most convoluted yet most difficult tasks they face at field level operations, some points also need public appreciation.

Tripura being one of the three states after Mizoram and Punjab where peace returned after decades old armed conflicts is perhaps the right place for holding such a seminar on the important civil right issue. Because it is here that despite bloody engagements for years together the rate of Human Rights violations is extremely low- barring two glaring examples of Ujan Maidan in 1989 and Kutnabari in 1999.

The title of the seminar ‘˜Human Rights in Counter Insurgency’ first needs clarification. Expectedly the seminar would not confine its deliberations to Tripura only but would dwell extensively with global and national perspectives at backdrop.

But when the word ‘˜Insurgency’ is used one must keep in mind that in Tripura the armed violence committed by a section of tribal youths since early eighties never graduated to ‘˜Insurgency’ in its classical connotation. So, in Tripura perspective the title Human Rights in Counter Insurgency would be ‘˜misplaced’ if not altogether a misnomer.

There are clear parameters to define ‘˜insurgency’, ‘˜terrorism’ and ‘˜militancy’. And as such the task of maintaining Human Rights while dealing with various forms of violent insurrections or acts by non-state actors is shaped by different levels of personal and institutional understanding of the ground situations and restraints.

The question of quantum of force while dealing with the non-state armed actors in field level, especially when it calls for an instantaneous decision, is, indeed, a difficult task for men in uniform. That it poses real dilemma for the security and police officials and personnel was clearly stated by none other than the Chief Justice of Gauhati High Court M B Lokur himself in his key note address in the inaugural session of the seminar. The CJ did neither delve deep into the dilemma nor did he touch upon the various forms of armed violence.

But Human Rights issue is, perhaps, the most important factor in any conflict zone and in dealing with non-state armed actors due to such ‘˜dilemma’ security personnel or policemen can end up in taking wrong decision resulting in blatant infringement of human rights. The basic idea of Human Rights warrants that it cannot even be denied to the people even if they are engaged in posing serious threat to human life and dignity and civil security in general. In this context it is imperative that we should understand the different meanings and characters of the ‘˜insurgency’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘militancy’ at first and inherent problems-dilemma- that might come in taking strategic as well as instantaneous decisions for combating the menace.

For example, the reflex and reactions of the security forces or police acting against a Maoist rebel ready to fight the representatives of the ‘˜oppressive Indian state’ will definitely be, and expected to be, different than his reactions against a Jihadi or Fidayen terrorist from Pakistan or some Afghan mountain who, armed with explosive vests and AKs, is set to indiscriminate manslaughter and kill as many innocents as possible before blowing himself up to his heaven and hurries. Practically, the same security man or police will have different sets of restraint levels and thus at the end different explanations of sacredness of Human Rights.

Coming back to the connotations of armed violence, ‘˜insurgency’ has been characterized by several parameters. Among them five important factors are:

It is an armed violence committed by a disgruntled section of the society that was till recently been an integral part of the system.

Guided by ideological or strong ethno-centric motivation, they take up arms to fight against the power that be, alien powers included.

They should have a clear, well defined political and armed command structure and hierarchy

They should have some popular support at local level as well as in other sections of the society like intelligentsia, NGOs and pressure groups

And they should have a liberated zone that they seek to expand continuously among others until they capture state power or secede from the homogenous land or drive out others from it

In that sense Maoists in India and Nepal very well fit in the category.

Terrorism – is certainly a broad and all encompassing word that remains in use since the time of Jacobean period of France. In fact from the time of Robespierre there were hundreds of people Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot to Rwandan or Yugoslavian characters who had resorted to terror tactics to eliminate whomever they felt were in opposition. But, of late, terrorism in Indian context is used to Jihadi terrorism abetted, aided and exported to India from Pakistan. The terrorism of Jihadi kind can be determined by some obvious factors. Broadly they are:

They do not have any clear cut political and armed hierarchy. Al Qaeda is actually a ‘˜Base’ and it formed the International Islamic Front (IIF) in 1998 with several member organizations. The IIF members or for that matter non-member Islamic Jihadi outfits were free to operate and launch terror campaign on their own at their local levels and were also allowed to transport their terrorists to any other country to commit operations.

Jihadi terrorists are guided by staunch Wahabi Islamic ideology to create a Dar-ul-Islam (Islamic world) which is not limited to any political boundary of a nation state or country. They are not disgruntled group but brainwashed and indoctrinated zombies picked up from backwater localities as well as from important universities. They come from all possible strata of life – Osama Bin Laden from Wealthy Arabian family, an Egyptian doctor Ayman Al Zwahari, an educated engineer in the name of Mohammed Atta from Germany, to a Taliban from rustic Afghan or SWAT province in Pakistan or Sudan.

Their sworn enemies are infidels belonging to non – Islamic faiths like the Jews, Christians, Hindus etc. But in their operations they do not target – like insurgents- specifically but prefer to kill by way of mercenary attacks or bomb explosions or by any violent means as many as possible to undermine the governments run or influenced by infidels.

They, however, are not inclined to capture political power

And their operations are neither confined to any specific areas or boundary and nor there is any scope for any peace negotiations with them.

On the other hand the militancy is characterized by violent activities committed by a group of disgruntled people who feel that they should have their own areas of self determination and rule in their ethno centric homogenous political area. The broad characteristics of the militants are:

Militants function in particular areas of their influence.

They mainly target-like insurgents, representatives of the government in power

But unlike insurgents they are neither guided by any motivation to capture the state power in the entire country and put in place a particular ideologically guided government

More often their fight-due to their ethno-centric characters- ultimately boils down to communal confrontations and the targeted victims become their immediate neighbors outside their own ethnic community

There is always scope for peace and political negotiations with them and arrival at a long lasting settlement. And as such militants who once carried out armed violence can very well be absorbed in the society and be allowed to participate in overall development activities.

Considering all these characters North East India’s armed organizations are by and large militants. It is true that some of the North east militants speak of ‘˜Socialism’ (NSCN) and communism ( Meitei outfits like Kangleipak Communist party or the UNLF-an offshoot of Red Guards led by Hijam Irabot) but in all practical purposes there is no effective influence of their declared ‘˜Socialist’ or ‘˜Communist’ values.

As far as Tripura is concerned the violence committed by the armed outfits right from TNV, ATPLO, to NLFT, ATTF was never in true sense ‘˜insurgency’. The armed outfits of Tripura did never have four important characteristics of insurgency i.e. popular support, a liberated zone, well defined and highly motivated politico-armed command structures and ideological and political motivations. They are virtually a blend of criminal elements led by some unscrupulous greedy people and are fuelled by strong communal hatred for their neighbors. Their leaders talked to freeing Tripura from the clutch of ‘˜Hindu Bengalis’ who outnumbered the tribals following partition and resultant influx from erstwhile East Pakistan, committed brutalities in all imaginable forms on the unarmed civilians including their own people and in the process made huge money and started business in foreign countries. The leaders who wanted to become ‘˜President’ of sovereign Tripura and indulged in violence and man slaughters ultimately find it was more rewarding to become a ‘˜chairman’ of a government run corporation.

So, despite popular usages in battle strategies formulated by the state as well as in media reports- the ‘˜Counter Insurgency’ would be a ‘misnomer’ as far as Tripura is concerned.

Yet, coming back to Human Rights in Counter Insurgency campaign, it is beyond any question that the engagements between the state force and non-state armed actors are inherently fraught with threat of Human Rights violations, as instantaneous decisions by the force in uniform could very well go astray in a conflict zone. The militants do neither care for Human Rights nor are ready to practice it in any form. In reality ultimate success or sporadic achievements of their policies and operations are based exclusively on Human Rights violations only.

In India we can safely say state authority succeeded in combating and containing militancy effectively in three states-Mizoram, Punjab and Tripura.

In Mizoram when the MNF launched Operation Jericho on February 28, 1966 and captured several places including Aizawl and kept it under their full control for eight days, Indian Air force was used and the fighters strafed on them. This was, perhaps, for the first time in the world at that time that a country used its air force on its own people. The standard of maintenance of Human Rights by the state authority then thus could very well be guessed. Yet, following several sets of negotiations in various parts of the world ultimately the MNF sat for final peace talks and peace indeed returned in Mizoram in 1986. (Later Sri Lankan authority also used air force on LTTE infested areas to flush them out of Killonecchi, Mullaitivu, and other northern parts of the island nation).

In Punjab the militancy- overtly aided by Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto- was fought ruthlessly and decisively by Punjab police led by KPS Gill. The expression – ‘˜Human Rights- virtually meant nothing then in Punjab. Excessive forces were used and by hardnosed policing the violence was contained.

But in Tripura though the police took the lead role in combating militancy the Human Rights violations were negligible. Offhand only one or two severe Human Rights violations come to mind – one being the Ujan Maidan in 1989 where tribal women were raped by some Assam Rifles jawans and the other being Kutnabari incident on November 6, 1999 where Tripura State Rifles personnel cold bloodedly killed three tribal youths following an ATTF ambush on their colleagues. Then there were some stray reports of Human Rights violations in Takumbari and Chhankhola areas. But in all the cases authorities took strong view and actions were taken against the erring personnel.

The state forces, while combating the non-state armed actors carrying out violence, are virtually left with only three options: First, arrest them and put them to trial in the court of law, second, force them to surrender under pressure and proactive operations of various kinds and help them start a new life with rehabilitation package, and third when both the first two options fail, engage them in encounter which may result in killing or wounding them.

A fallen body – even if it belongs to an insurgent, or Jihadi or a militant- means the basic of Human Rights of a human being to live a full life is essentially curtailed- even if a man in uniform is forced to do it in an encounter for a greater cause or to save many other innocents. Besides, killing cannot be done with a human face or in other words with sympathy. And this is the tragedy that comes haunting for all the combatants in a conflict zone. This is a fact inherent in Counter Insurgency or Counter terrorist operations.

*The article is written by Manas Paul.

*The article was earlier published August 30, 2010.

*You may visit for further readings.

(Courtesy: The Coloured Journal)

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