Red Affairs

The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

23 Feb, 2015    ·   4841

Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray writes why civilians always pay the heaviest price in the war between the State and Left Wing Extremists

Bibhu Prasad Routray
Bibhu Prasad Routray
Visiting Fellow
In 1956, the British authorities fighting the Communist insurgents in Malay granted a lump sum of M$12,000 to a former member of the Min Yuen, the supply organisation of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA). The information provided by the renegade member cum police informer led to a successful ambush in which three insurgents were killed. The reward was a substantial sum, amounting to almost seven times the then average annual Malayan income. Disbursement of such generous rewards was part the psy war launched by the British against the Communists – that successfully helped cultivate large numbers of informants, ultimately leading to the decimation of the Communist insurgency.

In comparison, Korsa Jagaram alias Shivaji, who played a similar role of a facilitator in India's fight against left-wing extremism died in penury. On 1 January, Jagaram, a former cadre of the CPI-Maoist, who had risen to be a member of the outfit's West Bastar Division Committee, was attacked by a group of ten Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres and killed in Kottapal, his native village in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district. Jagaram had surrendered in May 2013. According to the prevailing surrender-cum-rehabilitation policy, Jagaram was entitled to a job and other benefits. Instead, he was recruited as a gopaniya sainik (covert operative) of the Chhattisgarh police's state auxiliary force.

According to the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Maoists have killed 1169 alleged 'police informers' between 2008 and 2013, accounting for 41 per cent of the 2850 civilian fatalities during the period. While a number of these informers have acted as active agents of the police establishments, those killed also include civilians whose contribution to the security force operation is only incidental.

Birsi Kumari's is a fitting example. Three days before India sought to exhibit its 'Nari shakti' by positioning women officers as marching contingent leaders of all the three military services during the Republic Day parade, 18-year-old Birsi Kumari was tied up and shot dead by the CPI-Maoist cadres in Jharkhand's Khunti district. By all means, Kumari's nexus with the state could not have gone beyond skeletal information regarding rebel presence or movement in her village, at the prodding of a security force contingent. However, in Maoist lexicon, any contact with the state is a cardinal mistake, often punishable by death. Death is not only punitive, but is also used as a deterrent to rein in potential state-agents.

Insurgency as well as the methods to contain it revolve around the strategy of dominating the space and seeking support among civilian populations that inhabit the space. On the flip side, this often amounts to targeting people who are believed to belong to the other camp. Cleansing an area of police informers is strategic, for it ensures an unhindered extremist domination over the area.

As Maoist ideologue Charu Mazumdar wrote in his 1969 article, "The annihilation of the class enemy does not only mean liquidating individuals, but also means liquidating the political, economic and social authority of the class enemy." Class enemies included landlords, rich peasants, government employees, rival party members, and police informers. Lest this be construed as an act of calculated provocation, such killings are manifestations of domination by the extremists over geographical areas vis-à-vis the state's fleeting presence. At one level, informers are easy prey. On the other, killing them is crucial to drain the state of its authority.

Mazumdar, who has been accused of elevating "homicidal mania to a political principle" went on to prescribe how the communists must "spring" weapons such as "spears, javelins and sickles" at the enemy to kill him. "He who has not dipped his hand in the blood of class enemies can hardly be called a communist,” Mazumdar concluded. The CPI-Maoist continues to steadfastly adhere to the ideology of retribution and Mazumdar's prescriptions.  

It is unlikely that either Jagaram or Kumari's family members would receive any compensation from the state. State governments that have wilfully defaulted on rehabilitating the surrendered extremists on a number of instances are less likely to look after the deceased and peripheral entities in its counter-maoist campaign. Worse still, its own tactic of targeting civilians and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) believed to be on the side of the extremists would continue to make the plight of the civilians in the conflict theatres miserable.

Among several examples of the state's highhandedness is the February 2015 incident where the police arrested and tortured a group of tribals in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district. Accusing them of playing a role in the killing of a police informer Anil Thakur, the police picked them up from their homes at night, detained them in a police station and subjected them to torture. The saying, ‘being caught between the fire and frying pan’ could not have assumed a more appropriate meaning.