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Monday, June 09, 2014

 

India: Dishonesty threats Stability

Is Indian Government clueless about what it has to deal with?

"The prime minister Manmohan Singh's speech, while addressing to the Chief Ministers of India, gives an impression that his office is clueless as to what his government is expected to deal with. After seven years and 11 months in office, the prime minister said that the union government is 'ready to work with the states to put in place strong and effective institutional mechanisms to tackle this problem (of internal security)'. A simple question one may ask is what was his government doing so far?"

An Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) Release

 

Reading the speech of the prime minister and that of the home minister of India, one could easily get carried away by the thought that they are not in fact referring to India, but to some other country in the world. Both ministers were addressing the chief ministers of the country in a conference organised on internal security in New Delhi today.

The prime minister said that terrorism, left wing extremism, religious fundamentalism and ethnic violence are the four different serious threats that the country faces today. The home minister said that the country's international border and the line of control continue to be vulnerable. Both however refrained to elaborate what is done in real time to improve the situation on the ground. In fact both ministers were not honest in their assessment of internal threats and precisely because of this, the meeting has to be called a farcical exercise.

The prime minister's speech gives an impression that his office is clueless as to what his government is expected to deal with. After seven years and 11 months in office, the prime minister said that the union government is 'ready to work with the states to put in place strong and effective institutional mechanisms to tackle this problem (of internal security)'. A simple question one may ask is what was his government doing so far?

The Asian Human Rights Commission has repeatedly held that the internal security of a country depends largely upon the domestic mechanisms that a country calibrates to ensure security to the property and life of the people. This involves, most importantly the local police. Indeed the Achilles heel for the union government is the fact that policing in India is a state subject, upon which the union government has absolutely no control. However, honesty would have been reflected had the government taken a serious view upon putting an end - one could call it an 'effective institutional mechanism' - to the widespread practice of custodial torture in India.

The attempt so far has been limited to draft a law against torture and pass it in the Lok Sabha. After a Parliamentary Review Committee report that called for substantial revision of the law it has been shelved at the Rajya Sabha. Passing it would not have helped in any case, since the proposed law in fact makes a mockery of the criminal jurisprudence developed on the question of torture, internationally and most importantly by the country's own courts.

The defect in the law begins with serious abrasions in defining the crime, torture. Much more is missing in the proposed law that having it does not makes any sense, either to improve the police or to assist the victims of torture. But yes, it will serve the purpose of window-dressing the legal framework of the country, which is an act of self-deceit in itself. A thorough review of the proposed law is available here.

It is elementary that no police force could perform without the cooperation of the general public, from where the police gather human intelligence. In fact the public perception of the country's police is that of a criminal in uniform. It is fundamental thus to ask the prime minister and the government he leads about what it has done so far to change this image? If it has not, then the prime minister's speech is nothing more than crude bluff.

The prime minister also said that the forces that threaten the internal security of the country should be firmly and sensitively dealt with. It should indeed be the way forward. However, the government will have to define, what are their ‘forces’. Would starvation, malnutrition, forced eviction, rape of women and killing of people with impunity would amount to the government's definition of 'forces'? If so who are to be held accountable?

Would the same set of rules apply to private and company-sponsored militias operating in states like Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh of which at least the private outfit called Salwa Judum is led by a state leader of the political party to which the prime minister belongs? So who else is out there waging a 'protracted war' other than the ultra leftists?

Would religiously fundamentalist movements like the Vishva Hindu Parishad or the activities of some political leaders within the Indian Union Muslim League or that of the Christian pastors of various colours and creeds be part of the investigation on religious fundamentalism in India? None of this would be undertaken by the present government or by any future ones. This is due to the narrow religion based politics that all political parties in the country play tune to, including the leftist groups. So on that count, the union government the prime minister represented in the meeting with the chief ministers and those represented by the chief ministers who chose to participate in the meeting are on the same page. Then what security are we talking about?

It would have made some sense of honesty, had the union government or its opposing counterparts in the state of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh had at least made the minimum efforts to reduce the fight to survive by the rural communities living in the internally war-torn areas which many call as the 'red-corridor' of the country. Their condition, of being caught between armed Maoists and the private militias operating in the region for which the government so far has only responded by use of force has not changed since the past two decades. Draconian laws like the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 has only further deteriorated their living conditions. How could one living in such conditions expected to be supporting the state on internal security when they consider the state itself is a security threat? What sensible plans other than the language of violence has the government drawn up so far to deal with this? Instead if the government has poured more armed forces into these regions that have resulted in further violence, how would the government expect the term security be defined by the people who have no other option other than to live in these regions?

If enforced development at the loss of the people and their livelihood options is what the prime minister is dreaming about, his office should have the minimum honesty to answer the statistics that prove that India is in fact at huge loss since the natural resources of the country are held at ransom by private companies to make profit for them. It is equally sensible to calculate the number of people forcefully displaced and livelihoods affected due to these development programmes in comparison to what the government earns from, for instance mining activities in the so called red corridor. It would make absolute sense should the government undertake an environmental impact assessment of these development activities and formulate a licensing regime based on facts, not as scripted by private companies. The fundamental question the government should first answer is that whose security is under discussion? Is it that of those in the national and state capitals or the people of the country?

It would also be an expression of honesty and more importantly that of democracy, should the government first hold a public consultation before large-scale mining and dam constructing licences are awarded. At the end of the day whose development is that the government looking forward to, is it that of those private companies having their shareholders in alien territories or at some of the richest houses in the country or that of the millions of people, who call India their home?

When the prime minister said in the meeting that by and large the internal security in the country has been 'satisfactory since February last year', does he mean that there were no more massive and shocking terrorist attacks since then? If that is the logic then the security scenario immediately before the Mumbai terrorist attack also should have been considered 'satisfactory'. The elementary reasoning that an open attack upon the state reflects the deep vacuums of a security architecture within the country, addressing of which requires the developing of a sense of mutual trust between the people and their security agencies seems to be missing in this argument. Perhaps the government would not want to look that way. That, in simple terms is dishonesty.

On a similar vein, the home minister was lamenting about the country's borders. Indeed the threat is true. However, it would have made sense had the minister bothered to see how rotten is the moral as well as operative framework of those who are tasked to secure the country's border, particularly with Nepal and Bangladesh. The Border Security Force of the country is a corrupt, inept and terror organisation, for those who live along the country's border. The AHRC has reported more than 300 cases during the past eight years that narrate how the BSF demand and accept bribes and commit crimes with impunity in places where they are posted. Not a single case has been investigated. Expecting such a force, that has no moral strength than that of an organised gang of street thugs, to guard the international border of the country is like letting hooligans maintain order in the country's streets.

Anyone who have crossed the Indo-Bangladesh border or the Indo-Nepal border through posts manned by the BSF would have stories to speak about the manner and extent of bribes these officers demand to guarantee a safe passage into or outside India. What guarantee can the home minister or the 'saint like' defence minister offer to the people of India with the country's borders left at the guard of a deeply corrupt and demoralised group? Situations are such that the attempt to amend the BSF Act to empower the BSF to arrest persons is in fact not necessary, since they are doing it any way. The only difference an amendment would bring is to provide a statutory cover to their currently illegal acts.

What is lacking in today's discussion of the union government with the state governments is the overall sense of honesty and seriousness, from both sides, in dealing with a real and alarming threat of security to the country. What is lacking is sensible actions that are expected from the governments that claim themselves to be democratically elected and mandated to uphold the rule of law. However, honesty could hurt, and that is precisely what is been avoided. The question is how long can the people afford to listen to this bluff?

[Asian Human Rights Commission, AHRC in short, is a Hong Kong based non-governmental organisation established since 1984. AHRC monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights.]

       

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