How villagers in conflict zones are terrorised into fake surrenders

Statistics of rising surrenders in Naxal-affected areas hide a hollow and more brutal reality.

Telling the truth can be dangerous, especially if your facts run counter to the propaganda of a government bent on trumpeting its “successes”.

Muka Kowasi, ex-sarpanch of Chote Longpal, a remote forest village in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, is facing its consequences.  He dared to talk to a major news channel about the fearful farce of fake and forced Naxal “surrenders” now being enacted in his area, and propagandised from Delhi. His testimony formed part of a television programme broadcast on December 18, 2014. The very next day, Kowasi became one more name in the long list of adivasi political prisoners that already over-crowd most of the jails of Central and Eastern India.

Propaganda farce around fake and forced surrenders in Bastar

The prompt clamming operation is understandable. It was only a few weeks earlier that the union ministry of Home Affairs had been publicising the statistic of rising surrenderees in Bastar as proof of the efficacy of the Modi government in dealing with the Naxalite movement. Figures were given out and projected as a “20-fold increase in Maoist surrender since May-end“. Pro-Modi websites announced it as “another feather in Modi’s cap“, saying that these were the fruits of a well planned central strategy and that a record number of Maoists had given up arms since the new government.

Such claims however were far from the truth. One news report on December 8 found that not one of the 377 alleged Maoists shown to have surrendered between June 1 and November 28 had handed in a weapon, and no one had got the post-surrender relief or rehabilitation. They were ordinary villagers without any case or warrant against them and most were not even eligible to be termed as “surrendered Maoists”. Another December report told of an atmosphere of fear in a number of villages where many were being forced to falsely admit to acts they had not done and to surrender. In one case there was resistance, with around twelve thousand villagers gathering at the Kookanur police station in Sukma district to protest the detention of a villager couple in order to pressurise them to surrender.

All these media reports only served to confirm the statements in August and September issued by Chhattisgarh office-bearers of Congress, CPI and AAP, and civil liberties organisations like PUCL giving specific instances of persons forced to pose as surrenderees. Thus, the so-called success of the Modi government in obtaining Naxal surrenders in Bastar seemed to be actually a cruel charade being enacted to serve a Goebbelsian propaganda machine.

Lucrative Gains from Surrenders

Besides the propaganda benefit, the officers involved also stand to profit heftily in this surrender game. While the government had announced massive increases in the amounts to be disbursed to those who surrender, none of this has been known to have reached these latest batches of surrenderees. No guesses needed as to who pocketed these amounts. Larger figures of surrenderees have further been known to earn service medals and promotions for the officers involved.

The present Inspector General of Police of Bastar, SRP Kalluri, who has been claiming credit for the dubious feat of an exponential increase in “surrenders”, is an officer who is facing CBI investigation on charges of arson, rape and murder in three villages of Bastar. Considering this and his overall tarnished track record, his transfer back as IGP, soon after the Modi government was sworn in, was opposed by human rights activists. When interviewed for the above mentioned December 18 programme, Kalluri, while admitting that his surrenderees did not have any case against them and had never touched a gun or even slapped anyone, made the unconvincing claim that they could be treated as surrenderees as they were associated with organisations he said were front organisations. Since he has often accused human rights activists and organisations of fronting for the Maoists, his farfetched argument could even make Swami Agnivesh, who was attacked in 2011 by police under his command, his next surrenderee.


The Ranchi surrender scamsters

But Bastar is not the only centre of suspect surrenders. Less than six months ago, another major surrender scam was exposed in Jharkhand, where, between 2010 and 2013, 514 persons were made to pose as “surrenderees” and then kept under CRPF guard on the premises of the old and disused Ranchi prison. This too was part of another elaborate plan by the Union Home Ministry to boost surrenders. A former Military Intelligence officer, Ravi Borda, who had participated in surrenders of militants in Assam was brought in by the Home department to replicate the experience in Jharkhand. The modus operandi was to, through agents, contact youth of surrounding villages with promises of jobs in paramilitary forces in exchange for posing as surrendered Naxalites with firearms and explosives. These “surenderees” were even made to pay amounts of up to two lakhs for the promised job.

An FIR was later registered and Borda and some of his accomplices put behind bars. The National Human Rights Commission too took suo moto cognizance considering the numerous human rights violations involved and has launched its own investigation. But it seems clear that Borda is, at the best, a front man for a more entrenched system reaching well into the bureaucracy. No scamster could have gained possession and use of the former Ranchi jail and the services of a company of the 203rd Battalion of the CRPF as sentries without the connivance of the higher echelons of the paramilitary and home department. But there are no indications that any investigation is being directed towards weeding out the wider conspiracy.

Institutionalisation of fake and forced surrenders

Such conspiracies are not something exceptional however. Borda himself probably learnt the tricks of the surrender trade during his stint in the Army and in Military Intelligence in the North-East, where surrender scams are rife. In Maharashtra too, we, during our period in jail, met many villager victims who landed in jail on false charges, either for resisting pressures from police to surrender or for refusing to submit to extortionate demands of intelligence officials to share the amounts received for surrendering. One surrenderee couple, Shyamlal and Renuka, who received the rehabilitation amount but did not give an officer his cut, were even sent off to Madhya Pradesh, which did not have a surrender policy and where tens of old cases could be clamped on them.

CommentSurrender policy gained ground in modern counter-insurgency strategy during the British suppression of the Malayan armed struggle in the 1950s. It has since been part of the arsenal of various governments dealing with rebellion. In India, surrender policy provides fertile ground for conspiracies where lucre gains of scamsters and propaganda ends of government come together in unholy union. Such conspiracies are however no aberration. They have become very much an institutionalised part of the growing counter-insurgency complex.

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