What India’s TV wars with Pakistan don’t tell us about our wars without witness

Thousands have died in internal battles waged against its own people in Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and the Northeast.

 There are wars and there are the TV wars and it is the second variety that has been raging over the last few weeks in the media studios throughout the land. The September 18 attack on Uri Army headquarters provided the trigger for TV anchors, ruling politicians and sundry other warmongers itching to declare war on Pakistan.

The luminaries of the political and defence establishment, who, despite Pathankot, had ignored security and were guilty of facilitating 19 soldiers’ deaths by the gross negligence of lodging them in inflammable tents, escaped all scrutiny. All lapses were well hidden behind a smokescreen of war clouds of their own making.

The shrillness of the war cries yet shows no signs of abating. A variety of war games are being played out on prime time. Many media outlets had, even before the announcement by the Indian Army of surgical strikes, already invented and announced surgical strikes of their own.

As the media sets up televised war rooms complete with maps and digital models, every actual, notional or imagined step of the armed forces is being chalked out and projected – more surgical strikes, Indian fidayeen units, hot pursuit, and implementation of doctrines  of cold start, and even limited nuclear war. The “war” with Pakistan is being fought out in full media glare even before it actually begins.

A make-believe war

An actual war with Pakistan is yet a remote possibility. Military confrontations in these times are usually proxy wars, with one or the other big power backing each of the sides. Both India and Pakistan being well within the same American camp, the likelihood of the US consenting to declarations of war on each other is extremely low. Meanwhile, major military moves contrary to Washington’s wishes are not options either country’s ruling class is willing to contemplate.

But a make-believe war too has its fair share of backers. The party in power can reap a rich harvest of votes; a jingoistic anchor and his channel can rake in the TRPs; a corporate house entering armaments can speed up the contracts.

So, war or no war, the business of warmongering will carry on. Under the camera glare, politicians will thump their chests and anchors will shout themselves hoarse, creating choruses from all corners.

Real and lethal internal wars

But TV wars are not the only type of wars. There are some very real and very lethal wars being waged by the Indian state in various parts of the country. Some of them have been on for decades with death counts far surpassing anything on the Line of Control (LoC). The news of these, however, rarely makes it to the newspaper headlines or prime time TV.

In just the last three months of protests in Kashmir, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured.

One such war is the one waged against the almost three-decade-long mass insurgency for self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir, which has caused a death toll between 44,000 and 1,10,000 as per various estimates.

In just the last three months of mass protests against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured, including 1,000 blinded in firing and shot-gun pellet attacks by security forces. These figures far outstrip the numbers of Indian citizens killed and injured in all the external conflicts waged by India since 1947.

Another conflict is the five-decade-old attempt by the Indian state to wipe out the Naxalite movement. The toll here too runs to several thousand. While the estimates for earlier years are disputed, government figures for the last 20 years run to around 14,000.

In the last seven months, Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region alone has seen more than a 100 adivasis killed in encounters shown by civil rights groups to be fake.

Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone.

Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone. It has seven lakh military and paramilitary personnel in comparison to a population of only 125 lakh giving a soldier-people ratio of 1:18. A similar situation exists in the Bastar division of Chhattisgarh, which has one lakh paramilitary forces for a population of 31 lakh, that is, a soldier-people ratio of 1:31.

A report submitted to the United Nations by the Working Group on Human Rights in India points to similar intensified militarisation in the northeastern states. It has been a conflict zone right since 1947, with many groups fighting for self-determination. Government statistics admit to 21,400 fatalities from these conflicts in the last 25 years.

Wars without witness

As the body counts in such war zones grow grimmer, information flows from these parts get scantier. In fact, there has been a concerted attempt by the state and mainstream media to ensure that news and views on these wars remain highly restricted and are even fabricated.

The recent resignation by Naseer Ahmed, a senior Kashmir journalist with the Ambani-owned TV channel IBN7 brought to light the role of the Delhi-based media centres in fabricating news reports as per state directives and preventing factual reporting of the killings and unrest.

Raids on Kashmiri newspaper offices, Facebook censorship and a ban on the Kashmir Reader newspaper were some of the methods used to curb the local media. Well-known human rights activist Khurram Parvez was first prevented from traveling to Geneva to attend a session of the UN Human Rights Council and then was placed under arrest.

The wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

In Bastar, the tool of arrest has been used rampantly by the state against journalists who refuse to toe the police line. The last year has seen at least four journalists being forced to spend months in jail on cooked-up charges. One of them is yet behind bars.

On October 15, two Mumbai-based writers were picked up from a Bastar jail merely for attempting to meet a woman Maoist prisoner with the jail superintendent’s permission. Lawyers and rights activists too have been systematically hounded and even evicted from the area. Amnesty International India has documented what it calls a near-total information blackout in the state in a report titled “Blackout in Bastar: Human Rights Defenders Under Threat”.

Thus, unlike the jingoistic TV wars with Pakistan, which the ruling classes relish and revel in, the wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

These are the wars which lay bare the lie of the democratic credentials of the Indian state. The dark designs of these wars must therefore be planned in secret. Their brutal consequences must be blacked out.

They must be wars without witness.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves



Battle for Bastar: Putting down a people’s war

Such repression quite invariably begets resistance of a long term nature.

Mission 2016, launched in October 2015, after national security adviser Ajit Doval and special security adviser (internal security) K Vijay Kumar’s visits to Chhattisgarh, reportedly has its target set for the calendar year – of achieving the objective of wiping out Maoists from Bastar.

An array of instruments has been brought into play, ranging from mass sexual assault carried out by police and paramilitary teams to deploying space satellite imagery by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with the security forces announcing in May 2016 that they are “expecting to wipe out the Maoists in Bastar area even before the arrival of monsoon season.”


Such expectations have been voiced before. Congress leader P Chidambaram, after assuming charge as home minister in late 2008, had forecast a three-year limit for succeeding in his policy of “Clear Hold Build” to clear the way for corporations that had signed MOUs for exploiting the mineral wealth in the jungles of Naxal-controlled areas.

Again, in July 2010, he set a fresh three year target. By 2014, the new home minister, Rajnath Singh, was rehashing the same policy under a slightly different name – Clear Hold Develop. He too promised quick results, but reports for 2015-16 did not prove him right. Mission 2016 too can be expected to remain unaccomplished.

A brutal war without witnesses

The lack of success, however, cannot be blamed on the lack of attempt. The best military and security brains in the government have continuously been on the job. Successive governments at the Centre have, with ample enhancements of the war budget, dramatically increased the numbers of armed forces and the quality of their weaponry.

Officers like SRP Kalluri, who have a long history of disregarding the rule of law, have been handpicked to lead the fight in this war. Immense cruelties such as gang rape, widespread false encounters andfake mass “surrenders” have become the order of the day. Journalists, lawyers and human rights activists have forcibly been evicted to ensure a “War without Witnesses”.


Use of Air Force and space vehicles

Despite the blatant lopsidedness, the government has not been able to achieve anything near the progress it desires in the war on the ground. This has, in turn, often prompted the planners to seek solutions that would rely on its total monopoly on aerial and other technologies and can be operated from afar.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been introduced as early as 2010. Strafing and bombardment by the Indian Air Force (IAF) have always been considered and now the IAF has a dedicated ANTF (Anti-Naxal Task Force) under an air commodore, which has conducted strafing expeditions in Bijapur in October 2015 and Sukma in April 2016.

May 2016 brings reports of the use of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s space satellites for the war in Bastar.

Air power, with the wanton destruction, misery and loss of life it implies, is rarely used by a government within its own boundaries, against the people it should consider its own. It is now more than fifty years since the IAF was used to bomb Aizawl in Mizoram in March 1966.

The central government, however, seems firm on its decision to repeat this history in Bastar.

Economic and political divide

This decision perhaps exemplifies the antagonism of economic interest and political stance that divides Delhi from Dantewada. Delhi obviously will stop at nothing to show the staunchness of its commitment to the class that wants the forests cleared of the adivasis who stand in the way of corporate super profits.

Dantewada obviously has no option but to fight for survival and against annihilation. More importantly, the seat of power at Delhi cannot obviously tolerate the challenge to its might that the alternative from Dantewada represents.

Airpower and other modern technologies may seem efficient, but have rarely delivered the solutions expected by those who deploy them. The Aizawl bombing did not crush the Mizo people’s resistance in the way Delhi expected.

A guerilla war continued for twenty years until a political settlement was reached in 1986.

Air war versus people’s war

International experience is even more instructive. The USA, with the most powerful technologies on earth at its disposal, has been successful in most air wars against opposing armies and air force, but has singularly failed on the ground when faced with the resistance of ordinary people.

Recent examples are Iraq and Afghanistan. Their technologies were a colossal failure in a place like Vietnam where they faced a People’s Army fighting a People’s War.


The People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA), which the government forces confront in Bastar, also operates according to the classic Maoist principles of People’s War. Though nowhere comparable to the People’s Liberation Armies of China and Vietnam, the PLGA too has displayed considerable resilience in withstanding and growing amidst repeated waves of government attacks in Bastar since 1980.

Its forces in Bastar are composed almost completely of the local adivasi population and have been shown to rely completely on the people.

This force, however, with its limited technologies, cannot be expected to be much of a match against IAF bombardment, drones and ISRO satellites. Its ability to counter when the strafing starts and bombs fall is doubtful. The extent of destruction and human misery that will follow can only be imagined.

But will that mean victory for the government? The history of such wars seems to suggest otherwise. Such repression quite invariably begets resistance of a long term nature.

And if the PLGA were then to adopt the classic guerilla tactic of dispersing its forces to other areas facing the same brunt of corporate-driven “development” policies, there would be the probability of the conflict spreading.

The government will then be faced with the Math question that Arundhati Roy once asked: “How many soldiers will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?”

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


Sexual violence by armed forces rising, and Modi wants to celebrate Women’s Day?

The more immediate and ongoing tragedy is occurring in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district.

The yearly sarkari tokenism around International Women’s Day reached a new low with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal that this year “only women parliamentarians should speak in Parliament on March 8”.

The stark emptiness of the proposal was provided by the context across the country, where attacks on women and the suppression of their voices have seen no let up and there have hardly been any real steps to remedy the situation.


The harsh irony is most sharply evident in the conflict zones of the country, where it is the government’s forces themselves which have been accused of the worst type of atrocities against women.

Around the time the prime minister was making his suggestion for Women’s Day celebrations, the Kashmir Valley was resounding with protests marking 25 years of awaiting justice for the victims of the Kunan-Poshpora rapes of February 23, 1991. The case against Rajputana Rifles personnel lies pending before the Supreme Court. Manipur’s 12-year-old Manorama rape and murder case against Assam Rifles personnel similarly remains pending before the courts.

Sharp spurt in sexual assaults by police

The more immediate and ongoing tragedy is occurring, however, in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district. There, the paramilitary forces, police and state-sponsored vigilante gangs have over the last few months been on a continuous campaign of loot, sexual molestation and rape.

After a fact-finding visit to the area, Nandini Sundar, professor of Sociology at the Delhi University reports: “Between October 19-24, 2015, 40 women of Peddagelur, Budgicheru and Gundam villages were sexually assaulted, beaten, and stripped by the security forces; two women were gang raped. On January 12, six women from Kunna village in Sukma district were sexually assaulted and between January 11 and 14, 13 women were gangraped in Belam-Nendra village in Bijapur district. In all these cases, the rapes were accompanied by extreme physical and verbal abuse, and the looting of their homes.”


Violence on women and other human rights violations in Bastar by the security forces most often remain unrecorded and unnoticed by the outside world. This time, however, it was somewhat different.

Over the past three years, first with the moving in of three women lawyers of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) in 2013 and later with the release and return of adivasi political prisoner and activist, Soni Sori in 2014, the villagers of Bastar have been better able to organise themselves to try and reclaim their legal rights and even to protest atrocities through mass mobilisation, often directed at forcing the police to register crimes in this regard.

In 2015, the noted scholar Bela Bhatia and Scroll.in journalist Malini Subramaniam also moved to Bastar. They, too, played a significant role in taking the stories of blatant law violations and repression and torture of the local population to the outside world.

A repressive police machinery is always allergic to the truth. Soni Sori’s leadership through padayatras and demonstrations, JagLAG reports of false implication and incarcerations of hundreds of innocent tribals, Bela Bhatia’s push for registration of FIRs against rapist cops and Malini Subramaniam’s posts on forced surrenders and numerous other unlawful practices all posed a threat to the unquestioned criminal acts of the law machinery.

Forced eviction of activists, lawyers and journalists

At first, indirect threats to fall in line and not oppose the police were given. When these did not have effect, the next step was to apply the brand of Naxal or Maoist on the local population and launch open campaigns against them. Bar Associations under BJP leadership passed resolutions against the lawyers as outsiders and tried to prevent them from practising in the courts.

Organisations propped up by the police with names like Samajik Ekta Manch, Nagrik Ekta Manch, Vikas Sangharsh Samiti, started demonstrating and issuing threats and even resorted to acts of violence like stone-throwing on Malini’s house and car.

The next step was outright eviction. Landlords of the places where the JagLAG lawyers, and where Malini were staying were called to the police station and forced to serve notice on their tenants. They were thus forced to pack up and leave. Soni Sori was told that she did not have proper title to the house she was staying at.

When she did not back down, she was attacked and had some chemical substance applied to her face. With continuing threats to her life, she had to be taken outside Bastar for treatment.

The police under the leadership of Bastar region inspector general, SRP Kalluri, has announced Mission 2016 during which he promises to crush Naxalism in Bastar. This has seen a rapid rise in forced surrenders and false encounters, besides rapes and molestation of women.

Whole villages are being forced out with all young men being detained and tortured in police camps until they agree to fake surrenders. As pointed out earlier in these columns, the stage has already been set for aerial attacks, which could result in even thousands of deaths of Indian citizens.

As Mizoram this week commemorates the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Aizawl – the last time that the Indian Air Force (IAF) was used to attack the people within the country’s borders – it seems that similar operations may form part of Kalluri’s Mission 2016.

When Sri Lanka had launched a similar assault in Mullaitivu in the last phase of its war on the Tamil Tigers, it had been called a “war without witnesses”. Sri Lanka had first ensured that all journalists, human rights activists and observers were thrown out of the area. The similarities in the recent evictions from Bastar carry grim portents.

Bastar’s mothers and daughters in danger


As the dirty war deepens, women will likely face the major brunt. The record of the past few months shows that governments that thrive on slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” have had no compunction in plotting and perpetrating sexual assaults and violations of the matas and daughters of Bastar. As the days grow darker the need to bear witness to the darkness and stand in opposition will be felt all the more. It is in this context that the absence of the activists recently ejected will be felt all the more.

The evicted activists have, however, vowed not to give up. The JagLAG members, in an interview, have said that though they have now been forced out of Bastar, they want to go back. Though severely scarred by the chemical attack, Soni Sori has declared that she will not bow down.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, she is even scheduled to address the students of JNU, some of who may well be inspired to rise in her support. The state, by clamping down, may actually be giving birth to new forces in opposition to it.

by Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


Pardon to David Headley in 26/11 trial is travesty of justice

Fahim Ansari was tried for same acts for which the US citizen was let off.

Fahim Ansari – accused No 2 after Ajmal Kasab in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks trial – is one of those quiet, gentle types. The several interactions that one of the authors of this piece (Vernon) had with him in the Anda Circle of Mumbai’s Arthur Road Central Prison left the impression of a person polite to a fault, who rarely, if ever, lost his temper. It would not however be surprising if even the serene Fahim were to fume with fury at the proceedings in the Mumbai courtroom of Additional Sessions Judge GA Sanap on December 10, 2015.

December 10, 2015 was when the court pardoned US citizen David Coleman Headley in the same case and guaranteed him protection from punishment for the very same charges for which Fahim had earlier been indicted. Headley has admitted, among other things, to performing the same role of reconnaissance for which the same prosecution had implicated Fahim. But the Special Public Prosecutor, Ujwal Nikam was proudly proclaiming in the Court, “Now David is my witness also.” This was the Nikam who had, despite Fahim’s acquittal in the Sessions Court, gone right up to the Supreme Court trying to fix his conviction and death sentence. Now the very same Nikam had no qualms in claiming that another man had actually done the crime and that he should be pardoned – because this other man was “his” witness.


Pardon-plea or Plea-bargain?

The dealings in the courtroom were businesslike and lacked any notions of mercy or magnanimity that one would associate with a plea for pardon. It sounded more as if Headley was negotiating an agreement rather than praying for indulgence. His statement through video conferencing from the US was short, ending with a curt, “I appeared here ready to answer questions regarding these events if I receive a pardon from this court. That’s it. Thank you.” A veteran of several plea-bargains, Headley has, in America, got out of two earlier drug charges and clinched a leniency deal with the US government to save him from a death sentence and extradition to India to face trial for his role in the 26/11 attacks. On December 10 he knew that Indian courts have no control at all over him and any pretence to place conditions on him was just a farce.

One of the conditions required for pardon under Section 306 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is that the person being tendered pardon “be detained in custody until the termination of the trial”. In Headley’s case he has been tendered pardon without being even arrested or detained by the Indian police. The other more important condition is that he should make “a full and true disclosure of the whole of the circumstances within his knowledge relative to the offence and to every other person concerned, whether as principal or abettor, in the commission thereof.” That this condition, which Sanap explained in some detail to Headley, will see breach rather than compliance goes without saying.

No ‘full disclosure’

It is widely known and even documented that David Headley, born of a Pakistani father, was a double agent for America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who, while working with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, had shared information with US agencies about impending Mumbai attack targets. The US therefore has no interest whatsoever in Headley making any “full disclosure” before an Indian court. As long as he remains in US custody, these agencies will ensure that disclosures will be restricted and refurbished according to American interests. What then is the national interest in the Indian state granting pardon to a Pak-American ISI/CIA agent, who has succeeded in causing deadly damage on Indian soil?

The fatuous argument that Headley’s evidence would bring out the truth behind 26/11 hardly warrants serious consideration. That leaves us the prosecution objective of using Headley to strengthen the case against Indian national Zabiuddin Ansari, who is currently facing trial. The evidence of a double agent should by definition be dubious. When such proof is being proffered over video-conferencing from a place out of your courts’ control, the insincerity of the exercise is palpable. Should the state go to such loutish lengths to somehow nail an Indian citizen in the conspiracy, while absolving the Americans of all responsibility?

Prosecution pursued Fahim despite knowledge of Headley’s guilt

As another Ansari goes to trial, one cannot help but recall Fahim Ansari’s anxieties and anticipation during the first 26/11 trial in 2009-10. First the dismay at the fabrication of falsehoods in the charge-sheet; then the elation at the exposure in court by Adv Shahid Azmi, his defence lawyer, of the patently fabricated nature of the maps, which Fahim had been tortured and forced to draw while in police custody. The elation then was also moderated by the realisation that it would be extremely unrealistic to expect a Sessions Judge to go only by the evidence and not succumb to state, media and public pressure. A discussion that particularly comes to mind took place on February 11, 2010, when Fahim related how he sensed a more sympathetic shift in the Judge’s attitude after news reports that Headley had been indicted in December 2009 in an American court. But that was also the day that Shahid Azmi was shot dead and there was again the worry whether another lawyer would be able to put up as good a defence.

Fahim finally came to be acquitted of all charges by the Sessions Court on May 3, 2010 with the judgment (particularly at paras 1248 to 1251) pointing out in detail the doubtful nature of the prosecution evidence against him. The prosecution, despite being well aware that it was not Fahim but Headley who had done the recce, continued to appeal in the High Court and Supreme Court against the acquittal. But the Supreme Court judgment (at para 595) too found the evidence of the prosecution’s star witness against Fahim to be “completely unacceptable”.


Zabiuddin, however, is likely to meet a different fate. The fact that the state is seizing on suspect sources such as double agent Headley to prop up its case obviously means that the evidence they claim to have against him is at best flimsy. But it is also a pointer to the extent to which it is ready to go to fabricate falsehoods to prove a point convenient to its narrative. And this time Adv Shahid Azmi will not be around.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


How government plans to use IAF to wage a war on its people

It well represents what Modi wants to do to his subjects.

Narendra Modi, Naxalism, Maoism

The stage is being set for history of an extremely infamous variety to be repeated in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. Almost 50 years after the Indira Gandhi government’s strafing and bombing of Aizwal in Mizoram (then Assam) from March 5 to 13, 1966 with the help of Indian Air Force (IAF) planes, the Modi government is preparing to use the IAF once again to launch aerial attacks on its own citizens. The Chhattisgarh police has announced that it, along with the IAF, has recently “conducted successful exercises” in preparation for the launch of what are being called “retaliation attacks from air“, as part of anti-Maoist operations in the area. Given that air strikes, by their very nature, are indiscriminately destructive, this latest policy decision of the central and state governments is indicative of the brutal lengths to which they are ready to go for crushing the Maoist movement in the area and clear the ground for the entry of corporate capital. An already bloody conflict is poised to get bloodier. Ample indication of this was on display in the casual cruelty with which the “successful” exercises themselves were conducted.

“On October 13, three IAF helicopters flew over a specified area of Bijapur [district in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh] and practised strafing. Senior officers of the IAF and anti-Naxal operations of the state police participated in the exercise.” This shockingly bland statement came from RK Vij, Chhattisgarh’s additional director general of police, anti-Naxal operations seven days after the operation. There had been no previous announcement that such an exercise was to be conducted, nor had there been any warning issued to the local tribal population to evacuate or avoid the area to be strafed. Collateral damage to a few Indian citizens during the strafing is perhaps small change for a government that has obviously made cold-blooded calculations of deaths in hundreds and even thousands which aerial attacks anywhere in the world has always resulted in.

According to the Oxford dictionary, strafing, which Vij has said was practicsed on October 13, means attacking repeatedly with bombs or machine gun fire from low-flying aircrafts. Bombing of its own territory and people is something rarely done by modern day states who claim to have democratic credentials. Even if it is done, it is denied. In the case of Aizwal, Indira Gandhi had claimed that the IAF was only used to drop men and supplies. It was only in the 1980s that the fact of air strikes was officially accepted. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have abandoned such niceties. The careless manner in which the air attack plans have been announced and the implementation commenced resemble the act and intent of a monarch trying to brazen things out. The etymological origin of the word strafing is in the German strafe, meaning punish. It well represents what Modi wants to do to his subjects.

State fearful of democratic dissent

Behind the calculated hauteur however, there is also the realisation that today’s world also has a fair number of dissenters, who may not willingly fall in line. There are a handful of journalists who remain dedicated to the values of their profession and insist on reporting the truth. There are the human rights-walas who take chapter three of the Constitution somewhat seriously and try their utmost to squeeze out some democratic space within the otherwise repressive set-up. There are even some rare lawyers that struggle to get rolling the rusted wheels of a cynical judiciary. All such elements would have substantial opposition to aerial attacks and could set up real obstacles to their implementation by the government. Most fearful would be their ability to take the truth of the conflict zone to the outside world.

In anticipation therefore, there has been, over the past few months, a concerted effort by the police and allied agencies to evict or incapacitate anyone who may question them and thus sanitise the areas in and around the places earmarked for aerial attacks. Journalists have been targeted, particularly those with a record of truthfully reporting on the ground situation without acquiescing to administration demands to publish only the versions given by the police.


On July 16, 2015, Somaru Nag, an adivasi journalist with the Rajasthan Patrika was detained and tortured, and shown to be arrested only after three days of illegal custody. Santosh Yadav, a freelance journalist filing news reports with several Hindi newspapers, including Dainik Navbharat and Dainik Chhattisgarh was the next to land behind bars. He had, over the last one year, been often harassed by the police and was once even stripped and threatened with torture in June 2015. Since he refused to back down despite the warnings, he was on 29 September, 2015 taken away on the pretext of the IGP wanting to meet him and was then implicated in an encounter case in August 2015. Amnesty International India, which has called for a stop to this intimidation of journalists, was told by Yadav’s lawyer that the charges against him were fabricated and that “Santosh Yadav has been a contact person for national and international journalists and was crucial in getting media attention to the plight of adivasis in the conflict-torn region. He has also been instrumental in helping adivasis get legal aid.” It is, therefore, quite understandable that the administration would want such a person out of the way before the aerial attacks start.

Meanwhile, the lawyers who are defending Nag and Yadav are themselves under attack. They belong to the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG), which came into existence in July 2013 as the result of brainstorming of human rights activists, academics and lawyers in New Delhi and Chhattisgarh who wanted to provide legal help to the people of Bastar. As soon as they started proving effective in providing legal aid to the locals and started producing studies of the large numbers rotting in jails without any evidence against them, they proved a threat to both the police, as well as the lawyers who had for many years profited from the misery of falsely implicated prisoners. In April 2015, the IG (Bastar) SRP Kalluri issued an open threat that he would act against NGOs helping the Maoists – meaning the legal help JagLAG was rendering to tribals implicated in Maoist-linked cases. Now both the police and the Bastar Bar Association have combined to try and ensure that “outside” lawyers (the JagLAG lawyers are registered in New Delhi) are prevented from practising in the local courts. In the case of JagLAG too, their ability to tell the world outside Bastar about the rampant human right violations there makes the administration uncomfortable and it would definitely like to see them evicted before the air strikes commence.

As the government makes its plans and prepares for an all-out war not everyone is keeping silent. Democratic rights organisations like PUDR and PUCL and some senior lawyers have come out in JagLAG’s support. The journalists of Chhattisgarh have formed a Sanyukta Patrakar Sangharsh Samiti and held protests in the capital Raipur against the police action on the journalists. They have directly accused Kalluri of preparing for genocide in the region. The Delhi Union of Journalists too has come out in support of journalists being victimised in conflict areas. The latest to condemn the arrest of journalists is the state Congress chief who has decried the reign of “administrative terror”.

Meanwhile, the Union minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju, has sinisterly stated that, while he cannot disclose the nitty-gritty of the IAF’s planned operations in Bastar, they will be “decisive” and “effective”. Obviously the government plans are much more drastic than what has so far come out in the public domain. Will civil society institutions prove robust enough to stand up against and halt the state’s declaration of air war on its people?

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

How Telangana has crushed the dreams of its youth with terror

With continuing false encounters and repressive measures, the rulers of the new state have gone back on their promises.

The Telangana bandh called on October 10, 2015 demanding implementation of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s (TRS) promise of farm loan waiver is only the latest in a fresh round of protest and turmoil mounting in India’s newest state. The “Chalo Assembly” rally scheduled before that, for September 30, 2015, was called by around 370 Left and Muslim organisations against the impunity with which the police have been continuing their policy of extra-judicial killings in the name of encounters, even in the new state of Telangana.

Five Muslim prisoners had been brazenly killed on April 7, 2015, while they were being taken to court. On September 16, 2015, two Maoist activists, Shruthi and Vidyasagar, were shown to be killed in an encounter. What aroused public anger was the vivid signs of torture on the bodies of the victims indicating again that the encounter story was fake and that the two had actually been picked up and then killed in cold blood after being submitted to brutal torture. There were even allegations of rape owing to obvious marks on Shruthi’s body showing that acid had been poured on her private parts to demolish evidence of sexual assault.

With an expectation of large participation, the government used all means at its disposal to suppress the rally, arresting hundreds on the previous night itself. Several thousands attempting to reach the Assembly were detained by the police, who not only threw a security cordon around the Assembly in Hyderabad, but also deployed forces in the neighbouring districts to stop those on the way to join the protest. There was even an attempt at self-immolation near the main gate of the Assembly.


The movement for a separate Telangana state was one of the most vigourously fought out ones in recent times, capturing the imagination of the students and generally the youth of the neglected region in a big way. It resulted in the death of over a thousand people, who are recognised by the new state as martyrs to the cause of statehood. All through the movement, a central rallying point for the youth, in particular, was the promise of a progressive social agenda for the new state to pull it out of backwardness. The leader of the movement and present chief minister, K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) had even gone so far as to declare that he would follow a policy in line with the socio-economic programme of the Maoists.

There were thus great expectations from the new dispensation. However, in the 16 months since the formation of the state, the direction taken by the new government does not seem to have offered much hope. Discontent, particularly among the youth is rising, giving impetus to a number of agitations. The police in the meantime has continued to operate with a heavy hand as before. The chief minister had given assurances that there would be no “encounters” in the new state, but there obviously does not seem to be any intention of putting it to practice. The way in which the police force was unleashed on the “Chalo Assembly” rally on September 30 was also no different from the way KCR’s own “Chalo Assembly” call in May 2013 had been suppressed. Even the parents of the encounter victims were not spared the police lathi.

Use of the police to suppress the resentment can however be, at best, of short-term utility. Movements in Telangana have a way of rising up again and again. This was the case with the movement for statehood, which went through various violent phases before achieving its end. Unless there is actual and visible progress on the ground by the government moving to fulfil people’s aspirations, new rounds of protest and agitation are only to be expected.

Soon after the September 30 police action, the government was trying to do damage control by reiterating the same old promises. KT Rama Rao, a cabinet minister and son of the chief minister, told that “the Naxalite agenda is our agenda“. There are few takers this time, however, for such rhetoric. Several youth who were on the forefront of the separate statehood movement have already been disillusioned enough to take the step of joining the Maoists.

Revolutionary writer, Varavara Rao has claimed that nearly 36 educated youth, including the recently-killed Vivek and Sruthi had joined Maoist group from Telangana. Since there does not seem to be any indication that the government will change its ways, this flow can only grow.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


Why repression of adivasis in Chhattisgarh doesn’t worry the media

However, amidst diminishing democratic space the struggles of the state’s tribal activists offer hope.

The Press Club of India should probably be one among the sacred-soil sites of Indian democracy. It ought to be a place from where the Fourth Estate sallies forth to test and stretch the spaces for free speech and democracy. Regrettably, these days that’s rarely the case. Nevertheless, on August 18, 2015 this was the venue selected for a press conference where three representatives of the tribals of Bastar in Chhattisgarh – Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and Kawasi Hidme – came to tell of how democracy functions in their land.

Sori and Kodopi have done this before. In 2010 and 2011 they had exposed before the press the atrocities committed on the common people by the police in Bastar. They were then wrongly implicated and pursued by the Chhattisgarh police on patently fabricated grounds, arrested in 2011, faced severe torture and were only released on bail by the Supreme Court after they spent over two years in jail.

After release and return to Bastar, they have insisted on continuing to stand up against the innumerable cases of illegal detention, false implication, custodial torture, fake encounters and disappearances that have come to be a part of daily life in that area. Sori, in particular, has been in the forefront of numerous protests where thousands of adivasis have gathered in rallies and demonstrations at police stations and before district headquarters of the police and civil administration.


The latest was her exposure of a fake encounter killing of an unarmed villager, Hemla Podiya, in Nahadi village of Dantewada district on July 29, 2015. This killing done by Special Police officers, who have been outlawed by the Supreme Court, was protested by the villagers, who assembled under the leadership of Sori. The Bastar inspector general of police, SRP Kalluri, retaliated by calling for her, and Kodopi to be excommunicated from the area and by instigating local traders to demonstrate outside Sori’s house.

The attempt to “excommunicate” Sori and Kodopi is not something new. It is only the latest in a long line of such attempts and it is definitely not going to be the last. Binayak Sen was targeted in 2007 for his aid to Maoist political prisoners like Narayan Sanyal, as also for his exposure since 2005 of the first armed Salwa Judum campaign launched and equipped by the Chhattisgarh government. Gandhian Himanshu Kumar is another example of an activist and dissenter who has been hounded out of Chhattisgarh, who has had around a hundred cases registered against him and whose centre, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, was bulldozed and destroyed.

There have even been attempts to keep out those attempting to approach the judiciary for relief. In September 2013, activist and journalist Prashant Rahi was picked up from Chhattisgarh’s capital, Raipur, where he had gone to consult and coordinate with lawyers who were defending political prisoners. He was whisked off to Maharashtra, tortured and shown to be arrested there and remained in prison for one year. The lawyers of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group providing much needed legal help to the local tribals have also faced thinly-veiled threats of implication in cases of abetting Maoists.


The abiding reason for this insistence on the eviction of all democratic dissent is the state’s gameplan to use maximum force to crush the challenge of the revolutionary movement of the tribals led by the Maoists. Such militaristic solutions require not only the deployment of lakhs of armed personnel, but also the management of “facts” and therefore the evacuation of all civil society support that could potentially carry the truth to the outside world.

The immediate reason for the repression is, however, the land hunger of the corporate class. The country’s biggest corporations and some foreign biggies have all lined up investments to exploit the minerals below the forests of central and eastern India. They are in a mighty hurry to realise their gains and will brook no delay in seizing the land. Both the Centre and state governments alike are therefore scrambling to pander to this hunger. Ten months ago, the Centre spelt out its “Clear, Hold, Build” doctrine that promised “to use any element of its national power” to wipe out resistance. The state government, after the utter failure of its first Salwa Judum campaign, is now getting ready to sponsor a new round of civil war – Salwa Judum 2.0. These cannot smoothly move ahead without the systematic and complete closure of all democratic space.

Such unholy stratagems call for comprehensive exposure, but it would be far-fetched to fancy that today’s mass media organs have it in them to do it. Creeping control of the media by big corporations, with its complement of self-censoring editors, ensures that material inconsistent with corporate interests can rarely slip on to the front pages. Corporate-controlled media is unlikely to report on the effects of corporate land grabbing. This was also probably why, despite a packed house of journalists at the press conference mentioned earlier, there was hardly any reportage the following day.


During these days of rising undemocratic tendencies and shrinking democratic spaces, the decay of democracy’s fourth pillar is a cause for concern. There are, however, voices that make the horizons less bleak. One such voice is that of the frail-looking Kawasi Hidme, who was arrested at 15, tortured, gang-raped, falsely implicated and thrown into prison for seven years before she was acquitted and released in March this year. As she, with rare daring and dignity, related the horrors she had gone through, her mentor, Sori, had this to say: “I need to give her strength again, I want her to fight. Perhaps we can do something for all women who come out of jail but are still unhappy, to help them get their lives back.” She added: “Who knows, perhaps Hidme can become the strongest fighter of us all.”

Voices such as these, with their staunchness and stubbornness in the face of mighty odds can bring the greatest hope. Sori and Kawasi are after all only representative of thousands of other courageous people in their area who are standing up and refusing to give in. Long considered the wretched of the earth, it seems to be their struggle that is redemarcating and redefining what democratic spaces and democracy can mean. Their struggle to attain and sustain liberty, land and livelihood in the remotest forests of the country may be primarily their struggle to survive, but it has the potential to show the way for democracy in our country to thrive.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


Why it isn’t just Modi government that’s soft on Hindutva terror

BannerSpecial public prosecutor in the Malegaon blasts case, Rohini Salian’s disclosures are not merely about the present government – they are more about the non-secular character of the Indian state.

When they came in November 2008 they had none of the coyness and reserve typical of new entrants into a prison. Even the more hardened Anda Barrack inmates of Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail were somewhat taken aback at the cockiness of the new lot led by Lt Col Purohit, whose words were soon being passed through the cells in hushed whispers: “We’ve done it and we’ll do it again”. Though implicated in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast, this set did not show any of the unease characteristic of other terror accused and were quite willing to wear their guilt on their sleeves like some badge of bravery.

Their bravado had of course a lot to do with the high-level backing that had been generated in their support. There was the present Union home minister, Rajnath Singh, giving them a clean chit and saying, “I’m not ready to believe that Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is a terrorist“. Former deputy prime minister and home minister, LK Advani, even met the prime minister to intercede on their behalf. No one in the Anda Barracks then anticipated that this group would remain long behind bars – not the the accused, not the other inmates, not the writers of this piece who were then in prison. Anyone with some experience of the workings of the criminal justice system can tell that those with sufficiently high-level friends championing their cause can find ways to soon get out by arm-twisting the investigating officers or fixing the prosecutors or even influencing the courts.

Cold calculations can however go awry in the face of the tenacity and obduracy of an uncommon individual or two who refuse to bend under the pressures of the powers that be. So it happened with the expectations of a quick bail-out for Purohit and his co-accused.

Hemant Karkare’s investigations

Hemant Karkare, the then chief of Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), who had reached there after a seven-year stint in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had already created a name for being different. He had bucked the trend among “anti-terrorist” police officers in the country that had seen the implication and arrest of Muslims in all blast cases becoming some sort of a SOP (standard operating procedure). He led the investigations that first identified Sadhvi Pragya’s direct role in the 2008 Malegaon blasts and then uncovered the larger conspiracies of the Abhinav Bharat group, led by Purohit, which had planned and executed a number of bomb blasts, including the 2006 Malegaon, 2007 Samjhauta Express, 2007 Hyderabad Mecca Masjid, and 2007 Ajmer Sharif blasts. He had an uncorrupt reputation and was not known to easily submit to unlawful demands of higher-ups.

As the attacks on him from within the ruling classes mounted, he dug his heels in. This was written about by retired Mumbai police commissioner, Julio Ribeiro, whom Karkare met just before he was killed in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. His was a lonely job with even the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress ministers in Maharashtra not coming out strongly in his support. His rivals in the police force – senior officers in the crime branch and the office of the director general of police (DGP) – were even tapping his telephone conversations to keep track of the Malegaon bomb blasts investigation.


The deeper conspiracy

The concern shown by Karkare’s bosses was but natural. It was during the time of his predecessor in the ATS, KP Raghuvanshi, that the Maharashtra Police had even recruited prime terror accused, Purohit, to provide training to its anti-terror personnel. He also received a letter of appreciation from Himanshu Roy (who was till recently the ATS chief) for assistance, cooperation and information-sharing and an educative workshop in Nashik in November 2006 – just two months after a blast in Malegaon in the same Nashik district, which is now revealed to have been executed by Purohit’s own terror group. It was clear that Purohit had friends high up in the hierarchy and deeper investigation into the forces behind the blast conspiracy could very well end up at some very senior police officers’ doors.

Same is quite likely true of the Army. Purohit, despite being in prison for almost seven years under such grievous offences, has neither been suspended nor dismissed from the Army and his wife continues to receive his full salary.

Contrast this with Delhi University’s suspension of Prof Saibaba on half salary within five days of his arrest on a much less serious charge of supporting Maoists. There seem to be at least some among the top brass of the Army who are protecting Purohit. He, on his part, has even claimed that his Army bosses were aware of what he was up to. Thus, though it is obvious that there are more high-level officers involved in the conspiracy, no attempt is evidently being made to delve into the truth.

Prosecution sabotaged

It is in this background that one must see last week’s disclosures by Rohini Salian, the special public prosecutor (SPP) in this case, wherein she has detailed how, soon after the Modi government came to power, the NIA (National Investigation Agency) asked her to go soft on the accused in this case and how, when she did not comply, she was told to stop representing the NIA. She has also related how even Mariar Puttam, the senior counsel for the prosecution in the Supreme Court, was unceremoniously nudged aside in order to thwart the prosecution from obtaining favourable orders.

Salian’s disclosures also tell how in 2008 Karkare had, despite her having resigned from public prosecutorship, specially requested her to come back to handle this case. Karkare obviously handpicked her knowing that the other SPPs could not be trusted to stand up to the pressures that were already building up in favour of the accused. She apparently lived up to Karkare’s trust in her and did not let go. This is probably why, despite Karkare being killed soon after her appointment as SPP, the evidence collected under his watch was used to file a strong chargesheet, and the prosecution remained firm on it through all the legal twists and turns resorted to by a battery of top notch lawyers for the accused. This obviously will not continue now that Salian has been removed from the scene.

A non-secular state

However it would be a mistake to merely agree with Salian’s portrayal that the problem is the Modi government that is soft on Hindutva terror groups. It would also be a mistake to simply concur with post-Salian disclosures and media commentary that links the Modi government’s softness to the links of the accused with the Sangh Parivar. While this is undoubtedly true we must recognise that the malaise goes much deeper.

Salian herself narrates how after Karkare’s death she had to go to the ATS office and literally shout at the officers to go ahead with the case, to make Karkare’s “soul happy”. She also recounts how after the case was transferred to NIA in 2011 (by the United Progressive Alliance government) “they have not put in a single paper in court after taking over” and even allowed default bail for three accused by not submitting a chargesheet against them. All this slumber was under the watch of P Chidambaram, arguably India’s most hands-on home minister in recent times who, according to Salian, “has seen every paper of the case”. Similarly the Army’s leniency towards Purohit has been under AK Antony’s command.

Thus, though the Modi government has gone proactive in protecting and moving to release the accused of Hindutva terror organisations, this should in no way amount to an endorsement of the secular credentials of the earlier government. More importantly, there remains the nagging question of the commitment (or lack of it) of the various arms of our state apparatus to the idea of a secular state. Time and again our state police forces, central investigative agencies, paramilitaries and even the military have failed to show the required allegiance to the values of a secular India, which we do not tire of loudly proclaiming to the world. But scratch the surface and our state machinery displays slight variance, if at all, from the behaviour of an avowedly non-secular Pakistani state.

Julio Ribeiro has been quoted as saying, “the Hindu terror probe should be carried out professionally. If they are scuttled on religious grounds, India would lose its moral right to take on Pakistan for going slow on Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi… “. The question is whether, going by the practice of its prime organs over the past several years, the Indian state is secular enough to be up to the task.