The national shame of the ‘encounter’ killings of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi by the Gujarat police’s anti-terrorist squad and the arrest of three IPS officers may have shocked a few activists and media analysts. But, by and large, it has not moved the people of India. Events prove that even the war against terrorism is being communalised.
Recently, I received an SMS from a Mumbai-based fanatic who styled himself as the chief of the Lashkar-e-Hind, which described DIG D.G. Vanzara and his colleagues as ‘patriotic generals’. my reply was that India is run by the Constitution and laws framed by the people. There was no need for a Hindu Lashkar. Citizens and public servants cannot assume the roles of terrorists and vigilantes.
The latest aberrations reported from Gujarat are not new developments and should not be construed as demonic actions of a Hindu Rightist State persecuting the minorities. The perpetrators may have had a communal bias but they represent a state of mind that has gripped India for two decades.
In the 1970s and 1980s, people hardly bothered about human rights and the media were trying to make their moral presence felt. I have witnessed innumerable ‘encounter killings’ in Manipur, Nagaland and Assam. It is futile to log such incidents and count the bodybags. Somewhere in the labyrinth of government records, these figures have been fudged and lost.
Incidents of army, para-military and police forces picking up mere suspects and eliminating them were daily occurrences. Logging such incidents was considered ‘unprofessional and tactless performance’, leading to black entries in character sheets. Officers who assumed total powers as intelligence operator, investigator, interceptor and liquidator were given the highest awards. Some of them became governors and were given other plum post-retirement posts.
War killings are legal killings, however painful that might sound. However, killing innocent people merely suspected to be involved in terrorist activities is extra-legal. No force can assume the role of ‘total justice dispensers’. However, they often indulge in such atrocities on the plea that the criminal jurisprudence system is unable to cope with terrorist activities. Dead men, after all, do not walk up to court rooms.
These officers are not driven by any -ism, though some have been infected by the communal bug. They seek shortcuts to dispense what they seem to think to be ‘justice’. They act as vigilantes, often without the knowledge of their political and departmental superiors. Often, the State connives with them as they presume that the vigilante elimination process fuses the criminal jurisprudence system that often fails to punish an offender.
I have blood-curdling experiences of witnessing the killings of Hindu Meities, Tripuris, Bodos, Ahoms, Christian Nagas and Mizos, besides Sikhs and Kashmiri Muslims. Religion does not play a major role in ‘encounter killings’. We Indians are afraid of facts and enjoy the fantasy that ‘sab thik thak hain’. This ‘chalta hain’ mindset of the people encourages killers like Vanzara. The ground rules of living in a war zone are different from the rules accepted in peaceful areas. The unfortunate part of the tale is that such things also do happen in Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Our system has obliterated the boundaries of war and peace zones.
During the Naxalbari violence, similar ‘encounter killings’ were rife in 1966-67. The same game that has been played out in Punjab, Kashmir and Gujarat was played by the Congress government in West Bengal when Naxals were killed in ‘dark night encounters’. A similar attitude of ‘annihilation’ is manifested in anti-Naxal drives even today. The shameful events that occurred in Delhi and other places in 1984 and in Gujarat in 2002 had stained the hands of the ‘secular’ Congress and ‘communal’ BJP respectively. The same role is being played by the CPI(M), other political parties and the police at Nandigram and other places in the name of promoting and opposing SEZs. These are armed political clashes in which the police are being used to promote political turf wars.
The killings of Sohrabuddin and Kausar Bi are the latest illustration of this ‘hate game’ percolating to the inner core of society. It is time for people to force the governments and their machineries to rescue India from this mindset and dispel the dark clouds of communal and societal divides. Nearly 20 states in India can’t run their administrations without generous doses of police, army and security personnel infringement. They demand more and more and the Union obliges them in the name of fighting ‘terrorism’, ‘Naxalism’ and ‘communalism’. Did we dream of this democracy? I don’t think so.
The author is a former Joint Director, Intelligence Bureau and author of Fulcrum of Evil and Open Secrets