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Remains of the Fire
Indians continue to remain oblivious to the Naxal problem
By Ghazala Wahab

First Person- By Ghazala Wahab, Anatomy of Loss, Prejudice, delayed justice and a family in ruins. First Person is the regular column in FORCE-A newsmagazine on national security, Defence Magazine covering issues related to Indian Defence, Indian Defence forces, defence procurements, paramilitary forces BSF, CRPF, ITBP, NSG etc In a conflict situation, perception is always more important than facts. There is nothing sacrosanct about facts as they can be both manipulated and concealed. Hence, it is important to take what the general public believes seriously, as against what the state thinks it should believe. While this should apply to the whole of India, it is particularly important in Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern states, which suffer from a sense of disconnect from the rest of India. Yet, for inexplicable reasons, the Indian government has never understood the importance of perception and carries on with its business of governance or non-governance without a care about how people perceive its actions or non-actions.

For example, in Kashmir, in the nearly two decades of violence, the popular perception among the people is that thousands of young men have disappeared over the years. Most of them were tortured and killed by the assortment of security personnel. This is the perception of the people, which independent human rights bodies and concerned citizens try to support by a plethora of example and incidents.

A few days ago, I found myself ensconced in a waiting room with a senior air force officer. We both were waiting for our respective appointments. Conversation started and once he learnt about my vocation and interest, he felt compelled to talk of terrorism, or to be more specific, global terrorism. “Which region of the world has greater terrorist linkages, West or the East?” he asked. I did not understand the question, so he rephrased it. “Which areas of the world have more terrorism?” The question was still unclear. What does more terrorism mean? That a country has more terrorists inside who go out to terrorise others, or it has more terrorists coming in from outside to terrorise its people, or it has more number of indigenous people who are resorting to terrorist means to get attention to their causes?

The officer had not bargained for so many variations to the omnibus term terrorism, which most defence personnel are now tutored to use as a synonym for our friendly-neighbour Pakistan. Ignoring my efforts at clarity, he said that to his mind the hub of terrorism is Pakistan-Afghanistan combine. Does he mean they are exporters of terrorists worldwide? No, that is only one aspect. The other is that there is so much violence within these countries that no place is safe there. Since my wait appeared to be interminably long, I braced myself for a long conversation. Why should it matter to us that Pakistan-Afghanistan have violence within their borders, shouldn’t we bother more about violence within India? A recent newspaper report claims that one in every six Indian lives under insurgency. From Kashmir to the Northeast and most of central India, we have raging insurgencies everywhere. Our land borders with two immediate neighbours are disputed and we strongly suspect that they are colluding with one another to destabilise us. Shouldn’t this worry us more instead of gloating that our neighbours are suffering from terrorist violence? While he conceded the problems in Kashmir and the Northeast, he qualified them by saying that they are under control and he thought that fear of Naxalism was exaggerated as these comprise mere sporadic incidents in some remote areas.

To take Kashmir first, nearly four lakh security personnel are physically present there to ensure that a semblance of normalcy is maintained. The demand for the reduction in the number of the army personnel has been stalled by the government because the army has said that it needs the boots on the ground to keep things under control. The situation in the Northeast is only relatively better. The chief minister of Assam recently admitted that during the state ceasefire, ULFA has regrouped and strengthened itself, so much so, that recently it celebrated its raising day in parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. So much for things being in control.

At least, force in numbers has been deployed in these areas because no matter what many people believe, the government is alive to the fact that the condition in these states is not normal. The disaffection of the local people continues and the violence is kept under check only because of the security forces in superior numbers. However, when it comes to the issue of Naxalism, even the government seems to be in some kind of stupor. A case in point is the June 30 attack on a police post of the Rohtak district of Bihar. Following their 48-hour blockade in Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, about 300 Maoists attacked the police post on Saturday night killing nine people including five policemen and made off with a large number of weapons and ammunition stored in the post. The same day, another group of Maoists stopped a Karnataka transport bus on Agumbe-Bangalore highway and set it on fire after forcing the passengers off it. While most national newspapers did not think that this news merited a front page display, television news did feature it. Anyway, what transpired from the TV news was that as usual the policemen were caught unaware and by the time they realised what was happening the Maoists had already over-powered them. Subsequently, when they grabbed their rifles to fire back at their attackers, the rifles didn’t work. Hence, five lives lost on the police side and none on the Maoists’. In one day, two attacks in two different parts of the country: Bihar and Karnataka, and we still believe that Naxalism/Maoism is not a big problem.

Perhaps, it is not a big problem, because Maoists are kind people. They only target the ill-trained, ill-equipped police personnel, blow off the railway tracks, set buses on fire, loot the state armoury, collect road tax on national highways and run parallel governments in the forest areas of central India. They are not killing innocent people in Delhi and Mumbai by planting bombs in markets and suburban trains. Till such time, we can relax and dissect the problems Musharraf is facing in his country. But those who care should pause to read what late Khumar Barabankvi wrote in the early Nineties: Phir na jale koi makaan, phir na uthe kahin dhuan/Aag jali bujh gayee, aag dabi bujhayee (Let no house burn now, let there be no more smoke/ while the flames have been smothered, the fire remains).

Ghazala Wahab now tweets. Follow her daily comments on Twitter @Gwahab
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