First Person | Fight Among Equals

The government must stop arming civilians to fight the terrorists

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

Vimla Devi couldn’t have been clearer. After all, she lost her husband and other members of her family and her village in the mindless massacre that took place in her house in the Doda district of Jammu recently. Two days after the massacre and after the mandatory visits of the VIPs from Delhi, including the home minister, with folded hands Vimla Devi pleaded for security. She said, “We do not want guns, we want protection.” Clearly, guns do not give protection when they are in the hands of the villagers. They make them more vulnerable.

In the history of Jammu and Kashmir insurgency, many such massacres have taken place, and in most cases they have been of people suspected to be either the informers of the security forces or members of the Village Defence Committees. All killings are unfortunate and they can never be justified under any circumstances, but if there is a pattern to some killings then it must be looked into. And there is certainly a pattern to terrorists massacring innocent men, whether in Kashmir or elsewhere in India. A few days before the Doda massacre, Maoists killed 15 tribals in Chhattisgarh. The killed tribals were members of the anti-Naxal group Salva Judum. A few weeks before this killing, Maoists had killed over 20 people of the same resistance group.

Salva Judum was a spontaneous resistance movement of the tribals against the Maoists which has now been hijacked by the local politicians and security forces. Now the hapless tribals have been given guns (obviously they are not the best in the market, unlike what the terrorists have) and are provided with some semblance of training to fight the Maoists who are not only professionally-trained but also possess advanced weapon systems. The level of training of the Maoists can be gauged by the fact that they have succeeded in emasculating the state police. So much so, that the Central Reserve Police Force had to be called in. Since the CRPF has also not been able to better the Maoists, some people have been making noises about deploying the army in the affected areas. Against them (terrorists, if you like, but that is not the point), the state government and the security apparatus believe that a local force comprising untrained tribals can be raised.

The biggest victims of terrorism are always the people who are caught between the devil and the deep sea. It is the government’s job to provide them with security, and not merely a semblance of one. Guns give people a false sense of security and make them more vulnerable. By giving them guns, not only does the government abdicate its responsibilities but it also exposes ordinary civilians to violence. By touting his gun the civilian actually conveys to the terrorist or the mob or his assailant that he is also a combatant, when in reality he is not.

A few weeks back, I met an elderly Sikh gentleman who was recollecting the days of terrorism in Punjab. A prosperous farmer, he used to live on his farm in the Ferozepur district those days. Because of his stature, he had friends, both in the government and also among the state police and the para-military. He said, “Like many other landlords those days, I also used to get extortion threats from the terrorists, and like most other people I always managed to find a way to settle these matters. Once, my friends in the police offered to post some armed security outside my house, but I politely refused. Armed security was the sure way of inviting terrorists to slaughter me and my family. Finally, one friend said, ‘At least, keep a radio set at your place, so you can inform us whenever there is a problem.’ I folded my hands and said, ‘Sir, if I take your suggestion, I will not live another day’.”

I remember another incident during the pre-Babri demolition communal violence in 1991 in Agra. Our house was attacked by a mob at night. My uncle, a hot-blooded youngster those days, thought that he could scare the mob away by firing a shot in the air from my father’s licensed pistol. But my father forbade him to do so. He said that even a single shot fired in the air would enrage the mob to set the house on fire. If we stay calm then probably the mob would be contend with breaking the window glasses and destroying the car parked outside before moving on to the next target. It was a dangerous gamble, but not without merit. Just as my father had hoped, after about 15-20 minutes of total terror, the mob moved on.

A fight can only be offered by an equal or near equal. Anything less than that is suicide. When push comes to shove, everyone would fight to save the lives and honour of his loved ones, but that is different from inviting terrorists to come and slaughter you by dangling your gun at them. It is time the government understands this. Instead of instigating ordinary civilians to fight terrorists, it should provide them a secure life and ensure that excessive exposure to violence does not brutalise them any further.


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