Abductions and killings in fake encounters by state forces in India have been known for a long time. But such grave issues hardly find way in any public debate. The corporate-owned mainstream media also steer clear of such issues because of their largely pro-establishment editorial policies when it comes to matters which the state describes as ‘national security’.
Such practices of killing people in fake encounters are rampant in places where the state forces are pitted against a rebellious population. The state forces usually enjoy immunity under several laws which also become a convenient cover-up for these killings. These killings are run like an enterprise in conflict ridden regions of North- East, Kashmir and the Maoist-dominated regions. The reasons and motives behind such killings are varied.
Assam-born journalist and author Kishalay Bhattacharjee’s new book Blood on my hands, exposes this dark and gory world of staged encounters by state forces in India.
Bhattacharjee documents rampant incidents of fake encounters in conflict-hit places like North-East, Jammu and Kashmir and the Maoist-dominated areas
Bhattacharjee has worked with the NDTV. He has covered conflicts in North-East and Maoist corridor for more than 20 years. His book is based upon the confessions by an anonymous senior Indian army officer about the fake encounters routinely carried out by Indian armed forces in conflict-hit regions. The book records chilling moments of planning and execution of civilians by state forces, in the voices of the survivors and perhaps for the first time, the perpetrators.
The army officer Bhattacharjee quotes has been on counterinsurgency duties in North-East, revealing how the interplay of power, politics and violence in conflict zones in India have become a lucrative enterprise for the army. The officer reveals how entire insurgencies are itself run by Indian army in North-East to carry on arms smuggling, human trafficking, timber smuggling and more importantly to earn promotions, citations, rewards and chakras.
These confessions made by the army officer during a series of meetings with the author are disturbing. In a series of anecdotes, he provides chilling details of staged encounters and state-sponsored assassinations carried out under the cover of counter-insurgency operations in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram and Kashmir. A disturbing pattern of state violence emerges out these testimonies recorded in the book.
The book reveals links between the awards given to officers and the ‘body count’ method used by Indian army. The army, CRPF and police units require ranking points to gain citations, rewards and foreign postings. The book reveals that when the security forces cannot catch insurgents, they contact the local mafia, who arrange the supply of innocent men, who are then killed in staged encounters and labelled as terrorists. If the mafia fails to make these men available to the state forces and the situation gets desperate, the units go on ‘shopping’ — a human hunting spree, says the book. Anyone found unaccounted and unrelated is killed. Bhattacharjee quotes an incident in the book when a beggar was killed in Manipur by an army unit and passed off as a militant just to earn ranking points for the unit members.
The book has questioned the methods used by the Indian state to deal with the insurgencies in conflict-hit areas. The book has tried to answer the critical question: why have fake encounters become a norm in India? The author says that it is because the Indian state “legalizes violence and murder to mask its state-sponsored terror” and uses insurgencies as a pretext to exert force and state-sponsored violence on people.
These extra-judicial killings happen under the cover of laws like AFSPA and Disturbed Areas Act. These laws give the state forces unlimited powers to kill in the name of maintaining law and order or fighting terrorism. These laws also make it next to impossible to bring any legal action against soldiers and officers suspected of having indulged in staged killings.
The Indian state also creates militias like Salwa Judum, SULFA, Ikhwan, etc., to disguise state terror. The unofficial status of these groups puts them outside any purview of law or any sort of accountability. These groups operate with impunity with assurance of full state protection. These militias are in fact at the forefront of conducting fake encounters at the behest of the state forces.
The author also severely criticizes what he calls the ‘Obedient Media of India’ and asserts that Indian state uses media to propagate lies and cover up extra-judicial killings.
The book reveals the hidden and dark side of Indian state and exposes its institutionalized support for murder and violence. The author seriously questions the democratic credentials of the Indian state. He also raises questions about laws like AFSPA, DAA, UAPA, etc., which provide protection to security personnel against prosecution for crimes committed during counter-insurgency operations.
Bhattacharjee’s book opens a serious debate on the practice of killings through fake encounters by state forces. It gives useful details and insights into how and why these extrajudicial murders take place.