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The Menace of Overt Military Occupation in Northeast India

Kishalay Bhattacharjee’s Blood on My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters explains how the protectors can become predators—all for the sake of greed and ridiculous conformity

Blood on My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters
by KISHALAY BHATTACHARJEE
Publisher: Harper Collins India
Publication date: 23 September 2015
ISBN-10: 9351772586 | -13: 978-9351772583
Language: English
Image: DasWortgewand / Pixabay

Prologue

Around twelve years ago it was during the Yaosang festival. One of my friends, Khundrakpam Tejkumar, who we used to fondly call Gundruba from Uripok Laikhurembi, was among the volunteers organizing the local Yaosang sports. On that fateful day, he was picked up by the Assam Rifles. His lifeless body was recovered the next day. An official report mentioned that he was a hardcore member of a rebel outfit and that he was killed in an encounter.

In 2009, five years after the incident, the Imphal bench of the Gauhati High Court found that not only Gundruba was innocent but also that the 19 Assam Rifles stationed at Yaingangpokpi post had tortured and killed him in their custody. The court had as well directed the respondents, the Union of India and Assam Rifles to pay a compensation of 400,000 INR to the petitioner, Khundrakpam Binashakhi, Gundruba’s mother. Nobody knows what had happened to those gunmen, who had committed the crime.

Once our lives seem to have some values but those are all gone and now apparently there is a price too. Four hundred thousand for a human life?! It is outrageous. However, it makes a bit of sense if we see that the Indian army, as a whole, has its origin as soldiers of a medieval multinational corporation called the East India Company. At times it is hard not to be emotional though it helps little in the people’s resistance against the shameless and authoritative establishment. Nobody knows what the security agencies are up to in the Northeast but sometimes standing back is not an option.

In his book Blood on My Hands, Kishalay Bhattacharjee, a seasoned newsman, has laid it bare that our resistance against the establishment is not without reasons and that the army is spreading shit—scattering it all around—in the name of nation, patriotism, counter-insurgency operations and what not.

The Onslaught of Military Democracy

A new term has emerged in a corner of an Indian hinterland popularly known as the Northeast. It is ‘military democracy’. While India self-styles itself as the largest democracy in the world, the army and police in particular and the security establishment in general, are running amok like a mad dog in this region. The insanity is most obvious in the number of fake encounters and murders. More than 1,500 people have been killed in the last three decades in Manipur alone. The army is a disgrace to our existence. This book has proven succinctly that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and that protectors can transform into predators unabashedly.

Blood on My Hands—Mr Bhattacharjee’s second book after Che in Paona Bazaar: Tales of Exile and Belonging from India’s North-East—is a narrative non-fictional accounts and confessions, from those who are ‘inside’ the system.

The army is involved in, in addition to fake encounters, smuggling of any conceivable items ranging from guns to drugs and is in cahoots with all kinds of criminals. What for? There is just one rationale behind these crimes: get promotion or get an award with a little help from impunity that they enjoy from black laws that have been imposed in the region. Take the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act for instance, which privileges any army personnel to rape and murder a person on mere suspicions. Or in other cases, the reason for committing the crimes is the chance to loot as much as possible because nobody is accountable.

One of the anonymous army men, in the book, justifies it by confessing that it is just how the things work; that it is the system; that it is a mere standard operating procedure; that an individual has to be in the system or be an outcast that could have a direct consequence on his/her career. The gunman does admit: ‘the politics of chakras is the dirtiest game’ and ‘anything outside the norm is suspicious’.

In Manipur, there was a GOC who found he was lagging behind by two kills. He and I know this for a fact: he called up his juniors, telling them to get him three kills. That night, three persons were killed. (p. 92)

The felonies are not confined to the Northeast but rather it extends all the way to Kashmir.

Muslim men from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are abducted from Jammu, kept in the post for two or three months, and once (these) weapons are purchased, they are killed and shown as militants trying to infiltrate with weapons. The CO gets a thumping report and the unit gets a citation…Their looks and dress are not like those of the militants from Pakistan. But who gives a flying fuck for all these details? (p. 91)

This book is against the atrocities committed by the police, army, paramilitary forces, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research & Analysis Wing. All of them are responsible for extrajudicial killings, staged encounters, extortion cases, smuggling, corruption, running mafias, raising illegal militia and the list is endless. The author might have as well tickled the bottoms of many officials who are in these departments and agencies; albeit it is uncertain whether they would even read this book because they are usually occupied in serving the nation. 

Omnipotent Might and Powerless Right

Mr Bhattacharjee writes in the introductory chapter, that the ‘large number of unknown, unnamed and even unclaimed men and women who have been hunted down by the State for its officials’ advancement or gratification is at the heart of the book.’

The author mentions particularly the dangers of silence, reminding us of Desmond Tutu’s statement: ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ Silence, according to Mr Bhattacharjee, prevails except in records that are ‘the conjecture of a few journalists’, published in ‘tiny newspaper columns’, broadcast as ‘a few second’s television coverage’ and which has terrifyingly normalized the abnormal.

To understand this silence, the psychology of oppression explains it clearly and in one of the essays in The Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology (Springer, 2013), Carl Ratner, an American cultural psychologist, puts it succinctly:

Oppressed psychology falls short of realizing the person’s individual potential/aptitudes, it also falls short of realizing her potential for what she could and should be as a social being. Psychology of oppression stunts people’s capacity to understand, own, and control their society, which are all necessary to understand and fulfill oneself. Indeed, this is the primary function of psychology of oppression. Stunting the panoply of psychological processes such as cognition, perception, emotions, motivation, sensibility, imagination, aesthetics, morals, and self-concept, serves social oppression by oppressing social being.

But silence cannot be the sole eternal response. Truth be told the natives care little about the army except the right to live a life of dignity but they are left with no option. To add insult to the injuries, the accused army men are getting gallantry awards and promotions year in and year out. Moreover they are unsatisfied with state terrorism so now they are into narco-terrorism as well. But no matter what, India is gradually becoming a regional military power even if former generals are whining, nagging their political masters that the military establishment needs some modernisation desperately.

Over the last few years there have several publications about the high-handedness of the security agencies in the Northeast. The Judgement that Never Came: Army Rule in North East India (Chicken Neck Publications 2011), co-authored by Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M Hongray presents a clear picture on how even the highest court of the country has left the people without justice. Similarly, State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India (Routledge India 2015), by KS Subramanian, is an elaboration on the structural violence of the state and the history of armed movement in the Northeast. Blood on my Hand is a part of this collection.

Epilogue

Several courts and commissions have denounced the state-sponsored terrorism but there is a huge gap between aspirations of the state and the individuals yet the state always gets the benefit of the doubt. As a consolation Mr Bhattacharjee mentions that Indira Gandhi was responsible for the rise of police states in India.

Neither the army nor the police are a stranger to scams. But they have been redefining too many a crime with so little punishment. This is quite a setback for India, which is claiming to compete with China or whosoever to become a future superpower. It also threatens India’s democracy. Through sheer force, the nation-building process has been underway in the Northeast yet the kind of security agencies’ devilry only cheapens the efforts of hardworking gun-slinging nationalists and patriotic leaders.

Then it is no exaggeration to infer that the condition is akin to a belligerent military occupation of a region, while defying international humanitarian laws, human rights laws* and standard conventions. This is also quite an open secret from the number of gunmen that the state has been sending into. The rule of law has been nullified and the first casualty is the civilians as evident from the shocking number of documented fake encounters. No wonder, India was ranked 143rd among 162 countries in the Global Peace Index created by the Institute for Economics and Peace in 2014.

Image: Spesh531/Wikimedia Commons


In Blood on my Hands, Mr Bhattacharjee does not offer any solution. Perhaps he is mainly focused on reporting the events from an objective, journalistic perspective. In his own words, the book ‘records the chilling moments of planning and execution of innocents, in the voices of the people who ordered them, the people who carried them out and those who witnessed them’.

Sometimes the language seems to be a rant on the issues. A mistake in formatting the text in one of the ‘Confession’ chapters confuses the identity of the narrator. Still, the book is remarkable because it is not pro-establishment like many of the books on this subject area tend to be.

The army men would have been working as Samaritans in many areas such as in civic action programmes and as they claim to be. However, those are negligible as compared to violence and crime that they have perpetrated in the name of national security (read selfishness and immorality). The author concludes with a damning report that those army men who stand against the ‘system’ are left with harassment, demotion and involuntary transfers.

In its entirety, this narrative nonfictional book will be a worthwhile read for those are concerned with the politics in the Northeast India. It will also be helpful to those researchers who are studying defense and security studies and for anyone who are concerned with insurgency, peace/conflict studies, contemporary Indian politics and the monkey business of the security departments and agencies.



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