As Home ministry officials meet Maoist-affected state authorities on July 13 to draw the crucial Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) plan to deal with human shields, the bitter truth of civilians being caught between the devil and deep blue sea stares them in their face.
The meeting takes place in the backdrop of key Maoist observers advocating a total revamp of security operations to deal with the issue. Last week 19 alleged Maoist extremists were killed in an encounter with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The BJP-ruled state government of Chhattisgarh has set in motion a judicial probe in view of opposition charges that innocent civilians were killed during the encounter.
While the verdict on whether or not all those killed in the latest offensive is yet to be, a clear picture on the fate of civilians emanates out of a study of home ministry statistics on Maoist violence. A Zee Research Group (ZRG) analysis of Maoist violence during last four years starting 2009 revealed that (until April, 15, 2012) in a total of 6,687 Maoist incidents officially registered 1,856 civilians were killed as against 505 extremists.
The number of incidents covered by the home ministry includes actions both by extremists as also the security forces. Among states, during last year, Chhattisgarh reported killing of 124 civilians which was second worst after Jharkhand which registered the maximum of 149 innocent killings.
The home ministry as also security forces has always maintained that they would like to minimise loss of innocent life while dealing with ultras. The relatively high civilian casualty has been explained by the government on the ground that the ultras use them as human shields. This is a common tactic used by ultras in conflict situation to keep security forces at bay and somehow the government has not been able to find ways to keep civilians out of the action.
This failure has come in for sharp criticism, especially in view of the latest killings in Chhattisgarh. Social activist and former Bastar Collector BD Sharma expressed anger over government’s method to deal with Maoism in the country. He said, “Its’ sad to see innocent people are being shot at in India’s anti–Naxal operation. The central government should play the role of a protector and not of a damager.” In April this year, Sharma was one of the interlocutors by the Maoists to negotiate in the abduction case of IAS officer and Sukma District Collector Alex Paul Menon.
Endorsing Sharma’s argument, Maoist-movement watcher Dr Ali Ahmed at Jamia Millia Islamia University and former Colonel in the Indian Army, said, “There is need to train better officers of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to deal with extremists operating from the jungle. Handling extremists in jungle is not CRPF’s cup of tea.”
The CRPF, which functions under the aegis of the home ministry, is playing a major role in India’s anti-Maoist movement. The official statistics revealed that a maximum of 2,258 anti-Maoist encounters took place during 2009 during the last four years. In the same year, 591 civilians and 219 Maoists were reported killed. In 2010 and 2011, 2213 and 1,755 gun-fight incidents were reported respectively. While 720 and 464 civilians died during 2010 and 2011, the Maoist toll stood at 172 and 99 respectively.
Until April 15 this year, a total of 461 incidents of Maoist violence were reported, in which 81 civilians and 15 Maoists were killed.