[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 10 May 2006
Review: 124/06

No succour for the victims of the armed opposition groups in India

At present, 19 out of 28 States of India face internal armed conflicts which are characterised by gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws both by the security forces and the armed opposition groups. For decades, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura in North East India and Jammu and Kashmir faced internal armed conflicts. In the last couple of years, Naxalite movement or ultra left wing movement led by Communist Party of India (Maoists) has spread to 11 States including Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

While precise statistics are not available, monitoring of the secondary sources of information by Asian Centre for Human Rights indicates that abuses by the armed opposition groups have increased in comparison to the violations by the security forces in the last few years.

The armed opposition groups have been responsible for violations of the right to life, torture, mass murder, taking of hostages, acts of terrorism, rape, pillage etc. Innocent civilians have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir in an attempt to destroy the efforts to create a climate through peace processes in which human rights and fundamental freedoms are more likely to be respected. Killings of innocent civilians have also taken place especially in Chhattisgarh to counter the government's counter-insurgency operations. The state government of Chattisgarh has directly involved the civilians in conflict without ensuring their safety and security.

a. Violence by the armed opposition groups in 2006

The massacres at Doda and Udampur of Jammu and Kashmir on 30 April 2006, killing of those kidnapped at Manikonta village of Chhattisgarh on 24 April 2006 and killing through Improvised Explosive Devices at Dharbhaguda of Chhattisgarh on 28 February 2006 are some of the major incidents. Asian Centre for Human Rights interviewed the survivors of Manikonta and Dharbhaguda killings.

i. Massacres at Doda and Udampur

On the night of 30 April 2006, unidentified armed opposition groups massacred at least 22 Hindus, including a woman and a 2-year-old girl, and seriously injured at least 10 others at two villages in Hindu-dominated Kulhand area of Doda district in Jammu and Kashmir. The government of India blamed the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

According to survivors, three members of the armed opposition groups came to Zeithwana village at around 10 pm and asked the Hindu villagers to gather at the house of village headman Gopi Chand for talks. They identified themselves as Mujahideens and said they wanted to hold a meeting to discuss how the Mujahideens and the Hindu villagers could develop better relations. At least 15 Hindu villagers assembled in the house of Gopi Chand. The members of the armed opposition groups remained silent for some time, as if they were waiting for some orders from above. Then they took Gopi Chand into a room and shot him dead from point blank range. The members of the armed opposition group then bolted the door where the villagers were assembled and fired at them indiscriminately. Ten persons died on the spot and four received injuries.

In the meantime, in Manglote village, which is less than two kilometers from Zeithwana, another group of armed opposition groups herded villagers into the house of one Gilu Devi (55) and fired indiscriminately, killing many on the spot. Gilu Devi stated that while leaving the house the militants entered the adjoining room where her five children were sleeping and fired indiscriminately, killing 2 of them including the two-year-old baby girl in their sleep.

In both the incidents, some of the victims escaped death by pretending to be dead although they were hit by bullets. The survivors were airlifted to Jammu and admitted at the Government Medical College and Hospital there. Many children have been orphaned.

ii. Manikonta massacre

At about 11 am on 24 April 2006, a group of 200 armed Naxalite cadres kidnapped 52 Adivasi/indigenous villagers, including 20 women from Manikonta village market under Errabore police station in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. The Adivasis have been living at Dornapal relief camps run under the counter-insurgency Salwa Judum programme. They had gone to Manikonta village market to collect rice and other ration items.

The representatives of Asian Centre for Human Rights met some of those released by the Naxalites. Those who were interviewed by ACHR alleged that they were taken to the forest where the Naxalites brutally beat up all of them, including the women folk for supporting the Salwa Judum campaign and staying in the relief camps. They testified that the Naxalites tied all of them at their ankles and both hands together and also blind folded them. While their hands were freed during meals that consisted of a little rice, they were kept blind folded all the time till release. In place of water, they were served urine. They were interrogated and beaten brutally with sticks.

While 37 hostages were released, the Naxalites hacked to death 15 persons who were found to be physically strong and able bodied. According to released hostages, all the 15 deceased were tortured to death by chopping them at their back, head and fatally at the neck. It was alleged that the Naxalites also gauged out the eyes of the deceased before killing them. 

iii. Darbhaguda Massacre of 28 February 2006

According to the accounts of eyewitnesses and survivors, who were undergoing treatment at the area hospital in Bhadrachalam district of Andhra Pradesh and interviewed by ACHR researchers, in the morning of 28 February 2006, four trucks carrying between 60-70 Salwa Judum activists in each truck were returning to the Errabore relief camp from a Salwa Judum meeting at Dornapal relief camps. At about 11.30 am, the four trucks were crossing the Darbaguda village when there was a very big explosion and the 2nd (in order of their advancing forward) of the four trucks was blown to pieces killing 8 of the occupants on the spot and injuring many others, some of them critically.

Some 150-200 Naxalites came out of the forests from both sides of the road and clubbed or stabbed to death 17 of the injured. This was corroborated by the family members of the deceased and survivors. A total of 27 persons were killed and 32 persons were injured.

An injured survivor, who is undergoing treatment (name withheld because of the fear of retaliation by the Naxalites) at Bhadrachalam Hospital in Andhra Pradesh told Asian Centre for Human Rights, “We (between 60-70 persons) were on the 2nd of the four trucks and were crossing Dharbaguda village, when we were dampen by a big explosion and being thrown up with the truck. We were writhing in pain and screaming for help, then Sangham (Naxalites) members armed with guns, choppers and spears attacked us and killed some of us.”

b. India's response to the violence by the armed opposition groups

India has been facing violence by the armed opposition groups for decades. However, its policies often do not go beyond taking more security measures and enacting draconian laws under which more innocent people have been arrested and detained. While providing security is indispensable, India has abysmally failed on other critical issues including upholding the rule of law and establishing accountability for violations by the security forces.

In India, there are not many advocacy programmes to ensure respect for international humanitarian laws. And the government of India as a party to the conflicts with the armed opposition groups is certainly not the one that can promote international humanitarian laws. The International Committee of the Red Cross can play critical role in such situations but the ICRC has been provided extremely restricted access in Jammu and Kashmir. Organisations such as the ICRC can play more crucial role with armed opposition groups like the Communist Party of India (Maoists) which has established leadership structure to ensure the respect for international humanitarian laws by their cadres.

India has also been consistently negative towards international justice. India has failed to ratify the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court. The armed opposition groups have been responsible for violations of the provisions of the Rome Statute. International justice and accountability could play a critical role but India only pays attention to bilateral extradition treaties.

India' policy pertaining to providing relief and rehabilitation is flawed not only because the victims of violations by security forces are seldom provided relief but also because the programmes to provide assistance to the victims of abuses by the armed opposition groups are often adhoc. Consequently, the intervention remains restricted to highlighting the violence by the armed opposition groups.

Many of the victims of violence by the armed opposition groups such as the ones in Doda and Udampur are children whose both parents have been killed. Many do not have any support structure. Interim relief cannot take care the future of the families of which children, because of the tragedies, have become head of the families. The State has a responsibility to look after the needs of the victims of abuses by the armed opposition groups especially when they are directly exposed to the conflict by the government as in Chhattisgarh.

Unfortunately, the policies of the government of India on confronting violence by the armed opposition groups have been confined to recruiting or deploying more security forces, providing interim medical assistance to the lucky ones, and scoring browny points against the neighbours or the armed groups. India's policies require a human face. Otherwise, lawless law enforcement would only strengthen the support base of the armed opposition groups which they often destroy by perpetrating crimes against humanity.

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