Monday, April 20, 2009

26/11, Naxal attack: Is there a difference?

20 Apr 2009, 0000 hrs IST, Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN

NEW DELHI: On 26/11 evening, fidayeen fired their way into Mumbai before entrenching themselves in some of Mumbai's landmark buildings. Black Cat
commandos, despite outnumbering the ultras and trained to neutralise such elements, found the going tough against a band of 10 terrorists.

After the last ultra was flushed out and the tired Black Cats trooped out after a three-day-long operation, people stood up to salute them. They had saved Mumbai of major casualties and the country of blushes. Every Indian had caught a choking patriotic feeling.

Just a week back, on 9/4 evening, 200 armed naxalites stormed Asia's biggest bauxite mine in Damanjodi, Orissa. They wanted to plunder explosives stacked at the mining centre. They had taken 150 hostages.

A posse of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) jawans, who neither had the weaponry nor the training of the Black Cats, stood between the naxals and the explosive depot. A gun battle ensued in the dark night, which was illuminated by the never say die attitude of the small band of CISF jawans. They lost 10 of their men but ensured the safety of hostages. They grieved over their felled colleagues but did not let the naxals run away with the explosives, which, they knew, would have been used to bleed the country.

There was no 24x7 coverage of this brave saga. No cheers and no salutes for the bravehearts, who like their colleagues wage a daily battle to keep the marauding naxals at bay. Not a word from politicians, who are too busy in the electoral battlefield worrying for their seats, returning fire at opponents, making opportunistic alliances and dishing out promises to poor voters.

But have the establishment, opposition and human rights activists ever bothered about the lives of men in uniform and their rights? Police reforms ordered by the Supreme Court three years ago (September 22, 2006, Prakash Singh vs Union of India) have stayed on paper in many states. The police continue to remain ill-trained, ill-equipped, ill-paid and ill-treated, yet we expect them to risk their lives every time in the line of duty.

Human rights activists cry foul when a ‘Salwa Judum’ or a village defence force is set up to aid the beleaguered and outnumbered police force against naxals, who showed their prowess on April 16 through strikes orchestrated over a vast stretch of land. There is no condoning the excesses committed by Salwa Judum activists, errant among whom have to be dealt with. But at the same time, would there ever be a word of praise, or much less comfort, for the families of policemen killed in cold blood by naxals?

The Supreme Court, in D K Basu vs State of West Bengal [1997 (1) SCC 416], had said, "We are conscious of the fact that police in India have to perform a difficult and delicate task, particularly in view of the deteriorating law and order situation, communal riots, political turmoil, student unrest, terrorist activities and among other things the increasing number of underworld and armed gangs and criminals."

Referring to a section of society approving third-degree methods against hardened criminals, the apex court had said, "It is felt in those quarters that if we lay too much emphasis on protection of their fundamental rights and human rights, such criminals may go scot free without exposing any element or iota of criminality, with the result, the crime would go unpunished and in the ultimate analysis, society would suffer. The concern is genuine and the problem is real."

The SC could not have been swayed by a fundamentalist approach towards criminals, howsoever hardened they might be. It had said, "To deal with such a situation, a balanced approach is needed to meet the ends of justice. This is all the more so, in view of the expectation of society that police must deal with the criminals in an efficient and effective manner and bring to book those who are involved in the crime. The cure cannot, however, be worse than the disease itself." But, the moot question is -- does it mean the disease should continue to get the better of the cure?

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