Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Let us Demand an End to This Hunt -- Part 1 ( K. Balagopal, Originally published in Telugu in Andhra Jyothy, September 23, 2009 )

Green Hunt has started. The program of elimination of Maoists that Home Minister Chidambaram said would start in September, and then postponed to November, has started in September as originally planned. Given the low reliability of reports emanating from Chhattisgarh, the numbers published by the press as to how many Cobra Soldiers have entered Dantewada district, how many battalions of paramilitary units have been sent by the Center, what kind of fatalities have been caused by the
shootings on both sides, etc. might not be completely true.

With a little effort it might not be impossible to ascertain the number of soldiers involved in Green Hunt, but the same cannot be said of the number of deaths in this operation. The presence of a dead body proves death. But the authorities in Chhattisgarh take possession of the dead bodies of only their men, perform Panchnama and postmortem and hand over the bodies to the families of the dead. The bodies of Maoists and their sympathizers are often left in the forests as fodder for wild animals. This was standard practice until about a year ago; only recently and on certain occasions, it appears that some of these bodies are also being brought and Panchnama performed.

If those that have died are not armed naxalites but are in fact rural villagers, then leaving their bodies behind in the forest is the smart thing to do from the governments point of view. Even if the bodies are those of armed naxalites, the opinion in Chhattisgarhs ruling officialdom seems to be that the corpses of traitors deserve neither the usual dignities accorded to the dead, nor their labor for the performance of such dignities.

In the war against the LTTE in Sri Lanka, when evidence was uncovered through the Panchnamas performed on the bodies of dead Tamils that they had been killed by torture, the government of that country ordered that bodies of Tamils could henceforth be buried without the performance of Panchnamas. While the constitution might impede the passing of similar orders by our own governments, the Chhattisgarh government is implementing the same through unwritten orders.

Newspapers are reporting that that the government of Chhattisgarh has passed orders banning media personnel from even approaching the areas of operation. Raman Singhs government seems to believe that such a restriction is necessary to obscure whether it is armed naxalites or their Adivasi followers that are hunted through Green hunt. If the media has the courage to defy this restriction, they can win.

This is because the Supreme court has declared, in the very early days of the drafting of the constitution, that freedom of the press is part of an individuals freedom of expression. This right can only be regulated within the bounds allowed by the constitution, and that too through specific enactments, but the government does not have the right to ban the media by Government Orders, without showing any reasons for the same. Not that it is possible to emerge alive after arguing about the Constitution with armed Cobras that are blocking the way, but at the very least
we must know that it is illegal to place such restrictions on the media. If not, and if governments, one after the other, start placing restrictions and ban the media, then its a great loss for Democracy.

What was begun by the Left government in Lalgarh is being continued by the government in Chhattisgarh. It appears that Sri Lanka has provided inspiration in this matter as well. In the last three months of the battle against the LTTE, the Sri Lankan govt. did not let the media enter the northern part of the country. The intentions of the Sri Lankan rulers become clear when we see in the internal correspondence of United Nations officials that about 20 thousand Tamil civilians were killed during the period of this ban on the media. Sri Lanka has now been mentioned twice, but the story cant be complete without a third mention of it.

(Continued in the part 2)

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