Hold inquiry

Hold inquiry

It is now clear that the Union home ministry’s and the Chhattisgarh government’s version of the killing of 20 alleged Maoists in an encounter in the state’s Bijapur district has too many holes. The hardened Maoists have turned out to be poor tribals, unarmed men and  women, who had assembled in the village to discuss sowing operations. They were set upon by a well-armed contingent of CRPF and state police personnel who opened fire without giving them a chance to escape. Even children were killed and the two leaders the forces claimed to have shot dead have now been identified as school students. The forces claimed that they were attacked, but the minor injuries sustained by some of them do not support the contention. Since there is no credible explanation for the police operation, the killings can only be considered a case of atrocity and excess, which has often happened in anti-Moist operations.

Union home minister P Chidambaram has defended the operation and the claims made about it but his own party and state leaders and even a Union minister have challenged him. All the circumstances and evidence that are known now point to an operation that went horribly wrong. It is possible that the police action was well-planned but only a credible investigation, which should be ordered, will show if the killings were deliberate or were a mistake. But there should not be scope for errors like an intelligence failure in major operations like this where so many people are killed. It is wrong to let the errors pass on the ground that questioning of and action against the forces will affect their morale.

Strong-arm police action and unthinking attacks on innocent and helpless tribals have been one big reason for the growth and spread of the Maoist challenge. It is often claimed that the government’s anti-Maoist strategy is a combination of the use of state power and development initiatives. But in effect the tribals see only the killing and punishing hand of the state, and the talk of development passes them by. They are often caught between a distant and uncaring but marauding state and demanding Maoists who promise a better life. The choice is hard but is often made in favour of the promise rather than for the reality of oppression. The least that the government can do is to admit mistakes when they are made and punish those who make them. 

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