Avoidable tragedy

It has emerged that armed and uniformed special police officers (SPOs) were travelling on the roof of the private passenger bus that was blown up by Maoists at Chingawaram in Dantewada earlier this week. Gruesome details of what happened at ground zero are coming in. It appears that the SPOs were returning from an operation. They were taking civilian transport in violation of standard operating procedures. By travelling in a passenger bus and that too on its roof, the SPOs were conspicuous. They made the civilians travelling with them vulnerable to attack. While the SPOs should have been more mindful of the possible impact of their decision to travel in a civilian bus, one cannot help but look upon their decision with some sympathy. These men were tired, far too exhausted to make the journey back to the camp on foot. Not providing them with transport after an operation is inexcusable. Millions of rupees are being spent on upgradation of weaponry in the hands of personnel fighting the Maoists. Upgrading weaponry in the absence of better transport and other facilities is meaningless and only undermines the security forces and civilians, as the Chingawaram attack so clearly illustrates.

Even if there were SPOs in the bus, the Maoists should not have targeted it. In doing so, they have revealed their bestial face. A senior Maoist leader in the south Dandakaranya region has said civilian deaths “could not be helped.” This is an absurd explanation considering the Maoists claim to protect the rights of the people. The civilians who died were tribal villagers. Even the SPOs, come from the local community. Loss of civilian lives cannot be dismissed as inevitable collateral damage. Both the state and the Maoists need to bear in mind that every time they act in utter disregard of civilians, they are undermining their chances of victory in the ongoing war. If the security forces find themselves lacking local intelligence input it is because they don’t have support among the masses. And if villagers are increasingly turning their backs on the Maoists, the latter’s dismissive attitude towards them is to blame.

In the Dantewada ambush a month ago too it was found that security personnel had violated standard operating procedures. These rules are laid down to reduce vulnerability to attacks. It is important that security personnel are told not to deviate from these procedures at any cost.

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