Caught in the middle
Reviewed by Parshotam Mehra

Maoist and Other Armed Conflicts
By Anuradha M. Chenoy and Kamal A. Mitra Chenoy.
Penguin. Pages vi + 320. Rs 350.

Among the myriad problems New Delhi is up against on the domestic front, one of the most crucial, if also challenging, is the scourge of armed conflicts which by definition are neither area nor region specific. Though Punjab nearer home and the relatively distant Mizoram are peaceful today, both have been through a rough patch not so very long ago. Today’s conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast as well as the Naxalite-affected regions in Bengal, Bihar, Chhatisgarh et al claim not only precious lives but retard development and arrest the normal functioning of civil society.

Insurgencies are by and large propelled by a complex mix: denial of justice and human rights, identity concerns and a breakdown of the social order. More, harsh and unimaginative laws such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, fake encounters, crackdowns and counter-insurgency militia such as the Salwa Jadun aggravate the situation and foster a sense of collective victimhood. And feelings of alienation from the body politic. More, the long-term use of force may lead to militarisation of the state and society. And a flourishing illegal economy to boot. More importantly, women and children are pushed to the forefront both as objects of protection — and violation. Not a few become combatants.

The objectives of armed conflicts are varied: as a tactic or even as a statement of communication. Conflicts may be between groups or between groups and the state over the control of political power and resources. They originate with deprivation of rights and are aggravated by conditions of poor human security. Armed conflicts are different from war: they are of lower intensity and sustained over longer periods of time. They encompass insurgency, violent political struggles, liberation movements and movements for social change. At the theoretical level, the book dilates on conflict models and how relevant they are. There is also an overview of armed conflicts in India and state responses thereto. Such issues as human rights, militarisation and alienation are brought into focus as also the relevance of gender and interventions by civil society.

New Delhi’s twin policies of security and development include the promotion of local resistance groups and armed counter-insurgency militia. The authors are strongly persuaded that these approaches have not, nor are likely to yield results; that such policies do not address issues of alienation and injustice. Nor does New Delhi boast institutions exclusively for redressal of grievances. In Kashmir, Assam and Manipur, for instance, the Armed Forces Act referred to earlier serves as a symbol of rights abuse with impunity. There is a feeling in Srinagar that the number of armed men, both in the Army as well as the police, keeps a check on popular movements such as the one against the Amarnath Shrine Board rather than on insurgency. Clearly, for a more pro-active conflict resolution, negotiations, people-friendly development and a measure of autonomy should receive priority over law and order. Cases of missing persons need to be urgently addressed. This would have a salutary and positive psychological impact and help confidence-building.

It stands to reason that the much-hyped Salwa Jadum and other vigilante groups such as special police officers should be disbanded and not replicated in other states. Admittedly, civil society will have to lead the way by vigorously combating national chauvinism and strengthening the forces of peace and justice. This would help foster national integration, social justice and a democratic outlook. Sadly, the Indian state’s response to these conflicts has largely been reactive; its remedy, use of force. It has failed to take remedial measures. Several government reports have stressed the importance of multi-stakeholder dialogues. Oddly though such dialogues have been exclusive — not inclusive — enveloped in secrecy and limited in scope. In fact, one of the reasons given for the failure of some accords with insurgent groups has been that communities in conflict zones have no faith in the system because civil society has not been taken on board. Authority avers that its policy is security and development. Nonetheless, glaring contradictions exist between what the government states and what it does. Above all, how it delivers!

The authors who teach at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, seek to examine critically the root causes of armed conflict. Revealing inter alia that even though the Geneva Conventions define armed conflicts as intra-state clashes of non-international character, yet to avoid using these, states do not recognise the conflicts officially and term them as militancy, insurgency or terrorism. More, they look at these conflicts through the paradigm of national security.