De-radicalisation camps not the way out

‘De-radicalisation’ is not as easy as it appears. Most democratic countries have moved away from the original framework which had projected some degree of bureaucratic arrogance that the State could change the people’s minds at will, through the police or army. This realisation arose when faced with their failure in trying to alter the ‘thought process’ of affected persons

De-radicalisation camps not the way out

LAYERS OF COMPLEXITY: Mere ‘counter-narratives’ against the young Kashmiris would not achieve peace unless their basic grievances are addressed.

Vappala Balachandran

Vappala Balachandran
former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat

THE Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, said at the Raisina Dialogue on January 16 that radicalised youths — girls and boys as young as 10-12 — in the Kashmir Valley ‘need to be taken out separately, possibly into some de-radicalisation camps.’ He also added that ‘we have de-radicalisation camps going on in our country.’

General Rawat’s address was received with alarm in India and abroad. It has raised the spectre of ‘detention camps’ as in Nazi Germany in the background of nationwide protests against the Modi government’s citizenship laws. It has confirmed the fears of those on the real intentions of the Kashmir crackdown in August 2019. It has strengthened the apprehension of those who allege a surreptitious introduction of religion-based National Register of Citizens (NRC) with the ongoing National Population Register (NPR) process. It is also viewed as an official policy formulation of the hastily passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which is yet to face judicial scrutiny.

Regarding the ‘camps’, I could affirm with my experience of studying, writing and lecturing on the ‘counter-narratives’ programme for over 15 years, especially to the Maharashtra police and Karnataka government, that no such ‘camps’ exist for the police-operated counselling efforts. I do not know how the CDS could talk about such ‘camps’ existing in India unless they are secret. If secret, it is alarming.

‘De-radicalisation’ is not as easy as it appears on paper. As one who has been studying radicalisation since the 1980s, I can say with some authority that most democratic countries have moved away from the original framework of ‘de-radicalisation’ which had projected some degree of bureaucratic arrogance that the State could change the people’s minds at will through the police or army. This realisation arose when faced with their failure in trying to alter the ‘thought process’ of the affected persons.

This compelled them to move from a State-ordained programme of counselling to a humbler, multi-agency-designed educational programme with support from the community and religious bodies to tackle the ‘hate’ ideology that inspires individuals joining such terrorist groups. They started calling this as ‘counter-narratives’ or ‘alternative-narratives’. Their efforts are to give different perspectives on religious or political thinking to prevent the ‘victims’ from committing violence. Now, ‘de-radicalisation’ is done only to those who are already ‘radicalised’ or incarcerated.

Another reason is legal difficulty. The Judge Webster Commission which had inquired into the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas, shooting which killed 13 soldiers, had observed: ‘Radicalism is not a crime. Radicalisation alone, without incitement to violence, may not constitute a threat.’ The same is the case with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which allows even radical expressions without violence under Article 10. Thus, the UK was not able to take legal action for a long time against radical preachers like Abu Qatada or Abu Hamza. This legal ‘terminological complexity’ had resulted in blurring the differences between radicalisation, extremism, violent extremism and terrorism in a democratic set-up.

As a result, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown changed their counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST) into a multi-agency model in 2009 by amending the Counter Terrorism and Security Act (CTSA), making it more transparent and democratic. Codified roles were given to the other sectors like education, social services and health department, with leading roles played by the elected community representatives and faith-based organisations. Counter-terrorism strategy now has four strands: pursue, prevent, protect and prepare.

‘Counter-narratives’ and preventing online radicalisation come under ‘prevent’ which identifies and supports vulnerable persons under the ‘channel’ programme. It is the responsibility of the county and district councils to identify individuals at risk, assess the nature of that risk, develop appropriate support plans, irrespective of faith, implement those plans with ‘channel’ partners, hold three monthly assessments and extend or terminate the channel support. The police role has been restricted to coordination as ‘channel police practitioner’. Even with this, it has run into criticism by the human rights organisations as a ‘soft surveillance tool’ impacting on freedom of speech and privacy, especially in schools.

These activities cover not only Islamic extremism but also what is known as right-wing radicalisation. Thus, 179 or 45 per cent were related to Islamist extremism out of 394 individuals during 2017-18 who received channel support, while 174 or 44 per cent were connected with the right wing extremism. This is because ‘far right’ terrorism has tripled in Europe during the last four years, according to a global terrorism index of 163 countries published by the Institute of Economics and Peace in November 2019 which also noticed

a notable decrease in Islamic terrorism in the West.

Enhanced powers were given to the UK police under the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act (CTBSA) in February 2019 when faced with hostile acts like the Sergei and Yulia Skripal poisoning incident. However, the law also set up an independent review mechanism of the ‘prevent’ process to check abuses by the police.

A Brookings paper on violent extremism published in March 2019 concludes that it is imperative for policy makers to solve ‘unaddressed socio-economic and political factors’ which are responsible for the rise of violence before enhancing counter-terrorist tools. It says that no degree of intense action by law and order authorities or through ‘counter-narratives’ can achieve results without attending to these structural factors.

It follows that mere ‘counter-narratives’ or criminal action against the young Kashmiris would not result in achieving peace unless their basic grievances are addressed. Also, would the present Kashmir or UP police systems be trusted by the affected people for delivering ‘counter-narratives’ to them when they are indulging in such blatant human rights violations as we saw in the case of activist Sadaf Jafar in UP who spent 19 days in jail and who deposed at the ‘Peoples’ Tribunal’ in New Delhi on January 16? Simultaneously, are we prepared to put our own ‘far right’ extremists or sections of blatantly communalised police through the ‘counter-narratives’, as in the West?

A final answer to this could be found in the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address at Addis Ababa on January 29, 2016, that ‘good governance can prevent terrorism’. That is what our government should do, and not organise ‘de-radicalisation’ camps.


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