At War: Four Pillars of Falsehood & Public of Republic or world's largest fascist state with state tyranny unleashed upon victims of predatory governance apparatus
Ashq Hussain Butt
The book “At War” is the first book by Aridaman Jit Singh, a Delhi-based ex-Border Security Force officer who served as “Officer Commanding” on internal security duty in Punjab during the 1980s; and co-author Nayani Singh, a civil society activist. Aridaman also headed the vigilance and counter intelligence wings of BSF’s country headquarters. After completing 20 years of mandatory service he sought voluntary retirement; and subsequently took up a cause. He is active in mobilising public opinion to prevent the government of India from using its armed forces against own countrymen. “At War” is Aridaman’s intellectual effort in that direction.
The book is an extraordinary piece of work, written as it is by a person with firsthand experience of serving as a paramilitary officer in the field. As such his thesis attains originality and credibility. It is a contemporary history of conflict and persecution unleashed by a predatory governance apparatus upon innocent people. The case studies presented in this book highlight the dilemma and challenges faced by frontline operation officers; and how the masses always remain at the receiving end; the only beneficiaries being the political establishment of India, which uses the bureaucracy comprising IAS/IPS officers armed with the authority furnished by lawless laws to perpetuate the corrupt autocratic system. The author laments that the political establishment even uses Governors and Presidents of India for their own interests. The President is made to issue undemocratic ordinances bypassing the parliament; and governors are used to bully state governments – (as of now Lt Governor Najib Jung is pitched against an elected government of Delhi).
The book starts with an assertion that the government of India has been pursuing a dangerous and divisive policy of pitching Sikh personnel against Nagas, Dogra personnel against Manipuris, and everyone against Muslims of Kashmir.
Since the author worked as a frontline operations officer mostly in Punjab, his book focuses on events that happened in that state. According to the book, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her cohorts laid down an unethical policy of creating fear psychosis among the masses about the unity and integrity of India by producing a conflict type situation in Punjab. They believed that it would ensure their continuity in power by seeking votes from gullible masses in the name of “India in danger”. Police killed Sikhs in fake encounters, and the public had to perforce presume that the unidentified killers belonged to Sikh secessionist outfits because the state propaganda machine said so. This would justify deployment of more and more armed forces personnel in the entire length and breadth of Punjab. At times entire Punjab would be placed under severe curfew. For example on Guru Arjun’s martyrdom anniversary falling on June 3, 1984, a large number of Sikh devotees were present in Gurudwaras for prayers, but the Indian state placed whole of Punjab under curfew, cordoned off Gurudwaras, and next day launched a military attack on the Golden Temple, the centre of Sikhism. They desecrated the Temple besides killing a large number of Sikhs.
However, pursuit of this unethical and opportunistic policy by the government of India in early 1980s led to events which went out of control. And when Punjab became the hotbed of armed revolt by pro-Khalistan Sikhs, Indira Gandhi promulgated, on October 15, 1983, the Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Ordnance; and on July 14, 1984, the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Ordinance. They set up special courts which under the provisions of the Ordinance were authorised to presume the accused as guilty until they proved themselves innocent. By way of punishing the accused and their kith and kin, these special courts procrastinated on the trials. Those who dared to speak out critically on Indira government would be dubbed seditious, secessionist, and a threat to security and integrity of India. In this way the government of India used the “justice” system to tyrannise people. Indira Gandhi perceived the Gurudwaras to be a threat to her autocracy as Sikhs here gave vent to their opinions which were unfavourable to her. The Punjab Police, CRPF, BSF would cordon off Gurudwaras as these served the Sikhs as rallying points. It was during these cordoning operations that Aridaman had the opportunity to observe things closely.
The Punjab police persecuted people on grounds of taking part in “disruptive activities”. A mere expression of opinion, according to the draconian laws in place in Punjab those days, amounted to “disruptive activity”. The police kept a person in custody for six months without trial. And when the trail began it dragged on for years. Around 70,000 persons were detained in Punjab under TADA alone.
Lawless laws allowed armed forces in Punjab to organise a systematic process of extrajudicial killings which under the provisions of AFSPA could be termed lawful because the law empowered men in uniform to kill at mere suspicion. On April 23, 1984, the CRPF shot down 5 Nihangs who were travelling atop the roof of a bus in Ferozpur. The CRPF passed them off as Sikh terrorists who were carrying weapons. On the night of May 30, 1987, police shot dead an 18-year-old Sikh boy Gurpreet Singh on the Ferozpur-Faridkot Road. He had been in their custody for some time. They brought him to the place blindfolded and with hands tied behind his back. After killing him they untied his hands and removed his blindfold. Also they planted a homemade pistol on his body. Then they claimed to have killed a Sikh “terrorist” named Malkiyat Singh Jaito in an encounter. Likewise on June 1, 1987, the police killed a boy in a maize field. They planted a double-barrelled shotgun on his body which they had obtained from an acquaintance.
This served them many purposes. One, that police recovered the shotgun that, they claimed, had been stolen by “terrorists”. And, two, police had killed the terrorist carrying that shotgun. In 1992, BSF killed two petty criminals at Ferozpur border and claimed they were “terrorists” trying to sneak into India under the cover of “cross border fire” provided by Pakistan. BSF had actually arrested them from an ashram in Jallandar.
Also Indian intelligence agencies procured Soviet weapons, including rocket launchers, from Kabul on November 19, 1987, through Indian flight IC452. Subsequently, rogue agents launched rocket attacks in Punjab in which no one was killed. The government then claimed that Pakistan had supplied rocket launchers to Sikh secessionists.
If the victim’s family or the civil society intended to prosecute a killer-in-uniform, the process needed prior sanction by Indian government which was never forthcoming. Thus lawless laws encouraged men in uniform to indulge in such activities. After killing a person they would project him as a “terrorist”, give him a fictitious name, a fictitious membership of some secessionist organisation and plant a weapon on him. The Indian media took up the police version verbatim and gave it publicity. Thus, according to the author, the press and the judiciary also played into the hands of the government.
The Punjab Police rewarded the encounter cops with cash, gallantry medals, and out of turn promotions. Between 1991-93, the government of Punjab handed out about 60,000 awards of different denominations to police personnel. These awards ranged from payment of Rs 1,000 to a constable for participating in an encounter to conferring 25,00,000 for killing a Sikh “terrorist” and recovering an AK47 assault rifle from him. They didn’t ask the killer cops about the identity of their kill. They accepted the version of the local SHO as to the manufactured identity of the victim. So the inevitable result was that a race among the personnel ensued. In order to grab out of turn promotions and cash rewards from secret service funds they killed and killed people. Since the lawless laws of the state furnished impunity to them they became sadists who derived pleasure in killing, torturing and extorting money. Consequently they developed a sick mentality. They extorted money from their victims whom they detained on grounds of indulging in and supporting “terrorism”. In the detention centres they tortured their victims. One of the most frequently used torture techniques was called “helicopter technique”. The victim’s hands would be tied behind his back and then he would be hauled by pulling up his hands. If the victim’s family didn’t pay for his release, he would be murdered and passed off as a terrorist. Thus the victims were constrained to pay bribes to the police personnel to secure their release. By the by this process of detaining and extortion turned into an industry. SHOs of police stations passed over part of extortion money to DIGs.
In Kashmir armed forces personnel repeated what they had done in Punjab. They detained people, tortured them, and murdered them in fake encounters. They extorted money from them. In August 1990, when a BSF patrol party was fired upon, they entered Mashali Mohalla in Srinagar “to teach the residents a lesson”. They entered houses shouting “Pakistani Kutoo, Bahar Nikloo” and shot dead innocent people. Later four BSF personnel responsible for this murder received awards. The armed forces personnel lifted furniture, cooking gas cylinders, etc., from the houses of Kashmiris to enrich themselves even if it meant transporting them all the way to south India.
The author recommends that “there should be no gallantry awards for killing any citizen; awards should be conferred only for saving life.” The author states that police has to deal with its own citizens; hence its use of force has to be proportionate to the threat and targeted at specific wrongdoers only. Armed forces such as BSF and army have to create a non-survivable field of fire and destroy the enemy to eliminate the threat completely. For them the use of maximum firepower and disproportionate force is preferable. BSF (and army) are not supposed to carry automatic weapons on internal security duty while dealing with civilian unrest in the countryside; using area weapons like grenades and mortars was beyond imagination. Therefore, these should not be deployed on internal security duty at all. In order to shift blame for what happened in Punjab and at the same time to defame Pakistan on the international fora as an abetter of “international terrorism” Indian intelligence agencies procured weapons from acros the border with the help of their agents. Then they distributed these weapons among renegades; and also planted them on the bodies of Sikhs whom they murdered in fake encounters. The author stresses that the biggest threat to India’s unity and integrity comes, not from Pakistan, but from the rogues in police and intelligence agencies.
If someone among the personnel did not like the predatory methods of his organisation and dared to speak out, his own company soon liquidated him. BSF personnel killed Constable Ram Kumar Bishnoi on the night of April 22, 1992, in the Terai region. They then arrested and tortured a large number of Sikh peasants for killing Ram Kumar. Ram had actually dared to mention to his commander the existence of an extortion racket against truck drivers run by BSF and UP police.
The author finds it difficult to accept India as the world’s largest democracy because democracy signifies governance for the welfare of the people. The actual fact, however, is government by opportunist politicians who keep the resources of the state at their own disposal. Should anyone question their opportunism, they dub their critics as anti-India with the help of state propaganda machine. India has got the lengthiest constitution. But under this constitution such lawless laws were passed as AFSPA (in northeast in 1950s, in Punjab in 1980s, and in Kashmir in 1990s), TADA in 1983, POTA in 1998, etc., which gave India the credit of being the largest draconian state of the world which is at war with its own people.
The author further states that the Congress government ran India on the same principle as the British. During British times the purpose of existence of police and army was never to protect and serve its subjects but to preserve the state and eliminate threats to its monopoly of using force and extracting taxes. And Congress, in the name of freedom struggle, helped the British power to flourish. The Congress’s civil disobedience movement in 1930 was launched to turn the minds of Indians from Sardar Bhagat Singh, the most popular freedom struggler of India; its Quit India movement was launched to turn the minds of Indians from Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army; and as late as 1946 Congress persuaded Balai Chandra Dutt, MS Khan, and Sardar Madan Singh, the leaders of Indian Naval mutiny on board the HMS Talwar, to surrender. Post 1947, Congress turned India into the Nehru-Gandhi dynastic rule.
Indira Gandhi, being a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, had inherited power from this dispensation. She pursued the policy of producing conflict-type situation in Punjab in order to manufacture justification to deploy armed forces against India’s own citizens. She did this because she had been indicted by Shah Enquiry commission for being guilty of imposing 1975 Emergency and suspension of civil liberties without justification as there had been no internal disturbances in India to warrant the conversion of India into a police state. During the 18-month long Emergency the Indira Gandhi government persecuted Indian civil society; detained 1,10,000 people arbitrarily; forcibly sterilised 37,00,000 people like street dogs; and uprooted 1,50,000 people from shanties in Delhi. So, when she returned to power in 1980, she proceeded to justify her actions by first deliberately producing a conflict like situation in Punjab (and by aggravating the situation in Kashmir which was already a conflict zone). The author states that “when there is a conflict situation and absence of order, the principle of ‘might is right’ comes into play; consequently all lines of morality and propriety get blurred.” This exactly happened in Kashmir and Punjab.
Indira Gandhi rewarded those bureaucrats with top positions who implemented her orders overzealously during the Emergency. Thus Jagmohan Malhotra , the leader of demolition drives in Delhi, became the governor of Kashmir (where he sowed the seeds of the on-going armed revolt that has so far consumed about one lakh lives); Pritam Singh Bhinder (who as the head of Delhi police ordered his men to kill dozens and injure 150 people in Delhi) became chief of Punjab Police; BD Pandey and SS Ray successively became governors of Punjab. Indira Gandhi’s successors rewarded Pranab Mukherjee with the presidentship of India.
The author states that “in a corrupt political system, rogues will keep rising to positions of power in a predatory governance apparatus, not due to some special skills and professional specialisation but due to absence of it, and for having proven credentials of criminality/pliability.” One such case is the rise of KPS Gill to the position of Director General of Punjab Police. He had a murder case against him in Assam High Court. On December 9, 1979, he killed a student, Khargeshwar Talukdar, by kicking him repeatedly in the groin and then throwing him into a pond. Khargeshwar was one of the protesters who had blocked the road against the convoy of Abida Ahmad, the widow of Emergency hero, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, during whose tenure and with whose approval, Indira Gandhi had imposed Emergency in 1975. Fakhruddin died in February 1977. Indira Gandhi rewarded her with a ticket to contest elections from Assam but the people of Assam resented it and hence came out on the roads to protest. Gill at that time was DIG Assam Police. He fell upon the protesters with a heavy hand. He later became DG Punjab Police. Still later he was let off unpunished when he molested Rupan Deol Bajaj.
The author’s intention behind writing this treatise is to graphically show the reader how the Indian state uses its armed forces against its own citizens. The author hopes that his book would serve as a step towards mobilising public opinion; and the common mass become direct beneficiary of governance system.