Deputy Inspector General of Police, S Elango, a gallantry medal conferee, along with others of the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF), has been indicted by the judicial inquiry commission headed by a former High Court judge, for the 28 June 2012 killing of 17 adivasis of Sarkeguda village in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh. Hailed as a major ‘success’ against Maoists at that point of time, the judicial commission has stopped short of calling the encounter as ‘fake’.
A veteran with long years of service in militancy-affected areas, Elango has been involved in several operations against militants, including in Punjab where he was deployed as Superintendent of Police during the period of high militancy. The deeds of the officer have been eulogised by the CRPF through a comic book published by them. He has been hailed as ‘Iron Man’ by the CRPF and the media.
Disproportionate & Unnecessary Use of Force
Excerpts of the judicial inquiry report appearing in the media indicate that the force used by the CRPF in the said encounter was neither in conformity with the principles of ‘Use of Minimum Force’ nor under the ‘Right of Private Defence’. Since the adivasis were unarmed and there was no firing from their side, the use of such lethal force by the CRPF was undoubtedly disproportionate.
Irrespective of the contents of the report submitted by the CRPF about the incident, they appear to have opened indiscriminate fire at the assembled villagers in panic.
The reaction perhaps emanated from several setbacks suffered by them in the immediate past, including the death of 76 soldiers in a single incident within that area. Not to justify their actions, but to rather, understand the root of the problem – prior information of likely movement of militants in the area may have also added to the anxiety of troops compelling them to behave aggressively.
Why Security Personnel Continue to Indulge in ‘Excesses’
The incident is a clear example of excess by the CRPF. Such excesses are often passed off as ‘collateral damage’ by the security forces. The advocates of such excesses often justify these by invoking the ‘human rights’ of security force personnel. Such people forget that the essential difference between security forces and the militants is the responsibility to implement the rule of law, unlike the militants who use terror to spread fear.
The security forces resort to indiscriminate use of force because such grave violation of law is often covered up through false reports which are accepted without any questions being asked by superiors, under the false notion of adversely affecting the morale of troops.
The statistical approach to measuring the success of an organisation puts heavy pressure on troops to resort to such blatantly illegal actions from those who are mandated to enforce the law. The troops involved in the incident of Sarkeguda would have been facilitated by way of cash rewards and other forms of recognition and facilitation. This kind of public recognition naturally encourages others to indulge in such excesses.
It is therefore essential that the superior authorities in the security forces carry out a proper enquiry to establish facts and take appropriate action against those involved, in case the excesses are found to have been inflicted. The security forces must also evolve the drills and training modules to ensure that the troops react in a manner expected of a trained soldier.
The tendency to presume that every citizen in the militancy affected area is a militant or anti-national must be avoided, and a rapport developed through good behaviour and empathy. Besides developing the confidence of civilians towards security forces, this will also lead to better intelligence collection and facilitate better operations, thus, minimising collateral damage.
The forces must align their operational conduct and philosophy with the aim of the government to bring peace and prosperity to conflict zones.
Botched-up operations such as these alienate the population making the task even more difficult.
The troops who violate the law must be dealt with strictly under the provision of appropriate law. In this case also, immediate cognisance must be taken of the findings of the judicial commission by the CRPF and respective state government, and strict action must be taken against the defaulters.
Excesses Can’t be Condoned
This is not the first incident in which the security forces have been found to have resorted to excesses. We have had many such incidents in the past such as the one widely referred to as the ‘Ketchup Colonel’ incident and the incident in which a civilian was paraded tied to the bonnet of a jeep in Kashmir. These incidents tend to bring a bad name to the security forces, wiping off the goodwill earned by them for their good deeds. Such excesses cannot be condoned; the guilty must be punished as per the law of land. Failure to do so will lead to more such excesses and loss of innocent lives.
Finally, we must stop panegyrising the wrongdoings of security forces. Asking questions about the deeds of security forces must not be treated as an ‘anti-national’ act.
(The writer retired from the BSF as additional director-general. He tweets @sood_2. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)