M G Devasahayam, a former Indian Administrative Service officer, has written an article titled, “Ajit Doval was my batchmate, but his understanding of Constitution, civil society is flawed.” The crux of Devasahayam’s argument is that “Doval’s statements reflect that he thinks India is still a colonial monarchy, where people are subjects, and not a democracy, where they are citizens.”
Going by what’s happening in India since Narendra Modi, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) apparatchik, became the prime minister of that country and chose Ajit Doval, a former Indian Police Service officer as his national security advisor, it is difficult to disagree with the contents of Devasahayam’s article or his punchline about Doval. But I intend here to point to the fact that the Indian state, when it has considered itself under threat, has acted according to the same ‘moral’ compass which the Modi-Doval duo are today accused of.
Let me clarify that my argument is not meant to dilute the abominable impact the current duo has had on freedoms in India or in Occupied Kashmir. My intent here is to point out, through empirical evidence, that the self-styled secular, liberal governments in India have often acted in ways that would gladden the hearts of the Modi-Doval duo, politico-ideological differences notwithstanding.
Take the 2015 book, Blood on My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters by investigative reporter Kishalay Bhattacharjee. The book details the Indian state’s military and police operations against groups fighting for independence in India’s northeast and argues that staged encounters are an unwritten but approved state policy.
“In the mid-twentieth century, violence perpetrated by States against their own citizens is believed to have resulted in somewhere between two and four times as many deaths as caused by warfare. Since literature and studies around this phenomenon have never included the Indian State, its unenviable record has been overlooked. ” (italics mine; p: 37)
At another place, Bhattacharjee says with chilling matter-of-factness that “India is among several countries that have death squads which kill people with impunity” and then goes on to explain: “Security agencies – including police, army, paramilitary forces, IB, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW, India’s external intelligence agency) – all these carry out extrajudicial killings. Since the media only reports the official version, the truth has never been adequately investigated.” (pp: 33/34)
Staged killings are not just the work of individuals trying to get promotions, citations and cash awards. While that is true in terms of incentivising the soldiers on the ground, it is the Indian state itself that has created that structure: “An entire network of trespassing and transgression has been generated by the State. Laws have been transgressed and peoples’ lives have been trespassed. In order to secure the nation’s territory, several other territories have been violated. Slowly, and with conscious design, the citizen has been dispossessed of rights that should be guaranteed in a free country; and it has been done with force.” (p: 29)
One can go on citing from the book, but this should suffice. The essential point is that arguing that the nature of the Indian state has somehow transformed from being benign and motherly in the past to malignant and evil under the current dispensation is either naive or politically-motivated.
But before I get to Occupied Kashmir and [East] Punjab, let’s recall what happened in the Mizoram Hills 56 years ago. As a March 6, 2016 article narrates, “On February 28, 1966, the fighting volunteers of the Mizo National Front launched Operation Jericho to throw out Indian forces stationed in Mizoram…. The central government led by Indira Gandhi may have been taken by surprise, but the reprisal was swift. On March 5, four fighter jets of the Indian Air Force…were deployed to bomb Aizawl. Taking off from…Assam, the planes first used machine guns to fire at the town. They returned the next day to drop incendiary bombs. The strafing of Aizawl and other areas continued till March 13 even as the town’s panicked civilian population fled to the hills.”
Let’s get to Indian Punjab now. Indian media and commentators have made much of how KPS Gill, a Sikh officer put down the Khalistani freedom fighters. Almost everyone knows the methods Gill, branded a super cop, used. But those methods were ignored because Gill delivered.
Devasahayam writes: “The dictum ‘in the game of power, the ultimate justice lies with the one who is strong,’ was the hallmark of Doval’s ‘military doctrine’ to be applied to Kashmir.” He is right. But this dictum has often been used by functionaries of the state in the service of the Indian state. Gill stood for it and killed for it, flouting the law to restore it. As commentator Jaspreet Oberoi wrote for Newslaundry in July 2017, “No state deserved a KPS Gill”: “Writers, who often praise Gill for bringing order to Punjab, fail to acknowledge the horrors his tenure left in its wake.”
This was the time when India’s National Security Act was amended for Punjab. Suspects could be detained without trial for up to two years “for acts prejudicial to the security or defence of India.” Further, “the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act of 1987 gave the police the right to use confessions in the court as admissible evidence.”
Oberoi writes: “Police brutality ensued…. Reports from different human rights groups, media houses like the BBC, and the US State Department explain in detail how the Punjab Police under Gill was worse than the militants. What Gill promoted is…called ‘meeting targets’ in today’s marketing lingo. A police officer who could bring a certain number of dead ‘alleged’ terrorists was rewarded and highly recognised. As a result, there were villages that had no Sikh male between the ages of 15 to 40 at all.”
Oberoi then refers to the case of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra. In 1995, Khalra “exposed over 6,000 secret cremations by the police in just one of the then 13 districts in Punjab. Later, that same year, he was arrested by the police, but no records of his detention seem to exist. He was never found.”
Devasahayam quotes eminent lawyer and author AG Noorani as saying that one of the key pillars of Doval’s doctrine is “the irrelevance of morality”. That is certainly true, going by what we have witnessed. But is Doval the first functionary of the Indian state to have acted illegally or unconstitutionally? Clearly not.
This is as far as Indian Mainland is concerned. Imagine now the plight of the occupied people of Kashmir, a territory that since August 5, 2019, has also been illegally annexed.
There is no doubt that the Modi-Doval duo is the worst affliction to befall IOJK. But it is important nonetheless to set the record straight. Kashmir’s tragedy began much before the arrival on the scene of the Modi-Doval duo or the Doval doctrine. As author Pankaj Mishra said to Francis Wade, “I went [to Kashmir] in 1999 with many of the prejudices of the liberal Indian “civilizer” — someone who simply assumed that Kashmiri Muslims were much better off being aligned with ‘secular,’ ‘liberal,’ and ‘democratic’ India than with Pakistan… [but] The brutal realities of India’s military occupation of Kashmir and the blatant falsehoods and deceptions that accompanied it forced me to revisit many of the old critiques of Western imperialism and its rhetoric of progress.”
AG Noorani’s definitive book, “Article 370: A Constitutional History of Jammu and Kashmir,” clearly establishes how successive Indian governments, starting with Jawaharlal Nehru’s, hollowed out Kashmir’s special status. Of course, it falls to Modi that he removed the fig leaf of 370 from the musty underbelly of India’s occupation.
As reports of daily atrocities in IOJK pour in — extra-judicial killings, fake encounters, torture, arrests et cetera — the world hears of draconian ‘laws’ like Public Safety Act (PSA), Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. It’s instructive to get the dates on these laws and their full titles: The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978. This law is specific to IOJK and while it was initially brought in against timber smuggling, it has for long been the go-to law to detain Kashmiris and continue to detain them for years without any trial.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 (was enacted in IOJK as The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990). The act, passed by Indian parliament, grants the Indian armed forces special powers to maintain public order in disturbed areas. It remains in place in IOJK since 1990.
Every day brings a new calamity for hapless Kashmiris. Men killed in cold blood and their bodies buried without allowing families to perform final rites. So there’s no gainsaying that India’s current government is following what Doval has scripted and Modi has blessed through his Hindutvadi vision. But, equally, it is important to remember that similar atrocities have happened before under the ‘secular-liberal’ governments.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. According to the wordings of the Act in the Gazette of India, it “comes into force in the State of Jammu and Kashmir on 1.9.1969 vide Notifn. No. G.S.R. 2098, dated 30.8.1969, Gazette of India, Exty., Part II, Sec. 3(i), page 615.”
Since the illegal annexation of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Kashmiris are facing unprecedented levels of state-sponsored brutality. Hundreds have been killed and blinded; thousands are behind bars. No one is safe. In the last two months, at least 35 Kashmiri civilians have been murdered, the most recent being three boys on November 24. Every day brings a new calamity for hapless Kashmiris. Men killed in cold blood and their bodies buried without allowing families to perform final rites. So there’s no gainsaying that India’s current government is following what Doval has scripted and Modi has blessed through his Hindutvadi vision. But, equally, it is important to remember that similar atrocities have happened before under the ‘secular-liberal’ governments.
Doval is more blatant; the liberal governments were more canny in cloaking the fist in a velvet glove. As India continues to claim its position as the world’s most populous democracy, one is reminded of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel acceptance speech: “…let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence.”
India continues to live that lie. But the roots of the lie go back decades.