When is an Encounter just an Encounter

pepper.jpgNot in India! In India, the state only engages in what is euphemistically called fake encounters. While many in the Sikh community remember the tragic events of 1984, in many ways the events did not just transform the Sikh nation, but has had a lasting effect on the Indian state.

Rarely do I see this line of questioning amongst Indian academics, elite, or the media. Violence does not only affect the victim, but the perpetrator is also transformed. Last week, I commented on one such transformation in the Indian State when a mainstream journalist can openly call for state terror(ism) as a tactic to perpetrate against its own citizenry.

This week, in a related story, but still somewhat different, I highlight the euphemism fake encounter. Although this term had traction before 1984 and was one of the spearheads against which Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale fought against, it was in the post-1984 Punjab that supposed encounter deaths became so widespread and with a complacent Indian press parroting the States reports soon found them relegated to back pages. If there truly is a Punjab lesson, it was that other Indian State agencies could engage in these fake encounters with complete impunity. The latest case comes from the state of Chhatisgarh and the rural areas near Singaram.

For Sikhs, Kashmiris, Dalits, and numerous tribal groups, the following New York Times story sounds eerily familiar:

Madkam Deva walks about 20 paces off a dirt footpath in a verdant forest, finds the place where large, orange ants crawl over a dark maroon stain, then points to another bloodstain a few yards away. This, he says, is where he saw one villager cut down by police bullets, and then asecond.

His account of what happened in this remote and undeveloped corner of eastern India on Jan. 8 boils down to this: The police rounded up 24 tribal villagers, told them they were going to a station for questioning, then lined them up for execution en route. Five, including Deva,escaped.[link]

Although this incident in Chhatisgarh is receiving press coverage, because of the sheer numbers of those executed, the NY Times article by freelance photojournalist Daniel Pepper provides details on the how tragedy becomes mundane for millions within the Indian state:

Numbering in the thousands every year, “encounters” or “encounter killings” are shootouts between the Indian police or Army and any criminal element, from terrorists to petty thieves. Many Indians believe that at least some are stage-managed – with, say, a police officer placing a gun in the hands of a dead person – leading to the popular phrase, “fake encounterkilling.”[link]

Such is one of the key legacies of the Punjab tragedy. Just as in Punjab, just as in Kashmir, the journalist is able to sift through modern India in order to understand why the middle classes and the elite condone and even support that States murder of its own citizenry.

the national news media often accept the polices version, which puts them in harmony with many in their middle-class audience who fear rising crime and terrorism. Meanwhile, Bollywood and Indian media lionize encounter specialists soldiers or policemen who, like Dirty Harry, specialize in shootouts.

The fact that the victims are these tribals living in a remote jungle area shows that the middle class is not really concerned about the poor, says Bela Bhatia, a fellow with the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi who has researched the insurgent-heavy areas of southern Chhattisgarh. Its not that Indias middle class believes every claim of self-defense by the police, she says. But as more Indians move to the megacities, and as crime and terrorism rise, many simply accept that judicial processes and civil liberties will play second fiddle to the pursuit of public safety and national security.[link]

While one would hardly argue against the role of class in such tragedies, for me this explanation is not enough. The tragedies in the peripheral areas of India Nagaland, Kashmir, and Punjab suggest that the conscious of the Indian middle classes and the elite are hollow. There is no feeling and bonds of citizenry as even pogroms in metropolis such as Delhi (1984) and Gujarat (2002) only create small ripples of protest.

When states terror becomes trivial, you find officers such as Rahul Sharma, the police superintendent in the Dantewada district of the State of Chhattisgarh. Obviously a graduate of the Indian Police Service (IPS), Sharmas crudity what is being taught in this supposed elite service group:

We need to hit them, and hard. The ideal attrition rate is 4 to 1.[link]

Such a number was most likely developed by the Punjab Police and other police centers in India that seek to engage in state terror. It would behoove human rights groups in Kashmir, or groups such as ENSAAF to explore this possible slippage.

Despite the rising purchasing power of certain sections of Indian people, the accolades that the middle classes in India attempts to heap on themselves are rather in stark contrast to the real India. Recently, I have been reading a book by Harvard Business professor Tarun Khanna, titled Billions of Entrepreneurs: How China and India Are Reshaping Their Futures and Yours. The book attempts to contrast some pure-type categories: a clean authoritarian China vs. a rambunctious democratic India. Attempts to delieanate such neat categories are used to white-wash Indias real authoritarian side. While it may assuage the Indian middle classes guilt for its complicity in the carnage of the state, the denial of the humanity of its fellow citizens will always make India appear as an artificial construct.

While 2009, marking 25 years since the events of 1984, will be a moment for internal reflection amongst the Sikh community, one hopes that such reflection will also occur amongst scholars, journalists, the elite, and the middle classes of India. Unleashing the brutal power of the state machinery against one section of its citizenry opened up the Pandoras box of Indian state terrorism. The failure to learn the real lesson of Punjab, the subsequent lack of justice, and continuing impunity will lock India into this unending pattern.

Ending Impunity should be the slogan of the year to right the wrongs, shame the middle classes, and force change upon the state. So long as each tragedy – be it in Punjab or Singaram – is viewed in isolation, the propaganda of Indian exceptionalism will continue. It is when Sikhs and other communities of conscious within and without the Indian state can begin mobilizing together that we may begin to see the dawn of a new era in India. Perhaps then the citizenry will hold the state accountable, rather than turn a blindside behind the facade of a “fake encounter.” Until that day, unfortunately, in India, barbarity will remain banal.


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28 Responses to “When is an Encounter just an Encounter”

  1. H Singh says:

    Jodha,

    What are the reasons for the delibrate impunement against Sikhs by India?

  2. H Singh says:

    Jodha,

    What are the reasons for the delibrate impunement against Sikhs by India?

  3. Harinder says:

    SIKHS were at the first time on recieving end of their own "GUN"

    During the states counter insurgency operations which SIKHS troops have done for the Britishers and then subsequetly for Indian state . I am sure some of our boys have indulged in similar things over which we cry hoarse now.

    Old Hindi saying "JAKE PHATE NA PAR BIBA OH KE JANE PEER PRAI"

    SIKHS tilll 84 never knew how it feels like to be on the other side of the "GUN".

    Notable exxceptions how ever are 'Jalliawala Bagh incidence and Guru Ka bagh morcha and 1984.

  4. Harinder says:

    SIKHS were at the first time on recieving end of their own “GUN”
    During the states counter insurgency operations which SIKHS troops have done for the Britishers and then subsequetly for Indian state . I am sure some of our boys have indulged in similar things over which we cry hoarse now.

    Old Hindi saying “JAKE PHATE NA PAR BIBA OH KE JANE PEER PRAI”

    SIKHS tilll 84 never knew how it feels like to be on the other side of the “GUN”.

    Notable exxceptions how ever are ‘Jalliawala Bagh incidence and Guru Ka bagh morcha and 1984.

  5. Jodha says:

    Harinder,

    SIKHS tilll 84 never knew how it feels like to be on the other side of the “GUN”.

    Are you really trying to make the claim that Sikhs have only recently had to fight against violence of the state?

    Notable exxceptions how ever are ‘Jalliawala Bagh incidence and Guru Ka bagh morcha and 1984.

    Let me add just a 'few' more exceptions –

    Shaheedi of Guru Arjan, Shaheedi of Guru Tegh Bahadur, battles of Guru Gobind Singh, battles of Banda Singh Bahadur, Babbar Akalis, etc. The celebrated history of the Khalsa is the celebration of resistance.

    I understand your broader point that at times members of Sikh society have been collaborators, but your distortion of history could not be left unchallenged.

    H Singh: I didn't understand your question:

    What are the reasons for the delibrate impunement against Sikhs by India?

  6. Jodha says:

    Harinder,

    SIKHS tilll 84 never knew how it feels like to be on the other side of the GUN.

    Are you really trying to make the claim that Sikhs have only recently had to fight against violence of the state?

    Notable exxceptions how ever are Jalliawala Bagh incidence and Guru Ka bagh morcha and 1984.

    Let me add just a ‘few’ more exceptions –

    Shaheedi of Guru Arjan, Shaheedi of Guru Tegh Bahadur, battles of Guru Gobind Singh, battles of Banda Singh Bahadur, Babbar Akalis, etc. The celebrated history of the Khalsa is the celebration of resistance.

    I understand your broader point that at times members of Sikh society have been collaborators, but your distortion of history could not be left unchallenged.

    H Singh: I didn’t understand your question:

    What are the reasons for the delibrate impunement against Sikhs by India?

  7. Harinder says:

    It is simple u cant insult the Local GODS and then say their wont be a reaction.

    Sikhs for long have been ridiculing Hindus for there traditions and symbols inspite of fact that theirs ancestors were Hindus and there is so much in common previously inspite of 84.

    Tell me in West can u say the same thing about "JESUS" or in the middle east about "ALLAHA".

    "Guru Granth Shaib" teaches us to respect all the manifestaion of GOD be it under the name of Jesus , Ram ,Allaha ,Wahe guru ,Buddha ,Jains etc etc.

    Give respect and get respect back.

  8. Harinder says:

    It is simple u cant insult the Local GODS and then say their wont be a reaction.
    Sikhs for long have been ridiculing Hindus for there traditions and symbols inspite of fact that theirs ancestors were Hindus and there is so much in common previously inspite of 84.
    Tell me in West can u say the same thing about “JESUS” or in the middle east about “ALLAHA”.
    “Guru Granth Shaib” teaches us to respect all the manifestaion of GOD be it under the name of Jesus , Ram ,Allaha ,Wahe guru ,Buddha ,Jains etc etc.
    Give respect and get respect back.

  9. Jodha says:

    Harinder,

    That is really your level analysis? That is the best you can come up with? They made fun of me, so send in divisions of the army – helicopters, tanks, chemical weapons and all.

    Maybe you have a fraction of a point about respecting others, but to try to tie that into 1984 gives me great insight into your puerile profundity.

  10. Jodha says:

    Harinder,

    That is really your level analysis? That is the best you can come up with? They made fun of me, so send in divisions of the army – helicopters, tanks, chemical weapons and all.

    Maybe you have a fraction of a point about respecting others, but to try to tie that into 1984 gives me great insight into your puerile profundity.

  11. Harinder:

    I would want you to address a few questions if you are really interested in discussing the Sikh situation in present day India.

    1. What are the foundations of Indian nationalism?

    2. Why would one recognize India as a nation state when it is, and has been through out history, a sub-continent?

    3. Why would the Sikhs show any faith in Indian constitution when there opinions were not even considered during its formation?

    4. How was the struggle for autonomy within federal India was such a threat to the unity and integrity of this so called country that it provoked the Indian state for an army invasion in Sikh homeland primarily targeting their most sacred places?

    5. Why would anyone care of the opinions of the cowards who suggest the Sikhs to save their lives at the cost of the destruction of their way of life, honor, economy, and anything we can think of?

    I am willing to discuss it. Let us see what you have to say.

  12. Harinder:

    I would want you to address a few questions if you are really interested in discussing the Sikh situation in present day India.

    1. What are the foundations of Indian nationalism?

    2. Why would one recognize India as a nation state when it is, and has been through out history, a sub-continent?

    3. Why would the Sikhs show any faith in Indian constitution when there opinions were not even considered during its formation?

    4. How was the struggle for autonomy within federal India was such a threat to the unity and integrity of this so called country that it provoked the Indian state for an army invasion in Sikh homeland primarily targeting their most sacred places?

    5. Why would anyone care of the opinions of the cowards who suggest the Sikhs to save their lives at the cost of the destruction of their way of life, honor, economy, and anything we can think of?

    I am willing to discuss it. Let us see what you have to say.

  13. H Singh says:

    Jodha,

    What is the motive, goal, reason of India to perpetrate crimes on Sikhs and then justify them. For example a responder above seem to justify crimes on Sikhs. Why India practices Anti-Sikh crimes and justifies them?

  14. H Singh says:

    Jodha,

    What is the motive, goal, reason of India to perpetrate crimes on Sikhs and then justify them. For example a responder above seem to justify crimes on Sikhs. Why India practices Anti-Sikh crimes and justifies them?

  15. Harinder says:

    Now let me clarify that I live in INDIA and not all of u .

    Anti Sikh feelings in India are restricted to a narrow geographical area called Haryana and Delhi .

    I have been to Maharashtra , Andhra pardesh , Assam , Karnataka ,Bengal and Tamil nadu.

    Let me tell u that People out there love us and consider us to be part of them and it would be foolish to traslate the anger of 84 to all of them.

    1984 must not colur our mind so much so as to generalize INDIA as one homogenous entity.

    1984 requires a Phd like research work to go to the roots especially who proped up the "NIRANKARIS" to attack their own brothers on The Vaisakhi Massacre: Amritsar – April 13, 1978.

    This requires a deeper probe.

  16. Harinder says:

    Now let me clarify that I live in INDIA and not all of u .
    Anti Sikh feelings in India are restricted to a narrow geographical area called Haryana and Delhi .
    I have been to Maharashtra , Andhra pardesh , Assam , Karnataka ,Bengal and Tamil nadu.
    Let me tell u that People out there love us and consider us to be part of them and it would be foolish to traslate the anger of 84 to all of them.
    1984 must not colur our mind so much so as to generalize INDIA as one homogenous entity.
    1984 requires a Phd like research work to go to the roots especially who proped up the “NIRANKARIS” to attack their own brothers on The Vaisakhi Massacre: Amritsar – April 13, 1978.
    This requires a deeper probe.

  17. H Singh says:

    Harinder,

    It is simple u cant insult the Local GODS and then say their wont be a reaction.

    I am awestruck by your response that Sikhs should treat Hindus like GODS otherwise fatal destruction of Sikhs is well-deserved.

    Why should respect be only applied for Hindus and not Sikhs?

    I am glad that you mention it, so it seem that it is all about Hindu Dominism.

    And you said Anti-Sikh feelings are only limited to Haryanavis?

  18. H Singh says:

    Harinder,

    It is simple u cant insult the Local GODS and then say their wont be a reaction.

    I am awestruck by your response that Sikhs should treat Hindus like GODS otherwise fatal destruction of Sikhs is well-deserved.

    Why should respect be only applied for Hindus and not Sikhs?

    I am glad that you mention it, so it seem that it is all about Hindu Dominism.

    And you said Anti-Sikh feelings are only limited to Haryanavis?

  19. Harinder says:

    You stay abroad and I stay in India so I Know the situation.

    You all in West are in the '1984 time wrap'.

    India and world has moved on since then to 2009.

    It is true world over u cannot overrun the Majorities faith by bulldozing.

    SIKHI IS INDESTRECTUBILE and is not dependent on Mortals like u and me.

  20. Harinder says:

    You stay abroad and I stay in India so I Know the situation.
    You all in West are in the ‘1984 time wrap’.
    India and world has moved on since then to 2009.
    It is true world over u cannot overrun the Majorities faith by bulldozing.
    SIKHI IS INDESTRECTUBILE and is not dependent on Mortals like u and me.

  21. Jodha says:

    Harinder,

    You don't have a monopoly of understanding Sikh sentiments. Speak for yourself, not "India and the world."

  22. Jodha says:

    Harinder,

    You don’t have a monopoly of understanding Sikh sentiments. Speak for yourself, not “India and the world.”

  23. Harinder says:

    I as a SIKH have a right to say my view of the 84 incidences.

    You may say your own I dont object to it.

    Let me tell u that I was more aware and knowledgeable of the hapening as I was based in Jalandhar that time .

    Certianly I agree that my knowledge is less than than the actual Players of 84 events.

    My suggestion to u all is get over the "84 time wrap" and move on in life .

    SIKHS are shining Globally today.

    You are all fighting a illusionary battle against a imaginary enemy.

    Remember the SIKH saying that "WAHEGURU" is the "Karta purakh" and even 1984 is as per SIKH philosophy is his doing.

  24. Harinder says:

    I as a SIKH have a right to say my view of the 84 incidences.
    You may say your own I dont object to it.
    Let me tell u that I was more aware and knowledgeable of the hapening as I was based in Jalandhar that time .
    Certianly I agree that my knowledge is less than than the actual Players of 84 events.
    My suggestion to u all is get over the “84 time wrap” and move on in life .
    SIKHS are shining Globally today.
    You are all fighting a illusionary battle against a imaginary enemy.
    Remember the SIKH saying that “WAHEGURU” is the “Karta purakh” and even 1984 is as per SIKH philosophy is his doing.

  25. H Singh says:

    It is amazing that you call yourself a Sikh AND when time comes you justify fatal destruction of Sikhs and so now "because God did it" lets exonerate all Indian Crimes on Sikhs.

    You accuse Sikhs of remembering and investing the causes of their own pain and justify their destruction only for one reason–to cover up crimes of Hindu Dominism, a heartbeat of Indian Patriotism.

    You assertions are principally painless to speak off in front of Sikhs who lives were lost not just in 1984 but later also.

  26. H Singh says:

    It is amazing that you call yourself a Sikh AND when time comes you justify fatal destruction of Sikhs and so now “because God did it” lets exonerate all Indian Crimes on Sikhs.

    You accuse Sikhs of remembering and investing the causes of their own pain and justify their destruction only for one reason–to cover up crimes of Hindu Dominism, a heartbeat of Indian Patriotism.

    You assertions are principally painless to speak off in front of Sikhs who lives were lost not just in 1984 but later also.

  27. Harinder says:

    If u will go into SIKH history then 84 was not the first ghaullghara that SIKHS have had .

    Go to history sites and then decide what I say is wrong or right.

    http://www.sikh-history.com/art_index.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history

    1) Jews kiled christians

    2) Catholics killed protestants

    3) Muslims Killed Jews

    4) Muslims Killed Hindus

    5) Hindus Killed Muslims

    That is how human history is etched by these events.

    As for "KARTAPURAKH" let me tell u 1984 was the the doing of Wahe guru alone and no one else.

    As to why he did it is to big a task for my small mind to understand the mind of "WAHE GURU"

  28. Harinder says:

    If u will go into SIKH history then 84 was not the first ghaullghara that SIKHS have had .

    Go to history sites and then decide what I say is wrong or right.

    http://www.sikh-history.com/art_index.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history

    1) Jews kiled christians
    2) Catholics killed protestants
    3) Muslims Killed Jews
    4) Muslims Killed Hindus
    5) Hindus Killed Muslims

    That is how human history is etched by these events.
    As for “KARTAPURAKH” let me tell u 1984 was the the doing of Wahe guru alone and no one else.
    As to why he did it is to big a task for my small mind to understand the mind of “WAHE GURU”