The Humanrightwallas

April 23, 2010

This Op-ed appears in The New Indian Express on the 23rd of April, 2010.

A CRPF jawaan on the site of a botched Maoist ambush on his convoy in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh.

‘Humare liye koi human rights nahi hai.’ (there are no human rights for us), Said a CRPF jawaan of the 62nd battalion at Chintalnar, Dantewada district. He would also add that everyone in the area is a Maoist and ‘rights’ belong to them, not him.  Within five minutes, the In-charge would appear, and the fifteen-twenty jawaans who snuck up to have a word with the press, quickly scattered like a bunch of frightened school children. The in-charge politely shoos us away. We don’t need to talk to the jawaans, we should merely talk to the DGP, the DIG or the SP.

‘Humare liye koi human rights nahi hai.’ – he was right, in this case, they weren’t even allowed freedom of expression. If a policeman wants to complain that the INSAS rifle is no good in killing a human being, he has every right to. But he did raise a very important question, what is human rights really to the khaki man behind the trigger?

I remember I once sat with a young ASP Rajendra Das in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh in January of last year, discussing the so-called ‘humanrightwallas’ as they’re commonly known to the police.

‘When this humanrightswalla would get on a bus and go to one of those areas, and there’s firing, what would he do?’ he asks, sitting behind his desk, ‘in a gunfight, my only friend is an AK47, there’s nothing else, no friendship, no human rights, nothing.’

After a long time spent in the jungle, I realize that for the many, many policemen like Mr. Rajendra Das, a gunfight is the ultimate reality. It is the ultimate zenith of the human condition, there’s nothing greater than it, nothing beyond it. What is a humanrightswalla going to do in a gunfight? Take notes? Petition the supreme court? No, of course not. In a gunfight, the man with an AK47 is king, the humanrightswalla would have to cower in the corner, hope he doesn’t wet himself and pray to the God of war to deliver him from the throes of death.

Fortunately, we don’t live in a world of perpetual gunfights. We live in a world where we fight to prevent perpetual gunfights, inspired by a man who stood in front of a tank, and thousands and thousands more, known and unknown.

For me, one was an SPO who refused to kill, another was a thaanedaar who saved the life a tribal who was locked up in his police station by the Salwa Judum.

‘Nikaal jaoo yaha se, yeh log tere ko khataam kar denge.’ (Get out of here, these people will kill you). He told him, letting him out; an act of kindness for which he shall receive no accolades, no respect from his colleagues, and even the humanrightwallas would be able to do nothing for him.

Tomorrow, the Maoists might grant him his human rights by slitting his throat if he were to ever come into their hands. And of his deeds, none would know. Both of those men, I could never write about, for fear of putting them in serious risk, for fear of condemning them to the life of a pariah.

Human rights, they do exist for the police. They exist when they remember that they’re meant to protect them. Yet isn’t that almost a joke? A member of the paramilitary forces, the SSB, honestly told me in January 2009: ‘Fuck your human rights, and we can fix this whole problem (Maoism).’

A humanrightswalla is more problematic than the man with the gun. The Maoist with a rifle you can shoot. It is those petitioners and those biased fact-finding intellectuals from Delhi who’re the real problems and it becomes important to delegitimize the humanrightwallas and their human rights. And it’s not so difficult.

First we call human rights a western concept that has no bearing in Indian society. Forget that we have a long history of Buddhism. Forget that human rights/fundamental rights/natural rights are the basis of democracy.

Then we call the humanrightwallas exaggerators. However, this is an indictment that is not wholly incredulous, as particular humanrightwallas seem to be a bit loose on the facts. Their greatest shortcoming has been the dilution of truth about atrocities with falsity and exaggeration. For example, there was the infamous ‘burnt in oil’ incident, where a tribal was allegedly ‘hung upside down’ and ‘burnt in hot oil’ by the police. I never knew torturers would ever go through so much trouble. In truth, the man who was ‘burnt in oil’ was a senile old tribal man who had no idea what they were doing to him, (after some cross questioning, I realized he was really electrocuted). ‘I felt I was being burnt in oil’, was probably just a metaphor he used to describe what they were doing to him and the untrained Gondi-Hindi translator, fell for it.

Of course, in the same report, there were numerous facts that were ‘actual facts’.  The same report was the first to mention the Gompad baby whose fingers were cut off. Yet the damage was done. The report lost its teeth. These humanrightwallas are all making things up and trying to de-legitimize the Indian state (if corruption hasn’t done enough already?).

Yet one of the most important reasons to ascertain one’s facts, is this – if you’re going to write a report on how the police had raided a village and killed people, the people who know the truth are the police themselves. If they killed five people and you write ten, they’re going to think you’re whacko.

Then we have our Union Minister P Chidambaram who begins to talk about their ‘double standards’, and wants the humanrightwallas to ‘condemn Maoist violence too’. And what is that going to do? Apart from being highly distasteful to force an emotional response out of the conscience of another human being, are the Maoists really going to listen to the humanrightwalla’s silly condemnations?

When 76 security personnel were killed in the Mukrana forests on the 6th of April, within hours, the everyday troll started calling for the heads of all the human rights group who ‘didn’t protest or say one word’. Within hours? Newspapers hadn’t even gotten their facts right and they expected every human rights organization to condemn the massacre? How? Does PUCL twitter?

And when organizations do condemn violence against the state or the police, either their press releases aren’t printed in the newspapers, or they’re all condemned to have crocodile tears.

The one thing I never understood, is this – do human right organizations condemn the deaths of Maoists killed in ‘real’ encounters with the police? No. They condemn and investigate into the killings of non-belligerents and they condemn the unconstitutional, extrajudicial executions of Maoists and terrorists whose rights are protected by the Rule of Law.

And it’s not all black and white, us or them.

‘There are some animals in this world, and they should be just finished off.’ Said a humanrightswalla to me, as we debated the death sentence. Strangely enough, we were having this debate, quite inappropriately, at the wake of one of the greatest civil rights activists of the country, K Balagopal. His own ideas and his prolific writings have been reiterated, recycled and rehashed again and again in every sensible and intelligent essay or op-ed on Naxalism and state violence in the last few months. If he hadn’t passed away in the month of October last year, the same time the COBRA battalions were running amok in the jungles of Dantewada, one wonders what the humanrightwallas would be doing, besides being delegitimized and forced to condemn the killings of CRPF personnel when it would seem blasphemous for them to be condemning the gunning down of known-Maoists in CRPF ambushes.

Meanwhile, P Chidambaram acts and talks like he’s never read a single piece written by Balagopal when he says that the humanrightwallas don’t condemn the violence of revolutionaries or terrorists. He has literally declared war without doing his homework. Abjure violence? Condemn violence? The idea of just condemning violence is idiotic and it is an obscene oversimplification. I’m not a humanrightswalla, and I don’t condemn it just as I don’t condone it. Yet I wish to understand it and where it comes from.



  1. you know Javed few days back i met 1 of my friends in CRPF who is an asst.commandant.he voiced almost similar emotions what you have been writing about.adding to it he said with despair & sheer hopelessness -“this war is never gonna end…its a multi-crore scam & no one (either bureaucrats or politicians)is going to let the game get over so easily…rather they are dragging it purposely.lots of money flows in in the name of development projects & that should not stop!!”
    though interestingly he narrated me the views of the present SP/DSP(I can’t recollect correctly)Mr. Mishra of Dantewara(few months back) who gave orders that all are maoists so kill any1 who’s above12!!imagine!!this man travels to delhi every month for the supreme court cases (human rights petitions)
    adding to it he also shared that the common CRPF jawan hates hurting any tribal cz finds him hopeless,helpless & really poor.even if some tribal is slapped or tortured he won’t utter a single word of pain or protest.they have become live zombies…more than petrified with a lot of sensitivity even towards oneself…its not just human rights,I think this prob. needs psychological counselling,social security & social engineering at ground level.its a social responsibility of us all(not merely in words)to help our poor brethren & also to save this nation from the formation of “afghani/iraqi” pockets.
    I know you have experienced things directly & hope this shared bit adds to all that you feel..

    • wow. i have to get back to you on this one. just a day.

  2. I understand their sentiments. But while we debate the human rights of ‘combatants’, do we ever bother to sit down and express horror at the fact that nation states still have institutions whose purpose is to use violence to ensure ‘order’ be it Police or the Army. I’m not talking about making them more humane, or humanising them but the very existence of these institutions is itself a human rights violation. On those who end up as a part of these institutions and those who end up as the victims of these institutions. Because it pre-supposes lack of trust on part of the state towards its citizens and other nation states and necessity for violence and forced action to tackle any breach of this ‘social contract’. No human rights group or Maoists seem to question this aspect of the modern ‘nation-state’.
    But then such questions get lost in a world where as you rightly point out, AK47 is made to seem like only possible condition of existence.
    I do see a lot of sympathy on your part towards the foot soldiers, humanising them and bringing out voices that have been little heard else where in the media and thank heavens for that.
    What about Maoist foot soldiers? Why are Maoists treated like some faceless homogenous entities? What motivates the tribals to take weapons? Is there one underlying reason for them to do so? What about the ‘intellectuals’ from andhra, who make them slit the throats? It would be
    interesting to hear these voices as well , instead of letting arundhati push words down their throats and projecting them as she likes to imagine them, gandhians with guns.

  3. Today,main stream media is reporting that three adivasis have been killed by Maoist, i am sure these three Adivasis have been killed out of frustration by Security personnals.frustration is understandale,but these footsoldiers are themselves victimof vicious circle of poverty and unemployment,they should think too that when they commit atrocities on poor on their superir’orders,they have to pay a price.Down state terrorism

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