Meeting the Challenges of Extremism by Advancing Human Security Centred Policies in India by Dr Geeta Madhavan

 The following paper was presented at the Strategic Forum on "Meeting the Challenges of Extremism by Advancing Human Security Centred Policies" organised by the NESA Centre for Strategic Studies and the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) held from 6th - 7th September 2017 in Colombo.

 All nations worldwide are grappling with multiple issues of extremism:  political, ethnic or religious; and at times this extremism consists of a coalition of many factors or a combination of several factors.  Extremism in the specific Indian context occurs mainly on two levels.  Extremism can be directed against a particular group or section of society and is the outcome of social, political, ethnic or religious intolerance. It could also consist of certain actions by a group against the state system in order to bring pressure upon the State to act against another particular group based on political, social, ethnic or religious differences. In the Indian context it is imperative to remember that any act of extremist violence, against even 1% of the population, translates into a huge number when considering that the total population of the country officially stands at 1.3 billion people. It is, therefore, incumbent of the State to desist from formulating and carrying out any policy that is an immediate reaction to incidents of extremism. 
Bias in society, over a period of time leads to extremist activity. It is to be understood that this is the result of dominant traditional social order. There are two powerful biases that develop in the social order.  First, the reaction of the majority of the population against those they view as a threat to their established structures and their position in such a structure. Therefore, while attitudinal traits evolve into behavioural patterns that influence the reactions towards minorities, the minorities themselves internalize the issues into their social behaviour. That means while a majority social or religious class, in its attitude towards another, bases its behaviour on superiority, the minority in turn assumes a mantle of marginalization and this attitude affects its social behavior. 

Secondly, persons holding decision making and implementing positions extend the traditional bias by denying certain sections or communities or religious groups the benefits of laws, policies and programs. So it is apparent that when the interests of the larger community clash with those of the others, the interests of the former prevail, to the detriment of the latter. Any policy that a government seeks to formulate affects a large number people and an apathetic attitude to its implementation in turn creates its own undesirable effect and momentum. 

The Constitution of India, in its Preamble and in the sections dealing with Fundamental Rights, not only assures both democratic and human rights to all, but the Directive Principles of state policy confirm the commitment to humane objectives. The spate of incidents taking place all over the country has heralded a period of rising extremism and there is an immediate need for inclusive policies based on human security considerations.

The shift in approach to extremist incidents is thwarted by various factors. First, it is frustrated by the indifference of the administration to the problem and their apathy in dealing with it. Secondly, the social bias that exists acts as a deterrent to any change in policy making. Thirdly, the lack of ability to explore other methods of dealing with the issues, coupled with the tendency to adhere to routine procedures, thwarts all initiatives. Fourth, in many cases, the criminal charges against the perpetrators are either not framed  and when charges are made , they are dropped quickly leading to the low conviction rates  dropping to as low as  1%.

 All dissent or expressions of dissatisfaction are positive factors that achieve the involvement of all sections of society leading to growth and evolution of democracy, but governments do not recognize unrest or non violent agitations and they are often met with severe repression. The enforcement mechanism of the state via the police, para military and military forces are sent to impose peace. They are viewed as state interference in the legitimate expression of dissent and their presence only serves to exacerbate the situation.  The fundamental concept in jurisprudence regarding statehood is that a state has to adhere to the Rule of law. It is from the concept of the Rule of law that a state draws its right to rule and its legitimacy to exist and act as a sovereign power. Violation by a state, therefore, is an abrogation of the duty set upon it and the consequence of such action by a state is undesirable.

Therefore, convergence between policy and implementation is imperative. The state can achieve this goal only by the adoption of a multi dimensional approach. Thus:

  1. The policies should contain elements of protection.
  2. The State should ensure the policies contain the elements of development.
  3. There should be total participation of the State and the interested and affected sections.
  4. Effective administration of the policy should be the paramount consideration in the formulation of policies.
  5. The importance of the accountability of the State should be upheld in all policy making procedures.
  6. The political angles incorporated into the policies should be inclusive.
  7. There has to be a fundamental shift in the approach to violence both in the cause and effect of such acts.  
In the Indian context, the case study of Naxalism, as dealt by the government, is worthy of analysis. Naxalism arose as a peasant movement, based on Marxist ideologies, in Bengal (deriving its name from Naxalbari village in West Bengal from where it originated) and was supported by students, intellectuals and the working class who were drawn to the far left radical dogma. With the support of China, their ultimate goal was the overthrow of the legitimate democratic government through insurrection and the annihilation of the upper class landowners. In 1971, the Indian army was mobilized against the Naxalites and a massive manhunt was launched in a joint counter insurgency operation by the police and army, termed Operation Steeplechase. Although the operation was successful, it did not eradicate Naxalism and many leaders, cadres and supporters went underground, temporarily suspending all activities. The root causes of the uprising and the ensuing violence were not addressed by successive governments and the problems continued and the dissatisfaction festered. The period from 2000 to 2011 saw the resurgence of Naxalism and by 2006 it was estimated that there were 20,000 armed cadres and more than 50,000 other operatives. The problem was viewed by the government as a grave security threat to India and in 2009 an all out offensive in five states was launched, termed Operation Green Hunt.

 In 2010, the Prime Minister at the time, Dr Manmohan Singh, called Naxalism “the biggest threat to internal security” stressing the need for continued decisive action.

On the one hand, the governments of the affected states cooperated with one another in providing information and intelligence, and on the other hand, joint sweeping and combing operations led to the killing and arrests of the insurgents. The Naxalites had converged the tribal issues i.e. the relocation of the tribal people from their homes and the destruction of natural resources and forest areas, which threatened their livelihood according to the Marxist ideologies of the Naxalites. The government invested a lot of effort to delink the problems of the tribal people of the area from the Naxalite ideologies through various schemes which sought to assist the tribal people. Mass media and local assistance was used to convey the message of the importance of ending Naxalite influence to the tribal people.

After the initial police actions, the government softened its stance and dealt with the actual issues that led to the tribal people supporting the Naxalites. Subsequent to the operation, the Indian government enacted the Victims of Naxalites Act of Terrorism (Relief and Rehabilitation) Bill in 2010. The stated objectives of the Act was  not only “ to curb the spread of Naxalite menace and eliminate the Naxalite insurgents in the manner deemed necessary” ; it also aimed to “grant general amnesty and rehabilitate those of the Naxals who wish to surrender arms and shun violence and return to the mainstream … By providing them gainful employment assistance for self-employment”. In the state of Jharkhand, for example, under this program, youths surrendering their weapons and with no cases against them could join the police force after thorough background checks. In the state of Karnataka, the program was divided into 3 zones. The Red Zone: where INR 200,000 was to be paid as a composite grant-cum-loan and a monthly stipend for one year as well as vocational training. The Grey Zone: INR 2000 was to be paid as stipend for one year and vocational training to be provided for the surrendering youth. And in the Green Zone, a compensation package was worked out and financial aid was given for education. Similar schemes were adopted in other states as well. In Bengal, under a Return Home (Ghara Boud) initiative, a fixed deposit of INR 150,000 was made into a bank to be handed over after 3 years of good behaviour. Those with minor cases were to be released on bail for crimes other than rape, kidnapping and murder charges.  
The government formulated a set of policies that addressed simultaneously the political, security and development issues. There was also intra state coordination of these policies as the forest area is spread over a large land mass and it was necessary that a common policy be adopted by all states in dealing with the Naxal problem .Thus the socio-economic developments were put on fast track. The mass media was also used for spreading the knowledge about the rehabilitation policies. Besides this, the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) was enacted to provide livelihood support, protection from extremists for the tribal people and guarantees of employment. The only reason the policy did not achieve the success that  it was meant to was due to poor administrative structures that failed to deliver and bad implementation of the scheme by the basic and mid level administrators.
Thus, it is important that new features have to be conceived, devised and retained while initiating policies that are centered on human security. They should be established along the following guidelines to ensure clear policies and correct implementation:
  1. Policies that  address issues not just in the political context but embrace the social and    economic context
  2. Policies that address sustainable growth and utilization of resources
  3. Policies that take into account the fallout of marginalization, unemployment and wage disparity
  4. Policies that address development vis a vis displacement and rehabilitation
  5. Policies that deal with assimilation into the existing  social structures and into society
  6. Policies that provide accessibility to adjudication and due process of law.