The State is bearing down on dissent by killing even those who want to talk peace
“In the Azad case an FIR has been made out against a man who has been killed by the cops. It’s as if they are judge and jury.” Colin Gonsalves, Advocate, rights activist
“Azad was deputed for the peace talks by the Maoists. The home minister’s refusal to recognise his killing shows the State’s intent.” Arundhati Roy, Writer, activist
“We are moving from constitutional democracy to one that is populist. It won’t be surprising if we soon move towards mob rule.” Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, Former chief justice of India
“With Azad’s killing, it seems the State wants Operation Greenhunt to go on, keep blaming the Maoists and snuff out peace talks.” Kavita Srivastav, PUCL activist
A deafening silence from the government has greeted demands for an independent probe into the death of Chemkuri Azad Rajkumar after reports in Outlook and other media raised serious questions about the police encounter. The post-mortem indicated death by a shot fired at point-blank range. When Outlook took the post-mortem report to independent experts, not saying it was of Azad, they concurred with the earlier finding that the wounds and other signs indicated death from a shot fired from “less than 7.5 cm” away.
Azad’s death is not the death of just any Maoist leader. Some may say the state is well within its rights to kill the leader of an armed rebellion, but his death could well perpetuate a conflict without end.
“I don’t think people have fully grasped the true significance of the killing of Azad. There have been killings like this before in Andhra Pradesh. Fake encounter killings have a fixed format. They just change the name of the person killed. So why should it be any more or less significant in Azad’s case?” asks Arundhati Roy. The writer-activist, who has spent considerable time with the Maoists, reporting on them, says Azad’s death indicates “the government desperately needs this war to clear the land and push ahead with what it wants to”.
“Azad,” says Arundhati, “was the man deputed by the Maoist party to represent them in the proposed peace talks. For the police to kill him in this way, and for the Union home minister to refuse to take cognisance of this extra-judicial killing, tells a great deal about the government’s real attitude towards the peace talks.” The hundreds of MoUs signed by the government with corporates “are waiting to be actualised. The government wants to escalate this war to sort out what it views as a problem. Peace talks would interfere with the momentum and be an unnecessary impediment”.
“We are moving away from a constitutional democracy to a populist democracy, and mob rule is just a step away,” says M.N. Venkatachaliah, former chief justice of India. A constitutional democracy, he says, works under institutional safeguards. It was under Venkatachaliah’s tenure as chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (nhrc) that guidelines on encounter deaths were spelt out and states were expected to follow them. As encounter deaths—more recently that of Azad—continue unabated at the hands of the State, Venkatachaliah is perturbed that the guidelines are not being followed at all. In fact, he says the attitude of the State can be summed up as follows: “Show me the man, and I will show you the law.”
But Union home secretary G.K. Pillai rejects any calls for an independent inquiry into Azad’s death (see following interview). While Pillai supports the state government’s version of the encounter, the state’s dgp, R.R. Girish Kumar, reiterates “whatever allegations made by Maoists or their frontal organisations are baseless”. The Maoists, he says, are taking some point in the post-mortem report and trying to blow it up in a disproportionate manner. “The allegations on the post-mortem report contents are not true,” he says.
But Kavita Srivastav, of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), feels otherwise. “This is called faking the encounter. And there has been no magisterial inquiry till date. With Azad’s killing it appears that the government wants to continue Operation Greenhunt, continue denouncing the Maoists and snuff out any chance of a peace process. The implications of his killing are sinister and dangerous.”
Kavita is clear that as a first step, “the Supreme Court should uphold the Andhra Pradesh High Court order of 2009, which states that every encounter killing must be investigated. That will have far-reaching implications on such killings. Having done that, the apex court should suo motu take note of such killings and order a judicial inquiry. Parliament must also legislate to check such killings by the state.” That may not happen in a hurry.
Arundhati feels that Azad’s killing, along with the others who have been killed so far, is a cause for concern and needs to be challenged. “The way the peace talks are being approached by both sides is amateurish. It’s true that the talks held in Andhra were a debacle. But still, there were important lessons for both sides to be learnt from the debacle. It took more than a year just to finalise a committee of concerned citizens to initiate the talks. Each person on that committee had impeccable credentials and public standing. It wasn’t a question of arbitrarily suggesting names to the media (like the Maoists are doing), nor of arbitrarily selecting a person like Swami Agnivesh (like home minister P. Chidambaram did).”
She also says, “Finally, there are many other groups who have been raising the same issues as the Maoists are—but peacefully and within the ambit of the law. However, the government doesn’t seem to be even pretending to be interested in peace talks with them. That says something about the waging of an armed struggle.”
In Azad’s case, “two FIRs should have been registered by the police. In this case an FIR has been registered against the man who was killed by the police. It’s like the police are the judge and the jury and Azad is the accused person. It’s a travesty of law,” says Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist Colin Gonsalves. He, too, draws attention to the Andhra Pradesh High Court order of 2009, which clearly stated that an FIR has to be registered in case of an encounter killing and this is the law of the country. But with the Supreme Court granting a stay on that judgement following an appeal by the Andhra Pradesh government and its police, encounter deaths continue to remain outside the pale of an independent inquiry. So, ironically, while it seems to be good in law to gun down a man in cold blood, it conveys the impression that it is bad in law to order an independent inquiry into such executions.