News Wrap


A series of verdicts delivered by different courts made the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) joyous. On 16 April 2018, a National Investigative Agency Court in Hyderabad, acquitted the five major accused in the Mecca Masjid blast case, which had killed nine persons and injured 58 on 18 May 2007. The NIA court judge Ravinder Reddy, ordered the acquittals on the grounds that the prosecution had provided no evidence to prove a conspiracy by Hindu extremist organisations that had conspired to carry out terror attacks aimed at minorities. Those acquitted included Naba Kumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand and others. Investigations into the Malegaon blast case (2008) by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, under Hemant Karkare (who was later killed during the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008) led to the discovery that it was allegedly the handiwork of Hindu extremist organisations. A similar pattern was traced in other blast cases like in Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif, where cell-phones were used to trigger the bombs. All the cases were handed over to the NIA in 2011. On 20 April 2018, the Gujarat High Court acquitted former BJP minister, Maya Kodnani and 17 others in the Naroda Patya massacre case, where during the carnage of 2002 post Godhra riots, 97 men-women and children were brutally killed. Categorically rejecting a batch of petitions seeking an independent investigation into the death of CBI judge B H Loya, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on 19 April 2018, ruled that judge B H Loya had died of natural causes. Judge B H Loya was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case in which BJP president Amit Shah was an accused, when he met untimely death on 01 December, 2014.

Coaching Classes
For some years, students in Jammu and Kashmir have been participating in street protests, leading to repeated shutdowns of schools in Kashmir Valley. Since early April, there were continuing protests over the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu, that triggered countrywide outrage. The J and K state administration threatened to close down educational institutions, if students did not rejoin classes. On 22 April 2018, the then Mufti state government ordered indefinite closure of coaching centres in Kashmir Valley, in a move apparently aimed at forcing students to return to classes. The order covers only centres that offer private tuitions till class XII. All private tuition centres, which offer tuitions upto class XII are closed for the time being. The order would have no bearing on coaching centres that provide courses for students, who have already cleared class XII. All along, the coaching centres have been free of protests. A large number of students join the coaching centres. Even if they bunk school to join protests, they continue their studies at these coaching classes. The authorities want to deprive these students of this alternative, so that they give up their protests. All student protests since February 2018, originated in schools, and not coaching institutes.

Killing Maoists
On 22 April 2018, Maharashtra security forces gunned down at least 20 Maoists, including some women, in the state's Gadchiroli district, bordering Bijapur district of Chattisgarh. Around 7 am, a C-60 squad of police commandos launched a combing operation, when they were attacked by Maoists in a thick forested area in Boria jungles and Kasanasur jungle, on the border of Bhamragad-Etapalli taluka. In retaliatory police firing and a bloody gun battle that continued till 11 am, the rebels suffered huge reverses. Among those killed were at least a couple of high-ranking unit commanders, identified as Vijender N Rauthu and Dolesh Modi Atram. Combing operations were conducted in Tadgaon forest at Bhamragad, around 750 km from Mumbai. Further, 22 bloated and decomposed bodies of slain Maoists, including that of two women, were spotted floating in the Indravati river, at the Maharashtra-Chattisgarh border in Gadicholi on 23 April 2018. These bodies take the toll to 42. Inspection of the site by journalists, suggest that it had been more an ambush than an encounter.

Telengana police's elite commando force, Greyhounds, on 27 April 2018, crossed over into Bijapur district of neighbouring Chattisgarh, on a tip off to stun a group of Maoists. The ensuing gunfight resulted in the death of eight Maoists, six of them women on a remote hillock near Ilmidi police station, on the border with Telengana. Last week of April 2018, at least 55 Maoists have been killed in central India. On 27 April 2018, at least two Maoists including a woman were killed in an exchange of fire with security forces in Burkapal forest area of Sukma district in Chattisgarh.

The AFSPA was imposed and implemented on 11 September 1958 in Assam and Manipur, and was amended in 1972 to extend it to all other states of the North-East India, which were carved out of Assam, under the North Eastern Area Reorganisation Act, 1971. Since independence, the north-east region was considered as an 'exception' to India's idea of statehood, to become a police state. It was basically a relic from colonial times, dating back to 1942. Beset by armed secessionist movements opposing integration with India in the post-colonial period, the entire region was declared as "disturbed". Most of these movements sprang from an independent identity concern, based on the territorial and ethnicity of people in the region. The causes for rebellion have petered out, and lost their appeal to the locals. The region is transforming itself to become an "economic hub", while violent militancy is gradually fading away. Under the AFSPA, the Indian army was given unlimited power to shoot, arrest and search with impunity, all in the name of "law and order" issue. During the period 2007-2017, the number of violent incidents in the north-east reduced from 1489 to 308 a year. In 2017, Mizoram and Tripura had zero violent incidents, while Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland reported 33, 61, 28 and 19 cases respectively. Manipur topped the list with 167 reported cases. In the last decade, 5207 people lost their lives, including 2920 extremists, 1975 civilians and 312 military personnel. Between 2006-07 and 2016-17, the central expenditure on security, doubled from Rs 153 crore to Rs 300 crore. The present emphasis is on open economy, a robust connectivity infrastructure within the north-east and beyond, and transnational economic activities. The AFSPA has now been revoked from Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Another Naga Peace Accord is on the way to be signed before the parliamentary general elections of 2019.

Conflict in Myanmar
In Mayanmar's remote north as a long simmering conflict between Myanmar's army and ethnic insurgents intensifies, thousands of people have fled renewed fighting since the second week of April 2018. More than 4000 people have been displaced in Myanmar's northern most state of Kachin, near the border with China. The numbers do not include around 15,000 people who fled, since the beginning of 2018, and upwards of 90,000 residing in Internally Displaced Persons camps in Kachin state and Shan state, since a ceasefire between the government and the powerful Kachin Independence Army broke down in 2011. There are still many civilians who remain trapped in conflict-affected areas. The UN office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has been unable to verify reports that civilians have been killed in the fighting. Myanmar's border areas have been unstable, since its independence from British colonial rule in 1948, creating a dizzying array of insurgencies, local militias, and drug running operations. In a country in which the Burmese hold major positions of power in politics and the armed forces, ethnic armed groups are demanding more autonomy and control. The Rohingya crisis has resulted in about 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.

Vol. 51, No.1, Jul 8 - 14, 2018