News Wrap


For a dramatic improvement in overall socio-economic development of backward districts, in 2017 Niti Aayog of the Union Government of India drew a list of 115 most backward districts, including 35 affected by left-wing extremist violence. Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh did not have a single entry in the list of the best districts of India in 2001. Along with West Bengal, they accounted for almost half, 49% of the worst performing districts. Comprising the backward group of states in 2001, these states remain so even in 2018. The backward districts are not part of the fast growing and modernising "Shining India". The time warp deprives these districts any opportunity of growth, leaving them in the periphery of development. These districts are also in the Maoist belt, stretching from Bihar to Odisha to Chattisgarh, to Andhra Pradesh, to Madhya Pradesh to eastern Maharashtra. The government has no strategy to address backwardness. The Niti Aayog's most backward districts is based on 11 parameters like landless households depending on manual labour, institutional delivery, anti-natal care, stunting/wasting of children, elementary drop-out rate, adverse pupil-teacher ratio, number of households without water, electricity or toilet, unconnected PMGY village, etc. Only 5% of the sanctioned amount of Rs 2849 crore, from 2007 to 2015 under Backward Region Grant Fund (BRGF) was actually utilised, primarily because the capacity of the districts to utilise funds productively could not be created.

Encounter Deaths
Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government took charge of Uttar Pradesh in March 2017, there have been 2500 shootouts and 80 encounter deaths, spread across 30 districts. The state government claims this as a result to clean up the state of crime and criminals. The National Human Rights Commission, in May 2018, directed the state to constitute a five member team, to investigate 17 of these cases. In July 2018, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh state government over the encounters. Investigations have tracked down families and police stations, linked to 41 of these encounters. FIRs in 20 cases, relate to 21 deaths. In the remaining cases, either FIRs have not been made available to the family, or the family has moved and could not be traded; while serving police officers declined to share details, or claimed they did not have details, as they were newly posted. There is a startling pattern to the First Investigation Reports lodged by the police. Description of the sequence of events leading to the encounter are similar; as also the encounter itself, of the police response, and of what followed. In many cases, even the words and phrases used are identical.

Police have recorded, in as many as 12 FIRs, that the criminals were intercepted on a "tip off" from an "informer", the criminals arrived on a "motor cycle", mostly followed by police and "skidding", "falling" and "opening fire". In 11 FIRs, police say they acted as "sikhalaya gai tareeke", or "training", or "fieldcraft". The police record in 18 FIRs, their indomitable courage ("adamya sahas"). In 16 FIRs, police mention that they acted without "caring for our lives". Police were hit in 9 FIRs, in "bullet-proof jackets". In eight FIRs police put on record that their response during the encounter and later, followed Supreme Court orders and guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission "to the full". Police state in 12 FIRs, they looked for witnesses but could not find them, due to "night or odd hours" or "bhayvash" (people being scared). In 18 FIRs, the criminal was killed and the accomplishes "fled". Almost all the FIRs mention that the encounters took place at night or early morning. In several cases, police say they spotted the men using torchlight, and claimed to have carried out "self defence minimum" firing. Of the 16 post-mortem reports accessed, three showed that the victims had been shot in the head, eight in the chest, while most had been shot multiple times. Jai Hind Yadav, killed on 03 August 2017, in Azamgarh, bore more than 19 wounds.

Investigators, could not find post-mortems in 25 cases, out of 41 cases. Families did not have them, or the families had moved and could not be traced. At many hospitals where the men were killed the FIR or the post-mortem reports had not been shared with the respective courts either. While there are a few basic common words in FIRs, the language and facts should not be common in all encounters. Many families had no idea that the deceased men carried rewards on their heads. In almost all cases, the police officers involved in encounters, have been transferred. The sequence of events of all encounters are different. Many witnesses do not come forward to avoid getting involved in court proceedings, and out of fear of reprisals.

Militancy in Kashmir
During 2018, nearly 160 youths joined various terror outfits in Jammu and Kashmir, the highest since 2010. On the militancy front, a majority of them affiliated themselves with groups, ideologically aligned with the Al-Qaeda. The number of local recruits in 2017 was 126. South Kashmir's Shopian district contributed the maximum of 45 new militants. Many youngsters are joining the Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, a group which claims support of Al-Qaeda, and is headed by Zaqir Rashd Bhat, who hails from a village in the Tral area, of Pulwama district. Musa, a militant has started emerging as a hero to many youths in Kashmir Valley. His slogan "Sharya ya Shahadat" (Enforcing Islamic law or death) has replaced many age-old pro-Pakistan slogans. IS JK, an affiliate of the banned ISIS is also a source of attraction for youths. Highly volatile South Kashmir comprising Shopian, Pulwama, Anantnag, Kulgam and Awantipora districts have contributed over 120 youths to various terror groups operating in Kashmir Valley. There has been a steady use in the number of youths taking up arms in Kashmir Valley, since 2010.

Rohingya Refugee Camps
Rohingya mega refugee camps in Cox's Bazar Bangladesh are sprawling collection of tarpaulins and bamboo, a monument to the persecution of an entire community. Prior to August 2017, the region was forest, spread over undulating hill sides, where rare wildlife including Asian elephants could be found. People of Muslim, Buddhist, animist and other faiths all have histories in the area that far predate national borders. There are clear differences in religious and ethnic affinities, which lead to spates of violence between the groups. The Muslim minority in Myanmar call themselves Rohingya, but are named Bengali by the authorities there to imply they are illegal immigrants. They have been denied many basic rights, including citizenship for decades. Violence broke out in Sittwe, the Rakhine state capital in Myanmar, between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, in 2012. About 200 people died in the fighting, and ensuing destruction, left around 140,000 people, mainly Rohingya homeless. Herded in the "displacement camps", they were denied freedom of movement by armed police and soldiers. A small number of Rohingya remained in their own homes in Aung Mingalar ghetto, in the centre of Sittwe, hemmed in by barbed wire and armed guards. In May 2015, many Rohingyas tried to escapeĀ  in boats on the Andaman Sea. Boat people (Rohingyas) seeking a safer life in another country were pushed backward and forward by naval ships refusing to allow them to land in Thailand or Malaysia. An estimated several hundreds died at sea in 2015.

In mid October 2016, a new armed ethnic group calling itself Harakh al Yaquin (Faith Movement) and later Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked a number of border posts, killing about 13 security personnel. It claimed the assaults were in defence of Rohingya rights. The Myanmar military insisted they were terrorist attacks, organised by foreign Islamic extremists. Northern Rakhine was immediately shut off. About 87,000 people were driven across the border at that time as their villages burnt. Accounts of killings, tortures and mass rapes in 2017 caused global outrage. Conditions for the Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar in a voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified manner are not in place. Their survival is reliant on the goodwill of the Bangladesh government and the financial support of the international community. More than 700,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar to bordering Bangladesh over the past year, after a campaign of violence by the military. In a recent report the United Nations has condemned the Myanmar treatment of the Rohingyas which amounted to ethnic cleansing. Wa Lone, aged 32 and Kyan Soe Oo, aged 28, have been held in Yangon Insein prison since their arrest in December 2017. The two Reuters journalists accused of breaking Myanmar's Official Secrets Act, while reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims, were jailed for seven years on 03 September 2018.

Vol. 51, No.25, Dec 23 - 29, 2018