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Pictures That Turn A Generation; Armies That Lie

By Trevor Selvam

28 June, 2010

A picture could very well be a tide turner. The one image that makes a nation sit up, shake itself off its torpor and ask itself, how much more of this repetitive official nonsense can we accept and justify in our quest to become a developed nation and overlook the rampant denial of due process and decency. A picture can be a conscience raiser, the final straw, the one blow that cuts up the fine line between what a civil society will accept and outright barbarism. Not too many people remember the name of Nguyễn Ngọc Loan. But a lot of people remember this picture.

The man who took this picture, Eddie Adams, won a Pulitzer prize. It helped turn the tide of one war-The Vietnam War.

Nguyen Ngoc Loan c Loan was the former Vietnamese Army Brigadier and later Chief of the National Police of South Vietnam. Here he is seen executing Nguyn Văn Lém, handcuffed Viet Cong Captain. This was one of many pictures that turned the tide in many ways and showed American people, how bestial were the forces that they were propping up. America lost that war decisively. Lock stock and barrel. Thousands and thousands of anti-war activists and radical groups took to the streets. Nixon was caught red-handed with the Watergate break-in. The entire fibre of American society was on the block. They used all the might they had, all the firepower, WMD and chemical defoliants (remember Agent orange and its creators Dow Chemicals, who are the proud owners of Union Carbide today? ) available at that time to unleash a ruthless, at times covert war, against the Vietnamese people. Wave upon wave of Viet Cong swarmed the Americans and eventually, the world’s most powerful military in the world, scurried away with their stooges in tow and so did this Vietnamese Brigadier at the time of the fall of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). He took refuge in America. He opened a pizza restaurant in Washington DC and managed to hide his identity for a long time. Eventually, he was exposed and history caught up with him. Signs started appearing in the bathroom of his pizza parlour. “We know who you are, fucker.” The man died a lonesome death very soon after.

Below is a picture of the bestiality of the Indian para-military forces in operation in Lalgarh, two weeks ago. A dead woman Maoist activist, trussed up as when British colonials went on tiger and deer hunts with Indian princes and rajahs. India is at War. Against its own people. And pictures like this should turn the tide of public conscience. Will India generate thousands and thousands of radicals and peace activists who are nauseated by this savagery and also take to the streets to register their opposition to this War?

Indian news media has not been able to capture much footage of what goes on really during actual combat, either in Lalgarh, Dantewada or Bastar from the Maoist side. Because the shrieky anchor persons of NDTV/TimesNow/CNNIBN and their dull and boring field reporters, are all safely “embedded” with the Joint Forces only. When the forces move in, they move in behind them. Official cant and Goebbelspeak has become natural to the Indian media. This one slipped out, because the Police’s own depraved sense of its success (finally they had rebel bodies to display) got the better of them. Planted stories do the rounds as in-depth reporting; imported buzzwords and Indian hyperbole fill the air waves. This particular photograph has not been displayed as repeatedly in the Indian mainstream media as the repeated showing of ambushed corpses of CRPF personnel. And why is that?

Not one Indian mainstream reporter has ever dared to move with the Maoist forces and see what really happens in combat. What really happens when the Joint Forces come into a village and burn hut after hut, herd villagers out, randomly shoot and arrest tribals, carry out gang rapes of Adivasi women and declare them as Maoists and then the Maoist counterattack and ambush, sometimes with serious collateral damage as well. Almost 250 people have been killed by the para-military since Operation Green Hunt commenced. Is there any judicial or legal process available in Manmohan Singhs’s G20 India, to identify the names of and real identity of the people who have been killed off as Maoists? These are Indian citizens, is it not?

Does the Amnesty International, International Human Rights Watch, or Ban Ki Moon have any desire to find out how a village woman can be trussed up like this in any civilized society? Does the Indian High Courts and Supreme Court Judges have any backbone, as they sit presiding over the Indian constitution,(their salaries paid by the Indian tax payer) , as the Indian constitution gets slowly chewed out ? The world is watching India.

After-ambush photographs of “Maoist carnage” are of course more widely available. Only rarely have pictures emerged of the rapes and village burnings carried out by the Indian para-military and the hired goons known as special police officers. Only rarely have we seen pictures of the fingers of two years olds with their fingers chopped off by the Selwa Judum. The head honcho of the West Bengal Police, Bhupinder Singh, IG of Bengal Police, has unabashedly declared that it was quite practical and normal to carry out dead corpses in this manner. I will hope some day that Bhupinder Singh will also be forced to open a Tandoori hut in Washington DC. And I hope one day, there will signs up in the bathroom of his restaurant. “We know you, you bastard!” And we all hope that these two tired looking “jawans” who are carrying their trophy, a dead Adivasi woman, who dared to revolt, and yes with a rifle on her shoulder, will also have the guts to stand up in front of their wives and children, state their names and thump their chests and declare what brave sons they are of this bloodied soil.

One by one, slowly but surely, the real fangs and gory cultural attributes of the Indian state and its machinery are coming to the surface. Us Indians, being of a pre-industrial and essentially non-capitalist cultural temperament, we could not care less--- feudal relationships and caste and religion based political vectors generally overlook concepts like fair play, decency, respect for the dead or prisoner’s rights, never mind conveniently “western” and moribund concepts like “democracy,” “ fair trial, ” “human dignity”, “prisoner’s rights.” Being a Maoist woman activist is good enough for the para-military forces and their apologists from Chidambaram to Buddhadev to shrug their shoulders at such a sight. They must have an abominable sense of history and personal dignity. They must have no sons, daughters, sisters and brothers. Even the British, did not hang up an Indian “terrorist” in this manner. And the Indian Army and Air Force say that it is waiting in the wings to be called in. After all they claim that they have a more modern sense of due process.

In reality, the Indian Army and Air Force have already waded into the carnage.

I have been observing now for a year, how the Indian Army and Air Force were being all coy about not entering the fray into anti-Naxalite operations. The coyness and shyness was combined with even some outspoken candid reflections about not fighting its own citizens. The Air Force Chief suggested that they were not really equipped for on the ground targeted assaults, as they were used to more extensive operations (read carpet attacks with possibilities of “collateral damage”). They were not keen about the damage they could cause if they carried out air assaults. Pangs of genuine conscience, I suppose. The Army Chief declared that it was not the job of the Army to attack its own citizens. They were not used to internal enemies. And I have watched every week, as that high and mighty position crumbled slowly (but strategically) as the well orchestrated backers of Mr. Chidambaram from the BJP’s crafty and hoarse Arun Jaitley combined forces with the CPI(Marxist)’s boorish Sitaram Yechury to build up a ra-ra chorus for Army intervention. First, giving their unqualified support to Chidambaram (to not resign) and then Yechury declared gleefully with insider knowledge that it was a matter of “internal security” where and when the Army would get involved.

Since, as a nation, we are well into a phase of butchery passing off as exercising “command and control” in guerrilla terrain, I ran into some cogent instructions on meat tenderizing on the web. It is significantly educational; in terms of the slow and deliberate process the government of India has embarked upon this process of bar-be-queuing its own citizens.

Step 1 Trim the Fat

Trim the meat so that it's ready for cooking. You shouldn't have to cut or trim the meat after it's been marinated. This is a fair warning to ensure that when you slice into the Naxalites, you must make sure you have removed the “fat” first. The distractions, the unnecessary segments that make the meat somewhat unsavoury before it is laid out for devouring. Removing the fat means threaten their sympathizers first. Make sure, that every parliamentary party calls them terrorists. This has been well achieved, by now, thanks to the kick-stepping chorus line media. Except for a couple of historically astute social democratic or leftist parties, pretty much every one has declared that the Naxalites are terrorists, with the CPI(Marxist) leading the shrill hysteria. Then you attack all independent progressive intellectuals in any which way you can by arresting a few and threatening the rest. You will notice that the West Bengal Government has started arresting Scientists and Professors who are asking questions about the this incident at Lalgarh. Once the pot is on the boil and you have not marinated the meat, it will end up being tough and chewy. If you wish to chew up the Naxalites, you have to first tenderize them. Gone are the days, in the not too distant past, when some sections of the establishment made the grievous error of declaring “they are not terrorists, they are citizens of our country, we cannot declare war on them.” So, now nobody would say this. (Strangely though, there is still some philosophical self-searching somewhere and a retired BSF Director General, Mr. Rammohan, who was asked to look into the Dantewada ambush by the Maoists, came back saying that, “I really do not think the Maoists are exploiters.” This of course really did not hit the headlines. Needless to say this soul searching will only fall on deaf ears, because the G20 Indian Prime Minister has declared in his inimically drone-like manner, that no matter what, the Maoists are India’s gravest internal threat. )

Step 2 Mix together the marinade according to its recipe.

The marinade is something that adds a sophisticated flavour to the meat. Some alkalinity with acidity, wine and vinegar, salt, pepper and lemon. Each of these ingredients reduce the time it takes to cook the meat. A kind of diffused signalling, a non focussed direction that adds flavour to the task ahead. Now the Indian Army has started switching signals. It has started saying that they will join the fray when they are called upon to do so. Mixed signals? Or is it possible that Chidambaram has won a minor scuffle with AK Anthony, the Defence Minister? After all, the PM’s previous call to have no one except the Home Minster’s office issue edicts on the Maoists, went completely unheeded. After all this is a civilian controlled Army, like all great democracies. Never mind the heinous role played by the Army, even last week when they shot and killed 3 boys in Kashmir. So a complex flavour is purposely engineered. On the one hand the Army makes some bold statements about their high and mighty value systems. And then they capitulate and announce that they will do as commanded. Wine and vinegar.

Step 3 Combine the meat and marinade in a nonreactive, sealed container.
Make especially sure not to use aluminum or cast iron, and try to avoid metal altogether, if possible. Use a plastic bag if you can. Ah! Make sure the marinade is out of bounds to the media and the public. Alternative freelance reporters, who have travelled into the interior on motor bikes and other means of transport and are writing in their blogs, say that it is now virtually impossible to find out what is happening in either Lalgarh or Dantewada. If you go there you are told there is section 144 of the Indian Penal Code promulgated. But section 144 is for an assembly of 5 or more people, is it not? Ah! in that case slap on charges of sedition. So, some scientists and professors and college teachers who went to Lalgarh to independently assess the situation, were arrested. When some famous civil society stalwarts, including Supreme Court lawyers attempted to reach Dantewada, they were set upon by goons from the Selva Judum posing as local citizenry! The container is sealed tight. No access.

Step 4 Refrigerate the marinade.

This is the cooling off period, where the marinade penetrates the meat and makes it succulent. This is the ridiculous “abjure violence and we shall talk” - call by Chidambaram. A pretentious nonsensical call that is intended to actually buy time for the State, and not for the Naxalites, so that civic society and civil rights organizations get distracted and move away from the larger issues of civil liberties, political rights and discussion on the megalomaniac roles of the Tatas and the Poscos. The marinade gets cooled for the final assault and the Army can prepare its attack plans. The army has now gone into detailed evaluation of the topography and terrain, including satellite imagery. They will not get involved on foot, until they have taken a minute aerial view of the guerrilla terrain. They are not fools like the CRP, even though they did train them.

Step 5 Discard the marinade after use, and cook the meat slow in low heat.

But, of course! Now that the meat has been tenderized, all the semblances of due process, the marinading liquids can be dispensed. The Army has now stepped in, albeit reluctantly. The real Green Hunt will now begin. Slowly and quietly. Without fanfare and without savage displays.

But here is the big lie! The Indian Army has been involved from day 1 of Operation Green Hunt. It is the Indian Army that has set up schools for the training of para-military forces. The Army is now debating whether to station colonels or brigadiers near the operation centres in Chattisgarh. The wrist-twisting and nerve wracking debate is if brigadiers are too high in the ranks and if colonels are closer to the battle ground in terms of warfare tactics.

According to the Irish Times, “ The (Indian) army is also drawing up plans to keep three to five divisions – 30,000 to 50,000 soldiers – ready to help civilian authorities deal with the fast proliferating Maoist threat to 220 of some 620 administrative districts across 20 of India’s 28 provinces.The training programme to counter the Maoists could potentially be the force’s largest internal security mobilisation, other than in insurgency-ridden Kashmir state and in the northeastern provinces bordering Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh.”

The report continues “The army had also stepped up its intelligence gathering in rebel areas by employing personnel who speak the languages of various tribes comprising Maoist activists. The federal government also plans to hire ex-servicemen, particularly former Sappers, on contract for tasks such as de-mining. Maoists use improvised explosive devices frequently. Meanwhile, the Indian air force is seeking the return of its 15 Russian MI 17 helicopters that serve UN peacekeeping missions in Africa in anticipation of them being deployed for logistical support in anti-Maoist operations.”

The Army has already been deployed against the Maoists and yet the silly bluster continues –to do or not to do. The Army and Air Force Chiefs have had their little period of flirtation with free speech, of speaking their minds. Now it is over. They have been ordered to shoot the citizens of this country and they must comply.

Let this picture then tell the lie about India shining. Let this picture be the turning point of the struggle for genuine democracy. Let this picture be carried around in every demonstration to show the world how G20 Manmohan’s India follows the Geneva conventions.