There were much expressions of opinion over the deployment of the Naga Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) to Chhattisgarh, which formed part of the composite state reaction to the Naxal issue. Subsequently, there have been debates around whether new Indian Reserve Battalions comprising of Naga youths should be formed. In the end result, the decision to form more IRBs was deemed to be justified to absorb the growing number of unemployment among Naga youths. While the argument of employment is the common line provided, there is no doubt that this rationale is terribly weak, short-sighted and finally, it does not take into account the social consequences on the society.
While much public focus was emphasized over the IRB deployment to Chhattisgarh, it is tragic that the same public concern and focus has not been extended to how the IRB has been faring on the ground. This lack of transparent public information raises questions of democratic accountability and the public indifference is reflective of the collective callousness. Ironically, for a people like the Nagas who had suffered decades of state militarization while experiencing lack of critical solidarity from the sub-continent’s civil society, the people of Chhattisgarh must be going through the same feelings and emotions of alienation.
The lack of transparent public information within Naga society does not however mean that the activities of the IRB are going unnoticed in the Indian sub-continent and internationally as well. A number of inquiries and fact-finding reports by independent organizations have already documented numerous violations committed by members of the IRB. The atrocities range from misbehavior to rape and murder. In the most recent report, the Committee against Violence on women (CAVOW) organized an All India team of women activists who visited Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh between September 30 and October to investigate the conditions of safety, security, life and livelihood of Adivasi women in the background of intense militarization and widespread reports of atrocities on women.
The fact-finding team consisted of Advocates, Journalist, Film-makers, Writer, members of CAVOW, a State Secretary and also a Member of Parliament. Considering the composition of the team, the findings of the report just cannot be dismissed. According to the Statement from All India Women’s team to Dantewada, the Naga IRB is responsible for shooting dead Adivasi women, including a 35 year old pregnant woman Madkam Channi; and indulging in rape(gang); and beating up villagers. It is reported that Adivasi women have been impregnated by Naga IRB.
It is possible that Naga society may go into denial on hearing the accusations against the Naga IRB, after all it is difficult to imagine and accept that our sons, brothers or friends are capable of committing such heinous acts. Notwithstanding the shock, it is imperative that immediate public attention be turned towards the behavior and actions of the Naga IRB in Chhattisgarh. The government must take the initiative to make all information transparent on the activities of the IRB and the allegations made by the various reports must be investigated into. Perhaps an ‘independent’ body consisting of prominent Naga individuals must be constituted to visit Chhattisgarh and to meet a cross section of the people for a comprehensive evaluation on the IRB’s role.
The government must further take this opportunity to evaluate the training modules and behavior of the IRB, considering the fact that they have also come under considerable criticism within Nagaland itself. In essence the IRB is not a policing force, it is trained for counter-insurgency purposes, and therefore as an immediate measure to regain the confidence of the public, it is best that the IRB is not used for policing purposes. At the same time, a more thorough process of investigation and evaluation must be carried out to decide the future of the IRB.
For now, the knowledge that Naga IRB has been involved in heinous acts of terror is disturbing and one in which the Naga society must collectively oppose.