‘The horror! The horror!’



Twice this week, the Supreme Court made references to neoliberalism and drew parallels between its cases and instances from literature and history. Excerpts:


The state of Chhattisgarh claims that it has a constitutional sanction to perpetrate, indefinitely, a regime of gross violation of human rights in a manner, and by adopting the same modes, as done by Maoist/Naxalite extremists. It also claims that it has the powers to arm, with guns, thousands of mostly illiterate or barely literate young men, who are appointed as temporary police officers, with little or no training, and even lesser clarity about the chain of command to control the activities of such a force…

Heart of Darkness

As we heard the instant matters before us, we could not but help be reminded of the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, who perceived darkness at three levels: (i) the darkness of the forest, representing a struggle for life and the sublime; (ii) the darkness of colonial expansion for resources; and finally (iii) the darkness, represented by inhumanity and evil, to which individual human beings are capable of descending, when supreme and unaccounted force is vested, rationalised by a warped world view…

Conrad describes the grisly and the macabre states of mind and justifications advanced by men, who secure and wield force without reason, sans humanity, and any sense of balance. The main perpetrator, Kurtz, breathes his last with the words: “The horror! The horror!”

Through the course of these proceedings, as a hazy picture of events and circumstances in some districts of Chhattisgarh emerged, we could not but arrive at the conclusion that the respondents were seeking to put us on a course of constitutional actions whereby we would also have to exclaim, at the end of it all: “The horror, the horror.”


The problem cannot be the people of Chattisgarh, whose human rights are widely acknowledged to being violated by the Maoists/Naxalites on one side, and the state and some of its agents on the other. The problem rests in the amoral political economy that the state endorses, and the resultant revolutionary politics that it necessarily spawns.

The culture of unrestrained selfishness and greed spawned by modern neoliberal economic ideology, and the false promises of ever increasing spirals of consumption leading to economic growth that will lift everyone, under-gird this socially, politically and economically unsustainable set of circumstances in vast tracts of India, and Chattisgarh in particular. The justification often advanced by advocates of the neoliberal development paradigm… in India is that unless development occurs, via rapid and vst exploitation of natural resources, the country would not be able to either compete on the global scale, nor accumulate the wealth necessary to tackle endemic problems of poverty, illiteracy, hunger and squalor.


On the one hand the state subsidises the private sector, giving it tax break after tax break, while simultaneously citing lack of revenues as the primary reason for not fulfilling its obligations to the poor through social welfare measures. On the other hand, the state seeks to arm the youngsters amongst the poor with guns to combat the anger and unrest. Tax breaks for the rich, and guns for the youngsters amongst poor, so that they keep fighting amongst themselves, seems to be the new mantra…

Our constitution is most certainly not a “pact for national suicide.” In the least, its vision does enable us to recognise, and prevent, the emergence and the institutionalisation of a policing paradigm, the end point of which can only mean that the entire nation, in short order, might have to gasp: “The horror! The horror!”

 Cannon fodder

It is clear to us that the lives of thousands of tribal youth appointed as SPOs are placed in grave danger by virtue of the fact that they are employed in counterinsurgency activities against the Maoists/Naxalites in Chhattisgarh. It is equally clear that in this policy, jointly devised by the Union and the states facing Maoist insurgency, as implemented in Chhattisgarh, the young tribals have literally become cannon fodder in the killing fields of Dantewada and other districts. The training that the state of Chhattisgarh claims it is providing those youngsters… is clearly insufficient.


Many of these tribal youngsters, on account of the violence perpetrated against them, or their kith and kin and others in the society in which they live, have already been dehumanised. To have feelings of deep rage, and hatred, and to suffer from the same is a continuation of the condition of dehumanisation.

It is clear that one of the primary motives in employing tribal youth as SPOs is to make up for the lack of adequate formal security forces. The situation has been created in large part by the socioeconomic policies followed by the state. The policy of privatisation has also meant that the state has incapacitated itself from devoting adequate financial resources in building the capacity to control the social unrest…

It is clear to us that these tribal youngsters are being given firearms on the ground that SPOs are treated “legally” as full-fledged members of the police force, and are expected to perform the duties, bear the liabilities, and be subject to the same disciplinary code… Yet, the Union of India and the state believe that all that they need to be paid is an “honorarium”.


Article 14 is violated because subjecting such youngsters to the same levels of dangers as members of the regular force, who have better educational backgrounds, receive better training, and possess a better capacity to benefit from training that is appropriate for the duties in counterinsurgency activities, would be to treat unequal as equals.

Article 21 is violated because youngsters with such low qualifications cannot be expected to understand the dangers they are likely to face, the skills to face such dangers, and the requirements of the necessary judgment while discharging such responsibilities.

 We order that:

(i) The state of Chhattisgarh desist from using SPOs (against) Maoist/Naxalite activities;

(ii) The Union of India desist from using its funds in supporting recruitment of SPOs for counterinsurgency activities against Maoists/Naxalites groups;

(iii) The state make every effort to recall all firearms issued to SPOs;

(iv) The state make arrangements to protect those employed as SPOs previously;

(v) The state take measures to prevent the operation of any (such) group.



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