HomePublicationsReports

Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India

A Preliminary Quantitative Analysis

January 26, 2009

New Statistical Analysis Points To Widespread Human Rights Violations by Indian Government Authorities in Punjab

(Fremont, CA, January 26, 2009) As Indians gather for Republic Day celebrations this week to mark the adoption of the Indian constitution, new analysis reveals the human cost of suspending constitutional rights in India. Ensaaf and the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) released a report today presenting verifiable quantitative findings on mass disappearances and extrajudicial executions in the Indian state of Punjab, contradicting the Indian government’s portrayal of the Punjab counterinsurgency as a successful and “humane” campaign.

This report uses quantitative methods to scientifically demonstrate the implausibility that these lethal human rights violations are random or minor aberrations as suggested by Indian officials.

The report by Ensaaf and HRDAG, “Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India,” presents empirical findings suggesting that the intensification of counterinsurgency operations in Punjab in the early 1990s was accompanied by a shift in state violence from targeted lethal human rights violations to systematic enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, accompanied by mass “illegal cremations.” Indian security officials have dismissed claims of human rights violations as unavoidable “aberrations” during the counterinsurgency against alleged terrorists in Punjab from 1984 to 1995.

“This report challenges explanations by Indian security forces for enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions using more than 20,000 records from independent sources which have been analyzed using statistical methods,” said Romesh Silva, a demographer at HRDAG and co-author of the report. “This scientific analysis reveals that answers given by the government regarding the nature and extent of these violations are implausible given the available evidence. The victims and their families have a right to the truth.”

Figure 3 from Report

The report demonstrates that reported enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were most strongly correlated with reported deaths from encounters. The pattern is consistent with previous qualitative evidence that the events reported in the Tribune were staged (as “fake encounters”) to conceal the illegal nature of the violence and the security forces’ responsibility for these acts.

Human rights groups have collected extensive qualitative evidence about the types of abuses committed by Indian security forces and the impunity that persists in Punjab. Until now, human rights groups have lacked the capacity to conduct quantitative research to analyze these violations and definitively challenge explanations put forward by the Indian government.

This report uses quantitative methods to scientifically demonstrate the implausibility that these lethal human rights violations are random or minor aberrations as suggested by Indian officials. The strong correlation found between lethal human rights violations and overall lethal violence across time and space supports the conclusion that enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were part of a specific plan or widespread practice used by security forces during the counterinsurgency.

"This scientific analysis reveals that answers given by the government regarding the nature and extent of these violations are implausible given the available evidence," said Romesh Silva, co-author of the report.

The analysis also demonstrates that between 1988 and 1995, militant deaths reported from an “encounter” or exchange of gunfire with the security officers were strongly correlated with lethal human rights abuses reported by the victims’ families. This correlation supports assertions by human rights groups that these encounters were fabricated by security forces to conceal extrajudicial executions.

The report further demonstrates that when human rights violations increased dramatically after 1991 and fewer families were able to recover the bodies of their loved ones, “illegal cremations” acknowledged by the Indian National Human Rights Commission also increased. The strong correlation between these events suggests a shift in state violence during the height of the counterinsurgency towards large-scale enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, coupled with mass cremations to dispose of the bodies.

“This report should serve as a wake-up call to the Indian government that its security policies and practices violate the fundamental rights of its citizens,” said Jasmine Marwaha, co-author and Program Associate at Ensaaf. “Given the empirical findings suggesting systematic abuses in Punjab, the government can no longer deny the facts while using the rhetoric of national security. The public is now equipped to challenge the government’s false narrative, and demand the vindication of survivors’ rights to truth, justice, and reparations.”

The strong correlation found between lethal human rights violations and overall lethal violence across time and space supports the conclusion that enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were part of a specific plan or widespread practice used by security forces during the counterinsurgency.

The Ensaaf/HRDAG report is the most comprehensive, quantitative analysis to date of available data on human rights violations during the Punjab counterinsurgency. The analysis reviewed data from the local English-language newspaper, the Tribune, cremation ground records from the late human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra, acknowledged cremations by the Indian National Human Rights Commission, and reported lethal human rights violations provided by the Committee for the Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab and the People’s Commission on Human Rights Violations in Punjab. The observed correlations between reported human rights violations, reported deaths of alleged militants, and reported secret “illegal cremations” shed further doubt on the government’s official accounts of lethal violence in Punjab and its justification for such a disproportionate use of force.

Additional data and analysis will allow for clarification of the total magnitude and patterns of violence throughout Punjab, broadening the discussion about the impact of counterinsurgency strategies on human rights. Scientifically defensible analysis of political violence can help enable honest public dialogue and support an historically accurate narrative of the counterinsurgency in Punjab, and initiatives for justice. This effort is part of joint work by Ensaaf and HRDAG to introduce new evidence available to truth, justice, and accountability processes that are focused on political violence during the Punjab counterinsurgency.