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

A Preliminary Quantitative Analysis

Report Summary

January 26, 2009

This report analyzes reported fatal violence across Punjab during a period of conflict from 1984 to 1995. This preliminary, descriptive statistical analysis by Ensaaf and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) at Benetech uses systematic and verifiable quantitative research to interrogate the Indian government's portrayal of the Punjab counterinsurgency as a successful campaign with isolated human rights violations. Our empirical findings indicate that the intensification of coordinated counterinsurgency operations in the early 1990s was accompanied by a shift in state violence from targeted enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions to large-scale lethal human rights violations, accompanied by mass "illegal cremations."

"With the methodological reliability of the compilation and analysis of events data, it becomes easier for all involved... to see how they become socially responsible when the rule of law is suspended ....For being a step in this direction, this study is seminal."

Ram Narayan Kumar, South Asia Forum for Human Rights

As part of government counterinsurgency operations from 1984 to 1995, Indian security forces disappeared and extrajudicially executed Sikh militants as well as individuals who had no known connection to the militancy. Special counterinsurgency laws facilitated human rights violations and shielded perpetrators from accountability. The government of India dismisses claims that enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions were widespread and systematic, asserting instead that human rights violations were unavoidable "aberrations" in the war on terrorism. A former Director General of Punjab Police has repeatedly claimed that he led the "most humane counterinsurgency operation in the annals of history."

To date, this report is the most comprehensive quantitative analysis of available data on human rights violations during the Punjab counterinsurgency. This analysis brings together six data sets comprising more than 21,000 records. The report draws on documentation from the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) and its subcommissions, the People's Commission on Human Rights Violations in Punjab (PCHR), and the Committee for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP). The authors further examined reports from the Tribune newspaper in Punjab from 1988 to 1995, and recovered logbooks from six municipal cremation grounds. This documentation collectively identifies and documents 2,059 "illegal cremations" acknowledged by the NHRC, approximately 2,196 victims of reported enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions documented by CCDP and PCHR, 17,582 victims of lethal violence reported by the Tribune, and 1,484 records from municipal cremation grounds.

Human rights groups have collected extensive qualitative evidence that provide detailed descriptions and analyses of the type and range of abuses committed by Indian security forces and the corresponding impunity that persists in Punjab. Until now, however, human rights groups have lacked the capacity to conduct quantitative research to record the level of human casualties and enforced disappearances from the Punjab counterinsurgency period.

By using quantitative methods, this report demonstrates the implausibility of lethal human rights violations being "random" or "minor aberrations" as claimed by Indian officials. Specifically, the report notes that:

♦ The available data sources, each collected through substantially different social, political, and legal processes, are generally consistent in noting that enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Punjab were overwhelmingly concentrated in the early 1990s when the government intensified its counterinsurgency operations against alleged Sikh militants. The strong correlation between reported lethal human rights violations and overall reported lethal violence across time is inconsistent with official claims that human rights violations were random or minor aberrations.

♦ The data collected by the local Tribune newspaper and the CCDP show that reported enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and encounter killings shifted from being almost exclusively concentrated in Amritsar district to being dispersed throughout almost all districts of the state of Punjab after 1992. This dispersal suggests that human rights violations were not random acts of violence but rather part of a specific plan or set of widespread practices used by security forces during the counterinsurgency.

♦  The information reported by the Tribune shows that few security officials were reported to have been killed during "encounters" and that instead these incidents, on average, involved a lone killing of an alleged "militant" or a "civilian," consistent with qualitative findings that reported encounters were often faked. The observed correlation between reported lethal human rights violations and reported militant encounter deaths is also consistent with the phenomena of "fake encounters."

♦  As state violence increased substantially after the beginning of Operation Rakshak II in November 1991, notably fewer bodies of the disappeared and extrajudicially executed were recovered by the next of kin compared with the period prior to 1991. In the period after 1991, the NHRC data also acknowledges a notable increase in mass "illegal cremations." This correlation suggests that these two phenomena are driven by a shift in state violence towards large-scale lethal human rights violations coupled with mass cremations.

♦  The strong, positive correlation between the reported acts of lethal violence and "illegal cremations" acknowledged by the NHRC is inconsistent with official claims that that these reported disappeared persons are not dead but instead immigrated abroad.

♦  Age-sex data on reported victims of enforced disappearances, collected by the PCHR, CCDP, and NHRC, are consistent with the hypothesis that these violations were overwhelmingly targeted against young Sikh males between the ages of 18 and 45 whom security forces alleged were members of the militant movement.

Future analyses, which draw on multiple data sources and inferential statistical methods, will allow for clarification of the total magnitude and patterns of violence throughout Punjab.

Future analyses, which draw on multiple data sources and inferential statistical methods, 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 dialogue to improve public understanding of the counterinsurgency in Punjab. By triangulating independent data sources and employing reproducible scientific methods, questions about the magnitude, pattern, and responsibility associated with lethal violations connected to the Punjab counterinsurgency can be engaged transparently. The answers to these questions will ultimately strengthen truth, justice, and institutional reform processes.