By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
16 June 2017
As if almost wishing that stones be replaced with guns, the army Chief Bipin Rawat told us that he would have been happier if the protestors were armed with weapons. What he meant to say was that if that was the case, the army would have been free to use guns against the protestors and kill scores of them. It was really disappointing for him that the protestors in the valley were only content with throwing stones and that too from a distance. This is the same army chief who had patted the back of Major Gogoi, who, in tying a man to the bonnet of an army jeep, was hailed as a hero by the media. Through this clever thinking, commentators told us that he saved scores of lives. No wonder then that he was singled out for a special award from the army and the government.
Both general Rawat and major Gogoi are wrong. In speaking the language of retribution, general Rawat loses all semblance of being the chief of a well-disciplined army which follows the rule of law. The equanimity with the militants which general Rawat seems to be alluding to only gives fodder to those who carry out the propaganda that the Indian army is an army of occupation and that it has an appalling history of human rights violations in the valley. Rather than projecting the army as above partisan politics and upholding the rule of law, its chief is speaking in a language which is full of diatribe against the very same people whom the Indian state claims that they are part and parcel of the Indian nation. It is no wonder that the Human Rights Watch denounced the statements of general Rawat and accused the Indian army of having a ‘criminal leadership’.
Major Gogoi, who tied Farooq Ahmad Dar to the bonnet of his army vehicle and used him as a human shield against stone-pelters justified his act by saying that in doing so, he was able to save lives of tens of people who would have died in case the army opened fired. This is a useless excuse and it should not come from someone in the army. Again, the very same people who the Indian state claims as citizens are transformed into a human shield to save the army from its own people. Granted that Indian army and its personnel are in a difficult situation. Granted that they are facing an insurgency which is popularly vicious. But the army must follow some decorum which differentiates it from a militia. There are very few places in the world where such brutal tactic has been used against civilians and Indian army should not be proud to join their ranks. A professional force must be above scrutiny.
Major Gogoi has not only belittled himself but also the Indian army. Through his act, he has destroyed the credibility of the Indian army in the world. But the greatest impact of his nervousness will be felt in the valley. He has, in an instant, cementing the picturing of Indian army as an occupying force. Farooq Dar, a weaver, was not amongst the stone pelters. He was there to exercise his right to vote. In an atmosphere of political alienation where voting percentages have fell to all time low of 7% in the valley, he should have normally been proclaimed as a hero by the Indian state to have the courage to come out and vote despite the boycott call of the militants. Instead, he is tied to a jeep, and paraded as a human shield, in front of his own people. In an instant, major Gogoi obliterated the distinction between boycotters and integrators. His action is proof enough that even those who stand with the Indian state, can be treated like an enemy as if he/she is nothing, not even a human being. This one image of Dar being tied to the bonnet has the potential to send the entire valley in deep political alienation. Major Gogoi is singularly responsible for deepening this alienation.
But what is more intriguing was the reactions to this incident in the Indian media. While a majority of channels and the even the print media decided en masse to support major Gogoi, there were some who were mildly critical of major Gogoi and his handling of the situation. While the section of the media which supported major Gogoi was doing so for obvious ideological reasons having thrown to the wind the cautious journalistic ideal of speaking truth to power, those who were mildly critical of major Gogoi’s action were the more interesting of the two. This later section of the media portrayed the entire incident as an exception rather than a rule and that in doing so this major had erred and deviated from the norm followed by the Indian army. ...
This was a spin intended to balm the enraged feelings of the liberals but at the same time the narrative escaped any critical scrutiny of the problem. As the Kashmiri press was quick to point out, this was hardly the first incident of the kind. The tactic of using human shields has existed since the 1990s when the largely secular movement in Kashmir turned increasingly Islamic and militant.
The use of human shields during encounters has been used systematically by the Indian army in the valley. This has included using friends and blood relatives like sisters as human shields during an encounter. It is of course true that such tactics has also been used by the militants at times. But then there is a difference between the militants and the army and that distinction should be maintained in terms of ethics and codes of assault during conflict situation. Worldwide using a human shield in conflict areas is understood as barbaric and yet not only India is using this as an acceptable tactic but also glorifying it. We certainly are headed for good times!
A www.NewAgeIslam.com columnist, Arshad Alam is a Delhi based social and political commentator.
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