Ever since the beginning of time, the functions of the military have been kept separate from the civilian actions in the Indian subcontinent. Wars were fought between contending units of the military, while civilians were almost always left unhurt.
As the legend goes, prior to the 18-day war of Mahabharat, protocols of warfare were laid down for the partakers to follow. Every warrior across the ranks was expected to follow the rules and laws of ‘Dharma’(righteousness). The history of military professionalism, war ethics, and human rights that have existed since the beginning of Indian civilization are well reflected in such tales and treatises passed down to posterity by word of mouth. Ancient Shastras mention war ethics and the rights of soldiers and civilians. In ancient India, battlefields were located away from villages, towns, agricultural lands and forests, so that innocent civilians and animals were not harmed by war. The women and children captured during the notable military engagement between Humayun and Sher Shah Suri received warm hospitality from the Afghan ruler and were later returned safely to Mughal haraman. Akbar’s feud with Adham Khan due to the latter’s war crimes is a recurrently narrated episode. However, while we cannot deny that on a broader basis war ethics and military professionalism existed in our land, it is also true that history is never without exceptions.
Even in the postmodern era, the Indian army and police forces are shouldering the age-old tradition of war ethics and morality. Time and again the professionalism and goodwill of the Indian security personnels has been lauded by the international community, whether during the Korean crisis or in UN Peace-keeping missions. Despite garnering appreciation from people across the globe, Indian Security personnels have had to face the wrath of their fellow countrymen every so often.
On 2nd February 2018, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir announced that 9760 FIRs against stone pelters would be withdrawn in Kashmir for “first time offenders”, whereas Armed Forces personnel would be arrested if they took retaliatory action to defend themselves. The state government’s sympathy towards the stone pelters has often been countered by citing examples of a long history of exploitation by the armed forces. Justifying present violence by past cases of violence will do little to end the seemingly never-ending cycle of violence.
Image Credits: Media India Group
A growing sympathy towards the Kashmiri youth has captured the mainstream media which seems to have turned a blind eye towards casualties on the other side. For example, the death of 22-year-old Sepoy Rajendra Singh in October of 2017, who succumbed to a head injury in an incident of stone pelting in Anantnag district of South Kashmir. Many of these stone pelters are hired by separatist groups and militants to pelt stones at JK police personnel, army Jawans, MLAs, and government vehicles.. However, besides the stone pelters, militants, and the armed forces, there exists a third group of passive Kashmiris who face the dire consequences of these skirmishes.
“There is a pall of gloom at the house of teenager Amir Fayaz Waza. All of 15, the student of class 10 was in the vicinity of the Budgam encounter, when a stray bullet from the gunfight between security forces and militants hit him. Waza later succumbed to the bullet wound and was buried a few metres away from his home.”
Nonetheless, it is important to filter out action driven by vested motives from mass agitation
If the stone pelting is a result of long drawn resentment of the Kashmiri population then it is the responsibility of the central and state governments to pacify the Kashmiris by attending to their grievances and not by resorting to brutal suppression by the state police and the army. The tug – of – war between the Kashmiris and the armed forces has diluted the issue around the fate of Kashmir which falls under the purview of the political administration. Stone pelting is doing more harm than good as it deprives the Kashmiris from being listened to. Every time the issue of Kashmir is raised, it remains limited to prolonged debates on news channels which begin with police brutality and end at cases of stone pelting.
If the civilians continue to antagonise the forces and the forces continue to assault men and women of Kashmir, by no means will the vicious cycle of violence end.
“The protests and the cycle of violence of is turning out to be a lose-lose situation. Forces come out for anti-terror operations and get surrounded by angry civilians who pelt stones leading to casualties on both sides. MHA data shows 3,335 injuries to its personnel as a result of stone pelting in the last three years. And, over the last two years, there have been 18 incidents of stone pelting recorded. Zulfikar Hassan, the Inspector General of Operations, CRPF, says “We have a difficult task at hand. To eliminate a terrorist while dealing with hostile civilians.””
The Curious Cases of Central Armed Police Forces
The recent case of Sitalkuchi has turned the tables for Trinamool Congress in the West Bengal elections, giving it leeway to aggressively denounce the Central forces as the private machinery of the party at the Centre. Allegations and counter allegations around the deaths of four civilians who were allegedly shot by CRPF Jawans on the polling day became the talking point of the election campaigns for 2021 elections in Bengal . While the chairperson of the ruling party has been sighted provoking the civilians to gherao the forces, the leaders of the anti-incumbency party have defended the CRPF Jawans going on record to say that a greater number of such ‘anti- social elements’ can be shot, if needed. Amidst the debates and discussions around the Sitalkuchi incident, an important point that most seem to have missed is that the CRPF Jawans were stationed by the Election Commission around the polling booth to protect the people. It is imperative to evaluate what made the Central Force charge against the people they were responsible for protecting. One needs to dig deeper to understand the causes behind the unfortunate happening instead of taking sides.
Image Credits: thefederal/yahoo/theindianwire
The politicisation of security forces has birthed a gap between the armed forces and the plebeians whereby a lack of trust leads to loss of lives on both sides. In recent times, party politics have increasingly embodied the denunciation of the defence and security mechanisms as mere puppets of the government. It comes as no surprise that the forces which are responsible for the protection of people are in turn lynched by them.
On 22 June 2017, DSP Muhammad Ayub was mob lynched outside Srinagar's main mosque.
On 10 April 2021, SHO Ashwin Kumar was lynched by a hostile crowd during a raid in Uttar Dinajpur, West Bengal.
Added to this are perilous working conditions and increased stress due to protracted exposure to Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorism environment. Approximately 1110 soldiers, airmen and sailors took their lives between 2010 and 2019 according to the Frontline article, “At war with the self: Indian armed forces register alarming suicide trend”. The Defence Ministry compiled data of a course of survey between 1st of Jan, 2014 and 31st of March, 2017, revealing that a person on duty either from the Army, Navy, or the Air Force committed suicide every three days. The trend is no different among CAPF personnel.
According to a study published by Col. RC Dixit, a research scholar at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, the troops trained in conventional warfare experience significant stress in low-intensity conflict operations. In such operations, security forces end up fighting an elusive enemy and have to face the resentment of the local population. A soldier is motivated by his sense of honour and duty towards his nation but is disheartened by the negligence and distrust of the civilians. Social apathy leads to frustration and stress. The combat exposure, trauma such as flashbacks of combat killings, death of fellow comrades, memories of unintentional slaying of innocent people and ready access to weaponaries can be lethal to anyone mulling suicide. Given these facts, simple math indicates that Indian government is losing crores of rupees to the deaths of soldiers and police due to civil hostility and poor working conditions.
Added to the increased stress, there has been increased apathy and feeling of resentment within the military and the police towards the mass. The article “Why Naxals continue to hold out in Chhattisgarh” published by the Indian Express has underlined the baseline trust deficit between the security personals and people of the Naxal occupied villages in Chhattisgarh, crediting it as one of the causes for the failure of anti-Naxal insurgencies executed within the state. It states that the ‘demography’ rather than the ‘topography’ hampers the police, as every family has a member in the Maoist regime and newer generations are raised to believe Maoists as the true government. Distrust of the people in the government often rolls down to the armed forces whereby the civilians aid the Naxals in routing the army personnel. “Every allegation of brutality in Bastar causes further alienation.” says the District Collector of one of the districts. Every Maoist attack on the army is followed by offensives on the villagers which further deepens the crevice of distrust.
What can be done?
It is imperative to understand that the people admitted in the military and police services are prone to emotional stress. Mob lynching of armed personnel due to political instigation is problematic because these officers operate as per a hierarchy of orders oblivious to political agendas. For cases like Sitalkurchi, the Republic Day skirmish between the police and the protestors of Farm Bill, and stone pelting incidents in Kashmir, acknowledging the fact that the security forces were appointed by the administration and were following orders would enable critics to recognize police retaliation in cases of lynching as purely reflexive rooted in self-protection. Critical analysis of such spontaneous actions may prevent their politicization.
Inculcating the feeling of fraternity among the civilians and the armed forces will ease the sense of alienation between the two sides. It is important for the public to view the armed personnel as fellow citizens and sympathize with them. At the same time, it is required that the armed forces help bridge this gap. Infamous cases of hostility towards innocent civilians for instance the alleged mass rape of women in Kunan Poshpora, police brutality in Jamia Milia Islamia add to the existing tension and leave things worse.
“In Jammu & Kashmir specifically, the manifestation of violence ranges from rape to torture and everything else in between. For example, 27 years have passed since the mass rape in the twin hamlets of Kunan and Poshpora in Kupwara district by a battalion of the 4th Rajputana Rifles of the 68th Brigade during a cordon and search operation, on the intervening night of February23-24, 1991. In the beginning, no one was even willing to address, let alone investigate, such a serious allegation. The Army rejected the charges outright and described the demands for investigation akin to flogging a dead horse. The matter is now in the Supreme Court”.
It is important for the uniformed men to maintain moral ethics and be a pillar of strength to the civilians.
Reforms in the law-and-order system must be formulated with zero intolerance towards mob violence and mass arrest of the crowd. The armed forces too must take responsibility for their soldiers’ misdemeanour and those accused of violence should be taken to task rather than being provided with organizational immunity. This will help identify the disruptive elements from both the sides and eliminate them, thus restoring trust between the two. The administration holds a very important role in bridging this gap. Party politics should not be woven around counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations, and military achievements should be kept out of election manifestos. Hyper glorification also disturbs the decorum within the regimes, putting the police and the army in an uncomfortable position. For example, the India-wide call for a war after the Pulwama attack. It is only through political will that the mutual trust and respect between civilians and armed forces could be restored. Media through it’s wide – reaching platform must aim to present an objective and overarching picture of such scuffles rather than picking sides and distorting the story as suited to their interest.
Ashok Kampte, Vijay Salaskar, Shashank Shinde, Tukaram G. Omble, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan are names that continue to revoke gratitude and respect in the hearts of every Indian citizen. Thirteen years ago, on the eve of 26th November the nation had united as one, and had grieved together at the loss of fellow brothers, uniformed and non – uniformed alike. It is at such moments that all divides cease to exist and fraternity and unity overpower all. It is in these moments that one realises what binds a group of diverse people who happen to be sharing a politically marked territory, that is, the shared history of struggles and socio-cultural experiences. The only identity that then manifests is of being an Indian and all internal strife disappears.
Dhrubo Choudhury and Peeyash Das (Guest Writers)
Dhrubo is an Economics student at Patna University. A netizen of Bihar, he has done his schooling from DAV, Patna. Dhrubo was the Senior Under Officer in Senior Division Army Wing NCC and has received commendation for rifle shooting in Combined Annual Training Camp. Global geo - politics and welfare and behavioral economics are some of his areas of interest. He enjoys reading and listening Indian classical music. With three years of voluntary service experience in NCC , Dhrubo now aspires to serve in the Indian military.
Peeyash is a student of Sociology in Presidency University, Kolkata. Brought up in Patna she is currently residing with her family in Kolkata. She did her schooling from Notre Dame Academy, Patna. Socio-economic issues, gender equality, and climate conversation are fields in which she is looking forward to bringing positive changes. She holds a diploma in fine arts from Pracheen Kala Kendra. In leisure time if not painting, you will find her reading novels or writing for her blog.
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