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The Internal Strife: Civil Hostility Towards Armed Forces and the Vicious Cycle of Violence

Guest Opinion

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February 2018, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir announced that 9760 FIRs against stone pelters would be withdrawn in Kashmir for “first time offenders”, whereas Armed Forces personnel would be arrested if they took retaliatory action to defend themselves.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.