The Soldierly Conduct: The Unheard Voices of Military Atrocities

Updated: Apr 4

The chauvinistic grandeur of the military forces has a paradigm of valour, gallantry and chivalry on the face of it, but on the other side, it is tainted by innocent blood and cries. Read to find out more.

Image Credits: Times of India

With the recent development and series of unrest caused in our neighbouring nation, Myanmar, primarily revolving around military atrocities and horrendous carnages, a new series of questions clash with the conduct of the Indian military. Undeniably the Indian Military has served the nation with an altruistic pattern and courage to their brave actions but some incidents do tell us another set of linear odes.

The Armed Forces Special Provisions Act or commonly known as AFSPA has remained central in the military atrocity debate. This act dating back to the year 1958, grants special powers to the Indian Armed Forces to maintain and enforce public order in 'disturbed areas'. Adding as per The Disturbed Areas Acts, 1976 once an area is declared disturbed, the area has to maintain the status quo for a minimum period of 3 months.

In contemporary times the state has witnessed all too many incidents of sexual crimes committed by the very Army on the citizens it swears to protect. Apart from questions like do we have clear nation-building programs, which would involve reviving civil society, resuscitating the shattered economy, providing sources of income, and building social and political structures; a more focus needs to be shifted upon the acts of our forces. Should branches of the state government responsible for women’s issues and humanitarian assistance be pro-active and not dormant? Who is responsible for these excesses, the perpetrators or the government providing the apparatus of graded exploitation?

The Women Torch Bearers or Meira Paibis, in the early 2000s, picked up the issue of military excesses in the North East. They demanded that troops leave the schools and marketplaces, that they stop picking up young boys at will and they open up their penitentiaries and detention centres to the public scrutiny domain. With that another Anti-AFSPA movement came into the pitch limelight, when a Manipuri housewife, Thangjam Manorama, was arrested from her very house, being accused of abetting terrorism. Remember that the charges against her were mere claims and assertions, not proven or consolidated by any evidence. She was tortured, raped and killed in military custody, that her carcass was left by the roadside to rot. This incident sparked outrage among the public domain, with numerous groups of women marching naked to the army base in Imphal, carrying a white banner with the lore ‘Indian Army, Take our Flesh’.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir, with the heavy military presence imposed on its people, has witnessed several such incidents of military atrocities in the past. In December 2020, an Army soldier was arrested for allegedly molesting a woman from Uri. The infamous 30-year-old Kunan Poshpora case gives us another tale of not so chivalrous deeds of our noble forces. Four men of the Rajputana Rifles allegedly raped at least 23 women in Kashmir’s twin villages of Kunan and Poshpora. As per the 2012 report of the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission, the local men of the village were firstly ordered to come out of their homes and were taken too far off locations. Then the army personnel forcefully entered these houses and gang-raped the women. The report explicitly states, 'the personnel gagged the mouths of the victims and committed forced gang rape against their will and consent.’ Adding, the report also mentions that even minor girls ranging as young as eight years weren’t spared by this beastly ravage.

In 2014, as a shock to the Indian government, the regional bench of the state high court comprising Chief Justice M. M. Kumar and Justice Hasnain Masoodi took up the SHRC report and commanded: “the government should explore the possibilities of payment of compensation within three weeks.” The first time the members of the higher judiciary acknowledged that the heinous crime did indeed take place as until then reports of the gang rape had been considered terrorist propaganda. But unfortunately, since then there have been two petitions in the Supreme Court against the high court order – one by the supposedly pro-people state government and another by the Indian army. A stay on the high court’s order has already been achieved, and in contemporary times the case has acquired a backseat in the justice arena, in the 30 years justice is already delayed, already denied. Six victims of the alleged crime have died.

Incidents like these surely do raise enquiries that materialize large on the moral strand of the Indian Army on the democratic republic. Recently the Supreme Court of India in the year 2017 called for a Special Investigating Team to probe three cases connecting alleged fake encounters by the military, including one case with the rape of a thirteen-year-old girl in Manipur. The AFSPA to date remains a bone of contention in the national discourse, with the abuses being cynically ignored by the government.

The conduct of the military and paramilitary personnel in "conflict states" usually remains unchecked which is rather dangerous. With such great power, the authority needs to be kept under a watchful guardian rather than a denying one. The defence of such actions and carnages of the Indian Military the government gives out similar rhetoric that the actions in the disturbed areas cannot be held to the same scrutiny as law-and-order issues in normal states, and must be given leverage to make the split-second decisions that could be life-saving in a larger context. However, the apparent disregard for the constitutionally granted right to life of those in the insurgency-ridden states, the amalgamation of the civilian and the militant, the use of human shields, fake encounters and extra-judicial killings, sexual abuse, rape and murder of women are evident enough to question this rhetoric.

Ironically these excesses rarely make it to the mainstream public domain either because they are covered by our over-the-top national pride which covers our basic sense of humanity and individualism or because of the simple fact that the majority media lines fear to speak up about the mere truth. The national sense of pride and valour veils our basic sense of questioning the alternative stories, pushing us into a realm of delusion or the simple line ‘Desh ke Jawan hamare liye marte hai…Magar marte kisko hai? (Our country’s soldiers die for us… but whom do they kill?)

By Nirmanyu Chouhan

manu_060209@yahoo.com

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