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Opinion

June 3, 2017

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India’s forgotten honour

India’s forgotten honour

Fifth column

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, in a tweet this past Monday,described the current Indian army chief General Bipin Rawat’s leadership as “criminal”.

This condemnation was long overdue for a man who believes war crimes to be innovative solutions and shamelessly takes pride in flouting the norms that usually distinguish professional soldiers from hardened criminals who deliberately cultivate a reputation of dread to operate in compliant settings.

General Rawat earned this acknowledgement after he consistently and publicly defended one of his soldiers – Major Leetul Gogoi – who had abducted a Kashmiri civilian and then tied him to his military vehicle as a human shield in an ordeal that lasted several hours.

Rawat, instead of showing any remorse for his men taking civilians as hostages, contravened every convention and honoured the major for his “distinguished services”, disregarding the inquiry that was still ongoing. As the military honour for Major Gogoi snowballed into a major controversy, the general remained defiant, justifying and endorsing the treatment meted out to Kashmiri citizens.

Three weeks after awarding Major Gogoi, Rawat made a vulgar display of partisanship and a clear breach of military court confidentiality in an interview with the Economic Times, a leading Indian daily, as he revealed his felonious frame of mind: “The present court of inquiry will come to its conclusion but what I have learnt is that he has not committed an offence that will necessitate disciplinary action. On the face of it, even if he is found guilty of some lapse, no major action will be taken against him. I find no reason for [a] major action to be taken against him”.

Bipin Rawat remains far from satisfied with the storm his men on the ground or his commendations and public benevolence for their criminal behaviour have provoked. Earlier this week, in an interview with the Indian news agency PTI, he stoutly defended the Indian Army’s use of Kashmiris as human shields, describing it as an “innovative way” to fight a “dirty war”. While demanding a “free hand” for the army to clampdown on protesters, he wished that the Kashmiris were armed to allow and justify the disproportionate response of the army. General Rawat stated: “I wish these people, instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I want to do”.

In a panache that is associated more with the Mafiosi, he argued the citizens must fear the army: “Adversaries must be afraid of you and, at the same time, your people must be afraid of you…When we are called to restore law and order, people have to be afraid of us”.

On December 31, 2016, when General Rawat was elevated to the post of army chief, the Indian government claimed “he was best suited to deal with emerging challenges including…continuing terror and proxy war” – an official Indian characterisation of the pro-freedom public protests in Jammu and Kashmir. The official notification also credited Rawat for handling “various operational responsibilities in many areas, including along the Line of Control with Pakistan”.

Barely six weeks into his job, Rawat issued a blanket threat to the people of Kashmir in mid-February, warning them of serious consequences for supporting the pro-freedom resistance fighters. He even declared that waving Pakistani flags was an act of terrorism that worthy of ‘tough action’. This was a threat that Kashmiris understood was an open call for their murder – something the Indian Army has been indulging in too frequently for a long time, but never publicly acknowledged.

Rawat stated that: “The manner in which the local population is preventing us from conducting the operations, at times even supporting the terrorists to escape, it is these factors which are leading to higher casualties among the security forces. We would now request the local population…local boys if they want to continue with the acts of terrorism, displaying flags of [the] IS and Pakistan, then we will treat them as anti-national elements and go helter-skelter for them…If they don’t relent, and create hurdles, then we will take tough action”.

While these threats failed to cower down Kashmiris who are continuously challenging the Indian might, the warning did point towards a deliberate strategy of state-enacted violence against Kashmiri civilians and its public endorsement. As a result, Kashmiris continue to die at the hands of the Indian Army and paramilitary forces on almost a daily basis.

Rawat’s behaviour as a soldier remains mired in dishonourable controversies – from Congo, where he served in a UN peace mission, to Kashmir, where he spent several years of his service. His distinctions include alleged misdemeanours while serving in the UN to deliberately violating ceasefire conventions along the Line of Control, provoking deaths on both sides, openly threatening and abusing civilians and taking psychopathic pride in his own transgressions. Perhaps, these were the qualities that endeared him to the current Indian political dispensation and resulted in him being elevated to the post of the army chief, superseding two of his seniors – a practice very rare within the Indian army.

Postscript: A couple of days before General Rawat demanded a free hand for his army to quell protesters, the Indian Army claimed that it had killed two militants in Uri who were believed to be part of a Border Action Team from Pakistan. It turned out they were elderly citizens, hitherto unknown, who were kidnapped and killed in cold blood. The locals claimed the slain were in their 60s or 70s. This was also supported by the photographs of their cadavers. Perhaps this forms part of the army chief’s renewed efforts to sow the fear of his men among Kashmiris.

Appendage: Commenting on Bipin Rawat’s behaviour and public posturing, Colonel Alok Asthana, a retired officer of the Indian Army, in a newspaper article wrote: “Honour is essential to a professional army. But the top brass in Indian defence, at both the military and the ministry level, seem to have forgotten that”.

 

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

 

 

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