Kashmir video war strips Indian Army’s secular credentials

Pity that three years under Narendra Modi government has politicised the armed forces into ‘left’ and ‘right’ camps.

 |  Angiography  |  11-minute read |   17-04-2017
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The spate of cameraphone-captured videos coming out of conflict-torn Kashmir has caused a national slinging match over who’s holier than whom, and justifiably, social media has been flooded with reactions from all quarters.

While the video showing 27-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dar tied to an Indian Army jeep and paraded across 10-12 villages in Kashmir Valley, first tweeted out by former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah, has made international headlines, some of the most caustic repercussions have been in how military veterans and serving/retired officers have reacted to the incident, and some others, coming to fore.

Farooq Ahmad Dar was used as a human shield by some misguided officer serving in the Indian Army, and the act, which is patently illegal, is under probe. Ironically, Dar was among the handful of those who actually went out and voted, despite the call to boycott the elections, and to grave danger to their life and limb.

That Dar would be used by the Army as a human shield is, therefore, doubly ironical and extremely disparaging for those who want Indian democracy championed in Kashmir. However, righteous officers, serving and retired, of the Army, have indeed called this out and condemned the incident in no uncertain terms.

Veterans such as Lt-Gen HS Panag, a 1971 decorated war hero and a former Northern Army Commander, minced no words when he tweeted:

Others, such as Major General (Retd) Siddharth Chatterjee, lawyer Sherbir Panag also added their unequivocal criticism of the shameful incident.

Yet, Lt Gen Panag was abused massively for saying the obvious, turning the past weekend into a gladiatorial war between those who lauded the war veteran for his courageous stand, to those who ridiculed him and questioned his patriotism.

Some of the prominent national security editors lamented the fact that they have seen the vilest of abuses direct against those who dedicated their lives to serve the Indian Army and did so impeccably.

Some even saw a pattern on the Kashmir script, deviations from which are not tolerated.

The other side

However, there were quite a few within the Indian Army who represented the polar opposite, saying tying up Farooq Ahmad Dar to the Army jeep was justified.

Such sentiments were echoed by a host of journalists who called Farooq Ahmad Dar a “stone-pelter” and others with overtly rightwing and militaristic/national security approaches to the Kashmir conundrum.

Though the attempt was to paint Farooq Ahmad Dar as a “stone-pelter” who was picked up from the lot, a number of reports, and Dar’s own interviews since he was released, conclude the diametrically opposite reality. According to this report, this is what happened: “The Rashtriya Rifles officer’s purported version of events also fails to square with the account Dar’s brother Ghulam Qadir related to Qadir said that the Army patrol was attacked by stone-pelters in Utligam village as the election was underway. The personnel then intercepted Dar, who was riding a motorcycle to Gampora village along with his brother to attend a condolence meeting at their sister’s house.

The soldiers, Qadir said, insisted that Dar was a stone pelter. “We told them we were riding a bike [and asked] how could we pelt stones at the same time,” Qadir said.

The security personnel frisked both brothers and allowed Qadir to go after he showed his government service card. But Dar was beaten up and tied to the army vehicle, Qadir said. The army personnel, Qadir alleged, injured Dar’s left arm besides damaging the motorbike and seizing his mobile phone.

Dar’s relatives said that women from Utligam had gathered to seek his release. However, the Army men did not relent. Qadir said that Dar was paraded in at least seven villages during the day.

The incident angered bystanders. Aijaz Ahmad, a shopkeeper, said the Army aimed to “terrorise the people” by using Dar as a human shield. “The army patrol, being attacked with stones in Utligam, were angry and frustrated,” he said. “They did this thinking we would not pelt stones at them.”

Similarly, a spot report from Chill-Brass, where this happened, in the New York Times, has equally disparaging things to say.

Dar, who spoke to Indian reporters on Friday, said in an interview that he was detained by an army unit on April 9, on his way to a relative’s funeral, and then beaten with sticks and guns. He said he was then tied to the jeep’s bumper and driven around at least nine villages, where local people were astonished at the sight of him.

“When they saw me, they were afraid and angry,” he said. “I saw people breaking into tears on seeing my state.”

Dar said he had never supported the separatists, and had steadfastly voted in elections even when separatists called for a boycott. He said the experience had left him traumatized.

“My family wants me to see a doctor, but I am afraid of stepping out of our house,” he said. “When it’s evening, I see them in my thoughts, coming again to take me away. Again, they strap me to the jeep and make the rounds of the villages.”

Dar, who comes from an area of Kashmir that historically has not been especially supportive of the militancy, said he would no longer express his support for India’s government by participating in elections.

“I voted, and this is what I got in return,” he said. “Do you think it will help India in Kashmir? No. It will give Kashmiris another reason to hate India.”

Ever since the Army chief Bipin Rawat said that stone-pelters in Kashmir would be treated as “overground workers” of terrorists and militants, in the wake of the spiral of violence and protests since Hizbul commander Burhan Wani’s death, the political jingoism and harshness of military reaction have sky-rocketed.

Moreover, the application of what has been called the "Doval doctrine" in the Kashmir valley during the three years of the current regime under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has resulted in extreme disaffection among the locals, who feel all the more oppressed and distanced from the Indian Union.

This was evidenced not only in the exponential increase in protests and civic disobedience via stone-pelting (though faced with automatic rifles and other weapons), but also in the rejection of the just held by-polls in Srinagar and Budgam, that registered extremely low turnouts.

Lt Gen Panag has now decided to write about the subject of “J&K and human shields”, and publicly tweet about it.

But what he, despite having served the Indian Army with such distinction, faced online for standing up to institutional brutalisation of ordinary Kashmiris and disavowing their political struggle to be heard is telling. It means that the “soldier” is just a prop and a puppet in this theatre of jingoism, who is not allowed to speak truth to power, and be blind to his own military’s terrible, well-documented excesses.

Such a shame.

Also read: On Kashmir: I felt like an 'anti national' speaking for Jewish rights in Hitler's Germany


Angshukanta Chakraborty Angshukanta Chakraborty @angshukanta

Former assistant editor, DailyO

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