Sultan M Hali
THE footage of a Kashmiri male strapped to the bonnet of an Indian Army jeep triggered a controversy last month. Human rights activist declared the act as cowardly stating that the Kashmiri was subjected to inhuman treatment. While following an inquiry, India’s Army Chief General Bipin Rawat praised the perpetrator of the act Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi and nominated him for Commendation for bravery. The incident which has invoked strong reactions and divided public opinion is worth looking into. During the Srinagar by polls on April 9, violence broke out in the bordering district of Budgam in IOK. Mobs were reportedly pelting stones in and around polling booths. Shortly after, a video surfaced on social media showing a man tied to the bonnet of an army jeep. A placard tied to his chest declared him a stone pelter. He was paraded through several villages where the drivers of the vehicle proclaimed that other stone pelters would meet a similar fate.
After the video went viral, the ‘victim’ – identified as shawl weaver Farooq Dar – denied that he was a stone pelter and claimed to be an innocent citizen who had turned up to vote despite the ongoing unrest. The army officer involved, Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, defended his actions and said that Dar was used as a human shield to “save more lives” by dissuading stone pelters. Amid furore over what critics claimed was a human rights violation, the Army ordered a probe by a Court of Inquiry on April 20. An FIR was also filed in connection with the incident. Last week, according to the Indian Army, Gogoi had been honoured with a Chief of Army Staff Commendation Card during Army Chief Bipin Rawat’s visit to Srinagar on May 1.
The award, they said, was given “on the spot” for Gogoi’s “sustained efforts in counter-insurgency operations”. The honour, which came amid the ongoing trial in the Army Court of Inquiry over allegations of human rights violations, created another storm. Kashmiri leaders like Omar Abdullah expressed concern that the recognition would lead to the alienation of Kashmiris and fuel hatred against the Indian Army. The man in the centre stage of the whole drama, Farooq Dar said that the accolade was a “murder of justice”, claiming that he was still suffering from post-traumatic stress and has been unable work since his public humiliation. He has filed a complaint with the State Human Rights Commission. Army Chief Bipin Rawat has declared that “no major action” needed to be taken against Gogoi, saying award was given to boost confidence of troops working in tense areas.
The fact is that General Bipin Rawat has set a dangerous precedence in a volatile region, where since 1989; more than a hundred thousand Kashmiris have been martyred, thousands of Kashmiri youth languish in Indian jails and mass graves keep turning up with scores of bullet riddled bodies of young Kashmiris. On July 8, 2016, young and popular Kashmiri leader of the Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen Burhan Wani was slain mercilessly. Since then young Kashmiris have come out in the streets pelting stones on Indian police and army in protest. Law enforcement agencies and Indian army, backed by the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), fire upon the protesters with pellet guns, which have killed 120 Kashmiris while over 3,500 have been blinded in the inhuman carnage.
In such a milieu, the controversial act of Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi of using Farooq Dar as a human shield has sent a wrong message to the Kashmiris. Firstly, apparently the human shield was used not to deter stone pelters but to shield Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi and his company. Other adventurers will be tempted to take the law in their hands and wreak havoc on the hapless Kashmiris, knowing that their commanders, instead of reprimanding them, will probably honour them. International human rights activists, who are ready to take up cudgels for the oppressed at the drop of a hat, are strangely silent on this gross travesty of justice as it supports oppression and abuse. Not only the dignity of Farooq Dar was trampled upon but the Vienna Convention was violated. Human shield is a military and political term describing the deliberate placement of non- combatants in or around combat targets to deter the enemy from attacking these combat targets. It may also refer to the use of persons to literally shield combatants during attacks, by forcing them to march in front of the combatants.
Using this tactic is considered a war crime by nations that are parties to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, and the 1998 Roman Statute in the “Practice Relating to Rule 97. Human Shields”. International Committee of the Red Cross. It is clear that Indian Army is in gross violation of all humanitarian norms and is guilty of a war crime.
General Bipin Rawat is trying to justify his act by stating that Indian Army was facing a “dirty war” in Jammu and Kashmir and it has to be fought by “innovative” means is talking through his hat. Instead of diffusing the situation, Bipin’s goons have slain Burhan Wani’s brother Sabzar Ahmad Bhat along with seven of his compatriots, leading to a massive wave of protests in the valley. The sooner India realizes that it cannot suppress the genuine freedom movement in IOK with brute force, the sooner there will be peace in the region.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.