How many men in khaki die defending India every day?
Major killed, Col injured in encounter with LeT in PoonchIt’s now considered fashionable and politically correct to berate the security forces and accuse them of violating human rights. The Delhi commentariat, whose ill-informed members are often indistinguishable from jholawallahs with a certain fondness for candles, having run out of abuse to heap on Hindus and organisations that speak up for Hindu rights, has now decided to pour its bile on our men in khaki. Real and imagined instances of alleged ‘encounter killings’ are being recalled, professional human rights activists are being interviewed, separatist leaders are being flown down to Delhi and panel discussions are being organised with the sole purpose of painting the security forces in the bleakest of colours. It would seem suddenly the Army has become a four-letter dirty word and there’s no crime that jawans cannot be held guilty of having committed.
Jammu, July 13: An Army Major was killed and six other personnel including a Colonel injured in Mandhar sector of Poonch in an encounter tonight with Lashkar-e- Tayyeba terrorists. Major Amit Phunge was killed in the operation while Col.Ajay Katoch of 47 Rashtriya Rifles was injured when the terrorists resorted to heavy fire and lobbed grenades, official sources said. The Army team had gone to the spot following information that about 15 Pakistan-based terrorists had sneaked in. The Army cordoned off the area and launched a search operation. The injured included Dinesh Kumar and Satinder Kumar, both Signalmen, Naik Jasbir Singh, Sepoy Samir Kumar and Rifleman Dasharat.
Last Sunday I was invited to a popular television show in which participants were supposed to discuss whether the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 — subsequently amended in 1972 — requires amendments to make the security forces operating under this law accountable for their actions. We need not go into the specifics of who said what — much of it was predictable: The politician from Jammu & Kashmir described the law as “draconian”; the Kashmiri separatist accused the ‘Indian’ Army of “killing Kashmiri children”; the human rights activist said the colour khaki makes boys (she meant militants) see red and hence should be banned; and, the person representing Delhi’s exalted commentariat pompously demanded that “the law must go”. Two retired Generals of the Army and a Brigadier valiantly fought back. As usual, I was in a minority of one.
The point to note was that none of the critics of the Army and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act had a clue about the specifics of the law, nor did anyone offer to validate sweeping allegations of rights violations. Instead, what we heard were bizarre figures being cited and implausible charges being levelled. To be fair, the host repeatedly made it clear that the purpose of the show was not to attack or belittle the Army, but to debate the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. But that served little purpose because the critics were either not interested in this particular issue or they were keen to push their own agenda. In the process, nothing of substance could be discussed and debated.
The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, I ventured to suggest, was not meant to place the Army or the security forces above the law of the land but to empower them to function effectively while dealing with situations that have defied resolution through normal means — intervention by civilian authorities, action by the police and call for calm by the political class. The Army cannot be expected to function in a vacuum and requires to be given autonomy of decision and action, I argued, hence the need for the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
This fetched a volley of furious reactions: The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act gives the Army and security forces the licence to kill; it militates against the spirit of democracy; its provisions fly in the face of rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The Kashmiri separatist thought he was being profound when he said, “The right to life is inalienable, it cannot be violated,” and then went on to allege that “thousands are being killed by the Indian Army”. For a moment I was tempted to point out that having repudiated his allegiance to the Republic of India he had also forfeited the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India. But I desisted from doing so because it would be meaningless trying to engage him in a debate on the provisions of the very Constitution which separatists like him find sufficiently repelling to want to secede from the Union of India.
I had taken with me some notes, which proved to be of no use when the discussion drifted into irrelevant issues and bogus allegations. But some of the details, culled from data sheets hosted on the South Asia Terrorism Portal, need to be placed on record, if only to nail the lies of those who seek to defame the Army and other security forces drafted for counter-insurgency operations. These essentially deal with fatalities suffered by our men in uniform.
For instance, 5,962 security forces personnel have been killed by terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir between 1988 and July 5, 2010. This year alone 45 security forces personnel have died in the State fighting militants. There are other insurgencies being fought by the security forces. Since 1992, as many as 939 officers and jawans have lost their lives in Manipur; 783 in Assam; 81 in Meghalaya and 22 in Mizoram. There’s more: 1,226 security forces personnel have died fighting Maoists between 2005 and 2010; this year, till July 5, we have lost 204 men in uniform to Maoist bullets.
Don't these lives count for anything? Do men who don khaki automatically surrender their right to life guaranteed by the Constitution? Are young men and women who join paramilitary forces and the Army no more than cannon fodder? And, more importantly, what about their human rights? Their right to dignity? Are these meant to be scoffed at? To be spat upon? To be violated with impunity?
The parents of a young Army Captain who went down fighting terrorists in Kashmir Valley earlier this year recounted during the show how their son was not felled by the militants’ bullets, but by a bullet fired from a nearby house. His mother, wiping her tears, said in a firm voice: “I have no more sons. If I had any, I would have sent them to join the Army. Since I have none, I am willing to offer my services.” The Kashmiri separatist slyly retorted, “We have heard thousands of such stories.”
There are two points that merit mention. First, contrary to propaganda, despite the so-called ‘sweeping provisions’ of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the security forces virtually operate in terrorist and insurgent-infested areas with both arms tied behind their backs. Or else the fatalities would not have been so high. That’s commonsense. Second, nobody, least of all the Army, condones wilful violation of human rights. But allegations cannot be deemed to be actionable unless proven to be true. Since 1990, the security forces have faced 1,511 cases of human rights abuse. These were investigated by various agencies, including the National Human Rights Commission, and 1,473 were found to be false. In the remaining cases where culpability was established, 104 men have been punished.
A last point. There’s nothing called a pretty war fought with roses and daisies. Collateral damage is inevitable in counter-insurgency and anti-terrorist operations. It’s an asymmetrical war being fought out there by men who have dedicated their lives to the service of the nation; we must get real and learn to live with the consequences. Stuff happens.
[This appeared as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on July 11, 2010]