In a recent article in The Wire, Partha Chaterjee had referred to the use of human shield in Kashmir, and its justification by the military and political establishment as Kashmir’s General Dyer moment. Vivek Katju has launched a spirited counter-attack to this claim of Partha Chaterjee. Katju states that, “It is one matter for an army to handle the breakdown of law and order for a short period as the colonial army of which Dyer was a part was asked to do; it is an entirely different proposition when an army has to combat a vicious and long war against terrorism. The latter, too, requires that an army adheres to norms even while it innovates, but the fact of the toll that fighting such terrorism exacts from an army and for that matter other instruments of the state cannot be overlooked. It is to the Indian army’s credit that its commitment to lawful means has never been diluted.” He further argues, “Rawat’s comments on the Gogoi case reflect the anguish of a chief whose soldiers have faced, and have done so for years, terrorism, and for months now stone pelting mobs who pose a danger to their lives. Is it fair to believe that soldiers caught up in such situations should not take steps to defend themselves? Surely that is not a sustainable position by any criterion.”
Though Partha Chaterjee has responded, restated and justified his position, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight just one simple fact, which is that when it comes to the Kashmir issue and any response to the same, I think we should all shy away from oversimplifying the debates and offering simplistic solutions. Not doubting even for a moment Shri Katju’s expertise on Kashmir, it would be a great help if he could graciously define lawful and unlawful for us. It would also be very enlightening if he could give his views on the nature of these ‘stone pelting mobs’. He has made the entire analysis of Kashmir’s problems a tad too simple I believe. The proposition, according to him, is very simple. It is a black and white case of Indian army having to fight decades of Pakistani sponsored terrorism in Kashmir. The lawful, legal, righteous Indian army and the Indian state trying to fend off the unlawful Pakistani terrorists in the valley. The entire issue, if it was so simple, would have ceased to have existed till now. Seven decades after independence, the Kashmir issue still eludes any workable solution and the people of Kashmir continue to suffer their fate. This, I believe, is the key thread that needs to be held on to tightly if any resolution of this issue is to be even conceived of. And this is the thread that does-not find even a bare minimum cognisance in the mind of Vivek Katju. The ‘stone-pelting mobs’ mentioned by Shri Katju as posing a threat to the lives of the fully armed personnel of the India army, are actually the ordinary citizens of Kashmir, and legitimate Indian citizens. They are normal civilians who want a decent life of dignity for themselves. I am sure Shri Katju is not suggesting that pelting stones in order to be lathi-charged, or hit by pellet guns, or even fatally wounded, is a favourite pastime of these people.
Whereas, the Indian army is definitely in an unenviable position having to manage insurgencies, which in ordinary situations, it is not trained for, because it is not their mandate, however, the extra-ordinary situation in Kashmir, since decades, has mandated them to perform this role. However, in carrying out that responsibility, basic human rights of civilians cannot be discounted for. The whole idea of using human shields for self-defence, rather than finding favour with the civilian as well as military top brass, should have been treated as one of misjudgement and an aberration not to be repeated again. However, unfortunately, it has taken different proportions altogether. If the army personnel are victims of the political process, much more are the ordinary civilians of Kashmir, who for generations altogether, have been part of a world that is unable to provide those basic minimum standards of a dignified human life. Using these very people, who are themselves victims of the situation, as instruments for self-protection, in whatsoever scenario, cannot be justified.
The Kashmiris will not be able to consider themselves as inalienable parts of India, if they are not meted out the treatment that every Indian citizen deserves. Forcing them to compromise on their basic human rights and then justifying the same is definitely not a step forward towards winning their confidence and trying to normalize the situation.
Nivedita Dwivedi has done MA in Elementary Education from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.