Vietnam War Memories Revived!


(The photograph of human shield and the subsequent award to the perpetrator of human rights violation have put the Army as well as the country in a very poor light!)

A photograph of Farooq Ahmad Dar, a weaver from a village in Badgam Kashmir, tied to the front of an Army jeep and paraded through 30 odd villages during the 9 April Srinagar Parliament by-election had gone viral on the social media including Twitter and Facebook. The photograph was also used by world media extensively. The action evoked widespread rage in Kashmir and was condemned worldwide by human rights groups and others. Alfons Lopez Tena tweeted, “This image will end up being the defining image of the Indian Army, just as the napalm girl was for the Vietnam War”. In a way the image had refreshed the brutalities committed by the American Army on the civilians in the Vietnam War. Major Leetul Gogoi who had tied Dar to the front of the jeep and paraded him sought to justify the act by saying that he did it in order to prevent bloodshed; thereby saving many lives. The finishing touch making the action the cruellest and offensive has been the award to Major Gogoi by the Army Chief for taking this action! The Hindustan Times in editorial states, “It is highly regrettable that Gen. Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Army Staff, has chosen to justify and extol the actions of Maj. Leetul Gogoi, who used a Kashmiri civilian as a human shield against stone-pelters in Budgam on April 9. It is understandable that Gen. Rawat feels a loyalty to his men, and a concern for the morale of his troops. But his defence of Maj. Gogoi achieves neither of those objectives. If anything, it undermines the prestige of the Army, and makes even worse a bad situation in the Valley”. This act has also been criticised by Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of the Human Rights Watch, saying, “Indian Army Chief shows criminal leadership, backing as “innovative” troops’ use of Kashmir man as a human shield”.

The use of humans as a shield in a war is not unknown. It has happened during many wars in the past and in the recent times. In enemy territory, the soldiers do use civilians as shields to prevent sudden attacks from the enemy especially guerrilla fighters. This is especially so when the troops are passing through civilian areas. There are two considerations for such actions. These things usually happen in a war and in enemy territory. In spite of these what may be called urgent tactical considerations from the view point of an army fighting a war, such an act is a grave violation of the basic human rights and is strictly prohibited under the Geneva Convention. Rule 97 of Geneva Convention defines Human Shields and rule 28 of Geneva Convention IV provides “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.” Geneva Convention further states on Human Shields “utilizing the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations” constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts.In Kashmir, all these acts are claimed to be limited terrorist actions and not really full-fledged armed conflict.  Then the Army is being used against own citizens! However, no one uses one’s own citizens in one’s own country as a protective shield no matter how grave the provocation is!

Apart from the Army Chief, the action has not only been condoned but lauded by the politicians and some other important people. Ram Madav, the architect of BJP-PDP Alliance commented on CNN News 18 that “Everything is fair in love and war”! The Defence Minister Arun Jaitly said that “Indian Army officers are free to take decision in war like situation”! The Attorney General, Rohtagi said, “I salute Major Gogoi and will defend him in court”! In contrast to this, some of the top retired Army Officers totally disapproved the action. General H.S.Panag, former Commander of the Northern Command, said that the action will haunt the Indian Army and the Nation for ever. “This image will end up being the defining image of the Indian Army, just like the Napalm girl was for the Vietnam War,” he said referring to the image of the naked child running away from Napalm bombing.

Tying an innocent man in front of a jeep and parading him through 30 villages or so to instil fear among the population is preposterous. As it turns out, the person Dar, a poor weaver, had nothing to do with stone pelting or any protests. In fact, he had come out to vote in an election almost totally boycotted by most of the people! The unfortunate episode has clearly demonstrated that the present ruling elite and some Army officers consider Kashmir as enemy territory and, according to them; there is a “war like situation” here! The Army is supposedly fighting a war against its own people! Such an attitude is not going to improve the situation but worsen it further. However, the only silver lining is that there are saner voices within the country as well as abroad. Let us hope and pray that ultimately the sanity prevails and peace returns to the troubled Paradise!

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir


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