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Indian army and human rights - The Observer

N K Pant ()
March 14, 1998

Title: Indian army and human rights
Author: N K Pant
Publication: The Observer
Date: March 14, 1998

The gory massacre of 26 innocent persons in Kashmir valley by
mercenaries and subsequent firing on a violent mob by the troops
in Kishtwar resulting in loss of 11 civilian lives in January
this year revealed two aspects of gross violation of human rights
by insurgents and security forces alike.

The later incident served to show the two facades of the
uniformed personnel deployed in the insurgency-infested areas the
disciplined and humane face on one hand, and the ruthless (in the
heat of action) at times, on the other. These certainly call for
a thorough study of behavioral pattern of the disciplined men at
arms in different action scenarios in order to devise ways and
means of avoiding such unfortunate recurrences.

Human rights belong to the individual under natural law as a
consequence of his being human. All civilised govermnents must
have faith in fundamental rights, dignity and worth of human
person. But some governments and militant organisations have
violated these noble tenets enshrined in the United Nations'
charter resulting in crimes against the civilian population.

It may be recalled that the Americans slaughtered more than 100
South Vietnamese men, women and children during a 'search and
destroy' mission conducted in My Lai during the Vietnam War. In
the 1991 Gulf War, thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians became
victims of ruthless carnage let loose by the latest US weaponry.

Whereas horrendous crimes against humanity in other parts of the
world are sidelined, stray cases in India hog the newspaper
headlines. The fact is easily forgotten that the country has been
forced to deploy the Indian army and paramilitary forces in
Kashmir due to the proxy war conducted by Pakistan. The ISI and
fundamentalist nexus are also active in the north-eastern states
where militancy has taken a heavy toll of the security personnel
and civilians alike.

Though the Indian army is made up of thorough professionals with
a highly developed sense of duty and discipline even under
intense provocation, unfortunately there have been stray cases
when some personnel have reacted in anger against militants'
sneak attacks The army made no bones about it and admitted that
mistakes did take place in the heat of the battle, though these
were very few and far between. Such incidents are later
investigated and the guilty are punished.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also investigates
cases of human rights violation in the disturbed areas on the
basis of complaints and suo motto action of the Commission.
Significantly, NHRC sources have confirmed that senior officers
of the armed forces had readily complied with the Commission's
summons. They also provided answers to both oral and written
questions in record time.

The NHRC was set up under provisions of the Protection of Human
Rights Act, 1993. The Act empowered the Commission to seek a
report from the central government either on its own or on
receipt of a complaint and make its recommendations against any
kind of human rights violations by the army and the central

Significantly Indian army's response was positive. "Setting up of
a National Human Rights Commission", commented late General and
former chief of the army staff B C Joshi, "is a welcome measure.
We see them as allies in our quest for maintaining a good human
rights record".

Incidentally, even before the NHRC was formally launched General
Joshi had riot only issued "Ten Commandments" on human rights to
the troops engaged in internal security duties for strict
compliance but established a human rights cell in the army
headquarters under the adjutant general's branch. But stray
incidents still took place while the military was trying hard to
project its humane image.

For example, in 1993 the news that Riaz Ahmed, a constable of J&K
Armed Police had died in the army's custody had resulted in
police revolt in the Kashmir Valley. Later, in a significant
step, the NHRC suggested that any person arrested by the army
personnel in disturbed areas under the Armed Forces (Special
Powers) Act, 1958, be sent to the nearest police station without
any delay. Under the Act, specified responsible officers in the
armed forces may in a disturbed area arrest without warrant a
person who has committed a cognisable offence or against whom a
reasonable suspicion exists that he might commit a criminal

In its first meeting on November 1, 1993, the NHRC had taken suo
motto notice of the firing by the BSF on a violent gathering of
people at Bijbehera in the Kashmir Valley. Apart from
disciplinary proceedings against the members of the force under
the BSF Act, chargesheets had been filed against the accused on
the basis of the investigations conducted by the local police.
The BSF has set up a General Forces Security Court which has
powers equivalent to the Sessions Court to decide cases against
the erring BSF personnel.

Nearly 100 BSF personnel have been punished for violation of
human rights while performing anti-insurgency operations in
Kashmir. Yet there have been allegations that the National Human
Rights Commission does not have any mandate to look into the
alleged human rights violations. Simultaneously, the detractors
also allege lack of credibility in the internal procedures
adopted by the forces while inquiring into the various cases and
suggest strong mechanism against the reported atrocities.

In fact, the insurgents have been much bigger sinners in this
regard. More than 15,000 people have been killed by the militants
in Kashmir alone. Civilian property destroyed includes
approximately 10,000 private houses. A few years back, a human
rights activist H N Wanchoo was kidnapped and killed by the
Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists. Abduction and brutal killings of
foreign tourists by Al-Faran group are still fresh in people's

About a dozen militant groups operating in the north-east have
turned the once tranquil region into a killing field, forcing the
Amnesty International, normally biased against India, in calling
on all insurgents to refrain from arbitrary killings of
civilians, torture and abductions.

The elements which usually try to show the Indian army in bad
light internationally, are the Pakistani official-cum-
fundamentalist organs and their Indian stooges like All Party
Hurriyat Conference. Their favoured tactics are to raise the
bogey of human rights violations as often as possible. Local
language newspapers have also been vociferous from time to time.
Sometime back Pakistan failed to move the resolution against
India at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva but It could
draw considerable publicity mileage.

The Amnesty International and other human rights organisations
ignore the fact that the Indian army has lost more soldiers in
the last eight years in counter-insurgency operations than it did
in wars with Pakistan. Similarly, more jawans have lost their
lives in the north-east than the terrorists. A senior commander's
revelation that the army is losing one officer every 48 hours
reflects the sad state of affairs. It belies the false propaganda
mounted by Pakistan seeking to discredit the army to the extent
of even demanding an apology from India for what it described as
'the worst human rights abuses by the Indian security forces' in

For the military establishment of a modern democracy with inbuilt
checks and balances, dealing with internal insurgencies is the
must difficult task. The militants have many times been using
women, children and civilians as human shields. Yet no My Lai or
Tiananmen square type massacres have taken place in India due to
restraint exercised by the soldiers.

Sadly, the facts have not been effectively publicised. It must be
remembered that the army is involved in a very difficult and
sensitive task of safeguarding the vital national interests and
needs unflinching support from all sections of society.

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