Collateral Damage for a Greater Cause

Dr. Jaipal Singh
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You can call me an old fashioned guy or the one who is unable to grow or go with the flow or time. Perhaps for one of these reasons, I am not so active on the social media – considered to be the most effective and instant means of communication and interaction these by the majority of populace. The current piece of writing came to my mind when I noticed a post of my niece about the treatment of a Kashmiri youth by Indian Army tying him in front of an army vehicle during a rescue operation in a recent polling of a Lok Sabha constituency in the Kashmir valley.

She had apparently posted her comments on Facebook driven by empathy to a (apparently harmless!) civilian purely on the humanitarian ground. Though unintended yet her remarks were for sure interpreted as a criticism of the modus oprandi of Army, and consequently it invited sharp reactions from many quarters followed her own rhetoric in defense. This sort of compelled me to have some more insight and analysis of the incident as among other things I wanted to constructively guide my niece too on the subject.

There are conflicting versions of the statements from Farooq Ahmed Dar (the alleged victim) and Army using him as a human shield against the violent mob/stone pelters:

As per Dar’s version supported by some politicians and local civilians, he was among few who casted vote in the morning that day. Later that morning, he was riding his bike to attend a condolence meeting at his brother-in-law’s house in another village when he was picked up by the army. According to him, his bike was damaged, he was thrashed severely with sticks and gun butts, tied to the jeep in almost unconscious state and paraded through several villages by armymen.

According to Indian Army, Maj Gogoi received a call to check the security situation at a polling station in Budgam district, which was surrounded by a crowd of 1000- 1200 people, many of them including women and children were pelting stones and even hurling boulders from their rooftops. Army mission was to rescue polling staff besides ensuring safety of their own men. The situation was very volatile and getting worse when they caught hold of this man (Farooq Ahmed Dar) from the crowd and used him as a shield against stone pelters. Consequently, the stone pelting stopped and Army got a safe window to rescue polling staff and their own men.

The above incident occurred on April 9, 1917 during the by-election for the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary constituency. The election process was marred by a large scale protest and stone pelting by troublemongers, needless to mention after a call of botcott of election given by separatist faction. Eight civilians were killed in firing by security forces that day as mobs tried to attack some polling stations in the constituency leading to the lowest ever turnout of only about 7% in the electoral history. This incident received more attention and publicity as also criticism by politicians and human-right activists since Major Gogoi was honoured by the Army Chief after conducting their internal inquiry.

Unfortunately, in this country some politicians and (often so called) secularists & human-right activists are ready to go to any extent so long an incident serves a tool for their own publicity and vested interests. Similarly, some ignorant and immature people too tend to open their ill-conceived mind fascinated by their freedom of speech and express desire of highlighting secular credentials (!). So this incident too was not an exception and reactions, comments and views have freely flown on the predicted lines.

The point is that when you were not an eye-witness and you do not have the benefit of the narrative or audio/video footage from a neutral agency, whom you should rely upon. Such situations can at best could be corroborated by the circumstantial evidences and narratives. One can reasonably also consider that Army is generally not an interested party, (this I can say with my own long professional association with the Defence Services) they are assigned tasks during internal and external exigencies and natural calamities and they try to carry it out in best possible way through their own conventional and sometimes innovative methods.

In my opinion, in the instant case Major Gogoi’s action, more than individual valour, was driven by high intelligence and understanding of the human behaviour. In a situation where several lives were at stake, he was able to considerably salvage the situation and save human lives by resorting to this unconventional method. On the other hand, the use of force and/or bullet would have cost several lives and injuries in such a volatile situation. Post event, media is flooded with different civilian versions and interpretation of the event by many people (Remember the Freedom of Speech!) but Army speaks only little and precise. While sceptics and critics are uninhibited in criticism, I am yet to see anyone ever offering any viable and better option in a given situation.

In the instant case, the Army holds the person was from amongst the stone pelters. The other possibility could be that he was not but then despite his claim, there appears to be no evidence, other than tying him for a purpose, of any torture, beating or detaining beyond a reasonable time. Reportedly, the claim of casting his vote was not supported by any sustainable evidence and his presence and capture at the troubled spot raise genuine doubts. At best, the sympathisers could call it a 'collateral damage'. In difficult situations like civil disturbances, natural calamities and enemy action, at times you have to incur and accept some unintended loss for a greater cause. A larger point is as to who is responsible for creating such a compelling situation. Any sane and rational mind would tend to accept the collateral damage (minimum loss of life/property) if it saves human lives and is in overall national interests.

For sceptics and critics particularly politicians, human right activists and secularists, I would like to offer a few more points as reality bites for consideration and to clear their minds:

- There is a long history of terrorism and sabotage in Kashmir and other parts of the country sponsored by Pakistan through overt and covert means. Some separatists leaders openly talk about their allegiance to western neighbour and provide money and material to saboteurs and stone-pelters. Pakistan was created on the basis of Two-Nation Theory and more divisions of this country on religious lines is undesirable and unacceptable.

- Since independence, acts and intervention of politicians have only further deteriorated the situation in Kashmir barring small stints in between.

- Currently, the only credible agency that can be trusted and relied upon is Indian Army which largely carry out their assigned tasks in an effective and unbiased manner. Too much criticism, analysis and intervention in their working will only weaken their morale and resolve to defend nation.

- Secularism and Freedom of Speech provided in the Indian Constitution are very fascinating yet at the same time most abused by people with vested interests as also ignorant people through their immature and ill-conceived approach and action. For an illustration as to how low a politician could stoop, one could watch a genuine video clip of a famous leader of the oldest political party associated with the freedom struggle giving interview in the enemy country where he talks about changing the Indian Prime Minister and bringing own party in power with their (enemy) assistance.

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