The False God of Military Suppression — by Gautam Navlakha — from: Until My Freedom Has Come (Haymarket Books, 2013, ed. Sanjay Kak)
April 15, 2020

Inverse Journal reproduces “The False God of Military Suppression” (pp. 174-83), an essay contributed by Gautam Navlakha for the anthology Until My Freedom Has Come (edited by Sanjay Kak, Penguin Books India, 2011, and Haymarket Books, 2013). Gautam Navlakha was taken into NIA custody yesterday, on April 14, 2020. 

 
The excerpt is republished with the permission of the book’s editor. Relevant links embedded from their original sources have been included at the end of this excerpt as a sort of visual bibliography.

When post-colonial states deploy troops to bring a rebellious people, formally their ‘own people’, to submission, and hand over that area to the military, then in actual fact they act as an alien force. The relationship that ensues between the military force and the people is akin to that between a subject people and their imperial masters. The military force seeks to restore the authority of the state on a reluctant people, however long it takes to do so. When it comes to looking at such wars being fought amidst us there is a tendency to read them as somehow less than a war. The reason we do not perceive it as war is that it takes place within the borders of the nation-state, where the deployment of the armed forces of the union is somehow considered legitimate, even when it is engaged in suppressing our ‘own’ people.

The Indian Army’s ‘Doctrine of Sub-conventional Operations’ asserts that sub-conventional operations have become ‘the predominant form of warfare’. This doctrine conceptualizes the role of the armed forces personnel while fighting insurgency, or putting down rebellions within the borders of the nation-state. The doctrine says such operations are ‘a generic term encompassing all armed conflict’, and include ‘militancy, insurgency, proxy war and terrorism that may be employed as a means in an insurrectionist movement or undertaken independently’ (p. 1). Therefore, the doctrine says, ‘the military operations should aim firstly, at neutralizing all hostile elements in the conflict zone that oppose or retard the peace initiatives, and secondly, at transforming the will and attitudes of the people . . . The endeavour should be to bring about a realization that fighting the government is a “no win” situation and that their anti- government stance will only delay the return of peace and normalcy. Therefore, distancing from the terrorists is in their own interest and the only plausible course of action. However, the manifestation of such a realization can take from a couple of years to decades as attitudes take time to form and to change(pp. 21–22) (emphasis added).

Remember, there is nothing non-violent about ‘neutralizing hostile elements’ or ‘transforming the will and attitudes of the people’: the latter more or less suggests a desire to break the will of the people. This type of warfare is a ‘dirty war’. In this war casualties occur in the form now familiar to us: encounters, custodial killings, enforced disappearances, mortar shelling, search and cordon operations, arbitrary detentions, torture…

Apart from the regular units of the Indian Army, there is the army’s counter-insurgency force, the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and several other paramilitary and state police forces. In a statement on the floor of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on 1 August 2006, the then deputy chief minister said that there were more than 6,67,000 security forces in the state. This is an incredibly high concentration of troops for an area whose total population is not more than ten million. In other words, the ratio of deployment is one soldier for every fourteen–fifteen people. By December 2010 their numbers would have been reduced by 40,000: that still leaves a force of 6,27,000.

More than half these soldiers belong to the Indian Army: on 17 June 2007 the general officer commanding-in-chief (GOC-in-C) of the northern command of the Indian Army, Lt General H.S. Panag, said while speaking with the press that there are 3,37,000 army personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. He tried to play this down by saying that only 25 per cent of this force was engaged in counter-insurgency, while 45–50 per cent were engaged in ‘countering infiltration’. The rest, he said, were engaged in ensuring supply to the deployed soldiers. Given the Indian government’s obsession with ‘cross-border terrorism’, countering infiltration must surely be seen as an integral part of counter-insurgency. And armies the world over traditionally retain 15–25 per cent of their troops to provide support to those deployed for combat. Support staff is needed when troops are fighting a war: they demit the area when the fighting force demits the area. In effect all the 3,37,000 army personnel were actually deployed in counter-insurgency operations.

Take a closer look at an example on the ground. The Pattan subdivision of Baramulla district of the Kashmir Valley has ninety-two villages. There are three police stations in the subdivision, at Pattan, Mirgund and Kreeri. But located among these ninety-two villages are four Indian Army brigade headquarters: Haiderbeig, Khaymbyar, Hamray and Tapper. There are twelve check-posts: those of the army and the RR are at Hamray, Malnah, Srwarpora, Tapper Bala, Tapper Pyein, Wangam Payech, Yadipora, Yakmanpora and Zangam. The CRPF mans Mirgund. Pattan and Babateng host camps of the CRPF, BSF and the special task force of the Jammu and Kashmir police. Each check-post has anywhere between 100 and 150 soldiers, although there are a few which have much larger numbers, sometimes over 300. Thus a cluster of roughly nine villages comes under one check-post. One brigade is available for operations covering twenty- three villages, whereas one police station caters to thirty-odd villages. Thus all movement to and from the village to fields, to market or town is monitored and accompanied by regular patrolling. The very nature of this deployment affects all the inhabitants. This is what occupation means in real terms: constant control over people’s public and private lives.

Consider another example. The killing of two youths on 21 February 2009 at Bomai, Sopore, brought people out on the streets to lodge their protest. The army spokesperson, Colonel Uma Maheshwari, claimed that army jawans were not present on the scene and that ‘some persons wearing army uniforms opened fire on the people’. The very same day the commanding officer 22 RR, Colonel Sanjeev, said that ‘while jawans were searching the vehicle, two militants wearing pheran refused to alight from the vehicle. When troopers asked them to raise their hands, they opened fire, killing two persons’ (Economic Times, 23 February 2009). The army subsequently stuck to this version, claiming that it fired only twenty rounds, although shells double that number were found. Protests by local people forced the state government to institute an inquiry. This state government report was presented relatively quickly, and the villagers were assured that the camp of the 22 RR would be ‘relocated’ within twelve days. But the Indian Army’s response swiftly put paid to such proposals. Referring to the relocation of the camp, a senior officer of the northern command said on 6 March 2009 that a district commissioner has ‘no domain over security issues and cannot dictate to us what to do’ (Greater Kashmir, 7 March 2009). The army also refused to go by the investigations carried out by the civilian administration and refused to move against those responsible, saying it must complete its own independent investigation.

In the stand-off between the state government and the army, the chief minister had to persuade New Delhi to intervene. It became clear that the assurance given to inhabitants of Bomai by the state government about the ‘relocation’ of a security force camp meant little and that the authority to do so rested with New Delhi alone. Significantly, Bomai already has police and CRPF camps as well as four army camps nearby: one less would not have made much difference. Finally when New Delhi gave its consent to shift the RR camp, it was moved, but only two kilometres away. As for prosecuting the armed forces personnel accused of commission of this crime, the army challenged their arrest and trial by a civilian court: once the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is invoked, and an area declared ‘disturbed’, all acts committed by security personnel are considered as taking place in course of ‘active service’. The matter is entangled in the technicalities of whose jurisdiction it is to prosecute them.

In ‘disturbed areas’ the problem gets further compounded when an entire people are considered with suspicion, armed soldiers enjoy immunity, and their morale is accorded a premium. This is no exaggeration. In the Masooda Parveen case[i] the Supreme Court refused to allow the payment of Rs 50,000 as ex-gratia relief to the petitioner, whose husband was killed in a macabre manner while in the army’s custody, because, as the honourable judge pointed out, such relief could ‘demoralize’ the security forces personnel.

Quite apart from conflict over the jurisdiction of civilian institutions for dispensation of justice, or the reluctance of the Indian judiciary to dispense justice to victims of crimes committed by armed forces personnel, the prolonged deployment of the military also results in armed forces wanting to remain in control and tending to interfere in matters related to the civilian domain. The most recent example is the statement issued on 30 November 2010 by the Indian Army’s northern command headquarter, after an encounter in Srinagar’s Qamarwari quarter a day earlier, in which three alleged militants were killed. Although the statement was later retracted and an apology tendered, the army’s statement reveals how it perceives its role:

The clamour to remove bunkers and thin out the police/paramilitary presence from the urban areas had compelled the Omar Abdullah government to give in. Though it appeared to be a well considered decision, but the latest incident has raised many questions. While it may have pleased a few hardline separatists and their ISI handlers in Pakistan, but what about the common man in the Valley? The state capital has shifted to Jammu. Therefore, will the reduced security and visible absence of the security forces raise uncertainties, fear and doubt in the minds of the populace during the long winter ahead?

However, fake or genuine the encounter itself was, what is to be noted is the content and tone of the statement, which amounts to gross interference in the workings of the civilian domain. It is this that raises concern that even when armed forces of the union are ostensibly called ‘in aid of the civilian administration’ it tends to override the civilian authority and wants to call the shots. Incidentally, the argument over the ‘thinning out’ did not relate to the removal of bunkers manned by army personnel, but of a mere sixteen out of 400 bunkers manned by the CRPF and the police. Once it is brought in and empowered under AFSPA, the army considers that its opinion must prevail over that of the civilian authority.

So why does the Indian state need 6,27,000 troops in Jammu and Kashmir, and the sweeping powers of the AFSPA, when by all accounts militancy has reduced drastically, down to about 450 active militants? If the military is not there to control the civilian population, why are they crowding the densely populated valley and occupying valuable cultivable land? Even the leader of the pro-India People’s Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti, has drawn attention to the huge presence of Indian security forces amid habitations, occupying, she said, 28 lakh kanals (3.5 lakh acres) of land (Greater Kashmir, 8 September 2009). The constant monitoring of the life of civilians affects everyone. It is a reminder that they are living at the mercy of a hostile military, which can act with impunity.

Military suppression has multiple fallouts. Apart from the violence perpetrated on civilians, the control exercised and the encumbrances placed on daily lives, it also aggravates livelihood issues and impacts the economic life of the society. There are reportedly 671 security forces camps in Jammu and Kashmir occupying 3.5 lakh acres of land and 1500 buildings. (These figures exclude those for Akhnoor, Jammu, Kargil, Leh and Udhampur.) And the appetite for acquiring land continues to grow. In saffron-rich Lethapora in Pampore tehsil, where no construction is permitted under state laws, the CRPF has demanded 5,000 kanals for its group headquarters. The Indian Army is demanding 10,000 kanals for the expansion of their Khundroo Field Ammunition Depot. The Indian Air Force, which possesses 850 acres in Awantipora, has asked for an additional 763 acres of land. To get the army to vacate 139 acres of the Tattoo Grounds Garrison in Srinagar, it was alloted 212 acres in Sharifabad in exchange. (The army has taken possession of 100 acres at Sharifabad but refuses to budge from the Tattoo Grounds.) At the Cattle Research Centre at Manasbal, spread over 352 acres, the army first asked for permission to set up a few bunkers in 1990. It eventually built barracks there, and by 2005 laid claim to 252 acres of land. The former tourism minister of Jammu and Kashmir told media on 19 October 2007 that the army violated the Master Plan for Gulmarg and without requisite permission ‘(t)hey have occupied 400 acres of land on which they have raised huge concrete structures’ (Asian Age, 20 October 2007). Finally, the ‘Landmine Report 2007’ states that about 160 square kilometres of land in Jammu and 1730 square kilometres in Kashmir were landmined.

In privileging the fight against armed militancy, and convincing itself that popular aspirations for freedom from India had waned in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian state has become a victim of its own machination—so much so that it has been unnerved by the non-violent display of people’s power and has begun to mete out ‘collective punishment’ for daring to
express their desire to opt out of India. The Protocol Additional II (1977) to the Geneva Convention, 12 August 1949, relating to the protection of victims of non-international armed conflicts, under Article 4(b), prohibits collective punishment. Yet, a colonial custom whereby the British Raj used to mete out punishment to an entire group of people for daring to raise their voice against them continues wherever Indian military forces are deployed to restore the authority of the state.

Take a fairly recent example. The Indian prime minister, addressing a gathering of director generals and inspector generals of police on 15 September 2009, warned that ‘(s)ecessionist and militant groups within the State are once again attempting to make common cause with outside elements and have embarked on series of protest movements . . . We must not, and I repeat, we must not, allow such a situation to develop. It is imperative that these disruptive efforts are contained, controlled and effectively checked.’ The prime minister’s exhortation to the security apparatus to ‘contain, control and check’ protests was followed, and by 31
October 2009, Lt General B.S. Jaswal, GOC-in-C of the northern command of the Indian Army, the senior-most army officer in the Unified Command structure for Jammu and Kashmir, claimed that it is ‘agitational terrorism’, not militancy, which was the main issue in Kashmir. Here was an army general making a statement equating protests with terrorism. Protests against the atrocities of security forces were dismissed as being inspired and financed from across the border/Line of Control (LoC). And having elevated protests to the status of ‘terrorism’ it followed that targeting people, in particular the youth, would be a fallout.

Little wonder that by February 2010 authorities began charging stone- pelters for ‘waging war’, an act of high treason where the death penalty can be awarded—and began, in the name of fighting law-breakers, to demand strong action against stone-pelters, who it was claimed were provoking security forces. To justify this shoot-to-kill doctrine, this was accompanied with ‘facts’ such as reports of ‘firing from within the crowd’, ‘instructions coming from across the border/LoC’, and ‘intercepts’ shared with friendly journalists and channels. Each of these ‘facts’ eventually got exposed. But by then many people had already lost their lives.

If the success of the elections and a decline in the strength of militancy were projected as having reduced the appeal of separatists, as well as for the demand for self-determination, no one could explain why there is still so much anger in Jammu and Kashmir. The chief minister had said in February 2010 that young men pelting stones were paid by some ‘forces’. He could not explain why young men would risk their lives to throw stones, even if they get money for it, when they know that their lives can be snuffed out for even less. In the make-believe world occupied by the rulers, cocooned by layers of security and fed the daily diet of intelligence briefings, the reality of the public mood, the sense of frustration at the shenanigans of an Indian military establishment which continues to maintain an iron grip on what they, for all practical purposes, consider a subject population, and that seething anger, are somehow not taken seriously.

Or perhaps it is. And that is precisely why the administration stepped up the attack on unarmed protesters. Stones are, after all, no match against the lethal weapons in the possession of security forces.

The attempt by authorities to pass off any crime as an aberration, attributed to some ‘rogue elements’ within the army, diverts attention from the impunity with which Indian security forces operate in Jammu and Kashmir (and for that matter in India’s North-East too). This gets further legitimized because these killings are considered ‘acts of service’ which invite rewards and promotion. The five-month-long spree of killing in the summer of 2010 was triggered by protests against the cold-blooded custodial killing by security force personnel of Mohammad Shafi, Shehzad Ahmed and Riyaz Ahmed, residents of Nadihal in Baramulla district, on the night of 29 April 2010, three days after they disappeared. They were buried as ‘unidentified militants’ in the Kalaroos village graveyard on the LoC. The army officers received, without any hindrance, a reward of Rs 6 lakh. (Kalaroos also happens to be one of the graveyards investigated by researchers from the International People’s Tribunal on Kashmir, IPTK, for their study of the phenomenon of mass graves.)

The IPTK report identified 2,373 unidentified graves in fifty-five villages of three districts: in thirty-three villages of Baramulla district there were 1,013 unnamed graves, in fourteen villages of Kupwara 1,278 graves and in eight villages of Bandipora eighty-two graves. The report was submitted in December 2009 to the Jammu and Kashmir state government as well as the Indian government. The report had urged the government to look into the matter, institute an inquiry, verify the facts referred to in the report and take steps to prosecute the perpetrators of the crime. Had the authorities taken the report seriously and investigated the matter they may have been in a position to prevent such incidents from occurring. In the first five months of 2010, thirty-six alleged militants have been killed on the LoC in so-called encounters. And the chief minister has even admitted that the Machil encounter has ‘raised questions about several other encounters’. But he did not follow his statement with an investigation of the facts recorded in the IPTK report.

To ‘transform the will and attitudes’ of the people, apart from fear, humiliation too plays a role. Let me recount what happened when eleven boys were arrested on 27 October 2009 for pelting stones at security forces, a day ahead of the prime minister’s Srinagar visit. When the boys were produced before the sessions court two days later, some of them narrated how they were forced to commit sodomy, how their photographs were taken by their torturers, and how they were warned to quit the movement lest these pictures were leaked out. The court-ordered medical examination confirmed that there were bruises on the victims’ buttocks (Hindustan Times, 6 November 2009). Nothing happened thereafter.

It is necessary therefore to ask ourselves that if Jammu and Kashmir is an ‘integral’ part of India why has the Indian state and society been so cruelly indifferent to the violence inflicted on Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian military? Is it because Indians look upon Jammu and Kashmir, and jealously guard it, as a trophy of war, a conquered, Muslim-majority territory won by India in a war with Pakistan in 1947–48? Why is it that the very same democratic voices which so courageously exposed carnages and massacres of minorities in India become mute when confronted with the role of the Indian state in Jammu and Kashmir? And why is it that a territory disputed since 1947, where a commitment was made for making a reference to the people for its resolution, was obfuscated by recourse to manipulation and unscrupulous wheeling- dealing?

We need to ask ourselves why and how India’s constitutional democracy has been devalued, thanks to a war against a people who were treated as a subject population in order to deny them their democratic right to self-determination. It is only when we begin to raise these questions that we can begin to appreciate why Kashmiris feel that they are not safe living in union with India, that their future lies in opting out of India, and therefore demand that their right of self-determination be respected.

 

[i] Masooda Parveen versus Union of India & Ors (2007) 4 Supreme Court Cases 548.

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