The beheading of an Indian soldier on the LoC and the mutilation of another were undoubtedly unacceptable and unpardonable. This was barbaric behaviour. The anger and revulsion it’s provoked is understandable. There’s no denying that.
However, there’s one question we need to ask but mainly failed to raise. Have we ever been guilty of similar behaviour ourselves?
From what I can tell the answer seems to be yes. On the 10th, The Hindu reported that last year, during a skirmish at Karnah, “Indian Special Forces responded by attacking a Pakistani forward post, killing several soldiers, and by the account of one military official which The Hindu could not corroborate independently, beheaded two.”
What makes this claim credible is that it’s reported by military sources who not only ought to know but would not denigrate the reputation of Indian soldiers.
Alas, there’s more evidence. This time from eye-witnesses.
In her ‘Confessions of a War Reporter’, published in June 2001 by Himal, a well-known Nepalese magazine, Barkha Dutt recounted how she witnessed a decapitated Pakistani soldier’s head at Kargil. This is what she wrote: “I had to look three times to make sure I was seeing right … “Look again,” said the army colonel, in a tone that betrayed suppressed excitement. This time, I finally saw. It was a head, the disembodied face of a slain soldier nailed onto a tree. “The boys got it as a gift for the brigade,” said the colonel, softly, but proudly.”
Harinder Baweja, the editor (Investigation) of this paper, witnessed something similar. This is the account from her book A Soldier’s Diary, Kargil — The Inside Story: “The experiences of 18 Garhwal show another side of the war … one of them took out his knife and slit the head of a Pakistani soldier in one stroke. The head was sent to Brigade Headquarters at Drass and pinned to a tree trunk … the enemy head, a grisly trophy, became an exhibition piece. Major General Puri came down from Mughalpura to see it. Other officers dropped in to Brigade Headquarters to take a look. So did some journalists … it was there pinned on the tree for anyone who could bear to look at it.”
So is this proof that Indian soldiers, both in the recent past and during Kargil, have done to Pakistanis what they did to our jawans last week? The Hindu report is clearly not proof.
On the other hand, what Barkha and Harinder saw seems like it. They are eye-witnesses. They’re highly regarded journalists. They have a reputation for telling the truth. More importantly, they have no reason to lie.
However, my intention is not to establish moral equivalence between Indian and Pakistani soldiers, although some might come to that conclusion. It’s to ask why did the media, other than The Hindu, not point this out? You can’t argue it was irrelevant information. More importantly, it would have put a different complexion on the decapitation of our soldiers. And, certainly, it would have tempered the furious discussions on television.
As journalists we owe our audience not just the truth but both sides of it when that’s pertinent. To not be evenhanded is to leave them half-informed.
In this instance, we whipped up passions when we should have helped audiences realise the LoC is a tough place, where brutal actions often happen and both sides retaliate in equally gruesome ways.
When tempers cool and time lends perspective, our audience won’t forgive us for half-truths.
Views expressed by the author are personal