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Verma panel out to blunt army’s edge

chandigarh Updated: Feb 01, 2013 13:25 IST
Lt Gen Harwant Singh (Retd)
Justice Verma

The Justice Verma Committee was appointed after the Delhi gangrape case and the agitations that followed in the Capital and other parts of India. The committee was required to put up recommendations to modify laws relating to rape and related offences against women. The panel had sought suggestions from the public on laws for protection and safety of women, among other issues.

Flooded with suggestions, the committee worked overtime to produce a voluminous report of more than 500 pages. On the subject of violence against women, the report touches upon rape by military personnel working under the protection of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA.). Possibly, the recommendations relating to the military’s alleged involvement in rape cases during its deployment under AFSPA have come from certain NGOs and others from insurgency-infested regions.

Though India has been a victim of insurgency from the dawn of Independence, very few outside the military and certain central police services are adequately acquainted with how far spread and deep is the alienation and anti-India feelings among sections of the population in these regions, more so in certain parts of Jammu and Kashmir. The reasons for this animosity and anti-national feeling are complex, but in general these relate to total neglect, lack of development, rampart corruption and poor governance, but it is the security forces who have to bear the brunt of this hostility from these elements, more so the vocal and the violent among them.

The military operating in these areas has to carry out cordon and search operations, invariably at night. People, more so women, feel inconvenienced and harassed. When hostility and anger against the security forces is already prevalent among the locals, these actions of security forces result in all manner of accusations against them.

Two incidents need a recall. Back in 2004, a woman named Thangjam Manorama was killed by Assam Rifles personnel in Manipur. It was alleged that she had been raped too. This news received wide media coverage and there were agitations in Manipur. However, the two autopsies conducted by separate group of doctors (both autopsy reports are available with me) ruled out rape and the nature of bullet injuries leading to her death corroborated the version of her attempt to escape when she was shot. She was a hardcore terrorist; on being arrested, a radio transmitter was found from her.

The second incident relates to two women who drowned is a stream in Shopian (Kashmir). Security forces were accused of killing them. The first autopsy by local doctors recorded the rape of both women. Some time later, the bodies were exhumed and an independent team of doctors conducted another autopsy and found no evidence of rape.

Such then is the level of integrity even of doctors and the hostility towards the security forces. There are innumerable other such false allegations that are periodically levelled against the military deployed in counter-insurgency operations and such therefore, is the environment in which the military has to operate.

If AFSPA protection was to be removed from allegations of offences against women, it will act as a great demotivating factor and inhibit military personnel from getting involved in search operations where insurgents take shelter in villages. These search operations are the more essential components of counter-insurgency operations. No military personnel would want to get involved in false civil cases and spend years doing the rounds of civil courts, where all false evidence from hostile local witnesses will be marshalled against them.

If that was not enough, the Verma Committee has recommended the addition of a sub clause (f) to Section 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code, where the commanding officer of military personnel accused of rape or a lesser offence against women would be held “guilty of the offence of breach of command responsibility” where he “failed to take necessary and reasonable measures within his or her power to prevent or repress the commission of the said offence.” In other words, there would be criminal liability of the commanding officer if any of his men are accused of an offence against women and he would have no AFSPA protection. This is both illogical and illegal. It is like holding a juvenile’s father also guilty, even though the rape is committed by the son!

Units deployed for counter-insurgency operations often send out a dozen or more patrols at any time, more often at night, commanded by an NCO (non-commissioned officer), JCO (junior commissioned officer) or an officer. Any serious misconduct on the part of any person during these patrols adversely bears on the career prospects of a commanding officer and the man concerned is punished. If he is to be made party to the offence committed in some faraway place by one of his men, then one need noexpect him to deliver. He will simply play it safe and no one need expect any positive results in this fight against those who want to break up this country. Commanding officers in the army are its cutting edge and the Verma Committee is out to blunt this edge.

Views expressed are personal