The Indian Army in Kashmir, like Caesar’s wife, must be beyond reproach. This is the message that Army Chief Deepak Kapoor has tried to convey while advocating strict action against any armyman found guilty after the conclusion of the probe into the Sopore killing of two civilians last month. Many may argue that the Army chief’s hand has been forced by an irate J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. Nevertheless, this suggests that the Army will be made more accountable for human rights violations than it has been so far.
Mr Abdullah has to show that he means business, especially as his father and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah was seen as having turned a blind eye to army atrocities against civilians.
The Army’s record of inglory in the state includes the Pathribal and Chittisinghpora killings. Every time the question of accountability has arisen, we have been fobbed off with the specious argument that this could demoralise the armed forces. But what about the demoralisation of the civilians whom they are supposed to protect? The Army has been able to get away with many human rights violations on account of the draconian laws in force in the state. The Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act are among them. A lot more needs to be done beyond dealing with the Sopore killings to restore faith in the Army’s role in the state. The findings of the commission of inquiry into disappearances should be made public. The Acts that could be used to facilitate fake and extrajudicial killings should be phased out. The manner in which youth are treated by the Army cannot be in the same category as that of adults.
To be effective, the Army has to follow the rule of law. There are definitely difficult challenges in a state vulnerable to infiltration from across the border. We shouldn’t be bothered about what Pakistan has to say regarding human rights in J&K. But the Army, by its highhandedness, is helping fuel domestic sentiment against the Indian State. In a democracy, retributive justice cannot be meted out by subverting the law and undermining human rights.