Placing a premium on safeguarding its fragile image, the army has passed instructions to its troops in Kashmir to keep away from women.
The army claims the move comes in the wake of intelligence inputs that women are likely to be used as pawns by terror outfits to build a negative profile for the army. But it is also true that the initiative comes at a time when human rights groups and NGOs have been accusing the army of widespread atrocities against women.
Recent incidents like the rape bid by two soldiers in Bandipore and suicide by a jawan after he was caught with a local girl in Kangan have brought disgrace to the army and triggered massive protests. Even little-known political outfits like the Dukhtar-e-Milat have asked Kashmiri women to carry daggers to protect their honour.
At a briefing in the Badami Bagh Cantonment, the nerve centre of the 15 Corps, a senior officer told HT: “Terrorists plan to use women to tarnish the army’s image. Troops are being sensitised to this.”
The Corps has close to 70,000 troops directly involved in counter-terrorism operations in the Valley, putting them in closer contact with civilians for intelligence gathering and conduct of operations.
Colonel Manjinder Singh, whose job entails building the army’s image in Kashmir, said most protests against the army were orchestrated by anti-national elements. Buttressing his point, he added: “A 14-year-old girl was raped and murdered in Handwara. Four arrests were made. But there were no protests as no soldiers were involved.”
The army, which has been a punching bag for rights groups, tenders its human rights report card to clear the air. Lieutnant Colonel Shivendra Negi of 15 Corps says: “Of the 1,441 human rights violation cases reported since 1990, 1,352 were false. Only 41 allegations were true for which 83 personnel were punished.”
On his recent maiden visit to the state, Defence Minister, AK Antony admitted to “a few aberrations” but added that no case of atrocity by troops would be tolerated.