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How army contained Kishtwar violence

Communal polarisation in Jammu province has grown as a reaction to events in Kashmir and terrorist depredations. This has resulted in a viewing of state agencies through a parochial prism. Only the army seems to command the confidence of the people. Mandeep Singh Bajwa writes.

punjab Updated: Aug 25, 2013 10:03 IST
Mandeep Singh Bajwa

Communal polarisation in Jammu province has grown as a reaction to events in Kashmir and terrorist depredations. This has resulted in a viewing of state agencies through a parochial prism. Only the army seems to command the confidence of the people. The actions of 17 Rashtriya Rifles (affiliated to the Maratha Light Infantry) deployed on the counter-insurgency grid, during the recent disturbances in Kishtwar are a good example of the army's operational efficiency and essential humanism. The army's long deployment in J&K has given it the requisite experience in devising operational procedures to deal with such situations.


On being requisitioned by the civil administration, a column (approximately a company strong) from17 RR moved into Kishtwar town on August 9. Using tact and a show of force, they dispersed a mob at one of the chowks, and then moved on to the Chowgan, the city's gathering place where stone-throwing mobs from both communities confronted each other. Colonel Rajdeep Lehal, from Lehal, Gurdaspur district, the unit's commanding officer, used persuasion to get groups of warring youngsters to disperse. The column reached the Dak Bungalow rescuing the beleaguered district administration. Next day, violence spread to other areas; 17 RR had to contain trouble, disperse rioting mobs at Kijai and Gulabgarh some 100 km east of Kishtwar, evacuating casualties to army hospitals.

The pilgrims from the annual pilgrimage to the Chandi Mata temple at Machail which was in progress had to now be evacuated safely through areas presumed to be hostile. The 17 Rashtriya Rifles successfully moved over 5,000 pilgrims providing them security, food, medical aid and even fuel for their vehicles. Significantly, these pilgrims refused to move without the army's protection.

Decades of experience in combating insurgency and linked civil disturbances influenced the army's operation in Kishtwar. To its credit, 17 Rashtriya Rifles used persuasion and a show of force rather than the normal military procedure of opening fire to break up mobs. Another technique used was to isolate and push away individuals and smaller groups of troublemakers rather than taking on the entire mass. The unit's operations could very easily be collated in a textbook and used to train other troops.

With the veterans of 1st Sikh (4 Mech)

The veterans of 1st Sikh, now 4 Mechanised Infantry, celebrated the battalion's 168th raising day on July 31 with a get-together over lunch at the Bana Room at the DSOI, Chandigarh. Veterans had come from as far away as Bathinda and Amritsar to take part in the reunion of old comrades. Captain Vikram Yadav on leave at Hansi in Haryana had been graciously sent by the commanding officer to represent the unit now at a far-off border garrison.

The bonhomie one saw reflected in these old warriors the spirit that saw 1stSikh conquer fields as far apart as Chitral, Gallipoli and Imphal (Apart from the bonhomie one saw reflected in these old warriors the spirit that saw 1st Sikh conquer fields as far apart as Chitral, Gallipoli and Imphal). It wasn't just their professionalism, it was something else above and beyond, that little something that had moved Field Marshal Slim to remark, "1st Sikh and 1/4 Gurkha Rifles were the best battalions in the Fourteenth Army (during the Burma Campaign)." With the help of leaders like the ones who were present, they maintained the high standards after Independence with battle honours like Srinagar and Tithwal. May the spirit of its veterans always guide 1st Sikh through the battles of the future!