Kashmir human shield debate: The General has it wrong
It is highly regrettable that Gen. Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Army Staff, has chosen to justify and extol the actions of Maj. Leetul Gogoi, who used a Kashmiri civilian as a human shield against stone-pelters in Budgam on April 9. It is understandable that Gen. Rawat feels a loyalty to his men, and a concern for the morale of his troops. But his defence of Maj. Gogoi achieves neither of those objectives. If anything, it undermines the prestige of the Army, and makes even worse a bad situation in the Valley.
The General has suggested that the Major was right to violate one man’s human rights in order to get his soldiers out of a difficult situation. He has also argued that it is necessary for the Army to engender a sense of fear, not only among India’s enemies, but also among its own citizens. Gen. Rawat’s assertions are the more disappointing because they come, not from some desk-bound general, but from a decorated veteran of Kashmir, an officer with vast experience in counter-insurgency operations. As a soldier’s soldier, Gen. Rawat knows that his men daily demonstrate that there are ways to tackle stone-pelters without violating human rights. To defend the one soldier who does is to tell the thousands of others that their noble restraint is unnecessary. It is one thing for hyper-nationalistic paper patriots to celebrate Maj. Gogoi with unthinking enthusiasm, but coming from the Army chief, this is a message with potentially dangerous consequences.
It is hardly reassuring that the nation’s top soldier thinks it is necessary that Indians should be afraid of those in uniform, but in any event the use of human shields doesn’t engender fear: it invites contempt. Nor are these the words of a mature leader of men: “In fact, I wish these people, instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I (want to do).” The most charitable interpretation of Gen. Rawat’s statements is that they are the outcome of his being put in a profoundly unnatural situation. For decades now, India’s political leadership has shamefully shirked its own responsibilities in Kashmir, and has left it to the Indian Army to try and solve what is essentially a political problem. Perhaps it is inevitable, then, that the country’s top soldier has started to talk like a politician.