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Soldiers, Judge Before You Shoot

Excessive use of force by the Indian army has been one of the volatile issues in Jammu and Kashmir. Many of the allegations do not have substance as the use of force is done against elements who belong to militant groups and were indulging in violent actions against individuals and state and army targets with a deliberate purpose of causing hurt, death and damage. However, there are cases where the troops act on suspicion, making civilians their victims. The one such case was the Machil incident in which some army men lured three Kashmiri youth on the promise of jobs to a faraway place and killed them and passed them off as terrorists. There were wide-scale protests in Kashmir over the killings and quite justified as the relatives and acquaintances of the victims knew they did not belong to any militant group but were ordinary, innocent young people looking for employment. The very fact that these young men were seeking jobs in the army showed that they had no ideological or organizational affiliation or connection with any militant group.

The army took strong action against the men who lured and killed the youth. They were put to prosecution by a court martial and six of the army men were given life imprisonment. The Machil verdict and punishment make a deterrent model for all those army men who might be tempted to cause death or hurt to anyone who is innocent. It has also given the Indian army room to counter the incessant propaganda by militant groups and their sympathizers among civil society groups that the army has been indulging in excessive use of force in all cases. This propaganda has been orchestrated by Pakistan. In that country, a large section of the media also works overtime to portray an image of the army which would suggest that the Indian troops are only indulging in indiscriminate violence against “innocent Kashmiris”. This propaganda has not once said anything adverse or condemning about the violence indulged in by the militants trained and infiltrated by the Pakistani army. The proxy war by Pakistan has witnessed killing of many innocents by the militant groups firing guns and setting off bombs. Even if we are ready to give room to the ideology of dissent in Kashmir growing out of disappointment, we cannot give any room to the killing or hurting of innocents by Pakistan-trained militants as we should not give any room to the killing or hurting of innocents by Indian army men.

The killing of two innocent youths by army men at Budgam is another case which the Indian army has taken up in order to set an example. In this case, some army men saw a Maruti car ignore two army checkpoints last year. They suspected that the occupants of the car were terrorists. This was the presumption that finally led the army men to stop the vehicle and fire at it, killing two youths and injuring two others. Actually, the occupants were youths coming back from a Muharram procession. They had no association at all with any militant groups. Their intention was not to run away after committing some crime. The least that was expected by the army men who finally stopped the car was to ask the occupants to come out. The occupants were not even carrying any firearms. The army has taken the killing and wounding of innocents very seriously. There is going to be a court martial to try the army men who were responsible for the violence. If the army men are found guilty they would be sentenced to life imprisonment, as in the Machil case.

The Indian army has a very important task on hand for fighting off not only the militant groups trained by Pakistan but also the propaganda by Pakistan of excessive use of force by them. The Pakistani political leadership never misses an opportunity to internationalise the Kashmir issue. One of their major ploys is to present Indian army as committing violence and rape against “innocent citizens” of Kashmir. With incidents like Machil and Budgam, the Indian army’s image suffers erosion in the minds of the Kashmiris. The Indian army must do everything possible to regain the trust of the Kashmiris. The army authorities have done well in the Budgam case. They are prosecuting the army men in court martial. They have also given job to the brother of one of the youths killed and also offered jobs to the two injured youths. They have also given a compensation of Rs 10 lakh and Rs 5 lakh to the families of the killed and the wounded, respectively. The army must take severe action against its men wherever they indulge in inhuman, wrongful and excessive use of force.

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