NEW DELHI: The decision to award an officer of the Indian Army, a force with the reputation of professionalism across the world, for an act that violates the fundamental rights of a citizen under the Constitution of India, is the most brazen signal till date that the government in Delhi has decided to pursue a policy that does not really take the people into account. And that ‘nationalism’ is so synonymous with military action that even what many in the Army, as per the articles written by reputed generals with long years of service, regard as a violation of rights

As a senior retired Army officer said, “after the act of tying the youth to the jeep one would have expected the investigation to take place without further propaganda.” But instead the Chief of an Army that pride its professionalism, actually awarded the officer for an act that violates the rights of a citizen of India. And if that was not enough the major was taken through the television studios, justifying the action that even senior retired Army generals had earlier taken umbrage to. And publicly written articles or made statements questioning this action by a soldier who took an Indian citizen as a shield for himself and his troops.

The first response from the Indian Army after the video of the action went viral was to order an immediate investigation. This was as expected from a military that has been commended across the world for democratic functioning more so as democracies do not use their own citizens as shields. If the case is that the Kashmiris are Indian citizens, then this becomes a violation of all legal and humane norms and laws.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, Additional Protocol 1 and the Rome Statute under which the International Criminal Court was set up have declared this practice to be a war crime. It is not even conceivable that an army, would take such action using its own citizens. The Israeli Army has used the Palestinians as human shields in their sustained attack against those struggling to regain their homeland. At times insurgents have used civilians for such purpose. The military is not expected to stoop to the level of militants it is in position to counter, in the larger effort to protect its citizens.

As former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah wrote in an article in the Indian Express, “the ‘use of a civilian as a ‘human shield’ to protect his men from a stone-pelting mob’ is astounding. Since when is our army allowed to subvert the fundamental rights of our citizens to save itself in extraordinary situations? To reiterate — the construct, that tying Farooq Ahmed Dar to the bonnet of the jeep was an extraordinary act that resulted in the prevention of violence and the consequent loss of lives, is at best a hypothesis in foresight and, at worst, outright blackmail, trying to disarm the moral and legal quotient in the counter-argument. For who can oppose something, however strange, inhumane and illegal, that results in lives being saved?”

This argument is being tom-tommed over television channels and the formidable social media apparatus at the ruling party’s command. The argument that turns into abuse and threats by trolls is basically hinged on, “at least the Major saved many lives.” Did he? The Army investigation into the incident would have answered this and other questions, and hopefully taken action to ensure that the professionalism of the force did not become a casualty. Now with the commendation from the Chief of Army Staff himself for Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, added to by the Union Defence Minister, this probe has been rendered meaningless.

And instead opened a new front, where the endorsement encourages soldiers to take forward such practices that are not considered professional by the Armies of democratic countries across the world. ‘You can be awarded for what international law considers a crime’ is the message that has been flashed across to all the troops posted in Kashmir that can have far reaching consequences, given the current state of deep unrest in the Valley.

New Delhi has been systematic in rejecting all recommendations and reports---not that there have been too many of these---from eminent Indians to start a dialogue with the Kashmiris. Conversely, all who have visited Kashmir in recent years and cared to speak with all sections of society in the Valley have returned with a consensus: dialogue with all is a must to restore some level of peace in the border state. Even former BJP minister Yashwant Sinha who visited Kashmir twice in the span of a few months has returned trying to persuade the ruling party to start a dialogue, so as to reclaim the Valley and the people. His efforts have been greeted with silence with Prime Minister Narendra Modi not even giving Sinha an appointment.

The silence has been made vocal as a result, with the government continuing with its no-talks policy in Kashmir regardless of the representations. A decision has been taken at the centre not to open a dialogue but to gradually subjugate the protestors. It is a question of wearing those blokes down, a middle level Army officer told this writer but admitted through the course of the conversation that this could not be without serious consequences and loss of innocent life on both sides.

The government argument runs thus:

1. There will be no talks;

2. If ever there are talks these will not be with the Hurriyat who are all terrorists;

3. All stone pelters are paid by Pakistan;

4. The entire Kashmir stir is being instigated by Pakistan;

5. There is no voluntary element in the protests, all are being instigated

6. And hence the government will do what it takes to quell the protests.

Sources here said that the government has decided not to give an inch. And pursue with the policy that basically seeks to bring Kashmir back under the military as defined now by Major Gogoi where it can resort openly to violations of human rights as an action of defense. The BJP, the sources said, is not interested in bringing peace through talks in Kashmir and has successfully meshed the issue with its popular concept of muscular nationalism.

Interestingly, the Opposition parties too have given in after a weak effort by some to hold a Kashmir conclave and raise the issue of peace and normalcy. The Congress did appoint a Kashmir committee under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who met with the various groups and delegations, as well with Opposition leaders. To what end? No one really knows as the initiative seems to have died down after a few days, a brief period during which Janata Dal(U) leader Sharad Yadav who was working alongside was quite optimistic of a mass brainstorming.

Talks and dialogue are between a government and its citizens no matter how hostile they might be at any given point in time. Human shields are used, if at all, by armies at war. And then too not by professional armies like India’s to save itself while putting citizens at risk. Besides Dar, from all responsible accounts, is not a stone pelter but a voter although that is barely the issue at hand. And what the Geneva Conventions describes as an act of war has left him with a traumatised mind and fractured limbs.

(Cover photograph BASIT ZARGAR)