Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Problems with Human Shields and Collective Punishment

(Initially published on
One day, my daughter who was then studying in fourth or fifth standard was very upset when she came back from her school. When I probed the reason, she said her physical education teacher had beaten her along with all other children of her class. I tried to defend the teacher by saying that the children must have done something very mischievous to make the teacher punish all students. But she was not convinced. She said only a couple of boys had made noise in the class for which the teacher punished the entire class. She also told me that this particular teacher was in the habit of handing over mass punishment, irrespective of who was at fault.

I then pacified my daughter by promising to intervene if the teacher repeated such an act, any time in the future.  It had taken only a couple of days before I was forced to act on my promise.  The same teacher repeated the mass punishment, this time for something done at the playground by one or two children.

I then wrote a letter, addressed to the Principal of the school explaining why it is not right to punish innocent children for the mistake of one or two of them. It is for the teacher to find out who is at fault before handing out the corporal punishment. If that is not done, the children will lose track of any differentiation between a right behavior and wrong behavior and get confused between rewards and punishments. If you have to undergo the punishment, irrespective of your innocence, you are likely to end up taking up those mistakes. I warned the school that if the concerned teacher repeats the act and subject my daughter to such physical punishment, I would be constrained to initiate legal proceedings against the teacher and school.  Needless to say, the teacher concerned was duly warned by the management and the habit of mass punishment came to an end.

I was reminded of this incident when I got to read some comments by the Chief of the Army (CAS), defending the use of a human shield by an Army team, in the state of Kashmir. The incidence in which a Kashmiri man was tied to the bonnet of an Army Jeep, to avoid the agitators from throwing stones at the Army team that was on its way to save the polling staff from any potential attack, was commended by the CAS as an innovative way to counter the dirty war. The CAS did not stop at merely defending such an act but awarded the officer involved with a commendation.

There are a lot of people who support the act of the officer concerned and the CAS defending and awarding the officer. There is also an equally strong view that the practice of using a human shield is against all the principles of an honourable fighting force like Indian Army and only goes to show the military of the country in a poor light. 

The purpose of this article is not to judge the act of the officer concerned. A commander has to take instant decisions in the face of hostility. While there are certain basic principles that the officer should ideally keep in mind, at times s/he may be forced to use out of the box thinking to overcome a difficult situation. Therefore, it will not be right for a person sitting far away from the theatre to say an act was needed or not.

In this article, I would like to look at the desirability of such a public defending or awarding the officer concerned. Some people say that the CAS did the right thing as he has to keep up the morale of his men. However, there are many issues with that line of thinking.

Any act, which is a war crime under the international laws, or a crime under the national laws, does not cease to be so even if it was resorted to under exceptional circumstances.  When such circumstances itself is a matter of inquiry, it is not right for the authorities to defend or condone such an illegal act.  That will amount to prejudging, or trying to influence the inquiry process. The exceptional circumstances may reduce the gravity of a crime, but the crime remains one. When the establishment decides to commend or award the perpetrators of such acts, it is like legitimizing an illegal or improper act.  We have just witnessed when the Indian Army as an institution decided to go against the Indian Constitution, Indian criminal laws, the Army Act, and its own standard operating procedures! When such disregard for the written rules is allowed, the consequences can be disastrous.

Secondly, in this particular instance, the victim has claimed that he was an innocent man who was out to cast his vote in the bye-election that was being held on that fateful day.  The polling percentage in that bye-election was only 7%. It is very easy to counter check the veracity of the man’s claim of being a voter, by merely looking at the votes polled. Despite that possibility, I have not heard anybody claiming that the victim had lied about casting his vote. When a man defied the threats and chose to cast his vote, the Indian state should have provided him all the support. Instead, an arm of the state stands accused of abducting him and using him as a human shield. Is that the way we are going to ensure the allegiance of more and more Kashmiris to the cause of Indian state?

Thirdly, what if the stone pelters were more hardliners and out of the box thinkers than our Army? What if they decided that their cause was more important than any one individual and pelted stones at the man and killed him? Would the Commander concerned or the CAS have assumed accountability for such an event?

Fourthly, if the victim himself was a stone pelter (as claimed by the officer concerned and a section of the media) why was he not arrested and prosecuted for that offense? Why was he let off after being used as a human shield?

Fifthly, what is the difference between a terrorist force and an armed force? Can the armed forces resort to any method in the name of innovation and dirty war? Can the Army forget that its objective is to keep the Kashmir and Kashmiris on the side of India and not to eliminate or subjugate them? Should Army seek fear from the citizens (as alluded by the CAS) or should it seek goodwill from the people?

Many people are supporting the act of the Army because it happened in Kashmir and the victim is a Kashmiri. Consider the outrage if a human shield was used by the Police forces in, say Kolkata, Bangalore, or Delhi. Even better, consider the victim tied to the bonnet of Army Jeep is any 'one of us' or 'one of our own'? 

Kashmir is a troubled area. A lot of Kashmiris are agitating against the Indian state and indulging in stone pelting. Does that make it right for the security forces to treat all Kashmiris as enemies of India (note that even enemies have rights under Geneva Convention) and treat them with no respect for their rights? Is it a policy of the current government to treat all Kashmiris as hostile and subject them to punishments like using them as human shields?

Whether an innocent child in the school or an innocent citizen in Kashmir, we cannot subject them to collective punishments for the crimes done by others. Can we hold the entire people of states in which the recent lynching of human beings took place (the number of such states is increasing), and punish them all for the murders? 

What differentiates good from the bad (and teachers from bullies or soldiers from mercenaries) is adherence to the rules of the game. Deviations may happen at times, but the deviations are to be treated as such and discouraged, and not given any exalted status.

Self-respect is a basic requirement for any human being. The victim, in this case, was subjected to unreasonable dangers and extreme humiliation. Can we reasonably expect this victim (or his near and dear) to love or respect our Army or the state, anymore? Fear, I am afraid, is not a long-term weapon!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Why Do They Keep Shouting ‘Go to Pakistan’?

(First published in

                Until three years ago, when a self-confessed Hindu nationalist Mr. Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of this country, the favorite insult of right wingers on social media was pseudo-seculars. Anyone who questioned their viewpoint or supported anything done by the then government were labeled as pseudo-seculars and accused of minority appeasement. Then it all changed, and the term pseudo-secular is hardly found in the mentions and comments. It appears that the term ‘anti-national’ has replaced pseudo-secular.
                When a ‘hostile’ government was in power, these people could hardly use the term anti-national because most of their campaigns went against the state and the nation as it existed then.  There was no hesitance to go after the government, judiciary, police or even armed forces.  They wanted everyone to be anti-government, and it is not so easy to distinguish between anti-national and anti-government. When Mr. Modi assumed the power, the whole narrative had to be changed, and the acts and deeds of the state supported at any cost!
                If we follow the current pattern, we see an eagerness among the right wingers to label everyone voicing a different view as anti-national and ask them to go to Pakistan or at least to leave India. On the face of it, such labelling, or commands to leave the country, is blatantly wrong. The nation is not anyone’s family property that one can keep asking other citizens to go away. Then, why do they keep doing that?
                To understand this phenomenon, we need to go back and look at the nature of the right wing in India. The continuing support to the type of policies being followed by Modi government clearly indicates that the so called right wing in India has nothing to do with rightist economic policies. This Govt does not subscribe to the liberal principles of ownership of one’s assets, or even one’s body and privacy. Look at its stand in the demonetization or Aadhaar issue and it becomes quite obvious. At times, Modi Govt’s policies are more leftist than the communists!
                What we term as right wing in India is less of economic right, and more of religious right. It was no accident or slip of tongue that Mr. Modi chose to describe himself as a ‘Hindu nationalist’ during the electioneering. The allegiance is not to an India envisaged by the Constitution, but a Hindu Rashtra envisaged by the parent body, RSS. That is why the term ‘Bhakts’ is more accurate to describe the supporters of this government than the term ‘right wing,’ which has some universally accepted characteristics grounded mainly in economics. 
                The primary binding factor for the Bhakts is the religion. However, in India religion alone cannot divide people into a clean Us vs They.  There are a large number of Hindus who do not subscribe to the RSS’s Hindutva. It is not easy to make every Hindu to follow the ideals of Sangh in the short or medium term. Bhakts and Sangh believe that the minds of these people were corrupted by the liberal or colonial education system and brainwashing by the evangelists and Islamists.  The political power. However, helps them to make a clean division between nationals and anti-nationals. Never mind how much they had opposed the previous governments, but now with a RSS backed government in power only anti-nationals can question its policies or acts. It is not surprise that the Sangh draws inspiration form the practices of religions to make the division!
                Religions usually demand strict and unquestioning adherence to its precepts. Religions create a lot of rules for the followers to obey. Any violation of these rules are termed sins, which are supposed to bring heavy consequences in this life or the forthcoming lives. The strategies may differ from religion to religion. One religion may demand confessions, another may demand penance, or confer rewards and punishments in the form of the fruits of one’s acts and deeds. All of them, however, demands complete obedience.
                The obedience sought by the religious forces is absolute. Stories of Abraham who readied himself to murder his young son on the command of his God, and Ekalavya who cut his thumb on the command of his Guru Dronacharya are the examples that readily comes to mind, while we can find any number of such examples from the religious myths.  The instrument of precepts, sins, and punishments is the effective tool that religious use to command absolute subservience from the followers.
Now that the political power has been captured, Bhakts would love to ensure similar unquestioning, absolute obedience to their government from all Indians. It is, therefore, their duty to keep reminding anyone who raises voice of dissent that it is a mortal sin to do so. Every voice against their regime is anti-national and fit to be punishment with a one way ticket to the ‘antithesis of their nation.’ Pakistan that came into existence as a Muslim nation is symbolic as an antithesis of the Hindu Rashtra. If the sins continue, then they will not hesitate to use more persuasive methods like physical attacks and lynching.
                Religions have perfected the art of creating a number of hard to avoid sins so that the followers remain guilty and apologetic all the time. The neo-nationalist Bhakts are also importing this strategy of sins, to make citizens defensive all the time, by creating too many anti-national acts!  They will shout anti-national at even small deviations in behavior so that the citizens will not dare to do of voice anything which is even slightly inconvenient to the government.
                A citizen is not expected to support anything and everything that the government, public servants, or armed forces of the country do. It is the duty of a citizen to be on constant vigil and ensure every wrong is called out and corrected. The demands like ‘go to Pakistan’ or abuses like ‘anti-national’ are inevitable when you point out the mistakes of a government that is founded on the religious nationalism.
                It is not easy to go against an organized religion or cult. It is also not easy to go against nationalist government of any religious persuasion. But then, who said democracy and liberty are easy to get or easy to maintain?!

P.S: When it really mattered, they did not take part in the Quit India movement. Today, they keep shouting ‘Quit India’!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Life under Modi Govt as per the Economic Times Poll

Look at the results of a poll conducted by one of the leading business newspapers, The Economic Times, on the life under Modi Govt.

Q. 5 shows 66% of those who responded think that the prices and cost of living has not reduced under this Govt.
Q. 4 shows that 57% feels Swachh Bharat has failed to make their cities any cleaner!
Q 3 says 60% of the people feel that crimes against women and children has not reduced, as promised.
Q 2 says 58% of the responses believe healthcare facilities and other services have not improved!
Now look at the first question. 69% of the respondents feel optimistic about their family's future in India (presumably under the same Govt). Does it look like a paradox? Of course, unless the responses are influenced by any of the following:
1.      The responses are from cows or Gau Rakshaks who are not bothered about the impact of Q 2 to Q 5 on families.
2.     The responses are based on the optimism that the electorate will change this Govt in just another two years and, therefore, the situation relating to Q 2 to Q 5 is only a short term issue.
3.       The poll and the accompanying report are designed to serve the same Govt's public relation objectives.
Now, can there be any other logic which can possibly explain the optimistic feelings of 69% of the people who took part in this poll, towards their family's future life under this Govt, given their own view on each of the parameters?