The recent by-elections in the parliamentary seats of Srinagar and Anantnag have made news for all the wrong reasons – a record low voter turnout of 7%, nearly 200 instances of violence and the hyped incident about a stone-pelter being tied to an army jeep in order to deter a mob from lynching policemen. Based on all the conversations happening around this incident, one is compelled to make a few observations.
- The common discourse is that there must be a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. In a democracy, this is done through a democratically elected, committed government – one which represents the aspirations of the people. If the people are prevented from exercising their franchise due to a hostile climate created by anti-national elements, the very idea of democracy is endangered. The low voter turnout in the elections indicates that the terrorists have imbued fear in the populace, and they have been coerced into abstaining from exercising their franchise.
- On 9th April, when soldiers of ITBP and J&K Police were ‘gheraoed’ by a mob of hundreds of stone-pelters and threatened with lynching, none of our journalists, politicians, liberals and academia were present on ground to save them. The Army officer tasked to rescue them had to resort to tying a stone-pelter to the jeep to ensure a safe passage for all the encircled policeman. The young officer accomplished his task without any damage to either the troops or to the civilians, and the stone-pelter was handed over to J&K Police, unharmed post the evacuation of the policemen. It is important to note that such decisions are taken under immense pressure, often with incomplete information and in a short span of time. When there is a counter insurgency operation happening, the soldiers in combat do not have the luxury of debating abstract concepts. All decisions ultimately boil down to survival and a choice of being killed or being alive.
- Instead of lauding the officer for taking decisive and timely action which led to the safe evacuation of the policemen, his actions are being questioned and criticised. However, none of the critics have suggested an alternative that could have been adopted? Unless off course, the assumption is that a soldier’s life is expendable and less valuable than that of a stone-pelter! Let us not forget that it was this very same Army which had risked the lives of its personnel to save civilians during the Kashmir floods. Surely, the hearts of these very critics would have bled at the thought of innocent lives dying in floods, yet not even one of them volunteered to go into the flooded areas to help others.
- The above leads to a deeper observation. Do Human Rights exist only for civilians and not for men in uniform? Does a man sign away his right to survival, dignity and respect when he decides to don the uniform? One has not heard any Human Rights activist raise a voice against a decision by a military court in Pakistan, sentencing Kulbhushan Jadhav to death on trumped up charges. Nobody protested against the gruesome torture meted out to Lt. Saurabh Kalia. Few bother to remember the numerous, faceless soldiers who lead lives away from their families and die in anonymity in the Kashmir Valley. It can be argued that when men join the Armed Forces, they are well aware of the dangers and risks they will be exposed to, so why should we put them on a pedestal? It was their decision to join this profession, and they should live with it. Sure – let us not put them on a pedestal. But the least we can do is to treat them at par with the rest of the countrymen. Their lives are not cheaper than ours. They are not dispensable commodities who can be used and thrown.
- Lastly, has anybody including the politicians who have ruled over Kashmir for decades, really tried to address the underlying problem? Stone pelting is not the problem, it is only a symptom of the malaise. The underlying problem is far deeper and needs grave introspection. Instead of making irresponsible statements on Twitter, challenging the actions of Armed Forces (which they are not competent to do), it would be better if the politicians look at governance, inclusion, employment and investment. Likewise, if the liberals have better ideas to generate peace and stability in the Valley, they should express and implement the same. Their job is not to further derail the peace process by questioning the Armed Forces. Let the Armed Forces do their job.
If media continues misrepresenting incidents to get ‘sensational breaking news’ for TRPs, if politicians continue fuelling mistrust for cheap political gains and if liberals continue worrying about the Human Rights only of insurgents … then the day is not far when even the last bastion of nationalism, the Armed Forces, will become like the rest of us – inept, inefficient and weak. God save our country then.
An alumnus of Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, Aditi Hingu is a Gold Medalist from the University of Delhi. Hailing from an Army background, she has been working in the corporate sector for the last two decades and writes passionately on issues that she feels strongly about.