Denigration of the security forces is a standard ploy of the terrorist groups to gain moral ascendency. Concocted stories of custodial murders and mass rapes are regularly planted to vilify soldiers. Such ploys serve two purposes. By showing soldiers as vicious and ruthless villains, insurgents gain sympathy of the populace and attract more adherents to their cause. Two, adverse publicity affects the morale of the soldiers adversely. False accusations and apprehensions of subsequent inquisitions compound the challenges.
However, it is the malafide criticism of a section of Indian political leadership and media that hurts Indian soldiers the most. They are highly sensitive to undue criticism. Their dedication to duty, loyalty to the nation and willingness for the supreme sacrifice are driven less by material considerations and more by an overwhelming urge to ensure national security. A grateful nation’s recognition acts as the strongest motivator. When unfairly censured, they start wondering as to whose war they are fighting.
The recent video is another brazen attempt to discredit the security forces. It relates to an incident in Budgam wherein an alleged leader of stone-pelters was tied to a jeep to secure safe passage for the besieged troops. As was to be expected, politicians of suspect national loyalties were quick to condemn it as an inhumane act. Journalists went overboard faulting the security forces for the use of ‘human shield’. Overnight, the term ‘human shield’ acquired unprecedented notoriety.
What is a human shield? A shield is a piece of armour that helps intercept hostile attacks and allows the holder to close in with the enemy to enable delivering of a counterstroke. A shield is not a passive protection but acts as an offensive piece through active blocks. In other words, shields help attack an enemy (ensuring own safety). Boxers know it well. They use one fore-arm as a shield to parry opponent’s jabs while attempting to close in for delivering the knock-out punch.
The term human shield denotes use of human beings as a shield. One of the earliest examples of employing human shield appears in the epic Mahabharata. Hiding behind Shikhandi, Arjun advanced towards Bhishm. Once within the range, he shots arrows at him, secure in the knowledge that Shikhandi was an unbreachable shield. As can be seen, Shikhandi was used for offensive purposes and not for passive protection.
In the Budgam case, Dar was not used to attack the mobs. That would have certainly been an unsoldierly act. In this incident, the officer rightly appreciated that he would have to open fire to prevent lynching of the trapped soldiers and the policemen. They had been grossly outnumbered by a 900 strong mob baying for their blood. That would have resulted in major casualties, thereby further vitiating the already charged environment.
Using his initiative, the officer decided to use Dar as protection – yes, ‘protection’ and not ‘shield’. He not only saved the lives of his troops but also spared Kashmir of untold civilian casualties. Hostile mobs go berserk and cannot be controlled by a few warning shots. In late 1990s, a Border Roads vehicle was fired at by militants in Doda area. Stoppage of road construction work was no solution. The local company commander found an easy way out. He ordered that every vehicle would carry 3-4 locally employed labourers, standing prominently in front. All village heads were also informed. Villagers who had been giving shelter to militants earlier were now opposing them, lest their own villagers got killed. Thus, local labourers provided the necessary protection.
Critics must remember that terrorists have been regularly employing school boys as human shields to attack the security forces. No political leader or media personality has ever faulted them for human rights violations. Some hypocrisy and duplicity!
A number of questions are being raised by the ignorant. Did the officer act unlawfully? Is he guilty of human rights violations? Should he be proceeded against for disciplinary action? The unequivocal answer to all the questions is an emphatic NO. He deserves to be lauded for his quick thinking and unorthodox approach. His conduct was as per the law and he was duty bound to act the way he did. Let me explain.
Employment of troops on duties in aid of civil authorities is governed by the ‘Regulations for the Army’, issued by the Government of India.
Paragraph 305 reads: “The strength and composition of the force, the amount of ammunition to be taken and the manner of carrying out the task are matters for the decision of the military authorities alone. It would be borne in mind that the amount of force, both as regards the number of rounds used as well as the damage done, should be the minimum required to disperse the unlawful assembly or to perform the task indicated.”
It is unambiguously clear that it is entirely the prerogative of the military authority to determine the manner of carrying out the assigned task. However, he is counselled to use minimum force and to cause minimum damage. Needless to say, the Budgam officer handled a difficult situation with consummate skill and performed the task admirably. No rounds were fired and no damage was caused to life and property. What more can the nation ask of a young officer who is risking his life to keep India safe!
Further, Paragraph 306(d) of the ‘Regulations for the Army’ provides necessary immunity to the officer concerned. It states, “Officers should also bear in mind that they are legally protected if they act in good faith which is held to mean ‘with due care and attention’.” The Budgam officer undoubtedly acted in good faith, exercising due care and attention, thereby averting a potential catastrophe.
At no stage is it being advocated that the Indian military should not be subjected to scrutiny. However, criticism should be balanced and objective. According to some self-proclaimed chair-bound activists anti-national crowds can throw stones at uniformed persons and maim them, but return fire in self-defence is not acceptable.
Finally, it must be appreciated that the soldiers are not in Kashmir by choice. They hate to be pitted against their own countrymen. Worse, when soldiers get killed, no tears are shed but if insurgents get killed, human right activists raise hell. Unsurprisingly, they wonder if the countrymen understand their trials and tribulations.
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Major General Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, PhD, commanded an Engineer Regiment on the Siachen Glacier, the most hostile battlefield in the world. A highly qualified officer (B Tech, MA (Public Administration), MSc (Defence Studies) and a Doctorate in Public Administration) he was also the Task Force Commander at Pokhran and was responsible for designing and sinking shafts for the nuclear tests of May 1998.
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