On 5th December 2014, well trained and heavily equipped militants opened unprovoked fire in the pre-dawn hours at an Army camp in Uri, Baramullah in Kashmir. Eight Army men and three policemen were killed in the skirmish.
The news analysis over the next few days extensively covered the arms cache recovered from the militants, the alleged involvement of Pakistan and the likely impact of this incident on the ongoing polling process.
Erudite discussions were held in television studios on whether the PM should continue with his proposed trip to Srinagar or not. Many numbers were spoken about – 6 Kalashnikov rifles, 55 magazines, 32 unused grenades and 11 casualties.
The word 'casualty' is an interesting one…routinely used to describe unexpected loss of life in an incident, it brings with it certain dismissive-ness like a shake of the head to acknowledge that which is sad in nature, but not of importance in our immediate lives.
It is in some ways a 'casual treatment' to death; casual because the death is not that of our loved ones. Instead it deals with some unknown or abstract figure, usually physically remote and never really thought about.
However, behind the eleven casualties lie eleven families destroyed. Eleven men snatched in the prime of youth, eleven women doomed to live their lives as widows, ageing parents praying for deliverance and young children who will never know the love of a father.
Eight year old girls are supposed to play with toys; they are not supposed to light the funeral pyre of their father. Who will deliver justice to the eight year old Sara whose father Lt. Col Sankalp Verma was among those who died on that fateful morning of December 5th? What was his crime for which he was punished with an untimely, violent and gruesome end?
His 'crime' was that unlike many of us who sit in the safety of our homes and debate about 'Kashmir problem/ naxalite problem/ human rights sins' , he chose to actively serve his country by being physically present in the line of fire. He chose to join the Indian Army, fully aware that this decision may mean that he has to make the ultimate sacrifice of his life.
And what does an ungrateful nation do? We give him (or rather his posthumous body) his two minutes of fame in media. We tweet about the sad loss of life. We go back to our lives. Nobody even bothers to think again about the dead soldier and his family.
Nobody even questions the fact that could this untimely death have been prevented.
Instead, we talk about human rights atrocities by the Armed Forces in areas impacted by insurgency/militancy. We talk about the alleged militants who were killed in encounters by the Armed Forces. Our heart bleeds for 'suspects' who die custodial deaths.
But where is this compassion when the dead are our own people in uniform? This article does not in any way condone custodial death/ fake encounters or any other abuse of power. But this article does want to raise a simple question – our sense of justice is enraged when we read that a 'suspect' was shot dead by Armed Forces, but why are we not upset when a soldier (and remember, he is not even a 'suspect') is killed? Did the solider not deserve a life?
The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (As amended by the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006 -No.43 of 2006) published by National Human Rights Commission clearly states that this is "An Act to provide for the constitution of a National Human Rights Commission, State Human Rights Commission in States and Human Rights Courts for better protection of human rights and for matters connected there with or incidental thereto."
Section 12 of the Act deals with the Functions and Powers of the Commission and it mentions that the functions of the Commission include "review the factors, including acts of terrorism that inhibit the enjoyment of human rights and recommend appropriate remedial measures". The Act does not anywhere mention that just because a man joined the Armed Forces, he has signed away his human rights.
If the law of the land does not differentiate between the human rights of a soldier and a civilian, then why do we? Yes, there may have been cases where innocent lives were lost, people were traumatized by excesses that may have been carried out by men in uniform and if so, it is right that the culprits be punished. Being in uniform does not mean abusing the power that comes along.
But it is equally important to realize that our soldiers are also human beings. They too, deserve a life of dignity. Every time a Lt. Col Sankalp Verma is killed – it is a human rights violation. Every time a Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan loses his life while saving 14 hostages in the 2008 Taj Mahal Hotel siege- it is a human rights violation. Every time, a 23 year old Captain Saurabh Kalia and his sepoys are tortured by Pakistan Army before death (defying the Geneva Convention which states that prisoners of war cannot be tortured) – it is a human rights violation.
The post mortem of their bodies revealed that they had been burnt with cigarettes, their ear drums pierced with hot rods, eyes punctured, bones and teeth broken, lips and nose cut, private organs cut – all before shooting them dead.
Yet, the Indian public is silent about these outrages. Why? I don't know the answer. But I wish I knew what it is that would make us realize that we do owe our soldiers some empathy and lots of gratitude. An Army man does not expect his nation to do anything for him; the sacrifice is always his.
But the least the nation can do is to recognize that he too has 'human rights' and the right to live is the most basic of them.
Aditi Kumaria Hingu is a marketing graduate from IIM Calcutta, currently working in an MNC. She comes from an army background.
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