Using a civilian as a human shield and curbing freedom of expression, clearly India doesn’t care about Kashmir
The Indian army’s former General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Northern Command, Lieutenant General Harcharanjit Singh Panag was nastily trolled on social media recently. The reason for this was because he expressed his outrage over the Indian army’s act of using a Kashmiri civilian as a literal ‘human shield’. Farooq Ahmed Dar, 26-years-old, was tied to a vehicle to protect the army personnel from stone pelting in Indian-held Kashmir’s Budgam district on April 13, 2017.
— Ayaan Maqsood (@ayaanmaqsood) April 14, 2017
The incident prompted General Panag to send out a tweet:
Image of a 'stone pelter' tied in front of a jeep as a 'human shield',will 4 ever haunt the Indian Army&the nation!
— Lt Gen H S Panag(R) (@rwac48) April 15, 2017
Apart from being called an “anti-national”, the retired army officer received about 2,000 tweets, some of which also contained threats to thrash him, India’s popular television channel New Delhi Television Limited (NDTV) reported. He responded to each of the tweets.
General Panag has served in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir for four decades. The day Dar was made a human shield in violation of international human rights law and probably the Geneva Convention as well, some top politicians affiliated with the ruling Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) defended the indefensible.
Justifying the controversial video, BJP’s general secretary Ram Madhav told the Indian news channel CNN-News18,
“I compliment the major for not allowing both these things to happen… If I were to blame anybody today for that scenario, it would be those who were responsible for failing to send reinforcements when the situation was critical and it was informed to the seniors. In war and love, everything is fair.”
Madhav’s remarks reflect a larger malaise and Hindutva mind-set in mainland India which is becoming more and more radicalised. Mainstreaming of radical majoritarian politics in India is the new reality which can’t be brushed aside as aberration.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ascendant to power in May 2014, India is speaking aggressively to the people of Kashmir as it never has before. The language is of power, not engagement. The argument is of power with no power in the argument.
This shameful ‘human shield’ incident occurred during the time of re-polling in the Srinagar parliamentary constituency. This re-polling witnessed a record low voter turnout when compared to the last five decades; striking a sense of shame for Jammu and Kashmir’s embattled coalition government headed by the pro-India Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The shocking decision of tying a civilian to the bonnet of an army jeep was taken by the Indian army’s 53 Rashtriya Rifles.
@abhijeetsinger Little Brown Shirt,even at this age,I can give the terrorists a lesson,as also to an upstart like u!
— Lt Gen H S Panag(R) (@rwac48) April 16, 2017
For a majority of Kashmiris, the atrocities of the Indian army are nothing new.
Kashmir has been witnessing horrific war crimes including the alleged mass rape in the Konanposhpora village in north Kashmir’s frontier district in the early 1990s, hundreds of custodial killings, torture, extra-judicial killings, mass graves and more since the eruption of the popular armed uprising in 1989. Speaking to Irfan Ahmad, a young Kashmiri professional, he told me,
“The image has given a face and a voice to numerous such incidents that have been happening in Kashmir for last three decades. The visuals synchronise with the internationally known acts of torture, thus triggering widespread condemnation globally.”
In today’s technological world, it is rather difficult to hide shame and this is probably the reason why the state’s home department of the Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to ban 22 social networking sites for one month. The thought process behind this ban, it seems, is to curb freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, the coalition government in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir is drawing criticism from various quarters for its unusually harsh measures. Moreover, the ban, beginning April 26th, has also incorporated the suspension of 4G/3G services for an indefinite period in the disputed Himalayan region. The ban comes in the backdrop of massive civilian protests against Indian rule and the student-led agitation across the valley.
The recent cycle of agitation began as a result of the by-elections. Consequently, 10 civilians were killed by government forces.
The ban order, signed by the principal secretary in the state’s home department, argued that social media networking sites were being used by “anti-national and subversive elements” for “vitiating peace and tranquillity” in Jammu and Kashmir, an argument which has been used by the opposition and pro-independence groups.
During a discussion, Mohammad Yasin Malik, chairman of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), said to me,
“India has ceased to be a democratic country… India has become a fascist state. In Narendra Modi’s India, there is no space for dissent anymore. Ban on the internet and social media is being enforced to curb freedom of expression.”
The internet is often suspended in Kashmir to quell civilian protests and anti-India demonstrations, which sometimes turn violent when the government forces get involved.
According to a report by the Software Freedom Law Centre, the internet has been blocked in Kashmir at least 31 times from 2012 to 2016.
It appears that the message from India to the world is clear – “We no more care about international outrage over human rights abuse in Kashmir!”
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.