Army put in hostile situation, told to kill civilians

Village women console the relatives of three civilians (including a girl), who were allegedly killed in security forces action, during their funeral procession at Hawoorah Mishipora, in Kulgam district on Saturday, July 7, 2018. PTI Photo

Claims and counter-claims on human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir and the north-east continue to hit the headlines. A recent report by a United Nations body on the human rights conditions in Kashmir has generated a lot of heat, with the government not taking kindly to it. Security forces are accused of committing excesses while the authorities try to question narratives by rights groups. Colin Gonsalves, a lawyer known for taking up human rights causes, spoke to DH's Shemin Joy.

 

Allegations of human rights abuses fly thick and fast in areas affected by insurgency, especially in the north-east or in Jammu and Kashmir. What are the challenges there?

First of all, we should not use the word insurgency because this is a word used by the State. We are accustomed to use this word. You have to begin to question that. Is it really insurgency-prone or is it the insurgency by the State? It is the state, which is fomenting trouble. Let's examine the example of Manipur. Manipur had about 300 killings per year. But the moment the Supreme Court ordered an investigation, the killings have dropped to two. From 300, you have dropped to two killings. So, peace has returned to Manipur. So where was the insurgency in Manipur in the first place? My sense is that Manipur and such places are used by the State as training centres to train the security forces to kill. They are not engaged in any war. So, how do you train your people to kill? So, Manipur was the place where the security forces are trained to kill. You engage in a big propaganda of insurgency. Supreme Court asks to investigate a case and the insurgency is over? Is that possible? Is the insurgency of the order which the government has projected? I am not saying there are no militants. Militancy is there. As far as we are concerned, we are not concerned with cases where somebody has opened fire at security personnel, who retaliated. There are militants and there are genuine encounters. All are aware of fake encounters and genuine encounters. Genuine encounters fall under different regime of law. Mainly, it is legal for a police officer who comes under attack to retaliate and even take life. So, we are only concerned about fake encounters.

 

You spoke about Manipur. How do you see the situation in Kashmir?

There is one important difference, which is the terrorists who are coming from across the border. However, the situation is similar in the sense that insurgency is created by actions by the State, which are very harsh. When the State’s actions are harsh, the public begin to feel that they have nothing to lose but their lives. And they are willing to lose lives. When a population of that scale is willing to lose lives, it means you have lost the hearts of the people of Kashmir. It seems now that you will never get them back. You will never get that population back because they are totally alienated from the State. The people of Kashmir were never oriented towards joining Pakistan. It was only our politicians who made very inflammatory statements like “you go to Pakistan”. Kashmiris never wanted Pakistan. The broad mass would have preferred to remain in India, but the conduct of the Indian government and the Indian Army was such that now they have alienated the people completely.

Let me give you a single example of the use of pellet guns. Who would want to remain in India when force is used and have killings of this scale? Pellet guns killed so many innocent children. Today, the dominant feeling in Kashmir would be some kind of independence for Kashmir. It is not unusual for persecuted people to think so. As far as Pakistani terrorists are concerned, what the State does is the State's business. Because terrorism stands on a different footing from dealing with the people of Kashmir. It would be legitimate for the State to tackle Pakistani terrorists. But, in the guise of fighting terrorism, to kill your own people is inexcusable.

 

There is a counter about the rights of security personnel. The criticism is that human rights activists do not speak for security personnel. How do you respond to that?

The death of any security personnel is regrettable. All human life, whether you are an ordinary citizen or a soldier, is important. To send security forces into an area where the population is so against them, the person to blame is not the human rights activist. The ones to blame are the politicians, who have played with the lives of people. Security forces generally come from the poorer sections of the society. They are ordinary Indians. They don't want to go into a situation where everybody hates them. Who put them there? Not the human rights activists. When you talk to senior army generals, you get a very different picture, a very truthful picture, a very balanced picture of Kashmir. Every single officer we talk to says, the politicians have messed up Kashmir. So, the Congress is to blame, the BJP is to blame for all these years of killings in Kashmir. Security forces are not certainly to be blamed. They have been put in a situation where they are told to kill civilians. Indian citizens kill Indian citizens.

 

You spoke about alienation of Kashmiris. We had the use of pellet guns, human shields. What change you saw in the past few years?

It has become worse in the last 3-4 years. Treating civilians openly as Pakistani terrorists and enemies of the State is quite a recent phenomenon, where senior leaders use very provocative language, harsh language against their own people. That kind of language and attitude will only will make it much worse. Hundreds of stone-throwers were put into jails and tortured. So, these are the things -- the pellet guns, the human shields -- that make things worse. Why was it necessary to do a stupid thing like using a civilian as human shield? Only Israeli army does such things. The Israeli army, which is one of the most brutal forces in the world, is training our people how to behave. They have taught our people to use human shields. Our forces have become killer forces.

 

The UN report said Indian security forces used excessive force against protesters in Kashmir that led to unlawful killings. Do you agree with that assertion?

I haven’t read the report. But the use of excessive force is very common not only in Kashmir, right across the country. Let me tell you one more example – Chhattisgarh, where it is said there is an insurgency and there are terrorists. Earlier, there were many rapes and killings. After the Supreme Court began looking at these killings in Chhattisgarh, too, there was a certain degree of control on fake encounters. This is not to say that the battle between the underground forces and the security forces are not taking place. The moment a court starts looking at a case, you find that the fake encounters begin to come under some degree of control. This insurgency thing is largely a state-sponsored phrase which we all have become accustomed to. Why don't we say, instead of insurgency, a state of ‘social movements’, or ‘resistance to exploitation’ or ‘resistance against oppression’. But, we use the phrase that the State wants us to.

 

 

Are impunity for rights violations and lack of access to justice resulting in an increase in human rights violations?

It is a very important question. In the last 30 years or so, you will find that the appointment of the chief justice of a high court in a state where there is some social turmoil is made in such that the person chosen is not accustomed to dealing with human rights matters. What the activists find, what people find is that the high court remains silent even in the face of the most brutal oppression. This is an abdication of the constitutional duty of the high court. Those judges are accustomed to dealing with individual cases, but when it comes to social issues, political upheavals, killing of people, violation of human rights, they do not have the capacity or the conviction to correct the situation in the states. So, people feel let down. Even today, people feel let down by the high courts that are silent. So, you could say that in many states, the access to justice has been shut down. Therefore, people will take to the streets because they cannot get justice.

 

Is Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) adding to the woes?

Everybody agrees that AFSPA is the most worthless law issued ever. It made the situation worse. It gave the army and security forces a feeling that they have a licence to kill. So, this is one statute which has caused the situation to deteriorate in the country and to turn India into a military state. We are by and large a military state. This statute has been analysed by experts abroad and they are amazed that such a statute can held to be constitutional. The judgements on POTA, TADA and the AFSPA judgements are the worst that the Supreme Court has given. These judgements will go down in history along with the judgements during the Emergency.

 

Role of local police also has come into question in Kashmir and north-east. What is your view?

What has happened is that the government has failed miserably in its basic task to turn the police force into a professional force. We learnt policing from the British. We used baton. We learnt torture from the colonial powers. We learnt from the Irish, which had the most brutal force. The irony is that our colonial masters reformed themselves. The British went through 3-4 phases of police reforms. They enacted statutes, changed them, upgraded them and modernised them. The Irish Police also modernised. But India never modernised. India became more colonial than its masters. We still treat people as enemies of the State. If people are doing a demonstration, like in Thoothukudy, shoot them down. You talk of Jallianwala Bagh. But Gen. Dyer was discharged from the British Army. In India, we have at least 20 Jallianwala Baghs. Nobody was discharged. Nothing happens. They get promotions for killing their own people.

 

What are your suggestions to deal with the situation?

The most important thing is police reforms. By police reforms, I am not talking about the case in the Supreme Court. What we need is radical reforms. For this, you need to look at your recruitment system. Around 80% of the force is casteist, sexist, anti-Muslim and oriented towards supporting ministers, industrialists and real estate agents and so on. They are anti-poor. This means, you have to purge your police force. If you have a government which really wants to reform, bring peace to this country, you must kick out these people. I would characterise the police force as the largest body of organised crime in this country. Therefore, you have to purge your police force and recruit into this force more educated women. Get rid of this masculine, upper caste, upper class, anti-Muslim force. But who will want that? BJP, no. Congress, no. Police has been reduced to be the watchmen of politicians and industrialists.  It has to become the police force of the people, but that is not going to happen.

 

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