Two videos both from troubled Kashmir valley went 'viral' in the social media last week. The first was that of CRPF soldiers being heckled and beaten by Kashmiri youths who also vandalised the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) the soldiers were carrying. Despite the grave provocation, the soldiers maintained calm.
The second video was that of a Kashmiri youth being tied to the front of vehicle leading a convoy of the Indian Army--much like a human shield. The videos emerged after internet services, suspended following the violence on April 9, was restored on April 13.
There are some similarities in the two contrasting videos that appeared in the social media. Both incidents occurred in the Budgam district and both incidents occurred on 9 April, the day of the by-polls to the parliamentary seat. At least eight people were killed when security forces fired to quell the massive, engineered violence on the day of the by-poll.
The CRPF soldiers who were heckled have been complimented and praised for their calm in not allowing the situation to escalate. A case has since been registered at the Chadoora police station. Five people have been arrested. The J&K Police has said they will be dealt with "as per law."
The Indian Army, on the other hand, has said that it is investigating the veracity of the video showing a youth tied to the front of a jeep leading a convoy. If that were true, the army will also investigate what were the circumstances that forced such a measure.
Both videos chronicle the appalling state we are in. They also very clearly signal the obvious: the deteriorating situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
'Next best thing to God'
I believe the State can and should be challenged, but within the bounds of the Indian Constitution. Attacking soldiers is not acceptable. Our enemies do that.
Similarly, no matter what the provocation, no professional military organisation should be lowering the bar and using human shields for "safe passage". The tactic is also ironic because the Indian forces have been trying to win the "hearts and minds" of people in the valley for years. If the Indian Army used a "human shield", it lowers the bar. High examples set in the past are tarnished. Condoning it would mean worse. Individual indiscretion cannot be allowed to harm the institution.
Now, the important question that comes up is that are we measuring the attack on the CRPF soldiers and the use of a human shield in an army convoy on the same scale? That is a question that stares at the nation as a collective.
Like several others in my line of work, I have been to Kashmir many times. I do understand the truth often lies in the grey. Operational issues and ground realities cannot always be put down on a textbook. I can, therefore, fathom why a young harassed officer in the Rashtriya Rifles--a specialized counter insurgency force of the Indian Army--thought it appropriate to use a human shield for ensuring the passage of a convoy. The troopers, it seems, were rushing to the rescue of their besieged colleagues elsewhere in the district.
Beerwah in Budgam district is known to be peaceful, at least when compared to South Kashmir. The use of a human shield to cross such an area therefore is a telling comment of the ground situation in the valley.
That said, one fails to understand why the same standards of "operational necessity" weren't applied in Haryana during the Jat agitation in 2016, when the land was pillaged for weeks and New Delhi was brought to its knees? Then too soldiers of the Indian army were attacked and mobbed severely in Haryana. Then the outrage, even in the social media, wasn't so high.
Interestingly, in both states—Haryana and Jammu & Kashmir—the BJP is part of the government.
What about the stone pelting youth?
Much of the protest in the valley has been engineered. There are reports that under-invoiced goods bartered through trading points along the Line of Control (LoC) have been used to fuel the protest. New Delhi believes and has been saying it out loud that the unrest—now in its second year—has been engineered by Pakistan. And there is some truth in this. Last year when I was in the valley, I couldn't figure out who was organising 10 and 11-year-old boys to throw stones. These groups move like an organised para-military. They know when to gather, throw stones and when to retreat. Who is behind such a well-organised mechanism?
Pakistan for sure is fishing in troubled waters. They are bound to. But there is worse—that State appears to be retreating. For instance, secessionist messages are regularly played out from mosques in Srinagar, which is the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir.
But blaming Pakistan, no matter how convenient for India, is equally damning. Does it mean that India's promise of economically and socially inclusive society is no longer appealing to those J&K? Alternatively, it could also mean that Pakistan is better at luring people in the valley. it would also mean that we have failed to counter that fake and bogus narrative spun by Pakistan. The latter is even worse for New Delhi.
A leader's way out
In November 2014, in an unusual move, the then Chief of the Northern Command, Lieutenant General D S Hooda apologised after two teenage boys were shot by the Indian Army by mistake. "We take responsibility for the death of the two boys in Kashmir," General Hooda had said. While the veterans had questioned General Hooda's apology, the rising public anger in the valley had diminished with this statement. The answer as to how to handle the unrest is perhaps within us.