The Big Story: Silent approval
Officially, all the government has said about the incident in which a Kashmiri man was unwillingly tied to the front of a jeep and used as a human shield by armed forces is that it is under investigation. The Army is looking into the matter. The Jammu and Kashmir police has filed an FIR in the case. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has sought a detailed report on the incident. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh also said he would look into it.
In the absence of any official statement from the government, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi stepped unto the breach. “The recent report about a stone pelter tied to an Army vehicle, it helped contain stone pelters and saved the poll officials. Why so much noise?” asked Rohatgi, while speaking to NDTV. “The Army is dealing with terrorists not with protestors, so they will have to be dealt with... everyone should look at the Army with pride, they are doing a great job.”
There is no way to read this except as a ringing endorsement of the way the forces seem to have acted in the situation. Whether he was speaking for himself or as the senior-most law officer in the government doesn’t matter. It is inevitable that his words will be taken as a reflection of the government’s thinking. That is deeply troubling.
It suggests that India’s top law officer endorses an approach that includes a willful disregard of the law. Many have claimed that the human shield incident reflects quick thinking by an Army officer in an attempt to save lives, even though it is unclear why the forces picked Farooq Dar, the man tied to the jeep, who claims that he was out voting that day – and will never do so again.
Even if one allows for “out-of-the-box solutions” to resolve a tricky situation, the Indian state cannot suspend any citizen’s individual rights simply because it finds it convenient to do so. This is especially relevant for Rohatgi, who is expected to give advice to the government on legal matters. Under which law would India’s attorney general say it is permissible for the government to apprehend citizens and, without their consent, strap them to the front of a vehicle? The standard internet reply to this is to insist that stone-pelting is “terrorism” and not legal either. But that misses the point altogether. Even if Indian citizens are being unlawful and violent, the government must enforce the law – not break it. That’s what separates soldiers from militants.
The government, and the armed forces, might feel that it is important not to demonise the officer who made this decision at a time when the situation remains fraught. But they must do everything they can to insist that the decision itself was unlawful, that the victim will get justice and that the action will not be repeated. To stay silent, while the nation’s top law officer appears to endorse the actions, is to effectively approve of a blatantly illegal approach that will lead India down a perilously slippery slope.
The Big Scroll
- ‘I will never vote again’. Rayan Naqash speaks to the Kashmiri man used as ‘human shield’, who described his journey of humiliation.
- Rayan Naqash and Saikat Datta explain how the man found himself strapped to an army vehicle.
- Even as the facts remain unclear, there is no question that the tactic of using human shields is illegal in most places, and in some countries even considered a war crime.
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- Neha Sinha in the Hindu says we need to understand, educate and punish people when they respond to wild animals in human spaces by turning into a mob.
- “The question now is not who might govern, but the trajectory that the will of its people, the fragile thread that binds Kashmir to India through the institution of democracy, will take,” writes Wajahat Habibullah in the Indian Express.
- Manas Chakravarty in Mint pulls out statistics (and a lot of puns) to give you a portrait of the average meat eater in India.
- BV Acharya, the special prosecutor in former Tamil Nadu chief minister’s corruption case, argues in the Hindu that the Supreme Court should not have dismissed Karnataka’s appeal that her death amounts to an abatement of the case against Amma.
- “In time, more and more of us will learn to value light, not just for itself but also for the memories of it, for the visual pleasure of it, for its life in literature, in paintings, photographs and movies, for the emotions it evokes and carries.” Ruchir Joshi in the Telegraph takes a good look at light.
- “It emerges that semi-authoritarianism is a terrific way to stay in power so long as you have a populist base and a willingness to erode free speech and free elections,” writes Noah Feldman in Bloomberg.
Supriya Sharma spends Easter at a church in eastern Uttar Pradesh which is in the crosshairs of Yogi Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini.
“Steadfast in their faith, the women were unfazed by the police interrogation – or the menace of the Vahini activists, who reportedly threatened to burn down the vehicle that the foreigners were travelling in. ‘They taunted us saying cows are being slaughtered and you are being fed beef in the church,’ said Rajkali, a neighbour of Usha Devi. “Zabardasti Hindu se Christian banaya jaa raha hai.” [You are being forcibly converted from Hindus to Christians].
The women shot back: ‘Yahan dharma parivartan nahi, mann parivartan ho raha hai.’ [It isn’t a change of religion, but a change of faith.]
What would they tell census enumerators when asked about their religion? Usha Devi and her family said they would self-identify as Christians. ‘We have removed all images and idols [of Hindu gods and goddesses] from our house.’”