The Big Story: Shielded from common sense

From all the three armies that emerged from the British Indian Army as the Raj crumbled, the modern Indian Army was something remarkable. Unlike the Pakistani and Bangladeshi armies, the Indian Army did not conduct coups or interfere in domestic politics. Even in insurgency-prone areas, the Indian army has taken great pride in what it calls its WHAM or “winning hearts and minds” approach. Yet, that trend now seems under strain given the rising militarism in the Indian political discourse.

The latest trend in this seems to be the support the Indian Army has extended to its officer, Major Nitin Gogoi, who had strapped a man to the bonnet of his jeep in Jammu and Kashmir last month. Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat gave Gogoi a commendation card for “sustained efforts on counter insurgency”.

Using a “human shield” by any military is against international law. In fact, it is against the most basic norms of conflict that prohibit the harming of civilian life. The Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court both consider the use of human shields to be a war crime. Yet, driven possibly by the political support from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the army has chosen to ignore these rules of conflict.

Ironically, this comes at a time when the Indian government is trying to use international law in order to free Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian citizen sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court. India has already won a preliminary victory at the International Court of Justice, which has stayed Jhadav’s execution till the proceedings of the case get over. It is this same ICJ whose rules prohibit the use of human shields. As Pakistan ponders its internal standing in the case of Jhadav, where it seems clear international rules have been ignored, India must also consider what the use of human shields – which are both illegal and immoral – will do to the country’s standing in the international community.

Further, if India’s aim is to win hearts and minds in Kashmir, the imagery of a human shield – of a man being tied helpless to a military jeep – is possibly the worst thing that could be broadcast out. And this is not only about Kashmir – the brutality of the concept of using a human shield is something that will affect the public discourse of the entire country. On Monday, for example, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Paresh Rawal tweeted out, “Instead of tying stone pelters on the army jeep tie Arundhati Roy”.

The brutalisation of the discourse means that the use of human shields will affect not only Kashmiris. If Roy – an internationally celebrated author – can be threatened with violence and physical harm by a ruling party MP, one can imagine the fate of less famous dissidents who would dare oppose the administration.

The Big Scroll

  1. The use of human shields is a war crime and the practice is banned even in Israel, writes Rohan Venkataramakrishnan.
  2. ‘I will never vote again’: Kashmiri man used as “human shield” describes his journey of humiliation to Rayan Naqash.
  3. “The image of youth tied to jeep doesn’t define the Army’s approach to Kashmir”: Saikat Datta interviews Lieutenant General DS Hooda a former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Udhampur-based Northern Command, which oversees Jammu and Kashmir.

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  1. Space has opened up in Tamil Nadu politics for an alternative to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. But screen popularity may not be sufficient for Rajinikanth, writes Amrith Lal in the Indian Express.
  2. The banking ordinance skirts real solutions to the ongoing crisis, writes Ajay Chhibber in the Economic Times.
  3. Hassan Rouhani might have beaten the conservatives in the recent Iranian Presidential elections. But if he fails to include the poor and the disfranchised in the expanding economy, the hardliners could spring back, argues Hamid Dabashi in Al Jazeera.


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