Last week, patriotic nationalists turned a young woman constable of the Central Reserve Police Force into their latest hero as they widely shared a video of her making a speech declaring that it is not possible to fight militancy while respecting human rights.
Some TV channels even thought fit it to air the video, commending the constable for her fiery delivery and sparky ideas. Gaurav Sawant of the India Today channel suggested that the speech was a warning to the “so called intellectuals” and “tukde tukde gang” (Destroy India gang).
The speech was part of a debate on human rights held annually for the central paramilitary forces under the aegis of National Human Rights Commission. Delivered in presence of judges from the commission and other senior bureaucrats, the speech by Khushboo Chauhan was vitriolic, to say the least. It suggested that pre-emptive violence was justified and claimed that expecting the security forces to uphold human rights was hypocritical.
The substance of her speech effectively negated everything she and indeed all Indian security forces personnel are taught about the “use of minimum force” and need to adhered to the principals of human rights
After the video received severe criticism, the Central Reserve Police issued a statement reiterating its commitment to observance of human rights. It also accepted that some portions of the speech “should have been avoided” and the constable had been “suitably advised”.
This clarification sounds hollow and appeared like an attempt to save face. The constable could not have reached the finals of this national-level debate without having won similar such competitions at lower levels, starting from her unit going up to the level of the entire force.
That the contents of Chauhan’s speech passed the scrunity of officers in the hierarchy of a security force mandated to assist the civil administration in controlling militancy and in anti-Naxalite operations is worrisome. It is an indication of the general attitude of the members of this paramilitary force towards observing human rights.
Of course members of the security force personnel have their human rights too. But they cannot claim that because militants do not respect the human rights of security personnel, members of the forces are under no obligation to respect international conventions.
Security personnel have chosen a profession in which they are expected to face life-threatening situations. They have been trained to counter those situations through effective use of minor tactics and weapons after proper assessment. If they do not follow practiced drills, they are likely to put themselves in danger, repeating the tragedies in Pulwama in February or in jungles of Chhattisgarh in 2017. It is part of the strategy of militants to strike at the very moment the forces are most complacent and careless. The examples she cites are self-inflicted calamities, not violations of the human rights of force personnel.
Secondly, Chauhan was wrong to make references to the events at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2016, when student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar and others were arrested for sedition, ostensibly for chanting “anti-national slogans”. The case, after all, is sub-judice. Her call for violence against Kanhiya was particularly distasteful. Moreover,the incident had nothing to do with the observance of human rights.
Her reference to the Jawaharlal Nehru University case demonstrates how politicised our security forces have become. This does not augur well for discipline in the forces and therefore the security of the nation.
In the entire speech, she is right only on one aspect. The troops appear to operate with one hand tied behind their back, she said. Several examples can be cited to prove the point. Members of the security forces are not sure their superiors will back them in cases where a casualty or collateral loss occurs while they are honestly performing their duties.
The messaging has to be correctly packaged. Troops must be made to practice various contingencies during training and be given a clear-cut understanding of the concept of “minimum force”. This will go a long way in allaying their apprehensions.
That Chauhan went on to win a consolation prize for her efforts reflects adversely on the National Human Rights Commission. How could it allow such acerbic condemnation of the very principals it is mandated to protect? It also reflects poorly on the judges of the event, who perhaps appraised the competitors based only on their body language and display of aggression instead of assessing the quality of their arguments. How could they give a prize to someone who advocates violence and justifies the violation of human rights?
My recommendation to the National Human Rights Commission is that it should discontinue this debating competition. Instead, it should encourage the forces to monitor and analyse each case of use of force and disseminate best practices that the troops can adopt.
Sanjiv Krishan Sood is a retired Additional Director General of the Border Security Force.