Army’s ‘goonda-gardi’

Kashmir's police beaten but critics called 'anti-nationals'

Army’s ‘goonda-gardi’
Last week the Army was in the news for all the wrong reasons yet again. This time it was for a bizarre incident in which a group of Army personnel took exception to the lawful interception by a party of the Jammu and Kashmir Police when the former was returning from Baltal (the base camp of Amarnath yatra) in central district of Ganderbal. The Army men, who were in civvies and in private vehicles, ignored the signal to stop when they reached Sonamarg. (After recent attack on Amarnath yatris in south Kashmir, authorities have disallowed movement of yatris and tourists in Kashmir during the night.)

The police consequently flashed a message for them to stop next at Gund and intercepted them. The Army men did not like this at all, called for “reinforcements” and in reaction swooped in on the police station, damaged its records and computers and injured seven policemen. This incident made the headlines as it was the work of an Army that is supposed to be a disciplined force. Its reaction to the police doing its job did not fit the contours of discipline.

Major Leetul Gogoi, the officer who tied a Kashmiri man to an army jeep, was honoured

Even if one waits for the results of the inquiry ordered by the Army, on the face of it, the party of 24 Rashtriya Rifles (a counter-insurgent force within the Army) had violated the standard operating procedure. Additionally, many questions could be raised on why they were in civvies in an area that is sensitive given the recent attack on Amarnath pilgrims in Anantnag. The policemen were doing their duty and the Army men had to cooperate with them. But that did not happen. They took being asked to stop as an insult and chose instead to teach the police a lesson by sending them to hospital for having the temerity to give them orders. The incident had the effect of renewing the debate on the larger question of how the Army is “doing its job” in Kashmir. The Army men put on a sheer demonstration of power that failed to show any regard for the law of the land. A defense spokesman played it down by describing it as a “minor incident”. What is more, the police turned apologetic, saying that the matter had been taken up with the Army and it would be resolved soon.

While these two parties may have swept the incident under the carpet, there was reaction from the people. Some sarcastically taunted the police on how they were being treated. Others felt pleasure in saying that the Army put the police in their place, as they were the ones committing atrocities against Kashmiris. And the debate on social media took many shades. However, the most interesting reaction came from the Commander of 15 Corps in Srinagar who summarily rejected the reaction on social media as the job of “anti-nationals” who according to him were trying to create a divide between the police and Army. “Army and police are always together as brothers in arms,” he asserted. This too evoked a barrage of reaction from the Twitteratti who took exception to the words “anti-national”.  Does using that language put an end to a civilized debate on the berserk reaction shown by the forces, asked some of those who took exception to the remark.
Much before any inquiry was completed, a conclusion was being drawn that this was a minor altercation and those asking questions about it were already being labeled "anti-nationals"

The question here is not about one incident and the circumstances involved but the larger question of intolerance and unaccountability in the Armed forces. Much before any inquiry was completed, a conclusion was being drawn that this was a minor altercation and those asking questions about it were already being labeled “anti-nationals”. This is exactly how the case of the human shield was treated when Major Leetul Gogoi was given the Army Chief’s commendation for tying a civilian named Farooq Dar to a jeep on April 9. In that case also an inquiry was ordered but the commendation came well before it wrapped up.

The Army’s assertion of power in public and that too on the police or even the pro-India politicians has its own history. One argues that this has a lot to do with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that gives the Army in Kashmir unbridled powers but this phenomenon is not necessarily a direct outcome of that. This bravado has, however, a lot to do with the way inquiries have been binned due to AFSPA. Take the example of the case of the Pathribal fake encounter in 2000 when five innocent civilians were killed in the aftermath of the killing of 35 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s highest investigating agency, found five officers including a Brigadier guilty of killing the civilians. But it was AFSPA that gave them cover so they could not be tried in a civil court. In other cases the Army has taken refuge under this law and “tried” the guilty in their courts but there has hardly been any punishment.

Beating up the people or police in public has a long history in Kashmir. Not a civilian but a top police officer and then chief of Kashmir police, AM Watali, was ruthlessly beaten by the Army in broad daylight in Srinagar, leaving him with grievous injury. Recording the incident of July 26, 1980 (when there was no militancy or AFSPA) in his memoir “Kashmir Intifada”, Watali writes that after an Army vehicle hit a three-wheeler, people surrounded it and the driver fled. Soon the Army came onto the scene and starting beating the people which he objected to. “Though I was in uniform with badges of the Indian Police Service displayed on my person, I disclosed by identity to them and asked them to desist from such unlawful activities. They hurled abuses at me and suddenly attacked me with lathis and iron rods inflicting serious injuries on my head and face,” writes the police officer who lost a few teeth in that attack (page 375).  An inquiry was ordered later, according to Watali, but was vetoed by the Army.

There have been many similar cases in which the Army has attacked police stations but hardly any have led to a transparent inquiry. In 2001, a police inspector, JJ Mattoo, who was an SHO in Mahore in Reasi district was beaten by an Army party of 38 Rashtriya Rifles. On August 13, 2001, Inspector M Yousuf, who was posted as the SHO of Kulgam was beaten by 9 Rashtriya Rifles men headed by Major Anoop Dash. Hardly any inquiry reached a conclusion that would infuse confidence at least among the uniformed force (read police) that the law of the land is upheld.

The way this particular incident has been handled and dismissed as a minor altercation does not help the Army in any way to contribute to the sense of upholding the law. That is why the question being repeatedly asked is: “If this happens to the police can you imagine the fate of commoners?” The problem is that the Army has become so touchy about its “powers” in Kashmir that even genuine questions cannot be raised. Why else would an officer of the stature of a Corps Commander have gone public with a sweeping remark that described as anti-national anyone who questioned the Army’s action (that too while the men were in civvies). The police also needs to answer as to how its force has become a lame duck. If they are not able to protect themselves how can they ensure the safety of the public? The police should have immediately held officers in the district responsible and ordered an inquiry rather than become apologetic. Army and police coordination has been dealt a severe blow and only an impartial and transparent inquiry can counter the damage caused to their relations and the brazen misuse of power. The Army should not take it to heart and in the larger interest of justice and fairness must not defend erring soldiers who have behaved like nothing less than goondas.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Srinagar (Kashmir) and can be reached at