I find it difficult to criticise the army. It almost hurts to do so. As children of the army, my sisters and I were brought up within its warm embrace. It shaped our young lives, fashioned our thinking and influenced our ethics. Not surprisingly, we look upon it as India’s most honourable institution. Not just my father, who died when I was 19, but, more significantly, Mummy, who lived past 98, would never question the army or accept criticism of it. They brought us up to believe that politicians are devious dhoti-kurta walas, bureaucrats are babus, but men in uniform are soldiers. That makes them special. No doubt millions of other army children had similar sentiments inculcated into them. Whoever we may be or wherever we are, this is a bond that firmly unites us.
Today, however, I’m disturbed by the way the army has used a civilian Kashmiri as a human shield and dismayed by the army chief’s response. Even if in the present environment, voices of dissent are faint, I’m confident they won’t be few or fearful. It’s the values we’ve imbibed from the army that give us the conviction to speak up, and there are many voices from within the institution that are determined to do so.
No matter how you look at it or try to defend it, strapping Farooq Ahmed Dar to the front of a jeep and parading him through the villages of Kashmir was illegal and, more importantly, immoral. It humiliated an Indian citizen and deprived him of his dignity and essential human rights. This is why it was wrong for a soldier to do it. As Lt General H.S. Panag, a former Northern Army Commander, put it, “Whatever the provocation, the Indian army cannot take recourse to illegal acts”.
Now, I would readily accept that in war, it can — but, let’s remember, we are not at war with our own citizens in Kashmir. This is the essential point Captain Amarinder Singh overlooked in his defence of Major Gogoi (‘I applaud Major Gogoi’, IE, May 20). No doubt feelings of emotional loyalty led him to do so, but I’m equally sure cooler and calmer logic would make him think again.
Indeed, this is why the army chief’s response was particularly disheartening. The decision to award a commendation to the major was either an act of deliberate defiance of the widespread view that the young officer had erred, or a mistaken, muscular message to Kashmiris that the army will not tolerate their dissent. Either way, it was unfortunate. And that it should have happened whilst a court of enquiry is still to report is more than inexplicable — it’s baffling. As Lt General Panag tweeted, “IA (Indian Army) traditions, ethos, rules and regs (regulations) swept away by the ‘mood of the nation’!”
The army I love is fair, correct and unwaveringly committed to defending the rights of every Indian citizen. That’s why, in times of internal disturbance, the very sight of our soldiers reassures. We trust our army to do the right thing, always and every time.
Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi’s action raised a worrying doubt. The army chief’s response deepened that concern. Finally, the major’s surprise appearance on television only added to the problem. To again quote Lt General Panag, “(The) image of a ‘stone pelter’, tied in front of a jeep as a ‘human shield’, will forever haunt the Indian Army and the nation!” Undoubtedly, it has cast a cloud over millions of army sons and daughters, both serving as well as the children of those who’ve retired.
I believe that the simple truth is our army comprises the best of our nation because, beyond being brave warriors, its men can distinguish between right and wrong. When a soldier makes a mistake, he doesn’t hesitate to admit it. Ultimately, this is what separates him from a civilian.
In this sad and sorry case, the army let itself down and I’m sure in their hearts, every soldier accepts that. In fact, I have no doubt that’s also true of General Rawat, even if present circumstances won’t permit him to admit it.