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Collateral Damage: The Makings of an Unjust Society

June 21, 2004 14:25 IST

There has been a recent row about alleged statements by Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh that India might, after all, send troops to Iraq. This possibility raised in many minds the old imperial vision of Indians dying so that white men might live: what might be called Gunga-Din-ism, after the colonial film of the same name. Many spoke up against this abject example of an inferiority complex.

But most of us fail to see that this sort of colonial activity has been going on in India for quite some time: to wit, in the way Muslim Kashmiris treat the Indian Army. I wrote in The Perfect Con Job: The Kashmiri Loot of the Nation about how India has effectively become an economic colony for Kashmiris. It is apparent that it is also a military colony for them: for Indian soldiers die to defend Kashmiris, who then turn around and dishonour them.

Even though I should have become inured to this kind of outrage by now, I was appalled by the incident on May 23, 2004, when 33 Border Security Force personnel and families were killed at Lower Munda near Qazigund. I am told this was the single biggest atrocity committed against military families. And look at the irony of that statement: 'the single biggest atrocity committed against military families.' So far, that is. Those who commit such atrocities pay no price whatsoever: where is the compelling reason for them to not do this again?

This is the kind of thing that makes India's enemies feel that India is an invitingly soft State, a 'lamb State' as Brahma Chellaney called it recently, ready for slaughter. In any other nation, attacks against the armed forces and especially their families would be considered a grave insult, which would invite punitive retaliation of the highest order. The newspapers would be full of stories about the bravery of the dead and injured personnel. Politicians would vie with each other to honour their memory, much like the fulsome parade of worthies eulogising Ronald Reagan in the US lately.

But that is not what happened in India. Nobody in the media bothered to run stories about the families and their stricken relatives. Politicians from the ruling UPA did not bother to visit the wounded ('Soft state, hard battles,' The Pioneer, June 10). There was no nationwide appeal; nobody held candlelight vigils to pray for the souls of the innocents murdered in cold blood. They were, simply, collateral damage, that the powers-that-be are ashamed to think of.

Also Read: B Raman: Who will mourn our martyrs?

In my mind, this is an unforgivable act of omission on the part of politicians, the media and the self-proclaimed 'intelligentsia' of the nation. Are the armed forces so expendable? It is because they are not 'people like us'? If so, India sorely needs a compulsory draft so that the children of the high and mighty also experience the life of the common grunt. See my old column Some Mother's Son.

Remarkably, the Chennai newspaper that calls itself The Hindu, which is not known for being particularly nationalistic, was moved to comment as follows (Praveen Swami, 'Politicians' silence stuns men in uniform,' May 27) on the fact that the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir did not see fit to even make an appearance.

'Neither the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, nor any member of his Cabinet attended the ceremonial military honors accorded to the victims of the bombing...The political handling of Lower Munda follows recent precedent. Mr. Sayeed bucked tradition last year by not sending a letter of congratulation after the BSF eliminated the top Jaish-e-Mohammed commander, Shahbaz Khan... Some observers attribute his reticence to the ruling People's Democratic Party's close relationship with elements of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in southern Kashmir. Cadre from the... Hizb-ul-Mujahideen... are believed to have aided the PDP's recent election campaign in the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat...

Like other serving personnel, BSF officers and troops are bound by service rules not to criticize the government, but mid-level commanders contacted by the Hindu made no secret of their anger. "We are being treated like mercenaries", one officer said, "not like soldiers who serve a proud country. How do I explain to my men why the Chief Minister, whose life they defend, cannot find the time to lay a wreath?"'

This fits into a pattern. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has shown great tenderness towards the 'boys with the guns,' the insurgents and terrorists who wish to detach Kashmir from India; but he is not concerned about their victims, the Pandits.

I fail to understand how any self-respecting nation could allow one of its territories to be run by someone who, according to this newspaper report, may be attempting to violate the territorial integrity of the nation.

More recently, Sayeed's daugher Mehbooba Mufti declared that Kashmiri women did not need the protection of human rights measures because they were already 'protected by Sharia.' Now consider what this means: she is literally saying that all Kashmiri women must be or must become Muslims, for the Sharia only applies to Muslim women. Is she supporting the ethnic cleansing of Hindu Pandits from their ancestral homes in Kashmir or suggesting their forced conversion? Recall that during the Anantnag pogrom of 1985, one of the demands reportedly broadcast by loudspeaker was that Pandits leave their women behind when they fled Kashmir.

The enormity of these statements and acts in a supposedly 'secular' nation is breathtaking. An elected chief minister and his Member of Parliament daughter are apparently culpable of severe discrimination against people based on their religion. In fact, they appear to be Islamists, or at the very least, blatantly anti-Hindu. And the ruling UPA at the Centre is an ally of these people! This is surely not secularism!

I had great difficulty in finding the names of the dead BSF men and their families after the Lower Munda massacre. Here is the list I finally found in the Chandigarh Tribune of May 24.

List of the expired BSF personnel: Inspector K K Jha, STC, BSF, Kashmir; SI C D Sharma, 98 Bn; Head Constable B K Sarkar, 43 Bn; Head Constable Onkar Chand, 57 Bn; Head Constable Hoshiar Singh, 141 Bn; Head Constable R C Dwivedi 06 Bn; HC/Driver Mathan Singh, Frontier Headquarters; Constable Virendra Singh, 57 Bn; Constable Raj Kumar, 08 Bn; Constable Hanumanthapa 56 Bn; Constable Harindra Ram, 56 Bn; and Constable Chouhan Chirag Kumar, 56 Bn.

Family members and relatives of BSF personnel killed: Ms P Jha, wife of Inspector K K Jha, Sharsa, Bihar; Ms Pooja Jha, daughter of K K Jha; Master Sujala Jha, son of K K Jha; Mr Hira Lal, brother of Constable Balbir Chand, SHQ Srinagar from Gurdaspur, Punjab; Mr Suresh Kumar, brother of cook Rajesh Kumar, SHQ, Srinagar, resident of Jammu; Mr Sohan Lal, brother of Jeet Raj, 57 Bn, from Akhnoor, J&K; Mr Sonu, Guest of Swpr Bejanti Bai, Com Hospital, Srinagar, resident of Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh; Gulab Singh, father of Mali Inder Singh, Com Hospital Srinagar, Gwalior, MP; Udai Bhan, brother of Mali Inder Singh; Kamal Kishore, brother of Mali Inder Singh; Ms Ghesu Bhai, mother Mali Inder Singh; Puran Singh, brother-in-law of Head Constable/ Driver Sher Singh, Frontier Headquarters Srinagar, resident of Kathua, J&K; Ms Indu Rani, sister of Sher Singh; Karam Deep, nephew of Sher Singh; Navdeep, nephew of Sher Singh; Ms Tanvi, niece of Sher Singh; Ms Usha Devi, wife of CT Mukesh Singh, 51 Bn attached with SHQ, Srinagar.

List of injured: Constable M Nadeem, 57 Bn BSF; Constable/Driver Raj Kumar, Frontier Headquarters BSF, Srinagar; Swpr Sunny Awtar, 43 Bn BSF; Mr Sandeep Kumar, brother of Constable Pradeep Singh 57 Bn; Mr Surender, guest of W/M M. Rampal, SHQ, Srinagar.

Then there is the June 13th incident of a grenade being lobbed at a hotel in Pahalgam, Kashmir, by terrorists. Innocent tourists Bhavesh Shah, son Yash (10) and daughter Hiral (8) were killed and Bhavesh's wife Rimple, seriously injured, is in hospital. Once again, the Indian media saw nothing remarkable in this incident. No great expressions of pain, no tributes to the children snuffed out in their innocence.

Notice that almost all of them are Hindus or Sikhs, and that explains why nobody is bothered. Collateral damage. Not one of them has become a cause celebre in India.

It is not a level playing field, as the State and the media severely discriminate against those of Indic religions. There is no justice for all. The terms 'secular' and 'minority' should be banned from polite discourse, for they are meaningless; yet they have poisoned and deluded an entire generation.

And surely, this is no way to treat the nation's armed forces.

Comments welcome at rajeev.srinivasan@gmail.com

Rajeev Srinivasan