Anish Gupta, Natasha Negi
The data depicts that the security forces have tried to maintain standard operating procedure to control the violent agitators in the Valley. Despite the fact that the number of attacks on security forces was higher in Kashmir in comparison to that in other States, the Valley witnessed the lowest deaths-to-injuries ratio. But some biased media happily hid the facts
The ongoing Kashmir violence that erupted on July 8, 2016 after the killing of commander of the “new-age militancy” Burhan Wani has entered the 63rd day and still there is little hope of it coming to an end any time soon. This violence has claimed lives of approximately 60 civilians and two security staffers, while over 4,500 civilians and 3,000 security personnel have sustained injuries till now. On August 27, another police officer was shot dead by locals. The extent of violence can be estimated by figures provided by CRPF, which indicate that 2,083 personnel sustained injuries in stone pelting by protesters while in the year 2010, 1,755 CRPF personnel were injured in stone pelting by rioters.
All the media channels have accused security forces of taking excessively violent measures against the civilians. The stories of injured civilians are shown repeatedly since the day violence erupted in the Valley. The use of pellet guns that has left many civilians on the verge of losing eyesight has been criticised by the media as well as the human rights organisations like Amnesty International. The stories telecast give an impression of act of oppression by security forces in dealing with the civilians. This demonised image of security forces that is reproduced by media compels us to verify the data related to recent violent agitations in various parts of the country, and the resultant response of security forces.
Did security personnel use excessive force?
Several agitations have occurred in the country in last one year when the common man has been on collision course with the security forces and local police. On June 3, 2016, just a month before the Burhan Wani incident, a group of people got into an altercation with police when the latter tried to evict illegal occupiers of land in the heart of Mathura City. When the crowd became violent and killed a police officer, police resorted to retaliatory firing which claimed 22 lives and injured around 40 people, and within two hours of firing the land was freed of squatters.
In another month-long violent agitation in February 2016 by the Jat community in Haryana demanding OBC quota, 30 people lost their lives. And approximately 200 civilians were injured in the brutal clashes between security forces and agitators. In July, 2015, violent agitation by Patidar community in Gujarat for OBC quota claimed at least 13 lives and 27 civilians sustained injuries. An analysis of four recent issues of violent agitation in the country provides us a wider picture of casualties suffered while controlling the mob. The deaths-to-injuries ratios prove how patiently security forces tried to deal with the situation. If the intention of security forces was to kill the agitators, they would have shot above the abdomen. Had they resorted to firing above abdomen, the number of casualties would have been higher than that of injuries. Besides, the security forces used less lethal weapons to control the mob to minimise number of casualties.
Table-1 above shows the deaths-to- injuris ratios in the recent uproars of violence. The ratio is highest in Mathura. This may be due to the fact that police forces were enraged by the death of one of their officers in the chaos and so took to a spiteful response to control the mob. The next highest ratio is in Gujarat followed by Haryana, which indicates that in these two States security forces did still try to follow the protocol and didn’t act in a fit of anger. However, if we look at the ratio in Kashmir, it is the lowest among all other States despite the gruesome act of throwing two security men into the Jhelum River.
The two cops drowned. Moreover, this ratio is not only lowest in Kashmir but the comparative difference with other States is also very high. For every injury, the chances of casualty in Mathura are 55 times higher than in Kashmir. In fact this is the lowest deaths-to-injuries ratio in the country in among all violent uprisings in recent years.
One should not forget that the armed forces are trained in such a way that turning stimulus reactions into action is generally inevitable for them when violence lasts long. It is the same scenario in the United States, India or Pakistan. Yet, the whole data depicts that the security forces have tried to maintain standard operating procedure to control the violent agitators in the Valley. Not only less lethal weapons, i.e. the pellet guns, were used to deal with the mob but also most of the agitators were targeted on the legs. However, most of the electronic news channels kept on showing the injuries on face, which is only a half-truth as they failed to bring to the notice that the number of leg injuries were far higher than number of injuries on the face. This doesn’t mean that all injuries are justified over the loss of life but the greater concern is what should the armed and police forces do to maintain law & order, especially in the case of utter turbulence when agitators not only destroy the public property but also target the security personnel.
It is of importance to learn the extent of violence faced by the security personnel as well. In the case of Gujarat and Haryana, the mob was trying to destroy public properties and targeting people of other communities, while in Kashmir upheaval, the common youth was pelting stones at security personnel and even resorted to life-taking assaults on them. Despite the fact that the chances of retaliation against security forces were higher in the Valley, the lowest ratio of deaths-to-injuries turns out to be from Kashmir Valley. This proves that even on acute provocation, the security forces adopted only controlled measures to cause minimum casualties. The purpose of the whole argument is not to prove that higher number of civilians’ casualties is justified over the security forces’ or vice versa. But it is to explain that the general deployment techniques of security forces bring forth certain proportion of casualties and much more number of injuries.
The reason for which is simple that they have to control a mob much larger in number than them. And that is why the security forces are provided with weapons at first place to deal with the agitators so that they can control the havoc created by the latter. If not for the weapons or crude control measures, the State will have to send in more personnel of security forces than the number of civilians, which practically is not at all possible for any Government.
Other side of the story
It’s strange that most media channels kept on visiting the hospitals where civilians were admitted but none of them visited the hospitals where injured personnel of security forces, especially CRPF, were admitted. However, it was only after the news of J&K Police personnel helplessly hiding their identities from stone-pelters surfaced in all other media channels, that NDTV was compelled by expected fall in TRPs, to take an initiative of visiting the J&K Police personnel (and not CRPF or Army personnel for obvious reasons).
Nevertheless, the programme telecasted on August 17, 2016 -From Ground Zero Kashmir: Why are policemen scared to reveal their identity – did to some extent shift light on the suffering of the said-perpetrator.
The introductory remark by the anchor of the programme is worth mentioning here:
“Unlike the CRPF, many police officers choose to cover their faces with masks, unwilling to disclose their identities either on the cameras or to their own people. Whether it’s militant strike, or rage of young Kashmiri protesters in streets, the local police is the most vulnerable one among all other security forces. Being treated with suspicion, animosity and even hatred by sections of their own community across Kashmir Valley, there is fear and insecurity in the ranks too. The police officers tell us that these days when they travel back to their villages in rural Kashmir they show their civilian identity card when asked by protesters and not their police identity cards. Some even travel to the city in civilian clothes, wearing the uniform only when at their post. The injured police personnel are brought for treatment at the Army base police hospital in Srinagar. Here we get a first-hand view of just how vulnerable the Kashmiri policeman is today. At first none of them even wanted to talk on camera. They are worried about their families, their parents, young children, wives and sisters.”
While a lot of police officers left their jobs to save the life of their near and dear ones and hold on to their properties, many got eye injuries themselves but did not gather attention from the media.
The issue is not to analyse who caused or led to a graver violent threat but what matters most is that both sides of the story should have been reported. By showing only one part of the story, the ‘common’ side, a section of the media seems to only fan the emotions of stone-pelters. Just in order to increase their viewers, these media channels tend to re-emphasise or recreate the one-sided affair which cannot do any good to the Kashmiri civilians, security forces or even India at large.
However, it can only create a further divide. Being a democratic country, we many a times happen to find the easiest way to pass responsibility of any incident of violence and resultant casualties upon the shoulders of the security forces.
And the same practice is adopted by the media, politicians and even the human rights activists.
As the security forces are in minority and do not form any substantial emotional vote in any affected areas, they are the softest targets to put the blame on. The solution is not to tear apart each other further by pointing fingers at each other but to mellow down on either side.
(Anish Gupta teaches economics at University of Delhi. Natasha Negi is a postgraduate student at PanjabUniversity)
Anish Gupta, Natasha Negi