Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Recent escalation in security situation in Kashmir

Updated: October 6, 2016 3:45 pm

In the last quarter of the year, the coalition government of the Bharatiya Janata party and the local party-PDP, headed by Ms. Mehbooba Mufti has been facing a steadily worsening law and order situation.  It was during their rule that the Central forces operating in Kashmir  got information that a local young man Burhanuddin Wani from Tral who had gone to Pakistan and was trained by the Pakistan Army  was organising an insurgent group in South Kashmir.  An operation was carried out in the area concerned, which led to an encounter between the security forces and the Kashmiri insurgent group who had been trained in Pakistan and had infiltrated into Kashmir.  In the encounter, the insurgent leader Burhanuddin Wani was killed.  Being a young and dashing man of Tral area, Burhanuddin Wani had developed an image and his death led to an emotional upsurge that soon escalated into a renewed attempt at insurgency. Unruly crowds collected and began stoning the security forces. Very soon the situation escalated.

During the earlier insurgency that started as public agitations, but led to groups of young men slipping across the Line of control into Pakistan and the Pakistan Army training the young men arming, them and infiltrating them into the Kashmir valley to ambush and attack the security forces deployed in the State.  The modus operandi of the insurgents was twofold.  First they would mobilise crowds to lead protests that invariably ended in stone pelting at the forces. This would lead to lathi charges by the police, which would lead to Tear gassing of the mobs and in instances where the situation was not controlled, it would lead to firing at the mobs.

15-10-2016

At this stage an unfortunate development took place in the tactics of handling mobs.  All over India the Police when handling unruly mobs attacking them or any Institution would counter stone throwing by a baton or lathi charge.  Normally a platoon of Armed Police deputed for law and order duty would have two sections armed with batons/lathis and one section with rifles.  Firing would be resorted to only when the mob was exceedingly violent and in large numbers and likely to attack policemen or severely damage public property.  Stone throwing, a routine feature of all mobs was met by the Lathi/baton policemen, charging the mob wielding their lathis/batons, using shields to protect themselves from the stones being pelted. If the mobs were in large numbers and there was a possibility of the armed police deployed likely to be overwhelmed, then firing was resorted to by the third section of the platoon deployed.  Once firing was resorted to mobs would disperse. The firing was by 0.303 rifles. This rifle was a single shot weapon. In law and order situations, the general order for the rifles section was to load only one round.  In most cases resort to firing even a single shot would lead to the crowd dispersing.

Sometime in 2010, when handling a law and order situation in Kashmir, the force deployed was heavily stoned and resorted to firing a Shot gun using SG cartridges.  These are cartridges filled with small lead pellets meant for shooting at a flock of birds.  The pellets were not capable of inflicting a fatal wound, but if a single pellet hit the eye, it would penetrate the cornea and damage the retina which invariably would lead to blindness in that eye.

I joined the Indian Police Service in 1965 and opted for the Assam cadre. I had faced innumerable situations as a young officer in charge of a sub division, as Additional Superintendent of Police and as Superintendent of Police.  I have myself conducted several Lathi charges that resulted in injuries to the unruly mob.  My lathi charges did not lead to any deaths, but there were always a number of simple fractures.

In all my years of service from 1965 to 2000, during which I had carried out innumerable lathi charges,  none of my victims suffered any thing more than a simple fracture.  Also during my thirty five years of service, we have never thought of using Shot gun cartridges on a mob.  From what I have learnt I understand that the CRPF after facing mobs pelting stones at them decided to fire Shotgun cartridges  at the stone pelting mobs. This was in 2010.  They must have got this approved by the Home Ministry.

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When taking this decision, I feel that the Home Ministry did not consider the impact the 12 bore shot gun using birdshot would have on a mob, particularly if children were part of the mob.

I am afraid that the decision taken by the Government was not a balanced decision.  At the stage of pelting stones invariably students are likely to be involved with the mobs.  A shot gun cartridge sends a spray of pellets which is very likely to hit the eyes. A single pellet hitting the eye can blind the victim.  A lathi charge will mean that many persons in the mob are likely to get broken hands or legs. This normally will lead to dispersal of the unruly crowd. I am afraid the Home Ministry did not apply its mind to this issue and allowed the CRPF the use of Shotgun cartridges.

I was therefore surprised when I saw on TV and read in the papers that the CRPF were firing Shotgun cartridges at the mob and several people were blinded as a result.  A correspondent for Outlook took an interview on the law and order situation in Kashmir and asked me about the “PELLET GUN’’.  I answered that in all my thirty five years in the Police I had never seen a shot gun in any Police armoury. Later I learned that Shot guns were fired at mobs since 2010. I had retired in end 2000.  I immediately told the correspondent that a shot gun with an SG cartridge should never be fired at a mob.  After all in more than a hundred years of facing mobs, the Indian Police had not used Shot guns at the mob, what was the necessity of using them now?

If the law and order situation escalates into an insurgency again, I am afraid that the cause will be the use of firing the shotgun at mobs that led to so many children getting blinded.

I feel that as a first step, the Government should immediately withdraw this order.  The CRPF can resort to firing with rifles. A section facing a thousand strong mob when they open fire can disperse the mob with just  one or two  volleys of firing with rifles. The crowd may feel aggrieved at the death of some of the unruly mob but this would not rouse the sympathy as the  blinding of young men by firing twelve bore cartridges at the mob.

Retrieving the situation in Kashmir

We come to the second part of the problem.  How can we bring normalcy in Kashmir? This is possible by only one MANTRAs. In the background of the situation in Kashmir, I feel that the Central Government must clamp Presidents rule in Kashmir, setting aside all political calculations.  They should ensure that they then post the Governor, and Advisors, who have a scrupulous record of apolitical service.  They should in no case post a Governor or Advisor who has a record of being partial to any party in power.  This principle should then be followed down the line particularly concerning the Secretaries to the Government, the Deputy Commissioners and the Superintendents of Police.  In the background of Kashmir being a majority Muslim State, it must be ensured that Officers leading the Police and Para- Military forces deployed in Kashmir have a record of absolute religious impartiality.

If this step is taken keeping in mind the principles enunciated, the agitation will collapse and the situation can be brought under control within a fortnight.

I have not written the above from my imagination.  I was working as Inspector General Operations in Assam. I volunteered to go to Kashmir in the Border Security Force in mid 1993, when the situation was at its worst with fourteen battalions of BSF deployed in Srinagar city alone and 27 battalions in  the   remaining districts of Kashmir.

I am a caste Hindu from Kerala subject to all the predilections of  casteism.  When I was selected for the Indian Police Service in 1965, I opted for the Assam cadre, mainly because I wanted some adventure as the Naga insurgency was at its peak in Assam then.  I was posted in Jorhat district and saw the situation on the Jorhat, Naga Hills border.  I saw the way caste Hindus behaved towards the tribals. I also handled minor communal disturbances between caste Hindus and Muslims.  I realised then that as a Policeman I had to shed my caste predilections and after handling several Hindu Muslim skirmishes and tribal insurgencies, I coined a phrase, that the day I put on khaki uniform I lost my caste and my religion. After that whenever I handled a Hindu-Muslim fracas, or a caste Hindu-Tribal situation I would announce that as a Policeman I had no religion and no caste-I was neutral.  My strictly neutral stance was soon understood by the public and after that I had no problem in handling such situations except of course the resentment of my caste Hindu subjects who thought I was being partial to the Tribals or the Muslims.

Having handled several tricky inter caste and inter religious situations in Assam, I volunteered to go to Kashmir in 1993 at the peak of a terrible insurgency.  When I landed in Kashmir in June 1993, I was an unknown commodity to the people of Kashmir.  I was known to the BSF from the exchanges I had with them in Assam.  I made it known clearly from day one that I was neutral between the Hindus and the Muslims.  I knew that many of the Force personnel were unhappy.  They must have thought that I was selling myself to the Kashmiris.  They soon found out that was not the case.  My strictly neutral stand paid me good dividends both from the Kashmiri people and the BSF personnel.

The situation in Kashmir was really at its nadir when I landed there in early June 1993.  The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was in force in Kashmir at that time. Under the provisions of this Act, the Army or the Para Military force could operate on their own and the presence of a Sub-Inspector of Police from the local Police Station was not mandatory with the Army or Para-Military platoon or company operating on the ground. Hence the Army or Para-Military Force operating could arrest a civilian under this Act.  The power of arrest is exclusively with the Police.  It is only when there is an insurgency and the Army or Para Military force has to independently operate under the AFSPA that the power of arrest has been given to the Army or the Para-Military force.

When I landed in Kashmir, I found that the BSF and the Army both had   camps in which suspected insurgents arrested by them were being detained.  After initial interrogation, the detained persons were to be handed over to the nearest police station. The AFSPA says that the Army or Para Military force can arrest any suspected insurgent, but should hand them over to the nearest police station with the least possible delay.

I found that the BSF was keeping suspected insurgents whom they had arrested for days together and were handing over the suspected insurgents after recovering a weapon which they had hidden somewhere. In many cases I found that the BSF were also releasing them on their own!  This was absolutely illegal!

I had to brief all my subordinate officers and strictly enforced the provisions of the AFSPA henceforth.  Luckily all the suspected boys who had been picked up by the BSF  and were released directly were accounted for.

The second thing that I did was to meet the local Superintendent of Police and his subordinate officers and maintain a close liaison with them.

The third thing that I did was to meet the local heads of different localities and inform all of them that if they suspected that a boy had been picked up by the BSF, they should immediately get in touch with my staff officer in the Inspector General BSF office and meet me.  The BSF being a Para Military Force  could not keep entertaining civilians in their temporary offices.  My immediate junior officers objected to this direction of mine, but I insisted that this was a special situation and if the public had to develop confidence in the Force we had to give them an outlet to meet senior officers.  This one step paid rich dividends.  Slowly and hesitantly, the fathers and mothers of detained boys started to come and meet me in the Inspector General’s office.  I had to spend at least one to two hours daily to deal with the parents.  Interestingly I found that it was generally the mothers of the detained boys who would come and I then requested the Inspector General CRPF to post a section of his Womens unit in my office daily, to be present when I met these ladies.  This was an unique experience for me. I never had to resort to this when handling parents of ULFA cadres detained by us in Assam. Interestingly all the parents without exception would plead that their wards were innocent.  It was only when I would tell them that we had recovered an AK-47 from their delinquent son that they would quieten down.

This system that I introduced in Srinagar  paid rich dividends. It prevented my subordinates from committing excesses and getting involved in disciplinary proceedings. Above everything else it gave a healthy respect for the BSF in Kashmir. Our reputation was that we fought a clean war.

We can now come back to how we can retrieve the situation in Kashmir.  I will repeat that Kashmir should go under Presidents rule. The Central Government should carefully choose the officers who will be the Advisors, Deputy Commissioners, Superintendents of Police.  Each of them should have a record of being scrupulously neutral in handling people.  I am sure if a good team is selected they should be able to normalise the situation in six weeks.

The Government should carefully study how to neutralise the tactics being deployed by the crowds in Kashmir of stone throwing.  A very large ratio of force personnel to the numbers being collected as unruly crowds is necessary.  In this context I am intimating the standard of a force raised by the British from Malabar in Kerala.  Malabar is known for the physical fitness of the boys and young men.  This was because of an ancient form of unarmed combat that was evolved in this area called Kallari Payyatu.  The British found this out and raised one battalion of Armed Police called the Malabar Special Police(MSP).  I have seen this force as a school boy.  Their standards of drill surpassed the Indian Army.  I have seen this force operate in Madras city.  They were closest to the Roman centurions in that no amount of stone pelting would disrupt their platoon or company formation. Their first baton charge would leave at least a dozen with fractures of the legs or shoulders or arms.  They were so famous for their discipline and never breaking formation. A time came when if their was a fracas, and a word went round that the MSP was coming, the mob would simply melt away! The British raised one battalion of the MSP in Malabar and this one battalion could control all unlawful crowds with absolute success in the whole of Malabar.  For years, the Chief Drill Instructor in the National Police Academy in Mount Abu was an MSP officer.

Given this background, I can assure that any mob in Kashmir can be controlled by a well trained ground force who have specialized in Lathi charge.  There is a saying in my Kerala, that even Andhagan (Lord YAMA) is afraid of beating!  All that is required for the stone throwing in Kashmir is a well trained Lathi force.  If the crowd resorts to firing, the answer is to fire selectively using snipers and neutralise the members of the mob that are using firearms. The important tactic is to see that there is sufficient force to surround the crowd.  It must be remembered that the crowd is amorphous and any force that is well trained and fight in formation can out beat any crowd.

(The writer is former Director

General, BSF.)

By E N RAmmohan

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