A Critical Look At Army-Civilian Dichotomy In (Indian) Kashmir – OpEd


In the dark heartlessness of flying bullets, the general name given to all belted forces by locals (Kashmiris) is military/security forces and the ‘Army’. Though security forces consist of various agencies like army, state police, CRPF, BSF and others but people simply address all with one collective/common name as ‘Army’ (the greatest burden of and credibility challenge to army as an organization).This is perhaps because the oppressed hardly feel interested in classifying the oppressors (as a majority of masses still assume of these security forces, reflecting the social image of armed forces).

Kashmir undoubtedly is a peace fragile zone (unpredictable every time) and the Kashmiri identity (lost under suppression) still continues to be like the gown of the poor man that needs to be mended without delay as the patches of pain and misery have been bombarding the common collective psyche since decades now(especially since1990’s). The question amid this whole disarray and incessant turbulence is whether armed forces particularly army as a credible institution of the nation has lived up to the mirror image of goodwill ambassadors or merely proved a tool of the repressive state apparatus? I am doubtful. Has the army ever tried to or evaluated its total intervention and assessed the positive impact of its social interventions like Sadbhavana (Good-will)? Has it ever tried to study or gauged the local perception or impact about all its good will programmes like good will education (in army schools), national integration tours, etc,)? I am unsure.

Despite of the fact that conflict is purely political, finding answer to, have the men in uniform ever treated the turmoil hit masses especially the Northeast and Kashmiri people as the people of their own country or their own public or have been dealing with them merely with an ‘enemy’ perception (iron hand treatment) is a question for the armed forces in general especially for the army as a credible and responsible institution of the country.
Since 1989, when the armed conflict started, there has been every attempt to alienate Kashmiris from the time and space. Their dissent voices have been continuously crushed with force every time, their freedom of expression and right to live with dignity has been denied (use of brute force, communication ban, virtual curfews, etc,) with the use of violence (on protesters), scores of crisis mishandlings and innocent killings.

Though the Army as an organization runs a chain of public welfare programmes in Kashmir but has hardly been openly/widely lauded or hailed ever for any of their social work/people’s welfare related interventions (even by the beneficiaries) purely because political stability is a prerequisite to everything and that is missing in Kashmir (J&K state). If the Army continues to be known for anything (infamously), it is still fear, encounters, past scars and the never ending dichotomy between them (fouj) and the civilians (Awaam). The question is, are they (the men in uniform) merely the unkind/men with impunity or something beyond that too? If they really are not designed to kill but to safeguard, then why aberrations (like Sumbal, Kishtiwar and many other incidents)?

As said above the army launched Sadbhavana (Goodwill) in 1998 as the programme of total empowerment and emancipation of the local.The organization started from the perceptional change to people’s welfare and comfort. But has the very Sadbhavana (spending lakhs of money on tours, education, help in crisis situations, etc, but still retains RR mentality) been really a successful community initiative is a curious question, still to be reviewed practically. Also who have really benefitted from such welfare schemes (Army’s choosing sample-an error actually) and what has been the final gain and fallout, needs to be analyzed and studied in a proper perspective. Further is there any peace link between Army’s Awaam (people) centred programmes and the people benefitting from these schemes? I think not. This is worthy of mention that the army has been successful to launch its set of local welfare programmes via sadbhavana itself by taking the less exposed masses to more exposure and broader outlook by arranging all India tours (watan ki saer),etc,. But does taking a tribal or a village boy/elderly to TajMahal mean anything to peace deficit Kashmir? I am clueless.

Also is it really contributing to perception management? The answer is a big ‘NO’. Though they (Army) have also been trying hard to show the beautiful picture of India (incredible India) to young vulnerable minds/students and elders; however the fact remains that they do not reap much out of it simply because the India that they (most often their fellow security agencies including local police) display in the field (Kashmir) is commonly perceived as oppressive, repressive, anti-public and undemocratic. Locals still perceive of India as the India of arms (guns and bashes), state terror, encounters, unaccounted tortures, killings and endless pain and pathetic memories (scores of disappearances and nameless graves, widows, half-widows, disabled, orphans) that actually belittles the beautiful image of the country and the sincere efforts of the armed forces as well.

The Army runs a chain of goodwill schools called AGPS (Army Good-will Public Schools)-the army run educational institutions with quality education and without any bias in selection of students, even the children of ex-militants are educated and certain other mass friendly initiatives too but fails to gain the public appreciation/contentment probably because it does not come close to public, understand the context, speak to the victims of belted forces itself, listen to common man’s grievances, treats them as victims of conflict and understands their issues and apprehensions. Also observations reveal that it does not make enough efforts for measuring and assessing the impact (impact assessment) and hardly investigates about the rapport amid all its welfare programmes.

Undeniably, the education they deliver in the goodwill schools is a quality and according to the local sensitivities (proper infrastructure, with quality education, local participation, local teachers, local ethos, etc) but, in the overall picture the Army seems to have failed (or never bothered) to measure the impact of this education service and other Sadhbhavana initiatives on peoples’ perceptions (they may be working upon the perception management but where is the perception measurement?).Neither has any NGO or social organization bothered to look at this and advise the organization. This goes without saying that army helps locals in emergencies of all kinds (as very appropriately being displayed in flood ravaged Uttrakhand recently) but has the local perceptions about them been ever measured or investigated by them, is a question to the Army itself? Does Army around the country, especially in conflict zones, assume evaluation of its social initiatives for granted or, does it take these initiatives simply as a National duty? Also is it aware that people (who benefit from their work and assistance, what is their sample and target group?) will hardly recognize or hail them simply because of the enemy perception (that seems never ending). Or does the army take the local perception about its social responsibilities for-granted or does army contribute in local welfare simply for gaining field rapport (for thick description) and that is why, without any care for evaluation, assessment and impact?

This goes without saying that army in Kashmir still carries many labels (fake encounters in the past) and in the era of human rights and values it needs a rethink on the type and magnitude of its social activities, interactions, listening against them by people without any bias or anger, meeting the people and knowing what better they can do to heal the wounds of innocent masses caught in the bloody conflict since decades. In the era of proactive respect for human rights and values, the Army urgently needs to do a rethink on their professional conduct and their interactions with society at large. The sense of accountability and justice has to be ensured right from the North East to Kashmir and justice has to be delivered from Manipuri girl, Thangjam Manorama rape case (July, 2004) to Kashmiri Asiya-Neelofar double rape and murder case (May, 2009), though the fact remains that army has tried its best to maintain the accountability of its men and done prompt action in certain cases of aberration (in Kashmir, Major Rehman’s instant court martial in 2004-5),however still much is expected like restoring the people’s belief in army’s accountability and justice for common man. Army has to be both local sensitive and gender sensitive (are they doing anything about local and gender sensitization of the Jawan?)

Also measuring the impact and perception of Awam about all its Awam centered programmes is essential. Measuring and evaluating the education they provide in their goodwill schools and the relief they provide post accidents/disasters is also important. The situation right now seems that either they have failed to institutionalize the public centered philosophy (like Hasnain’s Heart doctrine) or they deliberately avoid periodic review and measurement of their impact, work, outreach and social image.

In 2013, fact remains that, despite numerous changes in ‘soldier’s mindset’ and a resultant favourable swing in public perception, a lot still needs to be done for peace to settle-in in the long-term. Army’s idea of knowing the local environment and ground reality may actually still be an illusion.

Stephen Hawking rightly says, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”

The fact remains that men in uniform continue to lack a substantial understanding of the local ethos (are they really trained for that?). They need much more foot work to reach out to the public and be involved in social activities and responsibilities. This is a professional demand from the situation as soldiers are not supposed to fight only a definite enemy every time, in a fourth-generation war situation like in today’s era. They have to focus as much on the unsaid, unwritten and unseen part of the situation and who can do this better than well-educated military leaders. Army waging a fourth-generation war today, has to empower its soldiers with these soft skills. It is not the enemy they are trying to defeat, but the Awaam they are aiming to win over. One last advice to the belted forces to address their ‘enemy’ perception of the Awaam is that they must know how to manage their work amid political and other interferences and yet not take a backseat.

Last Word

The question is do army’s welfare programmes really make any difference especially in the areas where high enemy perception for army prevails? Even if it makes, is it acknowledged by the benefitting masses and if not why? Also are army’s social welfare programmes really the programmes for practical emancipation and empowerment of people especially in the conflict hit zones? Do these welfare programmes change the mindset or not when people see the same army killing people in the name of collateral damage/mistake, needs to be given a serious thought. Lastly, if the army runs its social welfare initiatives, does it bother to have an independent and objective evaluation of their programmes by neutral agencies so that to see their actual success, impact, output and utility of all their public centered programmes? Just foiling the infiltration bids on LoC is not enough but rethinking about the role played and mistakes committed in the past (still committing) is also important. Also valuing human life and safeguarding the common man must be the top priority of armed forces in the holistic country rather than a displaying a big brotherly attitude. They must remember that a single mistake by them takes the valley back to 15 years or even more and liquidates their whole dedicated and sincere social welfare and service to Awaam.

I am (though hopelessly) waiting for the day when a local feels really honored while meeting a Jawan (Soldier) in any conflict zone be that Kashmir, Northeast or any other region of India. The army-civilian dichotomy can only be abridged by working on the binding threads between the two like ensuring the principal of ‘Awaam and their safety first’, preparing a common platform where two can meet and discuss without any fear, increasing the interaction between the two, accepting the past mistakes sincerely, learn to listen against each other, avoiding display of big brotherly attitude, checking verbal abuse, treating the local with respect, understanding the local culture and sensitivities and above all checking any HR violations. My studies and observations (being a local) so far reveal that more than anything Army direly needs internal transformation, and then only it can transform the society.

Bapu-the man of the millennium rightly said;
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.

Dr. Adfer Shah

Dr. Adfer Shah, (Adfer Rashid Shah, PhD) is a New Delhi-based Sociologist and Social and Political analyst.He writes his columns for various reputed international and national media groups. He has been writing on South Asia's Socio-political realities especially on Kashmir sociology and Conflict Situation at Eurasia Review since 2012, where he is a Special Correspondent for South Asia Affairs and Associate Editor since January 2014. His recent publications include his three books (1)"Kashmir-Yearning for Peace: A Socio-Political history of Uncertainty and Chaos,2016" (ISSN: 978-3-659-55971-6), (2)'Social Science Research in Conflict Zones,2017' (ISBN: 978-620-2-47937- 0) and (3)'Tibetan Refugees in India: Struggle to Survive,2018' ( ISBN 81-8324-919-1)]..

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