Reclaiming the Republic from the Alleged Perpetrators of Violence
As I sit writing this, on the 26th of January, 2013, in various parts of the territory of the Republic of India, soldiers either already have, or are about to begin marching in formation. In New Delhi, the capital of India, their parade is accompanied by tanks, heavy artillery and replicas of nuclear warheads. In the part of the province of Jammu & Kashmir administered by the Indian Union, in several provinces of the north-east, and other areas where the writ of the state runs entirely on the basis of its armed might, Republic Day, as this date is called, is an occasion for search and cordon operations, ‘crackdowns’ and the creation of a Potemkin village like ambience in the zones (usually heavily guarded stadia) where the republic insulates itself from the public. In New Delhi, the naked, obscene exhibitionism on the axial avenue of Rajpath of a nuclear weapons power that maintains the second largest armed forces in the world, even as millions of its subjects subsist at sub-Saharan levels, is an annual ritual. Apparently, this ritual is conducted to commemorate the founding of the Indian republic through the coming into force of its constitution in 1950.
This constitution, considered by many to be an enlightened and visionary document confers, on paper, on all Indian citizens, the rights to life, freedom, liberty, equality and puts forth a vision of a state committed to fostering a free, equal and open society. The fact that in practice the realities of governance and the exercise of power by the Indian state in large swathes of the territory it holds present a very different picture is crucial to understanding the significance of the bizarre excess of the militarist spectacle of Republic Day. The state needs to remind its citizens, on a yearly basis, that the basis of its power is not a contract freely entered into and renewed by all members of society, but an assertion of armed might in many of its domains. Regardless of what the Constitution of India may or may not say about the rights of the citizen, the state’s conduct of the ritual of Republic Day is an eloquent ornamental testament of its foundational violence.
A recently released document – Alleged Perpetrators – Stories of Impunity from Jammu and Kashmir – [ published by the International People's Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Indian Administered Kashmir (IPTK) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, Srinagar (APDP) ] offers a clear picture of the nature of this power.
[ See an earlier Kafila post by Shivam Vij on the release of this report on December 06, 2012 ]
[Also see an earlier IPTK report on Unknown, Unmarked and Mass Graves in Indian Administered Kashmir. ]
This freely downloadable 354 page report presents a carefully selected slice of the brutality that has produced more than seventy thousand civilian casualties, eight thousand disappearances, countless episodes of torture and confinement, rapes, abductions, extra-judicial assassinations, and continuing harassment of an abject population that has marked the conduct of the Indian since 1989 in Indian Administered Kashmir. These facts are not new, and sadly, no longer remarkable. Each time they have been invoked, in Kashmir, elsewhere in India, or internationally, the Indian state has responded by dismissing any such allegation on the basis of a lack of documented evidence. What this report does, carefully, meticulously, resolutely and with exemplary restraint, is to marshall the evidence that can be found in the state’s own records. In ‘First Information Reports’ filed in police stations as complaints against murder, torture, rape or forced disappearance, in court documents, and in official responses to ‘Right to Information’ requests. There is no hearsay, nothing anecdotal, no rumour, no ‘secret’ or ‘classified’ information that can be denied, no speculation or conjecture, nothing that cannot be verified by accessing the archive.
What this mammoth effort, undertaken over two years produces is a roster of two hundred and fourteen cases. These 214 cases are but a fraction of the number of human rights violations that have taken place since 1989, but their significance lies in the fact that for each of them, there exist records that tag the identity of their alleged perpetrators. These include (with some overlaps, where there are multiple crimes, such as say, a combination of two or more acts) 124 extra-judicial killings, 65 enforced disappearances, 59 instances of torture and 9 cases of rape. The introduction to the report says -
“out of 214 cases a list emerges of 500 individual perpetrators, which include 235 army personnel, 123 paramilitary personnel, 111 Jammu & Kashmir Police personnel and 31 Government backed militants/associates. The designation of some of these alleged perpetrators point to a deep institutional involvement of the Indian state in the crimes. Among the alleged perpetrators are two Major Generals and three Brigadiers of the Indian Army, besides nine Colonels, three Lieutenant Colonels, 78 Majors and 25 Captains. Add to this, 37 senior officers of the federal Paramilitary Forces, a recently retired Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police as well as a serving Inspector General.
The report also seeks to turn the focus on identities of alleged perpetrators of crime and atrocity. Therefore, rather than a general reference to, for example, the Rashtriya Rifles, names and ranks of officers of this counter-insurgency force are mentioned. This stems from the understanding that despite a culture of systemic impunity that exonerates perpetrators, it is individuals who commit violations, and they must first and foremost bear responsibility for their acts. By naming names the report seeks to remove the veil of anonymity and secrecy that has sustained impunity. Only when the specificity of each act of violation is uncovered can institutions be stopped from providing the violators a cover of impunity.”
A pattern that is so persistent, so widespread, so pervasive cannot be explained away as the trace of aberrations, excesses, or of the eccentric conduct of ‘rogue’ soldiers or officers. It has to be seen as an instrument or policy, which finds its hallowed justification in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, (which grants immunity from prosecution to armed forces personnel, except by sanction of the armed forces and the government, and also gives soldiers licence to kill civilians on the basis of suspicion) and in other repressive measures specific to Jammu and Kashmir such as the Public Security Act. Despite several orders, requests and pronouncements emanating from the local judiciary, there is not even a single instance of the army and the union government sanctioning the prosecution of armed forces and federal paramilitary personnel in the courts, outside of the protective cover of the AFSPA In Kashmir. While some rare instances of court martials conducted by the forces themselves do exist in the record, almost never do such records clarify what the court martials decided. Right to Information requests to know outcomes have been routinely denied.
On the contrary, officers and personnel who are alleged to have perpetrated serious human rights violations have been decorated and promoted, demonstrating that the Indian state routinely rewards those, especially in uniform, who are guilty of the grossest of crimes. These include rewards for violations to officers in very senior echelons of power.
I heard Kartik Murukutla and Parvez Imroz, two of the four listed authors of this report speak two nights ago at a meeting at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Kartik Murukutla, a human rights lawyer currently working with the IPTK, spelled out the internationally accepted legal principles of ‘command responsibility’ and ‘joint criminal intention’ that were sufficient to indict, not just those who have been named in this report, but also those further up the chain of command, who knew what was going on and chose to look the other way, or who actively connived in the perpetration of these crimes and in shielding their alleged perpetrators. Parvez Imroz, advocate and convener of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society, said that he had no doubt that had India been under the purview of the International Criminal Court, there could have been several successful prosecutions launched of senior army personnel, politicians and government officers for the crimes that have been committed by the Indian state in Kashmir. He reminded us that Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator did have to stand trial in a court in Spain for his record of having presided over three thousand disappearances during his tenure at the head of the Chilean junta.
It will be interesting to speculate as to how many decorated military officers, bureaucrats, intelligence officials, ministers and prime ministers in India could stand trial for the more than seventy thousand civilian deaths and eight thousand disappearances in Kashmir alone since 1989, were the internationally accepted principles of justice and human rights jurisprudence to prevail with regard to this ‘(Self-)Righteous’ Republic. It will be interesting to speculate as to how many of these gentlemen are, or have been, either marching past, or sitting in the VIP stands, or receiving salutes, on the occasion of this and previous Republic Days.
POSTSCRIPT : The Parade after the Parade.
At two this afternoon, after the military parade is over, not far from Rajpath, many young women and men have resolved to gather for a Freedom Parade. Almost a month ago, they were attacked on Rajpath, the same broad street through which the military parade passes, when they had gathered to mourn one of their own, a young woman, an unknown citizen who had been brutally raped a week before their gathering in the national capital. She died, a week later, just before the year ended. All this is now history. In the past weeks. This city has changed profoundly. Perhaps this country is changing. One of the changes that I have noticed is the fact that the young people who came out to protest in Delhi began talking openly about rape, and other assaults on human dignity, by the armed forces in Kashmir. The ‘Alleged Perpetrators’ Report published by the IPTK and the APDP can only strengthen the resolve of these young people to seek justice and freedom, not just for themselves in Delhi, but also for their peers, their friends, their comrades in Kashmir. Out of that chain of solidarity a new vision of what the history of South Asia might yet be, may well emerge.
The anger that the young protestors have felt about rapists in uniform has found an exemplary echo in the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee set up by the government to respond to the demand to address the question of sexual violence in India. The Justice Verma Committee makes it explicit that the AFSPA provides impunity to men in uniform who rape, in Kashmir, and elsewhere. Today, the young women and men who will gather for the Freedom Parade in New Delhi are saying that they want to reclaim the republic. Not for armies and para-militaries that rape, but for peace and dignity for ordinary women, men and children, for workers, peasants, indigenous communities, for young people, for Dalits, for minorities of all kinds and for the aged, the infirm, the tired and the hungry. Their vision of a reclaimed republic (which need not be a nation-state, even as it matures into hitherto unknown and untried forms of the polis that are creatively brought into being through concerted human action) can become one where the rights to self-determination and autonomy of all kinds, not just political, but also social, cultural and sexual, are respected, where armies and arsenals are made redundant, where frontiers are not killing fields, where free movement across borders is possible, and where the evolution of a different conception of the economy can yield a world free of the exploitation of labour and of the earth.
If you are a young woman or man, and you are reading this, in Delhi, or elsewhere, and you plan to come to the Freedom Parade, or wish you could be there, you know now that reclaiming the republic is an act of audacious imagination. But nothing, not even the Constitution of India, makes it illegal to imagine, to dream, and to act peacefully and joyously to realize the borderless republic of your dreams.
Be practical, demand the impossible ! The rest will follow.