Shopian deaths could have been prevented if leaders had ensured all understood ground rules
Any loss of life is tragic, and when it youngsters who die, as in the case of the three young men killed in Army action against a mob of stone-peters in Shopian, South Kashmir, it is deeply upsetting to all Indians not least the men in uniform. Having said that however, it must be underlined that the firing by the Indian Army looks primafacie to be a clear-cut case of selfdefence. What seems to have transpired is this: A military convoy comprising people-and-goods carriers of Indian Army was passing through the village of Ganowpora village in Shopian when a belligerent mob of close to 300 people started attacking it with stones and other sharp projectiles. (This occurred against the backdrop of security forces having neutralisedan armed Hizbul Mu jahideen terrorist who was a local resident a few days earlier, sparking furyin Shopian.) In the melee, as the convoy, showing restraint, tried to continue without engaging the stone-throwing civilian population as they were not in the midst of an operation but were transferring an Army unifs luggage and skeletal staff from Point A to Point B, a couple of the vehicles got separated from the main body of the convoy. These isolated vehicles, as they were attempting to take a U-turn on a narrow village street, were surrounded and came under ferocious and sustained attack by a 20D-strong mob of stone-pelters. Reports indicate that a Junior Commissioned Officer tried to reason with the mob but when he was hit by a projectile and collapsed, and as the enraged mob started moving in, the Quick Response Team which accompanies all Army vehicles in Kashmir responded to save their colleagues’ lives and government property as duly mandated.
Two points need emphasis. The first is that even local residents do not contest the purely factual chronology of events; their allegation is of’disproportionate use of force’ by the Army. That is an allegation which will be proven true or false in the investigation underway now that an FIR has been registered and the Northem Army Commander told the media he is confident the allegations of disproportionate use of force will be proven false as Standard Operating Procedures were adhered to. The message is clear: Despite the fact that the Army’s robust internal investigation mechanism has already gone into this aspect and conduded that there was no breach, the Army is open to the allegation being investigation by local police. This is a mature and sober way deescalating the situation. But what has been completely unacceptable and riled all Indians is the politicisation of the issue by the Jammu and Kashmir police administration by naming the individual officer in command of the convoy in the FIR, instead of a registering the complaint against the Indian Army/relevant unit. This is a national shame and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and the PDP-BJP Government owe the country an apology. Secondly, it the sheer irresponsibility of the political, community and religious leadership in the Valley which has led to a situation where despite a clear laying down of ground rules by the Army Chief regarding the treatment that would be meted out to violent, stone-pelting mobs, there has been no concerted campaign at the grassroots level to ensure impressionable youngsters are prevented, by force if necessary, from joining such so-called ‘protests’ which are nothing more than quasi- terrorism. Equally,peaceful protests are the democratic right of all Indian citizens induding those resident in Jamm u and Kashmir. The distinction is subtle but vital.