Shopian firing: SC stays action against Indian Army Major

An Indian war veteran won the first round of his legal battle for his son Major Aditya Kumar when the Supreme Court asked the Jammu and Kashmir government on Monday why a case was filed against Kumar who was acting in the line of duty. The petitioner, Lt. Col. Karamveer Singh, said Major Kumar was “wrongly and arbitrarily” named in a case linked to an army firing that left three protesters dead in restive Shopian district last month. The petitioner said his son was just part of a military convoy that came under attack by a violent, stone-pelting mob.

The top court ordered the state police not to take any coercive steps on the basis of the case filed against Major Kumar. It also issued a notice to the federal and state governments seeking a response from them within a fortnight. Singh, in his petition, requested the court to dismiss the case against his son and issue guidelines to the state government to protect the dignity of soldiers doing their job. Cases like the one filed by the Jammu and Kashmir government will hurt the morale of brave-hearts operating against odds to uphold the dignity of the Indian Flag, the petition said. The firing incident happened in Ganawpora village on January 27 after a stone-pelting mob waylaid and attacked an army convoy. When the mob tried to lynch an officer, the army fired warning shots. The attackers refused to disperse and the army opened fire in self-defence.

While Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti wants increased military presence in the state to maintain order, she seems to forget that the life of a soldier guarding the border is as precious as that of a Kashmiri civilian. An army officer would have been killed by a mob on January 27 had the soldiers not acted.  Mufti would not have forgotten the case of a top state police official Mohd Ayub Pandith who was lynched to death in front of a mosque by a mob on June 23, 2017 in Srinagar. The same year, a small group of soldiers found themselves confronted by a large mob armed with stones and petrol bombs preparing to torch a police station in Budgam district.

What are soldiers supposed to do in such situations? Call the chief minister, explain the situation and act only after it gets her clearance? An army cannot function like the state police. Being a politician, Mufi had her compulsions and the case filed against Major Kumar was meant to assuage local sentiments and to project her ‘Kashmir first’ (not ‘India first’) policy. She made it clear when her coalition government’s partner, Bharatiya Janata Party, asked her to withdraw the complaint against Major Kumar. She said it was the duty of the state government to take the case to its logical conclusion.

Hurting the morale of the Indian army will have dangerous consequences especially on the Jammu and Kashmir border where Pakistani soldiers are regularly targeting soldiers and civilians and pushing terrorist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) into India to attack military camps. In a pre-dawn terror attack on Sunjuwan military camp in Jammu on Saturday (Feb 10), three JeM terrorists killed six unarmed soldiers and a civilian by targeting their homes before they were gunned down. On Monday, one central reserve police personnel was killed when LeT terrorists tried to sneak into their camp.

While the army operation was under way to neutralise the two terrorists holed up in a building near the police camp, Mufti casually mentioned the incident in the state assembly to underline the need for India to hold talks with Pakistan. Responding to the attack, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah said Pakistan will continue more such attacks, implying that India’s failure to engage Pakistan was the cause of all troubles. Only two days ago, the Jammu and Kashmir assembly plunged into chaos after a lawmaker, while discussing the terrorist attack on Sunjuwan military camp, raised pro-Pakistani slogans. Congress leader Mani Shankar Iyer, who sympathises with Kashmiri hardliners, said at a function in the port city of Karachi on Sunday that he is proud of Pakistan and sad with India’s ‘no-talks’ approach.

All these responses fall into a certain pattern and boil down to a deep hatred towards India and the great institutions that it is proud of. A section of the Kashmiri population, with the help of some leaders, is trying to vilify one such venerable institution — the Indian army. Such efforts are bound to fail. The army was called in only after the situation in Jammu and Kashmir became unmanageable. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in disturbed areas like Jammu and Kashmir gives the men in uniform sweeping powers and immunity. The state administration and people should allow it to do its job which the state police have failed to and give it due respect.

The case of Major Kumar revolves around jobless Kashmiri youths who come as a wave to disrupt army’s anti-terror operations and help suspects to melt into the crowd without getting caught. The federal agencies have records to prove that these stone-pelters are getting funds from Pakistan. If they are killed in clashes, there is an outpouring of sympathy from locals and opposition parties at the national level. But if a soldier is killed, all of them remain silent. This is disturbing.

— E. Jayakumar