When Gen Bipin Rawat Advocated Human Rights in Kashmir

  • Shabir Ibn Yusuf
  • Publish Date: Jul 7 2017 9:59PM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 7 2017 9:59PM
When Gen Bipin Rawat Advocated Human Rights in Kashmir

On June 8, 2012, I reported in Greater Kashmir about the Jammu and Kashmir police contradicting the army’s version of an encounter in Uri. The army had claimed to have slain six infiltrators near the LoC but the police said they had received only four bodies. In the following days, suspicion that there was something fishy about the killings grew, not surprisingly in a place where fake encounters are not unknown.

 As the controversy escalated, I received a call from the commanding officer of 19 Infantry Division, which is based in Baramulla. He said there was nothing fishy about the encounter. The army would never do any wrong and trample upon human rights, he insisted. The officer was Gen Bipin Rawat, now chief of the Indian army.

Now, Rawat is blatantly defending gross human rights abuses in the valley. He recently awarded Major Leetul Gogi, who had used Farooq Ahmad Dar of Budgam as a human shield in April, although the army’s own enquiry against him was pending. “This is a proxy war and proxy war is a dirty war. It is played in a dirty way. The rules of engagement are there when the adversary comes face-to-face and fights with you. It is a dirty war. That is where innovation comes in. You fight a dirty war with innovations,” Rawat said, justifying the award to Gogoi.

Rawat has also defended the use of brutal force against protestors. “Those who obstruct our operations during encounters and are not supportive will be treated as overground workers of terrorists. If they do not relent and create hurdles in our operations, then we will take tough action,” he said soon after taking over as the army chief in February this year.

The army chief triggered a controversy when, in an interview to the Press Trust of India on May 27, he said, “Adversaries must be afraid of you and at the same time your people must be afraid of you. We are a friendly Army but when we are called to restore law and order, people have to be afraid of us.”

Arguing that boosting the morale of the army was more important to him than anything else, Rawat said, “People are throwing stones at us, people are throwing petrol bombs at us. If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die? I will come with a nice coffin with a national flag and I will send your bodies home with honour. Is it what I am supposed to tell them as chief? I have to maintain the morale of my troops who are operating there.”

Referring to unarmed protestors in Kashmir, he said, “I wish these people, instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I (want to do).” Shoot them, that is.

What has surprised many observers is that this hard-line stance of Gen Rawat is at odds with his professed record in Kashmir. Consider this:

In August 2008, Lt Col MS Kadam, deputy commander of 22 Rashtriya Rifles, was slain in an encounter in Sopore. Rawat was then commander of 22 RR. “Some civilians were trapped inside that is why we did not launch an offensive,” he told reporters after the encounter, referring to Newlight Hotel, where the militants were holed up. “Our actions must be getting counted as human rights violations tomorrow.”

In December that year, Rawat organised a seminar on Human Rights at the headquarters of 10 Sector RR in Pattan area of Baramulla district. Many senior journalists took part and one was even on the discussion panel. Some prominent human rights activists were also invited but they declined. The journalist and activists refused to get named in Kashmir Ink.

An officer who served under Rawat when he was the brigade commander in Sopore and is now poised to become a major general said, “Our every action those days was based on the thinking that there would be no rights violation. Gen Rawat sahib would remind us that whenever he was in the operations room with us.” He claimed that Rawat stopped the promotion of an officer accused of custodial killing. Another officer posted in Baramulla district “did not have a good record”, the officer added. “Gen Rawat made him do go. He effected an image makeover within a short time.”

Rawat helped launch and expand Sadbhavna operations in and around Sopore. “He shaped the army’s Goodwill Schools, and got the army to sponsor sports activities in Sopore,” said a state government official who was posted in Sopore when Rawat was a brigadier there. “He used to call meetings with the local people on and off.” A police officer who was posted in Sopore around that time concurred. “Whether he was in Sopore or Baramulla, he had good relations with local politicians,” he said.

As the chief of 19 Infantry Division in 2012, he played a key role in the Awami Mulakat programme launched by the then 15 Corps Commander Lt Gen Atta Hasnain.

A former senior staffer at the army’s Northern Command said Rawat was their advocate for human rights. “Whenever there was a seminar on human rights, Gen Rawat was sent to represent the army,” he said. Internal army briefing on human rights too were mostly given by him in Kashmir. “When a fresh unit comes, its men have to be trained about human rights. Gen Rawat’s doctrine was often used.” The staffer, who is now a general, said Rawat was posted to a peacekeeping mission in Congo after he completed his term as the brigade commander in Sopore. “And such posting are always given to people who have good record on human rights.” 

Retired Lt Gen HS Panag, as chief of the Northern Command, was, for a time, Rawat’s boss in Kashmir. Panag described Rawat as a “well-meaning person who is judicious with his words”. “He worked under me as brigadier in the valley,” Panag told Kashmir Ink. “The problem is that as the army chief, he is not judicious with his words.” The retired general reiterated that the Budgam human shield incident was unfortunate. “I hope this will not be repeated.”

 About a decade ago, then Army Chief Gen JJ Singh had described the army’s “people-friendly approach while tackling insurgency” as an “iron fist in a velvet glove”. In Gen Rawat’s army, the gloves have come off.