Human shield debate
In a recent interview, Indian Army chief Bipin Rawat defended Major Leetul Gogoi's decision to tie a Kashmiri man to the bonnet of a jeep and use him as a human shield against stone pelters. One can safely conclude that Major Gogoi, who is under investigation by the Army for his actions, will not suffer any significant punishment. The Army chief, in fact, went a step further and presented a commendation card to Gogoi for "making the right call under the circumstances". "To ensure the confidence level of the officer and others operating in a similar environment, he was, therefore, conferred with the award," Rawat told a newspaper. "The message is not for the people. I am concerned with my rank and file." These comments and the decision to present a commendation card for Major Gogoi's actions have split public opinion down the middle, especially among veterans of the Indian military. Before one gets into both sides of the debate, it is imperative to note the circumstances involved in presenting a commendation letter to a soldier.
"It is an award given by the army chief, and does not require the approval of the government of India," said Lieutenant General (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain to a leading Indian news website. "The army chief, at any time, can take cognisance of an act of courage or distinguished service. He will then forward the commendation to the military secretary, who will publish it. It is an award given for doing your job well." There are those who have defended Gogoi's actions, considering the strenuous circumstances under which the Indian armed forces operate in the region. "We went to a polling booth to check the security situation, and then some people started pelting stones at us. Then, the stone-pelters started throwing petrol bombs at us. I took that step just to save local people," Major Gogoi said in recent comments to the press. Instead of opening fire, which would have resulted in casualties, his defenders believe that Gogoi had decided to use a human shield to protect his men from a stone-pelting mob and perform his duties. However, there are those who have slammed Major Gogoi's actions and believe that General Rawat's decision to present a commendation letter has compromised the Army's inquiry into the matter. They believe that if the Indian Army's best strategy to defend against stone pelters is to violate a citizen's fundamental rights while claiming that they can defeat the insurgency and armed terrorists without hurting civilian population, it makes the institution look bad and sends out the wrong sort of message to a restive Kashmir Valley. The use of human shields is wholly unconstitutional and unlawful and therefore unacceptable is the position taken by some veterans. The larger picture, however, is that this is the situation one is forced to confront with when the Army is asked do the job of the local police.