Truth And Myth Of ‘Human Shield’ Story
S Viraat from New Delhi
The need to ask questions of those in power is fundamental for the ‘preservation’ of the nation and the health of a democracy, especially at a time when those who make the loudest noise tend to drown out those who disagree. This is what our President Pranab Mukherjee said on Thursday delivering the second Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture in the national capital. Perhaps when he was speaking, a couple of reporters have generated a question “if Farooq Dar was tied to army jeep as a ‘human shield’ to secure army personnel from stones being rained, why was he driven for five hours, through 17 villages for over 28 kilometers?”.
This is the value of freedom of speech. A couple of newspaper reporters exposed truth of ‘human shield story presented by Army to defend the act of tying Farooq Dar to a jeep on April 9, 2017. The army version was believed by millions who showered praise on Major Leetul Gogoi for strategically securing the army personnel from stones, on social media. Praises were circulated on WhatsApp saying how heroic and patriotic the Major was. Today’s Hindustan Times cleared the myth. It’s two reporters Toufiq Rashid and Abhishek Saha travelled along the route from Utligam to Hardpanzo, through which Major has taken Farooq Dar tying him to the bonnet of a jeep as a human shield. They visited 17 villages, examined the conditions of the road, spoke to villagers and collected their terrified feelings to tell the nation that any vigilant citizen should follow the advice of the first citizen.
Ask those in power to probe this incident.
The report is novel as it presented the eye witness accounts of the incident that attracted international shock and raised the debate about the truth being covered by media. The HT has uncovered it and discovered the ground reality preparing ground for probe. The vital part of the controversy is whether Dar voted or was he part of protestors. The HT report says that Farooq Dar voted in Srinagar by-poll on April 9 and was confident that army personnel will not harm in any way because he did nothing to disturb the peace. The report gave his serial number in booth voters list as 612, and that he was caught while riding a bike along with a friend to a relative’s house to condole a death. Local villagers told HT that Dar was beaten up before he was tied up to jeep and a placard was hung around his neck naming him as stone-pelter at around 10.45 am.
Villagers of Najan saw the jeep with Dar tied up on bonnet at 11.30, Khospora at 1.30 pm, Rakhayee at 2.30 pm, Arizhal at 3 pm, Mandi at 3.15 pm, and finally reached Hardpanzoo at 4 pm, where he was taken into a Central Reserve Police Force camp, untied from jeep, still bound by ropes for some more time, then tied to a tree inside the camp and at 7 pm he was left off. (see photos, videos and text at hindustantimes.com)
If Dar has boycotted the polls in response to the call of protestors, and also pelted stones at the army personnel, the action of tying him could have been argued as a necessary strategy in self defence. Self defence is surely a fundamental right of the Major both as army personnel and an ordinary citizen. However, the whole justification depends on two factors- was he a voter and a stone-pelter. The media report suggests that he did cast his vote, which factor could be verified from records in the polling booth. On other point, according to another report, Dar has filed a complaint before State Human Rights Commission against four TV channels for wrongfully calling him a stone-pelter. That may not be a strong evidence to absolve him. This is a question of fact and need to be proved. If it was strategy to escape from the crisis, that the major tied him to jeep, though he was not a stone pelter, it could be still justified on certain conditions. How do they justify extending of the ‘sentence’ of tying up and causing him to suffer on bonnet of a jeep for around five hours?
Geneva Convention explains limits of acceptable conduct in war or armed conflict situations to ensure warring parties remain humane to non-combatants such as civilians and medical personnel, as well as to combatants who are no longer participating in hostilities, such as prisoners of war, and wounded or sick soldiers. Apart from four conventions there are additional Protocols which prescribe norms for protection of victims of armed conflicts. Common Article 3 says: In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties (States) each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: 1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities ….shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex , birth or wealth or any other similar criteria. 2) To this end, the following acts…shall remain prohibited: a) violence of life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; b) taking of hostages; c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court..”
Other side of the story is that Major Gogoi alleged that Dar was instigating a mob that was throwing stones to discourage people from voting and was attacking election officials. Dar denied this allegation. When he voted in the election which was one of just 7 per cent of voters who defied the separatists call, how all this be believed?
There are several examples of using human shields as self-defence strategy. LTTE was accused of using fleeing citizens as shields while Sri Lankan army faced charges of killing civilians. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch alleged that Syrian Army of putting children and the elderly in front as soldiers marched into towns. Even IS reportedly used Shia civilians and captured soldiers as human shields. During 2004-5, in Israel the police were accused of trying a 13-year-old Palestinian boy Mohammad Badwan to a vehicle to stop protestors from throwing stones at the police in West Bank Village of Bidou. Israel Supreme Court banned using human shields. Two years after this ban, Israel police used the boy as human shield.
This show that even in armed conflicts, using human shields could be a serious violation of conventions and human rights. Unless it is proved that Dar was also a stone-pelter, it is difficult to accept the contentions and allegations of Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi. If he is awarded for his bravery, that is entirely a different story. This incident of tying Dar to jeep, the context, character of Dar, and eye witnesses from all those villages through which he was driven need to be probed and proved. The major has to answer how he could act as complainant, prosecutor, judge and authority to execute the sentence within a fraction of second. Is it not violation of all principles of natural justice? Can he be a judge in his own case?
The question is: Will they stand the probe?
In the words of President, “All stakeholders in the democratic system, from parties to business leaders, citizens to institutions have to realize that asking questions is good, asking questions is healthy, and, in fact, is fundamental to the health of our democracy.” The President underlined the importance of giving people a forum to ‘doubt, disagree and dispute intellectually’ without being blinkered by biases or ‘resisted with a closed mind.’