In a skirmish on the Line of Control on Tuesday, 8 January 2013, did Pakistani soldiers behead an Indian soldier or did they not? Or did they behead two soldiers and take away the head of one of them? Or did they behead one and slit the throat of another? Reports in the Indian media have left me utterly confused. I’ll let you decide.
The Indian Army put out this statement on Tuesday; media reports have attributed it to Rajesh K Kalia, spokesperson of the Udhampur-headquartered Northern Command:
PAKISTANI TROOPS INTRUDE ACROSS LC: TWO INDIAN SOLDIERS MARTYRED IN FIRE FIGHT
In a significant escalation to the continuing series of Cease Fire Violations and infiltration attempts supported by Pak Army, a group of their regular soldiers intruded across the Line of Control in the Mendhar Sect on 08 Jan 2013. Pak army troops, having taken advantage of thick fog & mist in the forested area, were moving towards own posts when an alert area domination patrol spotted and engaged the intruders. The fire fight between Pak and own troops continued for approximately half an hour after which the intruders retreated back towards their side of Line of Control. Two soldiers Lance Naik Hemraj and Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh laid down their lives while fighting the Pak troops.
This is yet another grave provocation by Pak Army which is being taken up sternly through official channels. [via NDTV]
Can you spot the word ‘beheaded’ or ‘decapitated’ or ‘headless’ or even ‘mutilated’ in that statement? Neither can I.
And yet, as soon as this statement was out, there were a plethora of news reports that said that one of the soldiers was beheaded.
So who put out the word ‘beheaded’ and its variations? NDTV’s defence correspondent Nitin Gokhale said it was “senior army sources“; an unnamed Hindustan Times correspondent attributed “a top Army official, wishing not to be named“. This report says the headless body was that of Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh.
The Indo-Asian News Service attributed it to “civilian officials“: “Although the military is not saying it, Indian civilian officials say that Pakistani soldiers killed and slit the throats of two Indian soldiers a day earlier.”
With some convoluted phraseology, the Press Trust of India attributes to “deputy commander of the 25 Division, Brigadier J K Tiwari” a statement that says both soldiers were decapitated:
“The bodies of two soldiers were brutalised — one head was severed and another body was beheaded… It (the head of one of jawan) has not being recovered — probably they have taken it along with them”, deputy commander of the 25 Division Brigadier J K Tiwari told reporters in Rajouri.
The Army had not been able to recover the head of Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh, he said. Singh was killed along with Lance Naik Hemraj in Tuesday’s unprovoked attack in Medhar area in Poonch sector.
The Hindu, as everyone knows, exercises extra caution and better English in matters of national security. Their intrepid reporter Ahmed Ali Fayaz got to know of the attack from “authoritative sources” as opposed to the not-s-authoritative source of the press statement put out by the spokesperson of the Northern Command. And only the Hindu could access “field intelligence reports. Let’s see what they got:
Authoritative sources in Jammu told The Hindu two soldiers of 13-Raj Rifles were killed and two more injured when a contingent of the Pakistani regular Army opened fire on an area domination unit of Sector-10 between Chhatri and Atma outposts on the LoC in Mankote area of Krishna Ghati at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday.
Even as nobody at the Rajouri-based 25th Division and Sector-10 headquarters in Mendhar area of Poonch district agreed to speak anything on record, highly placed official sources, claiming to quote field intelligence reports, confirmed the death of two soldiers in the ambush. According to these sources, men of the Pakistani regular contingent wore black combat uniform and the ambush had been laid 600 metres inside Indian territory.
Sources said that the Pakistani soldiers beheaded one of the two soldiers and decamped with weapons of both the jawans. [Link]
The London Telegraph‘s Dean Nelson called up the chief spokesperson of the Indian Army:
Gen SL Narasimhan, chief spokesman of the Indian army, told The Daily Telegraph that one soldier had been “mutilated” but could not confirm reports that he had been beheaded. [Link]
Most of these reports are of 8 January. But by the evening of 9 January only Ashok Pehalwan of Reuters seems to have got clarity on the beheading business – and it’s an outright denial by the Northern Command spokesperson:
The body of one of the soldiers was found mutilated in a forested area on the side controlled by India, Rajesh K. Kalia, spokesman for the Indian army’s Northern Command, said. However, he denied Indian media reports that one body had been decapitated and another had its throat slit. [Link]
Defence Minister AK Antony spoke earlier on Wednesday of mutilation of bodies but crucially, avoided the word we’re look for clarity about:
“That it happened is a reality,” Mr. Antony said describing the action by the Pakistani troops as “highly provocative” and “inhuman.”
“It is highly provocative action on the part of the Pakistani army. The way they treated the bodies of Indian soldiers is inhuman,” he told journalists on the sidelines of an event at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. [The Hindu]
What exactly is the truth? We deserve to know the truth about what happened to our soldiers, don’t we? If the word ‘beheading’ is allover the media why is the Northern Command spokesperson denying it? Has it been planted through sources ‘not wishing to be named’ (except in one case) precisely so that plausible deniability is maintained?
The Dogs of War
It is possible the anonymous sources are right, because this is not the first time both sides are blaming each other of showing disrespect to bodies of dead soldiers in violation of the Geneva convention. But if it is not true, then it means we are being fooled. And why would that be? What that would achieve is undermining the India-Pakistan peace process, giving Arnab Goswami a chance to allege the “peace industry” has a “vested interest” (yes, peace). It is important to know the truth, for which the Pakistanis have said they are willing to participate in a United Nations inquiry.
The United Nations, meanwhile, has issued a statement that says its Military Observers Group (UNMOGIP) in Kashmir is investigating the January 6 skirmish in which a Pakistani soldier died, but has not received any complaint from India about the alleged beheading on 8 January.
We deserve to have clarity on this, because if there has been no beheading then we need to tell the Shiv Sena to shut up:
“Not only Shiv Sena, but the entire country is demanding Antony’s resignation. He should quit from the post. What is the need for such a Defence Minister (when such incidents happen?” Sena MP and spokesperson Sanjay Raut said.
Calling for a “befitting” reply from the Indian side, he said, “If our two soldiers are beheaded, we should behead 40 of their soldiers.” [Press Trust of India]
I am not presuming that Mr Raut’s anger there is unjustified. The Indian and Pakistani armies are capable of such brutality. For instance, India has been raising with Pakistan the issue of Pakistan having mutilated the body of Capt. Saurabh Kalia, a prisoner of war in the Kargil conflict. The Pakistani army’s atrocities in the Bangladesh war are also well known.
For Arnab Goswami and Sanjay Raut and many others, here are two examples about the Indian Army.
The first one is from Barkha Dutt’s famous essay, “Confessions of a War Reporter”, first published in Himal Southasian in June 2001:
I had to look three times to make sure I was seeing right. Balanced on one knee, in a tiny alley behind the army’s administrative offices, I was peering through a hole in a corrugated tin sheet. At first glance, all I could see were some leaves. I looked harder and amidst all the green, there was a hint of black—it looked like a moustache. “Look again,” said the army colonel, in a tone that betrayed suppressed excitement. This time, I finally saw.
It was a head, the disembodied face of a slain soldier nailed onto a tree. “The boys got it as a gift for the brigade,” said the colonel, softly, but proudly. Before I could react, the show was over. A faded gunny bag appeared from nowhere, shrouded the soldier’s face, the brown of the bag now merging indistinguishably with the green of the leaves. Minutes later, we walked past the same tree where the three soldiers who had earlier unveiled the victory trophy were standing. From the corner of his eye, the colonel exchanged a look of shared achievement, and we moved on. We were firmly in the war zone.
It’s been two years since Kargil, but even as some of the other details become fuzzy, this episode refuses to fade from either memory or conscience. A few months ago, I sat across a table with journalists from Pakistan and elsewhere in the region, and confessed I hadn’t reported that story, at least not while the war was still on. It had been no easy decision, but at that stage the outcome of the war was still uncertain. The country seemed gripped by a collective sense of tension and dread, and let’s face it—most of us were covering a war for the first time in our careers. Many of the decisions we would take over the next few weeks were tormented and uncertain. I asked my friend from Pakistan, listening to my anguish with empathy, what he would have done in my place? He replied, “Honestly, I don’t know.”
This then, is the truth of reporting conflict and wars. Often we just don’t know. And even more often, whether we like ourselves for it or not, our emotional perceptions of these conflicts are shaped by how our histories have been handed down to us. Whatever textbook journalism may preach, I think the time has come to accept that every story we do is shaped by our own set of perceptions, and thus prejudices as well. National identity is one of the many factors that add up to make the sum total of who we are and what we write or report. It sneaks up on us and weaves its way into our subconscious, often mangled and confused, but still there, determining what we see and how we see it. [Himal]
Exhibit B is what the Indian Army allegedly did to a civilian in Kashmir in 1995:
It’s the sort of thing Indian Army troopers do not do even to their enemies – subject captured soldiers to barbaric torture and flaunt the ‘trophies’ like animal carcasses.
But army soldiers are facing accusations of treating Javaid Ahmad Bhat similarly. Bhat, an ordinary Kashmiri was picked up by soldiers on January 22, 1995, and tortured to death.
Twelve days later, Bhat’s carcass was returned to his family, with all the vital organs – stomach, intestine, heart, lungs, peritoneum, liver, gall bladder, spleen, kidney and even the brain – missing.
Had Bhat been an army soldier, shock and outrage would have followed the incident. [Mail Today]