Some (more) thoughts on Indian and Pakistani soldiers beheading each other at the ceasefire line in Jammu & Kashmir
In the early hours of 10 January 2013, I published a post here that asked, “Was an Indian soldier decapitated at the Line of Control or not?” Soon thereafter, the family of Lance Naik Hemraj Singh of 13 Rajputana Rifles cremated his body and went on a hunger strike, demanding the government get the head. Several readers commented that now that it was clear a beheading did take place, I owe them an apology. I do not see why I owe them such an apology considering I never said that an Indian soldier wasnot beheaded. I only pointed to the conflicting reports, the absence of official mention about whether or not a soldier was beheaded, a quoted a Reuters report that categorically said that according to the official spokesperson of the Northern Command, no soldier was beheaded, though the two soldiers’ bodies were mutilated. Despite such an official denial quoted in a trusted news source, I had written, “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.”
Some readers asked me, “Is Hemraj’s family lying?” They would note that the early news reports I was quoting were so unclear and contradictory that the Hindustan Times said the name of the beheaded soldier was Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh! However, on the technicality of the question, “Is Hemraj’s family lying?” I would like them to more closely hear what Hemraj’s family has been saying:
Jai Singh, the martyr’s brother, who is also on a hunger strike, also sounded a note of doubt. “What was brought to us was a body covered in white sheet. Now it could be anyone’s body. We were not allowed to see what was inside,” he said, highlighting that he has spent his childhood with Hemraj and knew that he had a mole on the back.
“I would have checked it but they didn’t allow me to do that,” he added. [The Hindu]
However, I am still not saying no decapitation happened, not least because by now we have an official confirmation that a beheading did take place. Col. Jagdeep Dahiya, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, issued a statement saying:
“It is clarified that Pakistan has quoted the initial press release given by the spokesman of Indian Army’s Northern Command, on 08 Jan 2012, when the details of the incident were still not clear,” the MoD said. “Subsequently, on the same day, Indian Army made a statement that the body of one soldier was mutilated. Both these statements were made based on the information available at the time of making those statements.”
Seeking to set the details right, Colonel Dahiya said that “it is reiterated that the body of one soldier was found mutilated and beheaded, the body of [the] second soldier was also mutilated during this ceasefire violation on 08 Jan 2013 in Mendhar Sector by Pakistan”. [The Hindu]
Why didn’t the Indian Army make this much official to begin with? That report quotes Col. Dahiya as saying that initial reports were unclear. That is bizzare – it took the Indian defence establishment four days to confirm whether or not an Indian soldier was beheaded?
The Indian Army first does not tell us that a soldier was beheaded, then denies it, then denies its denial and says a soldier was indeed beheaded. Isn’t the Indian defence establishment – by which I mean both the Army and the Defence Ministry as well as the National Security Advisor – tying itself up in too many knots? If you are as outraged as I am about the beheading of an Indian soldier, then you would agree with me that the following are important questions:
- Who were these anonymous sources who put out the beheading story?
- Were they authorised to pass on such sensitive information to the media when even the Ministry of Defence, as Col. Dahiya says, was unclear about what had happened?
- Did someone in the government/Army try to hide this sensitive information?
- Amidst allegations that it is not uncommon for Indian and Pakistani soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir to treat each others’ bodies with disrespect and their heads as war trophies, could it be that while such beheadings are usually not reported, this time some within the Indian defence establishment decided to put it out?
Since there is no chance the Indian Army or the Ministry of Defence is going to answer these questions in a Right to Information query, I urge that all of us demand to know. While we are at it, we should also demand that the Government of India issue a white paper about all such incidents where the Geneva Convention’s rules of war have been violated at the Line of Control since the 2003 ceasefire.
Such a white paper would, naturally, have to reveal beheadings and mutilation of bodies by the Pakistani soldiers of Indian ones, but it would also have to tell us of similar inhuman acts, if any, committed by Indian soldiers upon their Pakistani counterparts.
This is important because it takes two to tango, because taali do haath se bajti hain. It is as much an obligation for Pakistan to follow the rules of war as it is for India. If it is the case that India has also been treating bodies of Pakistani soldiers like animals, we lose the moral right to the outrage that has overtaken a large number of people and almost the entire media. As the Business Standard argues in an editorial, the media’s TRP-driven warmongering has itself become a national security hazard. But watching TV News does not mean we have to buy the hysteria that is being sold to us. For all of news TV’s attempts to decide for us, we are also blessed with an individual brain each.
In my previous post I had mentioned two allegations of the Indian Army having committed similar heinous acts. One was along quote from senior journalist Barkha Dutt’s recollections of the Kargil war in 1999, where she was shown the head of a Pakistani soldier nailed to a tree,and how nationalism prevented her from doing her duty as a journalist of reporting this violation of the rules of war. Shuddhabrata Sengupta has written how Ms. Dutt has been avoiding any mention of that essay of hers, which is indeed very strange.
However, at least two other journalists who covered the Kargil war, are not disowning similar recollections.
Sankarshan Thakur, Roving Editor of the Calcutta Telegraph, has posted on his website an excerpt from a long essay he wrote on the Kargil War. The essay, Guns and Yellow Roses, was published in an eponymous anthology by HarperCollins India in 1999. Note this:
We saw only one side of the war and most stories we reported were stories told to us by Indian soldiers. A lot of what the jawans had to say mismatched with what the defence establishment thought. Accounts of how well-entrenched the intruders were, for instance; that was anathema to the government because it was handy proof it had let its guard down. Accounts, also, of how our soldiers treated intruders when they could lay their hands on them. New Delhi made quite a show of mutilation of some of its captured soldiers by Pakistanis but much the same was happening on this side. Troops of the Naga and Jat regiments told us quite plainly they had killed a few intruders they had captured alive in the heights above Drass. “It was rage, just rage,” one Naga soldier said, “They killed many of our mates, we were angry. When we got them, we butchered them.” As and when they brought bodies of intruders back from the heights, the tied them with ropes and dragged them down. “We had enough load to carry as it was, who was going to bother carrying their bodies? Dragging them down was a favour.” There was no sense of guilt or remorse there, just plain retelling; it was as if a fire of emotion had cleansed the act of murder. [Sankarshan Thakur]
Harinder Baweja, who covered the Kargil war for India Today and is currently with the Hindustan Times, tweeted about a similar experience, and was kind enough to share with me the relevant passage from her Kargil book, A Soldier’s Diary. Published in 2000 by the India Today Group, the book was written in the first person of a soldier. Here is the excerpt:
“We have their dead. And a head. The experiences of 18 Garhwal also show another side of the war. The frustration that has built up among our jawans and the thirst for revenge. Having captured Point 4700, not without significant casualties, their jawans went berserk. One of them took out his knife and slit the head of a Pakistani soldier in one stroke. The head was sent to the Brigade Headquarters at Drass and pinned to a tree trunk. None of the enemy had yet been captured alive – but this is proof that it is only a matter of time. The enemy head, a grisly trophy, became an exhibition piece. Maj Gen Puri came down from Mughalpura to see it. Other officers dropped in to Brigade Headquarters to take a look. So did some of the journalists who have been routinely visiting the Brigade Headquarters. It was there, pinned on the tree, for anyone who could bear to look at it. In fact, the reporters were shown the head with the warning they they won’t be able to sleep for the next three nights. The sight of the pinched face, hair intact, served the macabre purpose of motivating the troops. Or at least, that’s what some Brigade officers believed. To be honest, it did. This is the first time we have laid our hands on the enemy. We have killed one of them. The sight of the head pinned on a tree has a salutary effect. It kind of makes us feel better. The enemy is no longer invisible. Or invincible. It hangs there for a couple of days before Maj Gen Puri asks for it to be removed, after which it is buried in a corner.”
Baweja says she was not allowed to take a photograph.
Kargil was thirteen years ago, have such incidents happened more recently? Some more news reports for you to consider.
1) Shishir Gupta writes:
In July 2011, an infiltrator and cross-border source of the Pakistan army was killed in Keran sector of Kashmir by the Indian army. The Pakistan army’s reply was swift as two troopers of 20 Kumaon regiment — Jaipal Singh Adhikari and Devender Singh — were beheaded. The Indian army apparently kept quiet and waited for an opportune moment. Three months later, heads of three Pakistani soldiers went missing with Islamabad lodging a protest with New Delhi on the alleged killing. In August, 2003, Pakistani troops ambushed an Indian patrol in Nowshera sector and killed four troops of the Jat regiment. The intruders beheaded one soldier and took his light machine gun. A month later, nine Pakistani soldiers were killed in the same sector with heads of two missing. On February 27, 2000, Sepoy Bhausahed Maruti Talekar of Maratha Light Infantry was beheaded by Pakistani troops in Jangad in Rajouri sector but curiously a ranking pan-Islamic jihadist, Ilyas Kashmiri of Al Qaeda, was given credit with Islamabad displaying the badge and weapon of the solider in a macabre display. This apparently was a response to allegations that Indian troops had killed 20 Pakistani villagers in a raid after the Kargil war. [Hindustan Times]
(By the way, Mr Gupta, I love it how Indian soldiers are beheaded by the Pakistani soldiers’ heads simply go “missing”. Perhaps the enemy heads simply detach from their bodies and become UFOs at the mere sight of the Indian soldier!)
2) By now I am sure you have heard the grandmother story The Sources put out. Praveen Swami wrote in The Hindu that it was the Indian Army that is responsible for starting the current round of firing and mutual killings which resulted in the killing of these two soldiers, and thereafter the killing of a Pakistani soldier. Praveen Swami’s story effectively says that tensions were started when the Indian side violated the terms of the 2003 LoC ceasefire between India and Pakistan. The Indian Army did so by building observation bunkers, not allowed by the ceasefire agreement, according to Swami.
Citing civilian sources, Swami’s report even suggested that in the ensuing fighting the Indian Army may also have crossed the LoC:
“Let’s just put it this way,” a senior government official in New Delhi said, “there was no formal permission to stage a cross-border raid to target Sawan Patra. However, in the heat of fighting, these things have been known to happen. Pakistan has done this, and our forces have done this, ever since fighting began in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990.”
Swmi’s narrative also contradicts earlier claims in the media of the Indian Army that the January 6 incident – in which Pakistan says one of its soldiers was killed – was because of the Pakistani Army’s effort to send in militants (in the height of snow!). In other words we were being lied to – it wasn’t about militant infiltration, which everyone is using as a convenient stick to justify the Indian Army having started this current round of tension at the Line of Control.
Swami further writes:
“It is almost certainly a retaliation for what happened in Charonda”, a military official in New Delhi said. “This kind of thing has often happened in the past, though it hasn’t got quite so much media attention.”
Last year, for example, there was fierce fighting Karnah, some 140 kilometres from Srinagar after two Indian soldiers were beheaded in an attack on a forward position by a Border Action Team. Indian special forces responded by targeting a Pakistani forward post, killing several soldiers and, by the account of one military official, which The Hindu could not corroborate independently, beheaded two.
It is shocking that the front page of a major newspaper tells us that in 2012 the Indians and the Pakistanis beheaded two soldiers each and nobody has anything to say. The Defence Ministry does not care to even deny the allegation in its response. And the warmongers ignore this, because they want to continue pretending that the beheading of Lance Naik Hemraj Singh was an unprecedented provocation by Pakistan. If you’ve been watching Times Now, you even have ready conspiracy theories about why Pakistan is doing is (to divert the Pakistani people’s attention from the Pakistani Army’s attempt to dethrone President Zardari).
3) Saikat Datta also confirmed that the provocation was from Indian side, blaming it on a local commander:
The commander of the 161 brigade, stationed in the Churchunda sub-sector, Brigadier Gulab Singh Rawat, had decided to take a very aggressive posture. Sources said that he asked the commanding officer of 9 MLI to take “proactive action”, to launch a quick raid against a post that was harassing Indian positions.
The successful Indian raid led to the death of a Pakistani non-commissioned officer and escalated tensions across the LoC. [DNA]
There is enough here that should be cause for introspection rather than warmongering. BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, who wants 10 Pakistani soldiers’ heads in retaliation, should instead shave off her head – a threat she used to prevent Sonia Gandhi from becoming Prime Minister in 2004. I suggest Ms Swaraj shave off her head to protest such brutalities practised by both the Indian and Pakistani armies at the Line of Control, to demand the government issue a white paper on all such violations of rules of war between India and Pakistan since 1947, and to ask for the Government of India to resolve the Jammu & Kashmir conflict with Pakistan so we don’t have to see our soldiers returning dead.
More firing at the LoC = more dead soldiers = more beheadings and mutilation = more warmongering = more retaliation = more firing at the LoC = more dead bodies = more beheadings… At some point all the soldiers will have killed each other and Pakistan will nuke us.
That is where warmongering will take us. Ravan had ten heads, we all have one each. We wouldn’t want to lose it for a senseless war. We have to stop the cycle if we are outraged by such violence. Ms Swaraj and many others want the bilateral negotiations with Pakistan halted, and have for the moment succeeding in sending back a Pakistani hockey team and stalling the implementation of a visa agreement. Preventing those who are as old or even older than India and Pakistan from getting visa on arrival at Wagah is not going to solve the Jammu & Kashmir conflict. Letting them – and everyone else too – visit the other is going to help solve the conflict.
Those who want retaliation should realise it’s only going to result in more headless bodies. It is ironic that those who are making demands that will lead to more headless bodies are ridiculing those who demand that India and Pakistan end this madness. Ending the madness requires more talks, more parleys, negotiations. Not less.
It possibly also requires third party intervention. Given that the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan has presence in various locations on both sides of the Line of Control – including an office in Srinagar – I find it strange that India is not ready for an UNMOGIP investigation into the beheading of Lance Naik Hemraj Singh. I don’t see how this will lead to ‘internationalising’ the Jammu & Kashmir issue. The dispute is already an international one, and besides an UNMOGIP investigation about one soldier is not an effort to solve the Jammu & Kashmir conflict. Not agreeing to an UNMOGIP investigation, as Pakistan suggested, gives out the impression that India has something to hide. The ‘internationalising’ excuse also does not wash because it is third party intervention that solved the dispute over sharing of river waters between the two countries in Jammu & Kashmir, and even today an international tribunal’s arbitration is what prevents India and Pakistan from going to war over the rivers.
Some readers commented on my previous post’s suggestion that the LoC killings underscored the need to solve the Jammu & Kashmir conflict by saying that giving up Kashmir to Pakistan was not an option for India. I don’t see how solving Kashmir automatically means ‘giving Kashmir to Pakistan’. This mentality that treats Jammu and Kashmir as a territory to be given and taken is at the heart of the problem.
Jammu and Kashmir is a place where indigenous people live, it is their land and their world, they have suffered more from this conflict than the rest of us in India and Pakistan. Far more civilians than soldiers die on the Line of Control, and we who claim they are Indian citizens don’t care to mourn their loss.
It is only natural that the people of Jammu & Kashmir should be at the centre of any solution. One solution was being considered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s then President Pervez Musharraf.
Lastly, to all blood thirsty jingoists, may I please immodestly recommend an essay I wrote last year on Nationalism and Love in South Asia.