New Delhi: “Killing someone with an intention of self-defence is a convenient methodology used by the security forces as an arbitrary way of working with zero accountability in the garb of national security…”
These were the words of a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) officer at a debate organised last month by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF).
However, the event made headlines this week solely due to a controversial speech by a Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) constable, Khushboo Chauhan, who asked Indians “to pierce (former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader) Kanhaiya Kumar’s chest with the national flag”.
Assistant Commandant (Executive) Mayank Bhati, the CISF officer quoted above, certainly didn’t agree with Chauhan on this.
“Not a single day goes by when in some parts of the country or the other an alleged gangster or terrorist is shot down, detained or mercilessly tortured without proof that the amount of force used was compelled by the action of the accused…”
And neither did most of the 15 other participants at the NHRC debate who spoke for or against the subject at hand — ‘Terrorism & militancy in the country can be tackled effectively while observing human rights’.
The annual event that has been organised by NHRC’s investigation division for the last 23 years saw 16 finalists this time from eight CAPF teams — two each from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Assam Rifles and CISF, and one each from the National Security Guard and CRPF.
The winner was from the CISF.
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What was said at the competition
Personnel who spoke against the motion said the rights of individuals become subservient to nation’s interests. Speakers on the other side of the fence, however, emphasised the supremacy of human rights, adding that terrorism can be tackled by following due procedure and using minimum force to avoid collateral damage.
Devesh Tripathi, an assistant commandant from CISF, said the force is expected to be “miraculous doctors” to cure the tumour, but without using a scalpel or causing pain. Even the Geneva Convention allows legitimate scope of collateral damage and suspension of human rights in national exigencies, he argued.
“Damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” said Tripathi, who was awarded the first prize.
But his arguments were taken on by co-finalists, including Mayank Bhatte.
“Terrorism succeeds in destroying democracies when a nation state under the pretext of national security arrests without warrant, detains without justification, kills without consciousness…” said Bhatte.
“Our actions in the name of national security are neither human nor right when our own people are forced to choose between a bullet by the terrorists or us.”
Assam Rifles’s soldier Balwaan Singh had a more emotional point to make.
“Bahaduri maarne me nahin, bachane me hoti hai. Bomb, barood ke dum pe shanti sthapit ki ja sakti to J&K jaise areas me shanti ho chuki hoti (Valour is in saving, not killing. If states could bring peace by using bombs and ammunition, areas like Jammu and Kashmir would have been peaceful by now),” said Singh.
He also quoted statistics of custodial deaths and instances of police firing that led to deaths of civilians to further his point.
“Between 2000 and 2012 in Manipur, 1,528 clashes and deaths were reported. In 2016, across India, 92 people died in police firing, 351 were injured, 35 died in lathicharge and over 759 were injured,” he said.
Singh stressed that violation of human rights leads to resentment and alienation. “It is then that people like Pan Singh Tomar and innocent women like Phoolan Devi are forced to pick up the gun…
“To win over people, one need not use force. Hearts of people can be won by respecting them, their rights, not by anger.”
‘Need to learn’
Speaking against the motion, ITBP inspector Pawan Kumar said the violation of one individual’s human rights to save ten lives is principally not wrong. He said a soldier finds it difficult to operate and effectively deal with terrorism within the constraints of human rights.
There is a need to learn lessons from Sri Lanka and the US on how to give the forces a free hand, he said. “We need to learn from Sri Lanka government that gave a free hand to its force and managed to curb terrorism. And from the US that went to Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq and succeeded in uprooting terrorism.
“And in our country, when a stone-pelter is tied to a car by an official to save his team, people talk about the violation of human rights of that stone-pelter?”
Kumar was referring to the April 2017 incident of an Indian Army officer, Major Leetul Gogoi, tying a civilian in Kashmir to a jeep in what became known as ‘human shield’ row.
Riflewoman (general duty) H.T. Anal, who spoke for the motion, countered this narrative through stories of her personal experience with the security forces, and reiterated that human rights need to be protected.
“I have seen my father, grandfather and old men of our village brutally beaten without any justifiable reason. Due to that, for a long time, I saw the security forces as a villain. My view changed when the forces started Military Civil Action in and around our village,” she said.
She went on to ask of her colleagues, “You want to be a villain or a hero?”
Anal also reminded them that protection of human rights is a core of India’s preamble, constitution and fundamental rights. “Let us all wake up before it is too late. Before we regret that in our service to the nation we had not killed a foe but an innocent.”
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How the competition works
The annual NHRC competition starts in the month of June, with rounds conducted at the zonal level, and concludes with the finale in September.
This year, prior to the finals on 27 September, the earlier rounds were held in eight zones across the country and the semi-final was held in Chandigarh in August in which 32 teams took part.
Speaking to ThePrint, NHRC spokesperson Jamini Srivastava said, “The purpose of this event is to sensitise the personnel towards the importance of Human Rights in an interactive way.”
“Each year a different topic is selected by a panel and a nodal agency is appointed to hold the event. This time ITBP was the nodal agency,” he added.
The awardees also get cash prizes. While the winner gets Rs 15,000, the first runner-up gets Rs 10,000 and the second runner-up gets Rs 5,000.
The CISF has been winning the competition for the last six years.
There is an element of heavy competition in the event, with all the CAPFs trying to put their best foot forward. The participants are not only handpicked by respective zones but are also trained on how to research, prepare and deliver their speech, by their respective commanders.
“The first step is to identify the best speakers, writers and the ones who can express themselves with clarity,” CISF spokesperson Hemendra Kumar said. “The second step is to get them prepared.”
The personnel are asked to research, make notes and prepare a draft on the said topic before they start penning down their speech.
“They are made to research well on the topic, collect statistics to support their arguments, cite examples, take references from books of political thinkers and quote them in their speech,” said an officer from the CISF who didn’t want to be named.
“In the process of preparing the speech, the personnel get to read up material that they will otherwise not read and that is the whole purpose,” added the officer.
The NHRC spokesperson said it is crucial that the forces be made aware of human rights concerns, given their duty to conform to those principles.
The event also serves a second purpose — to give the personnel a platform to express and engage by encouraging a debate, said Srivastava.
“It is an important event for the forces as we are the agency that maintains law and order, deals with the public,” said CISF Director General Rajesh Ranjan.
“To prepare for the debate, personnel have to read up on the said topic, gain knowledge and prepare arguments — for or against — and in the process, they not only get sensitised but also understand the concept of human rights well,” he added.
For CAPFs deployed in insurgency-hit areas, the exercise acquires even greater significance, said Ranjan.
“It is very important for personnel deployed in insurgency hit areas or areas with anti terror operations to understand that when they discharge their duties, they maintain and adhere to human rights parameters within their functioning.”
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Here is a concept: if a group works to overthrow a state and its laws, via violence, can it also ask to be protected by the same laws, rights, protections, it has deemed illegitimate by virtue of belonging to state they consider illegitimate. So, why would Lashkar e-Taiyyaba ,members insist upon the protection afforded by the Indian Constitution, since it deems the entirety of India and everything connected to it fit for destruction?
This goes for Kashmir terrorists, separatists, and their supporters among the medal wapsi bunch.
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