Armed forces

The Dyer Debate: A Response to Partha Chatterjee

Is it appropriate to seek to draw a parallel between the remarks of Gen. Rawat and Dyer? Did Dyer face a situation where for months his soldiers were being pelted with stones as a stratagem of war promoted by an outside enemy?

Video screen grab of Major Leetul Gogoi speaking to the media (left); Army chief General Bipin Rawat (right). Credit: PTI

In a recent piece in The Wire, Professor Partha Chatterjee, who has a formidable reputation as a social scientist, invoked the memory of General Dyer to throw a negative and critical spotlight on the policies of the Indian state and its army in combating terrorism and insurgency.

Dyer’s name evokes disgust and anger; as Chatterjee is steeped inter alia in the study of modern India he would surely have known the emotion the Jallianwala Bagh’s butcher stirs in Indian hearts. Assuming he intended to shock the public in to seriously examining these issues  – so important to the well being of India and its future – this may not have been the right way to focus on matters that require cool and dispassionate consideration.

It is deeply troubling when Chatterjee implies that the Indian state is behaving like a colonial entity in the “restive regions” of India. This is the clear inference of his claim that a “structural feature” akin to colonialism is created where “the Indian army” is “deployed in regions under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) – like an occupying force in a conquered land”. It is not clear from his article if he wants only AFSPA to go so that the “structural feature” will dissolve and so the Indian state will shed its “colonial” nature in these regions or he holds that even if that were to happen the Indian state’s inherent colonial nature will remain? And, if that thinking is extended, does he believe that anti-state groups in these regions have the right to violently fight the Indian army and it is also politically legitimate for them to work for secession? Surely having made the arguments he has, even by implication, or, at a minimum, created doubts on his thinking on these issues, Chatterjee should not have shirked from clarifying in this article itself the implications of his position. This is especially because many readers who are not familiar with his work on colonialism, nationalism and post colonialism should, in all fairness, know his basic views on these matters.

Pakistan-sponsored terrorism

Certainly in the case of Jammu and Kashmir – the state where Major Leetul Gogoi’s action in using a Kashmiri man as a human shield occurred – Chatterjee has simply ignored the almost three decades long battle against Pakistani sponsored terrorism that the army continues to fight. It is one matter for an army to handle the breakdown of law and order for a short period as the colonial army of which Dyer was a part was asked to do; it is an entirely different proposition when an army has to combat a vicious and long war against terrorism. The latter, too, requires that an army adheres to norms even while it innovates, but the fact of the toll that fighting such terrorism exacts from an army and for that matter other instruments of the state cannot be overlooked. It is to the Indian army’s credit that its commitment to lawful means has never been diluted.

Chatterjee has built his entire case in the context of the British reaction to Dyer’s actions at Jalianwala Bagh and to the Indian army’s and the government’s reactions, as well as the sentiments of a large section of public opinion to the steps taken by Major Gogoi. He has done so without drawing a full distinction between Dyer’s and Gogoi’s actions, and between the completely different contexts in which they were taken. Who would have been better placed than Chatterjee to have drawn a distinction between the two actions and their contexts? Without noting this distinction, it can hardly be assessed if the Indian state and large sections of the people, in defending Gogoi, are behaving the way the British did in defending Dyer. Why has Chatterjee avoided doing so? Is it because he feels that doing so was not germane to his argumentation? Is such a position tenable?

Read Partha Chatterjee’s response to Vivek Katju

General Dyer was guilty of butchery at Jallianwala. Did Gogoi’s action lead to any loss of life? Jallianwala came in the wake of a brief period of disturbance. Kashmir has witnessed almost three decades of what is sometimes euphemistically called low-intensity conflict – in which, by and large, the Indian army and the Indian state institutions have shown amazing restraint. Five Europeans died in the Punjab disturbances. The toll in Kashmir of civilians and security force personnel killed runs into thousands.

Is it appropriate to seek to draw a parallel between the remarks of Gen. Bipin Rawat and that of Dyer? Did Dyer face a situation where for months his soldiers were being pelted with stones, not spontaneously but deliberately, as a stratagem of war promoted by an outside enemy, where – and this is now almost forgotten – a policeman’s car was pushed by a stone pelting mob into the river when he was inside, and where a young army officer on a visit to attend a wedding was abducted and killed? Has Rawat ordered his soldiers to wantonly kill and maim? This is precisely what Dyer did and then sought to justify his action on the ground that he had to create dread. Indeed, Dyer acted as a terrorist. What Rawat faces is terrorism.

No excessive force

A vast section of British Indian opinion justified the Jallianwala massacre. Has any Indian leader argued in favour of the use of force to create dread in any of India’s “restive regions”? If anything, the emphasis is always that the use of force is the last resort and if it is used it should always be minimum. Indeed in the Gogoi action, it is noteworthy that the argument being made in support and justification is that it avoided the loss of life. While there may be different viewpoints on Gogoi’s action, has anyone urged the use of excessive force to prevent civil disturbances or to handle war-like situations? The demand for firm action against terrorists cannot be interpreted as giving a license to use indiscriminate violence against civilians. How then has India reached its Dyer moment?

Rawat’s comments on the Gogoi case reflect the anguish of a chief whose soldiers have faced, and have done so for years, terrorism, and for months now stone pelting mobs who pose a danger to their lives. Is it fair to believe that soldiers caught up in such situations should not take steps to defend themselves? Surely that is not a sustainable position by any criterion.

The Indian army has done the nation proud through its valour, dedicated service and professionalism. However, in a democracy, all institutions of state can be questioned and public statements of army chiefs can be scrutinised. In doing so, raising doubts about their bonafides cannot be justified. It is also not fair to make inaccurate comparisons, or to misinterpret the comments of the present ministers; none of them has asked the army to act unlawfully.

Finally, all states possess coercive instruments that are lawfully used to safeguard their interests. The use has to be appropriate and proportionate and in keeping with operating procedures. But a perception of the ineffectiveness of the coercive apparatus of state cannot be allowed to prevail, for that harms the people themselves.

Vivek Katju is a retired Indian Foreign Service officer who has served as Indian ambassador to Afghanistan and to Myanmar.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    The comparison should be about situations. The British army general used force to kill unarmed people and the present personnel are using lethal pellet guns and shootings against ‘ stone pelters’ whose ‘ weapons’ are a lot less lethal than the force used by the armed forces. Both British and Indian rulers have crushed all types of dissent. Both policies are against larger interest of people. Then, most punjabis were targets and now kashmiris are being targeted ….

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    I have one question for you, Mr Katju. You say:

    “Did Dyer face a situation where for months his soldiers were being pelted with stones, not spontaneously but deliberately, as a stratagem of war promoted by an outside enemy…..”

    and also: “The demand for firm action against terrorists…..”

    So you claim that the stone pelting is not spontaneous, rather it is all provoked and encouraged by Pakistan, and that the stone throwers are essentially terrorists, right? Your claim goes completely against all the reporting from the valley – many of them published in The Wire – that describe what has driven Kashmir to pick up stones. However, assuming most of that is “fake news” disseminated by pseudo-liberals and that Pakistan is indeed behind the stone pelting, are you implying then that Kashmiris listen more to Pakistan than to us? That they do Pakistan’s bidding more readily than ours and are willing participants in it’s “strategem of war”? And if that’s true, then how do you suggest we reverse this situation?

    It all comes down to this: how does it end, Mr Katju? How do we bring peace to Kashmir? How do we TRULY honor our soldiers by bringing an end to their deaths in this “dirty” war so that their families can have them back?
    I am very keen to know your views on this.

    • dsb_dsb

      Well ask Kashmiris specifically why they pelt stones & you will get to know the various reasons but at the core of it is the politics of asking people to get agitated {The name of the game is Identity Politics} which prevailed in Valley too especially since 1980’s. Then there is ignorance on their part regarding the Kashmir’s History & larger emphasis on religion {which is happening all over the world thanks to one community’s religious connotations}.

      Points to note – 1. The separatist leaders are specifically of particular religious community & they are religious as well as separatist leaders & they constantly have urged the people in valley to mobilize in the name of religion since many years, attacks to call after religious prayers & the attacks which happened by such calls.
      2. Hizbul Mujahiddin & other terrorist organizations till now used the terms like Haq {From Islamic perspectives till now} but recently they have also started making references to the religion more openly.
      http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/our-fight-not-for-kashmir-but-for-islam-hizbul-mujahideen-commander-in-new-video/story-qj3PImqAJlEodFP01z9PLL.html
      3. Then there are political promises, UN’s resolutions & Pakistan’s angle etc. All of this has helped in fueling the unrest in Kashmir. For e.g. Check old Kashmir debates on T.V. & notice how ‘Plebiscite’ gets discussed in studios without explaining the historical contexts of political promises like plebiscite.

      The situation is not simple since article 370 grants special rights to Kashmir & that’s the whole crux of the matter. As Kasmiri politicians use it to show why they are different from other Indian territories of Indian union, they use it to make laws which serves their political agendas & allows them to doublespeak to the public in Kashmir & to the center in New Delhi.

      Separatists act as mediators of Valley region, instrument of religious fanaticism & toe Pakistan’s Kashmir line. Politicians act as mediators between Center & state & separatists {You know the more such groups the more resources will circulate among them & the general public will suffer as always}. While central govt. acts use the Kashmir situation in Geo-Political contexts.

      Every movement or revolution has more insignificant people who are used as pawns while the privileged powerful people give their own spin to the actions, motivations as well as academics to keep the problems alive & well but out of public sight and when they feel that time is right they use those problems by bringing them to forefront & so the politics continues…..

      They only thing to do is to ask hard religious questions regarding Ideology which is forcing less Ideological people {from all sides} to turn to Ideological fanaticism.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    “The only way forward is treating Kashmiris as equal Humans, as equal Indians!”
    Well said, and I am totally with you on this. Kashmir is a tinderbox and the way we are “progressing”, we are getting closer to having a truly Gen Dyer moment. Mr Katju seems unable (or unwilling) to see that.
    Leaving aside ideology (what Mr dsb_dsb has mentioned above), or politics, or nationalism, or whatever……where has our simple humanity, our compassion gone?
    And by that I dont mean compassion for ordinary Kashmiris only – I also include our soldiers who are dying in this so-called dirty war, or in the brutal cold of Siachen. Both are pawns in a game which politicians on both sides would like to keep playing endlessly to serve their respective selfish purposes.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Mr Katju says: Has any Indian leader argued in favour of the use of force to create dread in any of India’s “restive regions”?

    How disingenuous of Mr Katju!
    A soldier ties an ordinary man to his jeep and parades him around for hours to create dread, and the army rewards him. If that isnt arguing in favor of his action, then what is?

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    I think that’s exactly what he suggests.

  • ForStrongAndProsperousIndia

    Indeed, the comparison of an event in 1919 with event in 2017 was inappropriate. One involved brutal murder of civilians while other involved action to save lives during election duty. This comparison also undermined sacrifices of Indian security forces in protecting the Unity & Territorial Integrity of India and its citizens from evil designs of adversary in an environment of proxy war for 7 decades.

    Some are mistaken about history of Kashmir & are apologetic about its association with India. Kashmir was not formed with a big bang in universe in 1947. In reality J&K(&POK) has been part of Indian Civilisation for more than 20 centuries & is integral part of India.

    Those having doubts need to answer simple questions: Original name of river Jhelum, meaning of the name of constituency of current CM, meaning of the name of summer capital of J&K, year of construction of a temple on a hill on the bank of lake in summer capital of J&K, original name of muzaffarabad.

    Because of lack of security infrastructure Kashmir ( for centuries before India’s independence ) faced demographic changes through invasions / infiltrations / violence resulting in atrocities on defenceless people. Seeds of religious extremism were sown by leaders of India’s neighbour before India’s independence & part of J&K was illegally occupied by India’s neighbour after brutality against defenceless people.

    • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

      I think you should read this:

      http://www.frontline.in/the-nation/the-roots-of-2017/article9711272.ece

      where at one point it says:

      “The Governments of India and Pakistan agree that, where the ruler of a State does not belong to the community to which the majority of his subjects belong, and where the State has not acceded to that Dominion whose majority community is the same as the State’s, the question of whether the State should finally accede to one or the other of the Dominions should in all cases be decided by an impartial reference to the will of the people” (Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, Vol.1, page 73).”

      But you should really read the whole article to get the full perspective.

  • ForStrongAndProsperousIndia

    Some are mistaken about history of Kashmir & are apologetic about its association with India. Kashmir was not formed with a big bang in universe in 1947. In reality J&K(&POK) has been part of Indian Civilisation for more than 20 centuries & is integral part of India.

    Those having doubts need to answer simple questions: Original name of river Jhelum, meaning of the name of constituency of current CM, meaning of the name of summer capital of J&K, year of construction of a temple on a hill on the bank of lake in summer capital of J&K, original name of muzaffarabad.

    Because of lack of security infrastructure Kashmir ( for centuries before India’s independence ) faced demographic changes through invasions / infiltrations / violence resulting in atrocities on defenceless people.

    Seeds of religious extremism were sown by leaders of India’s neighbour before India’s independence & part of J&K was illegally occupied by India’s neighbour after brutality against defenceless people.

    Problems in J&K are due to religious extremism / terrorism instigated by separatists and supported by proxy war for 7 decades by India’s neighbour.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Well said.

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Exactly. That Maj Gogoi chose THIS particular “innovative” technique only goes to show his utter contempt for the ordinary Kashmiri passing by. And by extension the same goes for his superiors both in the army and in the government.
    It saved lives, we are told (whose, by the way?). Well, by publicly humiliating an ordinary unarmed Kashmiri for several hours in the most abhorrent manner he simply pounded yet another nail into the coffin of Kashmir’s alienation from India (and as a bonus probably also created a few more home grown Kashmiri militants in the process).

  • Ashok Akbar Gonsalves

    Right. First Jinnah refused a plebiscite and then Nehru backed away from it. It all came down to the egos of the men involved at that time, I guess.
    However, the reason why a plebiscite was discussed in the first place never went away and still exists, which is the quote I gave above from this article i.e. “…..the question of whether the State should finally accede to one or the other of the Dominions should in all cases be decided by an impartial reference to the will of the people.”
    The WILL OF THE PEOPLE. For problematic states like Kashmir, it was supposed to be THIS that decided which Dominion they acceded to.