The Centre had admitted in 2013 that a draft on such a policy was circulated to the states and armed forces.
The use of a civilian as a ‘human shield‘ by the Indian Army in Budgam, Jammu and Kashmir, during the Srinagar byelections, had stirred the collective conscience of the nation. It left many wondering if the act by Major General Leetul Gogoi was allowed under the standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid down for the security forces. The ministry of home affairs (MHA) has, in a response to a query filed under the right to information (RTI) Act, refused to divulge the details of such SOPs, while dropping broad hints that they do exit.
Compensation for “human shield”
Although Gogoi was honoured by the army for using Farooq Ahmad Dar as a ‘human shield’, the fact that the state human rights commission (SHRC) had ordered that Dar be paid a compensation of Rs 10 lakh was indication enough that he was not a stone pelter, as alleged, and that the situation ought to have been handled differently.
Responding to the RTI filed by activist Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the MHA rejected his plea asking for details of the SOPs in areas where militant groups are active and use civilians as ‘human shields’.
“While the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) did not bother to send any reply, the First Appellate Authority (FAA) of the MHA has rejected my first appeal invoking security and strategic interests of the state as grounds for for refusing disclosure,” said Nayak.
Following the Budgam episode, Nayak said he wanted to know the details of SOPs for various reasons. One major reason was that the SHRC had chosen to treat the army action as one which led to “humiliation, physical, psychological torture and wrongful confinement” of the victim, rather than the “life saving strategy” the Army portrayed it to be.
Noting that the law does not permit such treatment for even a convict, he said the media had also reported the unwillingness of some unnamed officers of the security forces to follow such coercive measures. “Instead they have expressed the desire to build better relations with local residents in conflict-affected areas.”
Centre had admitted to SOPs earlier
Nayak insisted that the Centre apparently does have SOPs on the use of ‘human shields’ but does not want to share them. “It is not as if the government had no policy on the issue of ‘human shields’ in militancy-affected areas. Almost four years before the Budgam incident occurred, a member of parliament had raised a query about the alleged ‘use of civilians as shields’ by left-wing militant groups in other parts of India,” he said.
In response to a query by P. Kumar of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in May 2013, Nayak said, the then minister of state for home had provided some statistics as well as made an important revelation about the existence of a draft SOP on ‘Maoists using villagers as human shields’, which was circulated among the armed forces and states affected by left-wing extremism (LWE) for comment. The CPIO of MHA, however, did not bother to even respond to Nayak’s query.
“Security and strategic interests” cited
When the activist, after waiting nearly two months, filed the appeal before the FAA, it was rejected on the ground that the information and documents sought were “secret in nature and disclosure of such documents would prejudicially affect the security and strategic interests of the state.”
Nayak said that this reply made it clear that the SOPs to guide security forces for handling situations with ‘human shields’ do exist and that the MHA did not want to disclose them.
Demanding that attention be paid to a statement of the MoS in 2013 that “the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) have sensitised their field formations to take utmost care to avoid casualties/injuries and any form of harassment of locals while undertaking anti-naxal operations even when they are used as human shields by the Maoists… The government of India has issued instructions to all state governments/CAPFs to adhere to the highest standards of human rights during anti-LWE operations and to strictly deal with aberrations…”, he said, this policy clearly applies to states affected by LWE.
In the case of other states, including Jammu and Kashmir, he said, “it is not clear whether similar instructions and the related SOPs apply to security personnel” deployed there as well.
A different yardstick for J&K?
“If the government’s policy is to adhere to the strictest standards of human rights despite any provocation and avoid any form of harassment of locals even when they are used as “human shields” in other states, how can the use of a civilian in Jammu and Kashmir as a ‘human shield’ by security forces themselves be reconciled with this policy?”
Or, he wondered if the the policy of strict adherence to human rights standards by security forces is not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir due to its special constitutional status (under Article 370) or has been changed under the present regime.