SRINAGAR: At a time when Indian army is out of barracks and formations established in civilian areas across the Kashmir Valley to squash the massive anti-India uprising, the culpability of its soldiers in using the locals as human shields in the past has been testified by the incumbent Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Mufti’s statement that she fought against the practice of using common villagers as human shields during her introductory years in politics has triggered a debate.
On Monday, in her 54-minute speech at the main official function on India’s Independence Day, Mehbooba referred to her “contributions as a crusader against the excesses by the Indian security forces”. She said that villagers were being used as human shields.
“Back then (post 1996) I would fight with army and police, when they would go for crackdown in villages. They would ask villagers to be in front of them to find militants from a house. People would fear that if the militant fired they would die in between. I have fought against this practice,” she said.
Mehbooba said that she has fought against government forces for putting villagers in the line of fire during anti-militancy operations in late 1990s. “I started politics at a time when people would not dare to come out of their houses. Youth were stopped by their families to venture out. They feared that if they went to college they would not return in the evening. People would fear police, Army and CRPF,” Mehbooba said.
A senior journalist and former BBC North India correspondent Altaf Hussain, who has extensively covered the armed conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, said that it is for the first time that a Chief Minister has admitted that police and army used civilians as human shields. “JK CM Ms Mufti says army and police used civilians as human shields during ops against militants. A huge statement that!”, Hussain wrote on micro-blogging site twitter.
Speaking to Kashmir Reader Hussain said that the allegations against the government forces using locals as human shields have been abundantly made in the past but it is for the first time that a government official has admitted it.
“This is for the first time any government official and for that matter the chief minister herself has admitted that security forces used civilians as human shields,” he said.
Another journalist who has covered the encounters and stand-offs in Kashmir for two decades said that villagers in far-off areas often complained that they were used as human shields by the Indian army.
“I remember after an encounter in Ganderbal area, the then General Officer Commanding (GOC) of anti-insurgency Kilo Force presented three youngsters before us and claimed they were used to throw grenades on the holed-up militants,” the journalist who wished not to be identified, said.
He said that in 2003, a few months after Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had taken over as Chief Minister, five civilians belonging to Gujjar community, were killed in a prolonged encounter with militants in Chittibandi forests of Bandipora district.
The locals said the civilians had been taken away by the army from their residences and later their bodies were dragged to the village from the dense forest.
Army had claimed the five men were “porters”. It never explained why only these men were killed during the gunfight.
In Pattan, two youngsters had died after being used as human shields by the army during a gunfight with militants in the early 2000s.
A journalist in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara town had been used as a human shield recently, a human rights activist said.
Interestingly, Mehbooba in her speech blamed the parents for pushing their children for stone-pelting but in the same breath claimed that the latest recruits to militancy during the years 2008, 2009, 2010 and afterwards were compelled to take up the arms by the “atrocities committed by the state”.