Army profiling civilians is an annual ritual in scores of localities in the Kashmir Valley. So there was nothing surprising in Rashtriya Rifles, Indian Army’s counterinsurgency force for Jammu and Kashmir, conducting a survey on the outskirts of Srinagar city a few days ago. The Deputy Commissioner of Budgam, who along with police was kept in the dark about this survey, has said he would inquire into how the army carried out the profiling of citizens on its own. Given the history of such inquiries, his words appear to be an easy way out of the embarrassing situation, in which the highest civilian official of a district has not been informed about an operation. However, the routinisation of this exercise is a cause for concern because the local army spokesman categorically denied the involvement of soldiers in any such survey. When the media highlighted similar surveys in several other parts of the Valley during the past few years, the army has been either in the denial mode or provided some details about the purpose of these exercises.
About the latest survey in Baghat Kanipora area of Budgam district, the profiled population was told that their details were needed for “disaster preparedness”. The last time, when they had been similarly surveyed, they had been told that “the information is needed for development purposes”. All civilian governments have only promised inquiries into such clandestine and dubious surveys. In hindsight, however, it appears the civilian administration has been complicit. Why is it that police never catch a whiff of these surveys because, after all, it involves a group of armed soldiers venturing into civilian areas, spending time there and then marking the houses with numbers? Since the army denied that its personnel surveyed any locality, it becomes all the more important for the police to inquire into it because if rogue elements in the force have been collecting personal details of the residents, it is highly possible that the information can be misused.
Recently, a commander told the media that the army has cultivated informers at the Operation Goodwill events, which are ostensibly meant for ‘winning hearts and minds’ of a resisting population. This was an admission that could endanger the lives of the people in rural areas. There is every apprehension that these profiling surveys could be exploited for similar ends. Now that a civilian government is about to take charge, it should try put an end to such unlawful acts.