5.7.10

When the Indian Army Fakes It

What works in Bollywood works for the Indian army. After seven years a colonel of the armed forces has been fighting to prove that the ketchup on the bodies of his 'victims' was not his idea. There is a tragic-comic dimension to this story.

The report in short:

Col. Harvinder Singh Kohli is ordered by his superiors to bump off the five militants his men had taken into custody in an encounter. He chose to hand them (of the Assam Commando Group) over to the civil authorities. This was not on:

Kohli's bosses would not relent: his immediate superior, a brigadier, told him that "kills" in encounters were important and this is what mattered. If he could not kill anyone, then at least a "fake" encounter should be staged. An NDA cadet and brought up under the culture of obedience, Kohli made, what it seems now, the mistake of his life.

He dressed up five men and made them lie down on the ground. They were sprayed with ketchup and pictures were taken of them. The bosses were happy, so was Kohli. He did not have to kill anybody and his superiors were contented with pictures of the purported kill. Now the bosses, in order to keep the name of the regiment high, cajoled Kohli to recommend gallantry awards for his men (not for himself).

Before we go any further in this bizarre tale, we must understand the dynamics here. Kohli was being obedient. It just shows how these hierarchies work. More importantly, if militants are usually released to the civil authorities, then he was doing his duty. I fail to see the sympathy evinced about his innocence. Is he innocent of handing over the militants, which is what the government expects? Is he innocent of not being the person who wanted to carry out the fake encounter? If it was fake and no one was killed, then he is innocent.

The real issue is not of innocence but of culpability and connivance with the authorities under the garb of obedience and this army discipline we keep hearing about. Someone squealed about the ketchup. It was probably taken from the army rations and there wasn’t enough left for the burgers. Kohli was court-martialled and then dismissed.

The obedient Kohli did not reveal the name of the brigadier. There was more drama. A lieutenant colonel who assisted him told him if he pleaded guilty he would be let off with loss of two-year seniority. He confessed, but the other side did not keep their end of the bargain and he was dismissed.

Actually Kohli was fooled: he was given to understand that there was plea-bargaining, but on the records of the court-martial proceedings there was no mention of this.

There would not be. A Force that wants ‘kills’, that watches as a colonel sprays ketchup and pictures of live corpses are taken is unlikely to put all this on record.

Feeling cheated, he finally named names. The Brigadier S S Rao had ordered the fake encounter with the knowledge of his boss Major General Ravinder Singh, general officer commanding, 57 Mountain Division. Colonel Kohli presented taped conversations he had with the brigadier as evidence.

I am flummoxed. If kills are so important then why did the brigadier not get a junior officer to just shoot some guys? It is not unusual and has happened several times. Are we talking about the sensitive face of the Indian Army? The nice guys who are happy with the colour red but not a bloody mess? Who will twirl moustaches and present the image of braggadocio?

Did the incident create such a deep bond between Kohli and his senior that he could tape conversations? Was the brigadier so naïve that he would repeat his dramatic little outing and put his reputation at risk before a junior? Why was Kohli taping the conversations? Was it before his court-martial or after? If it was before, he was canny enough to anticipate trouble. If it was after, then the brigadier must be tried for foolhardiness rather than anything else.

Of course, after the investigations he had to forfeit five years of seniority and a reprimand. The major suffered a similar fate. Kohli was not reinstated. The matter reached the Army headquarters and the Defence Ministry after years, which is surprising. It has been proved that he acted on orders of his superiors and has “no personal interest in the matter”.

An army colonel ought to have a great deal of personal interest, in that it is his professional duty to arrest militants, not stage fake encounters and, if forced to do so, report to the authorities.

Unfortunately, the army is a ghettoised institution with regiments working in isolation and the pecking order deciding what came first and who comes last. The fact that there is plea bargaining in an institution that is the defence front of the state exposes it to all manner of falsification and skulduggery.

9 comments:

  1. Hey Farzana,

    Welcome back to Army bashing. I remember an article of yours in some newspaper a couple of years back which was even more facetious and flippant. I also remember the flood of comments.

    Well, the episode you are writing about is indeed shameful to every soldier serving or retired and the organisation at large. But using incidents as this to trivialize an organisation as you have done speaks of shallowness. Your writing smacks of an apparent dislike / hatred for the entire organisation - I wonder what has the Army at large done to you that you need to spew so much of trash and venom on it.

    To top it, you resort to stereotypes and vague statements.

    "the army discipline we keep hearing of" - do you doubt that the Army at large is disciplined? If it wasn't, you probably wouldn't have had the liberty to sit and write anything that comes to your mind in a free country.

    "Who will twirl moustaches and present the image of braggadocio?" Talk about stereotypes.

    It would be enlightening to know how much do you actually know about the institution, what is your exposure to it, and what is the cause of your apparent disdain / hatred towards it?

    Any answers Ms Varsey?

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  2. HI FARZANA,

    THANKS FOR PRESENTING THE FRUSTRATED SIDE OF UR PERSONALITY,COZ I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT YOU ONLY DISLIKE IN SOCIETY WHAT YOU DISLIKE DEEPLY ABOUT YOU ,MAY BE AT SUB CONSCIOUS LEVEL,SAME WAY WE LIKE A PERSON OR ANYTHING IF HE IS INSYNCH WITH OUR OWN LIKES
    READING THIS ARTICLE I ONLY PITY YOU
    YOUR PERCEPTION IS SO BLURRED,
    IT IS NEVER EVER PRUDENT TO USE ONE INCIDENT TO GENERALIZE THE ENTIRE ORG

    WE ALSO HEAR SO MANY STORIES OF PAGE 3 LINDA PERSONALITIES LIKE YOU,DOES THAT MEAN ALL OF YOU ARE LIKE THAT
    PLEASE PONDER OVER IT
    GOD BLESS YOU

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  3. Hello Rohit, thanks for the warm welcome. And thanks for remembering how a flippant drop of water caused a flood.

    If the incident is shameful then how does highlighting it become shallow? Had a political party indulged in something similar we would rightly condemn it. For that matter, any organisation. It does not amount to trivialising an entire organisation but questioning those aspects that stand out and that go against the spirit of what it stands for. We are talking about people who are expected to take decisions about the security of the nation.

    I wonder what has the Army at large done to you that you need to spew so much of trash and venom on it.

    Now, now, how facetious is this? Trash, venom? Is one not supposed to question certain aspects of what is on record? I have not made up any of this. And going by your POV, I must commend myself for taking up an issue where I am not personally affected.

    Yes, I did resort to stereotypes, especially the twirling moustache and braggadocio. This time it was deliberate, to turn the ketchup thing on its head.

    "the army discipline we keep hearing of" - do you doubt that the Army at large is disciplined? If it wasn't, you probably wouldn't have had the liberty to sit and write anything that comes to your mind in a free country.

    What is vague about hearing about discipline? Of course, there is an element of doubt about some aspects and these instances only prove it. I do not see how my writing anything that comes to my mind (and liberty to sit while doing so, the calumny of it!) have got to do with the army? One, it is not something that came out of my mind; it happened and I commented. Two, are you trying to say that this country is free because of the army?

    I understand that the army protects our nebulous borders, but freedom of the citizens is enshrined in the Indian Constitution and not in the Armed Forces manual.

    To enlighten you:
    1. I know about the Forces by reading up, and knowing a few good armymen.
    2. My exposure to it is as much as any citizen’s, and that gives us the right to question it.
    3. There is no disdain or hatred. That is too much emotion to waste on an institution.

    Any more questions?

    PS: Comments are not going through, therefore yours got posted rather late. I was not being disdainful.

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  4. Hi Farzana,

    I have a 40 year-old New Delhi recollection of my dad sort of sitting up into the wee hours in the tent of a retired Indian Army captain, drinking Indian Army rum. The captain's bivouac was up against the outer walls of an old Afghani fort (it may have actually been called "Old Fort," if I'm remembering correctly). A choice location nonetheless for the riding club he ran, many the child of foreign diplomats learned to ride (English style) under his tutelage. While the captain was always proper, pleasant, hale and hearty, I remember my dad speculating as to whether he might not have been Indian Army intelligence . . .

    That, and this article here:

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LG08Df01.html

    came to mind as I perused your post (and responses) above. Can you imagine? I mean, it's one thing to shoot someone in the heat of battle (that is, after all, what they're trained for); but to go in afterwards . . . well, it seems kinda gruesome to me.

    When did the army -- anyone's army -- take charge of managing perceptions? When they started giving press conferences, perhaps?

    Mark

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Thanks for the attempted enlightenment. Unfortunately, years of drilling has pushed my brain to my knees, as I am sure you know happens with all mustache twirling soldiers like me, so I am still at loss to understand the cause of your angst.


    Let us begin with the issues that we agree on.


    Yes, the entire episode is extremely shameful, and like I have already stated, I am sure every person who has ever donned the olive greens would be ashamed of it.


    Yes, you or any other citizen is free to express his or her opinion on any institution in our country, irrespective of the individual's level of knowledge and insight about it, and the veracity of the views per se. In fact, it is by an extension of that very right I am expressing my views on your views, as is MY right. Yes, it is your magnanimity that you are allowing them to be posted on your blog, since you would be well within your rights to ignore them.


    Now for the things that I disagree with you on.


    Reading your post, it appeared to me that you were trashing the entire organisation in light of this or such incidents. To my mind, such incidents are aberrations and can not be viewed as indicators of the nature of state of the entire organisation. For every 'Ketchup Colonel' or similar beings, there are hundreds of Unnikrishnans and Vasanths. Therefore it is unfair to tar the entire organisation with one brush.


    As for the constitution ensuring the freedom of citizens, it did not do a very good job when Mumbai was attacked on 26/11, or on countless such occasions when the citizens were under attack. So it is not words, either in the constitution or the 'Armed Forces Manual' (there is no such document), which ensure freedom of citizens. It is the actions of a few good men when required. And aren't you glad that the borders continue to remain nebulous to you and people at large. This is so because there are men toiling there to ensure that they do not get extended to your doorstep.


    What, in your understanding, is the difference between criticism and trashing? To my mind, criticism is a balanced and objective view which focuses on the issues that are flawed, and trashing is when you pick up an odd issue and use that as an excuse to vent your feelings about something in its entirety.


    But like I said, I have the disadvantage of the anatomical dislocation of whatever little brains I was born with. You, on the other hand, appear to be an intellectual. So maybe you are right, and I am wrong. Thanks a lot.

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  7. Rohit:

    With or without the moustache, I do not see how what I wrote can be described as angst.

    The problem is that the things you agree with me on are precisely those that you do not wish me to highlight. Or, is it only those who have “donned the olive greens” who need to feel ashamed?

    When I comment, I do not expect anyone to think of accepting my views as a magnanimous gesture on their part. The same I would apply to you; you have an opinion on my opinion and unless it crosses the line of personal attack, I publish it because this is what the forum is about.

    You disagree with me because you think I trashed the organisation. ‘Aberrations’ I understand, but not at the level they are. Of course, there will be many brave soldiers, but even those are the ones who are highlighted for prominent acts. The point about tarring with one brush is that this is not a private enterprise. Each solider represents the organisation. I gave the example of political misdemeanors in the blogpost and how we do pull up the party and sometimes it also leads to its defeat in elections.

    As for the constitution ensuring the freedom of citizens, it did not do a very good job when Mumbai was attacked on 26/11, or on countless such occasions when the citizens were under attack. So it is not words, either in the constitution or the 'Armed Forces Manual' (there is no such document), which ensure freedom of citizens. It is the actions of a few good men when required. And aren't you glad that the borders continue to remain nebulous to you and people at large. This is so because there are men toiling there to ensure that they do not get extended to your doorstep.

    The Constitution has a broad framework regarding the rights and duties of citizens. The Mumbai attack was a security issue and, yes, if there was political dilly-dallying then the politicians are to blame, not the Constitution. I am surprised you pull it up. I know there is no Armed Forces manual; I was merely trying to transpose it with the Constitution.

    I accept that there are men at the borders, but they are protecting the borders. They are protecting the country and they are fighting other armies. It is armed combat; civilians are affected by bomb blasts and that can happen despite the border forces.

    What, in your understanding, is the difference between criticism and trashing?

    The recipient’s way of taking it.

    To my mind, criticism is a balanced and objective view which focuses on the issues that are flawed, and trashing is when you pick up an odd issue and use that as an excuse to vent your feelings about something in its entirety.

    What is the difference between issues that are flawed and an odd issue that is equally flawed? In the latter, a person or incident may be the aberration, but it becomes an issue. Faking encounters to get ‘kills’ where senior officers are involved is a flawed issue and not just about individuals. (If one needs an excuse to vent feelings then surely Paris Hilton is less of a strain.)

    But like I said, I have the disadvantage of the anatomical dislocation of whatever little brains I was born with. You, on the other hand, appear to be an intellectual. So maybe you are right, and I am wrong. Thanks a lot.

    There is no straitjacketed right and wrong, even regarding anatomical dislocations. I will commend you for the slight sarcasm, though!

    Thanks…

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  8. Mstaab:

    Hi Mark, as you know I had made some error and your post did not go through, as the rest.

    Now, regarding your recollection, why are you indulging in stereotypes?!

    I have a serious issue with blindly accepting the army and meshing it with patriotism.

    Oh, and don't blame the press and their giving conferences. Both the media and the army try to alter perceptions. Of course, there are 'bad eggs', but I am more interested in the hen that lays them...and I am being serious :)

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  9. Hi Farzana,

    >>. . . as you know I had made some error and your post did not go through, as the rest.<<

    Being conscious of your quite generous editorial policy here on Cross Connections, I figured something like that happened. Of course, I'm also respectful of your right to change your mind. :D

    >>Now, regarding your recollection, why are you indulging in stereotypes?!<<

    There being somewhat of a timeliness factor to such thoughts (or recollections) as I may offer, I don't exactly remember now, lol. Likely it had something to do with perceptions as contextualized by your post and whatever else was in the news. Wasn't the Russian spy scandal acquiring legs in the press about then?

    I'll think about it some more. :)

    M.

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