The most famous instance of the use of a human shield in battle is in the Mahabharata.
In the middle of that epic battle, the Pandavas put Shikhandi in front of Bhishma, who lay down his weapons because his adversary was born a woman.
Using Shikhandi as a shield, Arjuna pierced every part of Bhishma's body with arrows, pinning him to the ground until the legendary warrior chose the day of his death.
Setting aside moral judgement on the killing of Bhishma in the Mahabharata, while it can be argued that using Shikhandi to slay Bhishma was an act of cowardice, the counterpoint that the treachery — prescribed, incidentally, by the victim himself — was unavoidable in order to tilt the scale in favour of the Pandavas in a dharma yudh and avoid more bloodshed at the hands of an invincible warrior.
What is important here in the context of recent developments in Kashmir: Using a human shield became unavoidable because there seemed to be no other way to survive the battlefield. So powerful appeared to be the adversary that resorting to this unlawful, illegal and perhaps even immoral act seemed to be the only available option.
Again, there are two ways of looking at the images of security forces tying a Kashmiri youth to the bonnet of a vehicle to deal with a crowd of stone-pelters in Beerwah ahead of by-polls for Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency.
It can be argued that this was an illegal act of cowardice and brazen violation of human rights by the army. Conversely, it can be argued that the officer facing the stone-pelters had no real options. He was forced to tie a Kashmiri youth to the vehicle to save his own convoy. Or he could have resorted to indiscriminate firing, which would have led to bloodshed.
What should be more worrying for the Indian government is this: The civil resistance in Kashmir, like Bhishma, is becoming more and more difficult to put down. The State's adversaries are becoming too powerful for traditional weapons, be they political, diplomatic or military.
The writing on the wall is clear. There is unprecedented anger in the Valley and almost a death-wish to take on the establishment. The mainstream has been completely marginalised, democratic processes have lost their appeal and the youth is willing to take on the State with whatever weapons they have at their disposal.
A mere two percent turnout in the re-polling for Srinagar parliamentary seat is a clear sign of the mood on the ground. That the ruling party candidate from Anantnag, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's brother no less, had to seek postponement of elections in Anantnag, is a telling indictment of the failure of the government and its Kashmir policy.
For years, India was able to showcase the healthy turnout in the Valley as validation of its presence. Now, the stone-pelting youth and belligerent women of Kashmir are intent on stripping India of an important peg of its Kashmir policy: The moral underpinning of its diplomacy.
That Kashmir was slipping towards another showdown became evident a few years ago, when security forces faced an unprecedented situation. In encounters with armed militants, it faced the wrath of civilians—who ran towards the site armed with stones—to attack security forces.
The simmering anger reached its boiling point during the protests that followed the death of Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani and its mishandling by the hugely unpopular PDP-BJP government. And now, as the unparalleled resistance to elections shows, Kashmiris are willing to take enormous risks to repel the State.
Shujaat Bukhari, editor of Srinagar-based English daily Rising Kashmir, argues that the State may already be on the defensive. "By deferring the polls, has New Delhi given up and accepted defeat on the ground? Apparently, this decision will embolden those who have been challenging the writ of the government. The Joint Hurriyat Conference, which spearheads this new face of “resistance” (irrespective of the fact whether they completely hold the key), has claimed a moral victory and rightly so. Delhi’s surrender before this agitation has made it vulnerable," Bukhari says.
The problem with the government's Kashmir policy is that it now resembles the kind of desperation the Pandavas showed when faced with Bhishma. It has absolutely no idea how to deal with the adversary that is becoming more and more determined and powerful.
The only policy it is following, unlike previous governments that at least made an effort to deal with the resentment through 'Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaaniyat,' is allowing security forces carte blanche. The idea seems to be to let Kashmiris bleed till they run out of fresh blood.
Simultaneously, there is an effort to win the propaganda war by portraying Kashmiris as brutal, ungrateful stooges of Pakistan and terror organisations. And using the unrest in the Valley to fuel a nationalistic frenzy.
So far, in true adherence to the maxim that violence begets violence, this strategy has only led to more anger and bloodshed. How it would help India normalise Kashmir in the long run is something only time will tell.
But the spectre of security forces learning from the story of Shikhandi is an ominous sign.
Updated Date: Apr 17, 2017 15:22 PM