Book : Blood on my hands
Author : Kishalay Bhattacharjee
Publisher : Harper Collins
Price : INR 250
The shadowy scene takes place in an eastern Indian state. A young army officer approaches his senior to borrow from him some amount. He assures him to return it as soon as possible. “My balance is rather low, but I hope I can transfer some amount of money by tomorrow morning,” says the senior army officer. Talking about money through jargons like borrowing and transfer makes one believe that they’re talking about banks.
But, this is where the plot thickens…
The Tango Charlies have their own covert meanings of the language they speak. The currency used here is not money but human-life and murder!
Actually, the young captain deployed in counter-insurgency operations killed two persons and passed them as militants in his official record. But he committed a gaffe when passing three kills instead of two to his senior command through the telegraphic message. Now, he needs one more to make up for a typographical error. He has none in his kitty, so he requests his senior to lend him a live victim.
This isn’t a mere anecdote but a pattern of violence to which India has become used to. Lot of such brutal realities has been unfolded by Kishalay Bhattacharjee in his book, Blood on my hands.
The book is a confession by an army officer explaining the staged encounters and how awards and citations are linked to a body count. The author is a senior journalist, and has been with NDTV for seventeen years. He has been awarded with Ramnath Goenka Award and fellowships like Panos and Edward Murrow.
This book is first of its kind in explaining how innocents are smuggled by Indian army so as to label them as militants later. The author has not only talks about Mirpur, Assam and Nagaland, but about Kashmir, too. In this backdrop, one shouldn’t get surprised about the award announced for Major Gogoi by turning an innocent Kashmiri man into a human shield. Every act—every kill—wins an award, the book says.
Bhattacharjee writes how the regions afflicted by ‘encounter’ killings have been designated as being in a state of emergency, to allow the state to securitize its territory and legitimate the use of force. He writes, “Around half a million Indian troops are posted in Kashmir including, Assam Rifles, BSF, CRPF, RR, IRPF and SOG.” He calls the deaths in Kashmir as Alley deaths, where people, militants or suspected militants or at times uninvolved innocent civilians are abducted, taken to another lane and killed and then body is handed over to police.
Going back to the British rule in India, the author writes that “despite the seventy years of democracy, India still attains some of the oppressive characteristics of that era. The IPC 1860, CrPC 1872 were drafted by Lord Macaulay, which forms the basis of criminal procedure today.” He moreover writes that British framed laws, give enormous powers to the police and armed forces with the aim of using preventive detention and violence against citizens suspected of voicing “anti-national” sentiments.
Labeling innocents as “Pakistani terrorists” is the usual game that Indian army is being accused of playing in Kashmir. “Killing a Kashmiri civilian can be justified by branding the victim a Pakistani terrorist. The boundary of legitimacy is socially constructed and institutionalized,” he writes. One gets to hear it every day in Kashmir: HM/LeT militants were killed in an encounter and huge ammunition cache was recovered from them.
One of the confessions made by an anonymous officer in the book is about soda. “In the army, soda is like a done thing. If you are drinking cola, people might suspect you. Anything outside the norm is suspicious. If you refuse to kill, even then you are suspected. Just follow the system, and the system will kick in and save you when you screw up. But don’t screw with the system or else you are isolated. And to be isolated in the unit is the end of your career.”
In a chapter, “Manhunt”, the author writes about the involvement of local forces in the fake encounters. One such incident reads, “2786-S-Farooq Ahmad Padder, a selection grade constable of the special Operations Group, was one of the key perpetrators of the kidnapping of residents of the Kokernag area of South Kashmir. He abducted his victims for the express purpose of passing them to the police and the army for encounters. Atleast three units of the Indian security forces are believed to have been involved in these murders.”
The book defines the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA as the act containing provisions that grant immunity to the members of the armed forces who kill people they suspect are militants. Anyone can be arrested without a warrant. Any premises can be searched and no legal action can be taken against the armed forces unless prior sanction is obtained from the Central Government. AFSPA was also first introduced by the British as the Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance in 1942, to counter the Quit India movement.
While the entire 15 chapters of the book narrate stories of scores of victims, but Rehman’s story is a heartbreaking one. He crosses the Indo-Bangladesh border to look for work but fate decides something else for him. On the Indian side of the border, he is killed for no reason.
Infact, you will get to hear the terms like mistaken identities, aberration, collateral damage very often in Kashmir when it comes to a death of civilian. Here is how the army officer explains its making, “you see how this works. Even in my unit, a young officer once shot dead a man, and it was a case of a mistaken identity. I had to cover it up, so we staged the killing as an encounter. We created a scene, where the boys hired a Tata Sumo and at the site of the shoot-out, the car was left parked with a bullet proof jacket inside. And we shot the bullet-proof jacket for forensic to identify that bullets came from the other end as well. It is fairly easy to cook up a story. But often the army screws up, because they don’t take care of the details. They think they can get away under the cover of AFSPA.”
Moreover in Jammu and Kashmir, the book reveals, the battalions facing the international border buy weapons from Pakistani intelligence agencies. Muslim men are abducted from Bihar and UP, kept in custody for three months, and once weapons are purchased, these innocents are killed showing them as militants with those weapons, it notes. “The CO gets a thumping report and the unit gets a citation. It’s easy to identify the victims. Their looks and dress are not those of the militants from Pakistan. But who gives a flying fuck for all these details.”
The book quotes an army man who says that whenever there was an award ceremony headed by KPS Gill, then Governor Chhattisgarh, lot of smuggling of innocents would happen to label them as militants, to kill them and increase the number of kills in their account. “More kills means more ranks.” This is what happens inside the domain of army as per the book.