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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 52, New Delhi, December 11, 2021

Letter to the readers, Mainstream, Dec 11, 2021

Saturday 11 December 2021


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, December 11, 2021

For much of the week gone by, news of events connected to India’s Armed forces & national security had prominence in the national media. The most high profile of these was the news of the death of 12 military personnel and one civilian in a Military helicopter crash in Cunoor on December 8, 2021. A high level inquiry by the armed forces into this serious accident in which India’s top military czar Gen Bipin Rawat passed away is underway. The Television networks showed us images of locals from villages near the accident site involved in the rescue & salvage work – these people brought in bedsheets from their homes to help carry in them the injured bodies, the villagers were also seen using artisanal means, buckets or pots and pans to throw water at the burning helicopter to douse the flames. Seeing these lead us to express surprise over the absence of a military rescue operation with trained personnel in a situation that involved India’s Chief of Defence Staff, while the crash site was barely 10 km of India’s top rated Defence Services Staff College at Wellington. We wonder if a swift professional rescue could have helped save lives. Two days later, there was a live TV broadcast of the funeral march and cremation ceremony of General Rawat with full state honours. When the motorised funeral convoy began to move on the roads there was unusual a sudden participation of an overzealous slogan shouting crowd of a few hundred citizens carrying the national flag they seemed charged with a quick-fix flag waving nationalism, militarism & glory. This seemed a little out of step with past convention where crowds of civilians along the roadside had been seen but not actually intervening in and barging into a solemn official funeral procession. We don’t know if this was a breach of protocol but it is not unreasonable to ask questions bearing the future in mind.

The other major event in the news last week had been an ambush by India’s special forces on December 4 and 5 that killed some 14 people in India’s north eastern border state of Nagaland. Mine workers returning home from work mistaken as insurgents were gunned down by the military sharpshooters and later on the army apparently opened fire on an crowd that had gathered to protest the first shooting. Unfortunately this not the first incident of its kind where military operations cause collateral damage. Military forces enjoy special immunity and widespread powers of arrest & counterinsurgency under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in force in Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland and parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. The shooting incidents at Oting village in Nagaland have caused much public anger may further impact the already stalled Naga peace talks with the central government. An enquiry has been ordered to investigate the botched military operation, but many fear little may come out of the enquiry. The Governments in our country have repeatedly denied permission to book army personnel who have been found to have been involved in wrong doing. The recommendations of 2004 Justice Upendra Singh Committee report on the killing of Thangjam Manorama in Manipur (handed over to the Supreme court in 2014) or the 2005 KN Saikia Commission of Enquiry in Assam have not been acted upon. We remind readers to recall that Manipur Malom Massacre in 2000, had led Irom Sharmila to begin her 17 year hunger strike seeking the withdrawal of the AFSPA but to no avail. In wake of the latest incident in Nagaland, the elected representatives of state are now seeking the withdrawal of AFSPA. The government must pay heed to the demand to review AFSPA. On December 10, as we marked World Human Rights Day it is time to think afresh over misuse and excesses of varied counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism measures in place in our country. The is a need of put in place checks on the misuse of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) which has often come to be used to target critics of the government instead of genuinely seeking to curb organisations and groups that endanger public safety of all citizens. We are pleased to note the courts have finally granted bail to the human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj who had been held under the UAPA for the past three years. Lawyers like her who have done major public service by taking up cases of the poor citizens and to help protect their constitutional rights need to be honoured and not locked up.

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Veteran journalist Vinod Dua, one of India’s most popular and influential news broadcasters, passed away on Dec 4, 2021. Vinod Dua faced harassment in 2020 when a baseless court case of sedition was filed against him over his video reportage on crisis faced by migrant workers during the Covid-19 lockdown. The Supreme Court came to his rescue and quashed the police complaint against Vinod Dua stating that a citizen has a right to criticize Government and this cannot be treated as sedition.

We pay our tributes to Vinod Dua

December 11, 2021 – HK

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