On 31 December 2020, the Indian Army appointed Major General Gautam Chauhan as the first head of its newly created human rights Additional Directorate General. Chauhan will function as Additional Director General under the Vice Chief of Army Staff.
The Army has a stellar record in upholding human rights, and with this appointment, it is reiterating its commitment to bring in transparency and a more focussed approach towards investigating cases of human rights violation.
An Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of SSP/SP rank will also serve on deputation with the additional directorate. In a related development, on 1 January 2021, the Army set up a feedback and grievance helpline number – 9484101010 – in the Kashmir Valley under the 15 Corps. It is presumed that it will allow people to report cases of human rights violation.
The detailed charter, organisation and functions of the Additional Directorate General (Human Rights) have not yet been spelt out. This will be the real challenge because the existing system of investigation and disciplinary action with respect to human rights violations suffers from serious flaws that have put a question mark over its credibility.
The existing system
Any army that adopts a laissez faire approach towards human rights violation in counter insurgencies does so at its own peril and invariably comes to grief. The defeat of US and Pakistan militaries in Vietnam and East Pakistan are classic examples.
The Indian Army doctrinally, and based on its 65 years of experience of fighting insurgencies in the northeast, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, is committed to upholding human rights and conducting people-friendly operations against the terrorists. Even while conducting counter-terrorist operations, it adheres to the law of the land and international conventions. It understands that in an insurgency, the people are the centre of gravity. Nothing alienates them more than human rights violations, which bring the Army down to the level of terrorists.
What, then, is the problem? Why is there a question mark on the stellar reputation of the Army with respect to upholding human rights.