The relationship between war and the field of psychology gained significance during the outbreak of the First World War. The work of Sigmund Freud on psychoanalysis helped soldiers tremendously to counter the ‘shell shock‘ and other potential psychological disorders. It was widely accepted that war zones and conflict areas had taken a toll on the psychological health of the armies to fight against guerrillas and rebel groups. Soldiers dealing with guerrilla-like warfare are likely to suffer from stress disorders and there’s a chance of them not conducting themselves appropriately while on duty.
The situation exacerbates when scepticism about the intention of non-combatant civilians controls the minds of army men. The fact that civilians openly buttress the ideology of rebel groups and help them to gain ground against the army can potentially make army men even angrier. And this state subsequently can lead to stressful reactions. One soldier who has just seen his buddy being shot dead impulsively shoots the boy who was coming back from coaching classes. The angry, infuriated young army man, whose comrade was just disfigured by a grenade, fires indiscriminately at the unarmed civilians. The fact is that a psychologically unstable man loaded with deadly ammunition is inherently dangerous.
Going into the genesis of ignominy, the My Lai Massacre in the US-Vietnam war carried out by the Charlie Company of the American Division’s 11th Infantry Brigade, explicitly defines the horror of the psychologically sick armed personnel. The division received a word that Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas had taken control of Son My village. On March 16, the unit led by officer William L Calley was sent to the village on March 16. Army commanders were advised to kill the VC men or their active sympathisers. When the soldiers arrived at the village, they found no enemy there, but contrary to their order, the army men besieged the local population and murdered hundreds of civilians – mostly women, children and old men, in an extremely brutal fashion. They also raped and tortured the civilians.
Back in America, thousands of people had already voiced their resentment against the war in Vietnam. Amid this anti-war atmosphere, the revelation of grievous human rights violations by the American army in Vietnam could have galvanised tremendous resistance and dislike for the army from the general populace of the United States. So, to shield the confidence and resoluteness of the American army in Vietnam, this news was censored and downplayed at every level.
The situation is complicated and worse when force used by the State is glorified, given privileged rights to kill and seen with holy lenses. Their morale is boosted to the level that they find themselves above God. People are shocked when their imperfections and transgressions come in the public domain. After all, they are humans, and to err is human, and at times the State refuses to concede to these violations. Anyone who criticises the wrongdoings perpetrated by the forces is not only apprehended but the person is subjected to ill-treatment and in cases, finds himself behind bars.
There has to be a clear distinction between respecting and glorifying an army. Because of their unflinching fortitude, while guarding our border posts from cross-border terrorism, they should be commended and respected. Like us, they have families and kids. Far from their home these armed personnel with death awaiting them any moment, remain steadfast and safeguard us from possible threats.
But in our country India, the Army is not respected but glorified extensively. This has been taking place since ages and here is where the problem pops its head out. Our society’s relationship with the military has considerably, with the passage of time, moved from respect to worship. In movie theatres, we see scenes glorifying combat and imploring young people to join the armed forces. But the problems extend beyond these forms of covered propaganda tactics.
A person who advocates stern action against the armed man who raped an innocent woman is labelled as an ‘anti-national’ and pro-Pakistani. Our society perceives its Army as Godly, and when anyone speaks against it, they are doomed as a sinner.
And the response to the incident of a recent human shield used in Kashmir is a classical example of the Army’s glorification. A major named Gogoi was given an award for tying a local man to his jeep as a human shield to thwart the protesters from targeting his vehicle.
Reacting to the incident, the army chief, General Bipin Rawat said, “That is where innovation comes in. You fight a dirty war with innovations.” Amit Shah, the president of the current ruling party at the Centre, also registered his support for the army man.
Now, going back to the genesis of terrible repercussions of ill-psychological health while active in counter-insurgency operations. The example of the fateful night of February 23, 1991, is worth mentioning. A crackdown was supposedly launched to find hidden weapons. In the process, the men were separated from the women and more than 30 women were allegedly raped in Kunan Poshpora, Kupwara district, in Kashmir.
Following the Kunan Poshpora incident, the members of the Press Council visited Kashmir to ascertain the veracity of this grave human rights violations. However, their report came as a jolt to the entire Kashmiri population. The report said: “The Kunan rape story on close investigation turns out to be a massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad as a part of sustained and cleverly contrived strategy of psychological warfare and as an entry point for re-inscribing Kashmir on the International Agenda as a Human rights issue. The loose-ends and the contradictions in the story expose a tissue of lies by many persons at many levels.”
Former judge of the Supreme Court and the former chairman of the Press Council of India, Markandey Katju wrote on his blog, “A full blown guerrilla war is developing Kashmir… I have many relatives who were in the Indian army, and who were posted in Kashmir or in the North-East where there was militancy. They explained to me the psychology of our soldiers.
Suppose a patrol of 10 or 20 of our soldiers is going in some area in Kashmir, and is fired upon by some militants. If in this firing 2 or 3 of our soldiers are killed, the rest of them tend to go crazy, seeking revenge for their fallen comrades. They may then enter a neighbouring village, thinking it harboured these militants ( and may indeed have), and shoot at innocent civilians, despite all instructions to the contrary from higher authorities. Sometimes even their officers cannot control them. Also, a soldier who has stayed in militancy-affected areas for long periods, as many Indian soldiers have to do, is often no longer psychologically normal, expecting death at any moment. Hence he sometimes tends to do crazy things, like firing at civilians.”
The Public Safety Act, AFSPA, etc, gives the Army tremendous powers. It has the impunity to get away even after killing. Apart from the convictions in the Machil fake encounter case, not a single army man has been prosecuted in the history of the Kashmir struggle. All this leads to justice denial and subsequently, the society is pushed to take up arms and renounce life for militancy.
Well, no father in this planet wants his son to play with AK-47.
As Michelle Maiese rightly puts it: “If a government is unjust, people may see violence as the only way of getting their needs met. And once people come to believe that they suffer from grave injustice, they are unlikely to be willing to compromise, thus making conflicts intractable. Thus, assertions of injustice often lead to intractable conflict.”