Indian Armed Forces and the Human Rights.

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Warning- Long Post



Human Rights are those minimal rights which every individual must have by virtue of his being a “member of the human family”, irrespective of any other consideration. They are based on mankind’s demand for a life in which the inherent dignity of the human being will receive respect and consideration.[1] Human rights propagate the dignity and freedom of human being in society. The notion of human rights is the most precious legacy of classical and contemporary human thought to culture and civilization. The struggle to preserve, protect and promote these basic human values has continued in every generation in each society.

The Universal Declaration of human rights adopted by UN on 10 Dec 1948 in its preamble has proclaimed that “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a common standard of achievements for all people of all nations”.[2] Human rights ideology postulates human dignity and recognition that every human being, irrespective of race, religion, colour or sex, is born equal and entitled to the rights as a human being. The UN Charter pledged to promote and encourage respect for human rights and envisaged not only the traditional rights but rights like a higher standard of living and economic progress.

The constitution of our country provides basic human rights and fundamental rights to its citizens. Being natural rights, it is of utmost importance that human rights be protected at every cost by each individual and organization in the country. Especially so the Indian armed forces which are held in very high esteem by the citizens of its country.

In India, the traditional application of humanitarian law to the armed forces is almost as old as the armed conflicts themselves. There are several examples of prescribed humane behaviour for the forces during the conflict in Ramayana and in Mahabharata. These are a part of our cultural legacy. Even during British colonial rule of India, the armed forces followed the concept of “Naam, Namak, Nishan: Be Honourable, True to your salt, and uphold the Flag.[3]

In Kargil war, Indian battalions recovered over 270 dead bodies of Pakistani soldiers after re-capturing posts occupied by them. The Indian troops gave all of them a burial befitting a soldier as per Muslim rites. Upholding human dignity, personal values, and mitigation of collateral hardship to the public are cornerstones of the professional ethos in the Indian Armed Forces. Such an ethos is systematically imbibed in all ranks through training, motivation, and enforcement of stringent discipline, and monitoring of operations. The respect for human rights thus comes naturally to all ranks. Also, secularism, discipline, integrity, loyalty, esprit-de-corps, apolitical outlook are essential values that are inculcated in the forces. These values contribute to their civilized behaviour.[4]

The Indian armed forces have been engaged in Counter-Terrorism (CT) operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East since the last six decades. While the terrorists and militant organizations carry out gruesome acts of violence and savagery, which are gross violations of the human rights of the other peaceful citizens of the country, it is the armed forces that in performance of their duty are maligned for violating human rights and perpetrating violence. It has to fight militancy on one hand and at the same time be on guard always for any human rights violations on the other hand. It definitely appears to be a very difficult game if one understands the limitations with which the Indian armed forces have to operate in the environment where there is no enemy. While discharging its duties the Indian armed forces are most vulnerable to human rights violations and the same is being exploited by the terrorists/terrorists through the media. The general populace and the media fail to understand the true context of the overall situation before lamenting the armed forces with human rights violations. It must be appreciated that soldiers too are humans who are given to normal human emotions and human vulnerabilities. They also deserve their share of human rights which are invariably not paid heed to by the government and the society as a whole. While it may be fashionable to condemn the armed forces for alleged violation of human rights, activists and human rights watchdog organizations should raise their voice equally forcefully against violation of human rights by terrorists and their ilk. Hence, the Indian Armed Forces image has been tarnished by the local, national and international media which immensely assists the terrorists.

India is a signatory to International Humanitarian Law and all 12 conventions on terrorism. India firmly shares the perception of the Madrid Declaration, which advocated “harmonisation of domestic law regarding compensation for the victims of terrorism and the drafting of an international statute for the victims of terrorism”. India is one of the active participants in the deliberations of the Counter-Terrorism Committee set up by the Chairman of the Security Council pursuant to Resolution 1373. The Indian Armed Forces took immediate cognizance of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 and voluntarily established its Human Rights Cell in March 1993, six months prior to the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission in India. COAS’ Ten Commandments laying down the Code of Conduct for all ranks operating against armed insurgents and terrorists i.e. Do’s and Don’ts, are recognized by the Indian judicial system, and by the United Nations.

Despite Indian armed forces utmost sensitivity towards Human rights, its has been frequently painted as ‘monstrous institution of the state’ perpetrating widespread human rights violations by those very countries that in the first place are responsible for funding separatism, insurgency and terrorism in India. These allegations are fuelled by large scale media coverage and can only be put in the correct perspective by understanding the methods employed by the various terrorist organizations and the operational environment in which the Indian armed forces operates today. The doubts about human rights conduct of the soldiers in India and abroad arise currently on account of lack of understanding about terrorism and insurgencies, the difficulties faced in dealing with them, and human rights aberrations that take place in such operations.

The media is known to be a powerful force in confrontations between terrorists and security forces. Media influence on public opinion may impact not only the actions of governments/armed forces but also on those of groups engaged in terrorist acts. From the terrorist perspective, media coverage is an important measure of the success of a terrorist act or campaign. Especially in hostage situation, the media may provide the only independent means of information for a terrorist and coverage can complicate rescue efforts. Governments can take the help of media in an effort to arouse world opinion against the country or group using terrorist tactics. Public diplomacy and the media can also be used to mobilise public opinion in other countries to pressure governments to take, or reject action against terrorism.[5]

The challenge to both the government and press communities is to understand the dynamics of terrorist enterprise and to develop policy options designed to serve the interests of government including the security forces fighting the terrorists, the media, and the society. The media and the armed forces have common interests in seeing that the media are not manipulated into promoting the cause of terrorism or its methods. On the other hand, neither the media nor policymakers and law enforcer want to see terrorism, or CT operations, eroding constitutional freedoms, including that of the press, which one of the pillars of democratic societies. The challenge for policymakers is to explore mechanisms enhancing media/armed forces cooperation to accommodate the citizen and media need for honest coverage, while limiting the gains, uninhibited coverage may provide terrorists or their cause. Communication between the armed forces and the media here is an important element in any strategy to prevent terrorist causes and strategies from prevailing and to preserve democracy.[6]


An insurgency is like a child nurtured in its own environment and no two terrorists are similar. They differ substantially from one another and are a product of at least three factors. One is terrain that always influences operations. Another is the number of weapons available and the efficiency of its use by the terrorists. The third is the cause and the degree of support that it enjoys from the populace.[7]

Environmental Realities

In general, the environment is characterised by the following:-

  1. The general atmosphere is vitiated harbouring on mistrust and disloyalty.

  2. The populace, in general, is both the doer and the victim since it is from this pool that a misguided section rises up to be the terrorists/ undergrounds, forging many misdeeds on the residual populace.

  3. Three bastions of state administration i.e. bureaucracy, politicians and judiciary come under tremendous pressure because of the constant threat of retribution. Terrorists attempt to terrorise and intimidate those in key positions and some are even coerced to acquiesce with them.

  4. Terrorists attempt to politicise and subvert police and Para Military Force (PMF) and endeavour to induce fear in them through intimidation, lynching and other forms of retribution. Some of these policemen may also identify with the militant cause and harbour a soft corner for them.

  5. Media is by far the most important and effective tool in the entire gamut of a disturbed environment. It is actually comparatively less important what happens than how and what gets reported.

  6. Civil administration largely becomes ineffective. Authority of the government and rule of law stands defunct in the face of jungle rule by the terrorists.

  7. Efforts of government in controlling the situation by enacting rules/ laws are proclaimed as draconian and undemocratic. Defiance of the rule of the land is an established norm of behaviour of the terrorists.

  8. States inimical to our Nation-State continue to wage proxy wars as is being done by Pakistan in J & K and to some extent by our Eastern neighbours in North-East. Terrorists receive covert and overt support in many forms, which in fact, is the lifeline to keep the disturbed situation going.

Nature of Militant Activities and Targets

  1. The environment being confronted by the armed forces will not be complete without understanding the nature of the terrorist’s activities and their targets.

  2. Terrorists snipe at the VIPs/key persons, particularly those who eminently oppose their ideology and those who may be involved in directing/executing operations against them.

  3. Disruption of communications and denial of use of lines of communications by blowing up bridges, railway tracks, and so on by using remotely controlled devices.

  4. Elimination of the sympathisers of the security forces, relatives of police and government officials and those assisting the armed forces.

  5. Kidnapping and hijacking of affluent and prominent people to secure the release of apprehended terrorists as well as attract media attention.

  6. Sabotage of government installations to include important offices, treasures, TV/ radio station, essential services etc.

  7. Ambush important convoys and VIP columns to inflict casualties.

  8. Indiscriminate killing and maiming of innocents in buses, trains and public places to spread terror.

  9. Terrorising society by carrying out political murders.

  10. Terrorists make extensive use of propaganda and psychological operations through sponsored newspapers, posters, leaflets and media.

Nature of Military Operations Conducted by the Armed Forces[8]

Military End State

The desired military end state from CT operations entails creating conditions that are conducive to the attainment of political objectives. Since conflict termination and their political resolution is the ultimate end states sought, such conditions besides enabling the initiatives by the economic and informational elements of national power to consolidate, also facilitate initiation of political dialogue for a negotiated settlement.

Overarching Concept

Since the centre of gravity for such operations is the populace, operations have to be undertaken with full respect to human rights and in accordance with the laws of the land. The application of military power in such operations is so regulated that it enhances the control by civil authorities in the conflict zone besides strengthening their hands. This underscores the importance of people-friendly operations that are conducted with a civil face.

Concept of Application of Military Force

It is imperative for any counter-insurgency/militancy operation to succeed that an integrated approach by all agencies of the Government is adopted. The basic tenets of successful CT operations are as following :-

1. People-Centric Operations

To attain a secure environment, the military operations should aim, firstly, at neutralising all hostile elements in the conflict zone that oppose or retard the peace initiatives and secondly, at transforming the will and attitudes of the people through a dexterous and integrated application of all resources. The neutralisation of terrorists and their support base must be in consonance with laws of the land so that the civil face of governance is always visible. Terrorists must be afforded full opportunity to surrender and only those terrorists, who do not accept the offer and continue to resist, should be neutralised through kinetic means. For this, a liberal and a practical policy should be put in place by the Government. The handling of overground workers too must always be as per laws of the land. The orchestration of the military operations should be such that they also induce the desired degree of agitation fatigue amongst the supporters of the cause. However, since this lever works both ways, it should be imaginatively employed, as it can prove to be counterproductive and can at times, convert even the champions of non-violence into violence seekers. The endeavour should be to bring about a realisation that fighting the government is a ‘no win’ situation and that their anti-government stance will only delay the return of peace and normalcy. Therefore, distancing from the terrorists is in their own interest and the only plausible course of action. However, the manifestation of such a realisation can take from a couple of years to decades as attitudes take time to form and to change.

2. Manoeuvre versus Attrition Warfare

As the endeavour in such a campaign is to enhance the control of government agencies in the conflict zone, military power should be predominantly employed to target the minds of the terrorists and other antagonist players in the environment. This in turn highlights the importance of manoeuvre warfare, which ensures placing of our resources at a position of advantage vis-à-vis the terrorists. It also helps in creating insecurity for the terrorists that resultantly forces them on the back foot and makes them reactive to our proactive approach. However, such application alone cannot achieve the desired military conditions. Therefore, taking recourse to attrition warfare concept in the initial stages of the campaign cannot be avoided. The inset figure highlights this aspect.

3. Integrated Approach

Since the ultimate aim of the national effort is to strengthen the hands of the local civil authorities, the management of the campaign must always show a civil face. Therefore, the counter-insurgency operations, notwithstanding the primacy of the military in the initial stages, should always be coordinated at the highest levels through the creation of an ‘Apex Security Mechanism’ headed by the senior state executive. Such an arrangement facilitates the monitoring of various prongs of the campaign in the proper perspective. However, for facilitating synergy, the senior-most Army Officer should have a clear responsibility and authority for all operational planning and execution. Some of the recommendations of the Group of Ministers on Internal Security in this regard are placed alongside.

Hence, successful CT operations need to be conducted on the following planes: -

  1. Psychological operations including civic-action programmes.

  2. Intelligence operations to obtain contact/actionable intelligence.

  3. Tactical operations to kill or apprehend terrorists/insurgents and ensure domination of the area by Armed Forces.

  4. CI operations to eliminate insurgency from the grassroots.

Lines of Military Operations

The thrust of military operations in the counter-terrorist scenario will be on executing coordinated operations ranging from the border areas to the hinterland. Various lines of military operations are:-

1. Effective sealing of the borders to preclude trans-border movement of terrorists and war waging material. This should be undertaken in an integrated manner to ensure that the terrain, obstacle system, troop deployment and surveillance devices are optimally enmeshed to enable effective sealing operations.

2. Establishment of a comprehensive CT grid in the hinterland with focus on:-

  1. Denial of population centres to the terrorist.

  2. Providing security to the military lines of communication.

  3. Ensuring security of various vulnerable areas and vulnerable points.

· Effective public information and perception management initiatives constitute a vital component of the campaign. This is an area where media can play a crucial role.

· Undertaking civic actions to address the aspirations of the populace and winning their hearts and minds.

Types of Operations

The following are the few operations, which are carried out by the armed forces while operating in the counter-terrorist environment : -

  1. Ambush. Conventionally it is defined as a surprise attack launched from a concealed position upon an unsuspecting, moving or temporarily halted enemy. The same is applicable while fighting a militant/insurgent/terrorist as well. The ambush is characterised by surprise, speed and violent firepower. The most difficult task in CT environment is to recognize hostiles from amongst innocent civilians. At times hostiles take innocents as their guides at gunpoint. At such times these civilians may suffer casualties. Generally, the hostiles get away fast and try and mix with the locals, which compound the problem further.

  2. Raid. In conventional warfare, a raid can be said to be an operation, usually small scale, involving a swift penetration into hostile territory to destroy the enemy and his installations/headquarters. It is characterized by surprise, firepower, shock and violence of action. Generally raid is carried out on the militant training and administrative camps and hideouts. It is the surprise and shock action with speed, which cause human rights violation if the civilians are around or have been kept as a hostage.

  3. Cordon and Search Operations. The aim of undertaking cordon and search of a village may be to screen villagers, apprehend hostiles visiting them or to seize arms and ammunition. Innocent civilians have to suffer throughout the day or till such time search is over. If the terrorists are hiding in an innocent civilian’s house and shoot out takes place, it may cause collateral damage to civilian property. Even if the damage is repaired/ recovered, terrorist organizations get a propaganda material to degrade the image of armed forces and media is always ready to buy such news for their benefit.

  4. Search and Destroy Operations. The armed forces carry out search and destroy operations to either capture/destroy the insurgents/ terrorists and their camps/ hideouts or to recover arms, ammunition, insurgent literature, documents and equipment. A precision surgical operation based on hard intelligence is one of the most effective operations with minimum human right violations.

  5. Spot Searches/Mobile Check Posts. A mobile check post is established to carry out spot checks to apprehend insurgents/suspects, detect and recover arms/ammunition/explosives/documents and other equipment being carried by terrorists/insurgents. It creates a deterrent on insurgent activities by imposing caution and gain intelligence about insurgent activities. Mobile check posts are established at random without pre-warning and it contributes in lowering of insurgents’ morale, but may lead to human rights violations as the innocents get stranded, searched and get delayed for their jobs.

Hence, the environment in which the armed forces have to operate in a Low-intensity conflict Operation (LICO), the following facts emerge: -

  • Lack of timely intelligence.

  • Lack of clear-cut political directive.

  • Inadequate cooperation from the civil and police officials.

  • Indifferent and non-cooperative attitude of the locals and politicians.

  • Problems of isolating terrorists.

  • False allegations by civilians, supportive of or at the behest of terrorists.

  • False propaganda by terrorists, which could be published/publicized by vested interests or by the media for sensationalism.

  • Acts of indiscipline by frustrated individuals.

  • Retaliation or repression by troops suffering casualties.

  • Called very late to deal with the situations.

  • Overplaying of restrictions put on locals.

  • Lack of clarity of the role of media in insurgency and professionalism amongst local journalists.

  • Free and irresponsible media. Chaos and anarchy unleashed by terrorists force the media and people to project what the terrorists dictate


In India, the rapid growth of media left the armed forces gasping for breath just trying to keep pace. The Kargil war was brought to the sitting rooms live, making Tiger Hill and Tololing household names and so creating a groundswell of nationalistic fervour as never before. The three-day long terrorist attack in Mumbai on 26 Nov 2008 was monitored by the world audience on their TV screen. However, the same media was unsparing in bringing the gruesome details of the accidental killing of the three innocent students in Kupwara by the security forces creating a wave of criticism and condemnation of the armed forces. A lot has been learned by the Indian armed forces through their mishandling of the media in Kashmir and proper exploitation in the Kargil War wherein as per Major General AB Sayyad, Additional Director General Public Information of the Indian Army “….the media helped in demoralizing the enemy, even as it raised the morale of own troops”.[9]

The Role of Media in Society and Nation-State

In his treatise ‘On War’, Carl Von Clausewitz identified a holy trinity of the People, Military and the Government without whose support the effective conduct of war is not possible. “The media is an essential link between the three constituents of this trinity.”[10]

In civilian parlance the media is also commonly bestowed with the title of the ‘Fourth Estate’, the other three being the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. The main difference between media and the other three ‘estates’ is that the media believes that it owes allegiance to nobody, to no government or institution, except the people. It is a law on to itself, being answerable or accountable only to its audiences - that too out of the need for self-preservation.

Today’s media sees itself as a watchdog, judge as well as independent observer of international as well as national events. It possesses the potential to make or mar political power structures and thus is a major political actor. In addition, it is an essential component of a nation’s social fabric, conscience-keeper, economic monitor, cultural mouthpiece and a kind of collective emotion regulator. Combining all this, the media emerges as one of the ‘central pillars’ of nationhood, the ‘lifeblood’ of any state, creating awareness and informing the citizenry, shaping public opinion, defining the ‘image’ of the nation in the global consciousness, creating a collective national and international conscience, serving as the glue that links national security to diplomacy, economic development, socio-politics, governance and of course the military.

The important role of media in a nation-state is:-

(a) Media is essential for acquisition and dissemination of news and other information needed by the masses to form an opinion which is especially true in a democracy. Mahatma Gandhi on his first broadcast in the All India Radio studio called the microphone SHAKTI.[11]

(b) Forum for development, exchange of public opinions and attitudes. The public opinion is the direct result of media projections to the people’s instincts and presumptions which are shaped substantially by media over a long period of time.[12]

(c) Act as a ‘watchdog’ for the people by preventing/revealing abuses by institutions of power and also educate the people.[13] Billy Russell accompanied the English Army in Crimea which made Generals realise the power of war dispatches and began to fear the might of the pen. It was for the first time that the War Office realized that the public had some say in the conduct of wars.[14]

Military- Media Relationship

Historically speaking, military-media relationships have generally been based on mutual suspicion the world over and India is no exception to this rule. The army and media are inter-dependant. They do need each other and in fact, in today’s world, they cannot do without each other. The obvious corollary thus should be of a healthy and harmonious relationship. However, they view each other with suspicion.

Characteristics of the Relationship

An analysis of the roles of the military and the media and their mutual expectations indicates the relationship as complex and characterized by the following features:-

  1. It is symbiotic and both are mutually dependant to perform their respective roles. Both are components of national power and responsibility to protect national power but incapable of performing single-handedly.[15]

  2. In a democracy it is complementary. Both have the common aim of upholding the constitution. The military protects the sovereignty by preventing wars by deterrence, winning wars or overcoming national crisis within and the Media protects the citizens’ rights by keeping them informed, educating them on national security, preparation and indirectly voicing the strategy of deterrence by projecting state of readiness for a military struggle.

  3. It is collaborative, there are many specific aspects in which they can cooperate and collaborate for mutual good. For development of the military their problems and inadequacies in terms of resources get highlighted more effectively by media. An Indian paper in Kargil War highlighted a severe shortage of clothing and the soldiers got it. Similarly the media gets a wide circulation and economic gains with the sensational war coverage.

  4. It is adversarial. The military attempts to progress operations by restricting the flow of information, the media detests controls. There is a general lack of understanding and empathy for each others’ roles, motivations, strengths and weaknesses. There is a mutual distrust and suspicion of each others’ intentions and lack of understanding the constraints. The essence of successful warfare is secrecy and the essence of successful journalism is publicity.[16]

The difference in perceptions, from the point of view of media and armed forces, are as under:-

1. Conflicting Ideologies

It must be appreciated that there are fundamental conflicts in the basic ideologies of the two institutions. While the military is trained to win i.e. impose its will by fighting, the media is trained to report what it perceives to be the truth at any cost. To win, the military needs to maintain secrecy of its operational plans and conceal some information both from its enemy and own people. On the other hand, the media’s role of informing the public enjoins it to overcome secrecy and report even unpalatable but inevitable aspects of operations.

2. Differing Stands

On account of their conflicting philosophies as well as different outlooks and experiences both the institutions have come to adopt different positions on some basic issues. Some of the important ones are : -

3. Operational Security and Troop Safety

Both agree that media must cover war and operations while ensuring that media reports do not impair operational security and troop safety. The media feels that since it is responsible for informing the public, it must be trusted. But the military feels that it is up to the operational commander to decide which piece of information impairs operational security.[17]

4. Access to Battlefield

The media considers that it has a right to be at the site of conflict and report independently. While accepting the inevitable media presence in the battlefield the military feels that the presence of a large number of independently moving reporters in the military operational area is impermissible in certain combat situations.

5. Military Image

While the military considers that the media must assist in projecting a good image, as it is necessary for winning hearts and minds of people, the media feels that it must report both good and bad news, irrespective of the consequences. During World War II, ironically, it was the British media which glamorized Rommel, The Desert Fox, described as a General comparable to Hannibal, who inspired affection amongst his men and respect from his enemy.[18]

6. Media Attitudes

The general media attitude towards the military is that of the feeling of superiority and self-righteousness. It feels that the military denies access to unnecessarily and feels restrictions imposed by the military on the media promote ‘news management’. It believes that the military is not doing enough to make its jargon to be understood by the media and the public and thus has itself to blame for the poor coverage in the media.[19]

The problem of media in interacting with Indian Armed Forces can be summarized as under:-

  1. Inaccessibility of Indian armed forces to the media for any first-hand information. Media works generally on deadlines and the information from Indian armed forces is invariably delayed. Suspicion in the mind of media that Indian armed forces are not forthcoming with information and carry out censorship at its level.

  2. Exaggeration on the part of media of local version of any event.

  3. Media tends to shy away from defence services due to various politics, economic matters and reasons such as their obsession with social issues. It lacks understanding and knowledge of the defence forces.

  4. Journalism is largely individualistic, very independent-minded and even egoistic. Reporting is based on the perception of the journalist.

  5. Objectivity and human error in reporting.

  6. Commercialization of media and it is largely owned by agencies outside the country thus they might not be nationalists in outlook.

  7. Media is torn between the need to survive and the search for truth.

  8. A feeling of superiority and self-righteousness by the media.

  9. Conflicting philosophies of media and the Indian armed forces.

  10. The media on its part has to understand the Indian armed forces and the circumstances under which it has to operate and work towards better transparency in interaction