The Language of Deception

The Language of Deception

I have just been rescued

from the robber

Don’t talk of the guide

again lest I be waylaid.

The storm snuffed out

every lamp of mercy

Don’t seek the people of mercy,

forfeit all talk of mercy.


‘Jalib’ imprisonment has been ordained from skies

Though the breath be stifled

Forbear from any talk of the free breeze.

- Habib Jalib ( Translation by Huzaifa Pandit)

EXTRA judicial killings or ‘encounters’ as they are called in popular parlance are no strangers to Kashmir, having a chequered and infamous history. In a report dating back to 1994, Human Rights Watch described it as a hallmark of counter-insurgency operations by Indian security forces in Kashmir. The report further noted that such extrajudicial killings were often carried out within hours of arrest, and were carried out, not as aberrations but as a "matter of policy". In a 1995 report, Amnesty International stated that hundreds of civilians had been victims of such killings, which were often claimed by officers as occurring during "encounters" or "cross-fire". In this context, one can recall the infamous Pathribal case of 2000 where the CBI itself described the killings as cold blooded murder or the Machil case of 2010.

The latest installment in this series of ‘encounters’ is the Shopian killings where three innocent men Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Mohammed Ibrar who hailed from Rajouri were killed in a fake encounter at Amshipura, Shopian. Taking cognizance of the same, the army released a terse statement. “Committed to ethical conduct during anti-militancy operations, the Army initiated an inquiry after social media reports indicated the three men were from Rajouri district in Jammu and had gone missing at Amshipura”, said Colonel Rajesh Kalia, the defence spokesperson in Srinagar. In a brief statement, the Army said that the Shopian operation contravened the dos and don'ts of the Chief of Army Staff approved by the Supreme Court and that, "The inquiry has brought out certain prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA 1990 were exceeded.”

The statement presents a classical paradigm of the vacuous language of power and the violence of erasure perpetuated by such language. The statement, therefore, merits a deeper analysis of the contradictions and evasions manifest in it that underscore the very intent of the ‘inquiry’ and predict the future course that such an ‘inquiry’ is likely to take.

One might well shrug off the statement, and object to a detailed analysis on the grounds that ‘enquiries’ in general are a farce, and more likely than not to exonerate the ‘accused’. However, this obliterates the fact that the ‘admission’ is being used as a liberal propaganda to praise the army and preach its transparency; essentially giving a lie to the testimonies of army excesses at ground level. In the war of narratives, it is imperative that the statement be underscored and examined to point out how narratives of power are constructed, so that they can be contested effectively.

To begin with, the statement suggests that the army is, “committed to ethical conduct”. The verb committed suggests an absolute adherence to an ethical conduct, which in turn involves an adherence to integrity, objectivity, professional competence, confidentiality and professional behaviour.  Suffice to say that neither integrity nor professional competence or professional behaviour entails targeting innocent civilians. The assertion of ethicality after a blatantly unethical act is aimed at erasing the violence of the act, and transform it into an opportunity to lend it a positive spin.

Next, the statement suggests that at the behest of “social media reports, the army initiated an inquiry”. Note that the sentence is in active voice, and the full thrust of the act of inquiry, therefore, is on the army rather than social media testimonies recorded by subjects on the ground.  Inquiry itself implies that the investigation has the full sanction of the authority that initiated it, thereby asserting the gravitas of the phenomenon. In other words, the impression conveyed is that the act of inquiry is being conducted with full seriousness and sincerity.

Also interesting to note is the use of the word ‘anti-militancy’, rather than the more commonly used ‘anti-terrorism’. Unlike a terrorist, a militant doesn’t have a pejorative association rather evokes the meaning of a person who favours confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause. In contrast, the terrorist functions by instilling terror, and displays a wanton disregard to sanctity of human life. The use of militant – a more popular and local term is a validation of the local sentiments, and humanizes the adversary. By humanizing the adversary, the army is reaffirming itself as an institution that recognizes and accepts valor in support of a political ideal even as it runs counter to its accepted principles.

It demonstrates a concern, thereof, with local sensibilities and deftly employs nuance to highlight the pro-people agenda of the army, erasing the ruthless violence perpetuated on the ground in the name of anti-terrorism. The use of ‘social media reports’ is also interesting since it entails that the army accords credibility to public opinion as opposed to the executive that argues that social media is employed for ‘rumour mongering’ and fanning of ‘anti-national’ sentiments.

In effect then, by lending credence to social media testimonies, the army is distancing itself from the executive, and reaffirming the belief of people that social media narratives are authentic testimonies of lived experiences. Moreover, by this reaffirmation the army appears to be siding with the people; a key tenet of the Operation Sadbhavna which aims to control and manufacture narratives of army being pro-people, and a key tenant in the army psychological warfare book.

The statement then proceeds to assert that the Shopian ‘operation’ exceeded the tenets of AFSPA. Notice the use of ‘operation’, which contradicts the available testimonies, since operation implies a reciprocity of some scale – a gunfight between armed rebels and the government forces. In using the word operation, some culpability is immediately attached to the victims, as they are not entirely absolved of suspicion but coloured with calumny even after the fact of being unarmed civilians is clear as day.

By calumny, the army deftly deflects some blame, and exaggerates the act to keep open the possibility of exoneration. The verb used – ‘exceeded’ rather than violated is suggestive again of a minor transgression, of a limit exceeded rather than a right violated. The suggestion seems to be that unrestrained use of force is acceptable unless it results in the killing of individuals, and so the act becomes an aberration rather than routine. Notably, while ‘exceed’ is a neutral term on the value scale or at best slightly pejorative, violation evokes the principal of sanctity (of human life). The use of exceed rather than violation erases the gravity of the act, and again establishes it merely as an exceptional transgression of accepted boundaries rather than an unacceptable act.

Notice in continuation of the same statement the Army spokesperson says, “The Army has been maintaining high standards of transparency and punishing officials whenever rules are violated” (italics for emphasis mine). Here ‘violated’ is preceded by high standards of transparency, a positive statement that reaffirms the army’s commitment to transparency, and therefore ‘violated’ presents a strong case for laying down and conformity of boundaries, since there is no scope of ambiguity once a line has been drawn for correct and ethical action.

Note also the use of certain prima-facie evidence. Prima-facie itself indicates evidence sufficient only to establish a fact to raise a presumption unless disproved or rebutted. It implies the evidence itself is not irrefutable, rather the possibility of its rebuttal is inherent in the word. In other words, the statement contradicts the earlier validation of local narratives, keeping alive the possibility of an alternate explanation as to the motive and conduct of the ‘contravening’ forces. The modifier ‘certain’ which indicates ‘not explicitly defined or stated implies that the evidence needs not be in public domain, and clearly provides no clue or marker as to its seriousness, or its reliability.

Such obfuscation in tandem with prima-facie clearly leaves the door ajar for the Trojan horse of ‘innocence’, even as it establishes culpability satisfying the present requirement, but containing within its own self its own rebuttal. The use of passive is also important to notice here. Whereas earlier active was used, the passive here indicates not an innocent summary of events but a clearly designed structure to erase and obfuscate the agents of the action i.e. the culpable forces from the narrative. Along with ‘certain prima-facie’, it indicates a desire to perpetuate a one-way flow of knowledge by deciding when to reveal and when to hide agents of action, maintaining, therefore, the context of inequality. This naturally contradicts the earlier premise of equality and sincerity posited at the beginning of the statement, and provides a clue as to the trajectory the case is likely to take.

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Huzaifa Pandit

Huzaifa Pandit is the author of the recently published ‘Green is the Colour of Memory’, which won the first edition of Rhythm Divine Poets Chapbook Contest 2017. He holds a PhD on poetry of resistance from the University of Kashmir.

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