Rameshwaram Naval Base

Are Indian Soldiers above the Law in Tamil Nadu?

Usha Ramanathan

TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 1998 (ID. 1998-12-01); Minor update: March 2003
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In any civilized nation, soldiers have to obey the same laws as civilians when they are dealing with civilians outside of military encampments. This is not the case in military dictatorships. There soldiers and military officers often behave as if they are above the law. Another exception is an occupation army. An occupation army may plunder, rape, beat and murder civilians of the conquered nation as if all normal laws of the land are null and void for them.

India is not a military dictatorship. Neither is Tamil Nadu a conquered nation occupied by the Indian army. Then why are Indian soldiers attempting to rape Tamil women and beating up Tamil men in TamilNadu with impunity? Why are they not punished? In a previous article we discussed, with actual case histories, how some Indian navy men go the villages and refugee camps near Rameshwaram and attempt to rape our women and never once punished for that [Reference 1]. In the present article, we look into a case of Indian navy men beating up Tamil men and getting away with it. We list here only the events of the last month. (This article is written during the month of October 1998.)

After a series of incidents in which men from the Rameshwaram Naval Base beat up Tamils from nearby villages (mostly fishermen), and seeing that no action was taken against the culprits, the fishermen's association announced a Tamil Nadu wide demonstration. Seeing that this may receive wide publicity, the local Naval Commander promised that these beatings would not occur any more. So the demonstration was cancelled.

In spite of that promise, on September 27, 1998, some navy men beat up a 35-year old Tamilnadu fisherman. The very next day, on September 28, navy men beat up 59-year old Jeyaraman and 40-year old Paul. Their injuries were so severe that they were hospitalized. Angered by these beatings in spite of the promise from the naval commander, people demonstrated outside the Rameshwaram Naval Base. Some navy men came out of the base with guns and threatened to shoot the unarmed, peaceful demonstrators. This was done right at the Naval Base, under the watch of the base commander. Every citizen has the right to protest and demonstrate under the freedom of speech guaranteed by Indian constitution. Navy may call the local police and complain about the demonstration unless there was imminent threat to life (that was not the case here). There was no threat to the navy men. These are unarmed local men shouting slogans outside the base; there was no threat to the fully armed navy men in the base. Navy men have absolutely no right to threaten to shoot the demonstrators outside the base. But no one was even reprimanded.

Fearing that the navy men would shoot, demonstrators went to the police station and demonstrated in front of it. The Tamil policemen did not threaten to shoot them, instead they agreed to file criminal cases under Indian Penal Codes IPC 341 and IPC 323 against the navy men who assaulted Jeyaraman and Paul. Police contacted the navy and the navy assured that action would be taken within 10 days against the navy men who attacked the two.

Couple of days later the local naval commander issued a statement that the navy men did not beat any Tamil men. That was the end of it. Tamil Nadu police was not given the opportunity to talk to the navy men or investigate it further. Is this justice? Is this the justice Tamils can expect from the Indian government?

Let us look at what has happened here. Two Tamil men are in hospital and they say they were beaten up by men from the Rameshwaram Naval Base. Tamil Nadu Police wants to file criminal cases. The assaults took place outside the base and the men beaten up were civilians. So the navy is morally bound to hand over the accused to the local police for questioning. After questioning, if the police conclude that a crime was committed, a case would be filed against the accused in local criminal court. The navy should guarantee that the accused would appear in the court for trial. The judge will hear the accusers (Jeyaraman and Paul) and the accused (the navy men) and examine any evidence they present. Then the judge will render a judgment. Only a judge can determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. If found innocent, they go free. If found guilty, navy should surrender them to the court for imprisonment. This is the due process. None of these things happened here. The navy says its men did not beat up the Tamil men. No opportunity for the police to question the accused. No opportunity for a judge to hear both sides of the case. This is not justice.

This is not an isolated incident. There are other incidents involving navy men or central policemen assaulting Tamil men and attempting to rape Tamil women. In one case even a Deputy Collector was beaten up [Reference 1]. What concerns this writer is not just the rowdy actions of these navy men but the fact that none of them were punished. That is injustice against Tamil Nadu. According to a news report in May 1998, many of the navy men at the Rameswaram naval base are from north India.

(NOTE: The name Rameshwaram is sometimes spelled as Rameswaram, Rameshvaram and Ramevaram. They denote the same place.)

REFERENCE

1. Indian Soldiers on a Rape Spree in Tamil Nadu (by Usha Ramanathan), TAMIL TRIBUNE, October 1998.

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