Holy Sinners: Search of Kashmir

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Author : Major Saras Tripathi
Publisher : Manas Publications, New Delhi (2015)
Price : Rs. 995
pp. : 375

This is an intriguing name for a book, especially when its contents are the observations of a recently commissioned young army officer on his first posting to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the midst of a raging proxy war. The combination of passion, curiosity and professionalism is rarely seen in one so young, but Major Saras Tripathi of 6 Maratha LI (then a young lieutenant) has succeeded in doing so. Many books have been written on the proxy war being waged in J&K that has now entered its third decade, and there is seemingly no end in sight. While ‘Holy Sinners’ is all about the proxy war, two aspects that are different stand out. Firstly, it is down to earth and as realistic as possible, as it deals with what I call the ‘business end of counter insurgency (CI) and counter terrorist (CT) operations’, viz., sub-unit and small-team operations. The focus is more on the planning and conduct of such operations, about which very little has been written. The reason is that most writings about the problems and the on-going proxy war in J&K are penned by persons far removed from the action, and most touch on issues at the historical, policy and strategic levels. Secondly, the events or rather episodes covered relate more to the human aspects rather than to a war-fighting perspective, which of course is what one usually reads about in newspapers, magazines and books.

It is also not a book regarding the rights and wrongs of the continuing struggle, but looks at the turmoil in the minds of the three dramatis personae. These three are ‘the army and other security forces’, who are bravely fighting a difficult battle; ‘the highly motivated and indoctrinated insurgents/terrorists’ and the ‘majority of people of J&K’, who find themselves caught in the middle.

The book is in two broad time-zones. The first is during the period 1992-94, when the insurgency was at its height in the Srinagar Valley and the author was involved with ‘search and destroy’, ‘raids’, ‘area domination patrols’, ‘screening suspects’ et al. The second period relates to his tenure on the Line of Control (LoC) in one of the forward most picquets in the Uri Sector during the period 1997-99, when he was an experienced company commander, albeit still with only six/seven years of service under his belt.

There are a total of 14 chapters in the book, of which 12 deal with operations against insurgents, and only two relate to the management of the LoC. Each chapter is self-contained, dealing with a particular episode from beginning to end, containing actions as well as observations of a young army officer. Some of these are highly profound.

The first chapter is about five hard core terrorists, who were killed in a chilling and long encounter. The other episodes of note are the bravery and sacrifices of two brave soldiers, Sepoy Roundal Bajirao, later decorated with Shaurya Chakra; and Havildar Shivaji, later decorated with a Kirti Chakra, both posthumously; and chapters devoted to a hapless mother yearning for her son; the cunning ‘Salafi Baba’ and a simple grandmothers’ dilemma. As the author writes in the prologue – ‘the book is a strange mix of the love bestowed on him, alongside the undeserved hate thrown on him for doing his duty, along with the pain of the Kashmiris’.

Inevitably, the importance of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is highlighted, along with the self-imposed restraints by the army hierarchy to ensure that fair play prevails and only minimum force is used. The episodes described bring out these aspects clearly, as opposed to those who though far removed from the scene, pontificate on the removal of this enabling law, without understanding it.

There are two common threads between the two periods. The first is the perfidy of Pakistan, whether through insurgents trained in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) or through Pakistani Army personnel posted on the LoC The second is the human aspect of the tragedy of Kashmir, and how the common people are coping.

This book needs to be read not just by soldiers or the people of Kashmir or analysts and political leaders, but all right thinking persons who appreciate the bravery and courage of the men and women of our military, especially the humble jawans and young officers involved in a thankless job for the nation, and who empathise with the people so cruelly caught in the vortex of violence.

This book was released on 12 January 2015 by Gen. (Dr.) V. K. Singh, Minister of State for External affairs and Overseas Indian Affairs, and (IC) Minister of State for Statistics and Programme Implementation.


Lt. Gen. Vijay Oberoi

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