News of random killings by the military in insurgency-affected areas can hardly surprise us any more, depressing testimony of the extent to which the virtual suspension of civic rights in "disturbed" areas exposes the vulnerability of far too many Indians to appalling depredations.
Consider this bit of BBC reportage:
Ajit Mahanta, a resident of Kakopathar in Tinsukia district, was picked up by the army on suspicion of having links with a separatist group. His body was found in a bag in a hospital in neighbouring Dibrugarh town the next day. The army had then said Mr Mahanta died when he tried to escape.
If this sort of thing is all too common, why do I bother blogging about yet another atrocity? Because Mr. Mahanta's death had a (surprising, where the military is concerned) sequel:
On Monday, a military court punished Nishant Sharma and Sudip Gurung in connection with the killing of Mr Mahanta. Sharma was sentenced to one year's forfeiture of service which will affect his promotion propects and Gurung was sentenced to two months' rigorous military imprisonment.
One year's forfeiture of service? Two months' rigorous military imprisonment? I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
And speaking of sequels:
Mr Mahanta's death caused widespread unrest in Kakopathar, in an area believed to be a separatist stronghold. Eight people were killed when security forces fired on a mob protesting against the death in the area. A paramilitary soldier was also stoned to death by angry protestors. The army has handed out a compensation of 100,000 rupees ($2,130) to the family of Mr Mahanta.
If the military was not responsible for Mr Mahanta's death then no-one should have been punished; but a 100,000 rupee compensation suggests that the military court in question saw it differently. What conception of responsibility results in this sort of slap on the wrists?
The horrific thing is that any punishment at all in such situations is so very rare that I can't even deny the satisfaction I felt when I read that the relevant soldiers were actually going to suffer consequences at all. Of such meager crumbs is consolation made.