Just as Kashmir is coming to terms with yet another brutal end to an innocent life, this time lynching of the young Zahid, many in India are aloof of this ghastly crime. The level of outrage seems to shrink as the information descends from the valley. The horrific stories of tragic end, the cries of young men and women and the wailing of grief-stricken Mothers of Kashmir have constantly failed to get empathetic ears in India. Their trauma and pain somehow don’t get registered to our collective conscience. Be it the killing of 3 year old Burhan or this heinous lynching; life carries on in India even when the Kashmiris try to make peace with their predicament. They have learnt to mourn and contain their rage as deaths usually come with the restrictions of a curfew.
Kashmir, India’s ‘Atoot Ang’ has always been extremely important to our sense of nationalism. Protecting it is our national pride and we expect the inhabitants of the valley to oblige us in our daily endeavour to uphold our sovereignty, which is under constant threat. The only problem is that we are not aware of the repercussions of turning someone’s courtyard into a battlefield. We don’t know what it means to live in one of the world’s most densely militarized zones. Watching the news channels at prime time showing how Kashmir is suffering at the hands of a few leaders who are on a pay roll of Pakistan is a far cry from the tragedy that is unfolding there every day. This one-sided, beaten to death narrative is further alienating the youth that has grown up seeing the mass uprisings and the subsequent brazen use of force on them which has taken the death toll to 90,000.
It would be immature to assume that the Kashmiris have accepted democracy with open arms given the highest turnout of voters ever recorded in J&K. Upon being enquired, the inhabitants of places with the highest turnout shared that the primary reason they came out to vote this time, without being pressurized, was to elect someone to take care of their water, electricity and other basic needs. The ‘healing touch’ strategy of PDP’s government has a long way to go to win the faith of Kashimiris. Jumping at every statement; pressurizing the central and the state government every night on national debates to tighten their grip on the various leaders of other parties, who have a following in the region, will only enrage the masses. Shaming the leaders of different parties is a sure shot way to widen the trust deficit. This will have serious repercussions on the relationship between the Indian state and the people of Kashmir, especially the youth; educated young men and women who are aware of all the constitutional rights which they have always been devoid of. Our rhetorical and spiteful view of Kashmiris who express themselves is only adding more fodder to the fire, making it burn more intensely.
We live in a different world of 24 hour news coverage and due to its nature of focusing on a particular story for long; it ends up forming strong opinions. The youth of Kashmir have often being demonized as stone-pelters and disloyal enemies of the state. In order to bridge the divide it is important to interact with them and get acquainted with their side of the story instead of shunning them every time they state their demands. It is important to take into account that student councils are not allowed in Kashmir. The youngsters are spied upon; all their accounts on social networking sites are constantly under surveillance. In this claustrophobic atmosphere the young minds and voices are getting stifled under fear psychosis.
A nation that takes pride in being the world’s largest democracy owes a huge debt to the people of Kashmir, who have been bearing the excesses of the Indian armed forces for long. The real voices from the valley have always been drowned under the vociferous call for nationalism. The stories of violent deaths don’t see the light of the day, and if they do, they get added to the ever-increasing statistics of collateral damage.
Peace is a two way street. A huge part of the valley’s population is already wary of the government and its many broken promises. The brutal use of power on local inhabitants and human rights violations have left an indelible mark on their psyche. Now that insurgency has gone down, it is important to let the people of Kashmir feel secure and part of a civil society with a free claim to their rightful liberties. The civilians are languishing for a normal life, with all its simple pleasures that are taken for granted in other parts of India.
Acknowledging the loss and empathizing with those who have suffered the consequences of many years of mismanagement, use of brute force and sheer ignorance will go a long way in at least setting a steady ground for dialogue. The entire history of Kashmir has been concealed by a generous dabbing of the claim to fight the terror movement and to protect the peace. This tactic has obscured the destruction of the very spirit of Kashmir. A history of resistance crippled by lack of the very basic of civil liberties is a far cry from ‘normalcy’. We are fighting for Kashmir by not giving the much needed attention to the Kashmiris who have suffered heinous human rights violations, which have been condemned by the various humanitarian watchdogs like International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Appalling crimes like mass rapes, mass killings and forced disappearances have escaped our legal and moral scanner all in the name of counter-insurgency.
Kanun Poshpora Mass Rape Case, The Gawkadal Massacre and the Sopore Massacre, 1993 are some of the accounts of atrocious attacks on many innocent civilians who not only bore the brunt of armed forces, but are also still waiting for justice.
In photo: Victims of the Kanun Poshipora gang rape demonstrating in Srinagar in 2013.
The investigations that gave clean chit to the army drew criticism from Asia Watch, United States Department of Justice and Human Rights Watch, which wrote:
“While the results of the examinations by themselves could not prove the charges of rape, they raised serious questions about the army’s actions in Kunan Poshpora. Under the circumstances, the committee’s eagerness to dismiss any evidence that might contradict the government’s version of events is deeply disturbing. In the end, the committee has revealed itself to be far more concerned about countering domestic and international criticism than about uncovering the truth.”
Not to forget, the 8000 missing men and boys whose families are still awaiting their return, extra-judicial killings and reports of extortions rackets run by Police who ask for bribes from the families of young men threatening to implicate them of false charges.
In Photo: Parveena Ahangar, a Srinagar- based woman who heads the Association of the Parents of Disappeared Persons is addressing various families struggling to bring back their family members. Her own son has been untraceable after being arrested by the Indian army in 1990.
To achieve the much sought-after normalcy, there is an urgent need to take humane steps to make the civilians feel as valued members of a civic society whose aspirations matter. Kashmiris must be heard instead of being judged and handed with a predicament.
There is a need for both the state and the central government to work in tandem to address this long impending humanitarian crisis by showing great resolve. Due to the imposition of draconian laws like AFSPA, PSA and many others providing legal impunity to the forces, the very right to a dignified existence is under perpetual threat. Constant checks, harassment (both physical and verbal) meted out to all makes the very simple job to go out to work an arduous task. AFSPA can be revoked in areas where insurgency has reduced to a small percentage in order to curb casualties. Following the example of Tripura would be a good approach where the state increased the number of local police stations instead of deploying the army. People generally have more faith in the local policemen rather than on a force comprising of men mostly from other states of India.
Secondly, use of non-lethal weapons to crush protests must be a norm which should be adhered to. As per Manan Bukhari, a prominent RTI activist from the valley, “Almost 350 people particularly the youth have received Pellet injuries since the Pellet Gun was introduced in Kashmir during the 2010 agitation”. Hundreds of youngsters have lost their eyesight due to the use of these infamous pellet guns.
Kashmir requires immediate attention. A single incident has the ability to blow up into fire as the spirit of Kashmir has been brutally crushed for so long. Every day adverse treatment of the local population has been pushing the Kashmiris towards the edge. The moment they reach their tipping point, the lid to a bubbling cauldron will go off, culminating in a legacy of bloodshed. It has happened in the past. Out of the many recent protests, the mass demonstrations of 2010 have been the bloodiest, where the use of overpowering force was unleashed on huge gatherings out on the streets protesting for their freedom. It ended up taking the lives of at least 125 teenagers. The protests started after the encounter of three young men from their Nadihal Village, however it later gained momentum and the entire valley was engulfed in the movement for Azadi. Now curfews are imposed every year during the death anniversaries of the victims to prevent unrest due to any impulsive protest march.
The voices from Kashmir that have been strangulated by a strategic use of military power combined with appointed leaders should be heard. There is an immediate need to acknowledge that the treatment meted out to Kashmir is a blot on our democracy and Kashmiris have merely been used as pawns by various political parties.
It is about time to take inspiration from the Father of our Nation, who very succinctly shared one of the most profound teachings on peace.
“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
Violence is a vicious circle and we can’t afford to run in loops endangering more lives in the process.