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Fuelling the Rage in Kashmir

The current wave of anger that is sweeping across Kashmir is not the fallout of stone pelting by "miscreants" as the centre and the ignorant talk show elites of Delhi would have us believe. It is yet another outburst against the non-serious attitude of the central government and against a state government that has nothing to offer to the people of the State. What is new is that this time the public anger against the killing of children and teenagers has drawn in even the most apolitical of Kashmiris. For years, the Kashmiris waited for the India-Pakistan peace to draw them into consultations but they were ignored. When will the Indian state learn?

COMMENTARY

the union home secretary appeared on

Fuelling the Rage in Kashmir

television to maintain that the slain boy was not “innocent” but a “paid miscreant”. Added to this, two days later, Union Home Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal Minister P Chidambaram maintained that

The current wave of anger that is sweeping across Kashmir is not the fallout of stone pelting by “miscreants” as the centre and the ignorant talk show elites of Delhi would have us believe. It is yet another outburst against the non-serious attitude of the central government and against a state government that has nothing to offer to the people of the State. What is new is that this time the public anger against the killing of children and teenagers has drawn in even the most apolitical of Kashmiris. For years, the Kashmiris waited for the India-Pakistan peace to draw them into consultations but they were ignored. When will the Indian state learn?

Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal (Anusaba@ rediffmail.com) is executive editor of Kashmir Times and a human rights activist.

I
t took just a few days for Kashmir, thriving and bustling with tourists, to change into a ghost paradise, where the eerie silence is broken by the occasional stone pelting of the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police (JKAP) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, with the security forces tear-gassing and some times even opening fire.

(At the time of writing, 5 July, the last such incident was reported from Kupwara’s Seelo village on 2 July, resulting in injuries to two persons.)

The empty roads are interrupted by the men in uniform marching in their full gear – helmets and bulletproof jackets to combat the enemy, the stone pelters. The uninterrupted hartals and curfews are still on, barring a day-long respite on 4 July. The Hurriyat led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has already announced a calendar of protests for the coming week. Before this week ends, another fresh schedule will be chalked out and publicised. On Monday, 5 July, almost the entire Valley was under a curfew blanket. The situation is not likely to differ in the days to come given the likelihood of more hartals, march calls and continuum of protests, fuelled by a collective anger that only grows with each passing day.

Recent Background

When a nine-year-old child, who was said to have been looking for his mentally challenged brother and was walking amidst the crowd of peaceful marchers to Sopore on 29 June, was among the two gunned down in firing by the CRPF and police, it fuelled a fury that spread to the other parts of Kashmir. Even the elderly joined the teenagers in not just stone pelting battles but also in hand to hand combat with armed uniformed personnel. The women came out in groups raising slogans, some even resorting to stone pelting. The anger spread to other parts of the Valley. The graph of anger shot up further, when

July 10, 2010

the mobs in Srinagar were being instigated by Lashkar-e-Toiba. The insensitivity of the government and its abject refusal to hold the uniformed personnel, who indulge in the most brutal action against protestors who are peaceful or at best are stone p elters, stunned even the most apolitical beings in Kashmir. Shopkeepers, who normally grumble over the prolonged calendar of civil strikes, were only too willing to support a shut down, not just in solidarity with the boys who lost their lives but also due to a spiraling collective anger.

Srinagar had already been on the boil for quite sometime. On 11 June, Tufail M atoo died in downtown Srinagar, when he was returning home from tuition and was caught between the stone pelters and armed men in uniform, due to an injury caused by a tear gas shell, according to doctors who carried out his autopsy. The tear gas shell alleged to have been fired by a JKAP man hit his head, killing him on the spot. This triggered a chain reaction of protests in downtown and some other pockets of Srinagar. Some protests were also reported in parts of north Kashmir and in the south in Anantnag, where stone pelting was met with a response of the usual blend of tear-gassing, lathi charge, random arrests, raids and even firing. A lmost a week after he was injured in the brutal thrashing by CRPF personnel in Batamaloo, Rafiq Bangroo died in hospital on 19 June. The next day, his cousin, Javed Malla died when the CRPF and police opened fire on Bangroo’s funeral procession. Three deaths in quick succession multiplied the rage in the Valley.

The separatists were quick to come out with their programme of hartals, protests and marches. Less than a week after these two killings, the CRPF opened fire on protestors, killing two more youth in Sopore, a hotbed of political disturbances over the last two decades. The protestors were demanding the bodies of two militants who had been slain in an encounter in the area. While the separatists were

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Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

quick to call for a strike and a call to march to Sopore, the authorities clamped curfew in the town. Two days later, on 28 June, the CRPF shot dead another youth in curfew-bound Sopore, this time a government employee who was standing in the lawn inside his own house. It was like a chain reaction, triggering more deaths throughout the rest of the week, two i ncluding a nine-year-old were killed in Delina during the march to Sopore. With anger and protests spreading to other parts of the Valley, south Kashmir too got caught in the grip of fury within days and two 18-year-old boys were killed in Anantnag, one is said to have been dragged out of his house, the other while he had gone out to the bakery to buy bread. Nine young boys were killed on the roads in a little more than a week, 11 in a month. Some of those shot dead were not even part of the protestors, the killings shocking enough to inspire public outrage in the Valley.

Coinciding with the deaths during clashes between security personnel and protestors were increasing revelations of fake encounters in north Kashmir. One such case has already been registered against army personnel after three boys from a village in Rafiabad were found to have been killed on the line of control in a fake encounter and passed off as dreaded terrorists. Such a landscape makes a p otent recipe for anger and protests that only get enhanced by a vicious chain reaction of more violence on the streets. The more there are attempts to crush the r ebellion, the more it flares up.

Even as hartals and curfews are in place, the body count is rising with many lying injured in the hospitals, the rage seething within pours out in bursts every now and then, forcing not just the teenagers and very young on to the streets but also the elderly and women, ready to fling a stone or two, or just stand in groups and raise anti-India and pro-freedom slogans. Young boys manage to hoodwink the huge security apparatus in putting up banners or painting graffiti on the walls, or roads: Go back India, Go Back.

Baggage of History

The anger, however, is not just a month or so old. It has been under the surface for quite sometime, visible (and predictably so) for the last two years, suddenly pouring out on the streets in the summer of 2008 during the Amarnath land row agitation. It was building up for sometime, flaring up like a volcano for the first time in many years in 2008 when the Amarnath land row erupted and, despite the well participated assembly elections that followed, occasional protests became the norm, once in a while snowballing into major flare-ups like the Bomai killings on 21 February 2009, when two boys were killed by army men in unprovoked firing.

They reached a crescendo when two girls, alleged to have been raped and killed, were found dead in the ankle deep waters of Rambiara Nallah in Shopian and were further fuelled by botched up investigations including the Central Bureau of I nvestigations’s cover-up. The mishandling of Shopian destroyed more than just justice in one case. It demolished people’s faith in institutions of justice and eroded the last remnants of hope that flickered in the hearts of the moderates. Shopian was a test case not only because it symbolised the brute might of the State, in snatching people’s liberties and protecting the guilty but also because Shopian people’s campaign for justice was characterised by an unprecedented peaceful, apolitical and sustained campaign.

Added to this is the baggage of history packed with the unheeded political aspirations of the people. The basic Kashmir dispute lies at the bedrock of every problem, new or old.

During the years of the India-Pakistan peace offensive, that also coincided with ebbing militancy, Kashmir was virtually left untouched, both as far as political i nitiative and confidence building measures were concerned. Between 2002 and 2007, when the atmosphere was conducive and people waited with hope against hope, for something to be delivered, all they got was some relaxation on the Line of Control, which affects only a small fragment of the population. The human rights abuse, which needed the maximum attention, was not only ignored, it continued with a vengeance even as figures of all security agencies confirmed that there was a drastic decline in militancy. As of today, by all o fficial estimates, there are not more than 600 militants operating in the entire state. To combat these, there is still a six-seven lakh force which enjoys immunity under draconian laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). The state police does not enjoy this official impunity but nonetheless gets political patronage and continued to be a protected force, des pite all its acts of omission and brutality. The absence of a proactive approach during those years in winning over the confidence of the people is to a great extent responsible for the revival of anger that has been seething within.

Evolution of Street Battles

This is the third summer of discontent and though one does not know whether it is pure coincidence that the best tourist s eason in Kashmir in recent years has been shattered by protracted demonstrations and street violence, protests have b ecome a regular feature of Kashmir’s landscape for exactly two years now. The scale and intensity only vary. Most of these are triggered after allegations of h uman rights abuse by security forces – killings, torture,

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July 10, 2010 vol xlv no 28

COMMENTARY

fake encounters, rapes or even crackdowns and raids. Today, even the slightest of provo cation sparks protests, stone pelting or even hand to hand combat. The refusal to even book the p olice personnel guilty of murdering so many teenagers, and instead justifying these acts as “self-defence” e nhances this rage. Protests are directly proportional to the acts of repression, and not the other way round as is being reported. The mainstream national media has apparently stonewalled any perspective from Kashmir that shows the governments of Jammu and Kashmir and at the centre in a poor light. The national electronic media is doing a great disservice by mostly inviting so-called experts who know practically nothing about the ground situation in Kashmir to comment on it. They are sitting cocooned in Kashmir or if they ever visit the Valley, it is only to the secure zones and their interaction is restricted to a select group of elites. The other perspective is just missing and so the national audience is getting to see a very one-sided picture.

There, indeed, is a possibility that some of the protests, in some pockets of the V alley, are instigated but this is not the norm. It is difficult to presume that youngsters would risk their lives on the streets just for some petty cash or favours. There is no regular pattern in how clashes between the stone pelters and security personnel evolve. They may start with a m inor harassment incident, inviting protests and sloganeering, to which security personnel respond with a lathi charge, and one thing leads to another. Sometimes, they may simply just start with no apparent provocation at all, just the brute presence of the uniformed personnel inviting anger. But, more significantly, there is a virtual rebellion in the mood and body language of stone pelter, who is apparently not detracted by the thought of death. In fact, an element of glamour and heroism induced into the act of stone pelting as a legitimate form of resistance movement is also something that keeps fuelling this c ycle of violence. It is our only weapon against Indian state, many of them say.

Mishandling

The highly volatile situation is further fuelled by the non-seriousness of both the central and state governments. While the centre is busy in dubbing all stone pelters as terrorists, justifying their arrests under the Public Safety Act (PSA), torture and even killings, without explaining why b asic standard operations procedures are not being used to deal with violent mobs, the state government engages in casual flip-flops – from blaming the CRPF to taking a virtual U-turn, after being snubbed by the centre. Of late, the state government has been quick in both its rhetoric against central security forces and registering cases against them for human rights violations. Going by the history of such cases, it is unlikely the uniformed personnel will ever be punished because the home ministry always refuses to grant sanction for prosecution. However, it maintains a cryptic criminal silence when the state police, which cannot be protected with laws like AFSPA, is involved. It is an obvious ploy to shield all men in uniform indulging in brutalities.

Additionally, the army has been at l iberty to overstep its military role to make political statements, whether it is in opposing any dilution of the AFSPA or equating it with a holy book. The state’s shoddy r esponse to growing unrest has only

played the role of an agent provocateur, making alienation a bsolute, translating the s immering anger into hatred and bitterness which is now extremely difficult to treat.

Solution

The only way to end this would be with a two-pronged strategy, which should have begun a long time back, when the India-Pakistan peace process was on and the Kashmiris had reposed faith in it, waiting patiently for several years. At one level, the government should start a political initiative, not announce economic packages that get lost in the den of corruption in the second most corrupt state of the country. At another level, it should begin an earnest attempt to nail the guilty men in uniform through an institutionalised process of probing all cases of human rights violations in a fair manner. The immediate r esponse, however, should be action in all the recent killings, not on a pick and choose basis. The announcement of a separate, independent and credible ombudsman for looking into all abuses in the last 20 years would be an next ideal step for addressing this pain, anguish and anger. However, it is not an easy road anymore. The way things have been badly mishandled, it would need a lot of patience and consistency to win over the confidence of the people in the first place.

July 10, 2010 vol xlv no 28 EPW Economic & Political Weekly

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