As expected, authorities on Wednesday imposed strict curfew in South Kashmir districts and in parts of Srinagar city to thwart a march to Kulgam called by the separatist leadership. Earlier on Monday also, this is what was done to thwart a march to Anantnag, and this is what they did on Friday to stop people from converging at the Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid. They will do it again if and whenever the separatists call for more such marches. The separatist leaders have been/will be arrested or detained inside their residences or nearby police stations, people confined to their homes, and the government will wait for the fatigue and weariness to set in, hoping that this will finally lead it out of the current crisis.
So as these sequences testify, everything here seems overly resistant to change. Notwithstanding that times have changed and there has been a change of guard at the state’s helm, there is not much change in state’s technocratic response to the public unrest – one that has, if any, only some short-term advantages but sure and great many long-term disadvantages. This is a practical conclusion one could draw after looking at recurrent spells of public anger each time it has poured out on the Valley’s roads and streets, lanes and bylanes, its hill and dale.
Irrespective of what government says and how the state’s top executive puts forth intellectually fashionable responses and demands – like the need for confidence building measures from the Centre and revocation of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – it goes without saying that the state has not learnt its lessons – of fixing wrongs within before turning towards New Delhi on what it should do. Indeed all of the state’s contradictions alone are enough to boggle the mind in search of rationality. Perhaps therein lays its genius – that it seems, like ever, emerging from the same bureaucratic approach which has traditionally been, and still is the cause and reason for much of the state’s problems with its “subjects”.
Now take the demand for “experimental” rollback of AFSPA from a few districts to begin with. No right-thinking person, and certainly not a single Kashmiri worth her salt, or anyone even from North-East, who have seen what a dreadful law means would support its continuation, in full or part. AFSPA must go, sooner the better. However, for this the government at New Delhi has to be on J&K’s side, which will, in turn have to convince its military, the far right-Hindu ‘nationalist’ groups, right-wing intelligentsia and openly pro-right media for it. Let’s hope that the J&K government prevails and roll-back of AFSPA is conceded – although right now it seems only a wishful thinking at the best, as seems the case with other CBMs state government has in mind as panacea to help itself out of the current crisis.
Take this: What is it that triggered the crises in the first place? Anger and outrage was already palpable everywhere, and was even escalating to the brink with each passing day as people were at the receiving end of an ever-growing and loud tirade on things they have always valued the most – their land and religious identity. Right then, Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed, an encounter whose timing and worth has been questioned by the government’s own Member Parliament and senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Beigh forcefully even on the floor of the Parliament. The incident set off a trail of dangerous police-public confrontations, in which, as the number of killed and injured civilians suggests, as also do the kind of their injuries at the hands of police and paramilitary forces, the latter faltered in its crowd-control tactics, and faltered very badly. Not only was more force than was needed (“disproportionate force”) used, but police also violated the laid down standard operating procedures (SOPs), as confessed by the government itself (of course at the beginning; now conveniently forgotten).
So what is it the state government is, and will do, to account for the “police excesses”? Police are not covered under AFSPA, and fall under the state government – no central nod is needed for much-needed corrections in it — so that the summer 2016 is not yet another 2010 or 2008 for that matter even 2009, when civilians killings at the hands of the men in Khaki were taken as a “necessary collateral” and nobody bothered to account for them.
Indeed biggest grudge people have against then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is that he did nothing to look into, and fix responsibility for the civilians killings in 2009 and 2010, and then went on to pledge revocation of AFSPA “within days”, which he couldn’t do even in his entire tenure. Calling for AFSPA rollback is intellectually fashionable, but creating proper template for better human rights record by also reining in the police by fixing responsibility for its wrongs is a fundamental requirement. Unfortunately this appreciation seems missing. When leadership reduces itself to management, problems are not solved; they are only managed. Kashmir’s problems have been managed for long; now they need solutions.
The writer is Editor of Kashmir Images, an English daily published simultaneously from Jammu and Kashmir’s twin captals – Srinagar and Jammu. Raouf_rasool@yahoo.com