As we head well into the Himalayan autumn, the bloody season which began in Kashmir in July is still going on unabated. In its enduring bloody history, it can be stated with few doubts that this season is neither the first of its kind nor the last in Kashmir. However, what may be different about this particular uprising is the magnitude of public anger and the vastly disproportionate response of state in the form of unprecedented atrocities. Quite ironical, the unprecedented anger on the streets has been matched with unprecedented state oppression when on the contrary, there should have been steps taken to alleviate this anger through engaging political steps. But as it goes, things have gone totally out of order and to an abysmal level where it seems that the oppression seems to have been institutionalized in Kashmir. As if the last 25 years of pain and suffering have not been enough, tragedy after tragedy has unfolded in the form of 90 killings, 100s of blinded youth, 1000s of amputated teenagers, and much more in the form of raids,tortures,ransom, vandalisation, etc.
One could say, we have just simply lost the count. This is how the state has responded which is completely bereft of sense and reason. The state now finds itself totally discredited and hugely repulsive in the eyes of the masses and has paved the way for situation to aggravate to dangerous levels. All the arguments of an ISI engineered disturbance as put forward by the state is just a frivolous evasion from facing the real issues. Had it been so, valley’s minorities like Sikhs, Pandits and Rajputs would not have joined the mass protests as has come to the fore recently. The atmosphere is now characterized by lockdown, confrontation and fear instead of efforts of reconciliation and redressal. Imagine the lives of the besieged populace in such circumstances. This writer was a witness to this siege in having spent over 100 days in curfew and e-curfew in a much maligned South Kashmir village. Having now finally been able to access the internet in Srinagar after a hiatus of 115 days, I was wondering about the sudden drought in the flowing Ganges of Digital India.
As disturbing as it can get, numerous reports are indicating that the forces also target the very livelihood of rural population—the vandalisation of apple and paddy harvest, alongwith the targetting of ambulances and electricity transformers. The state institutions have totally been exposed through their ineptness. The police and other security agencies have acted with impunity and utter lack of regard for law and life. Instead of ensuring security of the common people, the police has turned into a bandit force invoking awe and fear among the people. On a professional level, it is not able to tactfully handle a crowd of 50 teenagers or even save its own service rifles. Despite having been accustomed to this kind of a situation for last two decades, it still doesnot know how to handle a small law and order problem or a hostile community. Ironically, the police with its close affinity to the local psyche and sensitivities should have been more adept in handling this kind of a situation but it has been appalling.
On the contrary, there have been many instances, to few of which this writer has been a witness, where the police and paramilitary forces have actually themselves provoked and instigated the people to break the law by unwarranted raids, tear-gas shelling, vandalization and ransom in peaceful localities. One is obliged to ask the powers at the helm that is this really the way to redress the anger of your populace when at the rhetorical level, you talk about political engagement and solution? One is not able to fathom that how the much abused ‘normalcy’ is going to be restored in such circumstances? This clampdown is doing greater harm than one can simply imagine. Besides the obvious suffering and pain, the clampdown is strengthening the radical constituency which is going to further complicate and aggravate the matters. All through these previous years, people who had begun to understand the efficacy of politics of reconciliation and pacifism are now fast losing their faith again. Kashmiris are flabbergasted at how Secularism and Democracy, two sublime concepts that the Republic of India purports to offer to the Kashmiris, have gone to rack and ruin in the past four months. Because they saw on Eid, how Eid prayers and joys were not allowed while on the other side of the Pir Panjal, armed Hindutva volunteers were allowed and even facilitated to march freely in sensitive areas as in Doda and Kishtwar, and Cow Rakshaks were allowed to burn trucks and shops on a false rumour in Rajouri.
One is worried, this current impasse may usher in a new violent phase by throwing up a new breed of radicalized militants. One can only hope, not. But as it seems, no one is really bothered to care about where we are heading. In this respect, the apathy and indifference of the state has to be castigated in full measure, even more than the intransigent politics of the separatist camp. On their part, the separatists need to come out of their obstinate positions to ponder over workable solutions to the political problems the state is facing. Kashmiris are mature enough to make it a point that notwithstanding the massive importance of political struggle to their lives, the struggle for bread is equally important. How to cut a balance between the two, people at the forefront of the agitation never ponder which then results in the gradual wilting of the public sentiment. As is obvious, the working class has once again borne the brunt of the current turmoil because like all previous instances, it finds itself at the forefront. Most of the dead, blinded and amputated youth belong to this class. Not only these sacrifices, this class also finds itself cornered on the front of livelihood. While public servants are drawing salaries as normal and big businessmen conducting their businesses more or less with minor hiccups, it is the daily earners, labourers, stall wallahs, small shops, auto wallahs, drivers, etc who have not been able to earn a penny in the last 4 months. Their condition gets too worse when one sees them under the burden of heavy interest bank loans. Imagine the lives of these people in such conditions; the prolonged popular agitation threatens their livelihood and the state repression threatens their life. Either way, there seems no respite. So how do we address their problems besides the long overdue political problems? There must certainly be an answer but one has to leave it to the powers that matter to answer.
Basharat Shameem is Lecturer in English Literature , Directorate of Distance Education , University of Kashmir