Kashmir: Why The Anger?
By Anuradha Bhasin
11 August, 2010
The political dispute has remained unresolved, with no serious attempts to address it even while the India-Pakistan peace process was going on. Several committees, reports on Kashmir dispute and related issues, for finding ways and means to address the alienation of the people and their political aspirations, have been lying in cold storage. Even prime minister’s five Working Group, comprising as they were of mainstream politicians and headed by Indians, reports that have suggested ways and means to address alienation, deal with human rights situation and provide clean governance, too have not been implemented. There has been not even a minute step to address alienation of the people. Kashmiris reposed their faith in the peace process and hoped for being included with a dialogue and internal confidence building measures aimed to minimize human rights abuse. But nothing happened, leading to their impatience, particularly among the youth – born and brought up in a conflict, having been witness to rigorous or mild routines of crackdowns, raids torture, human rights abuse even as they saw the numbers of militants dwindling. They only saw the ugly face of Indian democracy, exercised through tyrannical forces. There was fire smouldering inside the youth as the peace process came to a virtual halt without even attempts to include Kashmiris. There were no attempts to acknowledge that or respond to that.
The policies of the government of India instead of minimizing the alienation have only contributed in multiplying it and turning into an uncontrollable rage. If political dispute remained unsettled, the human rights violations have not only been ignored they have been encouraged with no system of accountability; in place there is a systemic mechanism to shield the guilty men in uniform through history of hushed up cases and acts like AFSPA which give the forces extra-judicial powers.
The Indian system of justice has totally crumbled. It doesn’t exist in Kashmir. People have reposed faith in it time and again in the system and have always been let down. Examples are galore. Jaleel Andrabi murder case, disappearances of hundreds of innocent boys and the latest one being the Shopian rapes and murders. Shopian case’s mishandling 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 is a test case not only because it symbolises 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.
There has been no democratic space for protests even after militancy came to a nought. Groups like APDP have been staging peaceful protests with the demand to know the whereabouts of the family members who disappeared in custody. They have taken recourse to everything from peaceful campaigns to reposing faith in the judiciary but nothing happened. The APDP has been staging a sit-in 10th of every month at Pratap Park in the heart of Srinagar, carrying photographs of their family members and hoping in vain for knowing the truth. They have been doing this for years. But nobody from either the state government or the centre has ever come to them to even talk to them or find out what their grievances are. Peaceful protests are either ignored or if the numbers start swelling, they are crushed, not allowed to happen. How do people vent out their pent up anger?
This anger that had been seething all along, inspired by the unresolved political dispute, and triggered by unaddressed human rights allegations, starting coming to the surface in the last five years or so. In 2006, when investigations pointed out to institutionalize mechanism of sexual exploitation of young girls, it sparked some anger. In February 2007, it came out against the fake encounter killings. In the summer of 2008, when it poured with greater force in the form of peaceful protest with sloganeering people, it was crushed. Unarmed protestors indulging in no violent activity were lathi charged and even fired at. This is what pushed youth to resort to stone pelting. There have been sporadic incidents for last two years and since the last two months, the situation has gone out of control. But no laws, no security doctrines or methodologies sanction the kind of action that is taken in Kashmir on stone pelting youth. Mobs are shot at point blank. Tear-gas shells are not aimed on the ground or the air, they are targeted. If this is how mild stone pelting incidents are dealt with, a natural fallout will be more rage, more virulent forms of protest. There are random arrests, youth and teenagers picked up and booked under PSA, with or without evidence, nocturnal raids where anybody and anybody can be picked up – suspicion or no suspicion. Doctors are booked under criminal charges for protesting against killings and government employees intimidated with threats if they join protests against killings. Uprisings cannot be crushed with jackboots anywhere in the world. In a democracy, they are totally unacceptable.
What adds to the anger is not just the insensitivity of the government, it’s inept handling but also provocation - describing stone pelters as ‘paid miscreants’ and Lashkar agents, sending in more troops and repeatedly talking about crushing the ‘miscreants’.
Who is responsible?
The state government, of course, with its inept handling. But in J&K, the state governments have little competence and little control. The power is vested mainly in the hands of New Delhi which has turned blind, insensitive and stubborn. It has to understand the disastrous consequences of this fire engulfing in Kashmir. Of course, Kashmiris will be the worst sufferers. There’ll be more violence, more killings, a long term psychological impact especially on women and children and humanitarian crisis, food security issue just looming over their heads. But would rest of the country be able to survive the ultimate consequences? That is a question, New Delhi has to grapple with and not forget in its myopia.
The only way to cool down the tempers is by first doing away with the use of disproportionate use of force against protestors and then taking some basic minimal steps.
Delhi must admit its mistakes to begin with so that it can atleast sound credible about moving forward. Dialogue cannot begin in vacuum. Certain steps must begin. They have been taken in various other conflicts in various parts of the world where there have been serious bids to resolve them. There must be announcement of a credible institution or commission for justice. People have no faith on routine official enquiries. Process for thinning down troops must begin. Laws like AFSPA have to be dispensed with. Democratic rights must be restored and people should have the right to protest peacefully. This process needs to begin before the government begins a serious dialogue process with Kashmiri representatives. It has to be a more transparent, credible and sustained process, not an eye wash of quiet diplomacies and track twos.
This paper was presented at the panel discussion organized by ANHAD “Situation in Kashmir and Way Forward” in Delhi on August 10, 2010. Anuradha Bhasin is the associate editor of Kashmir Times