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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 36, August 28, 2010

Kashmir Diary: Where do We Go from Here?

Thursday 2 September 2010, by Tapan Bose


August 13, 2010

Four more were killed in the Valley. It was the first Friday, Jumma of the Holy month of Ramadan. The killing began immediately after the morning (fajar) prayer—in Trehgam near Kupwara, Bommai near Sopore and in Patan. Throughout the day in different parts of Srinagar slogan shouting youthful demonstrators and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), aided by the Jammu and Kashmir Police, continued to clash. While there was no curfew in the morning, by mid-day it was clamped in almost all parts of the Valley.

As I drove into Srinagar city from the airport on August 13, my vehicle was stopped at seven places. There were CRPF and J&K Police pickets everywhere. My Indian passport got me through these check-posts, though at one place a constable wanted to know why I was visiting the city when “Indians” were being attacked. The fact that not one Amarnath Yatri was attacked, no non-Kashmiri was targeted during the past two months of agitation did not seem to matter. In the opinion of the CRPF jawans, stones thrown at them by the Kashmiri demonstrators were sufficient evidence of Kashmiris deliberately attacking Indians. I did not challenge the perception that the CRPF ”represented” India in the Valley.

At none of these pickets, whether manned by the CRPF or the J&K Police did I see any senior officer. Apparently they were busy elsewhere. When I mentioned this to some of the press-persons whom I met later in the day, I was told that they had also observed this absence of the officers on the street. As a result it was often the SHOs, sub-inspectors, head constables and havildars who decided on the use of force as well as the quantum of force on the streets.

The law of the land requires that the state should use “minimum” force while dealing with civilians. It also directs that the orders for “baton charge”, use of “tear gas” and firing “live bullets” on an “uncontrollable” crowd should be given by a Magistrate or an officer of that rank. It also directs that before using any of these of measures, proper warning must be given.

Clearly in Kashmir the authorities have decided to dispense with the requirements of law. The CRPF and J&K Police, having worked in close association with the Army and especially under the Unified Command for twenty years, have internalised the culture of the use of force maximum against the ‘enemy’ by the Army which functions under the protection of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that empowers an ordinary soldier to kill anyone on mere suspicion under conditions of impunity. The CRPF and J&K Police also shoot first and then ask questions. All dead terrorists are good terrorists as the dead do not talk. But in Kashmir, the dead talked.

How it Began

THE agitation began in the month of May after the exhumation of the bodies of three young men—Shahzad Ahmad Khan, Riyaz Ahmad Lone and Mohammed Shafi Lone. They were residents of Nadihal village in Kupwara district of north Kashmir. The Commanding Officer of the 4 Rajput Regiment had claimed on April 30 that these were Pakistani terrorists who were trying to infiltrate into India through the Line of Control (LoC). The Army claimed that these boys were killed in an encounter that took place between them and the soldiers of the Rajput Regiment at Machil, about 100 km north of Srinagar.

The family members of the three missing youth from village Nadihal recognised them from the pictures of these “dead terrorists” published by the police. The bodies were exhumed after massive demonstrations in Kupwara. The dead bodies of Shahzad Ahmad Khan, Riyaz Ahmad Lone and Mohammed Shafi Lone “rose” from the graves and exposed the lie of the Indian Army.

On June 5, the head of the Army’s Srinagar-based Northern Command told reporters that two officers of the 4 Rajput Regiment were suspended and a Court of Inquiry was ordered. He promised that the process of the inquiry would be transparent. But the Kashmiris did not believe him. Similar discoveries of bodies of Kashmiri civilians killed by the Army in fake encounters in the past—Kupwara, Kokarnag, Parthibal to mention a few—have yielded no justice. No Army or security force officials implicated in these murders have been put on trial in any civil court as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has put the Army beyond the jurisdictions of the law courts.

The agitation spread from the north to the southern districts of the Valley. For the first time since 1993-94, when the people of the Valley had abandoned street agitation unable to face the massive repression let loose by the Army and the security forces (cordon and search, arrests, torture, killings, rape and burning down of bazaars, commercial and residential building), the people have come out again. This time in apparent defiance of the bullets of the security forces Kashmiris are out on the streets in large numbers. The agitation has spread into far-flung rural areas of the Valley. Children, young men and women as well as old people are out on the streets raising slogans and asking India to “quit Kashmir”. Unlike in the past, they seem to have overcome their fear of the soldiers and the bullets. Sixty have been killed.

I met a young woman lawyer outside the Srinagar district court. She had come in the morning to attend to some urgent work and had to stay back as curfew was imposed. Now she was trying to catch a ride to go home as curfew was relaxed after Iftar. I asked her whether she supported the agitation. “Of course, I do” was the reply. “Every Kashmiri is a part of this struggle. In the past 20 years 80,000 Kashmiris were killed. It did not stop us. Many more are ready to die till we get our freedom,” she said. She ridiculed the perception of the Indian media that this was “agitational terrorism” sponsored by “terrorists”. She wondered whether the Indian intelligence agencies and security forces really believed that Pakistan sponsored terrorists had spread out to all the districts of the Valley and were able to motivate the children, young men and women to come out of their homes in thousands day in and day out, defying curfew, confronting the security forces, throwing stones, getting tear gas, being lathi charged, shot and even killed.

The answer to the question “what do you want?” is the same no matter who you put this question to. “We want India to recognise that Kashmir is a disputed territory, we want the CRPF and all other Central forces out of Kashmir, we want the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and we want all our people released unconditionally from the jails.”

During the last two months of agitation, not even two per cent of government employees, including senior officers, attended office. The only department of the State Government that was visible was the police. The Chief Minister lamented that he had lost control over the CRPF. He was pulled up by New Delhi and on June 28, India’s Home Minister gave a clean chit to the CRPF and praised them for the good work they were doing in Kashmir under rather difficult conditions. The Chief Minister withdrew his comment. Once again New Delhi demonstrated that the “elected government” in Srinagar was just a puppet.

August 14, 2010

ON the third day of Ramadan, the police and CRPF troops shot dead two persons just before Iftaar (breaking of the fast), one at Islamabad in south Kashmir and another at Narbal in Srinagar’s outskirts. The police and troops also fired at protesters at four other places, injuring at least a dozen persons.
Later in the day, about 33 persons were injured in baton (lathi) charge and tear gas shells inside the Hazratbal shrine where a few persons were raising anti-Indian slogans after the prayers.
With today’s killings, the number of victims of the CRPF and police since June 11 has gone up to 58.

August 15, 2010

INDIA’S 64th Independence Day, the 64th day of the agitation and the fourth day of Ramadan. Curfew was strictly imposed all over the Valley. Early in the morning in Nowhatta when a group of youth tried to take out a procession they were pushed back by the police. There was no baton charge or firing. No lives lost.

Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in Delhi, the Prime Minister of India appealed to the people of Kashmir to end violent protests. He said: “The years of violence should now end. Such violence will not benefit anyone.” Emphasising that Kashmir was an “integral part” of India Dr Manmohan Singh offered to talk, “to talk to every person or group which abjures violence”.

During the Independence Day celebrations in Kashmir when Chief Minister Omar was taking salute after unfurling the Indian flag at the official function at Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar a police constable, Abdul Ahad Jahan, hurled a shoe at him. The brown shoe missed the Chief Minister. The shoe-thrower waved a black flag and raised pro-freedom slogans before he was overpowered by securitymen and taken away.

News reports said that while Abdul Ahad Jahan was in police custody, hundreds of women and children gathered outside his home in support of his brave action. People were beating drums, playing flute and singing. His wife was surrounded by women who kissed her on the cheeks and blessed her. According to a newspaper, the atmosphere was like that of a marriage ceremony.

New Delhi “Responds”

DR MANMOHAN SINGH, the Prime Minister, held a meeting of “mainstream” political party leaders in New Delhi. Recognising that the youth of Kashmir were alienated and that there were very few avenues open for their gainful and satisfactory employment, the meeting decided to develop an “economic” package which would address the problems of Kashmir, especially those of the youth. Invoking the “anguish of Kashmir” the Prime Minister promised to urgently address the sources of alienation—lack of jobs, absence of good institutions for technical education, bad infrastructure, poor power supply and many other such shortcomings. He said that he was going to involve several successful CEOs of India’s private sector in planning and implementing this project.

The Prime Minister, UPA chairperson Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the Home Minister of India, the Finance Minister of India and the Chief Minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah, all seem to be convinced that this is a good prescription for Kashmir. Clearly the received wisdom in New Delhi is that if such a package was implemented in proper spirit, it would win the hearts and minds of the people, particularly the youth of Kashmir who are alienated.

The trouble with this prescription is that it has been around for decades. The same prescription has been made for Kashmir several times over the last two decades. In fact this prescription was written for all those “sick” areas of the country where the local people were seemingly afflicted by the diseases called “anti-nationalism” or “separatism”. The evidence shows that it has not worked in the North-East or Kashmir. However, the trouble shooters in New Delhi continue to hold on to their beliefs.

In Kashmir, New Delhi’s recent track record of “delivering development packages” makes one wonder whether New Delhi is at all serious about such initiatives. For example, this is the third time within the last five years that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has appointed Mr Rangarajan, the former Governor of the Reserve Bank, as the head of a committee to study the “ground realities” and recommend steps for economic development and creation of jobs. The recommendations of the two earlier committees with similar mandate headed by Mr Rangarajan are gathering dust in the office of the Prime Minister. The same is the fate of the reports and recommendations of four committees set up by the same Prime Minister during his first tenure in office.

Omar Abdullah, the embattled Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in his speech at the Independence Day rally in Bakshi Stadium, echoed the popular Kashmiri perception of New Delhi—it sleeps on the promises it makes to Kashmir. Clearly, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has to improve his performance for the Kashmiris to trust him.

Where do We Go from Here?

I believe that there still are possibilities of pulling Kashmir back from the brink of an abyss, back to a stable situation, and towards a democratic solution. But that would require enormous courage and political will to recognise and admit the ground reality. The failure of the State “Government” to get the employees to attend office, keep the markets, schools, colleges and the university is an indication that it has virtually lost all control over Kashmir.

It is clear that telling the parents to keep their “boys” and “girls” indoor is not only futile but an insult to the people of the Valley who are sacrificing their lives in search of justice. Sending the CRPF and other armed forces to face them every time they come out on the streets to vent their anger and replying to their stones with bullets will not work. Praising the CRPF for these killings is like waving the red rag before the bull. The Prime Minister’s Independence Day offer—“to talk to every person or group which abjures violence”—was rejected on the streets of Srinagar immediately. The youth are comparing Dr Singh’s response with that of Israel to the stone-pelting boys in Palestine.

It is time to realise that these so-called exercises of holding “elections” and installing “democratic governments” in Jammu and Kashmir have shown the hollowness of this “democracy”. The French held elections in occupied Algeria. The USA also did the same in occupied Vietnam and recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Did these elections bring “democracy” to any of these countries?

It is time to realise that in reality this exercise in democracy has spawned an empowered a band of politico-bureaucratic class who have fattened themselves on the largesse handed out by New Delhi. They set themselves up as the toll-gates for every plan, every project and every scheme for the ordinary people of the State. They took the butter out and distributed the skimmed milk only among their loyal supporters. Thus they spread their patronage and built armies of personal goons.

Every political party of Jammu and Kashmir is guilty of this corruption. They have been milking the State treasury in many ways. For example, of the nearly three hundred and seventy thousand employees on the rosters of the State Government, about two hundred thousand are personal and domestic servants of the current and former Ministers, MLAs, MPs, serving and retired bureaucrats. Jammu and Kashmir is known as the second most corrupt State in India.

New Delhi should give up this charade of “democracy” in Jammu and Kashmir. Remove these interlopers—the politicians who were nurtured over the past six decades—and take charge of Kashmir directly. Begin a new chapter, first by apologising to the people for all its wrongdoings. Only strong persons are able to admit their mistakes and ask for forgiveness. The weak and the small can never admit their mistakes.

There is no need to put preconditions like “abjure violence”. The ongoing mass movement in Kashmir is non-violent. There are no militants or terrorists lurking behind the agitators. No matter what the police hand-outs claim, there is no evidence of guns being used by the agitators. Using bullets at random at stone-pelting crowds shows our security forces have lost all sense of proportion.

Instead of calling on the youth to stop violence, New Delhi should unilaterally release all the Kashmiris from detention, set up a transparent justice commission on the lines of the “Truth and Justice Commission” of South Africa and request the people of Kashmir to come forward, appoint several task forces to address all the political, social and economic issues that have been agitating the minds of the people. These should be done in an open and transparent manner throughout the Valley. The task forces must be empowered not only to make recommendations but to implement their recommendations. As these task forces will begin to meet and discuss all issues in an open manner with the people in the districts and tehsils we will perhaps begin to see the contours of a solution emerging from the darkness that engulfs the region of Kashmir today. This will go a long way in establishing trust and substantive democracy in Kashmir. But the question is: Is anyone in New Delhi listening?

The author, a noted human rights activist, is the General Secretary of the South Asia Forum for Human Rights.

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