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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 37, September 4, 2010

Bijbehara: A Challenge to Nation’s Conscience

Wednesday 8 September 2010, by Nikhil Chakravartty


Autumn has set in-the chinar in its gorgeous robe. But it is an autumn of bitter sorrow for the hapless people of Kashmir. The Valley which was known as the paradise on earth has been turned into a trough of hatred, of blood and tears.

On Friday last week the portals of Hazratbal were barred as the Indian Army had laid siege of the mosque complex in pursuit of the militants. To protest against this siege of the holy of holies for every Kashmiri Muslim, the common folk in the small town of Bijbehara took out a demons-tration which was angry in its mood but indulged in no acts of violence. But the defiance of the curfew by the marchers enraged the BSF which went berserk and mowed down to death more than 50 and wounded another hundred or more.

These were no armed secessionists, but unarmed citizens. The authorities promptly barred mediapersons from getting into the town-some were beaten up and their cameras seized-but one intrepid among them who could manage to sneak in, has reported that the dead were young boys, including a Hindu boy. The searing poignancy of this act of barbarism was brought out by his reporting that "not even a single family has remained unaffected by Friday’s violence" and when the bodies arrived after post-mortem, "the wails of womenfolk reached a crescendo" as these were lowered into graves.

This way, mourning turns into anger and unwillingly, the security forces instead of quelling the secessionists seem to unwittingly help to swell the ranks of the adherents, supporters and fellow-travellers of the secessionists in the Kashmir Valley. A thousand cordons along the border shall not help to avert the catastrophe as the mounting anger against the armed might of India antagonises the people of the Kashmir Valley.

Six months ago, a very senior office-holder under the government with wide experience of administration was explaining to the present writer that while Nagaland in the sixties had lapsed into insurgency, he would not say the same thing about Kashmir as, according to him, the people in the villages were not offering active support to the militants. After the siege of Hazratbal and its fall-out with such a bloody shooting spree at Bijbehara, are not the security forces helping to breed a state of insurgency?

The government has announced a grant of one lakh rupees for the family of the slain and has instituted a magisterial enquiry into the shooting. Do the government high-ups feel that such rituals would mollify the people at Bijbehara and the Kashmir Valley? What a world of make-believe are our authorities living in! Even in normal conditions, a police firing in any part of the country raises the demand for judicial enquiry. And here after the massacre-a massacre indeed!-at Bijbehara there would only be a magisterial enquiry. The BSF version was that a mob attack on the police station led to the shooting, but the SHO himself denied any such mob attack. Kashmir’s Divisional Commissioner visiting the town next day observed: "There was no witness to confirm firing on the BSF at Bijbehara." And with all this, the government is fighting shy of commissioning a judicial enquiry into the gory incident.

No, this is not a matter for quibbling over enquiries, magisterial or judicial. Bijbehara has thrown up a challenge to the conscience of the entire nation. It has brought out that in the name of fighting out secessionist militants, those responsible for the governance of this great country are themselves hitting at the very foundations of our democratic republic. Such acts of folly, leading to insensate violence on the part of those entrusted to govern, do not evoke respect and consent but provoke revulsion and angry insubordination. A republic does not last by enforced submission of its people at gun-point. It has just the reverse effect.

Against this ghastly brutality perpetrated at Bijbehara, it’s time for our political leaders to hang down their heads in shame and remorse. For they share, in diverse measure, the guilt for letting things drift into this shocking state of affairs that security forces should be so dehumanised as to run amuck committing such a crime. And is Bijbehara a solitary case of security forces transgressing into barbarity by the strength of the gun? All these four years, the government told the public that the militants provoked violence and the security forces had to bear the burnt of it. So much so that our government resorted to an ingenious argument that sought to put the security forces on a par with the aggrieved citizens in the matter of many violations of human rights in Kashmir. It’s time that the true state of affairs in Kashmir were brought out in the sun and let the nation judge for itself whether the Republic is reinforced or undermined with the way our government is dealing with the people of Kashmir.

Every democrat in this great democracy of ours has to stand by the people in Bijbehara at this moment of sorrow and despair. And our leaders from Kashmir, where are they, what are they doing? Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who became the Home Minister of India, is a native son of Bijbehara. Its lane and by-lanes, its street-corners and maidans have witnessed Mufti Sahib growing up in the politics of Kashmir. He could not possibly be sleeping in peace, tormented as he must be-at least, should be-by the trauma of his fellow-citizens at Bijbehara. Why don’t you go there, Mufti Sahib, at this hour of agony and bring strength to their spirits? And if you stand by them, you will add strength to your own arms and help this Republic of ours. This is the way the sinew of a nation’s morale is built, which no amount of politicking from a distance will do.

In our midst, in virtual exile of political isolation, there is Syed Mir Qasim, whose maturity and experience the Prime Minister could have harnessed with profit if he so desired. Isn’t it time for Qasim Sahib to go on his own to his native soil, facing all the hazards thereby? When people are in a state of emotional shock, they look upto their leaders to come and stand by them. Such a moment has come for all our Kashmir leaders. If they miss to respond in these testing times, they will become castaways of history. Forgetting petty squabbles and irritations, if they all join hands and put their heads together, there must come a way out of the tragic impasse into which this picturesque corner of our great subcontinent has been forced into. More than at any time in the past, the people of Kashmir today cry for the healing touch and that alone can bring back peace and harmony. And if we succeed in the Valley, it will bring back amity with our neighbour, Pakistan.

Guns on either side do not solve crises. What’s needed today is the courage to call for peace-the courage that made Gandhi into the Mahatma.

(Mainstream, October 30, 1993)

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