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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 34 August 13, 2016 [Independence Day Special 2016]

Wages of Deceit and Brute Force

Monday 15 August 2016, by Humra Quraishi


I do realise that for the last four weeks I have been focusing on the Kashmir Valley—a region I have been covering and reporting from for over twentyfive years, a region and its people I bond with.

It gets emotionally traumatic for me to see the Kashmiris going through the toughest possible phase. Unabated violence and havoc. Uncertainty-riddled conditions affecting each segment. Stress looms large and the scale of violence hits; trapped sit the inhabitants in a war-like zone. Yes, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that this conflict zone has got upgraded to a war zone! And as the former Director General of the J&K Tourism, Mohammad Ashraf, states, this uprising is not a revolt but a revolution! For the first time even the well-to-do Kashmiris are openly revolting against the State. You have Ministers’ spouses defying set norms, going public with their criticism of the establishment. You have Ministers getting targeted by angry mobs; reports of petrol bombs thrown at J&K‘s Education Minister Naeem Akhtar’s Srinagar home. You have a former Chief Minister of the State saying in the midst of a television interview that the anger against the State has exceeded to such an extent that even those injured in these recent clashes are not sitting back but in that mood to take on the security forces! You have the militants’ fathers expressing little grief over their sons killings, saying they have ‘sacrificed’ their sons for a cause.

And in the midst of this revolt or revolution or uprising, where are the political rulers of the State? There have been reports of infighting within the political set-up; after all, human devastation could be hitting the very conscience of many a political puppet. The PDP’s alliance with the BJP has more than compounded the mess, which gets messier as the PDP seems at a loss, caught as it is between the Right-wing fascist dictates and the hapless masses of the Kashmir Valley.

After much dilly-dallying Mehbooba Mufti had opted for this alliance, for the so-called ‘development’, for the so-called announcement of packages in well-crafted speeches, for the so- called ‘Modi’fication of the Valley!

Nil traces of development. Only grim realities of human devastation. It’s absolutely pathetic and emotionally traumatic to see angry children out there on the streets of the Kashmir Valley. Instead of stones in their hands they ought to be sitting with pens and pencils in classrooms. This same Kashmir Valley that had once upon-a-time produced the largest number of poets and mystics. Today it is crumbling... over-burdened with grief and sorrow and anger. We have pushed the Kashmiris to the wall. We have failed them. We have driven them to this level of alienation. Tell me, why will a child pick up a stone to hit? No, no child will ever take to this level of violence unless there’s a dead end out there!

Hear the cry of the Kashmiri. And if the political rulers haven’t turned stone deaf and if there is even an iota of sense prevailing, then every possible effort should start off to reach out to these children before the growing anger gets harsher and fiercer. Introspect and intros-pect hard—what have we given the Kashmiris? Nothing very much save curfews and crack-downs, together with fake encounters and faker promises.

The prevailing conditions in the Valley will not change till the political rulers do not accept that that the Kashmiri masses are more than angry. Burhan Wani’s killing was enough for the simmering anger to erupt on the streets and lanes and by-lanes of the Valley. And no amount of speeches or announcements of packages will help contain this growing anger which is spreading out in the Valley. Even in localities where the curfew has been lifted, the locals are extremely wary. ”You never know when the curfew could be re-imposed and with that the security forces start pumping bullets or pullets. Ruined we are... ruined lies our land with these clampdowns and war-like situation. For days none of us have had the courage to step out. Constant tension... Landlocked we sit as politicians are flying from all over, but here even birds can’t fly.”

Poor governance together with deceitful promises together with brute force has pushed the Kashmiris to the wall. Have we bothered to know how does the daily wager and his children survive in the Kashmir Valley when curfews and crackdowns continue unabated? How does a child’s psyche take on the load of this violence and counter-violence? Why are politicians of all hues playing games, ruining the lives of an entire generation? Why are children getting used and abused in this crisis? What has upset the Kashmiri to such an extent that cries for azaadi are peaking? Why is the hatred for the security forces getting compounded by the day? Why are the Kashmiris out to lynch the politicians and scream at those so-called experts?

It gets difficult to watch any of those tele-vision discussions where the so-called ‘experts’ dwell on bullets and pellets to ‘settle’ this crisis. Why can’t these experts walk around the Valley and see the prevailing ground realities, see for themselves that the Kashmiris can no longer contain the rounds of humiliation and deceit.

Looking back, I can say that I could see traces of the deteriorating conditions right from the early 1990s but couldn’t have ever imagined that now, in 2016, it would peak to this level, where even young children (four or five year olds) could be battling for survival, with impaired vision and life-long disabilities.

In fact, the severity of eye/retina damaged cases of the pellet-hit victims can be best described in the words of Chairman-cum-Managing Director of the Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital, Mumbai, Dr S. Natarajan, who had been flown to Srinagar by an NGO, Borderless World Foundation, to conduct these emergency surgeries at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital— “At least 190 pellet-hit youth had been admitted to the Eye Department of SMHS Hospital ...140 of them need surgeries. This is very rare. I have never witnessed such a situation in my life where you have to operate 140 patients in a small time-frame. Injuries do happen but this is an emergency situation.” In fact, similar views were expressed by ophthal-mologists from AIIMS (New Delhi) who had been also flown in to conduct surgeries on the pellet-hit patients in Srinagar. These specialists had been quoted saying that such grievous eye injuries were seen only during wars!

Has even one security or government representative been charged with war crimes inflicted on young children of the Kashmir Valley? Mind you, a majority of the pellet-hit children were either sitting in and around their homes and were not part of any of the rallies or processions.

In fact, this brings me to write that rallies are permitted in any democratic set-up but what is not permitted is to shoot to kill or to blind or rupture the protestors—a majority of the protestors young and naïve, unarmed and clueless what the future holds out. They couldn’t have ever imagined that the State would blind or disable them for life!

Why should the hapless Kashmiris be caught between political games of the various outfits and of their networks at work? Why should this generation of the Kashmiris be ruined because of political treachery of the political rulers? Why should an entire stretch of land be subjected to horrors of the worst kind? Why should appre-hension and worry compound that this stretch of land—the Kashmir Valley—could be used for expansionist plans of the vested powers and their allies?

Isn’t it time we sit and ask the Kashmiri what does he or she want? There ought to be a dialogue with the Kashmiris. In fact, when I had interviewed Noam Chomsky in the autumn of 2001 and asked him what could be ‘an answer’ to the Kashmir problem, he had told me— “Yes. There could be a solution to the Kashmir crisis. Two principles are to be involved—the voice of the Kashmir people is to be heard and also the UN’s call for referendum.”

Deterioration has been On ...Ongoing 

One has to walk down the lanes and streets of Srinagar and witness the sorrow that’s been spreading out. Imprints of pain and decay. In fact, around the autumn of 2005 I’d met a young Kashmiri researcher, Aroosa Dijoo, in the office of a Srinagar-based activist, and she’d best summed up the then prevailing situation in the Valley—”What you see around is like a woman with make-up on, when its removed the reality stares!” She had detailed her own experiences, “as part of my research work when I was visiting rural homes at Qazigund, I was questioned by the security forces; all sorts of questions thrown at me—what I was talking and to whom? Does the establishment realise the harassment we go through day after day!”

When I had travelled to Srinagar in August 2006 to attend a conference on ‘Indian Federalism at work‘, organised by the Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), there were more than murmurs that that ISS could manage to hold this meet against odds; they were told (in more than subtle ways) by the then establishment that it would be advisable that they hold this meet in Jammu and not in Srinagar! Why? Perhaps, to keep the delegates far away from the stark ground realities prevailing in Srinagar! And as we had walked around the city a majority of Kashmiris had detailed the blatant human rights violations. And on January 16, 2007 the Academy of Third World Studies (Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi) had organised a daylong seminar on the ground realities and political options vis-a-vis Kashmir. Speakers had included Ved Bhasin, Ajit Bhattacharjea, Siddiq Wahid, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Gautam Navlakha, Uma Chakravarty, Nandita Haksar, Badri Raina, Justice Gauhar and several others... These speakers had spoken out. Veteran journalist Ved Bhasin had said that there persisted an atmosphere of distrust and fear and suspicion— “Human rights abuses have been going up in the Valley. All kinds of abuses are taking place, young boys being taken away by RR men. And as long as the Draconian laws are there, there will be a sense of insecurity ...no dialogue can take place in this climate of distrust and fear. So how can one even think of normalcy returning!”

Activist Gautam Navlakha had said: “Demo-cracy operating in the Valley is a myth. Why such a huge force if you say that the numbers of militants has gone down! Heavy deployment is there to subdue the local population... Kash-miris have offered a great resistance at a great cost to them. Indian intelligentsia has to face these hard facts and not fudge them.”

Nandita Haksar had said— “When I feel very isolated, I can’t even visualise what the Kashmiris feel. This forced union between the rest of India and Kashmir is like a decayed marriage. Why is that so! Today I feel at home visiting jails and not in drawing rooms ...realities are there but nobody wants to talk about them—why don’t we want to talk about realities?” In fact, in her book Framing Geelani, Hanging Afzal—Patriotism In The Time of Terror she focused on some of these realities—”the horrifying world Kashmiris inhabit: the terri-fying reality of illegal arrests, dark damp prison cells and the barbarity of the torture and the pain of a child waiting for his father to be hanged...”

And in 2007, veteran journalist Ajit Bhatta-charjea expressed his anguish at the deterio-rating situation in his write-up published in The Kashmir Times on May 9, 2007 (it had been earlier published in The Outlook magazine) which summed up the scenario in the Kashmir Valley in the summer of 2007. I quote from it—

“Tulips and tourists are not enough. Kashmir still looks and feels ‘occupied’... homegrown teenaged militants who come from families which have suffered repression, continue resistance to what they see as Indian occupation. For them, as for most Kashmiris, the sight of security forces, especially from the army, is a source of alienation. The army’s reluctance to reduce their battalions despite waning militancy is seen as fuelled by the benefits of a posting here. Reports of innocents being killed in encounters staged by the army and police lend credence to this view. Officers are known to get rewards and promotions in return for the ‘kills‘ they claim. The army’s presence in areas lacking militant justification—buildings, apple orchards, grazing grounds and forested areas (some since deforested)—feeds the impression. Since the downfall of Sheikh Abdullah, who had contested the Muslim communal forces, moves to satisfy Kashmir’s claims to a special status have been squelched by the Hindu communalist forces. Today, the Manmohan Singh Government moves in fits and starts; its pace fettered by fears of BJP gains.... New Delhi needs to return to Pandit Nehru’s speech of August 7, 1952, to regain Kashmiri confidence. He told the Lok Sabha: ‘We do not wish to win people against their will, with the help of armed forces; and if the people of Kashmir wish to part company with us, they may go their way and we shall go ours. We want no forced marriages, no forced unions.’”

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