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Mainstream, VOL LV No 29 New Delhi July 8, 2017

Lynching Mobs, Repressive Regime and Glamorisation of War!

Tuesday 11 July 2017


by Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal

A society made habitual of violence, intimi-dations, suspicions—where killings, torture, sexual abuse and pellet-gun related blindings are the norm—is so brutalised that it will try to respond with its own idiom of brutality. Humanity today, sadly so, stands throttled in Kashmir and there is need to reflect and introspect, if this trend is to be reversed or even arrested.

No ifs and buts; and no denials. The lynching of Deputy Superintendent of Police Mohammad Ayoub Pandith, outside Jamia Masjid in the Nowhatta locality during congregational prayers at the mosque, on the occasion of Shab-e-Qadr and Juma-tul-Vida in the wee hours of Friday (June 23), is a despicable, deplorable and a disgraceful act and reflection of the depraved mindset of the perpetrators. It is immaterial whether the cop was looking suspicious, fired in the air injuring three people or was taking photographs of people coming out of the mosque (as is being alleged by the apologists of the frenzied mob who reportedly stoned Pandith to death, before stripping him). The allegations, even if true, pale in comparison to the barbarity and bestiality of the killing. While such incidents cannot be justified, one should not lose sight of the context in which they take place.

The immediate questions pertaining to the horrifying incident—which leaves behind a scar on Kashmir’s ethos of peace, harmony and brotherhood and its legendary fame of being a place where no murders take place—of the circumstances that led to the lynching, even though they cannot be invoked to justify the brutal death, remain valid. This barbarity finds a resonance in the tale of the 14-year-old militant charred to death in an encounter the preceding evening. Who handed this teenager, who should be in school and pampered by his mother, a gun? What bravado could be celebrated in burning alive this boy, who probably did not even know how to press a trigger, instead of catching him alive?

Of course, there is a larger context to these recent incidents. There is need to understand why the Kashmiri youth, even teenagers, have reached this level of desperation and frustration as to be ready to get killed and kill others, even lynch people with their bare hands. The long-pending dispute, denial of democratic rights, other than the right to vote without the guarantee of fair elections, for decades, militarisation of the civilian space and excessive human rights abuse have been potential ingredients that have churned up this recipe of anger and frustration that is continuously on the boil. The abnormally high militarisation and gross violation of human rights was a response to militancy that came in the 1990s but militancy itself raised its head as a reaction to the denial of rights and unfulfilled promises. Crushed brutally and caught between the machinations of the deep states of India and Pakistan, what began as a romanticised rebellion metamorphosed into a fragmented and corrupted phenomenon with its ugly impact percolating down to the societal level. Disenchanted by the gun culture, people of Kashmir reposed faith in the peace process in the beginning of the 21st century and craved for a space on the dialogue table, which, despite promises, never came.

The trail of abuse, even in the face of decreased militancy, and the increasing ferocity of military suppression, targeting even peaceful assemblies gradually led to the phase of stone-pelting mobs. The repressive face of the military ever since has only been on the rise. Coupled with the already spiralling frustration, the Indian political and social landscape—influenced increasingly by Hindutva and the dangerous trucks that the PDP made with the Hindutva ideologues in 2015 as well as the rigidity and increasingly suppressive measures under jack-boots, bullets and pellets—provided the last spark blending the existing anger and frustration with a seasoning of hatred and desperation.

Ideally, the State should respond politically rather than abdicating its responsibility and simply handing over the delicate situation for just the military, security agencies and police to handle ruthlessly. But it is not. It is unlikely that a Hindutva party in power, that renders the local government even more paralysed and powerless than it ever was, will try to resolve the Kashmir conflict. Its historic contempt for Kashmiris and its ability to use the Kashmir case—through its rigid posturing, its glamorisation of jingoism, war and violence, its demonisation of Kashmiris through statements and the shrill sounding loyalist media—for electoral gains elsewhere in the country. Given the present geo-political situation and the altering idea of India, this status quo is unlikely to change in the near future. Those who are expected to be more responsible sadly are those who favour and work towards a chaotic and violent Kashmir.

Indeed, the platforms of free expression have shrunk and have been met with brutality. The younger generation finds itself pushed to the alley. Young boys, even girls, picking up stones to vent their anger or ready to pick up guns, especially when ammunition and money is in poor flow, evidently are no match for a mighty state with its huge paraphernalia of security apparatus. Heights of desperation and a hurt pride, despite this knowledge, brings them on the streets to commit what may well be called collective honour suicides. The younger generation, that has grown up in a suffocating and repressive atmosphere, is naturally reacting to the conditions it finds itself in. But should the elders of the society not think more rationally and restrain themselves from glamorising the cult of violence as the sole means of opposing this oppression, which in turn is becoming oppressive itself? Kashmir has gone down this road before in the 1990s and has ended up with colossal loss of multiplication of brutality and societal decay. It can ill-afford to again at a time when the desperation and frustration have deepened much more.

The stupidest thing to do, when powers that be are hell-bent on provoking the Kashmiris for their petty political gains, would be to play into their hands and get provoked, which is what is essentially happening right now. The Kashmir situation today is extraordinarily complex and difficult and necessitates an extraordinary response of the Kashmiri society across the board. It calls for a realistic assessment and analysis and a mature, pragmatic response. Collective efforts of the society in minimising, if not completely containing, the throttling of humanity and societal decay, are much needed. This requires some out-of-the-box thinking at the political and social levels. Political groups, whether mainstream or separatist, need to maintain a moratorium on the usual political gimmickry of blame-game and reach some common minimum understanding on the present cult of violence.

Glamorisation of violence by government functionaries, at least at the local level, and police on one side and Hurriyat leaders and Facebook warriors sitting distantly and comfortably with their well-settled children but constantly romanti-cising the suicidal and destructive path which some youth and teenagers are embarking on out of sheer desperation and helplessness, on the other side, must stop. Liberal voices within Kashmir must try and reclaim their space by speaking out and supporting efforts of young groups trying to make small or big interventions creatively through writing, art, community conversations and relief work. These interventions and the rich pool of talent that Kashmir’s young today offer needs to be celebrated and strengthened rather than allow it to get buried under the debris of images of stone-pelting youth and militants, which is only one of the many narratives of Kashmir. Kashmiri teenagers do not need weapons like stone and guns to carry on resistance; they need knowledge, books, education and ideas to chalk out a new resistance—create a vision of the future and give meaning to slogans like azadi or whatever else they believe in. They are already one of the most politically conscious and aware youngsters in the world. They just need support, words of encouragement and honing of their talents.

Collective efforts are required for carving out a new narrative by channelising the youthful energy, infused and incensed by anger, towards creative forms of resistance, even though the available platforms for such means of resistance have shrunk. Such imaginative forms of resis-tance unnerve New Delhi more than the gun- wielding or stone-pelting youth which are convenient excuses for the state to unleash its wave of repression. This indeed is a tall order but the only way in which resistance can be strengthened, instead of allowing it to weaken through the sheer weight of its vision bereft of the cycle of violence and brutality.

Will such steps, if possible, help resolve the conflict? Perhaps, not in the present, or even the very near future! However, it will allow the society to hold on strongly to its social values and political beliefs till New Delhi eventually wakes up, which it eventually will have to.

(Courtesy: Kashmir Times)

The author edits the Kashmir Times and is co-chairperson of the India Chapter of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy.

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