September Issue 2010

By | News & Politics | Published 14 years ago

Once eulogised as a paradise, Kashmir today is a much dreaded place where there never are any full stops to violence. Twenty years ago, it was the gun that symbolised ‘liberation’ in Indian-administered Kashmir. Today’s desperate youth is rebelling with slogans and stones, many finding parallels with trends in the Gaza strip. The Indian policies in these two decades, however, haven’t changed. A massive troops build-up comprising the army, Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRFP) and other security agencies including state police was how the government responded when the youth picked up the gun and crossed the border to take up arms training. Two decades on, the Indian government has sent in 3,000 fresh troops in addition to the existing seven lakhs in response to the stone-pelting mobs. For years, these security agencies pursued the bullet-for-bullet policy. It is bullet for stone now. Everything is justified and legitimised in the name of self-defence or demonising stone-pelting youth, even children, as paid Lashkar-e-Toiba agents.

Starting from June 11, 64 people have been killed — mostly teenagers and children, — the youngest an eight-year-old boy, allegedly tortured and killed. Many of them were not even part of the stone-pelting mobs. Tufail Mattoo, who was killed by a tear gas shell on June 11, was returning home from tuitions. Javed Malla, who died a week later, was attending the funeral of his cousin. Starting from Mattoo’s death, it has been like a chain reaction — more suppression, more brutality matched with more protests, and more rage on the other side. The prescribed methodologies of crowd control apparently do not exist in Kashmir. Those protesting peacefully are lathi-charged. Those engaging in stone pelting are met with not just lathi-charge but targeted tear gas shelling and firing. All those killed had injuries on the head or upper parts of the body. Hundreds of others, too, have similar injuries and many of them are still recuperating in various hospitals.

On June 29, a nine-year-old child, said to have been looking for his mentally challenged brother walking amidst the crowd of peaceful marchers to Sopore, was among the two people gunned down in firing by CRPF and police; it flared up a fury that gradually spread to other parts of Kashmir. The statements of the Indian home minister and the union home secretary on the same day, that the protestors were paid agents of the Lashkar, added fuel to the fire. All attempts to crush the rebellion have only helped in making it more fiery, mobilising more people on the roads, including women who are conspicuously present both in trying to shield the young boys during crackdowns and also engaging security forces and the Jammu and Kashmir police in street battles.

Apparently, those sitting at the helm of affairs in New Delhi, or the puppet regime in Srinagar, are unable to grapple with the reality that repressive measures are only strengthening the rebellion — a continuum of shutdowns, protests and stone-pelting, where defiant youth are no longer scared of being injured or killed. The government is not simply stopping at exercising tyranny through its security agencies, it is vehemently denying justice by even refusing to register any case against the uniformed culprits. A month ago, criminal charges were slapped against four doctors because they participated in a peaceful protest against human rights abuse. Similarly, three government employees have been booked for ‘waging war against the state’ and the state government makes no bones about intimidating them and warning them against joining protests against the killings. As recent as August 26, the chairman of the J&K Bank, Haseeb Drabu, was forced to resign because he kept the bank offices and branches open on a Sunday to coincide with a rare no-hartal day. Instead of reaching out to the people and meeting their basic day-to-day needs, the government has taken recourse to collectively punishing them by ensuring denial of bank facilities on the days that they can move out. The ATM machines have, in many areas, been specifically designed not to exceed the cash limit of Rs 1,000.

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Tyranny comes in various forms. Kashmir today has become a whirlpool of violence and repression, characterised by stone pelting, strikes, undeclared or declared curfews and brutal killings. Everybody gets sucked in, impacted physically and psychologically because the whirlpool of violence refuses to die. Matching the sadness of this scenario is the unprecedented resilience of the people and their undeterred struggle in which youth play the major role, whether it is in street battles or in shaping the intellectual discourse. The separatist leadership, including the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, only play second fiddle, following the course rather than being followed. Interestingly, his protest calendars are followed, showing a kind of peaceful co-existence and mutual respect between the youth, who move on leaderless, and the separatist leaders. Geelani’s call for giving up stone pelting for a more peaceful form of protest received a mixed response across the Valley. His politics today is not something that is worshipped without being questioned. When Geelani gave a call for celebrating Pakistan’s independence on August 14 and observing a Black day on India’s independence day, as has been the norm for years, the youth questioned the move. This new generation of stone-pelting freedom fighters, who have not only grown in a stifling atmosphere caught between cross-firing and human rights violations but also been a witness to the mind games of New Delhi and Islamabad, is as disenchanted by Pakistan as it is by India.

This generation of youth and teenagers do not only voice their resentment in the pitched street battles against Indian security agencies, but they also manage to hoodwink the huge security apparatus and put up banners or paint graffiti on the walls and roads: ‘Go back, India, Go back.’ They also express themselves intellectually, through articles and write-ups in newspapers, blogs and on social networking sites — Facebook being a favourite — hundreds of discussions on the boards, special Kashmir pages and personal walls of the people simultaneously going on for the last over two months. Many of them carry a banner of ‘I protest’ or find a creative way to express their resistance against tyranny in their profile pictures. Some of them express their anger and solidarity with the victims with words like, “me and my colleagues have decided to not celebrate this Eid as protest against the Muslim world’s criminal silence on the genocide of Kashmir.” on their status while others give regular updates like, “Heavy protests reported from kunzar tangmarg yesterday. The army resorted to firing and intense tear gas shelling, arrested dozens of revolutionaries and barged into homes and tortured the inmates. People indoors cant move out bcoz of fear of arms.”

Though sometimes the protesting youth on Facebook go overboard with abusive, hate-soaked rhetoric, most discussions are tame, revealing the insight of the Kashmiri youth, their political awareness and their informed opinion without much prejudice and bias. But Facebookers too haven’t been spared. Several of them have been detained and booked under the draconian Public Safety Act for giving vent to their feelings on Facebook or speaking against the might of the state and central governments. One among them is the Mirwaiz of the south, Qazi Rashid.

The anger is spontaneous but not a sudden bolt from the blue. It was consistently building up for some time, flaring up like a volcano for the first time in many years in 2008 when the Amarnath land row erupted, and despite the well participated assembly elections that followed, occasional protests became a norm, once in a while snowballing into major flare-ups like the Bomai killings on February 21, 2009, when two young boys were killed by army men in unprovoked firing. They reached a crescendo when two girls, allegedly raped and killed, were found dead in the ankle deep waters of Rambiara Nullah in Shopian and were further fuelled by botched-up investigations, including the CBI cover-up. The 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 the Shopian people’s campaign for justice was characterised by an unprecedented peaceful, apolitical and sustained campaign. Peaceful campaigns and protests have never been respected like in the case of the murder of human rights defender Jaleel Andrabi or the more organised struggle of the Association of the Persons Disappeared (in custody). The government response has never been suitable enough. Added to this is the baggage of history packed with unheeded political aspirations of the people. The basic Kashmir dispute lies at the bedrock of every problem, new or old.

The only way to cool down tempers is by first doing away with the 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 at least sound credible about moving forward. Next, it must set up a credible institution or commission for justice. People have no faith in routine official enquiries. The process of thinning down troops must begin. Laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act have to be dispensed with. Democratic rights must be restored and people should have the right to protest peacefully. This process must begin before the government starts a serious dialogue process with Kashmiri representatives. It has to be a transparent, credible and sustained process, not an eye wash of quiet diplomacies and track twos.

This article originally appeared in the September issue of Newsline as “The New Kids on the Block.”