Tuesday, June 19, 2018
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Viral videos, anger, brutality and the ultra-nationalistic narrative on Kashmir
By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal
Circulation of videos of some Kashmiri youth heckling and physically manhandling CRPF personnel can evoke shock but serve no other purpose. Neither do they dilute the enormity of anger and frustration in the Valley, nor wish away the polling patterns, which dropped to an all time low of 2 percent on Thursday when some segments of Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary constituency went for re-polling. Last Sunday angry mobs in Kashmir stormed some polling booths on the voting day when the overall voting percentage was not more than 7 percent. The incidents were not entirely unexpected. Though expression of anger and frustration has never been as brazen as it was in Beerwah-Budgam last week, pockets of the area last year witnessed massive casualties and a reign of repression during the summer agitation following Burhan Wani's death. The chaotic scenes did not have a precedent but indeed had a reason - the unforeseen consequence of the huge psychological impact of history of abuse, particularly last year's violence and excessive use of pellet guns. The videos revealing the rioting by Kashmiri youth, even if authentic, can help build a propaganda but not be the prescription to a malaise that is too deep. The scenes shown should not only be seen as a simple law and order problem but there is need to contextualise this spiral of frustration in a land where anger and anguish is forbidden by shutting off every vent.

In a war of propaganda, every such video that shows civilians breaking law, there will be a dozen counter videos. This is exactly what happened. A day after the surfacing of the video of CRPF jawans being manhandled, several other videos were in wide circulation on the social media, revealing the brutal actions of the security forces - one of CRPF personnel opening point blank fire on a handful of young boys engaging them in pitched stone pelting battles and an even more horrifying one of a man tied to an Army vehicle as a human shield to face the stone pelting mobs. But a design to use Kashmir to whip up frenzy of ultra-nationalism, and not necessarily inspired by hypocrisy, allows the loyalist and co-opted media to focus singularly on the first video and further strengthen an anti-Kashmiri hysteria where Kashmir is simply seen as a land where soldiers are sacrificing their lives fighting an enemy that is unwittingly the local inhabitants. This hysteria helps to mobilise a public opinion across rest of the country about the legitimacy of State's oppression in Kashmir and this perfectly fits, rather propels, New Delhi's narrative on Kashmir ever since BJP government came to power.

This new narrative has shed the legacy of hypocrisies of the previous regimes and shies from even making any pretence about assuaging the humiliation and wounds of the Kashmiri public. The previous Congress government was seen as harsh on Kashmir with its ruthless handling of mass agitations and human rights situation. It either did not have a policy on Kashmir or its sole aim was to buy time and allow Kashmir to continue writhing in pain like a festering sore; but it made feeble attempts to engage with the Kashmiri population through economic and political interventions to scale down the anger every time it reached a new high. The BJP's policy is far more brazen. One can endlessly quote Narendra Modi parroting Vajpayee's historic slogan of "Insaaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat" to draw parallels but while Vajpayee matched his rhetoric with a peace initiative, even if half-hearted, Modi's actions are in complete discordance with his words. Doval doctrine which emphasizes on the prime agenda of crushing Kashmir has become the centre-piece of his government's policy on Kashmir, where the onus of "Insaaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat" has been totally imposed on the people and the state government, whose advice on Kashmir falls is ignored with a vengeance, has been weakened to the point of being reduced to a non-entity. The recent polling patterns further lend credence to the irrelevance of the mainstream leaders, forget the Hurriyat and other separatists that successive government at the Centre in the past have been labouring for years to weaken and push to the margins.

So jarring are the brutal tones of this policy that the government will stop at nothing. The Narendra Modi government began with its frugality and criminal neglect of the floods in Kashmir by limiting its rescue and relief work and also putting roadblocks in the work of NGOs and funding from outside the country. The brutal crackdown on the civilians in the summer of 2016 and the abnormally excessive use of pellet guns, followed by its complete denial to engage with the people to scale down the levels of humiliation, anger and frustration, demonstrates the essence of its policy with respect to Kashmir. Far from engaging with the discourse of doing away with the pellet guns that have blinded, maimed and killed people including children, this government now seeks to further strengthen the sweeping powers that security forces already enjoy by petitioning the supreme court to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and arm the security forces with completely unquestionable powers.

The ambition is to integrate Kashmir, not by wooing them but by physically and psychologically crushing them. There are no comas, no full stops. The untold horrors that may unfold as part of this policy in the near future are beyond anyone's imagination. The question to be asked is not just whether such a policy can be successful in submitting Kashmir's dissenting voices to silence by ways of choking them but also about whether this is morally, ethically and humanely acceptable. The question to be asked is also whether there is any pragmatism in clinging on to such a policy that is not only undemocratic and repressive but one that also conveniently and blindly ignores the global politics and geo-political situation which are also ultimately likely to shape the Kashmir discourse in ways that could be detrimental to Indian interests.

News Updated at : Sunday, April 16, 2017
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