Truth is out there!

By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal. Dated: 4/20/2017 11:01:25 PM

No amount of denial, turning backs can save Kashmir

The fresh spurt of mass protests by students, some of which was violent and the brutal clampdown by security agencies in Kashmir, following the killing of a college student in Pulwama by police props up the question: Why does the Valley repeatedly erupt again and again?
The fresh trends manifest the abnormality of the situation. There are attempts to trivialize the gravity of the situation by drawing parallels and some odious comparisons. However, it is important to counter such over-simplification of attempts to locate some points of reference like earlier precedents of low polling or the women protesting to save the men in their families from being arrested in the 90s. That women's agency in Kashmir began from their domestic activism, inspired by the desire to protect their family members from security personnel during crackdowns and raids and that they stood like a wall between the security personnel and the youth is well documented by feminists and media. However, even in the peak days of militancy in the 90s, civilians did not grapple with the security forces engaged in encounters with militants as they have now begun to do, obstructing counter insurgency operations. Similarly, elections have been boycotted before and polling percentage was less than 5 percent in 1990 parliamentary polls but never before has an assertive statement been made by Kashmiri mobs as they did on April 9 by attacking polling booths.
New Delhi chooses to ignore the difference. This tendency does not necessarily stem from ignorance but a policy that the Centre religiously follows with respect to Kashmir, irrespective of which government is in power. The Valley in recent years has become a place, where normalcy has a different definition and the vicious cycle of violence punctuated by spells of calm is the normalised way of life. But, normalising an abnormality with a cosmetic coat of propaganda does not wish away the reality, nor help search for remedies and solutions.
The present BJP led and RSS backed government in New Delhi functions with far more belligerence with respect to Kashmir; the policy guided by both contempt for Kashmiri Muslims and the need to use the Kashmir discourse for vote bank politics elsewhere in the country. For the convenience of New Delhi, that has decided to follow the course of belligerent rhetoric and brutal actions in line with the Doval doctrine on Kashmir, the official narrative comprises of words like 'paid stone pelters' and 'radicalised youth' which help reap rich electoral harvest in rest of the country. They remain a mismatch from reality, even though some element of motivation by vested interests cannot be entirely denied.
During the 2016 Kashmir unrest, amidst an increasing spiral of anger and the unfolding of horrifying pellet gun injuries, the then Northern Army Commander, Lt General D.S. Hooda deflated this theory following army atrocities in which a college lecturer was thrashed to death in a village in South Kashmir. Hooda called such actions a mistake and also made a dispassionate appeal for calm, stating that "everybody needs to step back". Amidst the jarring tones of bellicose rhetoric by New Delhi, the remarks helped prevent further escalation of violence in the area that the incident had taken place. Compare this to the abject silence of government over the killing of Pulwama college student and unjustified entry of military vehicles in college campuses. Or, worse still, the legitimacy given by Advocate General Mukul Rohatgi to use of civilians as human shields, in response to a viral video showing a civilian tied to an army vehicle as it moved on streets dotted here and there by protesting crowds. Such responses are not only a cause for provocation. They also add a seal of permanence to the already absolute culture of impunity exercised through Armed Forces Special Powers Act, denial, political patronage and well oiled propaganda machinery.
This impunity in the face of India's poor human rights track record in Kashmir has been central to the deepening sense of humiliation, injury, alienation, anger and frustration. Coupled with the unaddressed political question of Kashmir as well as the tendency by the Centre to weaken local governments and keep their wings clipped, this dark narrative of human rights further accentuates the Kashmir conflict. Years of a neglected conflict, excessive militarization and an unending graph of human rights violations have made Kashmir a reservoir of immense pent up anger which has begun to burst like a volcano since 2008.
The years between the militancy of 90s and the phase that began in 2008 are crucial to understand the shift. Finding themselves sandwiched between the gun of the militant and the security forces, the disenchantment with the gun was well recognized by 2000. In 2002, when the peace process began during Atal Behari Vajpayee's rule, Kashmiris, by and large, reposed faith in dialogue and sought inclusion in the negotiations between India and Pakistan. However, barring occasional photo opportunity meetings with select separatists, some confidence building measures primarily with the Line of Control or divided families, a dash of relief in the shape of shifting of some bunkers or minimizing of random raids and crackdowns as well as a bit of back channel diplomacy, there were no serious indications of engaging with Kashmiris or even addressing the human rights question. The peace years went hand in hand with atrocities of men in uniform and the unchallengeable pattern of impunity, making people restless.
Mass protests first erupted in 2008 over Amarnath land transfer to Sri Amarnath Shrine Board. What began as peaceful assemblies gradually transformed into violent protests following the brutal handling of the civilian marches on streets. Ever since, Kashmir has seen a journey of violent protests that are becoming more lethal by the day. Kashmiris prefer to call it resistance movement rather than protests. The torch bearers of this resistance are youngsters of a generation that was born in conflict, grew up in an excessively suffocating militarized atmosphere and has thus lost its sense of fear. They are ready to grapple with men in uniform with bare hands or a stone. This loss of sense of fear, in direct proportion to the violent trajectory of protests, is hastening the descent into deeper chaos, which is not being suitably handled.
The way forward lies in dispassionately engaging with the situation and fathoming the genesis of this anger. Clearly, Kashmir situation cannot simply be dealt with military might and jack-boots, while obliterating all differences between armed militants and civilian protestors. It needs a process of healing to begin with. It needs not the rigid posturing of the Centre but its benign and benevolent face. It needs efforts to listen to the disgruntled, alienated and angry voices and reach out with confidence building measures that can pave way for dialogue and negotiations on Kashmir.
(A shorter version of this article appeared in National Herald on April 18, 2017)



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