Kashmir Imbroglio: What Next?

A government that defies public opinion and distances away from the masses is no less than an alien, an oppressor.

The government of Jammu & Kashmir, with the backing from the Center, has sown fresh seeds of hatred in the Kashmir valley; it does not take more than a little bit of common sense to realize that these will only grow and work contrary to the political aspirations of the country in this trouble-torn region. For the last three and a half weeks, the entire Kashmir valley has been literally throttled, initially by the non-stop shutdown calls of the separatists, which are seemingly running a parallel government in the valley, and lately by the stringent curbs and curfews imposed by the state administration. Despite the role of more than one party, a major responsibility for the present mayhem lies with the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who has proven absolutely incapable and utterly irresponsible and even apathetic in dealing with the situation from the very outset. There is no doubt that Abdullah’s ill-handling of the situation is solely responsible for creating a whirlpool of violence which contributed towards the further deterioration of an already volatile situation.

The prevailing situation in Kashmir is no less than a battle between the state and its subjects where public opinion is offered no place altogether. Instead of trying to reach out to the people and console the victims and their families, the state government has employed all possible means to further alienate the public. Voices of dissent are being suppressed by use of disproportionate force and imposition of curfews and curbs. During the past several weeks, ordinary people have been unnecessarily harassed on the roads, insulted and inhumanely bashed and beaten, windows of houses randomly broken, television and telephone cables disconnected at places, even the journalists and other media personnel were not spared. All this done by none other than the men in uniform – the J & K Police and the CRPF, and this to vent out their own anger and frustrations at being unable to control an angry public. After the killing of sixteen youth in a series of various incidents, most of them innocent passers-by – one after another, by the ill-behaved and perhaps non-compliant Police Forces during public protests over previous killings or violations of human rights, albeit accompanied by use of stones (indeed an act of “violence” though not as “lethal” as bullets), the J & K State Government, instead of removing the irritants and trying to address the problem with caution, opted for another ill-conceived act of bringing in the Army, interestingly to act as “deterrents” as the Home Minister and others put it. It is totally beyond one’s comprehension to understand Army’s role at the moment other than in imposing curfew in the valley.

As the Army is performing “flag marches” on the deserted streets of the Kashmir valley, an entire population has been held hostage, imprisoned and suffocated in their own houses for days on without access to the basic amenities of life; ailing people are unable to seek medical help, children cannot go to schools, daily-wagers and small businessmen cannot work to make a living, and tourists have obviously fled away, thus, giving a big jolt to the state’s tourism industry (One wonders why the situation in Kashmir has been absolutely turbulent only during the tourist season over the past few years). It is important to note that stringent curbs have been implemented even on the media including local TV channels and newspapers. The kind of government response in trying to “control the situation” and “bringing back normalcy”, as we have seen, amounts to an act of state oppression, which is absolutely reprehensible and totally unacceptable. It is also counterproductive to the so-called “Kashmir peace process” as it has merely contributed to aggravating the public wrath and emboldening the separatist sentiment, besides the government losing face in front of the people.

It does not take a genius to understand that the current situation is the result of a complete breakdown of communication between the administration and the people of Kashmir. The state administration’s reluctance and/or its incapability to address certain genuine demands on part of the people, such as those related to continued and countless human rights violations, misuse of power, lack of accountability in many a pending cases, so on and so forth, have provided a justification for use of such means as stone-pelting as a way of expressing their anger and frustration against the government. Before things went out of control, the administration ought to have given it a thought as to if the youth of Kashmir had chosen to take to the streets risking their own lives, they must have a reason which must be analyzed and understood by social and political experts; use of force, killing and pushing them against the wall was in no way going to help. If it is true that there is a hand behind instigating these (or some of these) youth to stone-pelting or that some miscreants are working to foment trouble, it is the state government’s responsibility to identify the culprits and bring them to justice. Instead of doing that, the state chose to declare a war against the citizen and brought the entire Kashmir valley under siege resulting in a complete deadlock where even the administration itself has no clue whatsoever as to what will happen when the curfew is lifted; other than a few token statements now and then and holding of meetings and addresses, it does not seem to have a well-thought of plan to tackle the situation at hand.

It has been 21 odd years that Kashmir has been burning; we have seen different phases of instability in Kashmir and different means of expression of public opinion, dissent, dissatisfaction. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost in this exercise and half a million people displaced or emigrated; no need to comment on the psychological loss that has been incurred on the people of Kashmir. It is high time we understand the seriousness of the matter and work for a long-lasting solution rather than avoiding it for eternity and passing the problem on to generations. Of course, this needs to be an all-inclusive approach working at various levels including political parties as well as separatist leadership, where the civil society must play the lead role and act as a liaison in bringing together the various concerned. The attempt has to be strong, unconditional and sincere on part of all concerned leaving aside personal ideological conflicts and abstaining from blame games. In order to initiate the process and regain a little bit of credibility, the state government needs to take the first step in the form of some bold confidence-building measures, which, obviously, include: speeding up and performing unbiased and fair investigations of various pending cases, sending the Army and CRPF back to where they belong, removing or amending the draconian laws which have resulted in gross human rights violations, and refraining from the use of mean political tactics aimed to evade responsibility. And all this cannot be done without assistance from the Center. Can this be promised at such a critical moment? If not, the current J & K administration has no moral right to continue in office nor must the Government of India expect any change of stand or sentiment on part of the people of Kashmir.

© Sadaf Munshi. July 8, 2010.
(Note: this article was published in the July 20, 2010 issue of the daily Kashmir Times.)

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