No Lessons Learned from the Past?

Will New Delhi continue to resort to procrastination or has the past experience offered any hopes for a lasting solution to the Kashmir imbroglio?

Dr. Sadaf Munshi

A continuing cycle of seemingly endless killings by the security forces, public protests against human rights violations, unending shutdown calendars put in place by the separatist groups, and unjustifiably severe restrictions on people’s movement and communication imposed by the government in response – words fell short of describing the situation in Kashmir in summer 2010, which was no less than chaotic. It was the third consecutive year that Kashmir had erupted again – each time in response to a unique incident, leaving many critics dumbfounded. The situation deteriorated every passing day and the valley turned into a virtual prison where people were literally crippled indoors. While indefinite curfews were in place, killings and protests continued. The use of disproportionate force by the police and security forces to “control the protestors and unruly mobs” resulted in more and more deaths and further protests, with ordinary people being unnecessarily harassed, bashed and beaten.

Given the immediate consequences of the 2010 crisis and the immense psychological stress resulting from continued hadtals and clampdowns, the situation was almost on the brink of turning into a humanitarian crisis. The problem, however, was not merely a law-and-order situation resulting from human rights violations or growing unemployment among the youth, as the then government initially tried to project it, but a complex interaction of the political problem of Kashmir and the failure of the administration in addressing political issues in a timely manner. A total of at least 117 people were reported dead and several hundred injured in police firing in summer 2010. A majority of those killed were students and youth including at least two minors aged 8-9 years and a young girl in mid twenties.

Fast forward to July 2016, we find ourselves in an exactly similar, or perhaps worse, situation given the intensity of happenings of the past many days and the severity of the restrictions. As I write this piece, over 45 civilians are confirmed dead and hundreds injured, including many minors in a matter of ten days. No words of criticism shall suffice to condemn the atrocities by the police and armed forces nor the authoritarian and oppressive measures of the government where the common people have literally been subject to the worst kind of psychological torture one can imagine in the modern world. With complete information blackout and almost all modes of communication snapped for so many days on the pretext of “public safety”, the government yet again demonstrated its utter incapability in opening up any possibility of effectively addressing a political crisis. Beyond any doubt Kashmir feels like a prison where the entire population is at the mercy of different agencies attempting to outdo each other at their incompetence in dealing with the political problem. Calling the government response to the non-stop shutdown calls by the separatist elements “counter-productive” will be an understatement.

To any naïve spectator, it has been a senseless ideological contest between the administration on the one hand and the separatist agencies on the other as to who wins the game or who succumbs first. In total frustration at its failure to contain public anger and protests, the state government’s response has merely been reduced to countering the hartal calendars by curfews, thus keeping the entire population of the valley literally under arrest causing much frustration and inconvenience. By disabling private mobile and Internet services, the government has demonstrated an utter disrespect for people’s fundamental right to access information and to freedom of communication. This is in addition to the restrictions or excesses on press, print and local news media, which are the only alternative outlet under such circumstances. Such desperate actions on part of the government reflect its failure in safeguarding the democratic rights of the very population it claims to represent.

Recall in 2010 that a total of 71 days of government-imposed curfews were reported at one point against 65 days of hartals. Amidst continued killings, protests, hartals and government clampdowns, the situation had turned to a point where there was a complete breakdown of communication between the administration and the people of Kashmir. Owing to an absolute disregard for public opinion or expression and complete apathy to people’s sentiment and suffering, the government totally distanced itself from the masses then, and it is doing the same this time over. Amidst such circumstances, the ordinary people have suffered enormously. As a result of strict curfews and continuing shutdowns, people have had very limited access to basic amenities of life such as food and medicine, ailing people have been unable to seek medical help in time, hospitals are running out of staff and medication, educational institutions have been defunct, and daily-wagers, laborers and small business owners have been deprived of their fundamental right to make a living.

It has been 27 odd years that Kashmir has been burning. We have seen different phases of instability and different means of expression of public opinion, dissent, and dissatisfaction, which include the re-emergence of militancy, and this time, homegrown. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost over the years and half a million people displaced or emigrated; no need to comment on the psychological loss incurred on the people of Kashmir. It is high time that all the concerned parties shun their dirty politics and work for a lasting solution rather than avoiding it for eternity and passing the problem on to generations. In order to initiate the process and regain credibility, the government must take the first steps sooner than later – both short-term and long-term. For the short-term, it must immediately relieve the population out of the severe restrictions on movement and communication. And for the long-term it must take a number of bold confidence-building measures in practice rather than on paper, which include: performing fast-track, unbiased and fair investigations of a number of pending cases and excesses, removing the Army and CRPF from the civilian areas, removing or amending the draconian laws such as AFSPA which have resulted in gross human rights violations, and refraining from the use of mean political tactics aimed to evade responsibility.

Just saying that “Kashmir is an integral part of India” at the top of your voice on national television channels does not necessarily make it so; you must prove it in action by treating the people of Kashmir with empathy, dignity and respect. One of the most crucial measures that need to be taken by the government is an absolute stop on the use of brutal force on unarmed civilians, which have resulted in many fatal or life-changing injuries. The next important step is the initiation of a sustained dialogue with the people of Kashmir while simultaneously reaching out to the various sections of the population; any procrastination or misstep at this critical juncture will lead to further alienation of people of Kashmir from New Delhi, causing enormous damage to the measures that have been taken up in the past. Can this be done without further delay and without indulging in cheap digressions as seen on the national television channels? If not, the government of India cannot and should not expect any change of stand or sentiment on part of the people of Kashmir.

 

(This article was published in the daily Rising Kashmir, July 23, 1016. Available at:

http://www.risingkashmir.com/article/no-lessons-learned-from-the-past )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s