Kashmir unrest

India using an iron fist in Kashmir

Why are Kashmiris doing this? Let us all walk the path of wellbeing! This was the statement of an old friend of mine from the Indian mainland in response to the prevailing political crisis in Kashmir. I looked at her in silence and hopelessness. It was August 15th and I was in New Delhi, on my way back to my adopted home, the United States of America, after a month-long harrowing experience in Kashmir. I had left during the wee hours of the 14th morning in an attempt to avoid any “untoward incident” on my way to the airport in Srinagar.

Today is August 22nd. After over 44 days of senseless killings, there seems to be no let up in the political crisis. While the two South Asian nuclear powers India and Pakistan mince no words in flexing their muscles and bellowing at each other claiming their rights on the fated land, over 66 civilians are killed and thousands injured in different parts of the Kashmir valley since July 8, 2016. Scores of youth and many minors have received dangerous injuries from pellets impairing their vision. While any violent protests by public cannot be condoned, no words of criticism suffice to condemn the excesses by the police and armed forces. Amidst the authoritarian and vindictive measures of the government and the police forces, common people have literally been subject to the worst kind of psychological torture one can imagine in the modern world. 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 situation. Calling the administration’s response to the non-stop shutdown calendars of the separatists “counter-productive” and “insensitive” is an understatement.

In total frustration at its failure to address public anger against the many killings the government’s response to the situation has been reduced to countering the senseless hartals by stringent curfews and restrictions. By disabling private mobile/Internet services, and more recently extending the curfews to nighttime, the government has demonstrated an utter disregard for people’s fundamental right to access information and to their freedom of movement and communication. Such desperate actions only reflect the government’s failure in safeguarding the basic human rights of people and ought to be condemned in the strongest terms.

But this isn’t the first time that this happened. A continuing cycle of killings amidst enormous protests against human rights violations, unending shutdowns, and unjustifiably severe restrictions – words fell short of describing summer 2010. It was the third consecutive year that Kashmir had erupted – each time in response to a unique incident, and I was to witness each of these uprisings firsthand. The situation deteriorated every passing day turning the valley into a virtual prison for three months. The use of brutal force by the police and the security men to control angry protestors and stone-pelting youth resulted in many deaths, with ordinary citizens being unnecessarily harassed and beaten, and public properties destroyed. At least 117 people were killed and several hundred injured in police firing. A majority of those killed were students, including two minors.

Given the immense psychological stress resulting from stringent clampdowns, the situation is again on the brink of turning into a humanitarian crisis the political consequences of which could be far more devastating than the previous years. Rise of homegrown militancy and increasing public sympathy for slain militants is only one such consequence. Continued and unchecked abuse of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is one of the primary factors contributing to the further alienation and radicalization of youth. Any attempt to justifying its use at the pretext of the “worsening situation” is naïve, if not dishonest, and utterly disturbing. And far more disturbing is the criminal silence of the country’s Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi who has offered few words of sympathy for the families of the victims in the current spate of violence and unrest. Under such circumstances it is hard to imagine if things will move in the right direction any time soon in Kashmir.

August 22, 2016.

(Published in Rising Kashmir, August 25, 2016. http://epaper.risingkashmir.com/EPaper.aspx?0vzqKVqakSdx1ArOcaTYaA_ep_ep )