Kashmir is on the boil again. What happened in Handwara on Tuesday is hardly unusual. Three people were gunned down — two boys and an old woman — and another was fatally hit by a tear-smoke shell because the security forces decided to defend themselves against unarmed civilians who were protesting against the alleged molestation of a Kashmiri woman. One of the victims, Nayeem Batt, was a promising state-level cricketer.

This has been a familiar story that Kashmir has lived and relived for the past many decades, especially since more than half a million troops were deployed in the state after the 1989 uprising. The administration’s promise of ‘investigation’ into the killings is also as predictable as the inevitable outcome of such a probe.
While regretting the ‘incident’, the army spokesperson has assured action suggesting that it needs to be ascertained if the “standard operating procedures” were followed. The truth is, shooting to kill has long been the ‘standard operating procedure’ in Kashmir.
From the 1990 Gaw Kadal massacre to the 1991 Kunan Poshpura rapes and the 1993 Bijebehara massacre to Handwara yesterday, there has been a long and bloody trail of indiscriminate killings, rapes and disappearances that is as old as the history of insurgency.Accusations of sexual violence aren’t new either. As Shuddhabrata Sengupta argues in Kafila, a predatory sexual profile has been part of the operational signature.
And then we Indians wonder why the Kashmiris so hate us and demand ‘azaadi’ from ‘Bharat Mata’ at the drop of a hat! Many in the establishment and militant media are still worked up over the fact that some Kashmiris during the recent Jawaharlal Nehru University protests had the gumption to call for Kashmir’s ‘freedom’ right in the heart of Delhi, and worse, seek the disintegration of India.
The National Institute of Technology, Srinagar has been in the news since some students there cheered for West Indies in a T20 World Cup match against India, outraging their non-Kashmiri friends.
Over the past several years, I have watched most of my Kashmiri friends grow progressively distant and even hostile. Even those who have served in government and once strongly believed that Kashmir’s destiny lay with India seem to have given up all hope and are increasingly cynical.
The question is, seven decades after the state acceded to India, why an average Kashmiri is so hopelessly alienated from the rest of the country? This is something that needs serious scrutiny by not just India’s leaders but by all Indians who never tire of insisting that Kashmir is an ‘integral part’ of India.
Truth be told, the average Kashmiri, as JNU student leader Shehla Rashid asserted at the recent India Today conclave, has seen nothing but a negative side of the great democracy that is rightly celebrated for its diversity and secular, political institutions. The Indian Army is perhaps one of the best and most disciplined forces anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the Kashmiris haven’t had a very happy experience of their engagement with this fine force.
Which is scarcely surprising, considering more than 500,000 troops have lived in the Valley, breathing down its people’s neck for the past three decades.
Those who have been to Kashmir would know what I am talking about. There are security forces and security check points everywhere, literally, belying the breathtaking natural beauty of the Himalayan paradise and its rich culture. It’s the highest concentration of jackboots anywhere on earth. This wouldn’t be an ideal scenario, even in the best of times anywhere in the world. It is a recipe for disaster in a sensitive state like Jammu and Kashmir, which acceded to India in historically contentious circumstances.
This is no time to go into that history but it is a fact that the Kashmiris had been promised ‘special status’ within Indian Union and yes, a say in their future by the leaders of free India.
On the other hand, Pakistan has continued to stake claim over Kashmir, insisting given a chance the Kashmiris would go with it. India and Pakistan have gone to three disastrous wars over Kashmir.
The region has forever remained on the knife’s edge thanks to the mountains of nukes that the neighbors now possess. No wonder after the Kargil war, the then US President Bill Clinton described the region as “the most dangerous place on earth.” Under the circumstances, one would think India would do its utmost to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris with kindness, understanding and persuasion, and not constantly test their patience with incidents like Handwara. This is not the first time when the trigger-happy men in uniform opened fire on unarmed protesters, nor would it be the last. There has been a long history of such tragedies, leaving behind devastated families, ruined lives and a great deal of rage and grief.
This is precisely why the separatist tendency in the state remains as strong as ever although the militancy and ‘cross-border infiltration’ has nearly been wiped out. Even Pakistan has largely stopped raking up the K question in international fora.
However, India cannot win Kashmir and Kashmiris in real sense as long as it maintains the massive security presence in the state. While troops who step out of line are quickly court-martialed and brought to justice elsewhere in India, they get away with murder, and more, in Kashmir thanks to the “special powers” that they are armed with in the state.
It is argued that the draconian AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) and the whole culture of impunity that it spawns may be responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of killings, rapes and disappearances, fueling acute anger against the army and the Indian state itself.
Every time episodes like Handwara are sought to be investigated, those responsible for them hide behind the AFSPA. This has become the virtual license to kill. However, repeated demands by the Kashmiris and rights groups to repeal AFSPA have fallen on deaf ears in Delhi.
It is no surprise then that all these years not a single soldier has faced the law. Scrapping of AFSPA had been one of the key poll promises of the ruling PDP of Mufti Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba. However, it didn’t prove a big stumbling block that they couldn’t overcome when they joined hands with the BJP. Perhaps it is too much to expect the new chief minister Mehbooba Mufit to accomplish something that her much taller predecessors, including her father, have failed to.
But unless India takes some extraordinary measures and soon to win back the trust and confidence of the Kashmiris, repairing what remains of this delicate relationship, it may end up losing them forever.
And this mission to save Kashmir must begin with the recall of the Army from the Valley, at the earliest possible. A soldier’s place is on the border, defending the country’s security and integrity. His job is not fighting daily battles of nerves against his own people.


What’s at stake in Kashmir



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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s