Who will listen to the Handwara mothers’ cries? #FreeHandwaraGirl

Posted: April 20, 2016 in Human Rights, State Violence, Violence against Women, Women Rights

The discourse in Kashmir has shifted from the expectation of justice from institutions to mistrust towards them.

One of the most influential 20th century books on the instances of instability was Ted Robert Gurr’s Why Men Rebel published in 1970. In his work, Gurr explains instances of political instability through the theory of relative deprivation (RD).

He defines RD as the discrepancy between what people feel they are entitled to have, and what they have in reality. When this discrepancy grows large, between expected and real political power, for instance, frustrations start to grow. It is out of these political, social, or economic frustrations, also known as grievances, that violence is born. Thus, following De Tocqueville, Gurr explains rebellions from the perspective of virtue, as they are driven by a sense of injustice.

Decades later, when the armed uprising began in Kashmir, scholars of different hues engaged themselves in looking for the reasons for the violent rebellion. While, for long, this was explained exclusively as a phenomenon ignited by external factors, some scholars went beyond conventional thinking and tried to look for internal reasons.

Sumit Ganguly, while explaining the rise of militancy in Kashmir propounded his “institutional decay” theory.

During protests at Handwara.

Ganguly argued that with growing mobilisation of people, Kashmir simultaneously witnessed serious decay in institutional terms – the institution of democracy. He was referring to the denial of democracy, rigging of elections and non-functionality of other institutions, all executed deliberately with a design.

Right from the day firing by the army and perhaps the police on civilians was reported in Handwara, the Indian media has conveniently tried to shift the focus on negating the alleged molestation attempt by an army man rather than on the murders resulting from the indiscriminate firing by the troops. While it is well within their rights to do so, the question that remains is whether the issue is more important than the killings.

The first round of firing occurred after some local youth protested against what they termed was an attempt by an army personnel to molest a young girl in a public lavatory.

This resulted in the killing of two youth immediately. Later, a bullet hit an elderly woman, killing her. The next day, an 18-year boy was killed in the army firing. The forces on the other hand alleged that protesters tried to storm into an army installation. However, an NDTV report stated that visiting officials were surprised at not finding stones on the roads or near the camp and by gauging the distance of the site of the protests from the camp.

While dealing with the NIT row, the whole focus was on police brutality. Media, politicians and the “nationalists” were only concerned with fixing responsibility on the police and unequivocally demanded stern punishment for the erring policemen. Even though the police released its own video showing students resorting to hooliganism, even though the students brutally beat up and seriously injured a courier boy, no one was ready to listen to it. People like Ashoke Pandit took to Twitter to espouse the theory of the police being “terrorists in uniform whose heart beats for Pakistan”.

In the Handwara case, ironically, the whole focus of the Indian media, especially electronic, has been to prove the army as being wrongly framed as molesters rather than report on the brutal murders that took place.

And interestingly, the basis on which this is being proved is the video of the girl in which she exonerates the army of the charge. So far so good! But wait a minute. Hasn’t this video been shot and released by the same police? How could we believe the police that was so ruthless, irresponsible and “anti-national” only few days ago?

The video that was released by the police in the NIT case was shot on the field during the protest showing non-local students, with iron rods and stones, breaking the parked cars. The courier boy was still in the hospital when the media and the government went all out against the police and the NIT administration.

But still these non-local students are innocent because they are not Kashmiris. And in the Handawara incident, the police illegally took a minor to a police station, detained her illegally when no family member accompanied her and recorded her statement.

Then, in violation of the Supreme Court ruling, they went on to release the video revealing her identity, putting her life in danger.

But none of this mattered to the corporate media at New Delhi. All that they wanted to prove was that the army is innocent. For argument’s sake, let us accept that the army man was not involved in any such incident and instead it was the local boys who were responsible, as is being argued now. But then the police, the locals and the army were present at the site.

Instead of taking the girl to the police station, why was the matter not solved then and there? Were they so incapable that an issue of misbehaviour had to cost four precious lives? Or is it that Kashmiri lives are taken for granted by “security” forces and the Indian government?

All this while the New-Delhi based media houses have been busy flashing the video of the girl, who remains in police custody. I wonder what they are going to do with the video where the mother of the girl has clearly accused the local police of forcing the girl to make a particular statement.

In the video, which is available on YouTube, the mother clearly states that her minor daughter got frightened on seeing the army man in the lavatory and raised an alarm that ultimately led to the protest.

She accuses the police of keeping her minor daughter under illegal detention and pressuring her to make a statement in favour of the army.

So who is speaking the truth? And how do any of the two versions justify the killings of civilians?

The corporate media and their panellists are only adding fuel to the fire. We have Shabnum Lone wanting the youth to be booked for murder and sedition.

Ironically, the media houses in Delhi believe that a person who unsuccessfully contested elections – whose one sibling has joined hands with separatists and the other a minister in the present J&K government under the BJP quota and married to the daughter of one of the founders of JKLF (the pioneer of armed struggle in Kashmir) will be taken seriously by Kashmiris.

Reportedly, around 5,000 protesters from the Patidar community gathered in Mehsana on April 12. Some pelted stones at the police, who retaliated by firing more than a dozen tear-gas shells and resorted to lathicharge. Both protesters as well as police personnel were injured.

No one was killed, no pellets fired, no pepper gas fired. Tear-gas shells were not aimed at the head of the protesters. In Handwara, it would not have been more than a hundred people protesting initially. Yet, we had two murders followed by another one in quick succession.

The next day, it was but expected that more protests would follow. Even then one more youth was killed in the army firing. Besides, we have dozens of serious bullet injury cases. The bullets and tear-gas shells were fired to kill, not to ensure the crowd dispersed.

The sense of injustice that Gurr referred to has been growing in Kashmir and the decay of institutions continues unabated. The helpless chief minister has requested the army commander and the defence minister for help, which was followed by the loss of yet another life.

However, the discourse in Kashmir has shifted from the expectation of justice from institutions to not trusting them. For long I had witnessed debates in private conversations, print and social media around issues like punishing the guilty, fixing responsibility and demanding justice.

On the other hand, if one takes a look at social media today, you have arguments on why not to expect justice from and trust institutions. Why? Because as one post argues, “expecting or demanding justice form these institutions means believing in them”. The mother of the girl in her statement demands two things – the restoration of her daughter’s honour, which she believes has been shattered by the release of the video, and justice to the martyrs (a word she repeatedly uses in the video). Who will fulfil the mother’s wish?



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