Issues

How present Kashmir agitation is different from its past

Sajid Yousuf Shah

 

In 2008 the agitation was because of government decision to allot land to Shri Amaranth Shrine Board at Baltal Sonmarg (Amarnath land transfer controversy). Six people were killed and 100 injured when police fired into a crowd in Srinagar protesting the transfer of forest land.

 Similarly, in 2010, the Indian army claimed to have foiled an infiltration bid from across the Line of Control at Machil Sector in Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir by killing three armed militants from Pakistan. However, it was subsequently established that the encounter had been staged and that the three alleged militants were in fact civilians of Rafiabad area, who had been lured to the army camp by promising them jobs as “porters” for the army, and then shot in cold blood, in order to claim cash award. 

On June 11, there were protests against these killings in downtown Srinagar. Police used massive force to disperse the protesting youth during which a teargas canister killed a seventeen-year-old, Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, who was playing cricket in Gani Memorial Stadium. Several protest marches were organised across the valley, which turned violent. Official figures reveal around 110 people lost their lives and 537 civilians were injured during stone-pelting incidents from May to September 21, 2010. Around 1,274 CRPF men and 2,747 police personnel were injured during the period.

the present agitation is spontaneous and it erupted after HM commander Burhan wani’s death on 8 July 2016, At Wani’s funeral, an estimated 200,000 people came to mourn him, some of them from remote parts of the valley. Forty back-to-back funeral prayers were offered and a 21-gun salute was given by militants. Protesters had been demonstrating against his killing and continuous incidents of stone-pelting have been reported since the news of his death. The uprising has left around 87 people dead, over 10,000 injured, Two security personnel also died while over 4,000 personnel were injured in the riots. Thirty two government properties were set ablaze. The mob fury shows no sign of abating. Police, politicians and civilians who disobeyed the shutdown orders have been targeted.

So, what caused this widespread rage against the state government? Kashmir valley remained under 53 days of consecutive curfew which was lifted from all areas on 31 August. However, it was re- imposed in some areas the next day. Jammu and Kashmir Police and Indian paramilitary forces used pellet guns, tear gas shells, rubber bullets, as well as assault rifles. Curfew was imposed on the eve of Eid and it happened first time in the history of Kashmir that mosques and shrines were locked down. On September 3, home minister of India Rajnath Singh said in a press conference that PAVA shells would replace pellet guns but till date pellets are beig used by forces.

During the Kashmir unrest many innocent people who never take any part in pro-azadi activities lost their life, many lost their eyes shot with pellets, One of them is Insha Malik, the 14-year old Kashmiri girl whose pellet ridden face became the symbol of the cruel use of pellet guns, is lying in bed at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. She has not only become blind in both eyes but also lost her mental balance due to a brain infection resulting from pellet injury.

During clashes Insha got up and looked out of the window. Suddenly pellets hit her. She let out a sharp cry and collapsed. A CRPF man standing below had fired at her with a pellet gun. Another youth, Riyaz Ahmad Shah, 23, was found lying on a pavement with blood all over his scooter. He was returning after finishing his duty at an ATM in Habba Kadal area of Srinagar. Shah was on his way home in Chattabal. On post-mortem examination more than 300 pellets were found in his abdomen. Another girl, Yasmeena Jan, went outside to see her 12-year old brother, but army opened fire and a bullet hit Yasmeen on the head. Yaseema’s dream was to become a KAS officer.  

The militant wing commanded by Burhan Wani, part of the Hizbul Mujahideen, has been dubbed “new-age militancy”. It has been designated as a terrorist organisation. It has recruited local youth, educated and middle-class, which are conversant with social media and are not afraid to reveal their identities. They have achieved immense popularity among the Kashmiris. When Waseem Mall and Naseer Ahmad Pandit, two of Burhan’s associates were killed by security forces, more than 10,000 local Kashmiris came to attend the funeral which had to be repeated six times to allow all mourners to participate. Some of the youth, who recently became militants had campaigned for PDP during the general elections in 2014. The killings in Srinagar are protested in South Kashmir and vice-versa.

 PDP won a majority from the valley on the promise of AFSPA revocation, withdrawal of security forces from peaceful areas, taking back power projects from NHPC, talks with Pakistan, and separatists amongst others. It entered into an alliance with BJP under an agreement called “agenda of alliance” with the aim of attaining its objectives. Even though both parties campaigned against each other, they joined together to form a coalition government, with late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed becoming the chief minister. Following his death in 2016, his daughter Mehbooba Mufti took over as chief minister of J&K (first woman chief minister).

However, it failed to achieve its objectives. It’s every move whether release of Masrat Alam, demand for return of power projects, removal of AFSPA etc. was turned down by Government of India. Also, the tough stand taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government against Pakistan has angered it, which has used its influence in the valley to activate crowds to this end. Several reasons for this trend have been cited, such as the absence of a political dialogue, the lack of economic opportunities, frustration due to high unemployment, excessive militarisation of the public space and repeated human rights violations by security forces.

        

Peoples rights: 1. Make amnesty meaningful. India wants former militants to surrender, but surrendered militants’ lives become surreal and horrifying. Afzal Guru’s ordeal since he surrendered is perhaps the most dramatic example. There are many others. In order to demonstrate progress in counterinsurgency, India’s military forces have used surrendered militants as “false positives”: innocent men are killed and made to look like they were insurgents killed in encounters. Their lives are expendable, their corpses a resource. This must stop.

2. Count the dead. Hundreds of unidentified mass graves have been uncovered throughout the state in the past few years. Families whose children have disappeared want to know if these mass graves contain the remains of their children. But instead of testing all of the bodies and identifying them, India has demanded that the families submit to DNA tests. Instead of the Indian state apologising and trying to make amends for ghastly violations has committed further ghastly violations. India should do the DNA tests on the mass graves and provide the information. The denial of what everyone knows is true is the height of cruelty. Nothing good can come of it.

3. Punish crimes, not people. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) means that (as activist Vrinda Grover has argued) instead of being held to a higher standard, representatives of the state have more privileges than others. This has to be repealed. Crimes are crimes, whether they are committed by security forces or citizens. Instead of punishing crimes, the government punishes people. Soldiers are immune from prosecution, even for torture, murder or rape. Kashmiris, who aren’t committing crimes, whether they are shouting slogans, attending demonstrations, or just are in the wrong place at the wrong time, are punished. If the Indian state doesn’t know what a crime is, why would anyone want to be a part of it?

4. Let Kashmir control its water resources. The National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) controls the water and sells it back to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The J&K government wants several power projects returned to it, and accuses NHPC of retaining these projects illegally. In these joint ventures, the NHPC gets the power, which it then distributes according to its own logic, which includes selling some of the power back to the state. From the NHPC perspective, this is efficient allocation of resources. From Kashmir’s perspective, it is internal colonialism, and given the physical geography of the state, leaves people freezing in the dark when they have ample hydroelectric capacity. Let Kashmir control its own water resources and sell to the Centre, as other states have negotiated.

5. Stop banning and deporting people. Allow free movement. Arundhati Roy wrote about this in 2011: “When I told people I was going to Kashmir, I was told, ‘Hope they don’t ban you from India like they did with David Barsamian’”. A US-based activist and radio personality, Barsamian has a long connection with India and visits very often, interviewing people and reporting on a wide variety of topics. He was deported in 2011, supposedly for professional activities on a tourist visa. Richard Shapiro (see this piece where he makes the argument for demilitarisation), an American professor, was deported from Kashmir in 2010, on the same pretext. Such pretexts are flimsy. There are probably millions of visitors who come on tourist visas and write things about India. I doubt anyone has been deported for writing about saris, handicrafts, or even for complaining about air or noise pollution But write about Kashmir, and suddenly you are in violation of your visa. In any case, leaving Barsamian and Shapiro aside, what visa terms do Indian citizens violate? When Gautam Navlakha, an Indian citizen, tried to enter Kashmir in 2011, he was stopped at the airport and put on the next plane back to Delhi. Effectively, he was deported, something that should not be possible from one “integral part of India” to another.

6. Stop using soldiers as police. Troops are for borders. If the army deployment is because Kashmir has border with Pakistan and China, then army troops shouldn’t be seen in Srinagar or other valley towns. They should be at their border posts. Let the state police do the policing, and leave the troops at the border.

 

How can the Kashmir issue be resolved?: It can only be solved, according to U.N. resolution, by holding a Plebiscite giving three options to Kashmiris:

1) Pakistan; 2) India; 3) Freedom from both India and Pakistan

Despite the government’s talk of wanting to restore peace, thousands of security personnel reinforcements have been sent to Kashmir in the last few days, some setting up camps in schools that have been closed. The economic cost is hard to put in figures but some estimates put the cost to the local economy at Rs one billion (1000 crores) every day.

The unrest has devastated the tourist industry, with many of Kashmir’s famous houseboats lying empty on Dal Lake at the height of the summer season.

The shutdown has evoked memories of the 1980s when Indian-administered Kashmir became one of the world’s most militarised zones as the army sought to crush a mass uprising. Rights groups say 70,000 people were killed in the fighting and thousands more disappeared after being taken away by security forces.

 

Lack of trust: For the remainder, the forces have been resorting to firepower and tear gas. More than 100 people injured in the latest violence are suffering from bullet wounds.

The coalition government of People’s Democratic Party and the BJP  has promised that policemen and security forces will be “made answerable” for incidents where excessive force has been used.

No one in Kashmir believes that this will happen. There have been more than 20 official investigations into incidents of violence related to insurgency in Kashmir since 1990, but the fate of the majority of them remains unknown. The previous government set up a probe after 120 people, mostly young civilian men, died in clashes with security forces in 2010. No-one was prosecuted. No-one was tried in court.

 

Blame game: In 2010 Kashmir unrest an all-party delegation visited Srinagar when NC was in power and Peoples Democratic Party was in opposition which is currently the ruling party in Jammu and Kashmir. The PDP leader said the PDP was even thinking of not meeting the all-party delegation as the government had “declared war on its own people by imposing a 72-hour long curfew,” In 2016, the all-party delegation led by home minister of India visited Kashmir to start talks with stake holders. However, the Hurriyat (Joint) refused to meet them. They said these talks were useless until old promises were fulfilled.

India and Pakistan should start peace talks on Kashmir. Both the countries should admit Kashmir as disputed. The dispute can be solved politically. 

The writer is a social activist from

Jammu and Kashmir. He may be contacted at sajidyousufshah@gmail.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2016 on page no. 2

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