National

Bleeding Kashmir needs attention of apolitical actors

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Why this hurry to award Major Leetul Gogoi with a commendation certificate? After all, an FIR has been lodged against him and an investigation is supposedly on, to investigate whether what he did on that April 9 noon was justifiable or even ethical. After all what Major Gogoi did was something so terribly horrifying - tying a hapless civilian to a military jeep. Yes, Major Gogoi used Farooq Ahmed Dar as a human shield, dragging him for almost 28 kilometres before dumping him in the evening! Today, Dar sits emotionally and physically bruised; relaying his hurt in these words: ‘Am I an animal to be tied to a jeep and dragged on? …that day has changed my life! Major Gogoi is lying by saying I was pelting stones. If I was pelting stones I wouldn’t have gone to cast my vote! Why hasn’t the police or the Army recorded my statement? Let them hear what I have to say.’

The government is talking of about ‘big plans ‘for the Kashmir Valley…Lets begin with the smaller ones. Take this particular case which took place on April 9, in which Dar was used as a human shield. Its been over six weeks and yet the investigation is yet to start. Dar’s statement is yet to be recorded! Why this delay in recording Dar’s statement? Also, shouldn’t the Army have completed its thorough investigation before awarding Major Gogoi? Will the Army take back the award if Gogoi is found guilty, if of nothing else but for setting a beastly precedent?

In fact, this callousness on the part of the establishment should come as no shocker. Human rights violations are on in the Valley, taking place on a daily basis. Commissions have been set up yet nothing much trickles out.

All that one has to do is to pick up the national dailies and read news-reports of blatant killings of civilians. The crux lies in this core fact - the ongoing ‘war crimes’ on the civilian population compounds because of the impunity provided to the forces under AFSPA. The list is so very long and lengthy that one could write a volume focusing only and only on the killings of innocents in the Valley.

Ever since 1990, I have been making it a point to meet the apolitical Kashmiri- right from grave diggers to vendors to auto-rickshaw drivers, to the young and also the veterans, to the grieving parents of the missing or dying. I have been focusing on the connected offshoots: the changing socio economic patterns affecting the daily lives of the Kashmiri. I could more than sense that the deterioration cum anger cum alienation is on… ongoing.

Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has been coming out with statements but not a single sentence seems reaching out to the aggrieved citizens, who’d been hoping that some level of declaration could come up to indicate that a political process would start off to ease tensions. She seems in no mood to accept the core issue - that is, the Kashmiris feel betrayed. Also, Kashmiris don’t want to hear about the ‘happenings ‘in Balochistan or Pakistan. Much against the hyped propaganda the reality is this: Kashmiris do not want any level of merger with Pakistan. Rattled by this propaganda Kashmiris burst out, “We want nothing to do with Islamabad or with New Delhi! We want to live with dignity and not in this state of humiliating siege. A political settlement or at least indications that a concrete political process would be underway is what is needed.”

Veterans lament that if Government of India had been far-sighted and with that taken care to reach out to the Kashmiris with a basic democratic framework, which should have included freedom to speak out without fear of the aftermath, to live without the overpowering presence of the security forces, and the start of a political solution to the mess, then, perhaps, anger of this magnitude wouldn’t have erupted, engulfing the entire region.

Disappointment after disappointment! Politicians have failed! Will the apolitical step in!

Politicians in New Delhi and in the Valley have seemingly failed. Their speeches and promises sound fake and hollow. Their agenda unmasked and their double speak exposed as never before. Barring the two Valley-based politicians,  Independent MLA Engineer Rasheed and CPI(M)’s M.Y. Tarigimi, the rest of the politicians from New Delhi or from the Valley are distrusted to such an extent that they could be lynched if they are spotted on the streets of the Valley or of this capital city. Its about time the civil society steps in, to try and restore some degree of connect, help build up an atmosphere where talks and a process of dialogues could take off.

How I wish the apolitical travels to the Valley to dialogue and connect…I am taking you several summers back, when as I’d landed to report in the Valley and had checked in a Srinagar hotel, I was surprised to see former Foreign Secretary Salman Haider sitting in the packed hall of that hotel. Inquiries revealed he had been invited by a particular ‘Peace’ forum. Aren't politicians invited to address such gatherings? "No," said several in the assembled lot. "Our trust in politicians has reached an all-time low…there are so many vested political interests hovering around each one of them, now nobody believes whatever they say! At this forum there are none of the politicians, only the apolitical striving to bring about peace. See, that's academic Siddiq Wahid and that lady at the mike is Professor Rekha Chowdhary teaching Political Science at the Jammu University, that’s another academic from the Kashmir University and… "

Kashmiris stress the start to finding a solution could be through genuine talks and dialogues. Who could initiate a series of dialogues? They mentioned names of several apolitical of this country who ought to visit the Valley to grasp the existing ground reality. These stark realities stand out in the backdrop of the no development, no industry, no job scenario. There is no place where the average Kashmiri could go with an appeal to be heard. Imagine the irony of the situation where an innocent citizen has no formal forum nor a platform from where he could be heard without any of those political twists. He is living under extremely trying conditions but we sitting here seem unaware. His fears are mounting, apprehensions touching an all-time high, coupled with this the distracting voices from political quarters. Have we bothered to find out why the graph is on the rise vis-à-vis unemployment, health-related issues, trauma-stricken children and mothers and fathers. A precarious situation with alienation deepening, divides increasing. To worsen the scenario there seem to be no intermediary to contain the mess. How many NGOS or activists visit the Valley to assess the situation for themselves? Or interact with the citizen of the Valley?

If only one were to travel to the Kashmir Valley and see the actual havoc being done on the human front, there'd be realization that there ought to be de-militarization. There has been one incident after another where innocents are ruined in the most ruthless of ways, in an atmosphere where there's little transparency and low accountability. Today its the various agencies which have unleashed their men in and around the Valley, to create an atmosphere of confusion and chaos. A typical dictatorial governing tactic inflicted on people surviving in conflict zones.

What is urgently required is to reach out to the angry Kashmiris through an army of peace makers, community leaders, civil society members, counselors and communicators. And as the anger gets contained, the much needed political dialogue process has to take off. None of those so-called hazy diplomatic moves but more along a transparent format. Let the Kashmiris know the crux of these talks and get them involved. After all, their lives and their very future gets involved.

That vital connect with Kashmiris is essential. Visit the injured lying in the hospital wards. Visit the graveyards containing the remains of those killed. Visit the orphanages spread across the Valley. Visit the vacant houseboats and shikaras and see the plight of the daily wagers who have to feed their families even in ‘curfewed ‘days. Visit the homes of senior community leaders and civil society members, with the appeal that its time to talk and address the political demands.

I have had arguments with people of this capital city who insist on coming up with their hollow ‘expert’ opinions without even bothering to actually see and sense those ground realities prevailing in the Valley. No, they have no sense of the prevailing anger in the Valley… Also disturbing is though we have big bodied Commissions for Women and Children and Child Rights yet these forums have kept quiet even as apolitical Kashmiris lay killed or dragged or abused. Why this quiet?

The sarkari and semi-sarkari characters, the so-called experts and commentators of the day, should not come up with their so-called expert comments from their air conditioned dens! Let these men and women walk along the lanes and bylanes of Kashmir and see the helplessness spreading out, in and around the Valley. Kashmiris have been witnessing and experiencing what a conflict or a war zone holds out. Mind you, no relief even if he or she steps out of the Valley to the so-called Indian metros. Why? Because we look at Kashmiri Muslims with suspicion and distrust. Prejudices have seeped in, deep and well-implanted in our psyches. One case after another of harassment cum humiliation meted out to the young Kashmiris — whether they are budding cricketers or aspiring professionals or young students.

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