Kashmiris need more attention!

Just when it seemed that life in Kashmir was heading towards “normalcy,” tension has rocked the area again. Earlier this month, death of Nasim Rashid (28) in police custody in Sopore town of Baramulla district provoked Kashmiris to take to streets demanding justice. Rashid’s custodial death also prompted various Kashmiri leaders to strongly voice their protest against it and restrictions placed on groups demanding “Azadi.” The recent weeks have also been witness to five suspect militants being killed by Indian troops. Three were killed at Rajwar in Handwara and two in Surankote area of Poonch. While Indian troops claim that suspected militants were killed while trying to cross the Line-of-Control, several Kashmiri leaders have blamed Indian troops for having martyred five youth in an act of “state terrorism.” And this raises the question: who should be blamed for antagonizing Kashmiri Muslims?

Undeniably, to a degree, even Kashmiri Pandits have suffered at various levels. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that loss of lives suffered by Kashmiri Muslims, discrimination faced by them and their being killed in numerous “fake encounters” is far, far greater, statistically, than what was faced by Kashmiri Pandits. Sadly, while a hype has generated the impression about hard time faced by Kashmiri Pandits, little attention has been paid to who should be blamed for their sufferings as well as that of Kashmiri Muslims. It’s only in the recent years that “reports” on fake encounters, accusing Muslims as “terrorists,” have started hitting headlines. Otherwise, what was said at press conferences, after such encounters, was taken as virtually the final word, without giving “suspect terrorists” a chance to prove their innocence in any court.

Thanks to the communication revolution, the Indian media has certainly woken up not to easily go by claims made about “terrorists” being nabbed/killed in X,Y,Z encounters. But this is a fairly recent development. Tragically, young, innocent Kashmiri Muslims continue to fall victims to bullets fired by police and Army or in custodial deaths. What else does death of Tufail Ahmed Mattoo and several other Kashmiris, including the custodial death of Nasim Rashid indicate? Mattoo and other young boys were caught last year in skirmishes between the Kashmiri protestors and the state-controlled bullets. Cutting across religious lines, Kashmiris protested against lives of their brethren being held at the mercy of state-controlled bullets. The primary duty of Army and police is to ensure the security of citizens. In Kashmir, they have been trigger-free quite often while targeting civilians, particularly Muslims.

Kashmiris themselves have become strongly conscious of not allowing their fate to be used as pawn, politically and diplomatically. If Kashmiri Muslim professionals have gained in the state, it is primarily because the migration of Kashmiri Pandits created job opportunities for the former. Be it academics, administration and at other levels, the high-profile job sector was earlier dominated by the miniscule Pandit minority. The migration phase was followed by the educated Kashmiri Muslims moving in to take over the jobs earlier held by Pandits. Here, it may also be mentioned that Kashmiri Muslims, living on the Indian side of Line-of-Control, have moved to other parts of India in quest for higher education and jobs. This point is being deliberately made to shatter the impression held in certain quarters about Kashmiri Muslims’ “Pakistani” leanings. There has also been a marked increase in their taking job-oriented courses at the state as well as central levels. These are indicators that despite living in a curfew-bound atmosphere, which is taking its toll on their lives, health as well as psychological conditions, Kashmiris are keen to move ahead. They have not failed, but the concerned authorities have not lived up to the responsibility of conducting their duties towards them.

Over the past decade, Kashmiris have repeatedly played their part with increasing aggressiveness by defying militants and turning to the ballot-box. But sadly, substantial attention has yet to be paid to ensure them peace and security in their own home-land. The Indian government has still a long way to go to convince both Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims that “peace” awaits them in their own state. The Kashmiris have a reason to label the custodial deaths and killing of suspect terrorists by state-controlled bullets as “state terrorism.” Kashmiris are left with no option but to voice their protest, by taking to streets only to face more bullets. It is time India accepted the fact that bullets are not the answer to grievances that Kashmiris on this side of LoC are being subjected to. Kashmiris, who have time and again defied bullets, cannot be expected to be won over by bullets, which they have labelled as terrorism, irrespective of who fires them. It is time the Indian authorities started paying greater attention to Kashmiris being denied security in their own land and being targeted by bullets supposed to be responsible for their security. Undeniably, India has not fallen back in taking up the Kashmir issue as and when required, but Kashmiris have yet to be given the same importance!