Kashmir is not against India. It is against the injustice, insensitivity

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Prem Shankar Jha
PREM Shankar Jha Senior Journalist

The Centre doesn’t need to offer eight points. It needs to understand only one

THE CENTRAL government had one chance to halt the return to full-scale insurgency in Kashmir. And it blew it because, even after three months of curfew, killings and rising protest in the Valley, it had still not understood what made the current uprising different from that of the 1990s. In a recent television interview, even the experienced Pranab Mukherjee claimed that the situation was not as grave as it had been in the early 1990s. Then, he said, the militants were armed, and the number of Kashmiris — civilians and insurgents — killed had run into the thousands. This time, he implied, there had been just over a hundred deaths in four months.

 Dressing down Syed Ali Shah Geelani has an argument with Sitaram Yechury in Srinagar

Dressing down Syed Ali Shah Geelani has an argument with Sitaram Yechury in Srinagar Photo:  Abid Bhat

Mukherjee was echoing an all-pervasive belief in Delhi, but it is one that is devoid of humanity, held by people for whom the death of a son and a breadwinner is a statistic and not a devastating tragedy. It has therefore failed to understand that the outcry among the youth today is not for Pakistan but for justice. Their struggle is not — at least did not begin as a struggle — for separation from India, but as a rebellion against zulm — that evocative Urdu word that combines the ideas of injustice, insensitivity and tyranny. The zulm they are protesting against is the use by the state and Central police forces of live ammunition against youth armed only with stones. The zulm began with the cold-blooded murder of three young men at Machhil by some rogue armymen in April. It has escalated because there has to date been no arraignment either of the accused in Machhil or of policemen accused of using excessive force elsewhere, in the months that have followed.

The anger this has given rise to is moral, not political, and has cut across all party lines and all age groups. Till the All Party Delegation went to Srinagar, Kashmiris had held the state government responsible for their troubles and looked to Delhi for succour. Their hopes rose when several members of the delegation refused to follow the script written for their visit by the state government and met separatist leaders and ordinary Kashmiris during their visit.

Had the Centre respected these sentiments, the measures it announced a week ago — Rs.5 lakh ex-gratia compensation for the families of those killed since 11 June, and the release of the youth arrested in recent months, and the withdrawal of CRPF bunkers from many points in Srinagar and other cities — would almost certainly have arrested, and possibly even reversed, the build-up of hostility towards India.

But in the absence of any such acknowledgement, these measures have fallen on stony ground. What is worse, they are being used by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Masarat Alam’s followers to fuel the very anger they were intended to quench. Two events in the first hours after the announcement of the ‘package’ show how this is being done. On 26 September, the family of Tufail Mattoo, the 12-year-old boy who fell victim to a teargas shell, refused the Rs. 5 lakh ex-gratia payment that the Centre had announced for the families of all those killed since 11 June. And on Monday morning, while many schools in the Valley stayed shut, buses of those that decided to open were stoned, forcing the government to impose curfew again.

Neither of these actions was entirely spontaneous. The announcement that Tufail Mattoo’s family had rejected the government’s offer of relief was made in their presence and with their concurrence. But it was not made by his father. Instead it was made by a member of the Tahafuz-e-Haqooq-e-Insaani, a committee set up in Srinagar to fight for justice for Tufail.

The statement he read out to the press revealed a political design, for it contained not one but two warnings: “We reject the ex-gratia relief of Rs.5 lakh, which is being offered to us by the central government. Our beloved kids have laid their precious lives for the noble cause. We cannot sell the blood of our martyrs”. In other words, not only should Delhi not believe that it can assuage grief by paying money, but also any Kashmiri who accepts it is a traitor to the noble cause of azadi.

THE STONING of school buses on Monday was also not spontaneous. Several schools reported that the journey to school on Monday morning had been uneventful. Their buses were only stoned in the afternoon on the home trip. One of the drivers reported that his bus had been stopped not by angry youth but by a man with a white beard. When the driver brought the bus to a halt, thinking that the man had come to receive his child, he picked up a large stone and threw it through the windshield. The school decided to remain shut on Tuesday.

Geelani’s willingness to sacrifice Kashmiri lives to meet his purpose will ensure that the pressure on the CRPF is ratcheted up till it cracks

It is not difficult to predict what is likely to happen next. Geelani has already announced a ‘calendar’ of dates when children are ‘allowed’ to go to school. The government will impose curfews on those days to lessen the impact. It will offer an armed escort to schools that open, but they will become targets of the Jamaatis in the manner described above.

Geelani’s proven willingness to sacrifice Kashmiri lives to meet his ideological purpose, now reinforced by the likes of Masarat Alam and Asiya Andrabi, will ensure that the pressure on the CRPF is ratcheted up till it cracks and uses live ammunition to protect itself. That will restart the escalating cycle of violence, anger and alienation that the Valley has been experiencing in the past four months.

Having decided not to hold the Omar Abdullah government constitutionally responsible for the anarchy in Kashmir, the Central government has only one card left to play. This is to hold open and transparent inquiries and, where necessary, punish members of the security forces against whom there is a prima facie case of the use of excessive or unwarranted force against civilians.

This process, like the killings, must start with Machhil. The Indian Army’s record in enforcing respect for human rights upon its soldiers has been less than satisfactory. In Machhil it has arrested the accused but dragged its feet for months over their court martial.

The zulm they are protesting against is the use by the security forces of live ammunition against youth armed only with stones

The contrast between this and the recent behaviour of the Australian army in Afghanistan highlights the moral blindness that is typical of our security forces. On 27 September the Australian military command in Afghanistan announced the court martial of three soldiers who had killed six Afghan civilians, five of them children, when they blew up the wrong house in South Uruzgan. The court martial is taking place in spite of their protest that they had been led into this error by the deliberately reckless behaviour of the Taliban insurgent whom they had been fighting at the time. The court martial may well accept their defence after it has heard all the testimony, but this will happen only after a judicial process that is transparent.

By contrast, from the days of the Khalistan insurgency in Punjab, the army and the police have regularly resisted taking any action to punish their members for flagrant violations of human rights, on the ground that it will demoralise them and impair their capacity to protect the country. But this leniency has only fed the disease: From this it has been a short step to imposing collective punishment upon entire villages, such as by burning them down, to discourage the villagers from giving shelter to the insurgents.

Killing civilians for bounty, of which Machhil is the third proven case in Kashmir in the past 10 years, is one more step down the road to purgatory.

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