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On Saturday, while India was scrambling out of the hangover of celebration of its 69th Republic Day, its Army was creating mayhem in a small village called Ganowpora in South Kashmir’s Shopian district as 3 teenagers were shot dead from point blank range and dozens of others critically injured. It all happened when a small crowd of young men began to protest against the Army’s alleged desecration of a religious signboard and a grave of a local militant killed only some 4 days ago in a nearby village. This was just an illustration of how bad the situation is in valley especially in the Southern hinterland. The massive military siege of South Kashmir ever since the Indian Army launched its Operation All Out in the spring of 2017 has turned to be a bloody campaign. In this operation, till now, nearly 200 local militants have been killed in various encounters. However, we have also seen that around 70 civillians were also killed by the forces during this period either near encounter sites or during protest demonstrations. Out of these, 57 were killed during 2017 while this month has already seen the killing of 13 civillians. The killing of civillians, mostly teenagers, has exacerbated especially since the chief of Indian Army, Gen. Bipin Rawat, started talking tough on the Kashmiri protestors who were infamously dubbed by him as “over ground workers of militants.” This tough posturing also saw him publicly commending Major Gogoi for his act of tying a Kashmiri voter to his jeep in Budgam in order to control the stone pelters. This was seen as a message to all field units involved in the counter insurgency operations that harsh measures were needed to tackle the dissent in Kashmir.

The previous GOC of the Northern Command had repeatedly resisted the use of Army for tackling the Law and Order Problems like stone pelting. But ever since Rawat took charge, there is a visible change in how Army has now taken it upon itself to deal with the stone throwing protestors instead of letting the police and paramilitary handle it. Since the Army is not equipped with batons, tear gas shells and other non-lethal weapons to deal with the protestors, it uses its assault rifles against the protestors which has led to a high number of casualties since last Spring. The Army has been using another tactic of punishing the troubled villages in South Kashmir by invading the localities at the night to resort to ransacking and vandalism of houses besides beating up the inmates. At one place, as this writer was witness to, the police had to intervene to stop the rampaging soldiers from causing further mayhem. This is how the local populace in South Kashmir is being treated currently and this is the biggest reason of local youth joining the militant ranks. If one is to believe the official Indian propaganda that it is ISI which is responsible for the militant recruitment, then it means that the biggest agent of ISI to help them in this process is the Indian Army itself.

Add to this, hundreds have also got injured with some amputated for life. The dead and injured include both men and women. It is also worth to mention that during this period, militants have also resorted to the killings of political workers, policemen and some on leave local Army personnel, and again, most of them in the Shopian district which is now truly the epicentre of Kashmir’s latest armed surge. Sadly, all this madness of shedding the blood is still going on unabated. In fact, it has become a regular feature of the lives of ordinary Kashmiris. Every fortnight we see these acts of brutality which are then follwed by more anger and more protests. The scars of 2016 uprising in Kashmir, illustrated painfully by the blinded eyes of 100s of kids and dead bodies of teenagers, are still fresh. But it seems that the unrest of 2016 may have spilled over to 2017 and now to 2018 as the regular killings, siege, shutdowns would tell us. No week passes without any deaths, routine humiliation, repression and siege continue to characterize the life of an ordinary rural Kashmiri. South Kashmir is facing an unprecedented military siege; villages are being frequently cordoned and raided, almost on a daily basis now, houses are being vandalized, property is being ransacked, and inmates including women, children and elders are being thrashed for raising their voice And the accusation of “sheltering” militants. The unaccountable and unbridled forces, mostly of the state and sometimes also non-state, are controlling the lives of hapless people in rural South Kashmir. Young boys, under the frivolous pretext of being OGWs, are being arrested and tortured. And sadly, this is the new “normal” which we have been living through for quite sometime now.
To declare that the current situation in valley (especially in South Kashmir) is alarming is really an understatement. It is worsening day by day to the levels of total despondency and anger. The recurring attempts of women, men and children to save militants in every encounter, and their subsequent killings, are really the worst tipping points of this whole grim scenario. In all this, the “elected” but handcuffed state government which continues to boast of an abstract “healing touch” and alliterative rhetoric like “na goli se, na bandook se, baat banegi sirf boli se” seems to have completely fallen in the abyss of indifference and insensitivity to the suffering of its masses. One should not, however, mistake the massive number of people rushing to the encounter sites and attending the funerals of the fallen militants as a manifestation of people’s direct endorsement of the path of violence which militants adopt; besides sympathy for the militants, it is also an expression of their anger and exasperation at the apathy and indifference which the rulers both at the centre and state have chosen vis-à-vis them. It is the only outlet which people are now finding to express their choked voices so as they could be heard. This is their only way of responding to the “muscular handling” which the ruling dispensation at the centre is frequently boasting of. Any caring, sensitive and democratically elected government should be listening to its citizens on what they demand, and trying to find ways and solutions to end their suffering. However, far from being compassionate, the ruling dispensations are threatening them of disastrous consequences.

Since RSS has cunningly associated Kashmir to its hateful and divisive brand of politics in the rest of India, Kashmiris’ distrust for India has naturally magnified disproportionately. Today, the trust of Kashmiris in India’s republicanism and secular democratic polity has completely shattered. It is no surprise that the actual happenings on the ground are reflecting the same. The anger has turned against all that is being seen as the representative of the Indian state in Kashmir – police, bureaucrats and mainstream politicians. Notwithstanding, the denial, lies and fraud in New Delhi about Kashmiris, ask a common Indian soldier currently facing the wrath of an angry populace on how Kashmiris feel for India right now?? For many regular Army soldiers in South Kashmir, their only routine job is to now go to the streets, nukkads, mobile towers and government buildings every morning to remove the Pakistani flags and pro-Burhan graffiti which can be seen everywhere in South Kashmir.

For now there seems no end in sight. From no corner, any effort is being made to bring sanity to the proceedings; it is only the bellicosity and a tilt towards extremities which has created a point of no return for all with no scope left for a middle path. First of all it is the government of India that needs to realise the gravity of the situation; it has to detach Kashmir from the petty party electoral calculations. First of all, it needs to acknowledge that there is a problem and a very serious one of that which warrants a solution big time. The onus is on it to understand that peace can neither be imposed, bought or brought; it only prevails when there is a sense of justice. And justice demands a hearing of the people’s voice. For now, what is needed is a practical realisation of this hope by enacting concrete steps which must begin with shunning of all the rigidities which all of our concerned stakeholders currently boast of – government of India, separatists, militants, security establishment, protestors, as well as our neighbouring government. Only then, the path to the solution will become clear.

BASHARAT SHAMEEM, Activist, Kulgam, South Kashmir

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