40 plus in 40 days

The Centre must wake up to the reality of casualties in Kashmir and stifling atmosphere and address it, not add fuel to the fire.Forty days after Kashmir erupted, far from the situation calming down, with three fresh killings in Baramulla on Wednesday, the security forces operating with impunity are further exacerbating the anger of the people through a repeated orgy of bloodbath, almost on a daily basis. On Tuesday, six people were gunned down, five in an obscure village in Budgam, where people claim no protests were going on but army entered the village and started thrashing people and killing them on the pretext that some Pakistani flags were hoisted in the village.

If these allegations are correct, then it is not only a case of the government not doing anything to help bring calm but allowing security personnel to make all out efforts to ensure that Kashmir remains on the boil. Bullets and pellets, anyways, are not the ethical ways to control protests, not even mobs and angry protestors. These are brutal methods, are not sanctioned by law and are against basic humanitarian principles as well as ethics of democracy.

In any civilized part of the world, such large scale brutality would have made the government sit up, take notice and prosecute men in uniform for disproportionate and ruthless use of force to deal with civilians. It goes without saying that ruthless ways of crushing peoples’ anger and protests will only see an upward spiral of violence, not contain it, especially when the anger has accumulated over a period of years. Only a softening of stand by New Delhi can have the potential of calming down tempers. However, the government is unwilling to learn lessons from either the past or the last one month. A visit by union home minister to Srinagar, a parliament debate on Kashmir and an all-party meet later, the Centre is not only incapacitated by its myopia to deliver on the ground by reining in the forces and ordering registration of cases against cops and security men responsible for the heinous killings and injuries. It has further responded with greater rigidity and belligerence by sending in fresh reinforcements and by engaging in a one up-manship with Pakistan. Softening the rhetoric in Delhi and allowing space for peaceful means of dissent is crucial to bringing some calm.

Unfortunately, by giving a free hand to the security forces, the Centre is doing just the opposite by clamping down on even peaceful marches, making no particular distinction between peaceful assemblies and protestors engaging in stone pelting and other violent means of protest. Flags and slogans are also being treated as violent actions and met with lethal pellets and bullets. Imposition of curfew, random crackdowns and arrests have further aggravated the situation pushing an entire population to adopt more aggressive forms of resistance in symbolism and actions.

The banning of the internet and snapping of phone lines completely closes all their avenues of outlet. Leave alone the Valley, when it comes to any discourse on Kashmir, the Centre deals with it with an acute sense of paranoia and clamps down on it as happened in Bangalore in a seminar on suffering families of Kashmir organized by human rights watch dog, Amnesty International, and the case of Kashmiri engineer, Tauseef Bhat working in Chattisgarh. In both cases, sedition charges have been pressed at the behest of lumpen elements of the Hindu right wing without even an application of mind. These are not stray events but have become the norm, a pattern which has become quite pronounced after last year’s row over sedition charges against JNU scholars. A misplaced notion is being created among the public that any discussion on Kashmir or allowing a dissenting opinion to prevail is of seditious nature.

It is not the nature of dissent that is being criminalized, the very act of dissent is being criminalized and this has dangerous portents both for Kashmir and elsewhere in India. The violent protests that have become common place in Kashmir today were born out of that clampdown by the governments since 2008 on peaceful means of protest, assemblies and dissenting. Instead of extending that dangerous policy to rest of India, there is need to reverse its regressive actions in Kashmir, allowing people to give vent to their anger and passions and listening to them, if the Centre really wants to reach out to the people; also for the sake of civility and democratic ethics.