And the Sentiment Survives

The fourth anniversary of Shopian tragedy was observed recently. The victims’ families and Majlis-e-Mushwarat vowed to continue their fight for justice. While justice seems a distant dream, the participants in a debate decided to view the tragedy in its holistic perspective.

 

 

Women in Kashmir were not mauled for the first time in Shopian. It started in 1990 at Chanpora Srinagar when militants opened fire on a CRPF patrol leaving a few of them dead. The angry CRPF personnel responded by ransacking houses in the locality. A few women were molested. The incident evoked severe response in Srinagar. A renowned journalist from New Delhi found it difficult to accept the reality. She had never imagined that the Indian soldiers can go to the extent of outraging the modesty of women. But the reality soon dawned on her. One evening when she went to fax her story from the only fax machine at CTO, she received the shock of her life. She too was molested but screamed to safety.  The incident changed her but not fully. She continues to be guided what the Indians proudly call ‘national interest’.

The Chanpora incident was followed by the infamous Kunanposhpora tragedy. Thirty-two women were gang raped by the soldiers in this beautiful hamlet in Kupwara district in February 1991. A petition by fifty women from Srinagar seeking reopening of the case went in vain. The fight continues.

Who can forget the Wawoosa incident? Who can ignore the supreme sacrifice offered by Anantnag’s Zahida? When a soldier forced entry into her house to rape her, she resisted. Sensing the soldier was too strong for her, she ended her life by pushing a dagger into her abdomen. Yet again the government failed to take action.  

All soldiers are not rapists. There is no dearth of nice men in the armed forces. At times they have played the saviour as well. When a groom did not turn up for marriage in a Srinagar locality, a BSF officer intervened and took the unscrupulous groom to task. There have been instances when the men in uniform have helped the local people. But all of them are not saints. They misuse their powers very often. Unfortunately the misdeeds of the armed forces have not only been ignored but glorified as well. It, therefore, becomes necessary to undertake an in-depth study of the phenomenon.

Kashmir Conflict

People across the globe are fully aware of the pros and cons of Kashmir conflict. No further explanation is, therefore, needed here. But this is where the problem lies. The Indian armed forces are what they are because of the Kashmir conflict. It is their engagement in Kashmir that has made them `national heroes’ for the gullible Indians. Who can dare to bring the `national heroes’ to justice? Coverage of incidents like rape, molestation and extra-judicial executions by local media has always been rejected as `malicious propaganda aimed at maligning the image of the security forces.’ The Indian media has played its part well and missed no opportunity to shield their ‘heroes’.

There is a widespread mistaken notion that Kashmir holds India together. And to hold Kashmir at gun point, a free hand is given to the armed forces. The gullible Indians must know that if India survives because of Kashmir then it is a failed state. Kashmir is not land, water and mountains only.

Ignorance

The troops who are assigned the job of holding Kashmir do not know anything about the conflict. In 1990 additional troops were rushed to Kashmir from all parts of India. They were told that Kashmir was going to polls and they were here to ensure law and order. That was a time when Kashmiris would chant Allah-o-Akber (God is great) from the mosques. Would the Indians believe that the soldiers were seen discussing in Batmaloo area about Akber?  They were amazed by popularity of Akber and even predicted his win. But after a couple of months the reality dawned on them much to their disbelief.

Battle for Algiers is a good movie. After some blasts in the town, a new army commander arrives. On the very first day he convenes a meeting of his officers and tells them about the conflict and the people. He tells them not to harass the non-combatants and above all warns them to stay away from women.

Impunity

Impunity guaranteed by special and ordinary laws has wreaked havoc in Kashmir. The men in uniform know there are laws to protect them. It only encourages them to misuse their powers. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra- judicial, summary and Arbitrary Executions lucidly summarized the impunity and extrajudicial executions in her report to the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights:

“Impunity for human rights offenders seriously undermines the rule of law, and also widens the gap between those close to the power structures and others who are vulnerable to human rights abuses. In this way, human rights violations are perpetuated or sometimes even encouraged, as perpetrators feel that they are free to act in a climate of impunity…, extrajudicial killings and acts of murder may sometimes also go unpunished because of the sex, religious belief, or ethnicity of the victim. Human rights protection and respect for the rule of law are central to lasting peace and stability. It is, therefore, crucial that conflict prevention strategies and post-conflict peace-building efforts include effective measures to end the culture of impunity and protect the rule of law.”

Militarization

Kashmir has the distinction of being the highest militarized zone in the world during peace times. There are villages where the people have to walk through the camps to go in or out of the villages. This is a recipe for crimes like rapes and molestation. And here in lie the roots of all the problems Kashmiris have been facing during the past two decades.

According to official data, there are not more than one hundred militants in the state. Does the government need half a million soldiers to fight 1000 militants? Agreed Kashmir has borders with Pakistan and China and troops are needed. But how many?

All demands of demilitarization have been rejected. The PDP president, Mahbooba Mufti once sought restoration of 1988 status (when the troops were in barracks). The government of India even rejected this. This makes it amply clear that the troops are here not to contain the militants but to control the mindset. But can the soldiers do it?

They could not do it for six decades. Notwithstanding massive repression, the sentiment has survived.

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