The killing of two youth by the army in Bandipora on last Sunday is, to say the least, the most despicable and blatant act of violence, which cannot be justified or condoned by even the most prejudiced mind. This is because, even though killings are commonplace in Kashmir, the shooting incident, which left Irfan Ahmad Ganaie dead, is most condemnable as there can be no plausible explanation of how a person who came out of his house just to check- out on the noises he had heard from outside should be shot dead by the troopers.
The subsequent death of Tariq Ahmad Leharwal is equally distressing as well as tragic. Tariq, a resident of Safapora, Ganderbal had come to attend a marriage ceremony in Markunbdal village and being an outsider, probably may not even have know Irfan personally. However, on that fateful Sunday morning, he like all others had joined the protest march against the killing of Irfan. As per newspaper reports, when the procession reached Sopore-Srinagar-Hajin junction, the army men fired at the procession in which Tariq was killed, while three others were injured. Little would Tariq have known that his seemingly harmless act of joining a procession to register protest against the killing of a brother Kashmiri would cost him his life!
While the army may have denied its role in the killing of Irfan, but by doing so, it is only further eroding its own credibility since circumstantial evidence as well as the statements of the witnesses, belies its claim. Anyway, let us leave the army to its own devices and concentrate on what concerns us, since ultimately it is this, which matters. While public angst against the high- handed army action is logical and protests against the same is understandable, the torching of an Army Goodwill School by infuriated mobs is something that should worry us, as attacking a place of learning is unbecoming of a civilised society and reflects a Taliban-like psyche.
The separatist leadership may think otherwise and perhaps may also cite this as proof of public resentment against the ‘occupational forces’, but fighting fire with fire only damages our cause. And this brings us to a larger issue- that of opportunist and vendetta based actions. We have a lobby, which publically sheds tears on the murder of innocents but secretly welcomes such killings, as each such unfortunate incident ‘adds- up’ to the statistical data of excesses committed by the security forces. This lobby feels that statics alone would facilitate removal of AFSPA and this viewpoint may have merit. However, the grim reality is that until militancy is alive in Kashmir, New Delhi has a ‘legally tenable’ excuse for enforcing AFSPA in J&K and so, mere statistics alone will not help in the withdrawal of this draconian law!
On the issue of protesting against the killings of innocents, there is a case for reconsidering our strategy. Our concerns should not be ideologically inspired or emotionally driven, as they appear to be motivated and thus fail to make the desired impact. Instead, our demands must be nonpartisan and based purely on humanitarian considerations – the bottom line of our demand should be that the ongoing killings of innocents in Kashmir must end immediately. If this is done, then the international community will have no other option but to take notice of our plight as it is a genuine and reasonable demand, devoid of any ideological undertones. Simultaneously, New Delhi will have no scope to term the protests against security force excesses as mere ‘propaganda antics’ or motivated by ‘extraneous considerations’.
In this particular incident, while everything is in our favour, the act of burning down a school, only because it has been constructed and run by the army, weakens our position. Though some may say that this helps our cause as it illustrates the high level of public resentment against the presence of the army, it needs to be remembered that this school had been primarily established for the local children of the area. Thus, the torching the same can well be perceived as a motivated act of a few to deprive the general public of educational facilities for their childeren. If the people really do not approve of Army Goodwill Schools, then a voluntary boycott of the same would certainly have been a better option than burning it down- and too in retaliation to an incident in which the school had played no role!
The torching of the school has already generated some sympathy for the army as well as given it an opportunity to project its ‘benign’ image. Reproduced below are excerpts from some news reports:
* “It is for the first time that an Army School has been attacked by protesters in Kashmir.”
* “Army Goodwill School Hajin was established in 2005 as a result of popular demand of the people from Army and currently has classes from LKG to 8th. A total of 310 students from neighboring villages of the area study in this school. The school has been doing very well academically and in the field of sports. Army Goodwill School Hajin obtained excellent results in JKBOSE and achieved 100 % pass percentage including four students who secured more than 90% marks. This is also the only school in the area which has a computer lab and provides computer education to students,”
* “A few people entered into the school premises and set it on fire. Two classrooms and the school library was completely damaged in the incident. We (Army) showed utmost restraint and did not retaliate,”
* “Burning of the school is a sad incident and is indeed a big loss to the people, as this will hamper the endeavor of Army to provide quality education to the local population. However, the Army has resolved itself to repair the school immediately, so as to ensure the children do not suffer.”
There is an urgent need to instill a sense of propriety and discipline amongst the people so that the struggle for the ‘right to self determination’ maintains is non- violent and righteous character and does not degenerate into a meaningless orgy of senseless violence. In any mass movement, mob fury is a natural phenomenon, but it is incumbent on the leaders to ensure that the public exercises restraint so that its objectives cannot be trivialised. Readers will recall how public anger demonstrated through stone- pelting during the mass protests of 2010 was conveniently labeled by New Delhi as the handiwork of some leaders who had specifically ‘hired’ miscreants this purpose!
On its part, the army should realise that mere apologies or sympathies cannot compensate untimely and unwarranted deaths. So even though it has assured a thorough investigation into the incident and promised appropriate action against the guilty, what now remains to be seen is, whether it can actually deliver and ensure that the guilty are booked. And in doing so, the army would be well advised not to forget the old adage that ‘justice delayed, is justice denied’!
The writer is based in New Delhi and can be reached at