The piercing image of a group of people desperately holding the body of a 12-year-old Junaid Akhoon amid heavy tear gas shelling by police depicts the saga of pain through which Kashmir has been passing in the last three months. The powerful picture that would easily make it to the front pages of international newspapers went viral on social media and reminded us of what we perhaps fail to feel because of the numbness with which we have been living and counting the dead bodies. From human losses to a grinding halt in daily life with schools shut and businesses closed, Kashmir is finding itself in a knot that no one is in a position to break. Government and the separatists are fighting war of wits and that too without proper application of mind. The end result is people’s sufferings and a lost track.
Junaid was a young boy whose eyes tell a lot about the robustness he had imbibed as a Kashmiri. His family refuted the official claim that he was part of any protest. Whether he was or not, but the fact of the matter is that every Kashmiri is emotionally and psychologically part of a larger protest against the Indian state. But Junaid, the only boy to his parents, did not deserve death as he was young and had a desire and right to live his life. Magnitude of protest in Saidpora area of Srinagar downtown where he was killed was very low so the use of force in this fashion is unacceptable. If his family is to be believed then Junaid’s was a target killing. He died of pellets. Pellets have been used excessively since July 8 uprising leading to injuries to thousands; scores of them have lost eye sight and young boys and girls groaning with the pellet pain have lost the opportunity to get further education. Much noise was made about this so-called non-lethal weapon that left terrible trail of death, and assurances had come about its ban. Like all other promises made to Kashmiris since 1947, this time too Delhi could not fulfill it.
Junaid’s killing is a grim reminder about how the young kids have fallen to the cycle of violence and how there is no road to justice. Surprisingly the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has demanded probe into his killing. May be it was because of the outrage that was witnessed after his killing that the ruling party was forced to call for the probe. Ironically, questions have been raised, particularly on social media, by those who see Kashmir uprising as sponsored and handiwork of Pakistan and a handful of anti-India people. Questions like ‘what was a 12 year old boy doing in a protest. Why his parents allowed him to go out?’ need to be seen in the larger perspective of the political problem and not in isolation. When the situation reached a point that even government lost control how can these questions be dealt in isolation.
Even if the separatist leadership has to answer certain questions about where Kashmir is heading, that does not absolve the forces of their crimes. Junaid’s is not the only case. There are many instances in which excessive use of force has led to the killing of civilians. The argument that they were forced to fire in self-defence as they came under attack by mobs does not help the government to shirk its responsibility. A distinction has to be made between a government force, which is governed by a set of rules, and the mob.
Lack of accountability has been Kashmir’s chronic problem in last 26 years. The forces have dealt with the militancy with unbridled powers under Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the police too has gone scot free while committing human rights violations. In 2010 when 120 civilians, mostly youth, were killed not a single paramilitary or policeman was charged. A Commission of Inquiry failed to even complete the preliminary investigation. If the government would have fixed the responsibility for the excessive use of force in 2010 and punished those who failed to follow the Stand Operating Procedures (SOP), perhaps the situation would have been different this time. The current government is treading on the same path and not even admitting that the way forces responded to the situation was not in tune with SOPs. By maintaining silence, it has in a way thrown its weight behind those who have taken their job for-granted.
Talking about these excesses has become difficult in today’s Kashmir. The spaces have been choked as is evident from human rights defender Khurram Parvez’s detention. If a human rights activist, whose ideology may be at variance with what the ruling perceives, is not allowed to work and is detained under Public Safety Act (PSA), it raises important questions about how the democracy functions here. PSA has been declared as “Lawless Law” by Amnesty International. Using it with the carbon copies of dossiers has punctured the claims of democracy. Khurram’s arrest was also seen as a warning shot to rest of civil society to submit in silence. But it does not help to create any space for reconciliation.
Renewed hostility between India and Pakistan might have pushed Kashmir’s current phase of despair into background. But the pictures like the one of Junaid’s funeral being tear-gassed has shocked thousands and have again brought to the fore the disturbing situation in which an average Kashmiri is caught in. From the curfew to indefinite shutdowns, the killings like this stand testimony to the level of desperation among the people. They not only need to come out of this uncertainty to chalk out a practical roadmap, they also crave for justice for those who have fallen to bullets and pellets. Junaid’s killing will continue to haunt those who have used force as a sport. It is up to the government to see that the culprits are brought to book by holding an impartial inquiry so that more Junaids do not land in graveyards. Attacking a funeral like this is to send a word out that the state is even scared of the dead not to talk of the living.
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