Message from the grand Machil picnic

A little more than two years ago, three innocent men were done to death in Machil by army personnel and passed off as foreign militants. The revelations of the fake encounter shook the Valley and the people of the area sought justice, which never came. Two years hence, chief minister Omar Abdullah has responded by holding his second outdoors cabinet meeting in this sector, only to announce the postings and transfers in the police department, perhaps as an apt metaphor. Machil itself goes down in the cumulative memory of the people as a symbol of a police state and a militarized zone ever since it witnessed a gory incident which became the precursor of one of the most turbulent periods in Kashmir. Government failure to respond to the protests on Machil is what ignited the first sparks of anger in the summer of 2010.

When, two weeks long unheeded sporadic arrests in several small pockets led to the killing of an innocent teenager, Tufail Mattoo, returning back from school, on June 11, anger began spilling to other parts and by the end of the same week when police gunned down three more youth during angry protests, the anger turned into vitriolic rage, provoking five months long shut down and street protests. The government responded by allowing police and security personnel to kill over 120 youngsters and injure hundreds of others, many still recuperating from the wounds they endured. The only other response was in branding the protests as Lashkar or separatist sponsored. None of these killings have been investigated, even as the government later admitted that majority of those killed were innocent. This is how Machil, a metaphor of repression and travesty of justice, will always be remembered by the people of Kashmir.

For Omar Abdullah, however, who sees the reflection of the greatest public disaffection towards him in Machil, it needs to be conquered by chopper sorties and cavalcades of ministers and VVIPs to the place and by taking what he deems as crucially important decisions like transfers within police department so that he can permanently hoist his flag of a police state that is detested by the people of Machil and by those for whom Machil brings memories of repression and injustices. Other than that, the cabinet meeting betrayed the hypocrisy of a government which can do nothing for the development of a backward place like Machil, barring holding of Panchayat elections, without giving its representatives any powers, but can spend lakhs so that the top hierarchy of the government can picnic in a place that stands as an epitome of systemic and institutionalised denial for justice.

Omar Abdullah has only offered us a trailer of the system stinking of hypocrisy that comes from the top. Police personnel commit atrocities and the top brass cocoon themselves in silence or go out all the way to fudge evidence. Army or other security agencies commit atrocities, they get protection under Armed Forces Special Powers Act anyway, and added to that is the inaction of the police who only speak up in rare cases like last week’s attack on cops in Kathua by army men. “Law of the land is equal for all,” is what top police officials had to say while seeking the custody of accused army men in Kathua incident. Strangely, this essence and core of Indian constitution and laws is conveniently forgotten when police personnel are not the victims but the perpetrators. The chief minister himself vows to punish a party man for his alleged involvement in an alleged sex scandal last week and says that nobody can escape the arms of law. But he evades any fair probe in the mysterious death, alleged to be a murder, of his party worker in his own residence just shortly after he and his two aides met him and allegedly threaten him. He gets that unique privilege of avoiding any questioning or interrogation that his other more mortal colleague involved in the sex scandal will never enjoy.

He can also enjoy the privilege of deciding to visit Machil along with his entourage of ministers, not to atone for sins of his government but to make a point. That he is the boss. That Machil belongs to him, that it continues to be an extension of a police state he heads and makes the point forcefully, stamping it with a slew of transfers of police heads. It wasn’t meant for public consumption, or to sketch for himself an image of some do-gooder, out to speak for the masses of an under developed area. If anybody is mistaken in drawing any other inferences, it may only be additional bonus for a chief minister so distanced from the masses, their needs and aspirations. Otherwise, Machil’s cabinet meet is only meant to be an official endorsement of continuum of repression and denial of justice, nothing else.