Silence of the lambs …when and where will it end?

Two youth were killed on Sunday June 30 by Indian Army after they opened fire in two separate incidents resulting in the death of these young people. The police confirmed the report and filed an FIR against the soldiers of 13th battalion of Rashtriya Rifles.

 

 

 The mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have condemned the incident. The Army has come out with the usual “we were not at fault” statement that merely takes away from its reputation, and convinces no one. And for the moment that is where the matter rests.  

This is a major travesty of justice but predictably, it did not make it to the top headlines of either the print or television news. No one stopped to remind the “nation” that Indian democracy never provided for the Army to wilfully shoot two innocent young people, and walk away, sure in the knowledge that it will not have to pay for the crime. No one wrote volumes or shouted hysterically about the fact that the Indian Army as an institution was to defend and save Indians, and not kill them at will. And that the men responsible for the attack should be immediately arrested, tried and punished. The Deputy Commissioner of Bandipore, where the deaths occurred, has already told the media that a FIR for murder has been registered against the Rashtriya Rifles battalion, and that there is no need for an investigation as the charge has been established against the Army.

Some journalists are, surprisingly, amongst those juxtaposing this incident against the ‘backdrop’ in which millitants attacked an Army convoy and killed eight soldiers. This reprehensible attack was roundly condemned by all, and hands and hearts reached out to the affected families. But where is the comparison? The attack on the Army was by militants who resort to violence. The attack on the two youth was by an institution of the Indian state, supposedly to be there (in the state) to protect and honour civilian lives. In the first instance, the state exists to apprehend and act against militants with all the might at its command. In that the victims of violence can turn to the state for help. In the second instance, where do the victims go when the state itself, in the form of the Army or the police, turns against them? Who will protect them? Who will defend them? Who will ensure justice?

Militant violence, while debilitating and frightening, can be acted against if the state is strong and willing. State terror on the other hand is traumatic and terrifying, as the citizen is totally helpless with no state to turn to for help. In the Kashmir valley, the citizens have been totally disempowered, having surrendered their freedoms and rights to the state that justifies this as part of its “crackdown” on militancy. The Army is an all powerful institution, having immense powers and an authority that is denied the same in the rest of India. In fact the face of the Army in Uttarakhand is unrecognizable in Kashmir, and vice versa.  In Kashmir and the North east it is menacing and scary, in Uttarakhand it is compassionate and caring.

The argument that some will offer to counter the last sentence will be: “the Kashmiris are terrorists so what do you expect the Army to do, hold their hand?” This is the worst possible retort, with mainland India rushing to dub an entire people as terrorists simply because it does not care sufficiently to understand that this is not so, and that innocents are becoming targets of politics that seeks to isolate them and place them on the periphery of decision making so that their voice is not heard, or if heard is dismissed as ‘extremist’.

It is imperative for the Indian Army to take immediate action by identifying the soldiers responsible for the deaths, trying them and announcing the action taken for the public to know. But given the first response of the Army, it is clear that no lessons have been learnt, and it is “Operation Cover Up” as always. Instead of realizing that action against the bad eggs will improve the image and reputation of the Army dramatically, the officers in command look upon action as weakness. This is the attitude not of armies that work with and for the people, this is the attitude usually of forces that look upon themselves as occupiers and at the people as territory.

It is amazing how New Delhi is able to cut off its limbs, namely the ‘border states’, as if these do not exist. And certainly do not impact on its consciousness, or for that matter conscience. The most heinous incidents reported from these ‘far flung’ areas are ignored by the establishment, with human rights violations and the absence of justice not figuring in the discourse of the day. So a young woman can spend her entire life fasting for the withdrawal of AFSPA from the north eastern states, but her protests fall on deaf ears. Instead she is harassed and persecuted by the so called security forces, as the political rulers watch with no compassion. Similarly the cries for justice emanating from Kashmir are blown away by the winds of injustice with mass graves, mass rapes, and enforced disappearances, all disappearing under Operation Cover Up.

Worst kinds of crimes are ‘covered up’ with the people left to suffer in silence for years and years. In Kunan Poshpora young women raped by soldiers on that fateful nights have turned old, the old women have died, and yet there is no sign of justice 23 years after the event. For the women time has stood still, it was as if they were violated just yesterday, as they see their unmarried daughters suffer, and their sons dropping out of schools because of the stigma that has attached itself to the villages. Their eyes are haunted, they weep inconsolably and quietly, their grim faces the only testimony to how life has treated them since the troops entered their homes in the dark hours of the night, took away their men and raped the women. Where is the justice?  

The issue is not the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the issue is the withdrawal of the Army itself from the Valley. The policy towards Kashmir must change. Reports of ‘encounters’ in which militants are killed do not attract violent protests in Kashmir. But when young people are killed, or picked up without trace, all in the name of a shadowy war, then the trauma, and the grief, and the alienation pours out on to the streets. Till date not a single person has been arrested for the death of 118 young people, one after the other, for doing little more than pelting stones. There has been no inquiry, there have been no arrests, except of Kashmiri youth who are picked up on a daily basis and taken away in the name of security. Some are lucky enough to be released, many others are not, while the families continue to wait for word.

How can this be accepted? How can all this be condoned? When and where will it all end?

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