The Palhalan tragedy is too colossal to be narrated in words and too bowel-shaking to feel just sad about
First the terror scene and then the terror. A group of armed policemen suddenly raid a locality ‘from all directions’ to catch hold of youth protesting on its streets against police atrocities in the area a day before. Unable to quell the protests, the cops ‘fire indiscriminately’ at the protesters and gun down a bystander. The scene ends. Makes up a Bollywood blockbuster scene where police raids a densely-populated locality to nab the villain in a most dramatic way. In real life though, how do you define this terror unleashing in Kashmir localities, every now and then—the fresh instance being the Palhalan youth’s killing in police firing the other day? It’s downright cowardice. Pure terrorism. It is a reflection of how the police in Kashmir—that is otherwise (in other states I mean) meant to save its citizens—operates. And the terror unleashed is such as if it’s not the civilian protesters who are in the line of fire, but hardcore criminals who can’t be allowed to live for the next moment!
Why does this happen so often is too obvious a question to be asked. Why write then when killings at the hands of armed forces continue despite all the rage and condemnations around? Because that is what an ordinary citizen can do to vent his anger. That cops raided the Palhalan locality and killed 22-year-old Farooq Ahmad Bhat—an ace cricketer—is too familiar a scene in Kashmir, except that the place is different this time. If it were Chattergam yesterday, it is Palhalan today, and it could well be Srinagar tomorrow. Because the degree of impunity that armed forces in the state enjoy is beyond limits. Because the lack of accountability in the “system” is such that civilian killings by armed forces are encouraged—like a matter of policy—to quell anti-India demonstrations. Because the armed forces are given a free hand to shoot down civilians and get away with it—the sham probes ordered and “justice” assured by the government notwithstanding.
Because killing unarmed civilians and immediately “regretting” the “incident” has become a norm—something that is unheard of in other places in the world. Because the self-styled theory of “firing in self-defence” is a lie that the state—which is supposedly voted to power to protect its citizens—entertains to let the accused soldiers and cops go scot-free. Because the cops know nobody is going to touch them for this “brave work” that—in a place called Kashmir—earns promotions than punishment for them. Because blood is so cheap in Kashmir (not even in Jammu!) that even street outrage against civilian killings is again dealt with bullets.
So, should the entire “incident” end with “regret”, as police has done this time? Is life so cheap a commodity that you can finish it with “regret”? In Kashmir, it is. What was the “provocation” that the police required to raid the Palhalan locality in this terrorizing manner? Why did the cops fire indiscriminately, as locals have asserted, and shot Farooq in shoulder and face? This approach—that is beyond condemnable—has more to it than meets the eye. They can handle protests with bamboos and water cannons. Can’t they! But given that they shot the youth in face and shoulder only reflects the intent that such killings have a larger purpose: to send out a strong message that street protests won’t be tolerated. But if this the way to go about it, then the street protests, in all probabilities, would only intensify. Because every such killing will obviously fuel more resistance. Because if the ‘issue’ is handled from the prism of so-called law and order than decoding the reasons for street protests, you may well end up pushing more youth to the wall. Because what essentially requires to be done is to address the aspirations of these youth hitting the streets. The more you put it under the carpet, the more trouble you will end up in. In Palhalan, for instance, they hit the streets because police harassed a family in a nocturnal raid, as locals have clearly stated. Because such harassment, in the first place, is unwarranted even if the intent is to “nab a stone-pelter.” Because such harassment would, for obvious reasons, trigger protests. Because unless you address the root of the issue, you just can’t address the issue.
What is striking in the midst of this continuing murder is the silence of J&K’s pro-India politicians who can’t go beyond condemning such murders. Because they are opportunists who won’t side with you once you are done with “voting” for them in the so-called elections. That is why a person like Omar Abdullah, who hasn’t done anything in his tenure to bring the killers of 120 youth to book, hasn’t gone beyond seeking a so-called probe in the Palhalan tragedy—the probes that yielded no results in the government he headed for six years. So instead of seeking an end this desire of armed forces to kill, they maintain a criminal silence to not annoy their masters. And this silence, for all practical purposes, is only facilitating such murders. And how about this: if people’s participation in the assembly elections is a “win of ballot over bullet”, as Indian leaders and state’s pro-India politicians asserted after the polls, how do you respond to this “win”? With bullets? If yes, there is a lesson for the voters: that even your vote can’t guarantee your safety. That you may fall to bullets despite thronging the polling booths. And if people still get killed, how should they respond next time: abstain from voting; yes. And if not this, the least they can do is ask their “representatives” why they keep mum when their loved ones fall to bullets !