Brutal action on a religious procession is unacceptable; government must rein in human rights abuse
The brutal action by paramilitary forces and police, including liberal spraying of the inhuman shot-gun pellets on the Muharram processions on two consecutive days last weekend, resulting in injuries to over 200 people, is a reflection of the manner in which the government chooses to deal with Kashmir – foreclosing all democratic spaces, denying religious rights and perpetuating abuse. Police and the locals have blamed each other for the provocation. Even if the police version of stone pelting and some sloganeering be treated as the gospel truth, such brutal action against civilian assemblies is unwarranted. It may need to be asked why the government should be at liberty to exercise such brutal forms of repression to counter street protests or religious processions only in Kashmir.
It is not the only place in the country where processions and marches sometimes turn chaotic. If use of bullets and pellet guns against assemblies of people in rest of the country are unacceptable, the same yardstick should apply here as well. The normalization of brutality in Kashmir punctures the very claims of equality and integration which the Indian government is peddling since last year. Viewed in the backdrop of eye-witness account that the tear-gas shells and pellet shots were fired without a warning, the situation becomes extremely grave. The incident comes close on the heels of allegations by three families of Rajouri of fake encounter in Shopian, triggering skepticism about the many unidentified bodies being buried at distant places by the police after encounters under the pretext of Covid pandemic. Kashmir is already littered with a history of human rights abuse and the lack of accountability and legal justice mechanisms.
Laws like AFSPA which stonewall prosecution of armed forces in allegations of human rights abuse and Public Safety Act Public Safety Act, a law that allows the police to detain any person without charges for a maximum of two years, continue to be the routine methods of subjugating the people
The deepening trust deficit between New Delhi and Kashmir since last year coupled with unaccounted human rights abuse and culture of impunity has the potential of scripting a dangerous path in Kashmir, where young men feel pushed to the wall and are enamoured by the idea of joining ranks of militant groups. Increasing alienation, spiral of human rights abuse including over 120 killings during street protests in 2010 and absence of justice mechanisms for abuse played a major role in resurfacing of militancy. The killing of Burhan Wani, the poster-boy of the new breed of militancy, by security forces in 2016 resulted in massive street protests in which security forces heavily used bullets and shot gun pellets in which over 80 people were killed and hundreds of others were maiming and blinded. The massive scale of violence ended up in glamourisation of militancy by Kashmiri youth. Brutal methods, tried unsuccessfully in the past, have yielded counter-productive results.
They are detrimental to the short-term and long-term interests of peace and also reflect scant regard for India’s constitutional values. While strategic concerns do necessitate military action against gun-wielding militants, the state has to be held accountable for the wrongful killings and injuries of civilians. Instead of trying to keep a lid over the matter by making false assumptions and arm-twisting sections of media into blacking out the news about human rights violations, the government must live up to its promise and its talk about democracy and inclusion of people of Jammu and Kashmir by first reining in brutal military methods against civilians and holding guilty men in uniform accountable.