Covid-19 seems to be used as yet another ruse by the shambolic state to place the onus of sagging Indian economy on the pandemic, thus steering itself clear of the blame for messing up the economy. The litany of economic packages, by the economic wizards of this government, including the Rs 20 lakh crores ostensibly to raise the current moribund state of the economy to a position of robust health seems to be a chimera. Only a fraction, to the tune of 10% of that amount, is actually planned to be the fiscal outlay, while the remaining part of the package is already part of committed expenditures. And in the middle of this crippling financial crisis, where in the hell is the moolah going to come for erecting the boondoggle Central Vista Project in Delhi, which is slated to cost the exchequer a tidy sum of Rs. 20,000 crores. Will it have to be dished out from the shallow pockets of the poor Indians?
On the other side, the dance of death in Kashmir continues unabated. Amidst Covid-19, gunfights have intensified in the last few months. Also, the administration is using the pandemic as a godsent gift to rush through certain policy initiatives aimed at the ultimate disempowerment of Kashmiris. These are being put in place, mostly by stealth and fraud, and rarely by the book. Some days back an entire cluster of residential houses in Srinagar were set on fire by the government forces in retaliation, after a Kashmiri militant holed up in a neighbouring house was gunned down by them after a brief encounter. A few days earlier, a 25-year old civilian was shot dead at a checkpoint by the security forces for no reason. The intermittent suspension of mobile and internet services in Kashmir is a part of the same pattern. In a somewhat skeletal and truncated form, the service was resumed in Kashmir six months after August 5 but was shut down again for a week, twice, after gunfights on the pretext of curbing likely public outrage.
At a time when Covid is already unleashing itself in all its fury everywhere and upon every single soul on the planet, the internet happens to remain the only source of information to access the appropriate information pertaining to Covid and for education and earning livelihood.
This raises the simple and straightforward question: why do the authorities have to resort to measures that would only exacerbate an already volatile situation? The internet lockdown and the use of force to quell the possibility of a fresh bout of uprising are by no means going to make a difference to the miasma of mistrust that is deep-rooted. Draconian measures cannot be used till eternity to ward off unrest and cycle of violence. Terror and violence has failed to ebb even after thirty years of a policy of strong arm tactics while dealing with Kashmir, reflecting that this policy is flawed to the core and counterproductive in terms of restoring what is being tom-tommed as “peace and stability” to the region.
The handling of Kashmir bears an uncanny similarity to Covid-19. While in the latter, it is futile to expect an end to the pandemic by treating all the Covid patients who happen to test positive at a particular instant of time because of the high number of people they would have already infected, militancy cannot be ended by killing all the militants as every death induces a sense of outrage and inspires many more young Kashmiris, pushed to the wall, to pick up the gun. The idea of ending militancy in Kashmir by taking on and seeking to eliminate the militants alongside the unsuspecting civilians is a strategy that is doomed to fail while not failing to exact a price on the other side of the fence in terms of the loss of both men and material on the ground during such inhuman, anti-people operations. What is even worse and far more distressing is the sight of the vast sections of the society, including educated Indians, who are willing to fall in line and to lend support to measures that are clearly thoughtless, adhoc and lacking grace and direction.
Democratic institutions have failed Kashmiris and Indian judiciary is the last nail in the coffin. The judiciary’s handling of many Kashmir related cases including its procrastination on the petition regarding Article 370 and its unconscionable refusal to adjudicate on the petition pertaining to the restoration of 4G internet in Kashmir, is a deeply distressing reality.
It appears that it is not Kashmiris who are in awe of the might and muscle of their tormentors, but it is the latter that are mortally afraid of the former, the helpless victims of their unjustified angst and ire. How else would one account for the relentless killing spree of Kashmiris, a blanket ban on free speech, an absolute denial of their fundamental, human and democratic rights. Leave alone the long and shameless use of force to quell peaceful murmurs of protest against their heavy handedness in handling Kashmir, just consider this ‘non–issue’ of internet blockade which is resorted to at the throw of a hat, literally. The canard that “only a few pockets in Kashmir are ‘misguided’ who are out to disturb peace” falls on its face if only they cared to heed their inner voice.
The judicial verdict awarding the death sentence to Afzal Guru had been issued to satisfy the ‘collective conscience’ of the nation but the plight of common Kashmiris has not shaken their conscience, just like the tragic death of hundreds of migrant labourers on the highways of India or of 16 migrant labourers who were mowed down on the railway track in Aurangabad some days ago. This perfidy, these antics and this stupidity of repeating lies remind me of the adage: “A lie will get you a long way, but it won’t take you home”.
The sad part is that this ominous turn of events in the India of today is lost on the Modi bhakts and their mentors in the Sangh parivar. Their bilious contempt of Kashmiris derives from a larger design of reducing the Indian Muslims to the dregs of the society where they would live at the mercy of the majority community. Losing no opportunity to malign the Muslims, it is worth noting how the Delhi riots earlier this year were carefully orchestrated by them and how, in a shameless display of raw power, the victims of the violence have been hounded, arrested and falsely implicated for the mayhem. The same ploy was used at the time of the first nation-wide lockdown following the outbreak of Covid-19 when the members of
the Tablighi jamaa’t were isolated and demonised for spreading the virus in Delhi and elsewhere.
Covid-19 or Kashmir, this government’s way of handling the two situations is bereft of application of mind and logic.
(The author teaches at Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar)