Tribute And then there were none…

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine… (Tufail Mattoo)
Maximum restraint…For the past few weeks, with young Kashmiris dropping like flies all around me, I have been mulling that phrase over. I ask myself, in matters of crowd control, or “mob management” as the country’s security establishment is prone to calling it,

what connotation of the word “restraint” empowers those soldiers, fighting for “king and country”, to even begin to justify answering the pelting of stones with the shooting of bullets? Perhaps they are insensitive, ruthless. Certainly they are hopelessly disconnected from the sentiment on the street. Or perhaps they are merely dense.

Be that as it may, two things seem clear. Firstly, firing at protestors – even if they pelt stones – will never stop the seemingly endless cycle of violence consuming Kashmir. Who does one expect should make informed choices: disillusioned teenagers or mature, responsible governments claiming to be democratic? Violence merely breeds further violence, amply demonstrated through the clashes raging on the streets of Kashmir. Secondly, Kashmir seems to be a laboratory of sorts, where the art of using maximum force to quell dissent seems to be in the process of being perfected. Nowhere else in India, except perhaps the north-east, does the police fire live bullets directly at protestors, even if they are out to damage public property.
 

Nine little Indian boys sat up very late; one overslept himself and then there were eight… (Rafiq Ahmad Bangroo)

There are several cases in point. Take, for instance, the nationwide strike enforced on the 5th of July by various political parties sitting in opposition, to protest against the recent fuel-price hike finalised by the Union Cabinet. By way of enforcement of that strike, was there arson, violence, destruction of public property and the disruption of public transport? Indeed there was. Were there any bullets, fired directly at protestors, risking certain casualties, to prevent any of that? Mysteriously, there were not. Kashmiris are clearly a special people, seemingly hand-picked as fortunate test-subjects for all “riot-control” and “mob-management” experiments that the armed forces deem necessary to conduct.

Go back a little further, and another incident immediately springs to mind: the so-called “Amarnath Land Row” that engulfed the state in the summer of 2008. At that point in time, with violent protests and counter-protests raging in both the Jammu and Kashmir provinces, the response of the state in engaging with protestors – in “riot-control”, in “mob-management” – was far from equitable: while the armed forces displayed uncommon patience in dealing with rioting mobs in Jammu, such that there was not a single casualty, in Srinagar, such was their ferocity in engaging gatherings of much the same character, that by autumn of that year, no less than sixty civilians had fallen to bullets fired by the armed forces and to rampaging mobs.

Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon; one said he’d stay there and then there were seven… (Javed Ahmad Malla)
 
Thus we must ask ourselves, the provocation being much the same, should the response be any different? How can similar groups of protestors, or “violent mobs”, if one were uses the language fashionably employed by the state, beating up the police, setting vehicles on fire, smashing wind-shields and pelting-stones, be treated dissimilarly? Is it because of the slogans they chant, the flag they hoist, or perhaps the allegiances they swear? Can we, as concerned citizens, condone such a false differentiation? Why is the response of the Ministry of Home Affairs, of the armed forces, always to discredit, and never to engage? They always take a mile, don’t give an inch, and then call for talks. In such a state of affairs, is there any starting point for dialogue?

A Mani Shankar Aiyar is the exception, which is why he will never be Prime Minister of India. Otherwise, one may think we deserve compassion, yet only ever receive scepticism; one may hope we merit empathy, but are repeatedly condemned; one may expect we deserve apologies, but are always riddled with bullets. Incapable of looking within, the powers-that-be are so remorseless as to only ever look across the border, a heaven-sent, “fountainhead-of-all-evil”. The Government of India’s top points-men – persons, in my humble opinion, of a stuffy, bureaucratic and reactionary disposition – can only look at acts – stone pelting – and have no patience for reasons – human rights violations, a dysfunctional justice delivery system.
 
Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks; one chopped himself in halves and then there were six… (Shakeel Ganai)

Will this cycle of violence ever stop? All things remaining the same, I personally don’t think it will. If it does, that will only be to start again, at the slightest provocation. That may be a very dark prophecy, but what else does one think when a Home Secretary, one of the senior-most and most responsible persons in the Ministry of Home Affairs actually believes that people who pelt stones cannot be thought of as civilians? Implicitly, what he is saying is that even the nine-year-old deserved it, and that they all got what was coming to them; he is implying that, if they cannot be thought of as civilians, then they must be treated as combatants, and the situation as armed conflict. In armed conflict, there will inevitably be casualties.

So pull out all the stops, call in the Army (which they have), and prepare for battle. It would be useful to consider that the Army is not a “riot-control” or “mob-management” force, having no batons, no riot-shields and no tear-gas. Their lightest weaponry consists of automatic and semi-automatic machine guns, from which they shoot to kill. That is what they are trained to do, being a country’s first line of defence against what is usually external aggression. For them, maiming is not an option. If, in the corridors of power, there is such an alarmist, hard-line view of events unfolding; if in those corridors, there is no introspection, no remorse, and certainly no recognition of peoples’ pain, their suffering, it would be quite unnatural to be optimistic.

Six little Indian boys playing with a hive; a bumblebee stung one and then there were five… (Firdous Khan)

One may have her or his issues with Sajjad Lone, but I was struck by something he said recently, on one of those “epic” nightly political debates of Barkha Dutt’s: where are we heading, if the discourse within the political and military establishment is whether Kashmiris need to be hurt more, by using tear gas and bullets, or whether in controlling the prevailing situation, we can afford to hurt them less, through water cannons and batons? Certainly not towards peace, or a “political solution”, to what everyone seems to agree is a “political problem”. We are quite distressingly heading towards the perpetuation of this ungodly cycle of violence, which even if momentarily halted, will inevitably flare up again.

Why should the armed forces, or even the Ministry of Home Affairs, want to hurt Kashmiris? Because we hurt them, by pelting them with stones? If that is indeed the case, then there is really no point in writing this piece, since long after these pages have turned to dust, the last of us will still be pelting stones, and they will still be firing bullets. By trying to discredit all stone-pelters, calling them “hired agents”, the armed forces, the Home Ministry and powerful Indian media houses are in effect implying that Kashmiris are perfectly fine dying without protest at the hands of the armed forces, since all “mobs” are sponsored. They are trying to pass us off as an insensitive people, who experience no pain, have no heart, no feelings and no emotions.

Five little Indian boys going in for law; one got in Chancery and then there were four… (Bilal Ahmed Wani)

How, then, does one extinguish this…volcano, before more innocent lives are lost to its fury? What must we do to soothe the rage on the streets, so that it never again returns? Here I am reminded of a remark my bête noire, Barkha Dutt, made on one of those “epic” debates. Just a few weeks ago, New Delhi was measuring – even celebrating – normalcy in the Valley, the yardsticks being: how many Kashmiris participated in the elections? What number got government jobs? How many tourists visited? What developmental schemes were inaugurated? New Delhi’s “policy-men” are also like ostriches: their heads buried in the sand, refusing to see what they don’t want to, and thinking that no one else can either.

The Union Government must stop living in denial. A political problem can never be solved through good economics, which is convenient to distract but cannot make one forget. That is not to say that the politics must be favoured in place of the economics. They must be taken forward simultaneously, with equal energies devoted to both, since this is critical for addressing the issue of alienation, particularly that of the youth. The Government of India would be ill-advised to continue sweeping the political dimensions of “the Kashmir issue” under the carpet. To do that would be to bless the proliferation of bullet-ridden corpses, broken jaws and burning cars…of Kashmiri stone-pelters, but also of those “brave jawans”, fighting for “king and country”.
 Four little Indian boys going out to sea; a red herring swallowed one and then there were three… (Tajamul Bashir)

On their part, if they have any “daeg” (pain) for their people, the leadership of the state, both ‘separatist’ and ‘mainstream’, must start thinking of them as human beings, and not as sheep, whose deaths don’t really matter, and which are a welcome opportunity to settle political scores. In one voice, they must urgently start building sustained pressure on the Central Government, to irreversibly engage with the political dimensions of the dispute; asking us what we want, and then giving it honest consideration. If the Government of India wants to prevent “people from across the border” from “fomenting trouble here”, they must first set their own house in order, by adopting it, not condemning it. For their own sake, they need to start giving that inch.

Three little Indian boys walking in the zoo; a big bear hugged one and then there were two… (Tauqeer Rather)

Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun; one got frizzled up and then there was one… (Ishtiyaq Ahmed)

One little Indian boy left all alone; he went and hanged himself and then there were none… (Imtiyaz Ahmed Itoo)

As I write this, five more civilians have been murdered by the armed forces. The curfew has kept me indoors for over seventy two hours. Somebody, anybody…please make the violence stop.

Before there is none.

Note
Sajid passed away in a tragic road accident on May 17. This article is being reproduced to mark his birth anniversary. Long Drive to Freedom, a collection of Sajid’s articles, is being released at a function at SKICC today at 4 p.m. For more information please log on to www.sajidiqbalfoundation.org