Kashmir: Halt Brutal Repression, Begin Talks

THE entire people of Kashmir valley are up in revolt against the Indian State.  This has been vividly brought out in the past week.  The by-election to the Srinagar parliamentary seat saw an abysmal participation with only 7.12 percent of the votes cast. This record low polling was not because of coercion and intimidation, but mainly by the people refusing to participate in the election. Eight young men were killed by the security forces while opposing the elections on the polling day. 

There has been no let up in the cycle of protests and brutal suppression by the security forces since the 2016 uprising. The last two days have seen statewide protests by college and school students after the police action on students belonging to the Pulwama Government Degree College.  54 students were injured in the police action. The administration had shut down all the colleges and secondary schools, despite which students, both boys and significantly girls in large numbers, have been out in the streets protesting. 

The Modi government has been resorting to only one method to deal with the protests, which is to use maximum force.  Despite the havoc created by the pellet guns, the  centre still insists that it will be  used as a last resort. The chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Rawat, as soon as he took over, had declared that those who oppose army operations will be treated as “overground helpers of the terrorists”.  Since then, many young men have been shot by the army and the central police forces for pelting stones against them when they have been conducting operations against militants.

Every death is leading to further protests and the army and CRPF personnel are being put in the invidious position of having to resort to brutal force against teenagers who are armed with nothing more lethal than stones. 

The central government is going to extraordinary lengths to justify excesses committed by the security forces.  Recently, a video emerged showing a young man, Farooq Dar, tied in front of an army jeep being driven through various villages.  The army officer concerned stated that this was done to prevent stone pelting on the army personnel. The use of an innocent civilian as a human shield by the Rashtriya Rifles personnel was justified by the Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi as a measure to ensure the safety of the army personnel. 

The lack of a political response and reliance on force and repression has virtually sundered any relationship between the people of Kashmir and the Indian State.  The Srinagar by-election boycott was a symptom of this rupture. 

The BJP-led government at the centre has adopted this strategy of using force to suppress the Kashmiri people to serve their cynical political interests of advancing the Hindutva agenda and making Kashmir an issue for  rousing feelings of Hindu nationalism in the rest of the country. In the official narrative, all the protestors are helpers of terrorism and paid stooges of Pakistan. In fact, in the social media, the BJP ran a campaign that demonetisation led to a sharp fall in stone pelting as there was no money to pay for the stone-peltors.  

The suppression of the Kashmiri people and the brutal violation of their fundamental rights is portrayed as the firm hand of the Modi government suppressing terrorism and Pakistani designs. 

The people of Kashmir can see the true nature of the Modi regime and what it stands for.  In the absence of any semblance of political steps to initiate a dialogue with all shades of political opinion and the stakeholders, as promised in the common programme adopted by the PDP-BJP alliance, the people of Kashmir have decided not to be cowed down by the coercive apparatus of the State.

The brutal repression unleashed in the valley must be condemned unreservedly.  The Modi government cannot be allowed to destroy Kashmir for achieving its sectarian and hyper-nationalist agenda.  All the secular and democratic forces in India should demand an end to the policy of leonine repression and the immediate initiation of dialogue with all sections of political opinion in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.  The people of Kashmir must be assured that there is a large section of public opinion in India which does not approve the brutal suppression of the democratic rights of the Kashmiri people.

(April 17, 2017)

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