July 17, 2016

Jammu & Kashmir: Stop Repression, Start Dialogue

THE outburst of mass protests throughout Kashmir, consequent to the killing of Hizbul leader Burhan Wani, has paralysed the valley for the past five days. Upto now, 34 persons have been killed, mostly young men and one policeman; 1,400 have been injured, many with serious wounds. The valley has been simmering with discontent for quite some time. The growing alienation of the people, particularly the youth, was visible in the big gatherings when the funerals of militants killed by the security forces were held. In dealing with the protests mainly by crowds of stone throwing youth, the security forces are repeating the same blunder that occurred in the summer of 2010 when protests by stone throwing youth were met by brutal firing which led to the deaths of 120 young boys. Doctors who have treated the casualties have stated that most of the bullet wounds are above the waist. The use of pellet guns have resulted in serious injuries in the face and led to many losing their sight. The Indian State and the security forces behave as if Kashmir is an occupied territory. Civilian protestors are dealt with in the same manner as armed militants. The efforts of the government to pin the blame on Pakistan for fomenting trouble will be dismissed both inside the country and outside. The government is refusing to recognise that they are dealing with a situation where the mass of the people have risen in protest. The lead has been taken by the young people and not the Hurriyat leaders. The legitimacy and the credibility of the Indian State in Kashmir has taken a serious knock. The formation of the PDP-BJP coalition government aggravated the communal divide with the two partners representing only their regions and locked into an opportunist alliance. Matters were made worse by the Modi government which, in the last two years since it took office, has taken no political initiative to have a dialogue with all sections of the political spectrum, including the separatists. On the contrary, the dialogue with Pakistan was called off on the pretext that the Pakistani foreign secretary was scheduled to meet the Hurriyat leaders in Delhi. The resumption of talks with Pakistan is sought to be focused on security and terrorism related issues and avoid the main issue, which is Kashmir. The reality is that with the BJP government at the centre and the PDP-BJP government in Jammu & Kashmir, all avenues for a political process have been blocked. The BJP, which does not even recognise the need for Article 370 in the constitution, must realise that the complex problem of Jammu & Kashmir cannot be solved through the narrow sectarian vision of Hindutva. The Modi government must adopt a path of political dialogue with all shades of opinion in the state; there has to be confidence building measures by substantially reducing the security structures in the state particularly in the civilian areas. The police and the paramilitary forces must be instructed on how to deal with civilian protests without excessive forces. The people of Kashmir will have to feel that they are not under the oppressive security State structure and their aspirations and problems are being addressed in a meaningful way.