Vol. XLI No. 28 July 09, 2017

The Latest from Ground Zero in Valley

Faiz Safdar Bhat

TO say that the current conditions in valley (especially in South Kashmir) are alarming is really an understatement. They are worsening day by day coupled with a massive increase in people’s anger. The brutal lynching of a police officer in Srinagar, the audacious but cruel attack on police party in Achabal, Anantnag, and the recurring attempts of women, men and children to save militants in every encounter are really the worst tipping points of this whole grim scenario. In all, precious lives are being lost and blood is being shed mindlessly. There has been indeed an unprecedented spurt in the number of militant activities in South Kashmir but it is just that we may be underestimating the latent dangers in central and north Kashmir because if the reports are to be believed, militancy is slowly but surely sprouting in these areas as well.

In recent times, in south Kashmir, lethal attacks have been carried out against police with complete nonchalance. Army and paramilitary forces have also been attacked particularly on the national highway. Often, the forces respond with crackdowns, cordons and of course, harassment of ordinary civilians which keeps on the intensity of already prevalent anger. During encounters whose frequency has also now increased in south Kashmir, it has become almost routine for men, women, young and old to assemble in numbers to pelt stones on the forces to help militants in having a free escape. The forces resort with indiscriminate shelling and firing which often results in casualties thus again resulting in more anger and more outrage. It is this vicious cycle of violence and death which is now the daily feature or the new normal of common Kashmiri life. In all this, the ‘elected’ state government which continues to boast of an abstract ‘healing touch’ and ‘dialogue’ seems to have completely fallen in the abyss of indifference and insensitivity to the suffering of its masses. One should not, however, mistake the massive number of people rushing to the encounter sites and attending the funerals of the fallen militants as a manifestation of people’s direct endorsement of the path of violence which militants adopt; it is more an expression of their anger and exasperation at the apathy and indifference which the rulers both at the centre and state have chosen vis-à-vis them. It is the only outlet which people are now finding to express their choked voices so as they could be heard. This is their only way of responding to the “muscular handling” which the ruling dispensation at the centre is frequently boasting of. Any caring, sensitive and democratically elected government should be listening to its citizens and trying to ameliorate their suffering but not threatening them of disastrous consequences which BJP ministers frequently do and now even chief minister of the state is also doing.

All those hyper-jingoistic politicians, TV journalists and analysts whose only job nowadays seems to be vilifying and portraying all Kashmiris as ‘terrorists’ in the frenzy of nationalism must remember that this ‘terrorist’ population had braved every call and threat of boycott in electing a certain party to the government in 2014. How come those who put great trust in Indian democracy and republicanism turn into ‘terrorists’ in just a small span of two years? It is for the governments at the centre and state to think and ponder over the wrongs that they have done to the people of Kashmir in these two years. Otherwise, in 2014, same people were rushing towards the polling booths who are now rushing to the encounter sites to ‘protect’ militants by risking their lives. Why did our mischievous neighbour (Pakistan) fail in 2014 to sabotage the elections? Why is it now succeeding in creating wide disorder as the BJP keeps on alleging while turning a blind eye to its own disorder which it has brought to the country in general and Kashmir in particular? Through its own disorder and politics of hate, it has ceded ground to the fundamentalists and has put the disenchanted Kashmiris into their lap. Perhaps, people who rushed to the polling booths in 2014 saw their mandate being betrayed, sold and surrendered for petty gains of power. This is the underlying sense one gets in the daily conversations and protest slogans in the most fermented areas of south Kashmir. Quite ironically, these are the areas which have been voting for PDP in numbers since 2002. There is a genuine anger regarding the unholy alliance between PDP and BJP and also against the Narendra Modi led BJP government at the centre for its brazen patronage of communal polarisation. Sensitive people in these areas still believe that if the unholy alliance between PDP and BJP which has only brought misery and suffering to the people in the valley somehow comes to an end, the people’s anger will definitely calm down  to a significant extent even though it won’t certainly resolve the Kashmir issue.

Since BJP has deceitfully linked Kashmir to its spiteful and divisive brand of politics in the rest of India, Kashmiris’ distrust for India has magnified disproportionately. It is again BJP which is to be blamed for this as it presents the idea of India though its disparaging brand of nationalism and politics of hate, the trust of Kashmiris in India’s republicanism and secular democratic polity has completely shattered. It is no surprise that the actual happenings on the ground are reflecting the same. The anger has turned against all that is being seen as the representative of the Indian state in Kashmiris – police, bureaucrats and mainstream politicians. Without appearing contemptuous, the immediate aftermath of the recent Achabal attack, in which six Kashmiri policemen lost their lives, was an apt illustration of how common Kashmiris feel about the Indian state right now. Not many Kashmiris went to their funeral, not many condemned the attack as it demanded, some of them did condemn but very reluctantly; on the contrary, a women and a teenager were killed while being part of a large gathering of people who tried to save the militant named as an alleged mastermind of the attack on policemen. The very next day, thousands of people participated in the funeral of the same militant shouting slogans in his favour. Many of these people had travelled huge distances by defying the restrictions and barricades and had also come from those localities to which the slain policemen belonged to.

For now there seems no end in sight. From no corner, any effort is being made to bring sanity to the proceedings; it is only the bellicosity and a tilt towards extremities which has created a point of no return for all with no scope left for a middle path. First of all it is the government of India that needs to realise the gravity of the situation; it has to detach Kashmir from the petty party electoral calculations. First of all, it needs to acknowledge that there is a problem and a very serious one which warrants solution. In all this dark state of affairs, if there is a hope, it is only that despite all the senseless brutalisation which is getting structured into our lives on a daily basis, there is still a huge majority of people in valley who all want peace to return. It is this wish which must spur on our hopes for some conceivable beginning of peace. But this huge majority of people, even though silent it may be, has also a note of caution – Peace can neither be imposed, bought or brought; it only prevails when there is a sense of justice. For now, what is needed is a practical realisation of this hope by enacting concrete steps which must begin with shunning of all the rigidities which all of our concerned stakeholders currently boast of – government of India, separatists, militants, security establishment and as well as state government. Only then, the path to middle ground will become clear.