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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 31, July 24, 2010

The Beautiful Valley on the Boil

Sunday 25 July 2010, by Surendra Mohan

 
Curfew continues in the cities of Srinagar, Baramullah, Sopore and Anantnag, in the Kashmir Valley and during the last ten days, there has been no improvement in the maintenance of law and order. On July 6, the Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, visited Anantnag and admitted that three young boys had been shot dead by the security forces when they were chased by the CRPF to their homes. He promised an enquiry within 24 hours. During the month of June, several young persons were killed by the security forces. One of them, Asif Hasan Rather, from Baramullah, whom a bullet hit in the chest, was only nine years old. He was killed on June 26. Tufail Matoo, who was killed on June 11, was just 17. Others include Rafiq Ahned Bangaroo, 25, killed on June 19, and Javed Ahmed Malla, 18, on June 20. Matoo, Bangaroo and Mala belonged to Srinagar. Firdaus Ahmed Khan, 19, and Shakeel Ahmed Gania, 25, were shot dead on June 25, Bilal Ahmed Vani, 21, on June 27, Tajamul Bashir, 19, on June 28. They were from Sopore. Tajamul Islam Baba, 17,. Ishtiyaq Ahmed Khandey, 15, and Imtiaz Ahmed Itoo, 17, were killed on June 29, The last three were from Anantnag, reference to which has already been made. Each killing has brought forth uproarious protest. The people have resorted to sloganeering, in some places stone pelting, defying curfew, gathering into large crowds, melting away as the security forces arrive and again regrouping to raise more slogans after they leave.

On the night of July 5, a young person, Muzaffar Ahmed Bhatt, got drowned in a cannel when he was chased by the security forces. His only ‘crime’ was that he protested when he saw a Minister of State, Nazir Aslam Vani, who was on a visit to the place. Fancy, a 25-year-old woman, was hit by a bullet and died. Fayyaz Ahmed Vani was killed the same day. In one day, four persons, including these three, were killed and 70 injured in different parts of Srinagar. A protest rally of women led by the Dukhtaran-e-Millat chief, Asiya Andarabi, was teargassed after baton charge failed to disperse it. The Law Minister, Ali Mohommad Sagar, was compelled to comment that the CRPF had gone out of control and there was no chain of command. Obviously, such straight talk hurts, and the Union Home Secretary, Pillai, gave the Force a clean chit without insisting on a thorough probe before defending it. This kind of irresponsible behaviour complicates matters further. The BJP has also jumped into the fray to give full support to the security forces.

The Union Home Minister, not to be left behind, has accused the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s hand behind the massive protests of the people. He forgets to tell us that the whole of North Kashmir has been seething with anger, and protests have erupted in a big way in every town. He has promised all support to the Chief Minister and his government. But, that only relates to strengthening the CRPF with more battalions or with the BSF. The Union Government has learnt no lesson which every democratic regime remembers—that you cannot put down a people’s rebellion by resort to brute force. If every peaceful protest, even by an unarmed individual young man, is to be dealt with by repression, there is no need for any inimical element to create a stir. You are doing it yourself. Most of the protests by the people in hundreds and thousands have been peaceful. It should be understood that with such strict surveillance as the Valley has witnessed for the last twenty years, there would be no prospect of even a score of persons, let alone thousands, carrying arms.

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The anger and anguish is so pervasive that repetitive appeals by the leaders of various political parties and the Hurriyat Conference have failed to clear the bazaars and the streets. No insightful Union Home Minister or Union Home Secretary would have missed to read this basic fact: the people do not want to see the face of a single jawan of the CRPF. These honourable gentlemen have known of false encounters in which officers and men of the Force have indulged in and quite a number of them have been punished. They have concurred in giving the Force special powers under the infamous AFSPA which ought to have been repealed years ago. They know very well that the security forces in the Valley are not accountable to any civil authority; hence, they have run amok on several occasions in various places. More of the same will solve no problems. If anything, the situation will be aggravated further. What is needed is a healing touch.

The Jammu and Kashmir State has seen back-channel diplomacies, invitations by successive PMs for all-party discussions, announcements of packages for development, offers of a different arrangement like limited autonomy, changes in regimes at the State and Central levels, and yet there is only worsening of the situation. The reason is simple: there is blatant interference by the Union Government or by the Governor appointed by it so that the elected government of the State feels hampered in its work. The present Governor is reported to have instructed the Secretaries of various departments of the government that they should report directly to him. This has been done without consulting the elected government. The former Governor, General S. K. Sinha, had, as is well known, wanted to communicate directly with the Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners and had created an acute crisis by giving away a few thousand acres of forest land for the pilgrims of the Amarnath Yatra. Why is the already disturbed State of J&K everybody’s playing field?

The people there have not forgotten that for almost half-a-century, all elections in the State were fraudulent. They remember how State governments were dismissed by, or brought down at the behest of, the powers that be in New Delhi. Therefore, whenever they find the Governor’s interference, the old rancour in their minds returns. The failings of the security forces in violating human rights also remind them of all the old grievances. Most of all, they have lost faith in the bonafides of the rulers in New Delhi. Nehru understood this in his last years and released Sheikh Mohommad Abdullah. He asked the Sheikh to meet Pakistan’s ruler Ayub Khan. After Nehru’s passing away, Sheikh Abdullah was again detained. Then, during the internal Emergency, Mrs Gandhi released him and put him in power. When everything was running smoothly, Dr Farooq Abdullah‘s government was brought down in 1984 by a conspiracy of the then Governor, Jag Mohan, the then PCC chief, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, and the then Union Minister of State for Internal Security, Arun Nehru.

Has any other State experienced such topsy-turvies at the hands of New Delhi’s rulers? The armed forces are sufficiently strong to deal with the terrorists’ infiltration. The State Police should be strengthened and depended upon to keep the internal peace. The CRPF is just not necessary; it has only aggravated the situation. Nor should the Union Government listen to the Army about repealing the AFSPA, for no institution wants to lose special powers. All street demonstrations will be dealt with by the police as in any other State. As for the larger question of autonomy, it should be settled once and for all by discussing it with all those who wish to join the discussions.

 

The author is one of the country’s leading socialist ideologues.

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