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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 18, April 25, 2015

Encounter or Sheer Murder

Saturday 25 April 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

Yet another encounter has taken place in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. I have lost the count. What is distressing is that even the human rights activists are practically quiet. Hardly anyone of them goes to the State to find out what happened on the ground, as was the practice till recently.

This indicates not only the lessening of interest but also a tacit approval of the excesses commi-tted by the security forces. The Mufti Mohammad Sayeed Government, which announced to provide an accountable governance, does not come out well.

In this murky atmosphere, the return of Kashmiri Pandits, who were forced to leave their homes in the Valley, has become more uncertain. Those who are shedding tears over the composite culture which the Valley enjoyed when the Pandits were there are doing little to bring them back.

The fundamentalist Syed Geelani was at least honest when he said in reply to my query a few years back that the Pandits’ return was dependent on the solution of the Kashmir problems. That means waiting till eternity. The hardcore people like Yasin Malik do miss the composite culture but he too has reconciled to the situation.

Former Chief Minister Omar Farooq Abdullah is frank enough to admit that none in the Valley made any serious attempt to stop the Pandits’ exodus in 1993. Not a single voice was heard on the loudspeakers at the mosques asking the Pandits not to leave, he said.

Some extremists have defended their oppo-sition to the Pandits’ return on the ground that it would disturb the demographic balance, knowing well that the Valley with 98 per cent Muslims would probably bring down the Muslim population to 96 per cent.

The Kashmiri Pandits are an affluent and influential community. If their fate can move the government to solve what is the real cause, their affliction would not go waste.

It is a pity that the fundamentalists have the last word. But this is the solution which people are increasingly accepting. That it should happen in Kashmir, which remained undis-turbed even during partition, is unfortunate. Yet this is the reality.

The battle over the return of the Pandits was lost in the Valley itself. If the population does not assert itself to retrieve the situation, no other force can help. The resolve of the composite culture-lovers is weakening. Religion is having an upper hand. Both the Kashmiri Pandits and Punjabi Hindus have no future. The Valley is claimed by the Muslims and Punjab by the Sikhs. The extremists are corroding the common ground.

Indeed, the hot wind of saffronisation blowing in the country is having an adverse effect in Kashmir as well. But we seem to be oblivious to the religious factor. Liberals believe as if they have no hope that they can win.

It is a pity that the Aam Aadmi Party is floundering because of minor differences. When one set of people go to the extent of having a separate convention to voice their grievances, it is obvious that the atmosphere within the party is suffocating.

A split among the members is unfortunate. It indicates that social movements tend to split when they enter the political field. Activist Medha Patkar says that social movements will change the complexion of politics. One wishes this comes true. But power corrupts even those who have spent their entire life in propagating the values.

Encounter became a familiar word during the militancy in Punjab when the then police chief, K.P.S. Gill, was accused of staging encounters to kill the militants to circumvent the long, tedious legal procedures of having the verdicts against the guilty from courts. He always denied the charge and said in defence that the legal system was so defective that a case could go on for decades or so. The person charged with murder, rape or worse got the bail and committed the same heinous crime during the period he was out of prison.

Strange, the killing of 20 labourers by an Andhra Police task force earlier in the month has not created the furore in the country which the incident should have. Is it because the victims were mere labourers, considered at the bottom of the elitist society which lays down the law? Or, is it because they were poor, already living on the margins?

Eight labourers set out from their homes at Vettagiripalayam in Tamil Nadu on a Monday afternoon. They first head to Tiruttani, not far from the Andhra border. From Tiruttani, they take a bus to Renigunta in Andhra Pradesh but are picked up by the police on the way. Encounters take place in Seshachalam forest near Tirupati. According to one of the survivors, he was with the seven in the bus when it was stopped by Andhra Police. While the others were led out, he was spared because he was sitting next to a woman and police thought he was her husband.

Incident after incident shows that the police have followed the same methods which were used during the British period. There is the same cruelty and the same reluctance to go into the matter deep and determine the cause. Rulers do not care the method used so long as the force delivers what they want. In the last 68 years since independence the scenario should have changed. But obviously it has not because the target is to secure what suits them, not the method to reach the goal.

If the nation were to introspect, it would realise that the excesses committed in the name of governance are sheer indifference and political aggrandisement.

Pre-meditated killings, which have the name of encounter, should not be tolerated in a democratic society. The National Human Rights Commission summoned the survivors of the Andhra encounter and has recorded their version. In due course, the verdict would be out to either chastise the police or let them go with a warning.

With the passage of time, the incident will recede from the memory of the people. But this should not happen. Otherwise, similar incidents will take place at some other place, at some other time and the police will call its action as an encounter.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com