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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 11 New Delhi March 2, 2019

‘Bare Life’ of Kashmiris

Sunday 3 March 2019, by Arup Kumar Sen

There are diverse ways of remembering a tragic event. The aftermath of recent deaths of more than 40 CRPF men in terrorist attack in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir on February 14, 2019 bears testimony to it. In the wake of the tragedy, peaceful candle light processions were organised in different parts of the country to pay tribute to the soldiers. This marks the sane way of mourning the tragic deaths. But, violent ways of responding to the event, targeting Kashmiris, are also rampant.

Curfew was imposed in Jammu as a precautionary measure following violent reactions to the terror attack in Pulwama. The agitators, mostly youth, put up barricades on roads demanding revenge. It is reported that people, led by the Bajrang Dal, the Shiv Sena and the Dogra Front, took out candlelight marches in the city and held anti-Pakistan protests. A Dogri anti-Islam slogan—We will not let anyone say Allah’s name. We will not let the Muslims remain—was also being chanted. It may be mentioned in this connection that the Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industries called for a shutdown in Jammu, and the Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, Jammu, suspended work in all the courts in Jammu in protest against the Pulwama attack. (See The Wire, February 15, 2019) Kashmiris living in Jammu communicated to the media that they were targeted at several places and some of their vehicles were torched. Reportedly, near 30 vehicles were torched and another 30 damaged in Gujjar Nagar on February 15. Many State Government employees from Kashmir, facing sporadic attacks in Jammu since the terror attack in Pulwama, refused to attend office on February 18, in protest. One of their representatives said: “We want the Governor’s administration to ensure foolproof security to the Kashmiri employees and their families in Jammu. If it cannot do so, it should close the Civil Secretariat for a week and send us back to the Valley. We will return to Jammu and resume our duties once the situation is normal.” (The Indian Express, February 19, 2019)

The attacks on Kashmiris are happening in other States also. In Dehradun, at least two institutes have publicly stated that they will not admit any student from Kashmir in the new academic session. The fear and threats also prompted several Kashmiri students to leave the city temporarily. The Principal of an institute in the city reportedly gave an “undertaking” to the students’ union, which along with members of the ABVP, VHP and Bajrang Dal had led protests against the Pulwama attack and beat Kashmiri students, that “no new Kashmiri student will be admitted in the upcoming session”. (The Indian Express, February 18, 2019)

Following reports of attacks on and harassment of Kashmiri students outside Kashmir, the National Conference leader, Omar Abdullah, tweeted: ...By attacking them, terrorising them and forcing them to find the shelter they are being told there is no place for them outside the Valley and no future in the mainland.

In the light of the petition filed by advocate Tariq Adeeb, the Supreme Court Bench of the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, and Justice Sanjiv Khanna ordered (February 22): “The Chief Secretaries, Directors General of Police of all the States and Union Territories including the Commissioner of Police, Delhi, are directed to take prompt and necessary action to prevent incidents of assault, threat, social boycott and such other egregious acts against the Kashmiris, including students enrolled with the institutions in the respondent States and Union Territories, and other minorities in the wake of the terrorist attack dated 14.2.2019.” (Cited in The Indian Express, February 23, 2019).

We do not know how the administrative officials in different States will respond to the directive of the Supreme Court. A day after the Supreme Court order, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a rally in Rajasthan, said: “...brothers and sisters, our fight is against terrorism, against the enemies of humanity. Our fight is for Kashmir, not against Kashmir, not against Kashmiris.” Interestingly, on the same day, additional security forces started arriving in Jammu and Kashmir after the Union Home Ministry approved the deployment of another 100 companies of paramilitary personnel in the State. The top officers reportedly characterised the movement of the forces as a “routine exercise” ahead of the elections. (See The Indian Express, February 24, 2019)

The Kashmiris are living bare lives in their home State with perennial interventions of military and paramilitary personnel. To put it in the words of an insider, Najwa Shabir: “What is normal for a person who has lived her entire life in a conflict zone? Is it the perpetual bloodshed that has rendered our green chinars red, or is it the constant sense of threat that has prevailed in this valley for too long? As someone who was born and raised in a valley ravaged by conflict since decades, the word normal has become synonymous with all kinds of violence and hardships. My day, unlike yours, begins and ends with uncertainty.” (Outlook, March 4, 2019)

They are now facing blatant violence, threats, and harassment outside the State. The predicament of the Kashmiris reminds us of the figure of the Homo Sacer: “...his entire existence is reduced to a bare life stripped of every right by virtue of the fact that anyone can kill him without committing homicide...”1


  • Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford University Press, 1998, p. 183.
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