By Arif Khan
The year 2016 witnessed a fresh spurt of violence in Kashmir. This is one of the worst upsurges ever since the beginning of conflict in Kashmir. Most mainstream Indian political opinion makers and observers pay no attention to it. In fact, they conveniently underplay the damage violence has inflicted on people. However, the violence of the past few months is said to be different in its nature and pattern, compared to that of 2008 and 2010.
The violence in the Valley is growing fast and taking new forms as students come out on streets in large numbers against the establishment. The fallout of such a conflict has been enormous in terms of loss of lives of common people. There is an outpouring of people belonging to different age groups and gender.
Different perspective and views are being offered by many observers: that the recent unrest in Kashmir is the handiwork of some external forces (read Pakistan) or a discontent created by some troublemakers within (read Hurriyat). In Mukul Kesavan’s words (Telegraph: April 18), these views are “a set of diagnoses and arguments that are quasi-colonial in their logic.” The British Raj also offered similar opinions to crush dissent and undermine the Indian freedom movement.
In order to get a more nuanced understanding of the events unfolding, the perspectives on the recent upsurge in Kashmir need to be historically contextualized, rather than proffered in a very superficial manner.
The feeling of disloyalty and discrimination by India runs deep in the mind of an average Kashmiri. The use of pellet guns is among the most contentious issues in Kashmir today. We didn’t witness the use of pellet guns during the Jat agitation in Haryana, the Cauvery agitation in Karnataka, the Patel agitation in Gujarat or any other agitation anywhere else in India for that matter. The sense of discrimination comes from ill-treatment of Kashmiris in the rest of India, especially of students who study outside Kashmir and are being harassed often.
As people in the Valley took to the streets, police and paramilitary forces were deployed in large numbers across the region. Thousands of young protesters resisting the lethal weapons of the armed forces with mere stones were accused and charged under sedition law and the PSA. Indian forces reacted with utmost brutality, firing bullets, CS gas, and metal pellets into the crowds. Pellet guns, used by the forces to control crowds in Kashmir, were introduced in 2010, and have continued to be used since then. Yet, every single day we witness an increase in the count of the pellet injuries, with the hospitals in Srinagar being flooded with the injured.
The establishment has faced severe criticism from the different non-governmental organisations and many human right activists because of its policy of using gun pellets. Mehbooba Mufti once said, “The union home minister had said the government would seriously rethink its use as a crowd-control measure.” In the press conference, Rajnath Singh announced that “an alternative to pellet guns will be put to use soon. Pellet guns have come under sharp criticism for blinding hundreds of people.” He appealed to the people of Kashmir to not play with the future of its youth, and stressed the need to identify those “fanning trouble”. “Children are children. If they pick up stones, they must be counselled,” he added.
However, some people maintained that pellet guns must be used because the alternative would be worse! One security official opines that pellet guns have in fact “saved lives”: “It is unfortunate that there have been eye injuries but the pellets are less lethal than getting hit by bullets.”
There is no doubt that these guns used by the police and paramilitary forces have caused grave injuries to common people. Every act of cruelty undermines the legitimacy of state even more, eventually fuelling further discontent and resentment.
Generally, such a cruel response to unrest or mass dissent has been a key characteristic of empires and tyrants. A modern democratic state hardly unleashes such violence, except upon victims whom it does not regard as its ‘own people’. Kashmir however stands out as an exceptional manifestation of state violence. There is no other recorded example of a modern democracy systematically and wilfully shooting at people to blind them and inflict serious injuries on them.
There appears to be loss of confidence, mistrust, and insecurity on the part of the government authorities which are unable to bring down the violence through peaceful means. As fresh unrest shakes the Kashmir Valley, the government has asked security forces deployed there to use plastic bullets for crowd control operations, instead of pellet guns. It is better to follow a peace-building process rather than the use of pellet guns to quell stone pelting mobs in the state.
Both the central and the state governments should keep the interest of Kashmiris in mind, and look to find a solution that is acceptable to all stakeholders. This is not an easy task, but the only eternal solution to put an end to the continuing conflict.
A solution to the Kashmir crisis seems impossible at this moment. Some believe that the use of the armed force is the only way out of the present condition. They attribute the return to “normalcy” in Kashmir to the use of force. This, I think, is a faulty belief. The fragile peace is momentary and can disrupt again at the slightest provocation. In fact, everybody in the Valley is living under the anxiety that something abysmal may happen in the near future, and that this time, it will be worse than anything that has happened in the past. Government authorities should talk to the people, so that there may be peace and stability in the Valley, making a “return to normalcy” possible. A “return to normalcy” would imply that people would able to shop, roam around without fear, send their children to school, marry them off, celebrate uncurfewed religious fests, and welcome tourists to their blighted land.
The decade old conflict in Kashmir has hardened India to the extent that it fails to understand the human sufferings in the Valley. It only reveals the country’s authoritarian tactics in the Valley where ‘normal life’ has been reduced to memory! Amidst rising nationalist feelings, any sense of the basic rights of a suffering population has been eroded entirely.
Arif Khan is a research Scholar at the Department of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia, NewDelhi. His area of interest is conflict studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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