By Waqas Farooq Kuttay
Killers and oppressors come in all shades. The Indian state has a tainted history in Kashmir and so does the Pakistani state. Kashmiris always demand justice of Indian atrocities. No one dares to ask the same of the Pakistani state or the militant groups operating in the region. Indian government forces are supposed to be accountable for their sins. But how are militants to be held accountable?
When an innocent person is killed by any agent, it is an act of terrorism. Attacking a group of government forces in a marketplace is an act of terrorism because it is possibly going to result in civilian casualties. Any sane person will be aware of the consequences of such an attack. Many argue that this is “collateral damage” but it is murder – murder in the name of freedom. The attack on police at Mirbazar, Kulgam on a cash van in Pombai, Kulgam, which was carrying bank employees and policemen or the grenade attack at Khanyar, Srinagar, in which a civilian was killed are acts of utter cowardice and need to be condemned. These types of attacks are not something new in the valley. There was a time in Kashmir when militants would kill a person for nothing and no one would dare to talk about it.
People need to move out of the vortex of ‘sympathy’ and the invocation of ‘collateral damage’ and start thinking critically. Is it moral or ethical to be silent when an innocent is killed by militants? Does fighting for Kashmir’s cause exonerate them of killing innocents? Does fighting for Kashmir mean license to kill? Does this line of argument justify unchecked killings by militants? Aren’t these groups supposed to produce a counter morality and ideology to India? Shouldn’t there be a mechanism for accountability within militant ranks? If you fight in the name of people, you must be accountable to them. The need for secrecy within militant groups is understandable, but when reputation of an organization is at stake and when a dastardly criminal act has been committed by a member(s) of an organization, some information and decisions need to be made public. Some action needs to be taken. The civilian casualties due to conflict remain very high in Kashmir. A considerable number of murders were committed by militants also. Unfortunately, these incidents go unnoticed or unreported or no one talks about them because of fear of reprisal or bias. Killing of innocent civilians is a serious issue no matter who kills them.
There must have been some justification for the killing of policemen and guards in Kulgam district. Just because they were employed in local police force is no justification for their murder. And what about the two bank security guards? According to Louis Althusser, judiciary and bureaucracy are also part of coercive state apparatus. Then each and every person associated with coercive state apparatus needs to be purged or every person associated with the Indian state in any form (persons associated with non-coercive apparatuses)!
At times, even the separatist politicians remain silent on such issues which is an indicator of the crisis that these groups are going through. They need to condemn such incidents in which a civilian is killed whether it is by indiscriminate firing on crowds by government forces or in an ambush on government forces by militants in the midst of a market. These leaders always wait for an opportunity to condemn the atrocities by government forces but when oppressors are militants, the narrative shifts from oppression to bloodshed due to conflict or collateral damage. If they profess the term collateral damage in such cases, then every atrocity carried out by the Indian state can be justified. Acknowledgement of mistakes does not erode legitimacy of any organization. Rather it gives more legitimacy, if proper correctional measures are taken. Militants have widespread public support in Kashmir and no doubt every insurgency needs public support to sustain. Alienation of people then is a serious problem.
Apologies in case of mistake seems absent in the case of Kashmir. Although a large number of innocent people have been killed by militants, an apology was never issued. This is a dangerous trend which denotes the extent to which power can affect and corrupt thinking capabilities of human beings. Most of the militants active at present are around twenties; with limited experience of life they seem to operate without any code and purely out of passion on many occasions. It looks like they can kill anybody they want. The problem is that a 14-year-old, killed in an encounter at Bandipora was called a martyr, and no one dared to call him a child soldier.
In Qaimoh, Kulgam, militants gave a gun salute to one of their members who was killed in a brief encounter at Mirbazar Kulgam. In the same attack two civilians also died. Without remorse about loss of two civilian lives, the militants came out to celebrate the martyrdom of their fellow member. How dichotomous!
Lately, confession videos of alleged informers are doing rounds on the internet. These videos released by militants are taken as final by public and to a large extent legitimize killing of these alleged informers by them. People at large have never raised a grain of doubt about the veracity of claims made by militants through these videos despite torture marks visible on bodies of some of these alleged informers.
The recent release of videos of gruesome incidents of killings in south Kashmir is also of immense concern. Out of three videos, two were owned by militants, while another one was not (neither have militants denied it). Also the family of one slain woman (the one video which was not owned by militants) has not put the blame on government forces. The militants at times just keep mum rather than denying involvement in any killing. This works best for them. While in controversial incidents militants should actually make their involvement/non-involvement clear. This recent trend, which more or less has resemblance to ISIS style killings, is normalizing violence as these graphic videos are watched by any person of any age group and are quite accessible to anyone using social media. These killings are seen as ‘sacred acts’ by many, where killers are seen as hands of the ‘Supreme’ and are justified in the name of freedom or religion.
The people have largely remained tight-lipped on these gruesome killings. But for how long this will continue? The increasing reluctance of people to condemn such killings broadly suggests the ‘normalization of violence’ among the masses. The fear of facing the brunt from the armed groups if their ‘brutal acts’ are criticized is possibly a rationale for not letting the morality and reasoning speak. This is a dangerous phenomenon and must end at the earliest.
Waqas Farooq Kuttay is a Senior Research Fellow at Department of Political Science Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
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