Recently I was asked by one friend of mine who works as a reporter in a ‘reputed’ regional Telugu daily, the reasons for ‘gun culture’ and ‘stone pelting culture’ in the Indian administered Kashmir valley. “Why is it that people of Kashmir don’t peacefully complain about their problems to the government?” I replied to him that it is the cynicism and the distrust of the people with the system. My friend didn’t ask me what actually that meant. I wanted to explain to him about the life of common people in Kashmir, the diabolical role of Indian army, their impunity for human rights violations. I wanted to explain to him how a knock on the door late at night or sneaking away to smoke a cigarette at night sends spasms of anxiety through the people, afraid that this might be their last breath. I made up my mind that I need to grab his attention by hook or by crook to my story of the pain and suffering of Kashmiri people. I wanted to explain to him what distrust with the system meant. But my pal didn’t show even a trivial interest. He was content with my one line answer to his question to fill the space left in his story. Writing this piece I thought might help me to fulfill my yearning.
Past is never dead, past in one sense or the other lives in the present. E.H Carr says in his monumental work ‘What is History’, that we can view the past and achieve our understanding of the past, only through the eyes of the present. By putting it the other way around I think we can view the present and achieve our understanding of the present only through the eyes of the past. But to have a better picture of the past we need to know who has narrated the past and why s/he has narrated the past. We need to go back to the time of the event and interpret the mind that has narrated that event. Looking at the nationalist narratives for reality won’t help one to arrive at the truth. It is thus important to bring the history and its making under the scanner. In determinism they say everything that happens has a cause or causes, and could not have happened differently unless something in the cause or causes had also been different. Similarly there is a cause to the phenomenon of stone pelting in the valley. It is impossible to heal this problem without curing the cause of it. Merely making assertions that normalcy has returned to the valley can’t conceal the cause.
After the killing of youth in the valley and the commotions over a period of one month, most of the Indian newspapers have started claiming the return of normalcy to the valley, which is not the case. You can not heal the gash just by trying to put it out of sight. Kashmir is burning and will continue to burn unless the government of India repeals its draconian policies on Kashmir. The difference between Nazi Germany and Indian State’s draconian laws like Armed Forces Special Provinces Act is that Hitler was open about his idea of crucifying Jews, while the Indian government does not define itself openly. Indian state always has been able to hide its heinous crimes under a facade by calling itself a liberal, democratic and secular country. May it be the continuation of Gujarat’s Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister or the inability to bring the terrorists responsible for the blasts in Mecca Masjid, Gokul Chat and Lumbini park in Hyderabad to book, the Indian state and the its mainstream media have always remained indifferent.
Most Indians formulate their assumptions and ideas on the basis of reading of reports carried by TV channels, newspapers, watching Bollywood Films and magazines having some ideological stand. Rarely is there any Indian TV channel, paper or magazine having an empathetic understanding of the Kashmir issue. Hardly can one see stories like ‘State of Discontent’ written by Siddharth Vardharajan on the cold blooded murder of five innocent civilians at Panchalthan near Anantnag in March 2000. Otherwise it is always people like Praveen Swami, whose reports are constantly crammed with bias and get maximum legroom to write the claptrap in the national newspapers. As people are prone to amnesia, lest they forget the cause, I would like to refer to few instances which to a considerable degree can be related to the question of the current stone pelting phenomenon in the valley. To answer my friend’s question, I would hereby like to provide him a slight idea about the reasons for gun culture and stone pelting culture in the valley.
1987 Elections: Whether it is Sheikh Adbullah, who had originally led popular dissent against Maharaja Hari Singh or Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, it is always Delhi that has decided to choose the ruler for Kashmiri people. This can be understood clearly by the following sentence which Nehru wrote to Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, “It would strengthen your position much more if you lost a few more seats”. Both Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi when they fell out with their mentors in Delhi, were arrested. In 1984 Farooq Abdullah’s popularly elected government was dismissed at the behest of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Farooq Abdullah was found to have built links with Indian Opposition parties like NDA to create an India wide alliance against the ruling Congress Party.
In 1986, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah signed a new political alliance establishing an electoral partnership. This added to a sense of betrayal among Kashmiris who were shocked at Farooq Abdullah’s compromise with the very Congress party that had pushed him out of power in 1984. Congress Party and the National Conference jointly contested the elections against a conglomerate of smaller political parties under the umbrella of Muslim United Front (MUF). There were mass arrests of MUF candidates. The candidates of Muslim United Front (MUF) which was in the opposition had no choice but to pick up the gun. Sumit Ganguly in ‘The Crisis in Kashmir’ says ‘there were some six hundred opposition workers in those areas known to be MUF strongholds.’ Without going into more details, what we can conclude is that the elections of 1987 were a turning point in the history of valley. The disillusionment and enormous resentment against electoral politics and the victorious National Conference- Congress coalition can be called ‘the beginning of the end’ as Tavleen Singh puts it. That is how the gun culture started.
Bijbehara Killings: 37 innocent people were killed on October 22, 1993 when Border Security Force opened fire to disperse a crowd of nearly ten thousand people, who were demonstrating against an earlier incident of firing on protestors near Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar. The Indian government said that the people who were killed ‘died’. Though National Human Rights Commission took the case into their hands, it was not able to do any justice to the people who were killed. The incident was one more shock for the people and they started to doubt the reliability of state institutions.
Pachaltan Killings: On March 20, 2000, on the eve of a visit by then US President Bill Clinton to India, armed men in Indian army uniforms entered the village of Chittisingpora in Anantnag district at night, killed 36 Sikhs and left several injured. Immediately Pakistan was blamed for the incident. Indian government said that it had evidence that the Pakistan based Lashkare Toiba was behind the killings. On March 25, 2000, the security forces claimed that five militants responsible for the massacre had been killed in an armed encounter at Pathribal. As Siddharth Vardharajan says “even Home Minister L.K Advani triumphantly announced that the five (those killed) were Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists responsible for the Chittisingpora carnage”.
At that time, a number of villagers especially youth were missing. The villagers lodged a complaint at the police station. Later, it was found that the so called five militants killed in the army encounter in Pathribal were not militants but the men who were missing. On the demand from the public after massive protests, the bodies were exhumed. The army had mutilated the bodies of these five innocents badly. It was then insisted by the state government that DNA verification be carried out. Later it was seen that even the blood samples were tampered with. As Vardharajan rightly puts it “ In any civilized country, tampering of blood samples in a case relating to the cold blooded killing of innocent civilians would have been treated as a serious criminal case involving charges of accessory to murder. Not so in India or Kashmir.” So in this case also the system was corrupt and irresponsible. What will the people do? Is it not right to come out on the streets and throw stones? The thing called accountability is not even present in theory here.
Shopian Case: Home Minister of India P. Chidambaram gave a clean chit to the army and the paramilitary in the Shopian rape and murder case even while his own agencies were still carrying out the so called investigations into it.
Recently it has been seen that cinema halls in India, prior to screening the movie, play the national anthem with accompanying visuals of the Indian army hoisting the national flag. In this situation, the people are supposed to give a standing salutation to the army hoisting the flag. Most of people salute and don’t question it.
Recently while watching a movie I refused to stand. I was shouted at from behind by few English speaking urban middle class youth and told to pay respect to the brave Hheros on the screen. I replied to them “they raped my sisters, how I can salute them”. The guys who shouted were frozen by my argument. After the movie got over, I explained to them the reasons for my inability to salute their heroes. At that time I had in my mind the Shopian rape and murder case in which two girls were raped with the involvement of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). No justice was done to the victims. There was huge resentment among Kashmiris with the inability of the system to deal with the issue.
Recent Killings: A Nine year child, walking amidst the crowds of peaceful marchers to Sopore looking for his mentally challenged brother was gunned down in firing on protestors by the CRPF and police. In a similar fashion, about 18 people were killed recently followed by some of the Indian TV channels and newspapers relating it to the backing of Lashkar e Toiba. Even India’s home secretary appeared on the television and maintained that the slain boy was not “innocent” but a “paid miscreant”. Two days later, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram maintained that the mobs in Srinagar were being instigated by Lashkar e Toiba.
Whatever wrong happens is related to Pakistan. By constantly engaging peoples’ priorities Vis-à-vis Kashmir and thereof the rest of India, the aim has always been to define and solidify the nation state itself. It is clear that there exist festering contradictions in the form of Naxalism and the North East, leading to shallowness of any monolith called India; it has been thus very helpful for India to create the “other” in the form of Pakistan via Kashmir. If people of Kashmir are asking for justice, they are being told “you are suffering because of Pakistan.” India wants to incorporate Kashmiris, but considers them as part of the ‘Other’.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Impunity: Those responsible for abuses rarely get investigated, let alone tried and convicted. The laws like AFSPA which allow the lethal force to be used against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area has bred deep resentment among Kashmiris towards India. The most alarming factor that is responsible for the situation is high number of unlawful killings by security forces. These perpetrators and violators of human rights are not held accountable by the state for their actions. The immunity provisions in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act are used often in Kashmir to prevent civilian prosecutors from prosecuting soldiers. Whether one is raped or slaughtered by the army, it is important to get the sanction from the central government to prosecute any army person. No prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings shall be instituted, except with previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act. This Draconian law gives the army men the license to kill anyone.
Conclusion: This is not the end. There are a plethora of such instances which can be associated with the stone pelting phenomenon in Kashmir. Indian Press might claim the restoration of normalcy but the anger of the people over the recent killings in Kashmir can’t be covered up. The resentment still persists. It is important for Indian state and its media to introspect and at least give a compassionate thought to the cries of pain. The State government which is running at the behest of Delhi had always been unable to hear their cries of pain and suffering. As I mentioned earlier, everything that happens has a cause and here the cause is the indifferent attitude of Indian government to the Kashmiris. All the events are related to each other. We cannot separate one event from the other. Though my story of pain and suffering of Kashmiri people and their distrust with the system is incomplete, I hope it will give my friend a better idea about what I think is the reason for the so called violent protests in the valley and why the people of Kashmir don’t go to the government asking for its help.