Pushing the Kashmiri to the Wall, Again
SHIVAM VIJ explains that sometimes there is smoke without a fire
In In the first week of June, I sat at a shopfront with a group of shopkeepers of Kalarus, a small town in Kupwara district in north Kashmir. In 1999, they collected money and bought land for a martyrs' graveyard, one of many such in Kashmir. Whenever the Indian army killed militants trying to infiltrate from Pakistan to the Indian side of the Line of Control, they would hand over the bodies to the Kupwara police, who would give it to these people to bury after an autopsy.
"Look up at the mountain peak," said one of them, "It is snow clad all twelve months. It is the LoC, 70 kms from here. Do you think anyone would cross that wearing the traditional Kashmiri Khan dress?" And yet, most of the hundred odd bodies in the graveyard had come wearing clothes unfit for snow. And, most of them had so many bullet marks on the face that they were unidentifiable.
This May, however, three bodies came whose faces were not mutilated, only one of them had a bullet mark on the face. They got mug-shots taken and gave them to Kashmiri Uzma, an Urdu daily. Two hundred kilometres away in Handwara their families saw the photos and went to the police station. These were their missing sons; they had been taken to the LoC to work as porters for the army. This case is by no means an aberration, just that it came to light so conclusively it could not be denied by the authorities.
The "encounter" had taken place at Machhil on the LoC on April 29, bodies exhumed after protests on May 30. This is only one of many encounters at Machhil in 2010, and many more have taken place elsewhere. India had maintained over the past few years that infiltration and militancy were down to record levels as Pakistan had turned off its support to the militant groups. What has changed in 2010? India and Pakistan are talking peace despite 26/11 being just a year old, and there is no change in the prevailing internal situation in Pakistan. This can't surely be the time when Pakistan will re-open its support for the Kashmir insurgents?
What has changed is that the decline of militancy gave people the space to breathe and reflect, and they refused to accept the Indian version that after the defeat of militancy all was over, and that we were now in a post-conflict situation. For the third consecutive summer now, therefore, the people of Indian-administered Kashmir have been taking to the streets, demanding azadi and pelting stones on soldiers and policemen they see as "occupying forces." This is taking place despite that fact that Pakistan's hold on even the separatists is at its lowest ebb and India has managed to win over and/or discredit various factions of the Hurriyat Conference. In such a scenario, there has been increasing pressure on Delhi to, at the very least, demilitarise in response to the decline in militancy.
The Indian Army is not only not in favour of repealing or amending the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that gives it impunity in all its actions in Kashmir and the north-eastern states, but has also on record stated its objections to be called back to the barracks. This supports widespread allegations in Kashmir that Indian forces have vested interests in Kashmir; earning monetary rewards and medals for killing innocent people and passing them off as militants is only one of them.
As Kashmir was protesting the Machhil fake encounter, a young boy, Tufail Ahmed Matoo, 17, was killed in Srinagar by the local police. They fired at him from such a close range that he died with a half-inch hole in his skull. He was returning from tuition, and even though the local police were chasing stone-pelters, the precision with which he was killed cannot be a mistake.
Why was Tufail Ahmed Mattoo killed? It may just be police frustration, but conspiracy theorists in Kashmir say it could be a way of diverting attention from Machhil.
Far from offering regret and ordering enquiries into Mattoo's killing, the state government pretended as though all was fine. Stone-pelters had to be dealt with and such mistakes would take place. That's when a vicious cycle of protest-death-protest started. In 18 days 11 civilians died, mostly minor boys, one of them 9 years old.
Kashmir's summer of discontent has to be seen in the context of the post-militancy situation. As India was claiming victory in Kashmir, the people rose in revolt in 2008. 62 innocent protestors were killed. There were protests all summer in 2009 against a double rape and murder case in Shopian, committed allegedly by either the local police or Indian forces. 32 protestors were killed. In Shopian I met one of the members of the local committee asking for justice. They said they did not want to link this to azadi, they wanted justice under Indian laws. But when justice was denied, everybody said the only solution was azadi.
By this summer India has come down very hard on stone-pelters, arresting and killing countless. Protests have been responded to with bullets, curfew, banning media, even arresting those active on the internet. Delhi has made it clear it is not serious about engaging the separatist leadership, even though it has been pretending to be pen to dialogue since 2003. As a result, angry youth are not even in the control of the Hurriyat leaders.
It is clear that Delhi is not going to make any concessions to the people of Kashmir. The troops that Kashmiris see as a problem are for Delhi the solution. The Kashmiri common man feels frustrated to hear about Indo-Pak talks as though the Kashmiri people don't matter. Not all of the infiltration encounters this summer have been fake, and there are rumours of more Kashmiris trying to cross the LoC into Pakistan. Delhi is pushing people to pick up the gun again, and perhaps it prefers that to non-violent protests for azadi that attract international attention.
Delhi, it seems, prefers to deal with an insurgency. Crushing non-violent protests makes India seem bad even before its own people, and that's why the disinformation campaign through the Delhi media.
Another round of militancy in Kashmir, however, would mean that India will be able to portray itself as a victim of terrorism, especially if Pakistan re-opens the militant tap to Kashmir after Obama exits the Afghan theatre. It will be easier for India to crush another armed struggle as it is much better prepared to do so now that it was in 1989. Sadly, all signals are that Kashmir is headed for another bloody decade.
Shivam Vij is a writer and journalist based in Delhi, currently working on his first non-fiction book on ragging.