Analysis: Indian response to Kashmir unrest is barefaced



PHOTO: AFP Even when it became obvious that brute force was not enough to quash public anger, the official response was to deploy more troops. PHOTO: AFP

A 27-year-old truck driver, Farooq Ahmed Kutchay, was looking forward to getting married in two weeks’ time. Given the milieu of mourning due to the on-going cycle of civilian deaths, the family had already curtailed their festive plans.

On August 2, however, the twenty-fifth day of the on-going unrest, Kutchay was killed by the bodyguards of a senior bureaucrat during a clash with a group of people who were protesting against police brutalities following an attack on people’s houses. Kutchay received six bullets and died immediately. It is a foregone conclusion no one will face any action for this cold-blooded murder.

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The death toll in the ongoing unrest has surpassed 50. So far, thousands have been injured and more than 200 boys have been blinded – completely or partially – by pellet guns. As the tragedies mount, India’s response has been a blanket denial of human rights to Kashmiris. The campaign is orchestrated by an insensitive government that is cardinally anti-Muslim and driven by its agenda of hate amid a desire to seek revenge for perceived historical wrongs of the past, where all Muslims are outsiders, aliens and raiders who stand guilty of treason. Supported by a pliant media, which unceasingly supports this narrative of hate, the discourse that has emerged labels Kashmiris ‘enemies of the state’ who warrant a tough and unruffled military response.

When the uprising started on July 8, following the death of 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, it became obvious the government wanted to crush the public by brute force despite the peaceful nature of demonstrations. The intensity of the terror can be gauged by the fact that more than 30 people were killed in the first three days with thousands more injured. During this period, the small sub-district hospital at Bijbehara, the hometown of the current Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, received 37 patients with serious injuries. Ghulam Nabi Azad, himself a Kashmiri and a former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir who is now a Congress party parliamentarian and leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament, acknowledged the mass scale of atrocities. “We have never seen such brutalities on civilians ever,” he said in parliament on July 18.

Even when it became obvious that brute force was not enough to quash public anger, the official response was to deploy more troops. On the fourth day of the unrest, the Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh sent in additional 20 companies of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force “to assist the law and order situation”. This was indeed ironic given the presence of more than 700,000 troops in Kashmir already, making it the most militarised place on earth with roughly a soldier for every 10 Kashmiris. During the last three weeks of unrest, the government has reinforced its military footprint by deploying an additional 114 companies comprising of over 11,000 soldiers.

A week after the unrest, one of the first meetings on Kashmir was called by the Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh and attended by the heads of intelligence and security agencies, affording enough clues that India has not discarded its old habit of seeing Kashmir’s political struggle mainly through a security prism. A day later, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a special all-party meeting on Kashmir, he focused on sending the “right message” that “benefitted the country”, thanking political opposition for speaking in “one voice”. A few days later the Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley accused Pakistan as the “sole reason” for the problems and called the unrest a “battle between the separatists and the country”. He also defended the paramilitary forces for their “action against separatists and militants as no country can allow attacks on its forces and interests.”

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Blaming Pakistan for the continued defiance of Kashmiris seems politically convenient and playing to the fears of common Indians who are in thrall to the venomous rhetoric of their news anchors, but this is insulting Kashmiri sentiments and thereby provoking more anger. This also allows the government to absolve itself of any moral obligation to come up with a political prescription or a befitting humanitarian response. Hilal Mir, editor at a leading local daily, Kashmir Reader, calls the government’s response “insulting and cruel” where it “effectively blames the protestors and those who were killed.” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of his faction of the pro-freedom political alliance, Hurriyat Conference, told Masood Hussain of weekly Kashmir Life, “Normally the governments acknowledge the crisis and then engage the society, but here they don’t even convey a word, there is no concern being shown at any level. It is remorseful.”

By labelling protesting Kashmiri youth as ‘separatists’ who work on directions of Pakistan, they are elevated as uncompromising enemies who must be taught a lesson. The rise of militant Hindutva ideology, whose primary driver is its hatred of Muslims, Pakistan and as a natural consequence Kashmiris, compounds the problem as the Hindu ideologues controlling the ruling Bharatya Janat Party (BJP) want Kashmiris not only to be crushed but also brought back to the fold of Hinduism, the supposed religion of their forefathers.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is usually very vocal on social media and otherwise on the issues of currency, is maintaining a deafening silence. There was no mention of Kashmir or the sufferings of its people in his monthly radio address to the nation, Mann ki Baat, provoking censure from his political arch-rival and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, wished Modi had “found a few reassuring words for [Kashmir] which has seen almost fifty dead and countless injured.”

While the government continues to offer silence as its main response, its affiliated extremist Hindu proxies are articulating their more destructive vision of Kashmir and with growing confidence. On July 31, the right-wing Hindu extremist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) held a symposium titled ‘Peace, People and Possibilities in Kashmir’. The event was attended by a BJP parliamentarian Satyapal Singh and two former army chiefs. According to Hindustan Times, Singh called for an “iron hand in velvet gloves” policy in Kashmir. Pushing the battle to an expanded ideological frontier, Singh said, “Why do we call Kashmir a paradise? It is paradise because even the smallest sesame-seed sized piece of land there is land of tirth (Hindu pilgrimage spot)”. In essence, Singh called for replacing Kashmiri Muslims and their spaces with Hindu pilgrimage spots. He is calling for a total and complete genocide.

The rhetoric of Hindu extremists mirrors government action on the ground, albeit in slow motion. This is complimented by a lack of any humanitarian or political space, pushing the new generation of Kashmiris to renew their pledge to armed resistance. As the unrest has entered into the fourth week, millions of Kashmiris have come out on the streets demanding azaadi while braving a barrage of bullets and equally lethal pellet guns. The portents are grim as ever or even worse as the ruthless might of the Indian state continues to kill, maim and obliterate human lives without fail, and devoid of any remorse.

Murtaza Shibli is a journalist, author and communications and security specialist. He lives between London, Lahore and Srinagar. He tweets @murtaza_shibli

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