By BASHARAT SHAMEEM
For Kashmiris, there cannot be any more elusive words than peace and security. Another week has passed in its blood-scrawled history which has seen innocent blood being splattered on the streets with almost inhuman nonchalance. Not only have precious lives been lost, dozens of young lives have been left shattered and amputated. And, appalling as the fact is, it seems all too familiar with a recurring pattern; you never know when and where the next site of blood and tragedy is. Such is the grim story of our daily existence that the pain, tragedy and horror our oppressors inflict on us on a regular basis has got structured into our collective psyche. One is reminded of those profound lines from Shakespeare’s King Lear: “The worst is not so long/As we can say, This is the worst”. But one wonders about asking our oppressors: after all, how long?
While incidents like Chattergam and Kulgam (2014), Tral, Kulgam, Narbal and Pulwama (2015), Zainakote, Kakapora and Handwara (2016) keep happening with regularity (at least 18 unarmed civilians, mostly youth, have been killed and dozens of others injured in these incidents), each time we also hear about the “regret” being expressed and enough brouhaha about the so-called Standard Operating Procedure. How much innocent blood will we have to sacrifice at the altar of these “procedural errors”, to use the term from Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator. What is this Standard Operating Procedure? Is it simply a systematic and legitimate way of suppressing the dissenting voices of youth who express their genuine demand for political rights? Is it simply an operational procedure intended to “exterminate” the “brute” Kashmiri natives? Or is it a special clause added to the draconian AFSPA which gives free license to the trigger-happy Indian forces to shoot a 70-year-old woman working in her kitchen-garden and a 21-year-old girl sitting in her balcony, besides protesting youths on the streets?
It is amazing that after the horror of incidents like Handwara, the GOCs, the CMs, the DGPs and the IGPs within the confines of the state cosmetically decry the non-compliance, by their ground forces, of the mythical SOP. However, in New Delhi, ex-generals, self-styled Kashmir experts and bellicose journalists sitting in cozy studios lay the blame of the occurrence of the same procedural errors in the SOP on that old nemesis — the all-powerful, the all-omnipotent and all-pervasive ISI, headquartered hundreds of miles across the border in Rawalpindi. We are made to believe, in all probability, the ISI has created a special desk to look after the SOP whose mythical significance then suddenly assumes geo-political proportions. One sincerely hopes that the SOP does not become a cause of nuclear catastrophe in South Asia in the future.
Amidst the recurring killings of unarmed protestors, besides the mythical SOP, we also hear about the various “integrationist” or sadbhavana strategies that the Indian army has passionately formulated in this trouble-torn Valley, all aimed to end the alienation and militancy among the Kashmiri youth. We also hear about the various steps initiated by the army aimed at restoration of the faith of Kashmiri awaam in the army. Notwithstanding these sadbhavana-filled programmes, we see more and more educated Kashmiri youth, bright teenagers and mostly belonging to socially affluent sections of the society, treading the path of militancy. We also see huge crowds, comprising mostly of youths, putting their lives in peril and least caring about the sadbhavana taking on the army in order to help militants escape. One wonders, what has the sadbhavana mission really done to be bragged about in TV debates? We see the hollow claims of the army’s ‘awaam dosti’ getting badly exposed during its anti-militancy operations; the humiliation and trouble that common Kashmiris have to bear is still blatant.
In rural areas, as we see, the state of affairs is as worse as it was a few years ago. There are some field units located on the roadsides, particularly in South Kashmir, which give unwarranted trouble to the people travelling in both public and private vehicles. The Anantnag-Shopian road becomes a virtual no-go zone after evening prayers because one such field unit closes the road for the night and does not allow any vehicle to pass through. Public transporters are frequently coerced into ferrying soldiers for operations during very difficult situations, putting their lives at risk. During the evening, patrols, cordons, and flush-outs, commoners still face harassment for no fault of theirs. The military still has an over-bearing and panoptic presence in the rural areas; it frequently breaches the privacy of people’s lives by way of its frequent reconnaissance of family homes and keeping a track of the full details of the family members. Add to this, there are renegades who have committed mass atrocities on common Kashmiris, and have cases pending against them in the courts of law, but have been shielded by being provided jobs in the police and Territorial Army.
In all this sordid state of affairs, a common Kashmiri is wonderstruck at the proposition of the insecure atmosphere and SOP/sadbhavana working together, which in the current grim scenario seems all a play of oxymorons. Kashmiris also wonder at the odd marriage between democracy and militarisation. We cannot have democracy and undemocratic laws like AFSPA and DAA functioning together. Let’s hope for the play of oxymorons to end.
—The writer is a lecturer in English at the Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir