By MUZAFFAR SHAHEEN
Time and again, the disruption of political peace in Kashmir seems to be meant to further plague public order. The relative decline in militancy-related incidents seems to suggest that, by and large, people seem to be in a mode to distance themselves from the horrible memories of the past. But political intrigues are always at play, which manage to surface intermittently with attendant chaos. Incidents like Handwara might continue to take place in the future too, orchestrated to subvert peace. Where does the fault-line start?
Use of brutal force to maintain law and order, marked by civilian deaths, is inherently bound to invite public anguish and wrath, and if spreads to other areas more civilian deaths will make the fire inextinguishable. Indian forces and the police, using special powers against an unarmed public, showing no regard for restraint, is where the actual fault-line emanates from. Running out of ideas, the nervous government makes promises to investigate such incidents and punish the culprits. But that is construed to be akin to killing the serpent only after it has bitten you. A sword hanging over the head of the people of Kashmir over the past more than two decades has taken a heavy toll of civilian lives, despite it having been proclaimed that political “normalcy” has returned to the Valley, which witnessed three consecutive state assembly elections with high voter turn-out; a post militancy development construed as a democratic victory over militancy.
Even though Kashmir remains the most volatile region, where political peace and stability is rendered highly vulnerable, the law and order-enforcing agencies cannot behave counter to people’s psychological sensitivities. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should not be allowed to assume a form of a constitutional military rule in J&K, as it delivers impunity to government forces, to whose bullets any person, irrespective of the situation can fall victim to, with no accountability from the authorities or a court of law. The law makes them to be the real masters with a civilian elected government acting subserviently. In the garb of this law even a miniscule event can be turned into a major law and order problem with dozens of civilians falling in a bloodbath. This has led to the rise of a vehement public perception of not-belonging in Kashmir, where people are overwhelmed by the feelings of alienation; calamitously being used simply as voters to justify India’s much-hyped democracy.
The matter has always been open to the question that, despite tall claims of having eradicated militancy from the state, ascribed to invasive security operations, why should a draconian law like AFSPA be allowed to sustain itself? It simply means depriving people of basic democratic rights of living freely and fearlessly. This black law enjoys feeding on the blood of innocent civilians, irrespective of gender, age and place. Little irony that even fifty and sixty year old women falling prey to bullets become part of the skewed rationale of this law being used in “self –defense”.
The experience of all elected governments is marked with cynicism and bitterness that as long as this horrible law continues to be there, peace and public order will virtually remain off-limits. Unfortunately, law makers in New Delhi seem to be too myopic to visualize that despite a sharp decline in armed rebellion in the state over the past many years, peaceful public order, social stability and tranquility has not dawned here. Apart from the Handwara girl’s case, true or fabricated, forces needed a lot of restraint to contain the volatile situation. Unfortunately, AFSPA and the public peace have become antagonist to each other in the political perspectives of the state. The very purpose of AFSPA being there, for an anti-militancy offensive might have meant some success, but there is no denying that it has targeted civilians too. The law should have no application in handling civilian law and order problems. True, sometimes civilians might gather to protest, in as happened in Handwara, but it is equally true that de-escalation cannot be had by directly aiming at civilians.
The scenario becomes even grimmer and shocking when small children or women are targeted. This becomes the root cause of escalation of tension and hostility that spreads to other areas like a forest fire. We in Kashmir habitually hear from the authorities that commissions of enquiry would look into heinous incidents of civilian killings and the guilty ones would be brought to book. The promise ultimately vanishes.
We, in the civil society, are known for soon forgetting even our recent past. This way, the authorities extract full advantage of our characteristic amnesia. The killing of people is quickly followed by condemning it themselves in the strongest possible words: a feeble ‘healing touch’ attempt, and then making tall but hollow promises to probe incidents. Justice, ultimately, is never delivered. This is the natural consequence of a law-induced immunity.
—The writer is an associate professor