By Murtaza Shibli
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. Everything now stands shelved. On 2 August, the 25th day of the on-going unrest, he was killed by the bodyguards of a senior bureaucrat during a clash with a group of people who were protesting against the police brutalities following an attack on people’s houses. Farooq received six direct bullets and died immediately. It is a foregone conclusion no one will face any action for this cold-blooded murder.
The death toll in the ongoing unrest has surpassed 60. So far, more than 5,000 people have been injured, dozens with debilitating injuries. In addition, more than 200 young boys have been blinded – completely or partially – by the pellet guns that are officially designated as ‘non-lethal’ and used with gay abandon by the trigger-happy paramilitary forces.
As the tragedies mount, India’s response has been a blanket denial of humanity of Kashmiris, thereby triggering an active lack of sympathy, even at the basic humanitarian level. 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 that unceasingly supports this narrative of hate, the discourse that has emerged effectively blames Kashmiris as enemies of the state who only warrant a tough and unruffled military response.
When the uprising started on 8 July, following the death of 22 year old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani, it became obvious the government wanted to crush the public by brute force despite the overwhelming 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. “Eight people died in the hospital who received straight bullets in the vital parts of the bodies, mostly above waist. Three were brought dead”, Dr Naheed Malik, the head of the hospital, told Wasim Khalid of Kashmir Reader, a leading daily. Ghulam Nabi Azad, himself a Kashmiri and a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir who is now a Congress party parliamentarian and the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament, acknowledged the mass scale of atrocities: “we have never seen such brutalities on the civilians ever”.
Even when it became obvious the 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 already stationed here, making Kashmir the most militarised place on earth with roughly a soldier for every ten Kashmiris. Since then, the government has reinforced its military footprint by additional 114 companies comprising of over 11,000 soldiers.
Yasin Malik, a prominent pro-freedom leader and chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, highlighted the gross insensitivity of the state when he told Greater Kashmir, the largest English daily: “Instead of stopping the killing spree of innocents, this tyrannical regime is calling and deploying more and more forces in Kashmir. This is a glaring example of callousness of India and its stooges who want to suppress Kashmiri people’s voices by military might and oppressive measures”.
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 focussed 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”.
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 as “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 the 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 consequence naturally against Kashmiris as well, compounds the problem. The Hindutva 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, also wished if 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 31 July, the right-wing Hindu extremist group, 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 a leading Indian daily 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. Decoding his ‘iron hand in velvet gloves’ policy, he is calling for a total and complete genocide.
The rhetoric of the Hindu extremists mirrors the 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 barrages 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 or responsibility.
—The writer is a journalist, author, and communications and security specialist. He lives between London, Lahore and Srinagar, Kashmir, where he is currently stuck. Twitter: @murtaza_shibli