The Indian Army landed in Kashmir on October 27, 1947 to protect the life and property of Kashmiris. Nearly seventy years down the line, it is still doing this job, if only by protecting a small, privileged class and not the general public. Abdul Ghani Goni, a member of Jammu and Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly, had hit the nail on the head: “Let us withdraw the Indian Army for five days and see whom this house represents,” Goni said in the debate to ratify the state’s accession to the Indian Union. What he had conveyed very clearly was that the members of the Constituent Assembly did not represent the people of Jammu and Kashmir. He made the members aware that they were able to deliver fiery speeches in favour of accession only because a huge army had strangulated the genuine aspirations of the people.
Over six decades later, Goni stood vindicated once again and that too in Jammu and Kashmir’s highest council of democracy. Responding to a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) resolution to get the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) withdrawn from J and K, legislators from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said: “We are in this house because the Army is there to protect us.” What better testament could there be that nothing has changed all these years. The BJP members admitted that the presence of the Army was necessary for holding Jammu and Kashmir. If the Army goes, India loses Kashmir. What a bold admission.
But, as mentioned above, the Indian Army was supposed to protect the people. But who is being protected? Individuals who pass draconian laws like the Public Safety Act (PSA), the AFSPA and other draconian legislations feel emboldened by the presence of this Army and they make no bones about it. This violates the very spirit and object of the Army’s presence in Kashmir.
Also, the Government of India repeatedly claims that the Army had saved the lives and property of Kashmirs. This can be taken with a pinch of salt. The role of the Army, which, by all standards was a sort of a peace-keeping force, was not confined to fighting the raiders only, particularly when it stayed back in Kashmir after the January 1, 1948 ceasefire.
The people of Kashmir curse the day when the so-called democratic government took over from autocratic rule. There were no preventive detentions and impunity laws during the Maharaja’s days. Being the custodian of people’s rights, the Army should have been the first to raise its voice against the extension of the TADA or the POTA to the state. Similarly, it should have raised its voice against the PSA and the AFSPA. But nothing of this sort has happened. Instead, the Army has become a hurdle in the repeal of the AFSPA. What does a Peace Brigade need the AFSPA for?