Habits Die Hard

As this goes to print, news was filtering in that Sunday would be curfew-free. Amid the flurry of mandatory cross-checking came reports that paramilitary men had gone on a rampage in the city’s periphery, far away from traditional trouble spots, beating up pedestrians and battering at gates, doors and windows. Needlessly to say, even hardened newsmen kept their fingers crossed, unwilling to bet on what tomorrow would bring – another day of curbs and restrictions, or normalcy. For, volatile Kashmir brooks no forecasts, except on the weather front. Wednesday’s bloodletting in Nawakadal had come totally out of the blue when many were beginning to breathe easy that polling day had passed without loss of life.

News, and surrounding conversation, since that episode was the life of another youth, hanging by a slender thread in hospital – and inevitable speculation on what turn the situation would take if, heavens forbid, worst fears about the victim were realised.  What everyone appeared not to understand was the itchy trigger-fingers of paramilitary men – members of a force supposedly accustomed to Srinagar’s refractory streets and allegedly trained not to fly off the handle, particularly after the heavy loss of civilian life in Kashmir’s three hot summers.  Explanations of wilful killing notwithstanding, opinions generally veer round to the central fact of a total lack of accountability among the forces. The rulers’ indifferent approach to the Valley’s summer killings and their lack of seriousness in fixing responsibility are bound to have emboldened the uniformed and armed brigades to think that they can get away with murder.

Swift and thorough investigations, pursued with sincere intent, could have gone some way in instituting a modicum of deterrence and reduced chances of serious injury and fatalities during crowd control. Since street demonstrations and accompanying clashes – when forces move to break them up – are here to stay, no measures with the potential to check loss of life ought to be overlooked.  That this has obviously not happened is surprising given the state’s primary preoccupation with “security and law and order.” The administrators of this battered Valley do not need to be reminded how easily lethal use of force throws it into spiralling violence, and more bloodshed.

If restored, Kashmir’s fragile and superficial calm will remain highly strained in the days to come, for another phase of elections is due within days, and assembly polls are scheduled by the end of the year. But there is no indication that rulers and the massive military apparatus at their disposal have learnt any lessons from the past. There is no guarantee that rulers would be inclined to heed, if not the sanctity of human life, then at least the repercussions of its loss.