One of the worst things about life in a conflict zone is how crimes against humanity, including killing people, almost normalise outrage. It becomes almost a ritualistic cycle of violence perpetrated and reactive anger expressed which, in the end, adds to the dehumanising of the oppressed. The death of Zahid Rasool Bhat, set ablaze by Hindutva extremists in Udhampur along with other Kashmiri truckers, confirms another aspect of the dehumanising violence Kashmiris have faced: that of being targeted and killed as Muslims.
The fact that despite past incidents of violence carried out by Hindutva extremists against Kashmiris on the national highway – particularly in times of crises, like the 2008 agitation – these communalist butchers were able to attack, chase, beat up and then set ablaze Kashmiris, even as the ‘beef ban’ issue was raging in the state, and Muslims were being attacked in parts of India over ‘suspicion’ of ferrying bovines or eating beef, shows that the state authorities seem to have been either utterly careless or merely blasé about taking precautions. This adds to the sense of siege of Kashmiris, not just at the hands of the state, but Hindutva extremists too.
On its part, the state must now at least ensure that all the people involved in carrying out and planning the attack are arrested and face murder charges. If there is any attempt, including by Hindutva groups, to protect or try to defend the butchers who committed this crime, that will further confirm the communal narrative on Kashmir.
In fact, it must again be reiterated that by raising the beef ban bogey in the state, and the consequent attacks on Indian Muslims as well, the Hindutva groups are calculatedly trying to make Kashmir the central zone of the issue. This serves the purpose, like the use of yatras in Kashmir, to lay a religious, ‘historical’ and psychological claim on territory by drawing Kashmir deeper into the ‘national Hindu’ imagination.
Meanwhile, any Kashmiri will ask why leaders of Hindutva groups fanning these flames are at large while resistance leaders are already put under house arrest – as usual, at the slightest excuse. The shutdown call in Kashmir, supported by many sections, the clashes and use of force against protestors, the prospect of more injuries or deaths, or just arrests – all of that is one aspect. The other, deeper, issue is that such attacks also posit the ideological bankruptcy of regimes which try to tell Kashmiris their future is safe with India.