By Qazi Athar
Kashmir has, since 1989, been a hot bed of insurgency and a potential nuclear flash point. There were 7,000 militants, whichoperated in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s. ‘The figure is currently pegged at around 200’ (Hindustan Times , July 12. 2016). The new ‘challenge’ for the Indian state, that has at its disposal the strength of a million military men deployed in Kashmir, are the protestors who march towards the encounter sites risking their lives in a bid to help the trapped militants escape and to express solidarity with them. This is enough to confer democratic legitimacy upon militants and the armed struggle. It also indicates that their popularity among masses is touching new heights. This phenomenon was dubbed as a ‘challenge’ by none other than chief of thestate police who had said that‘People marching towards encounter sites is a challenge’ (Greater Kashmir 15 Feb 2017).
Cordoning an area to search for militants has become troublesome for thegovernment forces. People come out to protest and resort to pelting stones causing a ‘Law and order’ problem; consequently the forces are forced to lift the cordon. During an encounter forces have to fight on dual fronts, with militants as well as the defiant and rebellious population who are ‘hostile’ towards forces. They shout slogans against the Indian state and in favor of militants. Although this trend has resulted in killing of several ‘protesters’ who are later passed of as ‘collateral’ damage, has also helped several militants to either escape or to break the cordon.
Similarly if a militant is killed his funeral is attended by a large number of people, where they express less grief and more anger. BurhanWani, the militant commander who was killed in an ‘encounter’ with forces his funeral saw the participation of estimated number of 200,000 people and was described as the largest ever gathering by reporters. According to the India Today, ‘With Burhan’s death, a militant icon is born; lakhs participate in his funeral’. (India Today. 9 July 2016).
The social acceptance that militants enjoy today is pushing more and more men to take up arms but this acts only as an encouragement. The most salient reasons, which push these young and educated men to take up arms, are the long history of injustice, humiliation and subjugation perpetrated by state against the people of Kashmir. The popular peaceful uprisings of 2008, 2010 and 2016, when protesters demanding the solution to Kashmir dispute in a peaceful manner were brutally crushed with an iron hand and indifference on part of New Delhi to even acknowledge the political nature of problem has further choked the hopes of a peaceful solution. The widespread human rights violations and the subsequent failure to deliver the justice added the fuel to already blazing fire. It would be unjust if I omit to mention the elections of 1987, in which people participated believing that their genuine aspirations would addressed but to their dismay the election was rigged to the core.
After these rigged elections, a massive armed revolt started which has now receded in intensity but is perpetual.
Against the backdrop of people thronging to encounter sites, on the 15th February, the Indian COAS issued a ‘warning’ to people, that if they continue to obstruct anti militancy operations they would be deemed as OGWs (over ground workers) of militants who will face ‘tough action. ‘Those waving Pak, IS flags to be dealt as anti-nationals, over ground workers of militants, will face harsh action’, the General added. (Kashmir Reader 16 Feb 2016).
This is a clear warning that unarmed protesters will be treated at par with armed militants. Ignoring what made these people who used to run for their lives on hearing a single gun shot to rally behind militants and to obstruct anti militancy operations would be a travesty of justice. Indian COAS being a military man has a given a military solution , that is, ‘tough action’ in their language it means brute force or wholesale killing, not legal action. It appears that the General is ignorant of the fact that in Kashmir a spark can light a massive fire, as was witnessed in 2010 and 16, a trigger and massive out pour of anger.
Nevertheless the COAS has by issuing the warning seems to have conceded that the militants enjoy popularity in Kashmir. The solution does not lie in branding protesters as over ground workers of militants or agitational terrorists’ and using brute force to stifle dissent. Each time, when protest takes place instead of addressing genuine grievances of people, they are silenced through brute force, mass arrests, and curfew. The youngsters who became the part of new age militancy are very well educated; they also know the consequence of taking up arms. The Indian state solely views the Kashmir problem from a military and law and order prism.
The longstanding dispute of Kashmir should be resolved and aspirations of people should be addressed for that is the only way forward to prevent more blood shed. Kashmiris have to face draconianlaws and if they protest in democratic manner, they are showered with bullets and pellets. Unless the choked political spaces are not enlarged it would be naive to expect that defiant people under ‘onslaught’ can be coerced to submission.
—The author practices law at J&K High Court (Srinagar) and can be reached at: