By Seema Kazi
Dear Lt. General Bhatt and Director General Vaid:
It is impossible to remain silent witness to your triumphalism and mistaken optimism in the wake of the killings on Kashmir’s bloody Sunday. The day of this bloody carnage, you claim, was a “special” day for you and your colleagues, three of whom also paid with their lives. Your indifference regarding the enormity of Sunday’s bloodbath matched your complacence regarding accountability for the same. Notwithstanding your protective cloak of impunity, please be reminded your actions violated many conventions.
Your disregard for civilian life and civil institutions in Kashmir, your willful violation of your own institutional mandate to protect civilians that the United Nations Secretary General reaffirmed in his statement with reference to the south Kashmir killings, and your disregard for international law – exemplified by bluster and braggadocio at your press conference in the wake of Sunday’s killings – are a measure of the institutional deterioration of your forces that has imparted to Kashmir a hideous edge.
Apart from your respective institutions failure to protect Kashmiri civilians, your nationalist-army-cum-police-patriots-vs-anti-national-Kashmiri-terrorists narrative seeking to justify and normalize the killing of Kashmiri militants can neither camouflage nor obscure the all too evident looming reality of local Kashmiri young men being driven to levels of unfathomable rage, profound desperation, and utter hopelessness by the unrelenting use of raw force by security forces under your respective commands. A cursory look at Kashmiri newspapers dated 4 April 2018 testify to not just the fact of mass Kashmiri student rebellion against the Shopian killings; more disturbingly, the reports document Kashmiri male and female school and college students’ expressed desire to take to arms to fight your forces: “Nobody is safe in Kashmir. Civilians are brutally killed for no reason. How to resist in such circumstances? Obviously, gun is the last resort” (Greater Kashmir 4 April 2018). A female student said “For how long shall we remain silent? I believe the time has come to pick up arms to support our brothers in fighting against the tyrannical Indian rule” (Kashmir Reader 4 April 2018).
These reports affirm a reality wherein no amount of (‘special day’ or such like) killings can stanch or stem the anger and humiliation of a people bludgeoned and repressed to such a degree that the option of taking to arms seems the only possible redemption and escape from a life of grinding evisceration. Aime Cesaire’s poem sums up what has been done to the Kashmiri people, especially to Kashmiri youth, who now wish to die fighting you, rather than live a life of humiliation under bayonet, bullet and pellet:
My name: Offended
My middle name: Humiliated
My status: Rebel
My age: the Stone Age
My race: the Fallen Race
Sadly, despite the writing on the wall, you seem to have extraordinary difficulty in comprehending the root of the insurrection by Kashmir’s young. With regard to this point, it would be useful for you to read a report in the New York Times (1 April 2018) after Sunday’s carnage that quoted a young man from Kachdora, South Kashmir, who pledged to fight on “until his land was free from Indian occupation.” This is the stark truth and political reality that you must realize and accept. Your unwillingness to do so is rooted in a managerial, technocratic view of the Kashmir conflict utterly removed from the real lived life-experiences and motivations of young local Kashmiri men. I.F. Stone – a scholar of counter-insurgency operations such as the one undertaken by your forces in south Kashmir – wrote of the complexity of inner torment and rage molded by subjective feelings of crushed dignity, deep humiliation, and the anger of a people wronged that propelled young men, including those in Kashmir, to taking up arms:
“What rarely comes through are the injured feelings, the misery, the ranking slights, the hatred, the devotion, the inspiration and the desperation. So they do not really understand what leads men to abandon wife, children, home, career, friends; to live gun in hand, like a hunted animal; to challenge overwhelming military odds rather than acquiesce any longer in humiliation and injustice.”
In your defense, it must be acknowledged that it is your civilian masters in New Delhi and Srinagar who have legalized and institutionalized your presence and practices in Kashmir. Yet, to your great discredit, neither the army nor the local police resisted or rejected this willful and greatly damaging deleterious approach. It is dangerous and perilous to get carried away by virtue of the possession of superior force. Only by respecting and adhering to your institutional mandate to protect borders and citizens within them can both your institutions, truly avert in practice, the tragic death of Kashmiri young men in far greater measure than through use of your bayonets – as is presently the case. In this regard, it would be prudent to heed the wise words of Lt. General E A Vas of the Indian Army who wrote:
“Counter-insurgency or restoration of law and order are distasteful tasks for a soldier as they involve operating against civilians. Unfortunately, army aid is being summoned far more frequently than it used to be in the British era. Such a development will destroy the apolitical complexion of the army as also our democratic polity. Let us not through its frequent and prolonged use in maintenance of law and order, damage its professional standard.”
The words of the late Jaswant Singh, BJP member, are equally valuable for the local police as well as for both your institutions:
“Police forces are law and order forces. A body which is for the preservation of law and order cannot be expected to wage war. From the moment a police force is employed as a military body, from that very moment you create a situation wherein the police wages war against its own people. A move towards establishment of a just State cannot be made unless we recognize that the biggest impediment in our path is that of the militarization of the State which in turn is the consequence of our failure to understand and put into effect the fundamental differences that separate the role and functions of the police and the military.”
Lt. General Vas’ and Jaswant Singh’s words were written at a time when it was possible for citizens, politicians and Army generals to uphold the founding ideals of the Indian republic without being attacked and reviled for doing so. At a moment in time, when these ideals are being debased and disfigured with impunity, and their upholders assailed, you can still arrest this downward degrading drift by adhering to your institutional and professional mandate and duty to protect Kashmiri civilians, and by desisting from promoting and valorizing gruesome military responses to an essentially political problem.
—The views expressed are solely the author’s own. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org