The recent killing of nine civilians in actions of the Army in south Kashmir’s Shopian has cast a long shadow over the dysfunction of the State. It is the State’s responsibility to protect its citizens. But such is the dysfunctional state of Jammu Kashmir, that the very people who are meant to be the instruments of protection of life have become instruments to end it.
And these are not ‘accidental’ or ‘collateral’ deaths. These are deaths that have been brought upon by deliberate use of unbridled, unregulated, unanswerable force. Does the government bear responsibility for the actions of these trigger-happy men? It should. Someone needs to answer for these deaths. But the armed forces, as they always have done, will take the cover of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), and claim that they are not answerable for any of their actions.
As such, the armed forces are a law unto themselves, and each Kashmiri breathes air at the pleasure of the personnel of the armed forces.
The recent episode in Kathua, where a minor girl belonging to a nomadic Muslim community was brutally raped and murdered, allegedly by a member of a police force, shows a blatant violation of even basic human norms by a person tasked with upholding the law. And in order to gain traction from it, the so-called ‘nationalist’ parties of Jammu have either maintained a hushed silence, or have come out on the streets to support this alleged murderer.
Imagine the consequences if the religious allegiances of the victim and the alleged perpetrator were to have been interchanged. Would the ruling party in New Delhi send a sitting minister to a protest in support of the accused policeman from a minority community? Would an ‘Ekta March’ have been held in solidarity with such a person? A culture of authority has gripped Jammu Kashmir since 1947.
The very principles on which democracy was founded — justice, equality, and liberty, have never taken hold in this State. What hope of justice do the nine innocent victims of government forces’ actions in Shopian have? Is it not evident from the Kathua episode (read cover story in this edition) that some people of this State are more equal than others? And where is the liberty of the people of Jammu Kashmir when they live in a large, open-air prison, amongst those very instruments of the State that have tortured, injured, and killed so many innocents with impunity?
In such a culture of authority, there is no liability of the authority to be accountable to the people it governs. Only when this culture is broken, eradicated, and removed forever from the state of Jammu Kashmir, can there be any hope of peace and reconciliation. A reasonable place to start to make the AFSPA irrelevant would have been by removing the Disturbed Areas Act.
But like so many initiatives, this one is going to be fenced by vested interests and stakeholders who have no interest in peace in Kashmir. The people in power in New Delhi need to take heed. Each innocent death at the hands of the government forces is delivered in the name of India. How exactly is India going to be more secure when it risks further alienating a population already angry and distraught by condoning the killing of innocent Kashmiris?
This editorial appeared in April issue of Kashmir Narrator. For subscribing to hard copy, contact KashmirNarrator@gmail.com for details