Niloofar Qureshi

Politicising Human Tragedy

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Every death is a monumental tragedy in itself but the intensity of the shock and enormity of  grief that it causes increases many times over when one realises that the accident which claimed multiple lives could have been avoided. And in this week alone we witnessed two such unfortunate incidents; one on last Friday in Amritsar where more than 60 people who were part of a large crowd witnessing the burning of Ravana’s effigy during Dusherra festival and had spilled over to the adjacent railway track were mowed down by a speeding train. The second incident occurred two days later in Laroo village of Kulgam in south Kashmir in which seven people of a crowd that was rummaging through the debris of a house at the site of a recently concluded encounter between militants and security forces were killed when a massive explosion occurred.

While both the tragic incidents rightly evoked public anger, politicisation of these tragedies in the garb of showing solidarity only insulted the dead and those injured in the Amritsar and Kulgam accidents. And in this melee of accusations and counter-accusations the crucial issue of how such avoidable accidents could be prevented in future has completely been lost sight of. In the Amritsar accident, the opposition parties are busy trying to prove that the Congress led UPA government in Punjab is solely responsible for this tragedy since it overlooked public security concerns by allowing Dusherra celebrations at a venue that was close to the railway lines. The Punjab government in turn has hit back at the BJP led NDA government at the center blaming the Indian railways for unpardonable procedural lapses.

Surprisingly, no one is talking about the need to increase awareness amongst the public to implicitly follow basic security norms like not thronging on railway lines!

In the Kulgam incident the situation too was no different. Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq took to Twitter and rather than express condolences to the bereaved family members of the deceased, he announced a complete shutdown on October 22 “to strongly condemn & protest the mayhem unleashed in Kulgam by the ruthless Indian state in which so far 5 civilians & 3 armed youth killed besides injuries to tens of scores of injured.” While the joint resistance leadership (JRL) of the Hurriyat has all the rights to do as they please, but since the Kashmir issue concerns all of us, we have all the reasons to express shock and anguish on the attempt to trivialise death by politicising this human tragedy.

There is no dispute that the seven civilians were killed when a blast occurred while they were scouring the debris at the encounter site. However, since both the militants who were holed up in the house as well as the security forces that had surrounded this house were in possession of guns and bombs, it is humanly impossible to say with complete certainty as to whom the explosive material that caused the civilian deaths belonged. Thus, the JRL’s petition to UN Secretary General mentioning that “On 21 October 2018, seven unarmed civilians were ruthlessly killed and hundreds injured by pellets, bullets and bombs at Laroo area of southern Kulgam district” is based on speculation and thus not likely to be taken seriously.

Though the JRL expresses great anguish on loss of human lives in Kashmir but its detractors contend that this is merely an eye wash. They say that if this was really the case then the JRL would have certainly implored the people to refrain from exposing themselves to danger of bodily harm by doing things like gathering near encounter sites and pelting stones at security forces. Critics also cite statements that the JRL keeps issuing as proof that the separatists not only defend confrontation but also emotionally instigate the public to indulge in reckless acts of violence since retaliation by the forces gives the separatist conglomerate the ‘fuel’ to continue their shutdown strategy. While one may not agree with this but the fact that the JRL hasn’t been able to work out an alternative to shutdowns even after three decades does raise concerns as its present strategy keeps throwing life out of gear and thousands of daily wagers and those in the tourism industry are hit the hardest!

During the recently concluded UNGA session Pakistan aggressively raised the issue of human rights violations by specifically mentioning Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on Kashmir and spoke at length about non implementation of UN resolutions. Yet, no one criticised New Delhi or even made a veiled reference to what was happening in Kashmir. With the UN Secretary General subsequently turning down an invite extended by Kashmir Centre for Social Development Studies (KCSDS) and his refusal to discuss the prevailing conditions in Kashmir with Indian leaders during his India visit indicates that the Kashmir strategy being pursued by Islamabad and Hurriyat has some very serious shortcoming that doesn’t require rocket science to unravel. Who would endorse a Kashmir strategy that simultaneously talks about peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue in accordance with UN resolutions and resolving the same through an “armed struggle”?

Tailpiece: During his visit to India earlier this month, the UN Secretary General said “it is impossible to build a multi-polar world without a very relevant role of India” and just two weeks ago India won the elections to the UN Human Rights Council with the highest number of votes just two weeks ago. With all these recent developments, the moot question is whether the timing of the JRL’s petition urging “the United Nations to stop being a mute spectator and play its role in putting an end to the extreme repression people are being subject to by the Indian state by taking urgent steps for the resolution of Kashmir dispute which is the main cause of all suffering and human rights violations of people of Kashmir” appropriate?

Your guess is as good as mine!

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