Tame the unruly

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Following the killing of seven civilians in a Pulwama village past Saturday, state’s mainstream politicians grew no bones in expressing their anger about it, though instead of directing it at those responsible for the outrageous act, they seemingly appeared turning it inwards by showcasing their helplessness at controlling such incidents. Same was the case with the common people – they also wholeheartedly supported the protest shutdown to show their outrage, but this is all they were told by the separatist leaders they could do – “shutdown being the only weapon to show resentment”! And this is indeed the tragedy – that those in the leadership roles are yet to move beyond TOKENISM.

People of Kashmir are often told of something called Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) being in place here. But reality is that if actually such a thing was there, then of course the deaths of non-combatant civilians during and after the encounters with the militants wouldn’t have become a routine affair. This time around the officials are also blaming the “lack of synergy” or coordination between the Army, paramilitary CRPF and local police for the Pulwama carnage. But the question is if such a confession changes anything. Why should people pay for this lack of coordination between different security agencies with their life and limb? Such confessions are meaningless unless and until the responsibility for even this so-called “lack of synergy” is fixed, and the guilty punished.

In Kashmir, history is witness to the abject disregard to the state’s political pledges and violation of fundamental and constitutional rights of the citizenry happening at the hands of the government forces. That such a behaviour of the Army and paramilitaries and even the state police wherein innocent people are carelessly targeted without any fear of reprisals, is unacceptable. Respect of human rights should be major concern of the government and its armed forces if they really are interested in normalizing the situation here. Too much blood has been spilled here and too many violations have already been committed!

Problems in Kashmir are far deeper and too big to be left to time to sort them out. It needs a sincere political will to resolve them. And what could be a better and bigger take off point than making this will  visible vis-à-vis the lives of ordinary citizens, by putting a strict check on the violations of human rights by the government forces that are here to counter insurgency. They can’t pass on their tyranny as aberration or a mistake for the number and frequency of such mistakes is too big to afford such casual tags.

Each time people here come out to vent their anger and ire – genuine or misplaced, on their own or at someone’s prodding — the state response is dangerously brutal. Even a cursory look at the figures (which is unfortunately what ordinary mortals have now been relegated to) of casualties resulting from state response to public anger proves the insensitivity and brazen carelessness of the policing in Kashmir. Without doubt, the government forces couldn’t afford to be so insensitive if at all the powers enjoyed by them were balanced through cross-pressures from their respective organizations as well as the judiciary – as is supposed to be the case in democracy. They would have been careful if there was an associated political culture of believing in and transforming the political rhetoric of “zero tolerance for rights violations” into the state’s policy and practical norm. But both these vital parameters are missing here; as such the ordinary people are suffering while the perpetrators enjoy legal protection to their atrocious acts.

Isn’t it true that the armed forces here, including even the state police, have been given sweeping and absolute powers to kill? The more power a government (read its armed forces) has, the more it can act arbitrarily according to the whims and desires of the elite, and the more it will make war on its domestic subjects. It is unfortunate that the governments in the state and the centre are unable to understand that by giving unbridled powers to their armed forces they are being culpable of “democide”, which certainly is not helping neither the state not its subjects. If the arbitrary killings of innocent people can’t make government understand the importance of putting checks on the powers of its soldiers, then what else could? By allowing unconstrained and undiffused powers to the police and other forces, government is steadily overstretching the patience of ordinary Kashmiri and pushing the region deeper into the conflict trap. How long will this dance of death continue here?

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