Yet again five people have been shot dead including four youth and an elderly woman while protests erupted against the alleged molestation of a teenage girl in frontier district of Kupwara on Tuesday. Dozens of people have been injured in the crisis after forces used excessive force over the protesters. The tensions in Kupwara district came at a time when the state government was yet to defuse the crisis at the prestigious National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar where again the police was accused of using excessive force over the non local students during their protest rally.
Irrespective of the change in successive governments in Jammu and Kashmir, the spree of civilian killings does not see any end in the troubled region and state regimes often rely on assurances of New Delhi to bring culprits to the justice, although that never happens.
As usual, thanks to its most powerful weapon-AFSPA, army always escapes unscathed. What they leave behind are most audacious situations for the civilian government due to innocent killings.
Back in the social and political circles, the impunity army enjoys under the garb of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) sets another round of debate for its revocation.
The army which is lauded across India for its role in countering militancy in valley, however, always succeeds to settle down issue without hurting its interests with the help of some influential quarters back in New Delhi.
As an institution it has always justified its (AFSPA) need in place to work in conflict ridden zones especially valley since it share its borders with the hostile neighbour-Pakistan.
The first mistake apparently was committed by states former chief minister, Omar Abdullah in 2012, when he asserted the need of removing AFSPA from certain pockets of valley on temporary basis and he received tough ‘No’ from army.
Omar didn’t only later realize his mistake of making a public announcement of his ‘desire’, he must have regretted for not taking this powerful institution on board before coming on podium.
Following his assertions, General Hasnain who was serving as the GoC of strategic 15 corps in Srinagar that time in an informal chat with me made his clear stand over the matter. “I don’t want to take the round of the civil courts in Kashmir even after my retirement,” Hasnain said. His body language showed more confidence than his words.
“As long as we are in Kashmir, fighting militancy, the law needs to be there.”
And Hasnain proved right. After four years, there is no headway over the removing of Act despite the fact our successive governments tried tooth and nail to convince Ministry of Defence in New Delhi. Unfortunately, killings continuously take pace.
The state political parties especially ruling PDP must have regretted for using the act as poll-plank during elections and cornering helpless Omar Abdullah for his failure to revoke it. There is hardly any platform or the quarter, Omar would have left in New Delhi to plead his case but miserably failed to build consensus over its removal.
In response to the severe demand and growing political resentment in valley, the army under the General Hasnain tried a counter strategy and intensified their efforts to reach out to the people, in an attempt to make demand of AFSPA removal irrelevant in public domain.
It initiated various youth oriented programmes under its project Sadbhavana which have been continuing and gaining momentum since last several years.
Under the same progamme, female students from various schools of Srinagar were taken on country tour in a recent past.
The tour of girls outpoured with full outrage among the locals on social media sites when army uploaded some videos where girls shared their experience. The rage was in the fit of gross human rights violations committed by forces in past.
Some twenty days ago, the army chief of Kashmir D S Hooda threw open a fitness club in Baramulla of north Kashmir for youth. The army general while inaugurating the club assured the local youth who according to him are misguided by some elements, all support to excel and succeed in life.
He is planning to open around 70 fitness clubs in the army barracks in various parts of valley where youth would go for physical fitness training.
However, it is increasingly a disturbing episode when the army which is trying every bit to win the hearts of bruised Kashmiri youth is going on war path with the same.
The tragic incident of Kupwara is loaded with questions for the army, for its handling. While the Kashmir was mourning the loss of three innocent lives which later rose to five, the army took no time in releasing the video of a victim girl to exonerate its men accused for molestation charges.
In fact, the unfortunate killings had overshadowed the molestation charges of a teenage girl. The question was about the use of lethal force over the civilian protesters. Whether the charges are right or wrong which could have been probed later, no provocation can justify the civilian killings.
Kashmir is dotted with the army and there is hardly any space left where it doesn’t exist. While there is possibility that youth might provoke the troops at some points, the army can’t all the time justify its lethal anger against the civilian population and later run unscathed.
Alongside carrying the job of anti militancy in valley and its limited role in the internal security matters, the army must learn to behave in civilian spaces, although the matter of the fact is that it is a ‘war force’.
As the killings continuously take place in Kashmir by the bullets of forces, its demand of retaining AFSPA is gradually losing the justification.
Probably for the first time, the protests in Kashmir over civilian killings found its takers at Jantar Mantar in national capital where the youth from all parts of the country denounced and sought punishment to the culprits. They also demanded the repeal of the act from valley.
Earlier, the All India Students Association (AISA) already had criticized the army for civilian killings in valley and accused it of sexual harassment of women in Kashmir during its steer at Jawahar Lal Nehru University.
In Kashmir, the dissent voices are muzzled and freedom seized. But outside valley, same voices emerge more powerful.
It may prove very costly even for those in New Delhi offering safe exit to all the guilty persons serving in Kashmir. Some people may have ideological differences with the AISA and its associate associations but the fact is that it has the representation of country’s youth which can bring potentially government on knees.
Even their support to the voices in Kashmir which remain unheard by and large in the country and elsewhere due to selective media coverage by “national” news channels to the events unfolding in Kashmir, from Jantar Mantar, certainly it will grow louder to all those unheard ears.
It will not only have bearing on the image of country at international level, however, it may also put the army in dock for its violations in the region.
In Kashmir where the army has been investing crores of rupees to build its image and stay away from controversies comes often in direct confrontation with the youth. No nation can afford a war with its youth which is its tomorrow.
Kashmir is a bruised place where every heart has a story buried. The transitional phase of conflict which has still fresh wounds with such incidents of violence is an indication of transferring the sentiment to the next generation and keeps pot boiling.
With such killings, it is increasingly becoming difficult for army to justify its presence in cities and towns laced with AFSPA. The fragile peace in Kashmir needs a careful handling with hearts and emotions, not with the “power of arrogance”. The Indian media and the political quarters which were all outrageous over the police action against the students of NIT must also understand that those killed in Handwara are also same youth with promising careers. If they by heart accept Kashmir as its integral part must shun its dual stance and raise the rational voices and stand by the victim families at least at this hour of grief.
Dual standard can lead this country nowhere and questioning the violations should not also demoralize its forces. For the country’s inclusive growth, it needs Sab ka saath, Sab ka vikas in true spirit.
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The article first appeared in print edition of April 20, 2016