December 06, 2020
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J&K: Questions

J&K: Questions

Curfew? Shoot at sight? This young protester is out there, chucking a stone towards CRPF personnel in Srinagar
on a day that saw five more people being killed

The sheer enormity of what's going on in Srinagar is mind-numbing and that perhaps explains the stunned silence all around. So, with a quick apology to the late Busybee, a few stray thoughts, a few general observations and a few points of view about the immediate trouble at hand:

  • Like why should curfews be announced when they cannot be enforced? And once announced, why is there laxness in enforcement? Wouldn't a simple unambiguous message that the state will deal firmly but fairly be more appropriate? 
  • Like if the "problem" was only in 5 police stations -- now there is talk of only 15 -- as we were forever being reminded, is the state's inability to control and contain this "isolated, small  geographical pocket" a sign of its restraint or incompetence?
  • Like we need to remember all the time that the protesters are largely all under 20.  As Pratap Bhanu Mehta reminded us recently, "What kind of politics and response is appropriate for a people, who have experienced a particular history of betrayal by the Indian state, whose daily lives have not for more than two decades seen anything outside the horizons of conflict and whose daily lives are marked by a sense of siege? How do you address a generation that has grown up under the spectre of violence and suspicion and with no sense of what normalcy is like? "
  • Like while one does need to factor in how young these protesters are, what exactly are the security forces to do when some of these protesters, victims as they have been, turn into hostile rioters, burn down police vehicles, police stations and government buildings, railway stations, even ambulances? At the same time, why is it that the police are still forced to shoot to kill? Why can't riot-control equipment, better protective gear, water cannons, rubber bullets, the works be made available?
  • Like Omar Abdullah came to power promising, among other things, “non-lethal crowd-control”, so why is it that he did not bother equipping his security forces with the right training and equipment? Why hasn't the centre seriously stepped up efforts in that direction?
  • Like why was it that in the beginning of the crisis Omar Abdullah and his ministers blamed the centre's --  or that of the CRPF, army, home ministry -- "insensitivity" instead of ensuring that it was their hand-picked police officers who were in charge of even the CRPF operations as they should be lawfully. By complaining and acting helpless, didn't the state government undermine its own credibility by manifestly not taking responsibility?  
  • Like since the state had not been put under governor's rule, why should the home ministry have taken it upon itself to announce "crackdowns" or even such micro management details as curfew timings and such? Shouldn't the effort right now be to shore up the chief minister and his security requirements instead of playing to the galleries in rest of India and making the CM look like a stooge of the centre?
  • Like what exactly did what Omar Abdullah announce in his Delhi press conference on August 1 as a "political package"  have to do with the ongoing protests?
  • Like while it is all very well to say that the violence must ebb before political measures can be announced (else, as it is argued, it would only send out the message that the Indian state only listens to "mob violence" and will encourage it more) should we not also remember that the protests -- or the cycle of violence -- this time around started actually with the uncovering of the Machil killings when three men were killed in what is alleged to be a fake encounter by armymen for reward money? That protests about that fake encounter led to the killing of protesters, which has led to more protests, and more killings? Why should it be so difficult to understand, as one commentator put it, even before azadi, Kashmiris want justice?
  • Like for argument's sake, if we believe that the protesters are only interested in secession, what point is really being served by trying to link protests with packages, such as they are? If we are willing to admit, however, that victimhood, injustice and insecurity about their identity is fuelling the rage on witness now, perhaps the need to be simultaneously addressing all these issues and concerns will be clear?
  • Like even security officers admit that given the widespread nature of protests, the use of more force by itself, and the inevitable resultant casualties on both sides, is not going to help end the cycle of violence -- it will only make it spiral out more. Each death at the hands of security personnel -- no matter what the provocation -- fuels and feeds the cycle of violence. So why is it that other options have not been explored so far?
  • Like the home minister, on August 1, in Parliament admitted: "In the last few weeks, the problem has taken a serious turn. There was a lull after July 19, but again there have been very serious disturbances in Jammu and Kashmir after July 30". So never mind the period since 2008, let's only ask: What steps exactly were taken to try and engage politically in this period of lull between July 19 and July 30?
  • Like why is it so difficult to admit that some individuals in the army have committed serious lapses in the past? Why is it imagined that the truth would be demoralising when the corrosive power of  untruths and cover-ups actually is far more damaging? Why is it not understood that any such measure would actually help heal wounds and even be good for the army as an institution? 
  • Like, why is it so difficult to understand that a message needs to go out to all that nobody's above the law? Why is to so difficult to move on cases such as Machil and Pathribal unflinchingly and quickly? Why can't a policy of cash-rewards for "encounters" be reviewed?
  • Like while the security forces of course have to try and enforce the law and order and the writ of the state (for which they need augmentation and full back-up), surely some of the things that the state and central government agree need to be done can still be done? Like considering an amendment to Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act? 
  • Like the security forces work under different compulsions and have to do what they do -- and with the equipment and resources at their command; they have no choice. But why is it that the state's chief minister and other elected representatives do not even deign to visit the bereaved families? Surely not all of them are hostile and murderous protesters? Is their no compassion for the suffering families and individuals at all?
  • Like why should there be mixed signals emanating from the ruling party itself - be it about how to deal with protesters or separatists. How is arresting them one day and then releasing them under local political pressure sending out a clear signal?
  • Like instead of doing any of this, why is it that the home ministry's first panicked response to any crisis is to attempt to fudge the issue? Why, as Sanjay Kak points out -- and yes, we can differ with him on many things such as Shopian etc --  "in place of politics, it was once again left to disinformation to staunch the haemorrhage..." and why should the emphasis be to "obscure the crisis" rather than deal with it?
  • Like has the very idea of peace marches and rallying together to express solidarity with the genuine grievances of the masses gone totally out of fashion? Is it only about the party - or parties, since it is a coalition - in power? Why should the PDP not be held to account as well for its role?
  • Like since the "moderate" Hurriyat (perhaps because of fears of elimination) and the PDP (anticipating electoral gains) are content to say that "they (the protesters) will not listen to us", is there no point left in trying to get them to see reason and participate in a dialogue to try and calm down the inflamed passions? If Syed Ali Shah Geelani's Tehreek-e-Hurriyat or Asiya Andrabi's Dukhtaran-e-Millat step in to fill the ground ceded by the "mainstream", perhaps the "mainstream" too needs to introspect whether they are comfortable with what they see going on around them
  • Like why can't the Prime Minister spare for J&K a fraction of the time and energy he has spent on trying to engage with Pakistan? Just hearing out some of the people of the state and not just its politicians (who in any case seem to be abdicating) even if they only want to talk about 'Azadi' - howsoever defined - would be more useful than doing the same old same old? Like wouldn't promoting some more people to people contacts with the state would actually be a good idea? Isn't the largest trust-deficit that he should be concerned with right now is with the people of J&K?
  • Like when an Indian was detained by the police in Australia for possible links with Islamist bombers of Indian origin in Britain, Mr Manmohan Singh himself volunteered the information that he spent sleepless nights, agonising over the plight of the terror suspect and his parents. Why doesn't he tell those Indians who happen to be Kashmiris how he feels about them?  Why doesn't Mrs Sonia Gandhi? Why doesn't Mr Rahul Gandhi? Perhaps it is too much to expect this of Mr Gadkari, but surely some of the other worthies in other parties are articulate enough? It might be dismissed as insincere at first, it might even get some derisive comments about fake empathy, but surely if a sincere effort is made, it will at least make these youngsters reconsider their stance a little?
  • Like somehow, there seems to be this irrational fear in the minds of our politicians that any "soft line" towards Kashmir or Kashmiris will mean electoral reverses in the rest of India and that they should only be seen to be advocating a hardline. I think the politicians do India and Indians injustice in this belief. Any mainstream politician who could even get to be on good talking terms with Kashmiris will be feted and not reviled. There is the example of Mr Vajpayee.
  • Like can't the TV channels actually pitch in and promote some people to people contacts? Can't they bring in some of the most credible and empathetic faces of Indian civil society -- say, people such as Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Amitabh Mattoo, Wajahat Habibullah -- to try and engage some of the diverse voices of dissent from the valley? Shouldn't they be heard and their concerns engaged with?  Preferably with no studio audiences.  Will it not at least make them pause? Will it not at least provide a platform for venting, even if all they want to express is their inchoate demand of Azadi, Azadi, Azadi? Will this articulation at least not address the complaint that they are not even listened to? So far, all they have perhaps experienced is the abuse and invective online on internet message boards;  they at least deserve to be engaged with respectfully by people who would not dismiss their aspirations and demands out of hand, however unreasonable or unrealistic they might seem to some.
  • Like while the immediate fire-fighting would have to be necessarily done impersonally at the level of CCS or Unified Command or other such terms which are meaningless to most people, is there anyone else who's reminded of people such as the late film actor Sunil Dutt who acted as the conscience of the country in the past? Even if the effectiveness of their ability to help in a situation such as this could be questioned, at least the sheer sincerity and EQ that they brought to the task would have helped?
  • Like the South Africans had their truth and reconciliation commission, can we not try and make a beginning in J&K and then take it to Gujarat 2002, Delhi 1984 and all the rest of the bloodied landmarks of our recent history?
  • Like why is it that the state government is not even trying to form what people like Professor Amitabh Mattoo have been suggesting for a long time, viz. forming a Council of Elders in the state who can work with Mohalla and Village elders and the imams of local masjids to restore peace?
  • Like why is it that not even one of the so-called national leaders from the ruling coalition has seen it fit to rise above the empty rhetoric of  "the violence must stop". It might sound very boring and simplistic, but what has been sorely lacking is any level of engagement, leave alone one with sincerity and honesty
  • Like why is it that ever since Mr Vajpayee's "insaniyat ke daayre meN" effort at statesmanship (to break the logjam of whether or not discussions could go beyond "samvidhaan ke daayre meN") we haven't had any national figure of any stature even attempting to actually engage other than vaguely blaming separatists, LeT, Pakistan, vested elements or whoever else...
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