As the army and the state government are on a collision course in Jammu and Kashmir, separatists have started calling the mainstream political parties as a quisling of New Delhi, which needs to get the Centre’s permission to even register an FIR against the forces over civilian killings. Finally now, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, after talking to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, says she would take the first information report matter to its logical end.
Yet, the general view within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the Opposition goes thus: the latest FIR will not change the course of events in the restive Valley. For, that has been the case with hundreds of such FIRs against the army since the 1990 breakout of militancy in the region. After all, the men in uniform enjoy impunity under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). That means none of its personnel can be prosecuted without a sanction from the defence ministry, which has never granted it in the past two decades.
But objection over the FIR and a strong reaction by the PDP’s coalition partner, which is the Bharatiya Janata Party, against the lodging of an FIR against the army has shown that henceforth mere registration of such a written report in cases involving the army will be tough task for the police as well as the civilian government.
Moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq says this only proves what his group had always been saying: J&K is virtually under army rule. “Pro-India parties are a mere façade. The BJP doesn’t even want that now,” he tells Outlook. “The army chief is giving political statements every other day and the forces call the shots in the state with the CM’s support. She is a tool in the hands of the BJP, which is supporting every action of the army in Kashmir.”
To Mirwaiz, the army will continue the use of its iron fist with more force against hapless Kashmiris, leaving Mehbooba to do the fire-fighting.
The latest incident that created a rift between the BJP and the PDP—where the saffron party is supporting the army—took place in south Kashmir’s Shopian district. There, on the foothills of the Pir Panjal range, Javid Ahmad Lone, 55, is a witness to his son’s killing in an army firing. “I shouted at him and asked him to return. He looked back. They fired at his head and he fell down,” Javid tells Outlook, sitting in a room of his single-storey house at Ganowpore village. Surrounded by relatives and neighbours who are trying to console him, Lone says the class-12 boy, Suhail Ahmad, was incapable of doing anything harmful: “He would never throw a stone.”
Suhail was killed on January 27 after the army opened fire on some of the villagers. The locals say the forces sprayed bullets indiscriminately at youths. The Ganowpore firing wounded another youth, Rayees Ahmad Ganai. With bullet wounds on his head, the 24-year-old is battling for his life in a Srinagar hospital. In adjacent Balapora village, 20-year-old cricketer Javid Ahmad Bhat was also killed in an army firing on the same day. He had gunshot wounds on his head.
The army projects its excuse, maintaining that its personnel came under heavy stone-throwing in Ganowpore by over 200 people. That injured a junior commissioned officer (JCO), leading the force to open fire in self-defence. “It was to prevent potential lynching of the JCO,” says a source. The state government has ordered magisterial probe into the killings. The police have filed an FIR that blames the army and names the Major-rank officer leading the convoy for the casualties.
Ganowpore residents are fuming, and reject the army’s statement. They say the forces had come into their area at about 10.30 a.m on January 27 and asked the residents to remove a black flag, usually associated with Islamic State, outside the residence of a slain militant named Firdous Ahmad Lone. Firdous, along with another militant Sameer Ahmad Wani, was killed on January 24 in an encounter at Chaigund village of Shopian. The incident claimed the life of a civilian protester as well. Shakir Ahmad Mir, 17, died, while two girls, Sabreena Jan and Sumi Jan, sustained bullet injuries. One of them is critical, and is being treated in the state capital.
When the army had, on January 27, sought the removal of the black flag outside the late militant’s house, the residents refused to obey, saying it was an Islamic flag and has nothing to do with any organisation. “We told them it has kalmia (the formal content of Shahada, the declaration of faith) on it and it will not be removed,” recalls an elder in the village. At this, the personnel of 44 Rashtriya Rifles left, only to return at about 2 pm, according to the elder and some youths. The forces first began hurling stones and then resorted to “indiscriminate” firing towards the village. The residents show bullet-hole marks inside and outside walls of their houses as testimony.
Javid says the army men came down from their vehicles and started firing. “My son was on a video call with his cousins,” he adds. “Even after Suhail fell, the army continued firing for long.”
The killings have put the Mehbooba government in a tight spot. Coming under attack from Opposition National Conference president Omar Abdullah for not safeguarding lives of people, the CM told the legislative assembly on January 29 that a probe ordered into the matter would be taken to its logical conclusion. “Nobody countenances such killings. That only impairs and slows down the political process in the state,” Mehbooba said. “Immediately after the incident, an FIR was lodged even as the Shopian’s deputy commissioner was ordered to conduct a magisterial probe and come up with its report within 15 days.”
The CM went on to say that she, “within moments” of learning about the incident, rang up the defence minister, who “shared my anguish and assured appropriate measures”. The army as an institution “has done a great job, but the grace of an institution only enhances once the black sheep within are identified and weeded out,” Mehbooba said. The entire state is “anguished over the killings that have the potential to impair the political process” in J&K, she added. Also, incidents like Shopian “remind us that we cannot afford confrontation at any level” and “there is an urgent need to engage in a meaningful dialogue at all levels.” There is no alternative to dialogue within the state and between India and Pakistan, she noted, because it is the people of J&K who are facing the brunt of this acrimony and paying in terms of human and material losses.
The Shopian killing is the second incident this year that has put the PDP-led government in an awkward position. Earlier in 2018, army chief General Bipin Rawat had at the annual press conference on the eve of Army Day created a controversy when he said schools in J&K have teachers teaching what students should not be taught. “In J&K, one sees two images of maps: one of India, another of J&K. Why do we need a separate map for J&K? What does it teach the children?” he questioned. Most misguided youth come from schools where they are being radicalised.” The army chief also batted for “some control” over madrassas and mosques “that spread misinformation”.
A mere look at the NCERT’s history and geography textbooks taught in J&K narrates a different story. History textbooks prescribed by the state’s Board of School Education (BOSE) make no mention of the border-state’s tumultuous history after 1947. The students across J&K are not taught about 1953 when Kashmiri leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was arrested and his National Conference led a long agitation called the plebiscite movement. There is no chapter about the Holy relic movement of the 1960s or what led to the current-insurgency in 1989. “We have not included any controversial issues in the textbooks,” says Dr Farooq Ahmad Peer, director (academics) of J&K BOSE. “We don’t teach anything about the state’s recent history”. The “recent history” is euphemism about J&K’s past seven decades.
The Class-10 history textbook in J&K has six chapters: The Rise of Nationalism in Europe, Nationalism in India, Rise of Global World, The Age of Industrialisation; Work, Life and Leisure; Print Culture and Modern World. The BOSE’s history textbook of Class-6 has ten chapters: Why study history, What, Where, how and when; The earliest people, From gathering to growing food, In the earliest cities: What books and burials tell you; Kings, kingdoms and new ideas; Empires, cities and villages; Traders, kings and pilgrims, New empires and kingdoms; Buildings, paintings and books.
As for geography, Class-10 textbook has eight chapters: Resources: Concept, Classification and Management, Land Resources, Water Resources, Agriculture, Forests and Wildlife, Mineral Wealth, Manufacturing Industries, Disaster Profile of India. The book features seven maps—all of them are of the country. There is not a single separate map of J&K. The Class-6 geography textbook has three maps of India and not a single map of the troubled state.
Peer says 85 per cent of the syllabus of the BOSE textbooks is from the NCERT, and the rest was contextualised to bring local content. He argues that like in other states, J&K BOSE wants its students to be aware about the state’s geography. “The BOSE has initiated the review, revision and construction process of school textbooks in the light of guidelines of NCF (National Curriculum Framework) 2005,” Peer says.
Ironically, BOSE textbooks are benevolent towards the Dogra rulers, who historians generally describe as oppressive. Class-10 textbook has a chapter on the history of Dogra rulers (1846-1947 AD). While Kashmiri historians describe the Dogra rule as one of the darkest periods of Kashmir history, the textbook is all praise for that period. It describes Gulab Singh (1792-1857) as a proficient soldier and an efficient commander (when Kashmir historians describe him a tyrant). The book describes Gulab Singh’s successors Ranbir Singh (1829-85) and Maharaja Pratab Singh (1885-1925) as progressive reforms. The book goes on to describe Hari Singh, against whom Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah launched the Quit Kashmir Movement, as more accommodative than other maharajas. The book says this period saw the inauguration of modernisation in a socio-economic structure in the state. That is why the censure from the army chief has not gone well with the state’s PDP-led government.
It is not the first time there has been suggestion for initiation of “education reforms” in J&K. Many times till now, it has been made clear that there are non-academic—and overtly political—objectives of engaging with schools in Kashmir. The entire Operation Sadbhavana of Indian Army has, from its very beginning in 1998 with the idea of enabling people to rebuild their socio-economic life, targeted schools with an integrationist mindset. “The idea behind taking students out on an India tour is that you want them to grow as Indians,” says an official, who didn’t want to be named. “Education is used as an inducement for ideological conversion of schoolchildren.”
Like the army, which at present openly talks about the education system, pro-Indian mainstream parties like the PDP in Kashmir have also used education to browbeat students. While separatists would want schools to remain shut during prolonged strikes (as in 2016) as part of a perpetual agitation against Indian rule, the state wants that the schools to always remain open as part of the normalcy narrative. This played out openly in 2016 when the then education minister Naeem Akhtar asked separatists to keep schools conflict-neutral and exempt the campuses from strikes.
Last year, there was a strange role reversal when the campus unrest was seen across Kashmir after security forces beat up students in Pulwama Degree College. During this period, while separatists wanted schools to be open, the PDP government ordered prolonged vacations and ensured that schools remain shut. “It was a clear proof education was of least concern,” says an official. “It is only the political ends which have to be achieved.”
A few years ago, there was a campaign for bringing more local content into school textbooks. At that time Kashmiriyat (the region’s centuries-old indigenous syncretic and tolerant culture) was a very popular campaign. That is why the human resource development ministry had, in 2005, allowed J&K BOSE to contextualise 15 per cent content, while following NCF guidelines. The content is related to regional histories, inter-faith bonhomie and diversity.
That time, the idea was that teaching about shrines and temples will bring peace in Kashmir. A textbook of history for Class-7 is a classic example of this approach.
It now appears that this experiment has not worked well. For one, the army chief’s proposal is seen as “defocusing Kashmiri identity to refocus Indian one”. But, as an educationist says, only time will tell whether studying about Palas and Chalukyas make Kashmiri children more Indian.” Any attempt at saffronisation of school textbooks will be “too obvious to escape notice”, he adds.
Ruling Echelons Displeased
Education minister Altaf Bukhari points out that education is a state subject, averring the government knows how to run schools. “Let the army chief do his job, I am doing mine,” he states. “If the borders are protected, the incidents of violence will come down. Perhaps they are not doing their job properly, and because of that we are suffering.”
Officials say the same books, which are taught at the government schools, are also being read in the Army Goodwill schools, which are running under Operation Sadbhavana and the army has never objected to their content. In its two decades of operation, the army has over the years established around 50 goodwill schools and assisted about 1,900 state government-run schools in remote areas through renovation, construction of additional classrooms, libraries, toilets, playgrounds and sports facilities. In the past 15 years, according to the army, one lakh students have obtained middle and higher secondary-level education in such schools.
Police sources point out some instance of youths studying in army schools joining militancy. Like the case of 19-year-old Abid Ahmad Mir, of north Kashmir’s Hajin, who was the student of the Army Goodwill School and later studied in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Uri area of Baramulla, 70 km north of Srinagar. On September 5 last year, he was killed in an encounter at Sopore.
Counter-terrorism expert Ajai Sahni, who is executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, says he has “never come across as any element of extremism” in the government-school curriculum. For Siddiq Wahid, a former vice-chancellor of Islamic University of Science and Technology, the army chief’s statement on education is, first of all, an intrusion in an arena that he has no official jurisdiction. “But second and more pertinently,” he notes, “it is indicative not only of his dangerous ignorance, but of the impunity with which he feels he can blackball and stigmatise even the largely (politically) benign administrative wing of the government of the state.”
Prof Wahid raises a larger question. “At a more fundamental level, it is a window into the false confidence and permissible arrogance that has crept into the Indian establishment about how they can spew uninformed, ignorant and false claptrap on ‘so-called policy statements’ against even the pro-India political establishment of the state,” he notes. “Imagine if he had made false criticisms of the educational system in Himachal Pradesh, Kerala or Bihar. How silent would its chief minister have been? What is it that prevents the state government/legislature from an official censure notice to the army chief, of informing him that, officially, we are still under a democratic system?”
While the NC’s Omar says there is a sense of impunity in armed forces at present as the measures of accountability have been reversed gradually in the state, ruling BJP MLA Ravinder Raina says the leader of the opposition is right. Raina defends the army and describes the Shopian firing as a “right thing in self-defence”. He also rejects magisterial inquiry and FIRs against the army, saying they don’t work against the forces. “The army enjoys impunity under the AFSPA in J&K. The army has its own court; police FIRs don’t work against it”, he says. In Kashmir, a lot many are in agreement with Raina and the challenge for Mehbooba is to prove Raina wrong.