Srinagar: Civil liberty watchdog Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) has condemned the Army chief Bipin Rawat’s statement of February 15, warning Kashmiris who “create hurdles during (Army) operations” that they will face “harsh action”, calling them “over-ground workers of terrorists“, and equating stone pelters and flags of Pakistan and ISIS as acts of “terrorism” carried out by “anti-nationals”.
This, a statement posted on the PUDR website, announces a step up in repression, widening the crackdown beyond militants and as a result the blood count is bound to rise. The labeling of the mass upsurge of 2008 as “agitational terrorism”, which was “bigger challenge than militancy”, by GoC-in-C of the Northern Command BS Jamwal in 2009, had already made the unarmed agitator a target to be silenced, alive or dead, whereas the policy towards militants since 1990 was to kill rather than arrest.
The statement titled ‘more of the same’ has been issued by PUDR secretaries Cijo and Anushka Singh.
“While there is nothing new in this, what it does is to announce a step up in military operations in the coming days,” the statement said. “A sign that Government of India has no will to initiate a political process.”
The statement of the Army chief came after two incidents, one on February 12, and another one on February 14. In both incidents people were not only gathered protesting the encounter the funeral thereafter of the four dead militants saw large number gather.
The first incident, a gunfight between security forces and militants in Nagbal-Frisal village in South Kashmir’s Kulgam district where people gathered and shouted against the Indian forces and in support of the militants led to forces opening fire, using pellet guns and tear gas in which 22 year old Mushtaq Ahmad Itoo was killed and 25 others injured. Another civilian died in “crossfire” and four militants too died. The news of the deaths prompted protests by people, which was quelled by the security forces using tear gas, pellets and bullets, the statement said.
On February 14, soldiers faced stone-pelting at Parray Mohalla of Hajin, Bandipora, Kashmir, when they were about to launch an operation against militants. It is worth noting that Hajin was the headquarters of Kuka Parrey the infamous renegade militant who worked with the Indian security forces. “The transformation of Hajin is striking,” the statement added.
“The fact that people are defying even the Indian army to protest and come to the aid of the militant at encounter sites is yet another reminder that the popular mood in Kashmir remains defiant and steadfast in face of an obdurate Government of India which has no policy other than of military suppression,” the statement said. “However, if 600,000 soldiers from Army to Central and State Para military Forces even after 1990 have failed to resolve the Kashmir dispute militarily, and a militancy which has shrunk from 15,000 once to now less than 300 militants still pre-occupies the authorities then the resilience of the popular mood and their demand for a political resolution cannot be wished away.”
“Few hundred militants get multiplied manifold because of popular support. It is this which scares the Government and to which they have no answer other than of suppression,” it added.
The statement goes on: “The people of Kashmir have been facing this “harsh action” in the form of torture, murder, sexual violence, enforced disappearances since the 1990s. Justice still evades most of the victims of armed forces violence. Every thing turns lethal in Kashmir, as non-lethal pellet guns did to grievously injure and blind hundreds of Kashmiri youth, protesting the death of Burhan Muzaffar Wani. Along with a pervasive presence of the military, draconian laws like AFSPA, PSA, refusal to register or investigate crimes by the armed forces and the denial of right to speech, assembly and protest has spawned a culture of impunity. The actions of the civilians in preventing the army from conducting operations against their own who pick up guns emerge from this experience of having suffered long at the hands of India’s military.”
The PUDR said that the public should note that the Supreme Court judgment delivered on July 8, 2016 on a petition filed by families of victims of fake encounters in Manipur seeking investigation into these cases, states that the army can only be deployed as an “aid to civil authorities” but it cannot be for an “indeterminate period”. The court also pointed out that “…normalcy not being restored cannot be a fig leaf for prolonged, permanent deployment of the armed forces, as it would mock at our democratic process and would be a travesty of jurisdiction…” .This judgment becomes important in the context of Kashmir where the armed forces have been deployed since 1990 and “normalcy” evades being imposed and with no political resolution in sight.
“Therefore, the Army chief’s warning is part of a narrative which pursues a military solution for a political problem espoused by a very popular movement,” the statement adds. “To reduce the problem to “terrorism” and “anti-national” is sign of India’s refusal to face the truth that its policy has engendered a desire for separation and where an enraged people are defying the Army. The anger of the Kashmiri people will not subside by issuing or carrying out threats, when people are not afraid to offer sacrifice.”
PUDR believes that it is futile to single the Army chief out. He is one in the long list of those from whom we have learnt to expect more of the same, rather than the courage to break away from the tried and tested policy of denial of the popular indigenous nature of the movement, dismissing it as being Pakistan sponsored, and the preference for “transforming the will and attitude of the people”, as the Army Doctrine so eloquently declared in 2004. Unless democratic minded people in India speak up for Kashmiris right to decide their own destiny and demand a political resolution to end the dispute, the bloody saga of Kashmiri struggle, with momentary respite amidst sustained repression, will continue. PUDR appeals to the conscientious, therefore, to realize that where there is no hope for a peaceful resolution, centre of political gravity shifts to militants and militancy.
PUDR reiterates that there can only be a democratic resolution possible to this long festering dispute, which successive Governments of India have refused to opt for.