Spiraling violence in Kashmir: Urgent need for steps to end the alienation of the Kashmiri people

On 21st October 2018, at least ten people were killed during an army operation in Kulgam, Kashmir. Dozens of other people, including women and children were seriously injured during this action. All over Kashmir, people have come onto the streets, protesting these killings.

What happened in Kulgam? The army was carrying out a search and cordon operation in a residential area to kill alleged militants. It had set up explosives in the house, where it believed these youth were residing. As soon as people of the neigbourhood heard about the army operation, they came rushing to the site, to protect their youth. Many innocent men, women and children were killed or injured when the bombs exploded.

What happened in Kulgam is not an isolated incident. Every day, in the Kashmir Valley, the army is carrying out such operations in one village or another. Everywhere, the people refuse to obey the army’s orders to stay indoors during such operations. The women and children have come out defiantly to protect those whom they consider their own.

Every funeral procession of youth killed in such operations is attended by thousands upon thousands of people. The masses of people defy curfew to participate in them. Clashes between the security forces and the mourners follow. More people are killed or injured. The cycle of violence keeps spiraling.

Four years ago, the Central government unveiled its “hard line approach to the Kashmir problem”. The Army was asked to carry out a no-holds-barred operation to “crush militancy”. The Army Chief announced that every civilian who came out on the streets to “obstruct army operations against militants”, would be considered an “overground militant” and treated as an enemy. If the aim of this approach was to isolate the so called militants, it has totally failed. The Kulgam incident is just one more confirmation of its total failure.

The Indian state is treating all those opposing repression as enemies of the state. Every Kashmiri is being treated as a “terrorist”, “anti-national” and “agent of Pakistan”. The repression unleashed against the people has pushed more and more youth into taking up arms against the Indian state. Many of those killed by the army in different operations and declared “terrorists” are no more than 16 or 17 years of age! The Kashmir policy of the Indian state has resulted in complete alienation of all Kashmiris. It is the main cause for the spiraling cycle of violence in Kashmir.

This alienation is so widespread that even people who have served in the highest levels of the Kashmir administration in various capacities are voicing their disagreement with the Kashmir policy of the Indian state. Thus, following the Kulgam killings, a Group of Concerned Citizens (GoCC) issued a statement expressing their shock at the events and calling for a political solution to the Kashmir problem through dialogue. The signatories to the statement include retired judges of the J&K High Court, former Vice Chancellors, , former IGP’s of the state, leading journalists and artists, Senior Advocates of the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association, trade union leaders, farmer leaders, and many other prominent personalities who have served in various capacities in the state administration. They included Kashmiris of all faith — Muslim, Hindu and Sikh.

29 years ago, in 1989, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was extended to Kashmir, and the Army was deployed to crush “separatism and militancy”. The official propaganda at that time was that a few hundred Pakistan trained militants were responsible for the unrest in the valley. Once these militants were killed, then peace would return to the valley.

Over the past 29 years, tens of thousands of people have been killed in Kashmir. According to the Home Ministry records, 44,801 people have lost their lives in Kashmir between 1990 and September 2017. These include 23,524 people whom the Government calls “militants”, 14,849 civilians, and 6,428 security personnel. Human rights groups in Kashmir have pointed out that the Home Ministry figures on the number of civilians killed is a gross underestimation. The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons pointed out in 2017 that at least 8,000 people were reported “disappeared” by their families, that is kidnapped, tortured and murdered by state security forces. Further, over 7,000 unknown, unmarked mass graves have been discovered.

Now, the government has been forced to admit that the youth whom the government terms as militants and terrorists, are local youth — not infiltrators from Pakistan. These youth have been born and grown up under army rule. They view the Indian army as an occupation force. Every fresh incident like Kulgam reinforces this belief.

People from rest of the country who visit Kashmir, recall the warmth of the Kashmiri people, even in these deeply troubled times. The people of Kashmir at the same time do not hesitate to tell how dearly they want an end to the oppressive rule of the Indian state. They want to be masters of their own land and not to have to live under the rule of an army which acts like an occupation force.

People must not forget that in October 1947, Jammu & Kashmir joined the Indian Union under a special arrangement. Over the past 71 years, successive governments at the Center have violated this arrangement. The human and democratic rights of the Kashmiri people have been completely violated. Those raising their voices for the rights of the people have been jailed, tortured or killed. Elections have been openly rigged. All this has led to the alienation of the people of Kashmir. It is no use blaming Pakistan for this situation.

The so called “Military solution” to the Kashmir problem has not led to any solution. On the contrary it has aggravated all the problems. It has led to complete alienation of the Kashmiri people from the Indian Union. It has increased the danger of war between India and Pakistan, and of US military intervention in this region.

The first step to resolve what is called the “Kashmir problem” is to recognize that it cannot be solved by resorting to the Army. It requires a political solution, based on recognizing that Kashmir belongs first and foremost to its people, and any solution must address their concerns. Ending Army rule will be a step to ending the alienation of the Kashmiri people and open the path to a political solution.

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