By Joy Mitra:
The ‘paradise on earth’ has been a space for considerable geo-politics and has in a sense shaped the history of the subcontinent. Pakistan and India, both of whom feel that they have a rightful claim to Kashmir, have fought numerous wars but neither has been able to force a conclusive defeat on the other. While the Kashmir issue drags on, it has transitioned into an incessant battlefield; from paradise to a ‘living hell’. What was once famed for its valley of shepherds, its house boats, snow covered peaks and Sufi tradition of life, is still in the news, albeit for different reasons. Life in Kashmir has changed. The conspicuous presence of the army is now felt at every step of life; the check posts, the army cavalcade and the gun-toting armed personnel. It is perhaps impossible to travel in Kashmir without producing one’s identity card every few hundred meters to the security personnel!
When the army began its counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in Kashmir, the threat was perceived more from the state-sponsored intruders, but as time passed by, the Kashmir conflict got engulfed in a matrix of Kashmiri nationalism pitted against Indian nationalism, and as the conflict space grew, it slowly consumed the Kashmir populace in what resulted into one the most heavily militarized zone in the world. From 1989 onwards, Jammu and Kashmir witnessed a prolonged violence between armed groups and Indian security forces, and the humanitarian implications were immediate. Amnesty International has since then documented extensive human rights abuses that have taken place in Jammu and Kashmir since the 1990s by all sides – security forces and state-sponsored militia groups, as well as various armed groups. These violations included torture, custodial deaths, rape, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions, unlawful killings, kidnappings, and violations of the right to freedom of expression.
Before we delve deeper into the issue, it is important to go through a Kashmiri girl’s (who did not want herself to be named) tale of woe, of how one night twenty-five masked men broke into her home through the window, took away her parents, threatened to kill them, roughed up their house and broke all the furniture. Scared that she would never see her parents again, she, along with the locals, then protested outside the local police station, who after initially having denied capturing them, released their mother after some local media people joined the protest. She bore marks of being caned. On being asked about her husband, she detailed how her husband was beaten half-dead and had no idea of where they took him. The girl’s father has still not returned. Not that such stories have not come out before and the Kashmiris are tired of giving interviews that don’t bring an iota of difference to their lives, but it highlights a continuing and festering wound and a dilating relationship between the citizens and the administration that is supposed to work in their interest.
Addressing a gathering at the historic Jamia Masjid, Mirwaiz rued the fact that the army and other forces operating in the valley had increased their patrolling along the length and breadth of Kashmir, leading to large scale arrest of people. But it is an imperative here to go into the detail and examine the issue a little closely. The deployment in J&K essentially follows a three tier pattern. The urban areas are provided security by the local police and central police forces. The rural hinterland has the deployment of Rashtriya Rifles (RR), which is a paramilitary force. The army is deployed on the line of control, with the task of maintaining the territorial integrity of the country and stopping infiltration of terrorists. The primary role of the army is to guard the borders of the nation. It is therefore the paramilitary force which is deployed for counterinsurgency operations and assumes responsibility for the same. But most of the men in these units are from outside Kashmir, they are ‘foreigners’ to the Kashmiri and they themselves find Kashmir a very hostile place which leads to a lot of friction culminating into devastating incidents that instigate the Kashmiri nationalism. Kunan-Poshpora was one such incident where, allegedly, soldiers of the Rashtriya Rifles, during a search operation, engaged in a mass sexual assault of over 53 women in the Kupwara district.
To the army’s credit, the disillusionment is actually more with the paramilitary forces and the local police who have a proclivity for not following the SOP (standard operating procedure) and have shown a propensity towards indiscipline, while in the public perception, the army gets the blame and it generates a strong ‘anti-India’ feeling among the masses leading to more friction between the security forces and the local populace. In fact, in a recent case where a youth was killed in the old city, contrary to the claims of the CRPF, Dr. Radha Kumar (who was one of the interlocutors appointed by the government) stated that bullets for stones was an absolutely unjustified policy and alleged that the CRPF had not followed the standard operating procedure while dealing with the protestors.
The crux of the matter is that the State Police is largely inefficient and inept to work with the local populace, the brutality and the unjust behavior it subjects Kashmiris to, reeks of the feudal mindset with which it works, the instances of attack on the security forces only serve to exacerbate the perceived threat of attack and this fuels a vicious psychological cycle of more repression leading to more alienation and further alienation leading to further repression.
Despite such a huge presence of security forces, how is it that the government has to resort to curfews and complete media blackouts so frequently?
The truth is that the institutions in Kashmir have been moth-eaten from the start, and as the years have gone by, they have been further weakened by the pervasive and ever-growing corruption, and eroding autonomy. In fact, the transparency international’s survey puts the state into the ‘alarmingly corrupt’ category, and claims that it is the second most corrupt state in India.
It is therefore not surprising that the civilian administration, which is in fact aware of the brutality and torture that is happening, is sitting lame duck. A high ranking official admitted that the civilian authorities were aware of the ‘mistakes made by the security forces’ but also expressed their inability to do anything about it without referring to the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is hotly debated in the policy circles.
The entire political landscape of the state has consistently, in view of reduced levels of violence, advocated a phased removal of AFSPA, but this has been vetoed by the army which refuses to operate in these areas without adequate legal protection. According to the ministry of home affairs of India’s own stats, the violence level and the intrusions have come down significantly in Kashmir. From a high of almost 708 incidents of terrorism with 339 terrorists, 91 civilians and 75 security personnel killed in 2008, the number of incidents of violence had gradually come down to 220 with 72 terrorists, 15 civilians and 15 security personnel killed in 2012 .
The political autonomy that Kashmir did enjoy early on was destroyed by the central government which has instead imposed a hegemonic control on the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, India is complacent, because small bits of militancy strengthens the central government’s stranglehold over Kashmir. State parties are aware of it and in fact in 2008, the national conference had contested the assembly elections with the strategy of convincing all parties and the separatist to bring about restoration of autonomy that would in turn bring about lasting peace. It is pertinent here to refer to the Interlocutors report which upholds the Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The report has underlined that the clock cannot be set back but observes that the erosion of article 370 during the decades needed to be reappraised to give it more powers. It further went on to espouse for a renewal of the Public Safety Act, review of the Disturbed Area Act and a re-appraisal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
The deployment of the army by the state in the hinterland was to achieve the objective of security, but this was to be used to usher in good, clean and responsive governance. In an ideal case, the civilian administration should have latched on to the peace dividend. The low levels of violence and intrusion were probably the perfectly feasible moment for the transition to political process, but it is ironical how the state, on the contrary, looks favorably disposed to cede more turf to the army. The army started realizing that even though it was winning the battle for territorial space, it was losing the battle for the psychological space. It launched a program for winning ‘the hearts and minds of people’ in what is now called the Operation Sadbhavana, which seeks to put the organizational, medical, engineering, transport and educational expertise of the Army at the disposal of the people. While Operation Sadbhavana has had some positive impact, it has also burdened the army. In the process, the army, whether willing or unwilling, has only further delegitimized the government. As the stats show, the army had done its job of providing security, it was then incumbent upon the state to do what it was supposed to do, but the launch and scope of Operation Sadbhavana shows how a foundering state is abdicating its responsibility towards its people. There is a trend towards securitization of development in Kashmir. The question is whether this encroachment of the army into the civilian sphere of life is leading to more security or insecurity, and if it is leading to more security, then security for whom, the people or the state?