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Indian Army Helped In Kashmir Flood Relief, But How Does It Justify AFSPA And Army Atrocities?

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By Amrita Garg:

“Kashmir is a film heroine and as in every Bollywood film, there is a hero and there is a villain,” remarks a Kashmiri boatman, when asked about the relationship between the army and the locals. Who is whom, you ask, and he smiles enigmatically.

This is the best description of a turbulent relationship that has, time and again, threatened to rip apart the fabric of Kashmiri society. With the army a constant presence in the valley since the imposition of the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990, the erstwhile paradise resembles a pressure cooker of sorts, always simmering with tension and animosity.

kashmir floods army

In the wake of the recent floods in many parts of the state, the media discourse has largely centred on the heroic rescue operations led by the Indian Army and the Air Force, wherein the men in uniform rescued thousands from the clutches of death. Little mention, however, was made of ordinary people like Mudabir Jaleel, a volunteer in his mid-thirties, who made a raft from empty petrol barrels tied together with rope, and rescued hundreds of people at a time when he could not reach his own sister. Going a step further, the media have demanded that separatists be chastened and the people of Kashmir reaffirm their allegiance to India in return for the relief efforts. In reply, noted activist Kavita Krishnan wrote, “Shame on channels that try to use Army relief work in flood-hit J&K to justify AFSPA and Army deployment there! Shame on attempts to use humanitarian work to justify inhumane crimes.” This, then, is the crux of the problem.

Can the floods, which washed away large chunks of cities and towns, also be reasonably expected to wash away the collective memory of a people suffering under the draconian laws imposed on them? Aimen Reshi, a young student, whose family was trapped for days in the floods, thinks not. She recounts the horrors of growing up in a place where gun toting Army personnel would stop anybody they wanted, enter any house they wished, check lunchboxes and detain innocent men whose hearts, they claimed, “beat like that of a terrorist.” She says that she applauds the rescue efforts of the army but not if it means using these as a rationale for the draconian AFSPA.

One of the main grievances against the army’s relief operations was that some parts of the disaster-struck areas were ignored in favour of rescuing VIPs and people with “contacts” on a priority basis, and help came in quite late. But in an interview, the Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. DS Hooda, who led the rescue of more than 2.3 lakh people, categorically denies these charges. He says there was absolutely no heirarchy followed in who would be helped first. He acknowledges the role of local volunteers in providing succour to the victims, especially in areas of Srinagar, where army presence is limited. Busting rumours of the Kashmiris turning down offers of help, he says, those were isolated incidents mainly due to pent up frustration and despair, and most were highly appreciative of the Army.

The question then is why do Kashmiris not forgive and forget? The fact is that these floods were a natural calamity, which saw the army pulling out all stops. This same army, however, has wreaked a disaster of its own in the valley. Too many people have images of the February 1991 mass rape by army personnel of the women of Kunan Poshpora villages painfully seared in their minds. Too many people remember Jaleel Andrabi, the human rights lawyer who was allegedly subjected to extrajudicial execution and whose corpse was later found floating in the Jhelum. There are too many widows and too many orphans.

Many voices, including that of the Chief Minister, have been raised against AFSPA and the havoc it leaves in its wake. But most of these voices fall silent on the Public Safety Act which provides for arresting and jailing a person without trial for two years on mere suspicion that he/she may disrupt law and order in the state, or may act in a manner prejudicial to the security of the state. Thousands of Enforced Disappearances have taken place since the promulgation of this act in 1978. For some mothers like Parveena Ahangar, whose 17-year old son was arrested in 1990 by the armed forces and who now chairs the Association for Parents of Disappeared Persons, the search will never end.

We have seen it in the Punjab of the 1980s. The visits after dark, the muffled cries, the loss of innocence, the families left behind. It cannot and must not be swept under the carpet any more. Power should come with responsibility or it will lead to complete alienation within this Union of India. Patriotism must not give way to jingoism because, as the historian Howard Zinn put it, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

You must be to comment.
  1. vir

    AFSPA is for those who does not understand the voice of humenity

  2. Sai

    Doesnt make sense. But, then who credits Kavita Krishnan, another communist perhaps? Do you know, according to these communist activists, 26/11 was a inside job?
    Kashmir is a part of India and it will continue to be so. Besides, Siachen Glacier is the third largest source of frozen fresh water after the two poles. And Kashmir will be the buffer zone between India-Pakistan and China ( Thats the harsh tactical reality).
    There is a very good reason why Armed forces conduct an SSB exam to search for something called OLQ- Officer Like Qualities. Officers are required to be cold, calculative and ruthless( if need arises).

    I get an impression from your article that, you have never had an experience, just like most of the journalists.

  3. Gaurav

    Army has its heart in the right place and that was quite evident recently when they pulled out all stops to help the people of Jammu Kashmir. but Kavita Krishnan who is a left wing chinese stooge continues to criticise for no reason. left wing radicals have been in bed with islamic radicals for quite some time. writer should do her research and ask herself why did the muslims commit genocide of kashmiri pundits?

  4. MajorBS

    Writer has done justice to armed forces role in rescuing lakhs of people during the flood. Does it justify AFSPA is quite another matter. AFSPA doesn’t need to be justified by rescue work. The disproportionate number of terrorist attacks occurring in Kashmir, targeting both civilians and military is enough justification for AFSPA. It doesn’t however justify the rape and murder committed by few of the military personnel. The officers responsible need to be brought to justice. In any society laws are made for the extreme scenarios. Like the very simple example of speed limits. They are set in such a way that a new driver will be able to control his/her vehicle and maneuver safely in traffic. We know that new drivers are fairly few in number and most of them will be able to maneuver safely in higher speeds, but we set the limits for the exceptionally bad drivers. Similarly a handful of terrorists and the havoc they unleashed along with a minority of civilians supporting them in Kashmir valley, led to the AFSPA. What baffles me is however is the very lack of such disciplinary actions in place for army personnel. If citizens rights are taken away due to action of a few, then the same must be applied armed forces. Even an accusation of false conduct by military personnel should be taken seriously and investigated. Accused should be treated like terror suspects in the state

  5. vishal singh

    Irmy has its heart in the right place and that was quite evident recently when they pulled out all stops to help the people of Jammu Kashmir. but Kavita Krishnan who is a left wing chinese stooge continues to criticise for no reason. left wing radicals have been in bed with islamic radicals for quite some time

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