By Pranav Prakash:
Over the course of the last week, peaceful homes in the villages and cities that form a large part of this beautiful country have witnessed sporadic news accounts of the turmoil that has erupted in the Valley which, in the last two decades at least, has seen and suffered through more political instability and incomprehensible violence than many of us can recall.
While the problem of disputed territory has persisted for decades and may continue to for many more years than we care to pretend or acknowledge, what is excruciatingly unsettling about the entire ordeal is not our lack of political solutions to the Kashmir conundrum but rather, our excess of military ones.
According to data from the government itself, over 14000 civilians have been killed in the period from 1988 to 2016 in Kashmir, many by militants but no insignificant number by security forces themselves. The number of such fatalities has sharply declined in recent years but if our solace, today, is that the 42 deaths reported so far is the lowest figure of any year in the last twenty, we are failing as a nation, just perhaps not as terribly as we were failing a little while ago.
The use of pellet guns as a ‘non-lethal force‘ is, quite possibly, one of the most pernicious methods adopted in recent times to curb protests and violent mobs. An understanding of the mechanics of the pellet gun is all that is required to know that its effect is, by and large, indeterminable. When a pellet gun is fired, it sprays several projectiles of metal pellets indiscriminately. It’s not that these pellets, sometimes covered in rubber, cannot kill when they’re fired; they have, in fact. The only thing that makes them non-lethal is the standard operating procedure that dictates how they’re supposed to be used. For one, they’re not meant to be used in close combat. If fired under such circumstances, not only do they have the potential to kill the target, but can quite easily do the same to someone else caught within the broad range of the spray. We’ve seen children blinded by the use of these weapons as recently as a few days ago. Non-lethal force ceases to remain so the instant it causes a fatality, insurgent or otherwise.
Any immediate answer to what happens with Kashmir seems distant, not in the least because the conflict has proved far more complicated than most of us as individuals could even hope to resolve. What we can and should, without hesitation, ask for is an immediate ban on the use of these barbaric weapons before another innocent child loses her eyesight or worse, amidst a violence she cannot even begin to comprehend.
That which is so glaringly obvious and yet is constantly overlooked, when we, the people, living far away from the troubled borders of our nation engage in heated polemics over the situation in Kashmir, is that ‘a sense of immense patriotism for the bravery of our security forces’ and ‘a feeling of urgent compassion for the inhabitants of Kashmir’ do not have to be mutually exclusive. So often, we are stopped in our tracks from achieving any significant measure of progress because we get caught up in picking a side; we’ve been conditioned to believe that anyone who empathises with the Kashmiris’ fight for self-determination inherently harbours disrespect for the soldiers of the Indian Army. Likewise, we erroneously presume that all those whose hearts swell with nationalistic pride in succour of the armed forces take all protestors in Kashmir to be violent insurgents who need military force to be kept in check. I urge you to consider that it’s possible to believe in both.
It requires no small amount of courage to be able to stand up and fight against the people of one’s own nation, irrespective of which side of the conflict one might fall under. As a people, the largest majority of which presently has relatively little to deal with beyond a conflict of opinions, it is our responsibility to ensure that much before a political solution is reached, a humanitarian one is. The violence, left to itself, will burgeon out of control, in large part due to an unassailable catalyst of foreign actors. It is nothing less than our duty to our people to not let it. Evil, as a wise man once said, is relatively rare. Ignorance is epidemic.
Featured image credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images.