Kashmir valley, home to nearly 7 million people, has shifted between hope and despair ever since it acceded to India in 1947 under the “Instrument of Accession“. Srinagar constituency, which went to polls on April 9, 2017, registered a paltry voter turnout of 7%, the lowest in the last 20 years. Moreover, the turnout was an abysmal 2% in 38 polling booths where polling was rescheduled due to violence.
This slide towards major chaos began in July 2016 with the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. As per statistics provided by The Indian Express, the violence claimed 77 lives, injured 12,000 people, and blinded about a 1,000 through the use of pellet guns (five of whom were permanently blinded) between July 2016 and November 2016. This was only a trigger because the seeds had already been sown in 2014, when the two parties, PDP and BJP, formed an unlikely alliance to run the government. The PDP was seen as a betrayer and the BJP as a usurper.
The valley stands more starkly divided than ever before. Kashmiris became enraged after a video, showing a resident tied to the bonnet of an army jeep and used as a human shield, went viral. This incident imperils new possibilities of bringing peace to the valley.
As per the reports from the home ministry, the number of youths joining militancy rose to 88 in 2016 from 64 in 2015. The security forces who unleash brutality on the masses are, to a large extent, responsible for this. Prime Minister Modi recently asked Kashmiris to choose between ‘tourism and terrorism‘, but the reality is that this burning issue cannot be reduced to binaries.
Meanwhile, BJP’s Chander Prakash Ganga and Subramanian Swamy are hurling polarising statements about depopulating the valley and dispatching the locals to refugee camps. On the other hand, Home Minister Rajnath Singh is trying to balance the situation by asking state governments to protect Kashmiri students. Reportedly, they were assaulted in Rajasthan University and billboards were set up in Meerut asking them to go back. If the BJP desires to expand democratic spaces, it should ask its leaders to abstain from making insensitive remarks.
If the government decides to use plastic bullets, that would certainly a correct measure. The borders with Pakistan must be defended by all means. The responsibility to maintain law and order must be enshrined upon the Jammu and Kashmir police for the moment.
But the alienation of the people in Kashmir valley is nearly complete. The government must realise that its muscular policy will no longer work. It should immediately act upon the report prepared by senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha and initiate multi-dimensional dialogues – and it must include separatists in the process.