April 2000 News

Match fixing won''t help in Kashmir

20 April 2000
Hindustan Times
Bharat Bhushan

NA: If five innocent villagers had been shot dead by the UP police in a fake encounter - say, in the pocket-borough of the Congress ruling family in Amethi - what would have been the reaction in the rest of India? And what if a protest demonstration had been fired upon in Lucknow and another seven people were to die in the process? Can one even imagine the righteous indignation and the political reaction that this would have fuelled in the country? What if the incident had taken place not in UP but in Bihar, say, 50 km from Patna, in Nitish Kumar?s or Ramvilas Paswan?s constituency? There would have been an immediate demand for Rabri Devi?s scalp, the entire leadership of the National Democratic Alliance would have descended on the spot to sympathise with the bereaved families and the Governor would have been petitioned for ending the jungle-raj in the state. And quite rightly so. Now consider what happened in Anantnag, 50 km from Srinagar on March 25. The police killed five apparently innocent civilians in Pathribal village, burnt their bodies and buried them. It claimed that these were militants responsible for the Sikh massacre of March 20 at Chattisinghpora. The local villagers, however, insisted that this was a fake encounter. When the bodies were exhumed, their relatives directly confirmed the identity of three. Two others were identified on the basis of the clothes found in their graves. All five had gone missing on the intervening night of March 23 and 24 from four different villages in Anantnag. When the indignant villagers took out a procession against these extra-judicial killings, the police opened fire and seven of them were killed. Although Farooq Abdullah reacted promptly and ordered judicial inquiries into the incidents, what was the reaction in the rest of India? Except from the media, there was no reaction. There was no sense of shame, no indignation. Our political parties did not consider the Anantnag incidents important enough to address. However, there are compelling reasons for the Indian polity not to fail the Kashmiris - especially at a juncture when the political space for negotiations with the Kashmiri opposition is opening up. When the Kashmir agitation picked up steam in 1990, the Berlin Wall was being pulled down, the mighty Red Army had been forced out of Afghanistan by rag-tag bands of Islamic guerrillas a year earlier and geographical boundaries were being redrawn across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It was no surprise then that the votaries of azadi thought that India too would close shop in Kashmir. But this did not happen. By 1993, Pakistan had to send in mercenaries from outside to keep the agitation going. The expectation was that if the struggle were sustained long enough, the world would be forced to take note. The world has indeed taken note but not in the manner that Pakistan or some Kashmiri leaders expected. The context within which Kashmir is viewed today has changed dramatically. Internationally, the perception of the Indian State and its ability to handle crises has undergone a radical transformation. The international community saw how India dealt with the Kargil crisis even when there was no Parliament and general elections were in the offing. It noted that when Atal Behari Vajpayee was being sworn as the new Prime Minister of India on October 13, in stark contrast, democracy was being overthrown in our neighbourhood. The hijacking of an Indian aircraft, the identity of the hijackers and where they took refuge did not go unnoticed internationally. There has been a shift in India?s image from being a land of snake charmers teeming with millions of poor to a country that has achieved reasonable levels of growth. It may not have surmounted poverty as yet but it is recognised as making determined strides in dealing with it. It is recognised as a country that through state funding of education has developed a vast storehouse of top-of-the-line skilled manpower. And its democratic institutions are seen as fairly stable. These developments which had a profound impact on the way the world viewed India were followed by US President Bill Clinton?s visit to the subcontinent. Mr Clinton?s central message put Kashmir in the context of the changing perceptions of the subcontinent in general and India in particular. Mr Clinton?s central message on Kashmir was that the US cannot be put under pressure to intervene in the Kashmir dispute (i.e. no more Kargils), that it does not approve of violence (stop cross-border terrorism to resolve the issue) and that no major territorial rearrangements are possible using force (respect the LoC). Simultaneously, Mr Clinton emphasised that India cannot hope to clobber the Kashmiri opposition into submission and that it must open channels of communication to work out a political arrangement with them. Now the British Foreign Secretary has repeated the same message about dialogue and restraint. This reinforces values that democratic elements in India subscribe to and which can be held up as a mirror to the state. As for the Kashmiri opposition, there should be no cause for disappointment for them either. The world today is urging India to work out a political arrangement in Jammu and Kashmir. Such an arrangement can be worked out only with them. These developments have the potential of expanding the political space in Kashmir. Perhaps the release of three of the 15 senior Hurriyat leaders from jail (where they should not have been in the first place) is a recognition of this fact by the Indian Government - as is the offer of a dialogue with them. Their release was described by the Government as ?an initiative towards peace in Kashmir?. If that is indeed the case then the rest of the Hurriyat leadership in jail should also be released. This would enable the Hurriyat to absorb the changing international and domestic reality by facilitating wide ranging consultations between themselves, with their cadre and the Kashmiri people. A small pointer to change is the manner in which the ordinary Kashmiris are relating to militancy and the Indian security forces. Four days after the ?fake? encounter in Pathribal in Anantnag, on March 29 at Halan village in the district, the security forces killed another four militants allegedly also involved in the Sikh massacre. There was no protest from the locals. They did not claim that these were innocent villagers who had been killed. There was no demand for exhuming their bodies. Demonstrating a high degree of political sensitivity and discrimination, the locals had clearly made a distinction between the terrorists and the innocent. It is not only the Kashmiri leaders who have to make a course correction but also the Indian polity. It has responsibility towards the Kashmiris. And this can only be discharged by partaking in their sorrows, viewing their humiliation as the humiliation of the rest of India and by protesting strongly against injustices done to the innocent. That is why the lack of reaction of the Indian polity to the ?fake? encounter in Anantnag is disheartening. It shows that India?s conscience is not touched by the plight of the people of Kashmir. A vigilant and politically sensitive citizenry must demand that an error of judgement be shown by an impartial inquiry to be just that. The onus is on India to ensure that the innocents in J&K are insulated from those engaged in violence. The Kashmiris are already trying to do that. They need to be helped in this endeavour. This, rather than concentrating on match-fixing by getting this or that pliable leader installed as the Chief Minister of the state, is going to be more important in the long run if the Kashmiris are to be integrated with the rest of India.


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