Views from Srinagar
LAST week Home Ministry released a report which concluded that Pakistan was promoting
“civil resistance” in Kashmir. It was soon clear how Army intended to deal with this resistance from people, thanks to a series of videos which revealed how the troops were punishing Kashmiri youth.
It all started with a video showing a youth tied to the bonnet of an Indian Army jeep as a human shield against stone pelters. Soon more videos started circulating on social media showing the forces brutally beating Kashmiri youth. These videos constitute solid evidence of abuse by the military, but going by the experience of past so many years it will also be dubbed as “aberrant behavior”.
As Amnesty International observed, whether Army personnel wanted to deter stone-throwers, or intimidate people, such conduct is unlawful and unacceptable. Besides, such demeaning acts can vitiate the already charged atmosphere in the valley. Even while dealing with provocative situations, the government forces are not entitled to open fire directly at the protestors. The retaliation must be both necessary and proportional. However, the civilians are routinely treated as combatants in the valley. While the videos sparked widespread outrage in the valley, it failed to move the apathetic mainstream Indian media. Ideally, the media must hold government and armed forces accountable for such heinous acts. To tolerate anything less, even in the name of national security, is hypocritical. The “patriotic” media must defend the country against the government whenever it tramples on human rights.
When the graphic photographs of torture of prisoners by American troops in Abu Ghraib prison were made public, it changed the public perception of war in Iraq and changed America’s image. It took some genuine piece of journalism to expose the rot. On April 28, 2004 “60 Minutes II” broadcast graphic photos of Iraqis being humiliated and tortured. It was followed by April 30, 2004 article in The New Yorker by award winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh which reported details of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. The military stopped the abuse only after Hersh’s story brought it onto front pages around the world. A 2008 documentary film ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ directed by Errol Morris explored the meaning of the photographs taken at the Abu Ghraib prison which revealed the torture and abuse by U.S. soldiers. Can we expect such stories and documentary films by Indian media?
However, when it comes to human rights abuses in Kashmir, Indian media has quietly chosen to toe the official line. Infact, it tends to highlight the “occupational constraints” of the troops and their “extreme restraint” while dealing with “hostile mobs” in the valley. This was again evident in the way some news channels created furore over a video showing heckling of CRPF personnel who were on poll duty on April 9 came to fore.
Meanwhile, the present PDP-BJP dispensation led by Mehbooba Mufti has failed to check the rights violations in the valley. Mehbooba has been repeatedly urging the security agencies to show maximum restraint while dealing with civilians, but to no avail. When Mehbooba took oath as the chief minister, she inherited baggage of blunders and a huge trust deficit between government and people. Besides, it was a challenging task to manage a coalition with BJP which has traditionally undermined the political realities of Kashmir. Omar Abdullah’s inexperience clearly showed in the way he handled issues be it the 2009 Shopian rape-and-murder case or the 2010 civil unrest. Mehbooba has fared no better, if not worse.
The formal announcement about a PDP-BJP alliance government marked the end of a two-month-long political drama in which Mehbooba’s party gave the impression that it was bargaining hard for things like revocation of AFSPA and dialogue with separatists and that it was not averse to relinquishing power for its principled stance. However, as it turned out, PDP government has miserably failed the people of Kashmir. The public morale is at all time low. After the disappointing experience during Omar Abdullah’s regime, the cynicism has been reinforced by Mehbooba’s government. Omar Abdullah’s rule was marked by unabated human rights violations despite his best efforts to rein in the forces. Mehbooba is following the suit. As she must have realized a trigger-happy trooper in any corner of Kashmir can easily spark street protests which invariably end up in civilian deaths.
Back to the outrageous videos, one only hopes that good sense prevails over Government of India and it asks armed forces to mend its ways in Kashmir lest the valley witnesses the repeat of 2016-like uprising which it can ill afford. [email protected]