Debate the real issue and stop whataboutery

Views from Srinagar

Gowhar Geelani

KASHMIR’S old and fatigued fathers often carry the coffins of their dead children (killed in cold blood by the trigger-happy armed forces) on their drooping shoulders. In a state of despondency, they prepare themselves for the worst: to lower their loved ones into the graves forever.
The wailing old mothers bid a final adieu to the ones who learned to walk and talk in their laps. Yes, the mom’s lap — their first school and the safest place. Everything is lost in a state of utter helplessness and chaos.
Fathers and mothers are then compelled to take tiny mounds of soil back home from the graves of their sons and daughters as the last memory to preserve it forever. And from thereon, it is a battle between memory and forgetfulness for many. Mind you, those killed in unwarranted actions by various State organs (army, paramilitary and police) are civilians and unarmed protesters. Yes, very normal people who either dare to express their political aspiration or stage a spontaneous protest over specific acts of injustice in their neighbourhood.
The response from the State is brutal. After killing common people, which include boys in their teens and women, the successive state governments feel absolved after announcing ex-gratia relief and compensation for the victims of oppression. Thus, the conscience of the State is satisfied.
The governments in restive Himalayan region Jammu and Kashmir find the escape route by announcing compensation and making appeals for calm to the grieved families.
The message is loud and clear: We will order probes only to douse the flames. We are the fire fighters. Perpetrators will not be punished ever.
And while all this has been a routine in beleaguered Kashmir for over 26 years now, a brigade of apologists enjoys a field day in debating trivia. Every time an unarmed protester is killed for sport, a pattern of Whatabouteries follows.
When four persons are killed in Handwara and one more civilian in Kupwara, we are asked ‘What about Balochistan’? If you dare raise your voice for human rights and civil liberties, you are asked ‘What about Pakistan’? And when you talk about the civilian killings at the hands of the government forces in every nook and cranny of the Kashmir valley, you are asked ‘What about Kashmiri Pandits’?
Why the unarmed Kashmiri protesters are killed in cold blood by the accountable-to-none armed forces is not the debate for the apologists. Instead, it is the whataboutery: why did the Hurriyat give a call for a strike? Why did the young men and women stage protest in the first place? Why did they update status on their Facebook and Twitter pages? Was the Handwara girl molested at all? Who molested her? The army man stationed there or the mischievous local boys in the neighbourhood? Why did the news spread like a wildfire through social media? Were the Whatsapp groups registered or not? Who fired at the protesters: police or army? Why would a girl address a nature’s call in a public lavatory near the army bunker, etcetera, etcetera…?
Irrespective of who opened fire on the unarmed protesters the truth is that it is the response of the State.
Therefore, it is immaterial whether a policeman or an army person kills you, because both are supposedly under the command of the Chief Minister. Since the setting up of the Unified Command in Jammu & Kashmir in December 1996, the Chief Minister of the State acts as its chairperson and the General Officers Commanding 15 and 16 Corps as security advisers.
The stated aim in setting up the Unified Command was to have “greater co-ordination in the fight against militancy”. Officially, Mehbooba Mufti is the chairperson of the Unified Command right now. That’s why her requests to army officers to ensure that “SoPs should be followed in letter and spirit” sound strange or perhaps give us a sense where the actual power lies and who wields more influence in Jammu and Kashmir. State governments in Jammu and Kashmir are empowered to strangulate common people’s voices but disempowered to punish the guilty soldiers.
And in the fight between versions and truths in the Kashmir valley, the countless unarmed are silenced forever. They end up resting in graves while the Indian army is exonerated inside the air-conditioned and nationalist television studious of Noida, Delhi and Mumbai even before the investigations are complete. And if you dare to speak to the power that be, even in a responsible manner, you’re asked to book a ticket to Pakistan. Some are magnanimous enough to buy you the air ticket to help you permanently settle there.
That said, the whataboutery is the real problem.
One may have serious differences with the politics and strategies of different factions of the separatists including All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), but why is the Hurriyat part of the debate right now?
In our columns and opinion pieces many of us have criticised various strategies, statements and the policies of the Hurriyat and JKLF on several occasions, but why is the Hurriyat being dragged into the current debate with regards to the killings (murder of five unarmed Kashmiris) in north Kashmir’s Handwara town and frontier district Kupwara?
Be it the recent crisis at Srinagar’s National Institute of Technology (NIT) or the killing spree in north Kashmir, the fact is that both factions of the Hurriyat Conference and JKLF did not indulge in immature and reactionary politics.
All leaders from the resistance camp appealed for peace and calm and did not fall to temptation of politicising the NIT issue. The leaders maintained that the outstation (non-Kashmiri) students are our guests. They made passionate appeals to both local and non-local students to concentrate on their studies. Their reactionary statement could have thrown life out of gear in Kashmir.
Similarly, the Hurriyat gave a strike call against the violent attacks against many Kashmiri students in various parts of India, and once the civilian killings happened in Handwara the strike call was extended. It is insane to blame the Hurriyat for the killings. They did not instigate the Handwara girl to use the public toilet.
They did not provoke the local shopkeepers and people there to stage protests against the alleged molestation. They were nowhere in the picture. Whatever happened in north Kashmir was spontaneous. It was people’s response to what they perceived as injustice. Hurriyat had no role in it.
It is about time that this whataboutery stops. Let’s debate the real issue: the impunity and licence to kill Kashmiris! Take a moment to think about the families who lose their loved ones. Stop justifying the killings.

—Courtesy: Rising Kashmir

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