Views from Srinagar
ACCORDING to the locals, in south Kashmir the army personnel barge into their homes at night and after throwing the male members out, ask women to cook for them, and then spend night there. I cannot ascertain the veracity of such stories, but the stories are scattered all over south Kashmir. It points to the fact that the Army is not on good terms with the local people. My trip to Tral also made it clear to me that as long as militants enjoy the local support, end of militancy is not possible, at least with not with the bullet. Everyone knows how many young men (most of them aged between 20 and 25 years) have joined militancy. As of now, there is no report of girls being involved in militancy, but from the attitudes of young women, it seems that very soon we would get to know that girls too have joined the ranks of militants.
The government claims that NIA’s operation against Hurriyat leaders in Srinagar has abated stone pelting, but the people in Kashmir told me a different story. They said that stone pelting has not only become more intense but also taken a different turn. Earlier, only the police or CRPF jawans were targets, now the sites of encounter between militants and the Army also witness incidents of stone pelting. They said that on such sites five hundred to thousand people come out and throw stones at the army personnel. In some cases army has to stop its operation because of stone pelting. The stone-pelters have no fear of the army, bullet, or death; their support to militants is direct. Army Chief General Rawat’s warning that those who throw stone at the time Army operation will be treated as militants has failed to yield desired result.
While returning from Tral, a sense of alarm overwhelmed me that the history of Vietnam may get repeated here in Kashmir, especially in South Kashmir. On many occasions young people invoked Vietnam War, saying America lost in Vietnam because the locals were against them. At some places people also minded that the USSR disintegrated because it lost its war in Afghanistan. These things forced me to write that the government should review its Kashmir policy and work out a plan according the prime minister’s statement that the “issue will not be resolved through bullet but through talks”.
Being mislead: After my visit to South Kashmir, I felt that I should meet those leaders of the BJP who played an important role in establishing the party in Srinagar or in Kashmir. Darkshan Andrabi is one of those leaders. I called upon her and had a long conversation. She believes that the youth are being misled and misdirected. She asked: “what kind of freedom we seek and what do we do of freedom? Nobody is clear about the concept of freedom.” She was silent to the question as to why the BJP government does not hold talk with the people of Kashmir. After a pause she replied that she is in the party, and she always requested the government to have a dialogue with the people of Kashmir and should address their doubts.
The next day I met another BJP leader Hina Butt. She is a medical practitioner. Her father was a Member of Parliament and a Member of Legislative Assembly. She contested Assembly elections, but lost. She is understood to be close to the Prime Minister and meet him almost after every two months. I had a long meeting with her. Initially, her attitude was hard and she kept on putting the blame of the problem beset Kashmir on the illusions and doubts “being spread successfully”. But my question as to why the disillusionment of Kashmiri youth is so much that death becomes an easier option cast anxiety over her face. She conceded that “yes, we are faltering in our efforts of having talks or we have been unable put in the efforts to explain our point to the people. She made clear that she had also requested the prime minister to initiate a serious and meaningful dialogue.
Open corruption: While returning to Srinagar, I stopped over to meet an RTI activist. There were seven to eight people sitting at his place. During our interaction I came to know as to what kind of corruption is prevalent in Srinagar. These people were experts in their respective fields, but they do not have opportunities, only corrupts have opportunities in the state. For example, the tender of supplying materials in government hospitals are given to mechanics instead of qualified people. These young men who belong to different trades told me as how those who are working with MES are cheated, how money plays a role in the supply of medicine, how education department is infested with corruption, and how corruption rules promotion in the co-operative department. They all had so much to say that they need more than three thousand words to tell their individual stories. People of Jammu and Kashmir are also aware of the power of RTI and they use it to fight for their causes. But the irony is that people in Srinagar are enchanted so much by politics that corruption flourishes under the guise of politics. Hina Butt also was of the opinion that compare to other states, Jammu-Kashmir gets more money, but earlier the money was not utilized and returned to the centre. Even today the development projects are not run as efficiently as they should be.
Police picketing schools: The question – why there are police pickets near schools – is also related to the government. Is the government oblivious of the happenings? I believe that the government knows everything, but the agencies working for the government make such a strategy that lands the government in trouble. For example, what is the need to keep a police pickets in front of schools. When the government knows that people get agitated by the presence of police, keeping police picket at school gates is only inviting trouble and tension.
On Friday, Mirwaiz Moulvi Omar Farooq went to lead prayers in the Jama Masjid. People coming out of the mosque after praying got agitated at the site of police, they shouted slogans and threw stones at them. In response the police resorted to firing pellet guns, in which a dozen of protesters got injured. As soon as I came to know about this incident, I called a few people I knew. One of them related me an incident of the same Friday when he was passing by a school. The school was over for the day. Four children came out of school. They saw a few CRPF jawans sitting near a house in a corner. They started pelting the soldiers with stones and then fled from the scene. If the government removes such pickets near schools and mosques such incidents may not occur. But the local officer deliberately deploys security forces near schools and mosques, where there is least chance of any kind of violence. On this too the civil society raised an important question. They said suppose some militants are hiding in a house, when a five hundred strong force could not kill them, or even if when they killed them, they blow the house, believing some militants may still be there. That house does not belong to militants but a helpless ordinary man.
Government’s Role: I feel that the Government of India needs to re-strategize its Kashmir policy. If you think that killing one million people will bring peace, then it is nothing but a daydream. The only solution to the problem is that the prime minister should appoint a sensible person from his cabinet to interact with Kashmiri people, including the Hurriyat and students. What difference will it make if the students will shout slogan against India and for Pakistan? It will only calm down their outburst. At one time, in order to tease Indian government, Pakistani flags were put on every house in Kashmir.
When the government did not take note of that then Chinese flags began to replace Pakistani ones. When Chinese flags did not work, stone-pelting become norms. The stone pelting is not confined to Kashmir only; it is also thriving in other part of the country, where people vent their ire resorting to it. The recent example is from Mughal Sarai, where train was halted for six hours, making the passengers angry. When Rajdhani Express passed through the station, the angry passengers showered the train with stones, breaking few of its windows. Why the train was delayed for six hours, nobody had an answer, but when people hurled stones at Rajdhani Express, that became news. As for the news channels, before saying anything about Kashmir they should keep their duties in mind. The people who get offended by their language, by their demeanor and by their presentation are people of their own country.
My visit to South Kashmir and my interactions with the students have made me a little scared. Nonetheless, Kashmiri people want people to visit Kashmir and take a firsthand account of what is happening there, and whether what is being depicted on television channels does really exist. There is a Krishna Dhaba in Srinagar, which is a vegetarian dhaba. The tourist as well the locals, both Hindus and Muslims, come here and relish vegetarian food. I too went to have something at that dhaba. I came across some local people who told me that “we all live here in complete harmony and love, which Delhi’s television channels dislike. They keep leveling false accusations against us. Nobody fights with anyone here. All live together in love and harmony.” My visit to Kashmir has made it clear that the government should open its eyes vis-à-vis Kashmir as soon as possible and should open channels of dialogue with the people of Kashmir in a humane way.
—Courtesy: Rising Kashmir