South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Normal life continues to remain paralysed even after 140 days in Kashmir. Such a thing is not a healthy sign for democracy. Kashmiris are on the streets since July 8, when Hizbul Mujahidin ‘commander’ Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter. From Srinagar to interior parts of the Valley one finds slogans such as ‘Go India Go’, ‘We want Azadi’, ‘Burhan Wani Chowk’ etc.  The anger of the people is visible. This is alarming. The Indian and J&K governments need to act soon to see that the alienation of the people does not become total.

I observed this during my recent weeklong visit to Kashmir. Unfortunately, there is no movement on the Kashmir front. After the attacks on the military base in Uri and India’s surgical strike, the Kashmir issue is getting little attention. An all-party delegation led by Rajnath Singh, Home Minister, did visit Kashmir but could not make any headway. Leaders of Hurriyat Conference and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) also avoided meeting Left leaders informally.

In the absence of any dialogue, people including traders, fruit growers are suffering. The Kashmiris continue to pull on because of their own traditions. They have stocked rice for the whole year for their survival. During my stay I met some editors, lawyers, journalists, women activists and activists from J&K Coalition of Civil Society among others. Everybody talked in the same language. They were in pain to give details of alleged gross human rights violations. In the last more than four months, more than 100 youths have allegedly been shot dead. Around 18.000 have been injured and 100 people have lost their vision. More than 1,800 people are held under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA).

The common sentiment among Kashmiris is that the Centre is not serious in resuming dialogue and they want to see how long Kashmiris can sustain their agitation. The movement will fizzle away. If the government has such thinking then it will harm the national interest. Though, it may yield political dividend in the near future as UP and Punjab Assembly elections are approaching fast.

The movement for “azadi” (freedom) in Kashmir is not new. It does take place every few years. The J&K government led by Mehbooba Mufti of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to have lost touch with the masses. Her alliance with the BJP has made her unpopular. The allegations against BJP of Sainik Colony, separate Pandit Colony has put Mehbooba in a difficult position. Party activists of PDP, former CM Omar Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Congress are not visible anywhere. The BJP does not exist in the Kashmir Valley. The movement has spread to remote villages.

People narrated stories of how youths were killed allegedly by the J&K police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). In fact, at many places local people respect the Army. They say the Army is not taking part in any kind of torture. In village Aripanthan in Budgam district, four youths were shot dead in August but soon an Army Major visited the relatives of the deceased youths and expressed regret for what had happened.

The locals were charmed by Burhan Wani’s personality. He was a militant but different. Locals said around two lakh people attended Wani’s funeral. They say Wani never took part in any action and used social media to spread his message. He tried to spread a message that they can get do without Pakistan’s help. This is also a changing face of militancy in Kashmir. The Indian establishment needs to understand this and win the hearts of the people.

In the absence of dialogue Hurriyat leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani have become relevant. Every week Hurriyat leaders come out with a ‘protest calendar’ for protests like occupying roads, closure of shops, “freedom” marches. The people follow it in letter and spirit.

Everyone in the Valley talks about former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee and his doctrine. He is the most popular Indian leader in the Valley. In 2003, Vajpayee during his Srinagar visit, unilaterally announced ceasefire with Pakistan and talked of necessity of having a dialogue with all stakeholders. The present government led by Narendra Modi must immediately begin a dialogue with all stakeholders including Hurriyat. Pellet guns must be withdrawn and political activists released. It will send a positive message. What we need is political will. Will the government show its willingness?

Updated On: 27 November 2016