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Kashmir and the army
Publication Date : 07-10-2013
The prime minister of India went to New York and said that the Shimla Agreement remains the appropriate framework for solving the Kashmir dispute. The truth is that the Shimla Agreement is dead as a dodo. Kashmir is no longer a simple territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. It is a matter to be negotiated by the Kashmiri people on the one hand with India and Pakistan on the other. Twenty-four years of sustained Kashmiri rebellion has rendered the Shimla Agreement null and void.
One talks about the wishes of the Kashmiri people. How can we be sure of what Kashmiris want? Has there been a referendum or a plebiscite? On the contrary, Kashmir has had a democratically elected government within the Indian Constitution for quite some time and there had even been a fairly successful panchayat election some time back. It seems that tourism is also on the rise or was on the rise until the latest series of attacks. Things were normal for a pretty long spell, until some of these militants managed to infiltrate under the protective military cover provided by the Pakistan army or so the story goes.
So how can anyone be sure of what the Kashmiri people want? Or rather, how can we be sure that the Kashmiri people do not want India?
The first thing to be said is that life does not come to a standstill. Ordinary Tibetans are not immolating themselves en masse because of Chinese rule. They go about their business as usual, earning a livelihood and taking care of their families, etc. So that explains why Kashmir goes quiet from time to time.
Then there is circumstantial evidence, and lots of it at that, relating to what Kashmiris feel about Indian rule. Firstly Omar Abdullah, no enemy of India, says that he has to sweat in order to gather a crowd of 50,000 National Conference workers on a good day. Whereas, the Hurriyat can assemble a crowd of 100,000 at the drop of a hat.
Next, Zubin Mehta holds a “By invitation only” concert in Shalimar Bag. The state government has to provide 3-tier security and ask neighbours not to move out after 1:30pm. The Bavarian government, for its part, wants to know why the Bavarian State Orchestra was used in a select but quasi-private gathering that had nothing to do with the Kashmiri people. Thirdly, in a talk show hosted by one of our foremost news channels, every Kashmiri Muslim invitee speaks about the injustices and humiliations of what they frankly call “Indian Rule”.
And they are all English-speaking middle class people. Fourthly, when India beat Pakistan in the last Cricket World Cup semi-final there was wild celebration in Srinagar--in the army barracks. Outside all was quiet and indifferent. When the prime minister visits Kashmir, for one futile reason or the other, there is not a soul to be seen in the streets. His motorcade drives through what is virtually a ghost town.
This should give you a fair idea of what the mood is like in Kashmir. Even young Pandits, among those who have chosen to stick it out in their homeland, are exasperated by the behaviour of Indian jawans. These guys, one of them said recently on TV, don’t know how to talk to people. They should be trained to handle them properly. What the ordinary Kashmiri suffers is visible only in flashes, but it is sufficient to give us an idea about what is going on. There is an architecture of tyranny in Kashmir buttressed by some very draconian pieces of legislation. To begin with, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which is the direct desi descendant of the Armed forces special powers ordinance of 1942. This is a piece of legislation that deals with national uprisings.
What does this Act say? That a jawan can use force after giving such warnings as he considers necessary, even to kill on mere suspicion and even if the person is infringing the laws that prohibit assembly. The jawan has the right to search without a warrant and destroy any “arms dumps” he may find. What defines an arms dump is left entirely to the jawan concerned. Also he can arrest without warrant on mere suspicion. If there are any abuses committed, sanction for prosecution has to be sought from the central government.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has applied for permission to prosecute in just 50 cases in the period between 1989 and 2011. No figures are available for how many permissions were given. Similarly, the army received complaints of roughly 1500 human rights violations in the last two decades, of which it says 972 are false. It refuses to hand over the rest of the accused to the civilian justice process saying that it has its own mechanism to deal with them. In the Pathribal case, the Supreme Court gallantly asked the army if it wanted to court martial the accused since no sanction for prosecution was received.
That is not all. There is the Public Safety Act which provides for detention without trial, without even production before the court and can be renewed every six months. Those held under the PSA have no access to a lawyer and cannot challenge their detention in any way. They never receive any compensation for unjust detention and their complaints of torture and ill-treatment are never given any importance.
It is natural that with such laws in place, laws that provide almost complete impunity to the jawans of the Indian army who have a very limited understanding of human rights, atrocities are bound to occur and they occur on a regular basis. The only thing is that the Indian public at large remains ignorant unless it happens to be a particularly egregious case like Pathribal or Machchil. And even there, there is no follow-up. For this state of disinformation, the media is directly to blame. The media, both print and broadcast, are prone to adopting hyper nationalist positions when it comes to reporting from Kashmir. This may be because of the latent censorship that is practised when it comes to anything that the army is involved in.
One of the first things my ex-boss, the redoubtable CR Irani said to me was, Never criticise the army. And I know that this injunction is repeated right across the Indian media . The army is sacrosanct. Why? Because they lay down their lives in order to protect our freedoms from our enemies. There are two philosophical points to be made here. If you have been given the right to kill with impunity, you should expect to have a few bullets coming your way from time to time. There is no such thing as a fundamental right not to be killed if you are a soldier on the prowl with an automatic weapon.
Secondly, why do I need to be protected against people who, till the other day, I would have counted among my compatriots.
But philosophical questions aside, Kashmiris on the Indian side live in a sort of a military dictatorship. There is something called the Unified Command which unites the military and the civilian leadership in Kashmir. Decisions relating to security and public order are taken conjointly. We also now know that the army secretly sponsors cricket tournaments and other sorts of activities in Kashmir covertly. To stabilise things, as Gen (retd) V.K. Singh put it. To give army rule a veneer of civilian legitimacy, we say.
However, the real challenge to the Indian state will be mounted when the armed fight for Kashmiri freedom comes to an end and people start demonstrating peacefully in the streets. Then, India will have no excuses, or scapegoats to fall back upon (cross-border terrorism first, everything else later). Then India will face up to what it has done to Kashmir.