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Home > Human Rights > No more denials, please

No more denials, please

by Muzamil Jaleel, 13 July 2010

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Indian Express, July 12 2010

Is the present turmoil in the valley a manufactured crisis created by separatists and the opposition PDP, or an outcome of systemic failure? Has the Centre rushed to a conclusion about the trigger behind the current phase of the crisis here? Is the Jammu and Kashmir government hiding its own failures on the ground behind unconditional support from the Centre?

A look at how the events leading to the current strife unfolded provides a logical explanation. The strife began when the Machil fake encounter was exposed on May 30. Then, on the evening of June 11, 17-year-old student Tufail Ahmad Mattoo was returning home from tuition. It was Friday, and police were chasing a dozen stone throwers, when they found Mattoo alone inside a football stadium. A policeman fired at him from such close range that the plastic pellet made a half-inch hole in his skull, killing him instantaneously. And as shock overwhelmed the city, the police began a familiar cover-up. First, they claimed that a sharp stone had hit Mattoo’s head and killed him. A few hours later, they termed it “deliberate murder” and sought public help to identify two men who had driven Mattoo body to hospital. But once eyewitnesses came forward and public pressure mounted, the police admitted responsibility. The separatist leaders joined the bandwagon, hoping to take over the streets swelling with anger. The mourners, however, resisted; and three senior separatist leaders had to leave Mattoo’s funeral to escape their ire.

On June 12, even as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah ordered an enquiry and promised action, CRPF men caught hold of another young man Rafiq Ahmad Bangroo (25) and thrashed him. He was in intensive care for eight days, where he finally died. Over those eight days, life had returned to normal. On June 20, tempers were high among mourners returning after burying him; a group threw stones towards the CRPF bunker where Bangroo had been thrashed. The CRPF men opened fire, killing Bangroo’s 20-year-old cousin Javaid Ahmad Malla. Abdullah, in Gulmarg on vacation, rushed back to Srinagar, held an emergency meeting, replaced the SSP of Srinagar and returned to join his family in the picturesque resort. What infuriated people was that there was no official regret over the killings.

On June 25, calm was setting in again when CRPF men opened fire at a protest in Sopore in which people were seeking the bodies of two local militants killed in an encounter, alleging that one of them was a civilian. The protests grew louder but instead of intervening sensibly, the government used force. The separatists moved; the Mirwaiz called for a Sopore march on June 29. The CRPF men opened fire at a procession in the outskirts of that town, killing a 17-year-old student Tajamul Bashir. Within a few hours, they again opened fire; a nine-year old school boy Asif Hassan at Delina in Baramulla, when he stepped out of his home to look for his mentally challenged older brother, was killed. The following day when Abdullah finally decided to appear before the media, three teenage boys were killed in the most gruesome manner by the J&K police. While chasing a group of protestors, a police party barged into two houses and shot dead these three teenagers — all hit in the head and chest.

With unconditional support from the Centre, the state government started pushing the theory that “anti-national elements” were responsible for the crisis, and that the protestors were rented. Abdullah’s assertion that the protestors are themselves responsible if they die defying curfew sent out a dangerous message to his own police. On July, 6, police chased a half a dozen stone throwing children at Tengpora in the city outskirts and caught hold of 17-year-old student Muzaffar Ahmad Bhat, hitting him in the head with rifle butts. The police denied his arrest, which led to massive protests. In the morning, his body was found in a nearby stream; the autopsy determined he died of “blunt trauma on head”. The CRPF opened fire at his funeral procession too, killing another man, 35-year old Fayaz Ahmad. Survived by two little daughters and a wife, Ahmad’s tragic death provoked massive protests across Kashmir. A few hours later, a 25-year-old woman who had dared to open the window of her house during curfew was shot and killed.

The civilian death toll had reached 15 and Srinagar was in absolute turmoil with everyone out on the streets and Azadi songs being played over mosque loudspeakers. Abdullah panicked and hurriedly decided to hand over the city to the army. The move was unprecedented, because the army was not asked to take over the city even during the peak of militancy. Abdullah swamped Srinagar with more than 40,000 men of the police and central forces, to strictly confine its 13 lakh residents to their homes, closing down hospitals and newspapers.

It is a fact that the separatists as well as the opposition PDP are taking political advantage of the situation. But blaming them for manufacturing the crisis is factually inaccurate, and an attempt to cover up the government’s own blunders — in not first preventing these avoidable deaths, and then the delay in containing their fallout. If separatists were so keen to organise a crisis, why didn’t the protests against the army’s fake encounter put the whole valley on a boil? The opposition may fuel the fire but the spark that lit it was the government’s own folly.

Omar Abdullah is an elected CM, and has said that the current issue is “not a simple law and order problem but a battle of wits, ideas and ideologies.” Why does is his government failing to communicate directly with his people? Why is there no political response? Where are the elected legislators? Srinagar city has eight and all of them belong to his National Conference. After all, as elected representatives they claim a greater connect to the people than the separatists — this was the moment for them to affirm that connect. Abdullah’s plan to convene a meet of all the mainstream parties is too little too late.

The current protests, however, have exposed the collective amnesia of the ruling elite and have once again brought into focus the importance of a responsive political initiative to address the larger Kashmir issue. The crisis has also reaffirmed how essential is a process for a political solution, typically put in cold storage as soon as calm descends over the valley. A strategy of denial will only complicate matters, because every folly of the government provokes a public reaction that soon turns into an “Azadi” groundswell.

muzamil.jaleel at expressindia.com