Death in Kashmir

Of the four unarmed civilians whom the Border Security Force (BSF) killed on July 18 in Ramban, Kashmir, there is one in particular whose death refuses to recede into the distance.  This is partly because of what is known about the victim–Manzoor Ahmad Shan, political science teacher or professor–from the accounts that have appeared in local, national and international news sources.  He was standing with his back to the BSF and facing the protestors who were incensed by the desecration of the Holy Koran by a BSF patrol the previous night.  Shan was attempting to pacify them when the BSF opened fire killing him and three others.  Death came to him in a cruel and untimely manner but he lived up to his name–Shan or dignity–in the last act of his life.  His grieving sister compared his loss with the coming of doomsday.  Shan's heart-rending death is cause for anguish to everyone who has some knowledge of the history of Kashmir's betrayal over the decades by Indian (and Pakistani) policymakers.  Guilty as his killers were, their culpability pales beside that of their masters the politicians and generals in far away Delhi who have imposed on Kashmir what the writer Pankaj Mishra has called the biggest, bloodiest and also the most obscure military occupation in the world. 


The killings have been justified by the Organizer (the RSS organ).  In its infinite wisdom this publication has chosen to blame Chief Minister Omar Abdullah for his statement condemning the killing of unarmed civiliams.  In the eyes of the Organizer the Chief Minister stands accused of "cornering the security forces time and again."  Truly the workings of the ultra nationalist mind are unfathomable to mere mortals.  In the sane sections of the national press, the Ramban killings have been unequivocally condemned.  The Times of India, the Indian Expresss and the Hindu have all carried editorials on the incident.  The Indian Express noted that Jammu and Kashmir's long history of inquiries into civilian deaths that go nowhere is one of the abiding causes of bitterness and alienation among the people of the state.  In their editorials both the Hindu and the Times of India have spoken out against the culture of impunity which allows the armed forces to open fire on civilians.  The human rights organizations have weighed in on the killings.  NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) has ordered New Delhi as well as the Jammu and Kashmir police to submit  reports on the Ramban incident within four weeks.  Human Rights Watch has issued a condemnation and called on New Delhi to appoint a commission to conduct an independent investigation of the incident.  On July 21, progressive groups staged a protest demonstration in New Delhi. 


Unfortunately it does not therefore follow that mainland India will be swept by a tidal wave of outrage at the cold-blooded killing of innocent civilians by the so-called security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.  It is worse than naive to hope that the demand for justice will be made in tones that are loud enough to penetrate the all but sound proof corridors of power in New Delhi.   Within the week the BSF filed a report wherein they claimed that the forces had fired in self defence and exculpated themselves from responsibility for the killings by blaming the violence of the protesters.  To inject a note of sanity into the context it is worth observing that the "violence" of the protesters refers to allegations of stone throwing.  The BSF on the other hand was in possession of lethal firearms and had license to kill.  The BSF version unravels under scrutiny.  Already the Times of India has noted that the fact that 44 persons were injured indicates that the BSF used excessive force.  All the same there is no reason to believe that the guilty will be held accountable.  In the Kashmiri context the special laws which give the security forces blanket immunity for human rights violations ensure that their crimes will go unpunished.  Now as in 2010 calls are being made for repeal of the impunity laws and for demilitarization of the valley.  Such calls went unheeded in New Delhi when more than one hundred Kashmiris were killed by the bullets of  paramilitary forces during the  massive protests that were held in summer 2010.  There is little likelihood that a death tally that is limited to merely four victims will elicit a reaction from the obdurate powers that be in New Delhi. 


Mired in corruption scandals and limping toward the conclusion of a term that has been marred by revelations of misgovernance and pillage of national resources, the UPA has shown no sign of implementing a principled policy on the Kashmir issue. What matter if a Tufail Mattoo or a Manzoor Ahmad Shan falls before the bullets of the security forces in Kashmir a hundred or a thousand times?  New Delhi will shrug its collective shoulders.  Periodically the question of the repeal of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) and of demilitarization is taken up only to be dismissed.  When these issues come up invariably the army's representatives argue that the fall in militancy seen in recent years is owing to their efforts in the area of counterinsurgency.  The spectre of resurgent militancy is invoked to defeat any moves toward demilitarization.  Concomittantly the impunity laws go untouched because of the insistence of army spokespersons on giving the security forces free rein for their counterinsurgency activities.  The armed forces remain in place and the crimes committed in the name of counterinsurgency continue to flourish.  Naturally little or nothing is said about the withdrawal of state support for Pakistan based militant groups midway through the Musharraf years.  Such an acknowledgement would result in loss of some of the glory attendant on waging a successful anti-insurgency campaign.  Nor is the connection made between the ebb of militancy and the ordinary Kashmiri's rejection of violence–both the violence of militancy and the violence of the military.


The army is far from being an unbiased interlocutor.  But it correctly claims that there has been a drop in militant activity in recent years.  The army's claim is corroborated by independent observers who rely on figures provided by the government.  Soon however this period of relative lull in armed struggle could come to represent a squandered opportunity.  Militancy is now said to be resurgent in the valley.  The warning shots have been fired.  Since February, 23 security personnel have been killed in five attacks (Tehelka, July 6, 2013).  According to Tehelka, there is renewed will for jihad in the Kashmir valley and local, generally well educated youth are taking to militancy.  The return of militant resistance is unsurprising.  It has been predicted for instance by Angana Chatterjee, co-convener of International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in India-administered Kashmir:  If state repression persists it is conceivable that the movement for non-violent dissent mobilized since 2004 will erode…such legitimation of military rule will produce intractable conflict and violence (Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, p. 105-6).    Since the 1950's New Delhi has been striving to integrate India ruled Kashmir with the rest of the country.  But  through sheer inaction and callous indifference to Kashmir's anguish the UPA seems to be ensuring that India can only maintain its claims to Kashmir through permanent military occupation.


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