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August 06, 2010

Battling Stones With Bullets In Kashmir! Is India A Medieval Empire Or A Modern Democracy?

[Republished by the Daily New Age, a leading Bangladeshi English Daily. Can be accessed at
http://www.newagebd.com/2010/aug/08/oped.html

Republished in The Morung Express-- Nagaland's Newspaper
http://www.morungexpress.com/analysis/53574.html
Originally published by AHRC and Counter Currents.]

Thinking about tragedies, especially manmade ones, is a subversive process bursting with its inherent dangers. It makes one go numb, outrages the self and at times fills one with the disgusting and incapacitating feeling of losing the humaneness itself, of becoming more and more incapable of having any control over one’s own lives.

And if just thinking about tragedies makes one this sick, can we even imagine the plight of those undergoing it. That is where the discussions on Kashmir get stuck. The issue in Kashmir is not only about insurgency, secessionism, separation, freedom movement or whatever else one may term it. There is a human aspect of the crisis, much more important than the abstract meaning carried out by academic sounding jargons.

The human aspect which deals with those 26 people killed by the security forces since last Friday alone, or the total 43 who have perished since 11 June, when the current cycle of violence began. These are all real people like us, with jobs to do and families to return to. Some of them were too young, youngest being nine years and many of them under 15 years, too young to cause any serious threat to the security forces and their personnel.

All of them, yet, mainstream Indian media describe them with the term 'stonepelter' prefixed to their names as some kind of adjective inseparable from the real names they had, the name their families and friends called them. While they might or might not have been pelting stones when shot at, is that all what defines them? Was their existence so irrelevant, so worthless as to be rubbished by just one word? Does this not remind one of the medieval times where one could kill anyone just by terming her a 'witch'?

The slaughter of language does not stop there. Just think about the mainstream descriptions of Kashmir valley in the week preceding the resurgence of violence last Friday. Kashmir is limping back or inching back (or whatever other verbs symbolising movement) to normalcy, they explained!

Normalcy! Can a people really get back to normalcy immediately after losing 15 of their people to the bullets fired by security forces of their own country? That too for a crime so huge as of pelting stones to vent their anger against decades of injustices? Normalcy must mean something very different.

Only a person blinded by the talk of this 'imposed normalcy' could think of it in the face of ‘maximum crackdown on the miscreants’ orders issued by the Cabinet Committee on Security, the highest government body to decide on security issues, in its meeting held on 7 July in Delhi.

'Maximum Crackdown' on the miscreants without defining the term? Does not this give the security forces a license to kill anyone, just about anyone, they label as one? Is not ordering ‘maximum crackdown’ on a people the government is oath bound to protect is something sinister?

Is not mainstream media not taking even a note of this order even more ominous for a democracy?

Interestingly, the government had taken a very different stance in public. It was talking about less violent and more humane ways of tackling mass anger like by employing water cannons. Even more interestingly, the mainstream media was apparently more than happy to report on the latter. Signs of the times to come, would one say?

Yet no amount of crackdown succeeded in containing the rage that kept spreading like wildfire. It caused a snowballing of the protests. The protesters would pelt stones on the security forces, which would retaliate in ‘self defence’ killing a few of the protesters, an act which, in turn, would cause more protests. It goes without saying, that they would cause many more deaths.

And yet, the media stories reporting the events looked so unreal, so disconnected from the place where it was all taking place. They would report the incident, naming the victims, prefixing them with the term 'stonepelter'.

Yet, the same stories would happily forget that these murdered stonepelters were no armed insurgents. They were ordinary citizens of the country, even minor ones at times. The security forces were not fighting it out with a ‘well trained’ militant outfits or mercenaries getting their arms and orders from 'across the border'. The protesters, rather, are young Kashmiris, including the young adolescents, who have not seen normalcy in their entire life. They belong to a generation that has lost its innocence to the devastating effects of decades of conflict.

This is a generation, which has grown up seeing Khaki, the colour of uniforms of security forces, as the most defining colour. It has grown up while having to produce their identity cards to different security personnel, just to go to a playground 500 meters away from their homes. A generation which has been compelled to meet and deal with far many more security forces personnel than civilians in the course of a day. This is generation for which bomb explosions and gun fights in the civilian areas is much more common than screaming of joy after winning a local football match.

And nothing can be cruel than talking to this generation about 'fragility of peace' in Kashmir. It is not only peace that is fragile here. There psyche, scarred by the losses of family members and friends, by seeing near and dear ones getting maimed, getting their kith and kin disappeared, is far more fragile than that. This is generation that has lost its innocence, its peace and its adolescence for no fault of theirs.

The anger of this generation against the security forces is real. It emanates out of the impunity security forces enjoy in Kashmir. It is rooted in their frustration of seeing the state defend the guilty of gravest human rights violations just because they have uniforms. This is anger against Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 that gives even a low-ranking officer the right to kill anyone, merely on suspicion.

And the mainstream media’s failure to report all this, and to pretend as the fourth pillar of a democracy, which it claims to be, is, least to say, disgusting.

This generation, armed with new tools of information dissemination like social networking sites, has seen the denial meted out to the real Kashmiri experiences. It has seen how mainstream media has failed to recognise that the 'normalcy' is the most abnormal thing in Kashmir. This is a normalcy attained by deploying around 700,000 personnel of Indian security forces, making Kashmir one of the most militarised places in the word. It is a normalcy that has curbed people’s freedom of movement, of expression and even their right to mourn. It is a normalcy that has consigned the Kashmiris to the wretched face of living under a perennial siege in their own country, under their own security forces.

The protesters can sense the failure of media that reports the treatment Israelis meet out to the Palestinians, an experience that has an eerie similarity to the real lived experience in the valley. The biggest question for this generation is about the nature of the silence, is it by design or default they ask. After all, Kashmir is far closer to Delhi than Israel, isn’t it?

It is not only protesters who are getting killed in the valley. Democracy is dying with them and so is language, the core capability that marks our humanness. Rather, the authorities are slaughtering the language with a complicit silence of mainstream media, making it incapable of expressing both the grief and the hopes of people, by making the words bereft of meaning. This is the essential crisis of Kashmir, where peace means anything but peace and normalcy is the most abnormal thing.

So we have a state where the local media is gagged and the celebrity reporters are airdropped to report on the Kashmir’s return to normalcy. We have a state where local media is gagged and the mainstream media, the biggest champion of democracy, does not utter a word leave aside offering any protests.

The consequences should be, and are, obvious. We have a state where security forces respond to bricks by bullets. It would have been absolutely fine had it occurred in medieval times, but then, India calls itself a democracy!

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