Photo: Mubashir Khan/GK
Kashmir has once again been painted red and it is not the red of tulips in resplendent bloom
Spring is a metaphor for hope and life and throughout the world festivals and carnivals are held to celebrate the joy of new life and rejuvenation that this season brings about. Death however respects no season or calendar in Kashmir where again Spring has been about death rather than about life. Kashmir has once again been painted red and it is not the red of tulips in resplendent bloom in the much touted Tulip garden of Kashmir, but the red of young blood that has been spilt in the fields and streets of this accursed land.
It was a beautiful spring day in Kashmir and the natives of Kashmir were heaving a sigh of relief after having barely escaped being submerged by the waters of Jhelum. Little did they know that a bloody tide was already rising to plunge them into horror and gloom. Ironically it happened on a day which was supposed to be a big day for democracy, an occasion for citizens to exercise their right of choice and of free expression. However, democracy here being just the proverbial sheep’s garb for the wolf of oppression and tyranny, Kashmir had already been quarantined in anticipation of this occasion. The guardians of democracy had once again muzzled communication by the now routine measure of suspending mobile internet as well as broadband. Still as the day progressed news about the killings started filtering in and by the time it was over one more day of carnage had been added to the blood drenched history of Kashmir. Eight youngsters, most of them barely out of their teens, were gunned down in cold blood and hundreds others blinded or maimed for life by security forces, ostensibly to uphold what is termed democracy in this part of the world.
Violence on polling days is not unprecedented. It happens in most places all over the subcontinent. In Kashmir it is expected even more considering that elections here are largely seen as an effort to legalise a forcible occupation. The local political stooges of the Indian government try to pass off elections as an adhoc measure to facilitate administration and development during their election campaigns. Later on the same elections are paraded as a referendum in favour of India and used to trash any suggestions of Kashmir being an unresolved issue. Coercion has repeatedly been disguised as choice in Kashmir and while this may help India to hoodwink the international community the Kashmiri people have long back ceased to have any delusions on this account. Against this background and the fact that the wounds of last year’s killings and maiming of hundreds of youth were still fresh in the minds of the local population, violent opposition to the polls was inevitable. Now of course it is the duty of the security forces to control any sort of mob violence but that by no means justifies a massacre. When a force that seeks to control mob violence itself gets out of control it can be termed as a failure of the security apparatus which is intended to be a deterrent rather than a killing machine.
Only in Kashmir it is not even that. For the forces here are not out to control but to crush and the killings are by no means unintended but tacitly or perhaps even explicitly sanctioned. What else can explain the fact that equally – or at times even more – violent mobs elsewhere in India do not invite such a lethal response as has become a norm in Kashmir. Lately even the token retrospective commissions of enquiry have been dispensed with and replaced instead with belligerent justification of wanton killings. As one old man despairingly remarked after the carnage on Sunday, ‘No wonder they returned the Tosa Maidan to the state authorities. What do they need it for? For the Indian forces the whole of Kashmir is available for their artillery drills, that too on live targets.’
The aspirations of the Kashmiri people have consistently been ignored by successive governments at the centre but the present dispensation has gone all out in its offensive against them. The hard line approach and an unyielding stance has pushed the Kashmiri people to the wall. New Delhi aided by a hawkish jingoistic media has been justifying its brutality and repression in Kashmir by presenting it as a war zone and the protesters as ‘enemy combatants’. The intellectual class in India has either fallen prey to the rhetoric peddling an aggressive brand of nationalism or been drowned by the strident voices that have taken centre-stage since a refurbished BJP took over the reins of the government at the centre. With a highly polarised world which has become increasingly sensitive to the word ‘terrorism’ and lost all objectivity in this regard, the international community continues to look the other way when it comes to the brutal repression that India is continuing in Kashmir. With no relief from any quarter a sense of humiliation and bitterness has been steadily growing in the local population, particularly the youth which has led to smouldering anger and frustration.
This frustration has been further compounded by an acute leadership crisis in Kashmir. The mainstream politicians have always proved to be a disappointment for the Kashmiri people so far as their aspirations regarding a just solution to the Kashmir dispute are concerned. If in spite of this realisation the mainstream political leadership was tolerated for long it was only because there were no tangible alternatives in Kashmir. People even voted-in governments but to them it always remained an expedient measure to provide themselves with a structure of governance necessary for day-to-day life. However over a period of time the local mainstream parties deteriorated further as they were systematically weakened and survival became a pre-dominant concern for them with even governance taking a back seat. India has never shied away from discrediting its own collaborators in Kashmir. Not content with having these collaborators as partners they have steadily whittled them down to being mere vassals. With the creation of PDP this progressive attenuation of the local mainstream was completely achieved. It has been a classic instance of ‘divide and rule’. The National Conference has of course always been blamed for the ‘original sin’ of aligning with India and this betrayal has always rankled in the minds of the local population. The PDP or rather its sponsors’ cleverly manipulated this disaffection with NC, which used to be the only major mainstream party in Kashmir, catapulting the party in no time to the centre-stage of the state politics. The party in fact went all out in this process presenting itself in a soft separatist garb. A large section of the Kashmiri population, wearied by two decades of a resistance that was brutally countered by India, gravitated towards the PDP little knowing that it was just a sequel-in-making to the original betrayal by NC. It did not take long for this to become evident. The People’s Democratic Party dispensed with all pretence when after having managed to garner votes in the name of keeping the wolf at bay it actually made a turnabout and aligned with BJP.
The well planned fragmentation of the mainstream has made coalition politics a necessity for access to the powers of corridor. The lust for power conveniently brokers a partnership even between apparently conflicting ideologies and the local mainstream politicians have become more pliant and amenable to the policies of the centre. The mainstream politicians have in fact been effectively turned into junkies hooked on power and willing to say or do anything for a fix. This of course includes being mute spectators while people are ruthlessly killed or maimed on the slightest of provocations or worse still going right out to actually justify the killings and blaming the victims rather than the perpetrators. Typically the two competitors never miss an opportunity to make pathetic comparisons and castigate each other for such incidents while at the same time they attempt what they imagine to be a mitigating differentiation! The fact is that while previously it was a single major mainstream party which would barter the interests of the people now there are two such mainstream groups determined to outbid each other in the sell-out. To add insult to injury these leaders behave like they are the injured party and miss no opportunity to trash the very people whom they claim to represent.
Oddly enough this trait is shared by the separatist leadership as well who also blame people for their failures. If the mainstream leaders have turned into power junkies the separatist leadership may justifiably be likened to vampires because it is only the blood of the reactive youth that seems to be sustaining their vapid presence in the resistance movement. Bereft of any strategy or even a coherent ideology the separatists have ended up as insignificant extras in a plot they lost long back. Not only have they been unable to provide even a semblance of a leadership to the people they have been adding further to their woes through the stranglehold of hartals. The mainstream leaders having become remote and irrelevant and the separatists reduced to redundancy there is no outlet for the frustration and anger which keeps mounting until just a spark is enough to explode it. It appears to be unending too. Each batch of ‘martyrs’ buried in the blood drenched soil results in a harvest of more angry rebels who end up as suicide bombers without a bomb and with only their anger to explode. The killing fields of Kashmir continue to be irrigated with blood. The futility of it all only adds further to the tragedy.