Yatri killings: A throwback to shadowy 90s massacres

  • Publish Date: Jul 21 2017 8:44PM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 21 2017 8:44PM
Yatri killings: A throwback to shadowy 90s massacres

Soon after the killing of seven Amarnath yatris at Botengoo,  a group of civil society organizations, academicians, journalists and students gathered at Srinagar’s Pratap Park to express their outrage. They held banners and placards printed with slogans to drive this message home. It was no small gesture on their part. This was the first time that Kashmiri civil society formally protested a carnage - and it incidentally turned out to be for the slain innocent pilgrims from outside the state. 

However, there were no cries of selective outrage from any quarter in Kashmir Valley. Even if there were, the description would have ill-fitted the protest which was undertaken with a genuine concern over the killings and their detrimental fallout over the image of the Azadi movement in the state. 

Besides, the protest also became a medium to give voice to the popular discourse in Valley about the ongoing violence. One, the participants sought an impartial, transparent probe into the yatri killings reflecting an inherent scepticism in Valley about the major violent incidents and their perpetrators.  Second, they questioned the alleged silence of the Indian civil society about the killings in Kashmir at the hands of security forces. 

“Kashmiris condemn the killings of yatris. Do Indians condemn the killings of Kashmiris,” read one placard. “Silence is criminal,” read another. “Killings are neither Hindu, nor Muslim. All killings need to be probed,” read yet another. 

The protest was thus reflective of the prevailing mindset in Valley. The condemnation for the Amarnath killings was explicit - no easy thing to do against an act which has allegedly been carried out by the militants who enjoy overwhelming public support – but there was also an effort to articulate the conflicted nature of the situation in Kashmir. 

As is the case with many a major incident of violence, people in Kashmir tend to both believe and suspect the official claim of the role of the militants. They do so in case of yatri killings too: certain of the militants being behind it and also vulnerable to the theories of the role of the “agencies”. 


Larger concern

But over and above this is a larger concern for the steady deterioration in the situation and where it could take Kashmir if it was allowed to go on regardless. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, 95 militants have been killed since January in firefights with security forces, most of them local youth in their teens or early twenties. Around 20 civilians have died during public protests near the encounter sites to help militants escape. The funeral processions of the militants are drawing an ever larger number of the people. At each such killing, several rounds of funeral prayers are held to accommodate an unbroken stream of mourners. Rescue bids by the people for the trapped militants are becoming audacious by the day, a development that many apprehend could culminate into a massacre of the protesters. 

What is more, the slain militants are easily replenished by the new recruits – many of them teenagers who are killed within months of their picking up arms.  Such is their level of motivation that none of them respond to offer of surrender once tracked down by the security forces. 


Ideological dimension

This growing allure of militancy is now taking on a pronounced ideological dimension. Or so it seems as the majority in Kashmiris dispute the alleged shift. Zakir Musa,  one of the militant commanders and a protégé of Burhan Wani, is moving the discourse of the separatist movement beyond  Azadi and Pakistan.  He says the aim of the struggle is the establishment of a Caliphate in Kashmir and the implementation of Shariah. He calls the nation state “un-Islamic”, is against terming Kashmir movement “political”.  He also forbids allegiance to Pakistan or hoisting of its flags during militant funerals. 

And when the PaK based top Hizb leadership  took serious exception to this Islamist pitch, Musa quit the outfit and decided to operate independently. In his video messages since, Musa has plied a consistent ideological line.  On the other hand, Hizb commander in Valley Yasin Yatoo in his video messages has tried to connect Kashmir cause to its political roots in United Nation’s resolution. 


Uncharted waters

“This state of affairs has pushed Kashmir into uncharted waters,” says the political commentator Gowhar Geelani who was at the civil society protest. “One is not sure where it will end”. 

The noted civil society activist Khurram Parvez thinks the recruitment in the militancy is driven by the attitude of the armed forces and police.  “These young boys who are being tortured, who are being brutalised by the police and the armed forces, they are the ones who become recruits to the militancy. They do it without even enough arms and without training. We are concerned about that. And for that what needs to be challenged is the attitude of the armed forces and the police,” Khurram said adding, however, that the civil society doesn’t endorse all the choices that people are making as part of the resistance.

“But the issue is we don’t disown the struggle. Because, civil society is not neutral. Civil society is part of the society and civil society will never take position against the collective conscience or the collective struggle  of the society. But we take position when we see something is going bad. At grassroots level, we organize programs without much publicity and counsel people on what should not be done”.   


Security angle 

As things stand, however, the situation looks set to continue as it has so far. In security terms, the deepening turmoil in Valley is sustained by the replenishment of the depleted militant ranks by local recruitment and the unstinted public support which has only grown since Burhan’s death. “For the situation to return to some semblance of normalcy, both or at least either of these trends have to reverse,” says a police officer with a long experience of counter-insurgency operations.