Srinagar June 24: In massive lettering, high on the side of a mountain that rises from the heart of the city, Srinagar has got its own Hollywood sign. It is visible from nearly everywhere in the city — from aircraft coming in to land, from shikaras on the Jhelum, from shopfronts, windows and houseboats: a snapshot of the Army’s psychological war in the Valley.
“Ajeet Hain, Abheet Hain (We are invincible, we are fearless),” says the sign, its letters created from rocks painted dazzling white on the patchy green hillside. It is both a claim and a declaration of intent — and the message is not lost on anyone.
At a time when the government is trying to remove some bunkers from the streets and hide the sandbags behind polished wood paneling to suggest peace and normalcy, the writing on the mountain, some say, only increases the sense of siege that the man on the street often feels.
“We understand very well the context of this message. It is browbeating and intimidation. The message is that we are here to stay and to control you,” Prof Noor Mohammad Baba, who teaches political science at Kashmir University, said. “This is exactly the attitude that lies at the heart of the problem of Kashmir.”
There is also a grave environmental implication, Baba said. “Even if there were no other aspect to it, it is criminal purely from an environmental perspective. Nobody has the right to deface a mountain.”
Lawyer Shafat Naseem said whenever he looks towards the Zabarwan mountain, the image of a soldier atop an Army vehicle rushes to his mind. The soldier in his vision is waving a big stick at people on road, Naseem said.
“It is a sight that you cannot avoid in Srinagar. I find it problematic at a time when conflict resolution processes are ongoing,” he said.
Slogans and messages like “Jawaan aur Awaam, Aman hai Muqaam (The goal of both the soldier and the people is peace)” and “Ek Goli, Ek Dushman (A bullet for every enemy)” have long been part of the Army’s psychological warfare tactics in Kashmir. But a giant, omnipresent message of this kind has never been seen before. Critics say it is unnecessary and provocative.
“In a place like Kashmir, considering the fact that Indian Army in the largest democracy is supposed to be apolitical and people-friendly, slogans like these are avoidable,” Gul Mohammad Wani, who heads Kashmir University’s Institute of Kashmir Studies, said.
“Kashmir has already enjoyed the dividends of a muscular peace process,” he said. “Notwithstanding the fact that there are people-friendly slogans as well, there is always a case for refraining from provocative slogans.”
People’s Democratic Party spokesman Nayeem Akhtar said the message on the hill side can be misunderstood quite easily.
“I have no doubt that the message is meant for the enemies of the country, but the local context can always invite different interpretations in view of the political history of this state,” Akhtar he said. “It also sends out a signal of impunity regarding not just militancy, but also matters of civil administration. This kind of defacement of a mountain will not be welcome or even allowed in any other state.”
The Jammu and Kashmir government declined to comment on the controversial nature of the message, but said it was ascertaining whether environmental norms were violated in its creation.
“I will talk to the environment department. We will request the Army to rectify it,” Minister for Forests, Environment and Ecology Mian Altaf Ahmad said. Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Shailendra Kumar said he had already instructed the Srinagar deputy commissioner to submit a detailed report about it. “Defacing a mountain is not permissible at all,” Kumar said.
When contacted, Nasir Aslam Wani, provincial president of the ruling National Conference, declined to comment on the matter.
No official reaction was forthcoming from the Army. But a senior Army officer who spoke anonymously said the message was not aimed at the people, but rather at soldiers to inspire them. The officer denied that the mountain side had been defaced by the message.
“It is for the troops, with the aim of inspiring them. Our troops come from everywhere. We want to manage the psychology of troops. When I get up in the morning, I see it and I feel inspired by the bravery of our troops,” the officer, belonging to the 15 Corps, told The Indian Express.
“This message should not be seen in isolation. There are slogans meant to connect to people as well. We are here to achieve whatever task the country gives us, and this one is pure soldiering,” he said.
“We have arranged stones and painted them white. We haven’t cut into the mountain or changed anything. If you look carefully, the slope hasn’t even been levelled,” the officer said.
by Muzamil Jaleel.
“his story was published in The Indian Express (early city edition) on June 19, 2013.”
-The write is associate editor of Indian Express.