DNA | Editorial| July 2|
The tension between New Delhi’s promises to Kashmiris and the ground realities of life in the region is once again manifesting as bloody spectacle in Bandipora district, with the killing of two youths in army firing there triggering protests across the state. That this is happening just days after prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit — meant to reach out to the Kashmiri people but taking place in a Srinagar that had been shut down completely — makes the dichotomy between the intended message and the one that was actually sent starkly clear.
The Indian state, of course, has its own grievances; eight soldiers were killed by militants in Srinagar the day before the visit. The end result is an absence of any kind of trust with both sides talking past each other. If they are to engage in actuality and not just with their skewed perceptions of each other, New Delhi must find a way to move beyond the worn routine of special funds and rhetoric.
For that to happen, it must acknowledge the context of the widespread resentment in the Valley. The issue is hedged about with a peculiar logic in public and political discourse — one that treats the violence perpetrated by extremists in the region as justification for security forces employing harsh measures that, as often as not, target innocent civilians. It is a pernicious reasoning that lacks any political or ethical legitimacy and fatally undercuts the possibility of honest engagement.
Take, for instance, the discovery of mass graves, or the case of Kunan Poshpara village where 53 — and possibly many more — women were allegedly gangraped by soldiers in one night in 1991. They have yet to receive justice.
From Human Rights Watch to the International Red Cross and the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice, any number of international bodies have produced concrete evidence of human rights abuses on a substantial scale. The latter, in fact, produced a report in 2012 that used not just witnesses but official documents to analyse 214 cases of abuse.
As J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said before Singh’s visit, the resentment this causes cannot be addressed by economic packages or at the point of a gun. It requires a political effort that builds on transparency and accountability to address abuses and stopping them. And it also calls for a grand gesture; revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is the most obvious candidate.
There are serious security challenges in the region and many sides to the story — the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits, for one. But unless the people of Kashmir are given the assurance that they are being heard, there will be no lasting security solution, nor an honest redressal of old wrongs.