The protest movement in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) shows no signs of abating, not the least because of the extreme repression unleashed by the authorities against unarmed protestors. The battle is being fought with unequal weapons.
This was in evidence once again on April 24 when police, as has been their wont since the uprising began in the wake of the killing by security forces of the young militant leader Burhanuddin Wani last year, fired live rounds, tear gas and water cannon into a crowd of stone-throwing students in Srinagar. Hundreds of students had taken to the streets shouting slogans such as We want freedom! and Go India, go back! As shoppers fled, markets shut for the day.
The clashes erupted as colleges and universities reopened following skirmishes last week between students and the government forces. Some students were detained while three photojournalists and eight policemen were injured by stones. This toll came in the wake of 100 students and almost the same number of policemen wounded in last week’s disturbances. After those battles, schools, colleges and universities were temporarily shut. The students had been angered by a raid earlier this month on a college in the southern district of Pulwama in which the police attempted to detain some alleged leaders of earlier protests during and after by-elections.
Government forces are not supposed to enter college or university premises without special permission. In Pulwama town, a ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) official, Abdul Ghani, was shot and killed by unidentified attackers. IHK has been tense since April 9 when eight people were killed by the police and paramilitaries during by-election day violence. In the backdrop of the violent clashes continuing, PDP Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti flew to New Delhi on April 24 to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the situation. She called for dialogue and an end to violence while talking to reporters after the meeting, but insisted the first priority was to control the situation since talks were not possible amid bullets flying and stone pelting. Mufti’s PDP formed a coalition government with the BJP after the 2015 election in IHK, which has made her party hugely unpopular in the Valley, once its traditional support base.
While blood continues to flow in IHK, many sober and concerned voices are being raised across the political divide in India warning of the consequences of the present course in IHK. Amongst them, former Chief Minister IHK and National Conference President Farooq Abdullah, who won a recent by-election to a Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, has urged the Indian government to begin talks with all stakeholders, including Pakistan, for peace in Kashmir.
He advised against waiting for a conducive atmosphere, when the last stone has been thrown or the last bullet fired, implying intervention in the situation through a dialogue was in fact the only way to defuse an increasingly fraught situation whose consequences for the future were not in the interests of any stakeholder. Democratic India, Farooq Abdullah reminded, stood for the rights of the people.
Denying those rights (as has been the case for the last 70 years) would create further wounds and alienation, he underlined. Absence of dialogue was an invitation to dig the grave of democracy, he warned. Regarding Mufti’s meeting with Modi, Farooq Abdullah reminded that the State and Union governments had been saying for long they would start a dialogue with all stakeholders, including the Hurriyet. Former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed also said similar things, including talks with Pakistan, but nothing happened.
A delegation led by BJP leader and former minister Yashwant Sinha recommended similar measures after a visit to IHK but not a single item of those recommendations was taken up. After all this talk of a dialogue, stretching over many years, what the government of India and IHK need to realise is that they are incrementally losing the battle for hearts and minds, especially amongst the youth.
The present path, if not abandoned, spells more trouble and bloodshed in IHK and the attendant danger of ratcheting up tensions between Pakistan and India. Like in many such long running conflicts, the language of weapons must, sooner rather than later, give way to the weapon of language. -Business Recorder