By Gaurav Dixit*
Four persons were killed and nine others were injured as personnel from the Rashtriya Rifles and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Police allegedly opened fired on the protesters in the Handwara town of Kupwara district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir last week. The protestors had attacked an Army bunker at Handwara Chowk and pelted stones on the army camps. The protests had erupted as rumors of allegation of molestation of a girl by an army man got fanned through the volatile district.
Kashmir again appears to be trapped in a riotous time and the impressionable youth in the Kashmir Valley has once again taken to the streets, taking law and order in its hands. Discontent in this region is growing and the level of violence has become more severe. Situation in many parts of the ever-volatile state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Handwara, Kupwara and the areas in Baramulla, can be described as depicting a ‘dangerous deterioration in the political situation’
While the political situation in the Kashmir Valley has been rather restive, what disturbed the relative calm in the region was an allegation of molestation of a young girl by an Army man on April 12 in the district of Handwara. Although the confession later made by the girl indicted two local boys and not any army personnel for the wrong-doing, however the same was brushed aside as an alibi that many locals claimed was being forced onto the victim by the authorities involved. In fact, maintaining the said stance, the girl’s mother claimed that her daughter was being pressurized into giving a video statement denying that she was molested by any army personnel. However, in her admission before the before the Chief Judicial Magistrate Handwara, the girl restated her earlier version that she was confronted, assaulted and dragged by two boys.Going back and forth between the two contrasting versions of this rather unfortunate incident, a spokesman of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), representing the girl now claimed that the girl’s statement to the magistrate was too not made voluntarily. He made this observation after meeting the girl in the police custody.
To some, the way the crisis unfolded the case reminded them of the infamous February 23-24, 1991 episode where a Battalion of the 4th Rajasthan Rifles 68th Brigade conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the Kunan-Poshpora villages in Kupwara of Jammu and Kashmir. It is alleged that the forces raped and molested women in front of their children. The J&K State Human Rights Commission (JKSHRC) after analysing the statements of victims and witnesses concluded that the security forces were involved in dark and inhuman activity of outraging the modesty of the womenfolk.
However, veteran journalist B.G. Verghese and K. Vikram Rao committee in its report had called the incident an “invention”, “totally unproven and completely untrue, a dirty trick to frame the Army and get it to lay off Kunan Poshpora”. This alleged criminal incident had taken place at a time when insurgency was at its peak, resulting in its snowballing into a deep political crisis. A similar situation now appears to be building up in Handwara where mere rumors could manage to foment such a huge crisis.
Speaking of the area in concern, Handwara has a history of security crisis. Since May 2015, there have been seven cases of encounter between army and terrorist groups killing 12 terrorists and 7 troopers. Terrorist and the infiltrators from Pakistan had used the deep forest region in the area as a safe hiding place.
Although Handwara and Northern Kashmir witnessed some surge in terrorist activities, security situation in overall Kashmir area had improved a lot in the last couple of years. Substantial gain was made against the terrorists in the state. The year 2015 witnessed second lowest fatalities among civilians and third lowest casualty among the security forces in the last one decade. Terrorist neutralization was the second best in the last five years, in spite of increased terrorist activities. The number of major terrorist activities was highest in 2015 in last five years, yet with lower fatalities.
Last year, the Indian Home Ministry carried out extensive review of security situation in Kashmir including the steps required to keep away local youth from the terrorism and stone-pelting. It also discussed necessary steps required to keep militancy and law and order situation well under control amid reports of raising of IS and Pakistani flags by some youth in the Valley.
While there has been a simultaneous increase in political unrest and decline in civilian and military fatalities, the overall situation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir continues to be fraught with issues of economic, political and even, cultural volatility. Taking a holistic view of the situation, it needs to be recognized that the problems faced by this state are as much a creation of the many, disparate stakeholders that are involved in this political-strategic-economic-cultural conundrum. Not only do these stakeholders exhibit motives, intentions and activities that are not only divergent and contradictory, but these are also dubiously fueled by vested personal gains than any larger, community interest. Also, significant to the whole issue is the deliberate internationalization of the ‘Kashmir dispute’ by Pakistan, with the result being that solutions to even the most minor troubles affecting the region remain far from being achieved.
In the midst of rising tension in the Valley, the political figures are trying hard to outdo each other. The militant leaders are competing to call shutdown and arouse sentiments of the protesters. The locals that are both accustomed to and at the same time, befuddled by the situation are devoid of pragmatic leadership. Youth are on the street pelting stones and braving teargases. Pakistan never misses an opportunity to ignite or fuel the fire in the Valley, and it is a matter of time that it will once again jump in to aggravate the situation. Civil society is caught in a dyad debate over freedom and security.
There is hardly any stakeholder who has come forward to endorse inclusive negotiation and a peace agreement. There is no mutually agreeable formulation of any kind that can serve as a platform for negotiating peace and progress in the state. The government has launched an inquiry and has pulled down a few of the army bunkers in an attempt to assuage the anger of the people, which at best can be described as temporary, and even too little, in nature.
The political terrain in the Valley is far from showing any movement, with status quo being preferred over a single step taken in any constructive direction. Maybe this reluctance is also because of an unfortunate realization that negotiations for peace and progress in Jammu and Kashmir are still not in sight. The rising confrontation between civilians and security forces, the intensifying political showdown and negligence on the part of the union government to the concerns of the youth in the region, all these point in one direction – that the peace process in Kashmir is yet to find serious and determined troubleshooters.
*Gaurav Dixit is an independent analyst working on issues related to India. He can be reached at: [email protected]