A few truths about Kashmir crisis that Twitter trolls don't get
The decision to deploy the military to suppress a rebellion set off by the decades-long suppression of democratic rights has only deepened the problem.
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A few days ago, I wrote on Twitter: “We put security forces in harm's way and then cry for blood when they respond badly - either attacking violently or being attacked violently. There is no 'right way' for security forces to behave when brutally suppressing fundamental rights. Unless you deal with the denial of rights, the denial of justice, you will have security forces and civilians at each others' throats. If you're not willing to address this, all your appalled shock at the clashes between civilians and paramilitary is just voyeurism. This was expected, we laid the road here, built this fucking Colosseum where we watch as delighted/appalled spectators as civilians and security forces maul and kill each other. It disgusts me that politicians knowingly made this choice, and will 'benefit' from the blood.”
1. We put security forces in harm's way and then cry for blood when they respond badly - either attacking violently or being attached violently.There is no 'right way' for security forces to behave when brutally suppressing fundamental rights.— Omair Ahmad (@OmairTAhmad) June 2, 2018
I was then critiqued for “false equivalence”, for backing a “military occupation”, and “distortion”. The person talking of “distortion” then went on about the “genocide” in Kashmir.
Irony gagged and died over the hypocrisy.
When I mentioned Ayub Pandith's lynching, this was dismissed as a “stray incident".
Outrage, accusations, and hypocrisy are the stuff of daily life when it comes to social media, and Twitter especially. Usually I just hit the block button and forget. In this case, though, it is something worth engaging with. If I blame our society for the appalling apathy that has led to the current situation, it would be hypocritical not to speak.
My critics focused only on the last part of what I wrote, that “civilians and security forces maul and kill each other”.
They asked for proof of any security person killed by the civilians, and when I mentioned Ayub Pandith’s lynching, this was either dismissed as a “stray incident” (exactly how supporters of hardline policies dismiss human rights abuses in Kashmir), with one critic going out of her way to “contextualise” the lynching in a way that seemed to justify it (again, exactly how supporters of hardline policies justify abuses and crimes such as Gogoi’s use of a civilian as a human shield).
The critics were offended by the balancing of the blame (or lack of blame) on security forces and civilian protesters.
Pandith’s murder was an “anomaly”, as if he didn’t count as part of the security forces because he was Kashmiri. This ignores a huge aspect of violence in the Valley, which is that – quite often – it is Kashmiris that have killed Kashmiris.
I do not mean just the targeting of the Kashmiri Pandits. It is worth recalling that among the first people killed by the Kashmiri militants was a Kashmiri Muslim politician – an aspect that continues to this day with the targeting of those elected in the municipal corporation elections and panchayat elections. They are merely trying to clean their neighbourhoods, to provide basic services, explicitly running on the message that they are not interfering in the “political conflict”.
And among the most bloody-handed of the counter-insurgent forces have been the militarised J&K police, especially in the form of the Special Operations Group and Special Task Forces. Let’s not even mention the Ikhwanis.
Although, all of this is appalling, in a way it is beside the point. The objection to my writing was that the critics were offended by the balancing of the blame (or lack of blame) on security forces and civilian protesters.
One critic asked for an exact number of security forces personnel killed by civilian protesters, as if this would somehow disprove my point.
I will gather that data, because it is important, but as far as I know nobody has such a database publicly available. That aside, never in the history of the world has there been equivalent violence in clashes between civilians and security forces. This is obvious in the categories themselves. Civilians are generally not armed or trained to use lethal force; security forces generally are.
The history of security forces versus civilians resembles more Jallianwala Bagh than Chauri Chaura.
Why my critics think something that has never been true for any section of humanity should be true for Kashmiris is something I don’t understand?
But again, maybe the number question is not as important as the question of who is responsible for the violence.
My phrasing had put that blame on politicians responsible for the structural conditions, while equally blaming the security forces and civilians for specific outbreaks.
My critics suggested that the protesters were always peaceful, but this does not accord with eyewitness accounts.
This is truly equivalence. And here is a detailed eyewitness account, of some of the recent outbreak of violence in Kashmir, of a lone CRPF vehicle coming into the range of angry protestors, of being surrounded, and fleeing, crushing civilians.
Nor is this is an isolated incident.
In June 2010, the mourners coming back from burying the young Tufail Mattoo, whose skull had been crushed by a teargas shell fired at close range into his face, came upon a small CRPF bunker with about three men inside.
This post had neither been removed nor reinforced despite it being smack dab in the way of the returning mourners.
As (understandably) angry protesters vented their frustration at the bunker, the cornered security personnel used live fire at the civilians, injuring and killing a number of them, boosting the spiral of conflict that had begun when the Armymen murdered three civilians in Maachil and tried to pass them off as militants. About 112 civilians died over a hundred days. One member of the security forces was seriously injured.
No wonder Maulana Showkat Ahmed Shah, the president of the Jamiat-e Ahl-e Hadith (a Salafi, no less) in Srinagar, condemned stone pelting, said it helped nobody, and only gave the security forces an excuse to kill Kashmiris. He was assassinated on April 8, 2011, just as all inconvenient voices have been silenced, sooner or later.
This argument of a “military occupation” completely ignores that the military was not deployed in civilian areas until 1990
My critics suggested that the protesters were always peaceful, but that it was the security forces that were responsible for the violence. This does not accord with eyewitness accounts, and no doubt the police station that was torched in 2010 self-combusted, the rifle snatching has nothing to do with violence, and stones self-levitate and accelerate at the very sight of a uniform.
A more pertinent argument is whether, given the lack of freedom, the denial of fundamental rights, the Kashmiris have a right to resist. Of course they do. They do not just have a right, but a duty to do so. The Kashmiris have been summarily deprived of their rights and freedom from the 1950s onwards, with their leaders jailed without charges, their elected leaders dismissed from power by an arrogant Delhi, their freedom of opinion suppressed by a host of laws.
But should they resist violently? My critics argued that under the massive security deployment in J&K, civilians had no choice.
This argument of a “military occupation” completely ignores that the military was not deployed in civilian areas until 1990 – after violent protests, and as a response to them. Before that relations between Kashmiri civilians and the military were strikingly different. Kashmiri civilians literally held off the armed invaders in 1947 so that the Indian Army could land its troops at Srinagar Airport.
In 1965, as part of the Operation Gibraltar, Pakistan sent infiltrators to provoke an uprising on the basis that Indira had jailed Shiekh Abdullah without presenting charges (like father, like daughter). Kashmiris turned them over to security forces.
It was the violent protests, the breakdown of law and order, an insurgency backed by Pakistan that led to the military being deployed in civilian areas in 1990. Initially it refused, only accepting after permissive laws, such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, were put in place. Now it is a brutal, entrenched reality that confronts Kashmiris at each corner down a gun barrel, with the chief of the Army ranting about how Indian forces don’t act like those in Syria and Pakistan, as if not dropping chemical weapons on your own population is something to brag about.
The decision to deploy the military to suppress a rebellion set off by the decades-long suppression of democratic rights has only deepened the problem. By its very nature, a military is reliant on information. In a civil conflict, this information is extracted from the population, giving leeway to the extortionists, the bribers, and the torturers. It destroys the fabric of society on which it is imposed, and it destroys the concept of honourable conduct that is at the centre of any military’s sense of itself. As I wrote on Twitter, “There is no 'right way' for security forces to behave when brutally suppressing fundamental rights.”
In this long essay, Yasin Malik, the chairman of the JKLF, quotes Mandela to say that, “A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a point, one can only fight fire with fire”. Malik adds that, “This Mandela saying is exactly true for Kashmiri resistance.”
What Malik refuses to acknowledge is that it was actions of people like him that have helped create the current situation, opening the way for a militarised colonial regime that seems to have no end, no limit, and no shame. But, no, that is not true, or not fully true. The true blame lies on the political leaders in New Delhi, Nehru onwards, who undermined democracy in the Valley, and then threw in the military to suppress a rebellion of people denied their rights for decades, governed as a colonial province.
Politicians strike deals, make fiery speeches, and benefit off the bloodshed.
This does not, though, obviate the responsibility of those in the field. The security forces are implementing a violent, colonial policy. In Israel, some IDF members have refused to serve in such a venture and protested, joining an organisation called, “Yesh Gvul” (There is a limit). This type of defiance, though, is exceedingly rare, and in Israel’s case, has not limited the state’s crimes.
Kashmiri civilians, brutalised, denied their rights, surrounded by mukhbirs and paid agents, with their leaders either killed, bullied, or bribed, see no way forward except to vent their rage at a state that blinds them, kills them, jails them, maims them, rapes them, and defames them for asking for the very rights that are central to the Indian Constitution.
In all of this politicians strike deals, make fiery speeches, and benefit off the bloodshed, while the rest of India – shamefully – looks away. Maybe I expect too much, maybe it is just that I have known and admired too many Kashmiris, but if I look for hope, it is there that I look towards.