No End to Miseries

Any hopes of peace in Jammu and Kashmir are suspended at the moment as the Indian government has rolled back the so called ‘peace process’ with Pakistan after terrorists caused bomb blasts in Indian financial capital Mumbai and in Srinagar in mid-July. The Indian government was quick to blame Pakistan and Kashmiri resistance fighters for the carnage, though everyone in Kashmir from hardliners Syed Ali Geelani to moderate Hurriyat leaders condemned the attacks, both in Srinagar and Mumbai. Kashmir’s main resistance group Hizbul Mujahideen also condemned the attacks as terrorism, as did the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

However, taking courage from its new relationship with America, the Indian government claimed hand of Kashmir’s’ own Al-Qaeda, gripping the imagination of the whole region. Many Indian agencies and newspapers came out with various accounts attesting to the presence of Al-Qaeda in the region. Since the US attack on Taliban led Afghanistan, the Indian government has tried hard to exploit Western opinion and establish that Kashmiri resistance is actually part of so-called global terror network, thus seeking to annul any political justification for the struggle against its rule in Jammu and Kashmir. However, this charge of an Al Qaeda presence was widely ridiculed and even denied by the local police. Ultimately, the Indian authorities had to retract their own statements.

Despite its continued failure to link Kashmiri struggle to the unseen demons of Al-Qaeda, the Indian government is now talking about the doctrine of hot pursuit as it feels emboldened by the world inaction over the onslaught in the Middle East. The concept of ‘hot pursuit’ visualizes pre-empt attacks on so-called terror networks across the border in Azad Kashmir, therefore making it harder for any peaceful resolution of the crisis and raising tensions to new and higher levels.

Targeting civilians

The tragedy is compounded as the human rights violations continue unabated with the army and paramilitary troops targeting civilians across the region. On 9th August a college going student was killed by the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) in broad daylight in Dalgate area in Srinagar. The paramilitaries said that he was about to throw a grenade at them. Eyewitnesses and local residents denied the CRPF claim, saying he was riddled with bullets from a close range and then a grenade was dropped in his bag to pass him off as a militant. The killing triggered a massive protest demonstration which was instantly quelled by force in an area where shopkeepers and local residents have been protesting against the coercive paramilitary measures since August 1, when militants shot dead two CRPF troopers at point blank range.

The dead youth was identified as Ghulam Muhammad Sheikh, 22, son of Muhammad Sultan Sheikh of Towheedabad, Ashtengu, and Bandipora in north Kashmir’s Varmul district. He was a second year student of Bachelor of Arts in Amar Singh College, Srinagar. He was also acting president of pro-freedom Muslim Students Union, the student wing of Muslim League, a constituent of Hurriyat Conference.

Eyewitnesses said that Sheikh had an argument with the troopers over a humiliating body search. A large number of people watched his body lying face down on the footpath for 20 minutes. The troops tied the body with a rope and dragged it for some distance. Wailing and shouting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, scores of women from the nearby Dalgate locality came on to the roads, accusing the troops of “stage managing” the youth’s killing.

Leading the procession, Syeda Begum, 45, said, “The troopers were talking with the youth and suddenly they pushed him towards Chuntkul (the channel of Dal lake) and fired volley of bullets at him. He died instantly…What will his mother do after knowing his fate?” she said amid tears and sobs, adding, “I began to rush towards the spot but the troopers stopped me.”

Next day, when hundreds of students –” some of them friends of the slain student were protesting against the killing, the police attacked them and injured many, five of them critically. As usual in such cases, the police changed its story few times and suggested that the killed student was a ‘dreaded’ member of Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba, a charge denied by all the family and friends of the slain student.

Growing protests

The human rights abuses by the Indian paramilitary forces have reached new sections of the people, with the result that non-political groups like traders, doctors, lawyers and students are joining protest marches throughout the Valley. The Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers’ Federation (KTMF) called for a Kashmir-wide general strike on Saturday, August 12, against “continued human rights abuses by the army and paramilitary forces.” A spokesman of the Federation said the shutdown had been called to protest against “the aggression of the paramilitary forces on civilians, killing of innocent youths, and spreading a reign of terror across the length and breadth of the state.” The doctors of Srinagar’s Government Medical College took out a protest march against what they called unabated state terrorism with banners like ‘stop state terrorism in Kashmir and Stop the genocide of Kashmiris’. The High Court Bar Association, professional association of law practitioners from Srinagar High Court also condemned the killings accusing the Indian paramilitary forces of murder and wanton human rights violations.

Greater Kashmir, the leading English daily from Srinagar in its editorial dated 12th August, 2006 said, “The recent behaviour of the members of Security Forces in Kashmir gives a feeling as if they are operating inside Enemy Territory. It seems they have been brainwashed to consider every Kashmiri a terrorist and entire Kashmir Valley as Enemy Territory where they can operate as per their sweet will to kill anyone whom they consider a potential threat”.

Converging politics

Cutting across the political ideology and allegiance, Kashmir’s political leaders and organizations both pro-India and pro-freedom have widely condemned the repressive measures increasingly being employed by the Indian forces. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of Hurriyat Conference accused India of giving its troops “license to kill and suppress the voice of Kashmiris.” Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz termed the killings as worst kind of state terrorism, urging India to abandon its stubbornness and adopt a realistic approach to resolve Kashmir issue peacefully. Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front said that the contradictory statements of eyewitnesses, CRPF and police indicate how an innocent person was falsely implicated and projected as a militant. Jammu Kashmir Democratic Liberation Party (JKDLP) led by Shabir Shah condemned the killing and said that this amounted to brazen oppression on part of troops. People’s Conference Chairman Sajad Gani Lone in his statement said that the killing of the student by CRPF at Dalgate was an act of state terrorism. He further added that the right to life had been snatched away from the Kashmiris and now men in uniform had become "a law unto themselves".

The pro-India National Conference Member of Legislative Assembly from Sonwar-Dalgate, Mohammad Yaseen Shah, condemned Sheikh’s killing, demanded a credible investigation into the whole episode and also called for removing the CRPF unit responsible from its duty till completion of the investigation. Another pro-government Member of Assembly Nizam Din Bhat of ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) said “the student Ghulam Muhammad was killed in mysterious circumstances which is evident from contradictory statement issued by various security agencies.” He said the public anger and outrage triggered by the killing makes it necessary to order an impartial inquiry.

More Murders

Just as the India is preparing for its Independence Day, the Kashmiris are again paying the price as being virtually imprisoned in there own homes, as the army and paramilitary forces impose curfews at will on the movement of ordinary people. In a show of strength they turn in droves onto the towns and villages which not only increases tensions but also results in unwarranted arrests and killings of civilians.

On 12th August, when the whole Kashmir was observing strike in protest against the growing human rights violations, the soldiers of 33 RR murdered a 14-year old girl Rubeena and her 37 year old uncle Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Tantray when they were walking, along with 11 other men and women through their village Chaiyal Pati in Drugmulla sub-area of Kupwara on way to the nearby forest. There were seven bullet wounds on Rubeena’s body and nine bullets had riddled through her uncle Mohi-ud-Din’s body. The army claimed that they mistook villagers as militants, but the locals refuse to buy that theory saying that the army deliberately attacked them.

The survivors said that soldiers neither fired any warning shots nor did they challenged them. A newspaper quoted one of the survivor and eyewitness as said, “we routinely go to the forests and (previously) they have stopped us on many occasions in the past and after questioning allowed us to go inside the forest. Today they just fired at us.”

The killings triggered a massive demonstration as the villagers took the dead bodies on their shoulders and placed them on Srinagar-Kupwara highway. Soon the protesters were joined by hundreds from near by villages of Bramri, Shathpora, and Hatmulla. The angry mourners dismantled a passenger shed converted by Army into a bunker and threw the sandbags into a stream nearby. According to the newspaper reports, the mourners were shouting slogans like Indian army hai hai (down with Indian army), Azad hai hai (down with (Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad), We want freedom, Pakistan Zindabad (long live Pakistan), Aava Aava Lashkar Taiyyaba (Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba is coming).

The Iron Mullah

In order to curtail the growing anger of local population, the Indian Army and paramilitary forces launched ‘Operation Sadbhavna’ (sadbhavna means goodwill in Hindi) in early 2000. Under this operation, the army would often conduct a ‘crackdown’ –” forcing people out of their homes and herding them in open spaces giving them lectures for ‘good conduct’ and how the army is supposed to ‘protect’ its citizens. Occasionally, they would take photos of the civilians forcing them to smile alongside the gun totting army personnel. The photos would later be used for various PR exercises apart from erecting huge billboards across the Valley reinforcing the ‘bond’ between the ‘saviour’ army and the locals that ‘support’ them.

However, it seems that the army has abandoned its ‘operation goodwill’ and now approaches Kashmiris in more direct fashion. This came to light when the people of Chaiyal Pati village were protesting against the gruesome murder of two of their village folk, the officiating commander of 33 RR, Lt Col V Santosh, whose men had earlier killed the villagers, stopped his car near the demonstrators. With utter disregard to the loss of innocent life, he grinned and said, “kya macha rakha hai, band karo ye (stop this, why are you creating fuss).” At this, a police officer summoned some courage and requested him to leave as they were ‘controlling the situation’. This is not in consonance with the spirit of the army press release who termed the ‘incident’ as ‘unfortunate’ and announced ‘compensation’ for the family of murdered civilians.

Once again the pro-India politicians from Kashmir are feeling the heat as their strong protests seem not to be registering on the army as they continuously ignore such protests from the politicians. The Member of Legislative assembly from Kupwara, Mir Saifullah told reporters in Srinagar that “he was at loss as to what happened to the promises of ‘zero tolerance’ on human rights violations by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the second Round Table Conference in Srinagar in May”. He further said that the Indian troops “operate independently and without any fear of accountability”. He also threatened indefinite hunger strike in front of Civil Secretariat in Srinagar which is seat of provincial power. Questioning the behaviour of the army his statement was quite sobering when he posed a question with helpless intonation, “Are the people of my constituency destined to die brutal deaths”?

While Mir Saifullah was trying to register his protest about the helpless state of common Kashmiris, the soldiers of 21 Rashtriya Rifles killed another civilian in Boban village in Wadder-Zachaldar of Handwara region in Kupwara district. The army claimed that 35 year old Ghulam Rasool Bhat, a father of three was killed in cross fire, but the local people rejected the claim.

It is common practice of army and the paramilitary forces in Kashmir to use ‘cross fire’ as general excuse for the death of civilians at their hands. Earlier the army had accused the slain of being a militant who was killed in the exchange of fire, but later changed its story to ‘cross fire’ death.

New Police Actions

In another scary and far reaching development, the police arrested twelve civilians for participating in the funeral of a slain militant commander in Varmul district. The police and the army have always attacked civilians for attending such events, but at this occasion the police formally arrested the people under the infamous Public Safety Act, usually used against the political activists and militants who are fighting against the Indian rule. This shows that the government is tightening its stranglehold on Kashmiris choking civil liberties in addition to giving the army and the paramilitary forces a free hand to kill innocent civilians.

Justice Denied

This is no coincidence that only a few days earlier, Justice Ghulam Mohammad Mir, chairman of the official Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (JKHRC) resigned from his post. Justice Mir said that his resignation was in protest against the government’s growing disregard for the human rights violations adding that the government did not allow the Commission to work freely or take its advice seriously. He also suggested that the Kashmiris were looking at the Indian paramilitary forces as occupying forces.