Kashmir continues to burn. As little children and young men and women continue to fall to bullets and rubber bullets, as the blood of innocents flows on the streets, the State continues to heap insults on the grave injuries of the people. In the version conjured up by the State (and, by and large, reflected faithfully by the mainstream media), the people of Kashmir who protest on the streets against the killing of their children in fake encounters and firing by security forces are all puppets of Pakistan.
In the rest of the country, even a Bharat Bandh called by Opposition parties sees buses burnt, vehicles and buildings stoned, public property destroyed by protestors. Participants in the Bandh are not branded ‘anti-national’, are they? In Kashmir, no such scenes are seen. What one sees instead is grieving and mourning people in the funerals of their young sons and daughters, pushed by tears and rage to demand action against trigger- happy forces. Yet even these protests are branded as a threat to the ‘nation’, and the CRPF is encouraged to wage a daily and bloody war on the people of Kashmir!
The latest is that even the media has been gagged in Kashmir! Why muzzle the media? The reason is quite clear. It has nothing to do with the situation in Kashmir; after all, the people of Kashmir do not need the newspapers or TV to know how many of their kids are killed. Rather, the media is being muzzled to bury the truth and prevent it from reaching the rest of the country. Most of the national media coverage has not been very sympathetic to the Kashmiri people; it has mostly peddled the ruling establishment’s line of ‘patient’ troops facing protests ‘instigated by terrorists and Pakistan.’ But even so, the very fact that the media has been forced to report on the daily killings of protestors on the streets is seen as a threat by the Governments. In a desperate attempt to prevent the rest of the world from getting to know of what is happening in Kashmir, and of its own role in brutally stifling democratic voices in Kashmir, the Indian state has enforced a virtual gag order in the valley. Mobile service providers have been told to block SMS services and news transmissions on various local TV channels have been ‘restricted’ – all as a result of official state policy to control the ‘law and order problem’ in the area. Can we imagine this happening in any other part of the country?
The popular mass protests are a remarkable new phenomenon in Kashmir. For decades, young people have been picked up and ‘disappeared’, killed in fake ‘encounters’, or buried in unnamed mass graves as ‘terrorists’. The image of the ‘Kashmiri’ in popular imagination fostered by the State was that of the ‘militant.’ When the Kashmiri people challenged this lie by coming out on the streets in thousands in mass protests, what has been the State’s response? The thousands of men, women and children out on the streets demanding justice and challenging the State’s version of every fake encounter, every Shopian-type rape and murder, has been branded as ‘agitational terrorism’ – to justify the killing of these protestors in daily, brutal, cold-blooded firing.
Some recent voices by intellectuals have recognised that the new phenomenon of protests in Kashmir is fuelled by a new generation of youth who have grown up in the shadow of repression. But their suggestions miss the point. One recent such article has suggested that the Government announce new schemes for ‘empowerment’ of Kashmiri youth. Well, the UPA Government might well accept such suggestions. But we must be clear – no sarkari scheme can end the alienation of Kashmiri youth. The alienation of Kashmiri youth cannot end till the security forces responsible for raping young women, for murdering youth in staged encounters and branding them as ‘terrorists’ in all the decades past are not brought to book; until the Kashmiri people truly enjoy the inalienable right to voice their political demands and shape their political future without fear; until the Army is withdrawn from the Valley and the AFSPA scrapped.
It is high time that we raise our voices in support of the protesting and struggling people of Kashmir, and against the Indian state policy in the area. The situation in Kashmir – with the gag order, the killings, the police firings and the crackdown on democratic protests – cannot be allowed to continue.