The Indian State’s actions in Kashmir since the killing of militant Burhan Wani on July 8 have been worrying to say the least. The terrorist attack in Nice and the dramatic events in Turkey took the attention away from the crisis over the weekend – and notwithstanding the debate in Parliament the Valley is still experiencing a severe State crackdown, the kind we do not expect to see in a media-saturated age. The residents of the Valley have been living under curfew for the last 12 days. At least 44 people have died in shooting by security forces, around 2,115 injured and many, including children, have been blinded by pellets. In any other country these figures would constitute a national emergency that would prompt urgent measures to defuse the situation.
The Centre is still searching for the way forward. There is, to make matters worse, a palpable sense of policy confusion. Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said he would look into the issue of excessive force but it is not clear how such heavy-handed measures were deployed in the first place, particularly since security forces have had a lot of prior experience of facing stone-pelting protesters. Who is taking which decision is not clear. A case in point is the three-day gag on the media — it has been lifted now — where cable TV was shut down and newspaper offices in Kashmir were raided, printing press staff were beaten up and detained, journalists intimidated and copies of dailies seized. Senior minister Naeem Akhtar indicated that the media ban was “an undesirable step …taken to ensure peace”, while others maintain that chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had not approved the ban. The disruption of phone and internet services across Kashmir suggests that the Centre and state governments are still wary of protests and more revelations about the violence last week. The tense standoff looks set to continue. Separatists have called for a three-day shutdown and no political formation seems able to approach and engage the youth let alone placate their anger.
The Centre’s messaging needs to improve for the situation to improve. Home minister Singh said he understood Kashmir’s pain and mentioned the Centre’s relief measures like rushing in eye doctors, but the thrust of his speech was on Pakistan’s machinations rather than candidly reflecting on the mistakes made so far, particularly in recent days. No one disputes Pakistan violently meddles in Kashmir, but the failure to recognise and admit that excessive force against civilians has resulted in the situation at hand is to be oblivious to the source of anger in the Valley and potentially block off avenues for forward movement. No political initiative to pacify Kashmir, including all party meetings, will succeed unless there is a measure of accountability for what has happened.