The numbers convey their own story about the tragedy unfolding in Kashmir. At least 30 civilians have been shot dead by security forces and over 1,400 others injured in clashes after the killing of the popular militant Burhan Wani. Many civilians have been shot by live ammunition and the use of ‘non-lethal’ pellets has been devastating. Nearly a hundred eye-surgeries have been performed – most victims will be blinded for life. The Valley is seething and the authorities, unsure what to expect, have imposed strict curfew conditions.
The Centre is persisting with its firm approach to the unrest. Minister of state for home Jitendra Singh conveyed the Prime Minister’s appeal for “calm and peace” after a high level meeting on Tuesday but the government’s messaging has had a pronounced stern tenor. Union minister Venkaiah Naidu said “Kashmir issue has been there for long” but reiterated terrorism will not be tolerated — the Centre is effectively basing its narrative on the necessity to eliminate Wani, rather than focusing on the bloody aftermath. This approach will find a measure of support among middle classes in other parts of India but will do little to pacify Kashmir which is coping with grief in recent days. The road ahead remains unclear. There is a view in Delhi that this situation, like the crises during 2008-10, will pass; that the Kashmiris will get exhausted with prolonged curfews and resume their everyday lives — and that all the security forces need to do is enforce calm for an extended period.
The government should not be framing policy based on such cynical calculations. There are at least two outcomes to be mindful of. There is a new generation of angry Kashmiris who were born after 1990 who have lived their lives in a heavily militarised environment and are deeply alienated by New Delhi’s policies and security practices. Few can anticipate what fatalism at scale can do to the political stability of societies over time. Two, the authority of the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government is being irreparably weakened each day. The chief minister and her party leaders have been holed up in their homes, nonplussed and unable to face or reassure their constituents. With the state government seen as the hapless instrument of the Centre, the State has hardly any option to reach out to Kashmiris, particularly since all palliatives like probes and inquiries have been tried before, in vain. The nub of the current crisis lies in the use of excessive force by security forces. Right now the biggest priority is to ensure there are no further casualties. How we handle protests is also intimately linked to the kind of democracy we want to be.