To be in Kashmir Valley at any point of time is to be in a room filled with inflammable helium. Despite all the ‘invisible’ signs of normalcy that breaks out — which in this state can, at best of times, mean the absence of ‘abnormalcy’ — all it takes to start a fire here is a spark. Such a spark was struck on Sunday when a youth was killed, allegedly by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) opening fire against a procession in north Kashmir. Less than 24 hours later, two other Kashmiris died under similar circumstances, with some 60 people injured in the clash between protestors and the police. One key facet of Kashmir’s bushfires is how quickly politics becomes a fuel in the furnace. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has already asked New Delhi to ‘control’ the CRPF, a rather strange request considering that the force’s operational duties fall under the state’s purview. The CRPF, on its part, has denied that its personnel had fired live rounds of ammunition at the mobs who had attacked J&K policemen and paramilitary posts. The fact that Mr Abdullah is seeking out an easy scapegoat in the CRPF fails to hide his administration’s increasingly pellmell and unsuccessful approach to tackling what could very well be a resurgence in separatist activities. As a result, the only certainties we are left with are that three people, including a 10-year-old schoolboy, have died after being struck by bullets, and that the situation, instead of being brought under control, has further escalated.
One of the major crises afflicting the ‘management’ of riots in India is that it isn’t ‘managed’. The usual reaction has been that the hands of the security forces were forced and a ‘last resort’ option to contain mobs had to be taken. The photograph of a Kashmiri policeman lying on the ground and being thrashed by protestors may provide grist to this mill, but the fact remains: mob violence is countered by an asymmetrical counter-violence by government forces. This is not confined to Kashmir; we have seen this being played out time and again in other parts of the country as well. But to put it plainly: such an approach doesn’t work especially in Kashmir. If it did put a cap on the domino effect of mob violence followed by police-CRPF counter-violence followed by mob counter-counter-violence, it would still have been a firefighting strategy. Instead, what’s unleashed is the clichèd ‘spiral of violence’.
It’s bad enough to keep passing the buck from Srinagar to Delhi. But it’s far worse for people entrusted with the job of dousing a fire to actually fuel it. Proper riot-control skills must be imparted to our security forces. And the response can no longer be the standard ones: that we already have such skills in place and that ‘our men didn’t do it’. The bottomline is containment, even if it means not shooting people dead.