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The Valley, under siege

There are cases of missing young men — approximately 6,000 to 8,000, though some estimates put the number higher, writes Humra Quraishi.

india Updated: Apr 14, 2007 23:58 IST

If only one were to travel to the Kashmir Valley and see the actual havoc being wreaked on the human front, there would be some sort of realisation that there ought to be demilitarisation. You can reach out to people through the dialogue process and through some ‘bettering’ measures — but not through the brute power of the boot. One of the biggest embarrassments faced by the Army in the Valley has been frequent reports of ‘fake encounters’, and fake killings and even that of fake surrenders. In April 2006, there was a news story that five senior Army officers, including a brigadier, were held responsible for the abduction and killing of innocent Kashmiris in the Pathribal encounter in Anantnag in March 2000. This year, in the first week of February, more killings were reported. At least three separate Indian Army units in J&K participated in a series of cold-blooded murders of innocent civilians organised by a group of police officers in Ganderbal, near Srinagar.

Then, there have been reported rapes and molestation. One of the most gruesome cases was the rape of a mother and daughter in November 2004 by an Army major in Handwara. There was so much public outcry that action was taken against the officer, a major rank Army officer of 30 Rashtriya Rifles. The Army ordered his court martial. Here, it is important to mention that one should not overlook the special Acts in force in J&K. If ordinary women are raped by security personnel, even a body like the National Human Rights Commission will find it difficult to investigate directly.

Though the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 confers the power upon the Commission to inquire into and investigate allegations of violations of human rights by civil authorities, according to Section 19 of the Act — that pertains to complaints of violations by members of the armed forces — the Commission can only seek a report from the central government and make recommendations on its basis. No, it can’t act directly.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on September 12, 2006, at Srinagar by HRW Asia Director Brad Adams has been strongly critical of the human rights abuses committed by the security forces.

Ironic it may sound, but last year, around February 2006, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was holding the first roundtable meet in New Delhi with senior leaders of the state, there was one incident over which the entire Valley erupted. Four young boys (including a nine-year-old) were killed by security forces in Doodipora village in the Handwara sector. Jawans of the dreaded Rashtriya Rifles (RR 33 Bn) opened indiscriminate firing on these young boys — who were playing cricket.

There are also long lasting imprints on young psyches. Children punch each other claiming that they were imitating “Army interrogation”! Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF) recent survey shows that the number of patients with mental ailments is increasing. The observations come following a survey — ‘Kashmir Violence and Health’ — conducted by MSF as recently as late 2005. The survey is the first-ever assessment by an international organisation on violence and the psychological and general health status of the Kashmiri population. Javed Iqbal Choudhary, head of the paediatric department of the government medical college in Srinagar, has been quoted as saying: “Among the 800 to 1,000 child patients we treat daily, 5 to 10 per cent suffer from depression, especially reactive depression, hysteria, night terror somnambulism or sleepwalking and insomnia.”

Mind you, as the angry locals point out, these are just a few reported cases; according to them, most such cases go unreported. Another complaint of the locals is that innocents are being killed after being labelled ‘militants’. Since it’s a well-known factor that there’s little transparency and lack of follow-up, many such cases just die down — in every sense of the term.

There are cases of missing young men — approximately 6,000 to 8,000, though some estimates put the number higher; most of these were taken for interrogation by various security agencies but probably they couldn’t take the strain of those deadly interrogation methods. They are probably dead but not so officially, so their women wait around as half-widows, their children as hapless orphans. Apathy at the government level can be judged from the fact that though, in November 2005, New Delhi-based activist Uma Chakravarty formed a support group for the Srinagar-based APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons) and went to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), she and her group members have, to date, not even received a reply from that office. “We didn’t even receive a reply from the PMO. Now we might ask for a Commission of Inquiry to be set up to find out what has happened to the so many missing young men of the Valley; it’s been officially acknowledged on the floor of the state Assembly that there are 3,941 missing in the state, though the APDP places the numbers to anywhere around 8,000 or even more,” says Chakravarty.

Incidentally, an earlier report of the European Union Parliamentarians team, that visited the Valley in the summer of 2004, says: “With approximately one soldier to every 10 civilians in J&K, the huge military presence is never far away.”

At times, the people of the Valley, when told that there are so-called positives (in the form of tourism going up), brush off such claims saying that these aspects do not matter. It’s safety and dignity they yearn for. Srinagar’s well-known theatre person Ameen Bhat recounted: “You’re made to feel unnerved and humiliated even the way your vehicle is checked and re-checked.” In fact, recent news reports state that Ameen Bhat’s younger brother was gunned down by security forces in a case of ‘mistaken identity’.

The situation in the Valley was best summed up in the words of Aroosa Dijoo, a young Kashmiri researcher whom I’d met in Srinagar in the autumn of 2005: “What you see around is like a woman with make-up on, when it’s removed the reality would stare.”

Does the establishment realise what damage these rounds of killings of innocents and humiliating searches can do? What affect this will have on psyches? Can the military with all its might ever win over hearts? Military is trained to fight the enemy, and not it’s own countrymen!

(Humra Quraishi is an author and a freelance journalist. Her last book was Kashmir: The Untold Story. She is reacting to Jagmohan’s Guest Column ‘The Valley cannot do without army’, which appeared on this page on April 1. The views expressed are personal)