Kashmir: Centre must restore rights. But terror can’t be ignored
The government, on Monday, partly lifted the ban on mobile phones in Kashmir. This sparked the revival of instant communication, bringing forth both heartwarming and heartbreaking stories of how individuals, families, couples, reconnected with each other after 70 days. It also will pave the way for emergency communication, including reaching out to hospitals and ambulances. The same night, a terrorist killed a truck driver from Rajasthan in Shopian as he was loading apples (remember this is the apple-picking season in the Valley). Last month, terrorists had attacked the family of an apple trader; and in August, they had shot a shopkeeper who had opened his shop.
These incidents, in a way, sum up the precarious situation in Kashmir. This newspaper has consistently argued for the lifting of restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, the opening up of the internet, and the release of mainstream democratic leaders. These are essential to restart the process of political engagement in the Valley, end the difficulties of citizens residing there, and would also be in tune with India’s own democratic record and international image. The Centre must also allow peaceful protests for this is a democratic avenue of articulating grievances. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court asked the government to place on record the reasons for the shutdown and detentions. This, too, is a necessary corrective step.
But the other side of the Kashmir story merits equal attention. The fact is that the Valley has not seen normalcy not just because of the restrictions imposed by the State, but because of a strong terror apparatus which is in place in the Valley. Indeed, this apparatus is what has made the government cautious, for it recognises that instant flow of movement and communication could well result in a spurt in violence. The fact also is that that while elements of the “civil disobedience” in the Valley is voluntary, a key driver of the shutdown is the fear of militant reprisal. Citizens who want to send their children to school, who want to go to work, who want to open their shops, who want to trade, who want to engage in everyday social exchanges, who want to move freely are deeply frightened that this could invite wrath from separatists, backed by Pakistan, who want to project an appearance of repression by the Indian state and resistance by Kashmiris. There is a real policy dilemma the government is now grappling with. It needs to ease conditions of living and restore rights, but it must also ensure security and crack down, ruthlessly, on terrorists threatening lives of Kashmiris. It will have to strike this balance.