The release of the first-ever UN report on the human rights situation in Kashmir, followed by the assassination of senior Kashmiri journalist and peace activist Shujaat Bukhari has jolted India and the world. Since then, the BJP has withdrawn support from the PDP leading to the fall of the BJP-PDP Government in Kashmir and ushering in Governor’s Rule. Our editorial this month comments on BJP’s attempts to wash its hands of any responsibility for the deterioration in the situation in Kashmir – marked by a spate of atrocities and killings of civilians by state forces; the assassination of a journalist; all-out protests by Kashmiri people including youth, women, and schoolgirls against the presence and actions of Indian forces in civilian areas; killings of civilians and off-duty or on-leave police personnel or soldiers by militants; and a non-stop campaign of Islamophobic prejudice and abuse by national media channels against Kashmiri people.
As the 2019 elections approach and with Kashmir under Governor’s Rule, there is apprehension that the BJP may use its “free hand” to escalate the violence in Kashmir even further, using the Kashmir situation to whip up a frenzy and panic all over the country for votes.
The TV channels covering Kashmir do not help us to gain any historical or political perspective on the conflict: they simply portray stone-pelting youth as well as militants as Pakistan-instigated terrorists.
For some perspective, it is enough to recall the Thoothukudi massacre where police used sniper guns to target and kill civilian protesters, claiming protesters had indulged in violence against police vehicles. Since then, we have seen videos of women in Thoothukudi saying they want police out of Thoothukudi: the police, far from keeping them safe, are making them unsafe, they said.
In Kashmir there have been innumerable massacres of civilians on a scale far larger than the Thoothukudi massacre. 13 people were killed at Thoothukudi – take just the following three instances and ask yourself how many Thoothukudis have happened in Kashmir:
- In 2010, 112 Kashmiri civilians were killed over four months when CRPF and police fired at civilian protests, and even at funeral processions for the protesters who had been killed, across the Kashmir Valley.
- Between July 2016 and March 2018, 130-145 Kashmiri civilians protesting on the streets have been killed, 1,178 received pellets in their eyes (52 of them were blinded, 300 including 150 minors partially lost vision). This was nothing short of a mass blinding – perhaps the first mass blinding the world has witnessed.
- Thousands of Kashmiri youth have ‘disappeared’ after being taken into custody by Indian forces. On 24 October 2017, the Kashmir State Human Rights Commission admitted the existence of 2,080 unmarked graves in Poonch and Rajouri districts. In 2011, the SHRC had conducted investigations into mass graves in Northern Kashmir, and had identified 574 out of 2156 bodies.
If the people of Thoothukudi are not “terrorists” for feeling rage and demanding justice, why are the TV channels telling us that the people of Kashmir are terrorists for expressing their rage and anger at the armed forces which have killed so many civilians, stationed outside their homes, their mosques, their towns?
Now, the Government of India is deploying NSG Commandos armed with sniper guns in Kashmir in the name of counter-terror operations. NSG commandos are trained to take only shots to the head (and many of them are trained in Israel) – think about that when you read Shujaat Bukhari’s piece below on Indian forces’ operations against militants. NSG commandos are trained for situations like the Mumbai terror attack – not for the Kashmir-type operations, where the militants (who are not at that moment holding anyone hostage or threatening civilian lives) are identified and surrounded in a planned way, and which tend to take place in places thick with civilian population that are protesting against the operation. Basically it will mean that the NSG commandos will be using sniper guns against civilians and militants alike, shooting them in the head. Our TV channels will celebrate and normalise what we easily recognised as abnormal and shocking in Thoothukudi.
For all Indians, the UN report on Kashmir and the murder of Shujaat Bukhari should serve as a wake-up call. We need to switch off the TV coverage on Kashmir, and start making our own efforts to sift the facts from the lies. We need to say ‘Not In Our Name’ to the violence being unleashed against civilians by India’s armed forces.
Towards this effort, Liberation will, in this feature, begin with a tribute to Shujaat Bukhari and a recent article by him. We then have an article by Kavita Krishnan analysing the reaction of the Indian Government and media to the UN report. We also carry the recommendations made by the UN report to the Governments of India and Pakistan and the UN Human Rights Council. We encourage readers to organise readings and discussions of this material wherever they can – among friends, neighbours, comrades – so that we can, in spite of the media noise and the hate-mongers, try and create space for a sane approach to the Kashmir dispute.