Polarised reactions to violence in Kashmir
-- By Balraj Puri
On June 19, 2006, Human Rights Council of the United Nations replaced the Commission on Human Rights with added responsibilities. India was elected to the Council by securing 173 out of 191 votes of the UN General Assembly — much larger than any other Asian country.
This confirms the fact that India's claim to maintain human rights record comparable to any advanced democratic country is widely recognised. But this claim faces a serious challenge in Kashmir from where allegations of human rights violations are being constantly received. There were protests including two calls for valley wide strike, separately by the two Hurriyat factions led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Omar Farooq respectively. The National Conference also staged a protest demonstration led by its president Umar Abdullah against increase in human rights violations. Nothing wrong in the National Conference decision, to align with a popular cause, for the first time. For human rights issue should not be a monopoly of separatist parties. A common refrain of all these protests was violations were taking place in spite of the Prime Minister's categorical assurance in Srinagar of zero tolerance of human rights violations.
What provided provocation to these protests was a series of incidents in which security forces were allegedly involved. Wullar boat tragedy, firing on protests over it, desecration of a mosque in Kupwara allegedly by the army and firing on protesters, killing of a youth in Pattan and firing on demonstrations who ransacked a police station, killing of two labourers in Kisthwar allegedly by the security forces, demonstration in Bandipore against killing of two civilians again allegedly in a security operation.
However what received wider notice in the rest of the country and somewhat ignored in the valley were another set of incidents in which militants were involved. These include killing of 35 Hindus in a day in Doda and Udhampur districts of Jammu, firing at youth Congress rally in Srinagar killing many participants, killing of eight Nepalese labourers, attack on tourists of which Bengali and Gujarati tourists were victims, kidnapping and killing of four civilians in Rafiabad, brutal number of a civilian whose throat was slit and chopping nose and other parts of the body of several others in Mahore and killings of several relatives of the mainstream parties and attack on Amarnath pilgrims and followers of a Darvesh, killing innocents in both cases.
Far more important than diplomatic efforts to pressurise Pakistan to stop cross border terrorism and measures to discipline the security forces is to create public opinion in the valley to disapprove every killing of an innocent civilian, for his religious or political beliefs, by whichever side.
There are several reasons for strong reactions against excesses of the security forces and in which militancy are involved. Firstly victims of the later type of excesses happen to be mostly outsiders or out of the valley or non-Muslims. Moreover while the version of excesses of the forces, in whatever form it is heard is readily believed, there is credibility gap about the official version and popular impression about the excesses of the militants. Thus Geelani openly accused the security forces for engineering killing of Hindus in Jammu region while other separatist leaders demanded enquiry by international agencies into these incidents. Another valid reason is fear of the militants. After all many prominent separatists leaders have been killed for their dissent with the role of the militants. Growing frustration at the stagnant peace process and alienation of the people are added reasons for different reactions for the two types of excesses.
Instead of dismissing these reasons, they must be answered and debated. It can be argued that Islam and Kashmiriyat are diminished if any innocent person is killed. Whatever be the reasons for growing alienation, the violence has proved counter-productive. Cause of Kashmir has lost much of international support which it did receive in early stage of militancy after it has acquired a tag of terrorism. The question of credibility also needs to be addressed. There is every case for removing restrictions on international human rights bodies to monitor the situation in the state. The Amnesty International has since long amended its charter to include inquiry into excesses of the militants, mainly due to efforts of the human rights activists of India. In its latest report, released in May last, for instance, it has slammed the Kashmiri militants for killing innocent people in the state. It has observed that while human rights violations by state agents had declined, violence by armed groups (militants) had not substantially reduced.
The word of organisations like Amnesty International would obviously carry far greater weight than propaganda of the government. Human rights violations and terrorism are not two different phenomena. Whenever an innocent person is killed, it is an act of terrorism. But a very artificial division is maintained between two types of excesses. Whenever charges of human rights violations are made, the government comes on the defensive and starts offering its explanation. The way daily reports released by the security forces casualties of civilian and armed forces are mixed up. A regular record needs to be maintained of the civilian casualties whether due to lapse of the security forces or by the action of the militants; so that sympathy or condemnation are commonly made