PUCL Bulletin, September 2001

Extra powers to armed forces will lead to misuse
-- By Balraj Puri

Extension of Disturbed Area Act - which gives extra powers to the security forces - to the whole of Jammu region was a quick fix response of the government to the series of killings of innocent civilians in the region, two massacres in Doda district and one at the Jammu city Railway station within a fortnight.

It is certainly too grave a matter which shook the faith of the people of the region in the capacity of the government - state and central - as also of its forces in providing security to common people. But are special powers to the forces an appropriate and adequate response?
There is no indication that India raised the question of killing of innocents at the Agra summit. Though it is a consequence of cross border terrorism that did figure at Agra, it is independent of it. To link the two is to dilute the severity of the barbaric crime.

Further, whatever explanation Pakistan might give for linking cross border terrorism with the unresolved Kashmir problem - it could all it an indigenous phenomenon of freedom fighters - but how are the innocent civilians responsible for creating the problem or are an impediments in its solution? The issue of their killings, isolated from Kashmir problem and cross border terrorism, has not been sufficiently highlighted at diplomatic level, bilaterally with Pakistan or at international fora.

As far dealing with the terrorists, indigenous or outsiders, the Prime Minister, in reply to the debate on the summit in Parliament, expressed India's determination, stamina and capability of doing so. For that security forces do not require any special powers. But when the terrorists choose soft target and attack innocent civilians, forces alone, whatever their powers, cannot ensure safety of every individual in every place; particularly in the hilly areas of Jammu where households are scattered over distant hillocks. Cooperation of civil administration, political leadership, and civil society is indispensable for this talk. For they know local people and their possible links with troublemakers far better than the outside forces.

It is the paralysis of politics, administration, and civil society in Jammu region that created a favourable atmosphere for the operations of the new brand of militants in Jammu region. The character, composition, and objectives of the militancy are different than they were in Kashmir valley. There is an indigenous element among the militants in the valley. Moreover, the valley is by now a unireligious society. The non-Muslim population there in any case was nominal i.e. barely 5%. In Jammu region, where Muslims constitute over 30% and constitute majority in three out of six districts, mass killings of Hindus that started in 1998, were, inter alia, aimed at creating a gulf between Hindus and Muslims. This would help them in dividing the state on religious basis and consolidation of Muslim parts of it. A possible Hindu backlash could drive Muslims of the region closer to the militants and provide them fresh recruits.
Their task was made easier by the political process that was in operation meanwhile.

The demand of the state government to enlarge the autonomy of the state in early 1999 to the level that existed in 1953, after scuttling the report on regional autonomy that I had submitted as head of the officially appointed Regional Autonomy Committee, created an uproar in Jammu.
For demand for more powers by the government and refusal to share them with the Jammu region was perceived as increased domination of Kashmiri leadership over the region. The anti-Kashmiri sentiments reached a new pitch.
The government met this challenge by proposing division of Jammu region along religious basis; to project itself as a savior of Muslim majority districts of Doda, Rajouri, and Poonchh against domination of Hindus. In a bid to retain its hold on Hindus of the region, the BJP played the role of a belligerent opposition, casting aspersions on the patriotism of Farooq Abdullah and his government. In this surcharged atmosphere, the civil administration, too got demoralised and in some respects paralysed.

The real problem in Jammu is to break the vicious circle of communal political polarisation and communal killings. It is a political problem. Measures for satisfaction of regional aspirations and restoration of communal harmony are the answer to it. Some amount of autonomy to the region - as was initially promised by Nehru and Abdullah in July 1952 - and further devolution of power at district, block and Panchayat levels can go a long way in reconciling urges and interests of all communities and parts of the region, strengthening its secular identity and restoring its cordial relations with Kashmir region.
Empowerment of the forces is no substitute for empowerment of the people. The forces are being empowered to fill in the vacuum created by the decline of politics and civil administration for which they are not meant. The additional burden that would thus be put on them will handicap them in performing their main task of fighting the enemy. The task of political and administrative toning up may also become difficult if it is to be partly shared by the army.

The immediate impact of the extension of the Disturbed Area Act to Jammu was demoralisation among the Muslim community which felt that the army might misuse its special powers against its members, on suspicion or false complaints, as they would be ignorant about local situation. Fortunately it did not take long for the Hindu community to be disillusioned by the new measure of the government. For the tag of disturbed area has started telling upon tourism, trade and economy of the region without any let up in the militant violence. Already the daily rush of pilgrims to the Vaishno Devi - the mainstay of Jammu's economy - has perceptibly declined. But there is no leadership or a party which can mobilise the disillusionment of both the communities into a common secular force to fight for the common rights.

We should have learnt from experience in Kashmir where excessive use or misuse of force under the Disturbed Area Act in the initially period of militancy turned it into mass insurgency, alienated the people and attracted adverse international notice.

However, militancy in Jammu is not merely a spill over of that in Kashmir. While learning from experience in Kashmir, Jammu's special topographical and demographic features have also to be taken into. Small hamlets may have to be regrouped, keeping in view economic interests of the affected people. Village Defence Committees must comprise, as far as possible, mixed population and assisted by well equipped - with arms and communication system - police or security personnel Above all, the problem has to be viewed in the context of over all Jammu problem which is not merely an extension of Kashmir problem; nor is Jammu merely an appendage of Kashmir region. In a way, origin of Kashmir problem could be traced to the unresolved and unattended Jammu problem. For the discontent in Jammu and consequent regional tensions forced the regional aspirations of Jammu and Kashmir into divergent directions; as the former looked to Delhi and the latter across the LoC for support.

Unless the aspirations and interests of the regions are reconciled, the state would never acquire a stable and satisfactory status.

If the recent violent incidents in Jammu creates some wider interest in understanding its problems perhaps sacrifices of the innocent lives would not be entirely in vain.

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