Dec 29, 2008

India - In the shadow of violence


Will the elections in J&K help deal with the crucial issue of human rights violations?

There have been unhealthy offshoots to the so-called ‘healthy’ ‘ voter turn-out in the election process in the Valley Talk to the average Kashmiri about why he/she voted in these elections and the answer: so that someone from his local area will look at the deteriorating civic conditions, be it bijli (electricity) or sadak (roads) or those huge garbage dumps. He’s aware that his elected representative will not be able to prevent arrests and detentions or searches. Core issues will still loom large.

The cry is not for azaadi this time but for lesser human rights violations, lesser use of military might and force... In fact, even on the eve of the recent Human Rights Day a 13-year-old girl was raped by security men in Kokernag in the Anantnag district. In another incident, four photojournalists were beaten up while covering a protest march during the fourth phase of elections in Sopore. This is not an isolated case. On December 19, the Kashmir Press Photographers Association decided to boycott all official functions organised by the CRPF and the state police in the valley to a protest against beating up of its members.

Amid a clampdown

Even apolitical Kashmiris point out that this very democratic process of elections was held amid a clampdown of any sign of a rebellious voice/move. Most rebel leaders were under house arrest and any vetoing voice sabotaged. In fact, during the first phase, there was an uproar over the arrest of lawyer-activist , Parvez Imroz. And massive protests were reported during the fifth phase, when security forces opened fire at protestors at Pulwama , killing one and injuring several. As the Valley-based activist Arjimand Hussain Talib comments, “The biggest problem of this electoral exercise in Kashmir is that it happens under certain laboratory conditions that bulldoze dissent and opposing political thought.”

And yet another factor looms large. The anger and disgust from this feeling of being “clamped down” could be released. Those curfew stretches and the brute power of the boot have definitely affected psyches and there are no forums for some sort of relief.

Communal virus

And it is this that will go a long way in alienating the average. Over the years, the gap has been widening and it peaked this summer when the Amarnath yatra land controversy was mishandled. In the last 20 years, there has not been such widespread anger as this summer.

As Ajit Bhattacharjea, the first Indian journalist to report from the Valley from 1947 commented, “In 1947 the Kashmiris stood by our troops resisting the invasion by Afghan raiders; today they are crying for azadi from India! Alienation has increased because of our repressive policies and mishandling of the situations.”

Academician and activist Gautam Navlakha points out that the anger was being compounded by the communal virus. The communal polarisation that the Amarnath Yatra controversy generated had not been seen earlier. Veteran journalist and chairman of Kashmir Times, Ved Bhasin, commented, “If this communal polarisation is not contained then it could spread and that in itself would be dangerous as the very unity of Jammu and Kashmir would be threatened.”

Other disturbing facts have also been noticed. Kashmiri children have been seen playing ‘war’ games, where they imitate army interrogation tactics.

Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF) surveys are dismal pointers to emotional disturbances directly or indirectly connected with the violence.

Kashmir’s leading psychiatrist Mushtaq Marghoobhad categorically states that the prevailing turbulence is affecting a large section of the Valley’s population. Many youngsters suffer from depression, hysteria, sleep walking and insomnia.

In recent years, young Kashmiris also face much suspicion when they venture out of the Valley. Hotels, hostels and landlords don’t want to rent out rooms to then; snide comments are thrown their way and of course the way the police treat Kashmiris.

Missing men

Another big issue is that of the missing young men. As New Delhi-based academic-activist, Uma Chakravarty, says, though the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) is waging what is perhaps the longest ongoing non-violent struggle, the results are yet to be seen.

The missing continue to remain missing. Uma and her colleagues, who formed a support group for APDP, had submitted a memorandum to the PMO but they haven’t got a reply either. About 8000 to 10,000 young men were picked up for interrogation by the various security agencies and never came back home nor have they been declared dead, officially.

Holding elections is crucial in a democracy, but, it’s equally crucial that we do not sabotage and throttle voices. And it’s time to stop pretending that all’s fine, by trying to sweep those realities under those dust-laden carpets.

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