On Friday morning, I woke to some extremely disturbing footage: it showed a young Kashmiri man, later identified as Farooq Ahmed Dar, being strapped to an army vehicle in Beerwah, J&K. According to some recent reports, the jeep drove through around nine villages and more than 30-40km while the soldiers aboard announced, "Those who pelt stones, will meet the same fate." This footage only reflects how hostile the situation has become in the Valley. Both the Modi-led central government and the Mufti-led state government (which is allied with the BJP) seem to have turned myopic. The government doesn't appear to have any roadmap to address the crisis. If oppression is their supreme policy, then we're headed for a really tough time ahead.
If kangaroo justice is what we want, then with what moral authority can we claim to be a democracy?
During the investigation, Dar revealed that he went to cast his vote and was returning to his sister's house to offer condolences as a death had taken place. It was then that he was picked up by a troop of the 33 Rashtriya Riffles and strapped to an army jeep. In a heart-wrenching interview to the Indian Express, Dar said:
"I am not a stone-pelter. Never in my life have I thrown stones. I work as an embroiderer of shawls, and I know some carpentry. This is what I do." He added, "On the way, soldiers were shouting to people, 'come throw stones at one of your own.' People were running away. They were scared. I was told not to utter a word to anyone or they would shoot me."
According to a Firstpost report, he also revealed:
"The armed force personnel were beating some women at Utli Gam. They caught hold of me and tied me to the jeep before dragging me to the camp at Arizal where I was severely beaten up before I was handed over to the family members. I received injuries to my arm as well as face."
Such actions are not only immoral and unethical but also illegal and a gross violation of human rights. The Fourth Geneva Convention to which India is a signatory, Additional Protocol 1 and the Rome Statute which set up the International Criminal Court all prohibit human shields in armed conflicts, and consider their use a war crime. Being the custodians of law, the armed forces are expected to upheld it and not violate it in this manner. If kangaroo justice is what we want, then with what moral authority can we claim to be a democracy?
A state's moral authority to govern solely rests on it following the rule of law and when it doesn't, it indirectly legitimises mobocracy and anarchy. The government and the armed forces cannot abdicate their responsibility to engage in legal conduct irrespective of the situation. The ruling BJP-PDP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir has shown an extremely callous attitude. Not surprisingly, some senior officials are of the divine opinion that maintaining the status quo is a weapon to defeat separatism. Politics has now become a reality show with certain television studios and senior commentators playing cheerleaders. Years of hard work have been systematically destroyed to echo a nationalistic rhetoric that seems to be serving no purpose.
With no clear policy by the Union government and the state government acting more like a helpless grandmother than a responsible parent, the prospect of normalcy seems far.
Sample this. The palpable discontent and anger on the ground can be estimated by the sharp decline in voter turnout. In the 2002 assembly election, which was touted as the first "free and fair" elections, there was a voter turnout of just 43.70%. But in the subsequent years, it saw a steady increase with voter turnout recorded as high as 61.60% in 2008 and 65.52% in 2014. It was a remarkable achievement for the Valley—especially in areas such as Srinagar and southern Kashmir that have been hotbeds of militancy. Fast forward to the 2017 Srinagar bypolls which not only witnessed a historic low of 7.1% voter turnout, but was also marred by extreme violence where eight civilians lost their lives. Refusal of participation in elections, of course, is a clear indication of discontent amongst the electorate.
What we need to understand is that hatred will breed more hatred. Moves such as using human shields might draw some applause from the jingoists and "ultra-nationalists" among us, but can be extremely counter-productive in the longer run. It reflects poorly on our armed forces and makes us a laughing stock in the international community. Especially when we're often known to take the moral high ground and criticise others' improprieties. In 2014, addressing an election rally in Vijaypur, the Prime Minister had said, "You have exercised the right of franchise and shown faith in democracy. Those people who were suppressing you with bullets, you have defeated the bullets by use of ballots." If that was the case, then what does it tell us about the current situation? Clearly, the cracking of bullets has silenced the cheer of the ballot.
The environment in the Kashmir Valley has turned extremely hostile in recent times. With no clear policy in place by the Union government and the state government acting more like a helpless grandmother than a responsible parent, the prospect of normalcy seems far. In such a scenario, incidents such as the using of a citizen as a human shield can only worsen matters. What is more worrisome is the support that this action has received from sections of the mainstream media and population. While they see it as setting an example, to the international community it has become a symbol of oppression in a conflict zone. This will result in further alienation of the Kashmiris from the rest of India. It's time for us to reach out to them, initiate a dialogue at a grassroots level and make them feel a part of us. It's time we embrace and promote the true essence of Kashmiriyat.