A 22 year old tourist from Tamil Nadu was killed and his mother and another relative injured when the car in which they were travelling came under a volley of stones hurled by protestors on the Srinagar-Gulmarg highway. The tragic incident has added to the toll of lives lost in the Valley averaging to a violent death a day since January 1 this year. Civilians and soldiers have taken the brunt with at least 60 being killed in the ongoing confrontation between the state and the people with about 74 militants —most of them fresh recruits—being shot dead by the security forces.
Protests have become a part of life in Kashmir today as have encounters and searches and arrests. Local residents try and stay indoors as much as possible particularly in the more affected areas and go out only for essential work. Of course, the government in a state of denial despite the high level of violence in the Valley continues to insist that the situation is normal and has been encouraging visitors and tourism. The family that has lost their young son was one such group, unaware of the spiralling tensions and the fact that protests in Kashmir are no longer benign in the wake of high velocity encounters and deaths.
These days the ‘action’ has shifted to Shopian that has been reporting a series of encounters with an unusually high level of deaths. Masses in Kashmir have been collecting within minutes notice to protest even as the security forces are locked in ‘encounters’ with the militants who are now more and more locals—such as the Kashmiri Professor who was killed a couple of days ago—who are picking up arms in the complete absence of a peace process. In this case where the young tourist was killed, the Hurriyat organised protest was against the killing of five Hizbul Mujahideen men in Shopian.
Kashmir, with increasing and now relentless military action has been turned into a war zone with the state government providing little more than a basic fig leaf in the name of democracy. The Indian Army is under instructions according to sources, to “complete the job” with the central government oblivious to suggestions from Opposition parties to begin a dialogue and take initial steps to restore peace. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has been reduced to the occasional statement and state Opposition leader Omar Abdullah to tweets. There is little presence of political representatives on the ground with all admitting to have gone indoors. As sources told The Citizen “there is no space for us any more. We have become totally redundant in this war between the military and the people.”
Death now stalks the Valley with the youth increasingly alienated. More so as the encounters are merciless with civilians not spared and houses where the militants take refuge brought down. Clampdowns have become frequent with Kashmir without internet facilities more often than not. Every new day brings fresh grief for either the Kashmiri local or the family of the soldier in another state. However, the BJP is adamant that there will be no reaching out, no dialogue and no peace even as the agenda of polarising the state along religious lines continues unabated.
The government is counting on international silence to continue with this policy in Kashmir. It has managed that with the US and the Western block as it were choosing to maintain complete silence on the issue. At the national level too the Opposition parties except for the odd statements have had little to say on Kashmir with the pleas for dialogue coming largely from civil society groups, including one led by former BJP Minister Yashwant Sinha. There is no pressure on Delhi to curtail the violence with Washington under Donald Trump noticeably disinterested in Kashmir that one of his predecessors had described as a ‘flashpoint.’
The government with Mehbooba Mufti providing able cover in Kashmir has been able to shift the discourse entirely from militarization, rights, justice to Pakistan, terrorism, separatism. Kashmiris are presented by an aggressive media as a block of separatists and extremists with little else to define the Valley. All avenues of dialogue have been closed, including even a so called mainstream over reach. There is relentless communalisation in Jammu and militarisation in Kashmir with facts blurring into fiction and vice versa. As a senior journalist from the Valley said, “today every young man is suspect, a militant to be flushed out, alive or dead.”
While this might still be a bit of an exaggeration there is this feeling of siege shared by the local Kashmiris with one young man saying “like we are hemmed in and have nowhere to go. No place to which we can turn, no one who will listen to us.” This he said creates a strong feeling of alienation and in areas like Shopian for instance where military action is currently intense, desperation. The youth that had heard of the 1990s decade of militancy now point out that they are experiencing it first hand, and reacting to it with the weight and trauma of their parents experience.
Kashmir that erupts in protests with constant military action is certainly no longer a tourist spot despite Mufti’s assertions. As the death of the young man now indicates, protests too have taken a new turn in the vicious circle that has been unleashed in the state by those who do not have the political wisdom for a dialogue, or a constitutional commitment to peace.