An Advertisement and a Crocin Tablet Cannot Change the Reality of Kashmir
SRINAGAR: I rarely watch TV while in Kashmir. But once outside, I enjoy surfing channels sitting in my hotel rooms. And it was during this surfing business, a few days back in Delhi, I came across the new OLX India advertisement filmed in Kashmir.
It made me laugh hysterically.
The ad film makers seem to have no idea of Kashmiri-Army relations. Had this been made in the 1970'S or even early 1980's (though there were neither mobiles nor OLX then), it may have made some sense. But in Today’s Kashmir, it is just a good piece of comedy.
A submissive looking, phiran clad Kashmiri young boy (interestingly my namesake) is seen running towards a barbed wired Army camp to show his soldier friend the picture of his (soldier’s) newborn on his mobile phone that he upgraded utilizing OLX services just because the soldier, on duty, had expressed a wish to see his daughter.
The advertisement is completely in contrast to the ground reality. Reason: One, if a young, Pheran clad Kashmiri boy, spotting a trimmed beard is seen running towards an Army camp, he will be shot at. That is the reality of today’s Kashmir.
Two, there are no friendships between Kashmiris and Army personnel. Yes, there could be an occasional hello, hi between some people living nearer Army installations but not the kind of relation that the advertisement tries to show. No Bashir will upgrade his phone and run all the way to an Army camp, risking his life, to fulfil Rajesh’s wish of seeing his newborn’s photograph.
The relations between the Army and general Kashmiri population are strained ones. While combating militancy, Army has been in direct confrontation with the masses. While Army suspects every Kashmiri to be a militant, sympathiser, sleeper cell etc., Kashmiris look at Army personnel as foes not friends.
Of late, the Army under Operation Sadhbavna has tried to bridge the gap with the public with a clichéd slogan – Jawan Aur Awam, Aman Hai Muqam – the reconciliation still looks like a distant dream. Whether New Delhi admits it or not, the Army doesn’t have any better human rights record in Kashmir than CRPF, BSF and police.
It reminds me of a seminar held at Baramullah a few years back by the Army. I was among the speakers supposed to talk about how Army-public relations could be bettered, with the focus on Operation Sadbhavna.
I raised one question – ‘during the night, hunting for militants, you (Army) conduct search operations, beat and humiliate the people of some village and during the day you distribute Crocin tablets, cricket kits, medicine for cattle among the same populace. How can a Crocin tablet can be compensation for humiliation?”
I still remember that I had suggest that if Army commanders, instead of spending money under Sadbhavna, would teach their troopers to smile at Kashmiris and treat them as equal human beings, things may start changing.
The wounded psyche of Kashmiris need more than Sadbhavna like operations. It is not easy to erase the memories of Kunan Poshpora mass rape, scores of fake encounter killings, extra judicial killings, tortures and humiliations that Kashmiris have suffered at the hands of Army.
Bashir may take every risk to show Rajesh his newborn’s picture but that will take ages and only if Bashir is convinced that Rajesh admits his crimes and tenders an apology. Even then, Bashir may forgive Rajesh but he may not be able to forget what Rajesh did to him.
Before eighties, there were, if not friendly, but cordial relations between Army and civilian population. Palhalan, an area in north Kashmir’s Baramullah district, used to have huge Army camps in the vicinity. Army and civilian population had very good relationship. There was a common joke – if a Palhalan lady wants to milk her cow, she will always find an Army walla to take care of the calf.
Palhalan is the most volatile area of Kashmir today and the Army wouldn’t dare to enter the village without war like preparations.