Tears and Teargas: The Funeral That Is Kashmir Today
SRINAGAR: The arresting image of a group of people desperately trying to hold up the bier of a 12-year-old Junaid Akhoon as they duck to a fog of tear gas shelling by police is emblematic of Kashmir’s pain.
The powerful picture that would easily make it to the front pages of international newspapers went viral on social media.
Indeed, the images from the valley just keep growing more savage, raising the bar on what can shock us out of our numbness. From the human losses to a grinding halt to daily life with schools shut and businesses closed, Kashmir is finding itself in a bind that no one is in a position to break.
The government and the separatists are fighting a war of wits and that too without proper application of mind. And in the meantime the body count rises.
Junaid was a young boy whose eyes spoke volumes of the spirit he had imbibed as a Kashmiri. His family refuted the official claim that he was part of a protest. Whether he was or not, the fact of the matter is that every Kashmiri is emotionally and psychologically part of a larger protest against the Indian state.
The level of the protest in Saidpora area of Srinagar downtown where he was killed was very low so the use of force in this fashion is unacceptable. If his family is to be believed, then Junaid’s was a target killing. He died from being hit by pellets, which have been used excessively since the July 8 uprising leading to thousands of injuries.
Scores of people have lost their eyesight. Much noise was made about this so-called non-lethal weapon and assurances were given that it would be banned. Like all other promises made to Kashmiris since 1947, this time too Delhi did not stick to its word.
Talking about these excesses has become difficult in today’s Kashmir. The space for it has been choked as is evident from human rights defender Khurram Parvez’s detention. If a human rights activist, whose ideology may be at variance with what the ruling perceives, is not allowed to work and is detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), it raises important questions about how democracy functions here
Junaid’s killing is a grim reminder about how the young children have fallen victim to the cycle of violence and how there is no road to justice. Surprisingly, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party has demanded a probe into his killing, perhaps prompted by the outrage over it.
Ironically, questions have been raised, particularly on social media, by those who see the Kashmir uprising as sponsored by and the handiwork of Pakistan and a handful of anti-India people.
Questions such as “What was a 12-year-old boy doing in a protest? Why did his parents allow him to go out?” need to be seen in the larger perspective of the political problem and not in isolation. When the situation has reached a point that even the government has lost control, how can these questions be dealt with in isolation?
Even if the separatist leadership has to answer certain questions about where Kashmir is heading, this does not absolve the forces of their crimes. Junaid’s is not the only case. There are many instances in which excessive use of force has led to the killing of civilians. The argument that they were forced to fire in self-defence as they came under attack by mobs does not absolve the government of its responsibility. A distinction has to be made between a government force, which is governed by a set of rules, and a mob.
A lack of accountability has been Kashmir’s chronic problem for the last 26 years. The forces have dealt with militancy with unbridled powers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the police too has gone scot free while committing human rights violations.
In 2010 when 120 civilians, mostly youth, were killed, not a single paramilitary or policeman was charged. A Commission of Inquiry failed to even complete the preliminary investigation. Had the government affixed responsibility for the excessive use of force in 2010 and punished those who failed to follow the SOPs, perhaps the situation would have been different this time.
The current government is going down the same path and not even admitting that the way the forces responded to the situation was not in line with SOPs. By maintaining silence, it has, in a way, thrown its weight behind those who have taken their job for granted.
Talking about these excesses has become difficult in today’s Kashmir. The space for it has been choked as is evident from human rights defender Khurram Parvez’s detention. If a human rights activist, whose ideology may be at variance with what the ruling perceives, is not allowed to work and is detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), it raises important questions about how democracy functions here.
The PSA has been declared a “lawless law” by Amnesty International. Khurram’s arrest was also seen as a warning shot to the rest of civil society to submit in silence. But this leaves no room for reconciliation then.
Renewed hostility between India and Pakistan might have pushed Kashmir’s current phase of despair into the background. But pictures such as the one of Junaid’s funeral being teargassed has shocked thousands and have again brought to the fore the disturbing situation in which an average Kashmiri is caught. The people not only need to be able to emerge from this uncertainty to chalk out a practical roadmap, they also need to be given justice for those who have fallen to bullets and pellets.
Junaid’s killing will continue to haunt those who used force as a sport. It is up to the government to see that the culprits are brought to book by holding an impartial inquiry so that more Junaids do not have to be sent to their graves.
Attacking a funeral like this only serves to send out the word that the state is even scared of the dead, not to talk of the living.
(The writer is the editor-in-chief of the Srinagar-based newspaper, Rising Kashmir)