The alleged molestation of a schoolgirl by army personnel in north Kashmir’s Handwara town has triggered off a cycle of violence in police and army firing on protesters. While there are conflicting reports about the alleged molestation of the girl – the army and the police have released a video of the girl in which she denies molestation by the army – the situation is out of control after the police and army fired bullets on the protesters.
The alleged molestation of the schoolgirl is under investigation – separate investigations have already been ordered by the army and the civil administration – but the role of the police and the army in dealing with the protests that followed is not only questionable but also irresponsible, given the pent up anger in the Valley.
The police and army will find it difficult to avoid responsibility for allegedly killing four civilians including a woman.
Over the last two decades while being at the forefront of anti-militancy operations in the valley, the J&K police have only been trained to deal with gun-wielding militants. The force is neither optimally trained nor equipped to deal with civilian protests. In the past decade, the government’s failures to fix responsibility for the killings of civilians allegedly in police firing have made the police believe that they are above the law.
Similarly, the army is not trained to deal with such situations and they often fail to differentiate between acting against armed militants and unarmed civilian protesters.
While the army and the civil administration is out to firefight and douse the flames, it is not an easy job for them given the underlying anger in the Kashmir Valley.
The anger, fueled by the civilian deaths, is the first major challenge for the Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP government that is already facing unpopularity in the Valley. The deaths are also the first major challenge for the BJP’s face in the Valley, Sajad Lone, as he represents the constituency in the state assembly.
The allegations and the subsequent killings point to the fragility of peace in the Valley. The situation, if not handled properly, could explode and create a situation like that of 2008 or 2010 where thousands of angry people took to the streets after frequent police firings.