“We cannot allow the state brutality to which we are subjected each day snatch our humanity and values,” the Mirwaiz said, asking: “What will be the difference between them and us then?”
Wise words these. Mirwaiz spoke like an elder. He spoke with pain in his voice and with concern for his people: “Mob violence and public lynching are outside the parameters of our values and religion,” the leader asserted. We cannot doubt the sincerity of Mirwaiz’s anguish. It is good that there was no rationalisation of the lynching of Ayub Pandit, the police officer who was killed by the crowd of believers just outside the Nauhatta mosque in Srinagar, who were there to mark Shab-e-Qadr as part of the holy month of Ramzan.
There are different accounts of the tragedy. One version claims that Ayub was filming the people moving around the mosque and that made people angry; some say that the crowd lost its patience after he opened fire from his service revolver. But one cannot miss that the way he was beaten up, stripped, dragged on the road and later dumped in a drain, was savagery at its lowest.
The Mirwaiz and his friends need to go further, for the question remains before him, his colleagues and the people of Kashmir: Is it not time they took a pause and thought deeply about the method of their struggle?
Some may say that the death of a police officer should be not magnified to undermine the struggle which spans decades and has been largely peaceful. They are right. There is no one way in which the movement in Kashmir is conducted. There are some who have taken up arms to fight what they believe is the Indian occupation of Kashmir, but we know that they are not large in number. Outside them lies the larger part, which has been non-violent. It is also true that the Indian state seeks to promote the view that this movement is only a cover for Pakistan and the militants and that it is part of a so-called global terror network. That is how it justifies the use of the indefensible AFSPA. It seeks to portray every Kashmiri as a potential militant.
What the Indian state is doing is hardly surprising. This is how all governments deal with popular movements — constantly dubbing them troublemakers and outlaws out to destroy peace and tranquillity, which is only ensured by a tough state.
But what about movements that are driven by pious, democratic goals? Freedom is a sacred idea. When the lure of blood and violence starts replacing the calls for freedom, one needs to halt. The murder in a mosque, that too in a holy month, should make every Kashmiri pause and think about what the Mirwaiz is saying: Is the Kashmiri soul being brutalised?
Leaders need to have the courage to ask their people not to move in the wrong direction. This is what Gandhi did when his followers burnt a police station and killed policemen at Chauri Chaura. It was a small incident but he suspended the Non-Cooperation Movement, taking responsibility for the act of violence. His colleagues were aghast but for Gandhi, the method or means to achieve the goals was as crucial as the end.
Freedom cannot be vengeful. Protests in Kashmir are driven more and more with a will to embrace death. It also illustrates the hopelessness engulfing the movement.
There have been killings of security personnel even before. But not in this manner. One can only hope that the people of Kashmir retain their humanity and understand that violence is taking them over. Stone-pelting, when it becomes routine, robs protest of its meaning. If it is done to only mock and provoke the Indian state, it loses its force.
Violence has popular appeal. It has to be resisted consistently and constantly. Violence, in the name of a goal, however lofty, cannot be justified. For this very reason, Maxim Gorky accused Lenin of brutalising the Russians when they felt empowered by him to impart instant justice to class enemies. He witnessed the lynching of suspects at the hands of the proletariat and called it a criminal act. Revolution, if this is what it was, could not be accepted.
What Gorky, a writer, and Gandhi, a political leader, saw with clarity has to be revisited by all of us: Let us not be strategic towards the question of violence. There cannot be permissible degrees of violence. When violence starts looking spontaneous, as with the murder of Ayub Pandit, one must realise that there is a long practice and training of minds which has naturalised it. The murder of Pandit is a symptom of a larger malaise. Kashmiri leaders will have to talk to their people frankly like Gandhi did after Chauri Chaura. Gandhi wrote: “The tragedy of Chauri Chaura is really the index finger. It shows the way India may easily go if drastic precautions be not taken. If we are not to evolve non-violence out of violence, it is quite clear that we must hastily retrace our steps and re-establish an atmosphere of peace, re-arrange our programme and not think of starting mass civil disobedience until we are sure of peace being retained in spite of mass civil disobedience being started and in spite of Government provocation.”
One can only hope that the words of the Mirwaiz are heard in the Valley and the people of Kashmir bring back their humanity by, at the very least, standing in silence for the man who was killed by his own. That they gain strength to repent on the behalf of their brethren.