FOR the last two months, the people of Kashmir have lived as prisoners in a long night, trapped in a curfew without end. Seventy-one people have died in the ongoing turmoil; hundreds more have been hit by pellets in their eyes, leaving them at risk of losing their eyesight.
Thousands, both civilians and personnel of the government’s forces, have sustained injuries. Notwithstanding the debate about what percentage of the people supports the present turmoil in Kashmir and what percentage wants peaceful resolution of the issue, the fact that matters is this: The entire population is suffering; suffering horribly; suffering each day in unimaginable ways.
This suffering comes from two sources. On the one hand, the government imposes curfews and restrictions without abatement, in an effort to break the will of the protestors. On the other, the protestors seek to break these restrictions, and in their support, the secessionist leadership issues protest programmes, which include another form of curfew — strikes and shutdowns.
Life has come to a halt. Schools are closed and parents are helplessly thinking about the future of their children; shops and business establishments are closed and stocks of essentials have started drying up. Daily earners are the worst hit as, with every passing day, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to feed their families. Patients can’t reach hospitals and the needy can’t get any help.
For the common people, there is no respite — and this must compel us to ask questions.
Whatever claims the government might make, the situation on the ground makes clear it has failed to restore anything resembling normal life. There is chaos, despite the restrictions imposed by its forces. The strikes called by secessionist leaders have paralysed life throughout the Valley.
While both the state and Central governments have been issuing orders to the security forces enjoining maximum restraint, the daily toll of injury and death indicates that they react in panic whenever and wherever confronted by protesting mobs. The failure of government forces to avoid death and injury adds to the trouble, as every fresh killing triggers fresh protests. It is a vicious circle.
While the government is busy trying to establish its writ, and therefore has given its forces a free hand to harass and victimise the people, the secessionist leadership too is not lagging behind. By asking people to stop government employees from attending their jobs, the separatist leadership is trying to impose its own brand of curfew. In the fight between the government and the separatist leadership, the common people are losing everything — their dear ones; the education of their children; the economy; their peace of mind.
Neither of these — the government’s curfew and restrictions, or the protest programmes of the secessionist leadership — is new to Kashmir. We have seen them in 2008 and then again in 2010. During those protests too we lost the lives of our dear ones, our children were forced to remain out of school and our economy had got a severe beating.
What was the end result? Kashmiris achieved nothing, nothing at all.
Kashmiris may not have many expectations from the government regarding its ability to empathise with the pain of the people. But what about the secessionist leadership? Doesn’t this leadership claim to represent the sentiments of the common people? If this claim is true, why is the leadership not concerned about those who cannot feed their families unless they are allowed to move out and earn their living?
Why is the leadership not concerned about the children who can’t attend their schools and thus are inching towards a dark future?
These questions must be raised because nothing less than the future is at stake.
It is important to question the government as to why its forces have not been able to learn how to control agitated mobs without killing and maiming people. The government has been bringing more forces, even the Border Security Force, without understanding that the situation can’t be controlled by the armed forces alone. Instead, it needs serious political intervention. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hinted at this — but as the days drag on, we are yet to see any sign of it.
We must also ask questions of a section of society that seems to take pleasure in the sufferings of the common people. Having access to the internet, denied to the vast majority, they glamorise the stone pelting. They encourage the children of the poor to die while they themselves sit in safe office chambers and cosy drawing rooms. They urge other people’s children out on to the streets, while shielding themselves behind curfew passes. They must be asked: As they instigate kids to pelt stones on government forces through their columns, write-ups, Facebook and Twitter posts, where are their own children, and why are they not on the streets?
Are “resistance and resilience” meant only for the children of lesser mortals?
The separatist leadership too has to face questions. It is this leadership that has been telling people what to do and what not to do. It is because of their protest programmes, coupled with the government’s curfew and restrictions, that life in Kashmir has come to a standstill. They are not allowing the schools to open. They are not allowing people to open their shops and business establishments. They are not allowing government employees to attend to their duties. They did the same in 2008 and then in 2010 without achieving anything.
Now the people need to put them on notice. If the separatist leadership is convinced that their prolonged protest programme would finally resolve Kashmir issue, let it be. But if after all this death and destruction, the Kashmir situation remains what it is, they must be held accountable for the suffering.
They have declared the government as the enemy; no one will have any expectations from the “enemy”. But if they fail to get azadi, Kashmiris should at least be given the freedom to decide who are their enemies and who are not.