(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Justice for Kashmir
“HAMARA khoon, hamare bacche, hamari zindagi sab saste hain” (our blood, our children, our lives have all become cheap)—as mothers, wives, sisters and as citizens, women in the Kashmir valley expressed their anger, their protest and their sorrow thus, at a three day meeting in Srinagar organised by the central government’s interlocutors in Srinagar. The formal conference held on March 12-13 at the welcome initiative of Radha Kumar, member of the interlocutor’s team was attended by women from all the three regions, Jammu, the Valley and Ladakh. The purpose was to hear the experience and perspective of women and the solutions they offered as part of the discussion being held by the interlocutors with different sections of the people of the state. I attended as part of a group of four women MPs.
On the previous day, on March 11, a meeting was organised with the families of those who had been killed in the firings in the summer of 2010. As is known 117 young people, some of them children many of them teenagers, had been shot dead while hundreds more had been injured in the brutal actions of the security forces – whether by the JK police or the central forces. About 50 persons from the affected families attended the meeting and spoke of the circumstances in which their children were killed. The details were horrifying and showed the total lack of sensitivity on behalf of the central and the state government to deal with the mass protests by unarmed teenagers, indeed many of the actions by the security forces were criminal. Instead of dealing with the issues giving rise to spontaneous street anger, the state and the central government used repressive measures, including the use of draconian legal provisions to imprison young people, among them minors.
The speakers at the meeting poured out their grief, some with tears, some with anger, some expressionless as though the burden of their sorrow consumed all their energy, except to just survive. Among them:
“Ishrat and her three sisters from Badgam: My mother Rafika was killed by a bullet which flew through our window—she died before our eyes, we could do nothing to save her.
Rehana from Baramulla: Our child Asif, just ten years old was studying in Class 5. What was his crime? Was he carrying an AK-47? But he was shot by CRPF, we were not allowed to take him to hospital, he died without help.
Faiyaz Ahmed: My wife was too ill to come here. We lost our child Sameer, eight years old. He had taken two rupees from me to buy a toffee. While crossing the road he was brutally beaten and died.
Sister of Fancy Jaan: Fancy Jaan, 26 year old young woman, her beautiful photograph shown by her sister was shot dead in her own home in Batmalu, Srinagar when she went to the window of her home to draw the curtains.
Md Khan: My nephew, Muzaffar Ahmed Butt, just 17 years old, playing cricket with his friends, they hit him on the head with rifles and then hid his body.
Jahanara, mother of Aamir Kabir, a young man sitting by her side, blinded in both eyes by a deliberately aimed shower of pellets shot by the police when he had gone to get medicine for his ailing father. “He is a Class 12 very bright student. If they had killed him I would have suffered once. Now seeing his pain I suffer every minute, every second.”
There were many more such stories, including those of injured persons. These stories and others related by the families found resonance in the conference the next day. The voices of women from different sections of society, including some government officers, reflected the same feelings: Could this have happened in any other part of the country, and not even a constable been punished? This was the question asked repeatedly by the women.
A year after the terrible and tragic events, the wounds inflicted by a callous government fester precisely because not a single person in the police, the paramilitary forces or the administration has been punished or held accountable in any way. After strong protests, the state government had set up an inquiry committee that has only bought time, but has not taken any action. The families have tried to file FIRs against the killings of their children, in an effort to legally record the circumstances of their deaths. However, it is reported that out of 117 cases (some put the figure at 112), only 39 FIRs have been filed. It is for this reason that the demand for an impartial time-bound inquiry as well as immediate action in cases where there is prima facie evidence against specific personnel has been made by the CPI(M) and many others. However, far from accepting this demand, the government is reportedly threatening as well as arresting young people. In some police stations, photographs of the young men participating in demonstrations last year are routinely used to pick up the boys and insist on their frequent attendance in the thanas. This is leading to further resentment and anger. Even today, there are still many young “stone-pelters” languishing in the jails. As is known, minors had been arrested and locked up in jails even though this is totally illegal. Apparently the government answer was that Kashmir does not have juvenile homes, as though this could be an explanation to lock up children. Yet, release of the young people was one of the points of the so-called 8 point package agreed to by the central and state governments to address some of the grievances, a package which remains unimplemented.
Yet another issue is that of totally inadequate compensation or help to those injured and disabled. The families did not mention the issue of compensation even once; they believe that justice is more important, yet the evidence of the callousness of the government was apparent. Even where the breadwinner was killed, there is no job compensation offered. It seems that the present compensation rules admit compassion ground for job only when the person is killed by militants. But even in cases where innocents have been killed by the security forces, no job compensation is offered. Shockingly, young men applying for employment have to get specific NOCs from the police. Where jobs are scarce, this condition becomes another instrument to threaten and blackmail young people.
Among the issues discussed in the conference was how the specific situation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, termed a “conflict zone” by the organisers, affected women. A common experience was that of being victimised by violence, threats of violence, including of a sexual nature, the fear for the children and young people in the family, the constant insecurity and tension, the curbs on freedom of movement etc.
The presence of bunkers and uniformed personnel in residential areas, outside schools and colleges is a constant worry. The militarisation of the city and reportedly the entire valley is deeply disturbing, particularly for young women who feel threatened by the constant presence of armed forces, and indeed are often abused by their language and their gaze. Working women find it increasingly difficult to freely move around the city, constantly being checked by the security forces. Many women related the humiliation they felt when asked to show their identities by the security forces. Young women students, women college lecturers asked: “Is this not our state, our college, our home—why should we constantly have to prove our identities?” The reported cases of rape or sexual assault by the security forces have according to official sources led to punishment of those guilty. But if indeed this is the case, no one knows about it – it seems these are considered “internal matters.” This must be considered totally unacceptable in any democratic society. Security forces can have no such privileges of “identity protection”; on the contrary any such criminal act must invite swift and immediate punishment. But in the valley it seems that such action must be kept a closely guarded secret to maintain the “morale” of the forces. It is hardly surprising that no credibility is attached to such claims of action against those guilty. This is a shameful record and strengthens the feeling that the security forces act as an occupying power.
A disturbing development reported has been the impact in terms of the exponential rise in cases of depression among women, particularly middle aged and senior citizens. At the same time, the participation of women, particularly young women, in struggles for justice and democracy has hugely increased as has their resilience and courage. Unfortunately, the absence of working class women in the conference prevented a fuller understanding of how the conflict has affected them and their lives. The economic impact of the conflict was almost totally absent from the deliberations of the conference and was not included as a theme.
The discussions provided an opportunity for women from Jammu to express their views. Many of those who attended had in fact been born and brought up in the Valley but were driven out by militants and extremists in the early nineties. The sufferings these displaced Kashmiri families have faced – the loss of homes, identities, their culture, their friends, their livelihood – found eloquent expression from the displaced women. Almost two decades of displacement has had its own impact. The resultant resentment and frustration found expression in heated discussions and arguments. The representatives from Ladakh wanted their own defined area to be declared a Union Territory. Although the experiences are diverse and the aspirations equally diverse, there was at the end a convergence on the strong condemnation of the atrocities and human and democratic rights violations which had taken place in the valley, particularly in the last year. There was a near unanimous feeling that peace and calm cannot be sustained without justice.
Several practical suggestions were made by the participants. As a first official attempt to include women’s experiences in the dialogue process, the conference organised by the interlocutors was warmly welcomed by the participants.
However, such initiatives, though well intentioned and helpful, cannot substitute for political action and initiatives from the government of India to address the problems in Jammu and Kashmir. It would seem that even as the wounds remain to be healed, the central government has abdicated from its responsibilities in the troubled state. Surprisingly, when the prime minister recently visited the Valley and was asked by a press reporter as to how he saw the situation, he answered that he was “keeping his fingers crossed” that the situation remained calm. In the present situation such a statement brings no credibility to this government. Kashmir demands a political solution, an unconditional dialogue process initiated by the central government with all sections. It demands immediate and urgent measures to punish those guilty of the atrocities committed by security forces, release of those still languishing in jail, removal of the bunkers where there is no militant threat, medical help as also adequate compensation to those injured and to the families of those killed last summer, and amendments to draconian laws. Kashmir demands justice and this is a demand which must be taken to all parts of the country.