Two boys have been killed in Kashmir. The incident itself is bizarre. A white car is mistaken for a similar one, which used to scurry suspected militants back and forth. As many as 115 bullets are fired at the car at one go. The only surviving passenger, a boy, tells how the incessant fury did not stop even after the car hit a tree to come to a halt.
The Indian Army has accepted its mistake. The agility with which it has done so indicates that the gun-crazy among the army was spotted immediately. A full inquiry, already ordered, may serve the truth. Yet, it would not go beyond telling who killed who. The bigger picture may still not come out. The truth is that New Delhi does not want to face the facts.
Two things emerge from the incident. One is the continuous use of the Indian armed forces for preserving internal security and, two, the cursory manner in which such cases are handled. The alienation of the Valley is obvious and is not new. Nor is the laxity of the administration. However, what is new is that whether hard or soft, the way the administration functions has made little difference. The malady is deeper.
The people of Kashmir are confused over the status of the Indian Army in their midst. They have hated it as they would hate an occupation army. The Indian Army’s support to the bumbling administration has been a point of contempt. While its role in helping people during the recent floods did help alter some opinions, its continued presence in the Valley remains a point of criticism. Chief Minister Omar Farooq Abdullah is, indeed, trying to strengthen the state police to cope with the internal law and order problem. But, whenever the Indian Army is used to curb any unruly situation, New Delhi gets a bad name.
Both Srinagar and New Delhi have depended for too long on the Indian Army. They need to alter this state of affairs as this is a negation of democracy and something that they should be ashamed of. An ugly truth is that scores of young people in Kashmir are missing. The people’s perception is that New Delhi is involved in the disappearance of these young people. This impression gets deepened when the cases related to the disappearances are not convincingly explained when overall supervision in the Valley is the responsibility of the central government.
What is required is transparency, particularly when there are cases which never come to light or have been half-heartedly pursued in law courts. Had there been an institution of Lok Pal, which is non-existent because of political manoeuvres, the matter would have found some solution. We now have to depend on the sensitivity of political parties for any positive action as they are the ones which have their representatives in the Indian parliament, the ultimate authority. Alas, this is very much missing. Engaged as they are in political manoeuverings, the parties have forgotten the immediate requirements of the people of Kashmir.
Successive governments, whether belonging to the Congress-led coalition or the BJP, promised a lot but delivered very little. The plight of the common man did not improve. And the same result emerged: the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised a lot during his election campaign. The spell he cast is receding, but people are still hoping against hope that he would do something. Changes requiring legislation may be a bit late in coming. But administrative measures can be taken straightaway so that some difference is made in governance.
Understandably, addressing the Kashmir problem will take time. But at least the Modi Administration can convey that there is a change in the offing. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act requires reconsideration. The powers given to the armed forces to kill on suspicion are too sweeping for a democratic country. The killing of the two boys should, at least, goad the Indian government to have another look at the Act.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2014.