Silence has greeted 100 days of the cycle of repression and defiance, curfew and bandh and staggering casualties in the Kashmir Valley since 8 July. The figures speak for themselves. Seventeen thousand adults and children have been injured by pellets fired by police and security forces, more than 1,100 have suffered eye injuries, 400 have been blinded, 94 killed and nearly 5,000 either arrested or detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA). The unprecedented violence used by government forces against civilians has resulted in the closure of schools, colleges and business establishments and disruption of trade and transport leading to an estimated loss of ₹10,000 crore. At the same time, the war hysteria whipped up after the “surgical strikes” has diverted attention from the plight of Kashmiri people. Instead, people are applauding the hard line adopted by the government towards Kashmiri civilians as a way of teaching Pakistan a lesson. All this when even former National Security Advisor M K Narayanan recently wrote that the movement in Kashmir is “home grown” and that it is neither Lashkar-e-Taiba nor Jaish-e-Mohammed leading it but the indigenous Hizbul Mujahideen. Yet even such voices are being ignored, ridiculed and drowned out by the corporate media that caters to the baser instincts of Indian society by preaching hatred of Pakistan and Pakistanis, a line that also increases their profits and viewership. While voices of sanity are few and far between in India, it is obvious that the media is using the figleaf of “national security” to kowtow to an amoral and dogmatic ruling party and its cohorts.
However, the note of triumphalism based on utter apathy for fellow citizens could turn out to be short-lived. The brutal repression that has continued beyond 100 days has shown that the people’s resistance and civil disobedience have been able to sustain themselves. The predominant public mood is one of “now or never.” What will follow once civil disobedience peters out is already evident given reports that 55 rifles were stolen by young men joining the ranks of militants in the last 100 days. A movement that continues to retain its humanist moorings under such egregious violence unleashed on them, as evidenced in their actions of saving lives of pilgrims or soldiers and their pronouncements mourning deaths of soldiers at Uri, may get replaced by a perspective which sees Indian people as guilty as the government for the plight of the Kashmiri people and therefore as much of a target as the military. This may suit the ruling party and its sinister politics as well as its cynical electoral calculations, but the Indian people will end up paying a heavy price for the cruel and barbaric policies pursued by the government as well as our indifference.
We must also note that those shedding copious tears over the martyrdom of Indian soldiers are actually unconcerned about the problems faced by the soldiers. Within 24 hours of the “surgical strikes,” the defence ministry reduced the disability pension of soldiers. Besides, for over two years ex-servicemen belonging to the ranks have been sitting at Jantar Mantar in Delhi protesting against the 7th Pay Commission award that rejects parity, reduces pension and salary compared to their civilian counterparts. They have drawn attention to their unchanged service conditions from the time of the British Raj. Yet neither political parties nor the corporate media have shown any concern for the progeny of India’s working class. Even the Supreme Court has found unacceptable the “prolonged, permanent and indefinite” deployment of armed forces in Kashmir as it mocks our democratic process. Surely, no force, however great or heroic, can remain vigilant, disciplined and motivated if it wages an ignoble war on its own people. The attacks on the armed forces at Uri and Pathankot and other similar incidents tell us that an army waging war against its own people is incapable of retaining its biting edge when faced with attacks from across the border. The immediate consequence of this long-drawn-out military suppression in Jammu and Kashmir could be the degeneration of India’s main fighting arm.
While the absence of a political initiative is sorely felt, the ideology of the party in power based on hatred for Pakistan and Muslims prevents it from resiling from its “frog in the well” approach. All one can do is urge ordinary Indians to realise that what is at stake is not just what happens to the people of Jammu and Kashmir but also to understand that all of us will be singed by the consequences of our government’s folly and failure to search for a democratic solution. If we do not care or show compassion for fellow citizens now, India’s unity and integrity will be undermined in ways never imagined before. There is a dialectical unity between India’s democracy and freedom for people of Kashmir because the truth is that Indians cannot be free if we enslave and brutalise a people for demanding azaadi from India.