Author: Saadut
•7:09 PM

The evening prior to Afzal Guru’s hanging, Kashmir was being prepared for a siege. The state had already started working towards barricading entire populations and enforcing curfew. A backlash in Kashmir was already anticipated, not only because Afzal was a Kashmiri but also because in Kashmir he is perceived to being an innocent used by India for it political games. Afzal is seen here as a pawn used by New Delhi in the larger political theater of mainland India. Even though Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Saturday claimed that he “was informed at 8 pm on Friday night that Afzal Guru would be executed this morning” other media sources claimed that “Omar was informed about the decision when he was in New Delhi on January 31 where he met several leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi.” Clearly the differing reports on claims (or denial) of his knowledge about the hanging had more political reasons to it. 

Afzal’s trail has itself left many unanswered questions, which India has been all along been evading. Why did Afzal not have any lawyer from the moment of his arrest (the date of his arrest on 5th Dec 2001) to the filing of the charge sheet on 14th May 2005? Did the trail by media, which had started immediately after his arrest, create a pre trial mindset to adversely affect the trial? The weak defense provided to Afzal and the methods Delhi police special cell has been known to use against Kashmiris also created a general distrust on Afzals trial. The number of loop holes that were ignored in the Afzal investigation and the level of weak defence provided to counter the prosecution were simply astounding.  Was the system fast forwarding the case in a rush to achieve results, norms of justice kept aside? In its August 2005 judgment the Honorable Apex Court admitted that “The conviction under section 3 (5) of POTA is also set aside because there is no evidence that he is a member of a terrorist organisation, once the confessional statement is excluded. Incidentally, we may mention that even going by confessional statement, it is doubtful whether the membership of a terrorist gang or organisation is established.” But the court also concluded “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” Satisfying this ‘collective conscience’ was seen in Kashmir as using Kashmiris as a scapegoat, where India did not bother about the rights of common Kashmiris.

The political strings to Afzals hanging were openly evident when a media reported “Even Sonia discussed the issue with Omar on the same day. Though Omar had some reservation about the consequences on the streets in the Valley, the central leadership convinced him that there was no way out but to hang Guru to silence the right wing BJP leadership,”  And if such politics on the hanging itself were not enough, the family of Afzal had not been informed about his hanging, denying them even the basic right of meeting him one last time. On Thursday (7th Feb) the Union Home Secretary of India, R K Singh said that a communication about the hanging had been send to the family of Afzal Guru, through speed post. Till Sunday no speed post communication had been received by Afzals family while they already knew about the hanging via TV channels. On Monday morning the speed post was delivered by local postal department, while surprisingly the Head of Kashmir circle of postal services claimed that the letter had been dispatched (from New Delhi) on Friday (8th Feb). This admission by postal authorities put in dock the Union Home Secretary of India, who had on Thursday (7th Feb) already claimed about the dispatch of this communication. Surely New Delhi was playing dirty political games with this hanging.

While Kashmir saw this trial and hanging as serious miscarriage of justice, the state laid its own siege to this mourning. By daybreak curfew had been put in place, all public utility services had ceased, communications been blocked out, mobile internet shut and habitations barricaded by force. Columns of armed personnel were already on the streets enforcing a calm, which was simmering beneath and seething with anger. Curfews and Kashmir have had a long relationship; the state using this tool with impunity whenever it has no answers to public questions and anger. Curfew has always been used by the state as the first and last resort to contain public resentment, to muzzle voices. But curfews where communications systems, internet and TV channels are blocked stand oddly out from the countless curfews Kashmir had experienced. The state here not only ensured that people were caged in their homes, it also ensured that access to information was tailored as per state convenience. News channels were blocked on all cable networks, working in tandem with a mobile internet ban and newspaper stoppages, thereby ensuring a total news blackout. Was the state here afraid of letting the truth to common people or was it afraid of letting the truth of common people out to the world? Surely both. Indian media in Kashmir has always had a penchant for half truths or convenient stories, often censoring their stories in the larger interests of New Delhi and not in the interests of fair journalism. And today too Indian media was seen scurrying to report between pro Delhi political residences and obscure roads outside their secure hotels. None of these reporters went down to the common people under siege, to report about life behind state barricades.

Curfew means a standstill life, a denial of right to existence. Soon reports of denied milk deliveries, stopped by state forces were pouring in from Srinagar and other towns of Kashmir. Day one passed, on previous days essentials. The curfew started to bite from day two and well into day three. With essentials running out and a total blockade of these services by the state, people were down to rationing. Kids and toddlers without milk, ill people without medicine and there seemed no way out. The state often has been pointing to losses due to bandhs in Kashmir while refusing to acknowledge the miseries these curfews have been subjecting common people to. During bandhs the non skilled labour, the non salaried class at least walk to their work places to earn for the day, even essential supplies work within the internal arteries of the city. In curfews everything is locked down by the state, the daily wagers poor of the society put to extreme hardships by these curfews. This not only sinks the lower strata of the society, it hits at the most vulnerable segment here.

A communication blackout by the state not only means that people are denied access to news, societies ostracized en-masse ; it also means that the state forces can do anything without the fear of being reported or any response by cascading protests. A communication blockade ensures that an anarchic state can get away with brute force without the fear of facing immediate public wrath. But such blockades often backfire for iron fisted states in the long run, breeding a deeper sense of alienation between the ruling state and the denied subjects. And this alienation has only been widening all these years in Kashmir. It also means that the state is not bothered about the welfare of common people, perching itself far above the ground. In a logically connected world, where physical distances have only shrunk and information travels with or without such blockades, such acts of the state are often viewed as an attempted denial of realities. Realities that sooner or later come back hounding the state and hold it responsible for its brute force against a civilian population. People in Kashmir have already begun to compare 2013 to 2010, when more than a 120 kids were killed by state forces, when the state powers let go control over their actions, when it had openly become a state v/s people war. Such comparisons may not be out of place, keeping in view that the sparks of 2010 mayhem were similar to what the state is doing right now. As I write this piece, 3 youth had already been killed in the anti hanging protests (in the first 2 days only), including a 13 year old, 9th class student who was shot by CRPF in Wattergam (north Kashmir) while scores had been reported injured, many of them seriously. Two of the dead had drowned in Sumbal (near Ganderbal) when CRPF were chasing them.

An additional 10 BSF and 14 CRPF companies were flown in from Jammu to Kashmir, today, a clear indication that the state was inclined to use all possible force in Kashmir. Did that indicate that the government was pushing to extend the siege for long and enforce it harsh? Media on Sunday had already reported (quoting official sources) that curfew and curbs on local media were likely to continue in Kashmir till Friday. And as if curfew and services blockade were not enough many areas reported that armed forces were resorting to vandalism of homes in order to terrify populations. Reports of deliberate damage to civilian property and beating of inmates’ within civilian homes (including women and children) were received. Such situations can’t merely be seen as state attempts at containment of anger. They present a larger canvas where armed forces deem themselves to be a state greater than the governing state, while the political state turns a blind eye to such acts, for simply wanting to survive in power at the pleasure of New Delhi.

Such unending blockades, denial of essential services to the needy, locking down entire populations and wielding of the state barrel on unarmed populations creates a psyche within the common people who visualize the state as it biggest enemy. When the state treats common people as aliens and extends force to control them, the commoners also see the state as draconian that has to be rejected and fought back. This kind of psyche makes any reproach impossible, between the governing state and ‘governed’ (sic) people. It is this ‘pushed to the wall’ psyche that has been molding the young minds in Kashmir for decades, portraying the state as a perennial enemy, and reoccurrence of such events (like the state responses of 2008, 2009, 2010) has only reinforced this feeling. This feeling of denial and alienation in Kashmir is also reinforced when Kashmiris compare ‘water cannon’ actions against protestors in mainland India against the above waist firing, with a clear aim to kill or maim, actions against protestors by Indian forces in Kashmir. These forceful divisions between mainland India there and ‘atoot ang’ here become more evident then.

When young kids watch their elders abused and beaten by security forces for no reason, experience the denial of even basic human rights to them in barricaded curfews, an idea of India in created in their minds. When a trail of dead and injured is seen to fall to the brute force of state armed forces, a mindset takes shape in these young who then identity these forces (and the state) as their primary enemy. This new generation that did not experience the pre 80’s and pre 90’s political denial in Kashmir, the killings and brutality of 1990’s of Kashmir, are experiencing more brutal and unaccountable acts of state forces in present years, that are molding them into resistance. And then India keeps wondering the reasons for this ever widening alienation and anger here.

Common Kashmiri has not only experienced the utter and deliberate failure of the state to ensure justice to state crimes; it has also been experiencing the continuity of such crimes without any remorse or responsibility by the culprits. While the state political seat has been conveniently blaming New Delhi for denial of justice in crimes like Machil, Pathribal etc, it has itself stalled systems of justice in far more crimes here like the 2010 killings, Shopian double rape and murder case and thousands of earlier killings. Not only were these incidents responsible for continuity of conflict by state highhandedness and use of brute force, but the state has also failed in learning for its past experiences therein. The implications of Afzal Guru’s hanging and the brute enforced by the state in Kashmir are going to be long term, with majority of Kashmiris relinquishing any hopes with India. New Delhi (and their arms in the state) may use brutal force to contain these sparks for the short term, but these cinders will flare from beneath this enforced calm and take its toll. The complexity of the conflict may become difficult to contain then.

The state rather than providing succor to the common population has been pushing brutal armed force against genuine grievances of alienation, political and justice denial to Kashmir. Not only is the governing state in Kashmir (which is seen nothing but an extension of New Delhi here) failing to understand and realize its own domain responsibilities, it has also refused to recognize the rights of common people here. Such ostrich mentality can only be continued at self peril. 

12th Feb, 2013

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