Understanding The Pain of Kashmiris

The incident of indiscriminate firing by the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel on unarmed protesters in Gool last Thursday has once again exposed the extremely fragile nature of what New Delhi has been touting as the ‘return of normalcy’ in J&K.  It also rubbishes the government’s claims that security forces in Kashmir have been given strict instructions to exercise ‘utmost restraint’ in the use of force while dealing with protesters. 

Whatever happened at Gool is unpardonable and even if one goes by what Inspector General (IG) of Border Security Force (BSF), Rajiv Krishna has to say about this incident, his attempts to justify the firing by BSF troops, remains unconvincing. The first thing that one notices is that the IG BSF has unsuccessfully tried  to shift the culpability of the BSF by stating that since the J&K Police and CRPF personnel were also present at the scene of the incident,  one cannot say who actually opened the fire. While this unconvincing attempt by IG BSF to shirk responsibility by ‘passing the buck’ would find no takers, it has only made the incident appear all the more suspicious.

Should the IG BSF need to be reminded that the protesters were showered, not with stones but bullets. We all also know that that unlike stones, which one can pick up from anywhere, bullets are not found lying by the roadside- nor are they freely available for a soldier to pick up in any quantity as per his wish. A specified quantity of bullets are handed- out to troopers and the record of the number of bullets distributed to each person is meticulously maintained.  So, why is the IG BSF ambivalent on the issue on who opened fire? All the BSF has to do is to check the bullets of its troopers and the truth will come out by itself. Therefore, instead of coming out with facts, why is the IG BSF delving in mere speculation!

His claim that the BSF acted as per guidelines and used ‘minimum force’ to disperse the protestors too is not very convincing. As per the IG BSF, the mob that had gathered outside the BSF was very unruly and posed a potential danger to the BSF camp. The people of Gool and its adjoining areas have no known history of acrimonious relationship with the security forces and the mob, which had hastily collected was protesting, not against any long outstanding or festering grievance but against a specific act of alleged sacrilege that occurred the previous night. Therefore, it is difficult to fathom that the mob could have been so resolute and determined to overrun the BSF camp that the troopers were left with no other choice but to resort to firing that resulted in such exceptionally high casualties. The casualty statistics speak for themselves and belie the claim that the BSF used ‘minimum force’ to disperse the protesters. 

Whenever, what in the official parlance is euphemistically referred to as an ‘unfortunate incident’ occurs, a blame- game invariably erupts between the various government agencies involved, with charges ranging from sheer apathy and dereliction of duty to use of high handedness and excessive use of force. And in this cacophony, the guilty invariably get away scot-free! However, in this case all the organs of the government were present at the site of the incident, well before it escalated into a bloodbath. While Deputy Commissioner Ramban represented the district administration, the Police also had an equally impressive representation in the form of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) and Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO). And the J&K Police as well as CRPF contingents provided the ideal law enforcement force on the spot. This is because the CRPF and Police were at that point of time truly ‘non partisan’, as unlike the BSF, which could be accused of harbouring a grudge against the locals due to their altercation the night before, the CRPF and Police had no reasons for any animosity towards the locals.   

That the situation spiraled out of control and deteriorated to the extent that it left four dead and over two score injured even though the decision-makers as well as those responsible for implementing decisions, alongwith the force required for the same were present on the spot, is really unfortunate. The Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has ordered an inquiry “to be conducted without any loss of time” and since everyone concerned was present at the place where this incident occurred, culpability cannot now be obfuscated by feigning ignorance, shifting blame or responsibility. Moreover, due to presence of officials from various departments and agencies, this becomes one case in which a particular authority, organisation or agency will not be able to conceal or distort facts just to suit its own requirement. In short, it is an ‘open and shut’ case.

The eyewitness accounts of high-ranking district administration and Police officials, BSF and CRPF personnel as well as civilians will be of immense help to the team conducting the inquiry in reconstructing the chain of events for unearthing the truth and with everything in its favour, the inquiry should not take much time. Since long, New Delhi has been accused of reluctance in acting against errant troopers in Kashmir and its seriousness and ensuring timely justice for the victims of the Gool tragedy by swiftly bringing the guilty to book would help the UPA led central government to redeem its negative image. 

Tailpiece: During her Srinagar visit, AICC president and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi had said that she "understands the Kashmiris' sentiments." The Vice President of the Indian National Congress and the Chairperson of the Indian Youth Congress, Rahul Gandhi too said in Srinagar, "I am a Kashmiri...so the pain and suffering of this place is my pain and suffering as well." The seriousness with which the UPA led government in New Delhi handles the Gool tragedy will thus be the litmus test to prove whether  the ‘sentiments of Kashmiris’ are really ‘understood’ by the UPA chairperson and is ‘the pain and suffering of Kashmir’ really the ‘pain and suffering of Rahul Gandhi as well! 

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