It’s No Collateral Damage

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Erroneous belief that freedom fighters can do no wrong does more damage than good

Last Saturday, a grenade attack by suspected militants in the busy Shopian market left at least fourteen civilians (including women and children) injured. Surprisingly, despite the inordinately high number of civilians being injured, this incident still did not make newspaper headlines. The report on the incident too was very sketchy – all one could gather was that this incident occurred when a grenade hurled by suspected militants at a police party missed its intended target and exploded amidst shoppers injuring fourteen of them.  As per the reports, while the injured were treated at local hospitals, a child Rabiya was shifted to Srinagar as her condition was serious.

One anxiously awaited further details about this incident and wondered how the Rabiya was faring but unfortunately, the newspapers didn’t follow this story any further. This may have been due to the fact that this wasn’t the first incident in which innocent civilians became targets of militant violence or that since it involved our ‘freedom fighters’, there was no point in unduly embarrassing them. Yet, an incident that leaves fourteen innocent civilians injured is by no means so insignificant an incident that it doesn’t merit any follow-up reports. And herein lies the real tragedy – while such a horrific act would have been of great concern public concern as well as the subject of intense debate and deep introspection within any society, the same doesn’t seem to prick our collective conscience.  

This was not the case before militancy raised its head in Kashmir more than two and a half decades ago. However, ever since we accepted violence as a legitimate means of achieving ‘Azadi’, our moral values have undergone a sea-change. In our exuberance to express solidarity with those claiming to be waging an “armed struggle” in Kashmir, we by our continued silence have been unwittingly condoning acts of violence committed by them even if they are against innocent civilians. Though our leaders do sometimes denounce senseless acts of violence, such condemnation is neither spontaneous nor forceful. And the latest Shopian grenade attack is yet another example of their indifference- leave alone meeting the poor victims or issuing a statement denouncing the attack, no separatist has even cared to offer a word of sympathy to the injured or wish them a speedy recovery! 

It was during this very month a quarter century ago that Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq was gunned down in his own house by two assailants who came to meet him posing as visitors. As the Mirwaiz was assassinated soon after he had fallen out of favour with Islamabad, it was more than evident to everyone that this dastardly act was the work of militants and the same was confirmed in 2011 by none other than Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Bhat. However, our leaders who knew this all along kept telling us the lies that this gruesome murder was the handiwork of Indian intelligence agencies. Since everyone already knew who was behind this murder, while our leaders achieved nothing by concealing the truth from us, they set a very wrong example and initiated the rapid downslide in our moral values! 

Coming back to last Saturday’s grenade attack in Shopian- one expected that at least the civil society and intellectuals would have condemned such a wanton act of violence and questioned the right of militants to endanger lives of their own brethren. However, nothing of this sort happened simply because in Kashmir we have evolved our own unique code of social behaviour in which different rules and yardsticks apply. While we do protest and shed tears when innocents are victims of violence, our response differs from case to case.  The intensity of our reactions is on a scale of ‘0 to 9’- if it is the militants who are responsible (like in the Shopian grenade attack case), the response would vary from ‘0’ to ‘1’. However, if it is the security forces or the police that is involved, then it’s ‘Response 9’!  So, for us the Shopian grenade attack is just an unfortunate case of a ‘small mistake’ made by ‘freedom fighters’ due to which some ‘unlucky’ people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time got injured!

Why I am being so critical of the militants and separatists, you may ask. Yes, it is true that I belong to that that section of society which doesn’t support the ‘armed struggle’ philosophy- but it is equally true that we harbor no animosity towards those who do so. Our aversion to this cult of violence is purely based on two simple observations. Firstly, while the ‘armed struggle’ in Kashmir has taken a humungous toll of human lives, it has contributed nothing whatsoever as far as resolving the Kashmir imbroglio is concerned. Secondly, what we claim to be an ‘armed struggle’ is being perceived by the international community as terrorism and thus militancy has actually ‘demonised’ the peaceful movement for the ‘right to self determination’ and proved counter-productive!

Our criticism of the separatists too is based on another simple observation- why is it that despite their immense popularity among the masses, the international community still refuses to accept them as the “true leaders” of  Kashmiris?  The answer is simple- by maintaining a stoic silence on acts of militant violence in which innocent civilians become victims our leaders are blatantly displaying partiality. You would agree that “true leaders” are not expected to play favourites or exhibit prejudices and so their subjective responses to incidents only reinforce New Delhi’s allegations that the separatists are not leaders of the masses but mere ‘proxies’ of Pakistan. Thus, in case the Hurriyat wishes that it should be taken more seriously by the international community, then this conglomerate has to consider making major attitudinal changes in its outlook and ensure dispassionate and evenhanded responses to acts of violence irrespective of who commits the same.

Post Script: In law we have the famous Blackstone’s formulation which states that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” We need to ask our ‘freedom fighters’ to strictly adhere this maxim while attacking security forces and police personnel by remembering that ‘it is better that ten soldiers escape rather than one innocent be killed or injured in a militant attack’! The ‘freedom fighters’ should also be held accountable for any collateral damage that occurs on account of their actions. The erroneous belief that the ‘freedom fighters can do no wrong’ or that since the freedom fighters are putting their lives at stake for our sake, we must ‘overlook their indiscretions’ is doing great harm and thus needs to be revisited. The time has come for the civil society to stand up and vociferously condemn reckless acts of militant violence as our continued silence has only emboldened the ‘freedom fighters’ and made them law unto themselves!

Why is it that despite their immense popularity among the masses, the international community still refuses to accept them as the “true leaders” of  Kashmiris?  The answer is simple- by maintaining a stoic silence on acts of militant violence in which innocent civilians become victims our leaders are blatantly displaying partiality. You would agree that “true leaders” are not expected to play favourites or exhibit prejudices and so their subjective responses to incidents only reinforce New Delhi’s allegations that the separatists are not leaders of the masses but mere ‘proxies’ of Pakistan.

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