The value of Kashmiri lives: Who will mourn the Handwara boys?

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Two young men, one aged 22 and the other have been killed by the Army in Handwara, Kashmir. Nayeem Qadir and Muhammad Iqbal were part of the demonstrations and protests against the molestation of a school girl in the same district by the Army.  These kinds of killings have become so routine in Kashmir that it is nauseating to write or dwell over these. The pattern is eerily and even nauseatingly similar:  a provocative incident happens or militants are killed, people gather, demonstrate, the armed forces open fire which leads to killings. More often than not, it is young kids that bear the brunt of shooting by the armed forces.

The context to the Handwara killings is the furore generated by the media over the NIT fracas. The political class in India and the media is in unison over the NIT fracas. This “unity” amounts to subsidizing bad and unruly behavior of the non local NIT boys. Security cover and special entitlement are being demanded for the non local boys studying at the NIT volubly and as a sense of entitlement. The self righteous indignation and rage generated by the media is of very high decibel. But , when it comes to Kashmiri boys killed unwarrantedly by the Army, will there be similar stentorian and voluble protests and rage by the media?

Of course not. The question is why?

The answer is obvious and stares us in the face:  there is hypocrisy and double standards at work here. And moreover, the narrative crafted by the media suggests that Kashmiri lives are cheap and that there are no ratings to be gained nor eyeball share; no political mileage to be milked and political benefits to be reaped.

Adding insult to the injury is the Army statement after the killings. The Army has “regretted” the killings and stated that  the “ guilty will face the law”. This is not only bland but , to repeat, adds insult to the injury. What does the Army statement really mean against the context of oft repeated killings like these in Kashmir? Nothing really. In fact, it is rinsed of meaning.

These bland and serial statements mean and the pattern of killings mean that Kashmiri life is cheap and can be washed away by not even an apology but expression of “regret” and that there are no real consequences for the killers. There, however, are political consequences of this bad behavior and mechanical expression of mere “regret”.

These consequences pertain to the growing alienation that these killings actually feed at a very critical time in Kashmir. The Kashmir division of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is in the throes of multiple transitions- demographic, political, economic and social. The broad theme that undergirds these transitions is that the structural conditions and the structuring context of the conflict in and over Kashmir remains the same. The implications and consequences of these structuring conditions are that the conflict will determine the psychical and emotional universe of Kashmir with validation provided by the gratuitous killings.

The nature of these consequences is both short term and long term.  In the short term, given the charged context of the NIT fiasco followed by the Handwara killings may generate a cycle of violence and counter violence in Kashmir. This may or may not come to pass but if the past is any guide, and if something substantive can be extrapolated from it, it is that the Kashmiri collective conscious gets, to use a technology metaphor, programmed towards violence by series of killings which occur after a time lag but are seamless in the sense of a pattern. This time, what may add to the poignancy is the poor economic conditions that obtain in Kashmir-post 2014 floods. We can only hope and pray that the peace that obtains in Kashmir, despite its fragility, holds.

The long term implication and consequence is that the conflict in and over Kashmir will not go away. It will remain and the Kashmiri collective conscious and emotional landscape will gyrate around the theme of conflict. This, in turn means, that peace in Kashmir will always be fragile and illusory- that is, until sober, hardnosed, soft hearted but hard headed approach towards a “ final solution”-in the sense of crafting a win win conflict resolution paradigm is instituted in Kashmir. Till that day, more will fall to bullets and life in Kashmir will be as precarious as the fragile peace here. Alas!

 

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