The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti reacting to the Handwara killings after her meeting with the Union Defence Minister has said that the minister had promised her that a probe would be initiated and the guilty punished. Meanwhile, an Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) has been suspended after the killings. It needs to be stated here that post facto statements after killings in Kashmir are part of a pattern too. These statements seem part of the vocabulary of the state- anodyne, bland and meaningless.
Now let us return to the main theme: the pattern that has held in Kashmir over the past decades in terms of killings is iterated time again-so much so that the states bandying of probes and compensations have lost meaning. This not only fosters more intense alienation in Kashmir but also makes a mockery of the states institutions and credibility thereof. One thing after the other happens and the state echoes its predictable behaviour. The question is the despite the known fact of killings validating alienation in Kashmir, the state persists with its anodyne pattern.
Why cannot the state study the patterns of mob behaviour in Kashmir and take recourse to prudent, crowd control techniques-the kind that eliminates killings? Why is the standard operating procedure (SOP) strictly adhered to? What is the threshold of using force in Kashmir? Why are not the cops or paramilitary or even army persons trained to restrain themselves even under intense conditions?
Answers to these questions and adherence to these would be pre-empting in nature. That is, adherence to a certain standards after studying mob behaviour in Kashmir would minimize if not eliminate incidence of killings. Post facto, bland and anodyne statements merely add fuel to the fire and make a mockery of justice in Kashmir.
All said and done, however, given the delicate and fragile peace (illusory in some senses) that obtains in Kashmir, there might be incidents that might happen regardless. Under these conditions, and if situations spiral out of control despite all precautionary steps, the state must take credible steps to ensure discipline and propriety. Punishment and discipline are important administrative, bureaucratic and ex officio techniques to make people think twice before embarking on a certain course of action. This could very well apply to the paraphernalia of troops in Kashmir. Credible and public action against guilty and errant troopers could instil more stringent discipline among troops. Otherwise, the public is likely to conclude that the state merely trots out a certain line but effectively and essentially shields its personnel from the scrutiny of law and justice.
The questions that we raise and the solutions that we suggest may be , at the end of the day be given short shrift by the law that is operative in Kashmir- the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFPSA). Our analyses and suggestions may be undercut by the very nature of the law. But the question that powers be in Kashmir should ask themselves is: is AFSPA worth the candle now given the context and changed circumstances? And if AFSPA is a hindrance in providing justice to the people, is not the law superfluous?
Human or even all forms of life should be held sacrosanct- a gift from God. It ought to be treated with due diligence and utmost care. Yes: this is in the nature of a philosophical note and people in conflict zones like Kashmir may well mock at it. People, the state and the institutions of the state must, respect, maintain and uphold the sacrosanct nature of life. This should be the operating assumption of all and if institutional, administrative measures that uphold the sanctity of life need to be instituted, so be it- even if it may mean taking some difficult decisions. Policy even in conflict zones- should not be determined by narrow utilitarian concerns but should be informed by justice, fairness and welfare for all- not merely a chosen few.
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