Just when we thought that the situation had returned to normal and people were looking forward to an enhanced trading and tourist activity with the arrival of spring, the killings at Kulgam have pushed Kashmir back to the brink. Four militants, two security personnel and the two civilians died in the day long encounter. One of the slain civilians was the son of the owner of the house where militants were holed up. His family alleges that he was used as a human shield by the Army.
The encounter, however, stood out for the determined rescue attempt by the villagers. No sooner were the militants cordoned off and the gunfight broke out than the villagers started a protest to help the militants escape. They shouted slogans and lobbed stones at the security personnel and made an attempt to reach the encounter site. Soon, they were joined by the people from the adjacent villages. In response, the security forces fired at the crowd and also used the pellet guns. More than a dozen protesters sustained bullets. Similarly, the eyes of the two teenagers, Saqib Ahmed (18) and Aqib Ahmed (16) were hit by pellet guns.
The viral videos of the protests on the social media bring to light this chilling fact. In one, the boy at the front of the protest is hit by a bullet on the camera and he talks matter-of-factly about it. The videos are yet again a reminder of the seething rage of the last summer. Hurriyat predictably responded by calling for a hartal on Monday and a march to Kulgam on Wednesday.
The killings of the civilians has angered the Valley. Similarly, the effortless recourse to the use of bullets and the pellets has once again come as a shock. More so, when no such weapons were used during the violent Jallikatu protests in Chennai. Once again security establishment has shown itself singularly incapable of handling unarmed protests and have found killing people easier to the option of a patient mob control. One can’t but wonder why similar scale of protests elsewhere in India are dealt with professionally and largely without any loss of lives than in Valley. The fact is that the killings now are not new but part of a familiar pattern.
If anything, this shows a callous disregard for the civilian life in Kashmir. And one incentive for this is the least accountability for such killings. Enquiries are a joke. The probes ordered into the killings never see the light of the day. This too while we have a new government in place whose leader has always protested against such state of affairs in opposition. One part of the frustration in Kashmir is about how their leaders turn out so exasperatingly identical in power. Even their temperaments begin to match. They fall into a familiar and predictable role. Kashmir needs a leader who represents them even in power and lives up to the pledges and promises he or she makes in opposition. However, Kashmir needs Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to at least ensure that the police follows the Standard Operating Procedure while dealing with the crowds. These killings are eminently avoidable provided security agencies keep in mind they are dealing with unarmed protesters and not the militants.
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