According to police records, 106 civilians have lost their lives during clashes near encounter sites over the past 18 months. This accounts for around six civilian killings month. And if we subtract one month of the unilateral ceasefire, the number goes up to around seven killings a month. This is an unacceptably high number of the killings and normally should have caused a deep distress in the government. But no, the killings of unarmed protesters has become such a normal phenomenon in the Valley, indistinguishable from the daily routine in the state. So much so, it is getting difficult to question the troubling trend. People have become increasingly hopeless and feel there is little choice but to resign to it.
Having said that, it needs to be restated that the killings of the protesters have no justification whatsoever. Let us face it, if security agencies choose to exercise due caution and handle the protests near sites of gunfight more professionally there is little possibility of the loss of life. But considering the recurrent deaths during protests in Kashmir, one is inclined to believe that the security agencies are dangerously complacent about the loss of lives in Kashmir. And the successive state governments have been complicit in the matter by repeatedly failing to fix the responsibility.
One can’t but wonder why the similar scale of protests elsewhere in India are dealt with professionally and largely without any loss of lives. True, protests are a recurrent phenomenon in Kashmir but the forces stationed in Kashmir have also a longer experience of tackling them and are thus better prepared to handle them than their counterparts in other states. But as the rising civilian toll would have us believe, killing protesters has become a normalized and preferred way to manage the ongoing turmoil. And one incentive for this is the least accountability for such killings. The previous PDP-BJP coalition even gave up the pretence of ordering probes and then consigning them to the dustbin.
This has created a law and order culture where lives in Kashmir are seen dispensable in the rush to impose ‘normalcy’. The least we expect from the new government headed by Governor N N Vohra is to end the lingering apathy towards the civilian killings and refine its methods of crowd control. True, Governor has already taken a note of the killings and held a meeting at Raj Bhavan with the Ranbir Singh, Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General in this regard. He has reiterated the vital importance of the laid down Standard Operating Procedure being most strictly adhered to by the Army and all security forces. But what people are interested in is whether Governors pro-active approach will make any redeeming difference to the state of affairs.
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