One More Custodial Death

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The death of a school principal Rizwan Asad Pandit in custody has once again drawn attention to the grim situation prevailing in Kashmir. It has once again underlined how killing of an innocent Kashmiri either in custody or outside is now considered too routune a thing to elicit any concern outside the state.  The mounting deaths in the state, other than those of the security personnel also draw little empathetic response from the rest of India or for that matter from the world, let alone a meaningful political initiative to address the crisis.  There are not even the customary statements from the political parties, no show of solicitude from the civil society groups and no outrage on primetime television, otherwise worked up into a frenzy by even a routine incident of militant violence in the state.   

What is more, the continuing killings are far from denting the stoic silence of the state and central governments. The state government’s time-honoured mechanism to deflect the criticism is to order a probe, even if the mechanism has lost its credibility.  The probe is something that is the last on anybody’s mind. People would rather be spared the travesty of it. Their outcomes are now a foregone conclusion. Besides, according to an estimate, 108 inquiries have been ordered to probe various human rights violations in the Valley since 2008. But instead of allowing the normal investigations after filing a proper FIR, these inquiries have led to zero prosecutions of the accused armed forces personnel.

The 2008, 2010 and 2016 killings have become etched in people’s minds as reference points for the general immunity for the human rights abuse in the state. And on this there is little difference between the Army and paramilitaries which claim exemption from prosecution for excesses under the AFSPA and the state government which otherwise profess to deliver justice to victims.

The tragedy of Pandith’s killing is beyond the predictable condemnations in the state and  the disingenuous ordering of  probe. It is the moral vacuum in which the killings take place. Those who preside over them brazen it out, feigning no responsibility for them but are duly revolted by little more than the misdemeanours of the opponents. New Delhi seeks to keep the deaths under wraps and exhibits little compunction for them. In fact, these are justified as a legitimate response to the extraordinary situation prevailing in the state. And barring a few exceptions, the world wouldn’t hear of them. One only hopes that this unconscionable indifference ends and both New Delhi and the world see Kashmir for what it is – a place of lingering conflict which needs urgent attention and engagement to resolve.


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