SPEAKING FREELY Delhi fails to hear Kashmiris
By Aijaz Nazir
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Prashant Bhusha, leader of India's newly formed Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which won control of Delhi late last year, kicked up a new storm when in an interview to Aaj Tak news channel he asserted that a plebiscite should be held in Jammu and Kashmir
on whether the Indian Army should continue be deployed in the Kashmir Valley.
"People should be asked whether they want the army to handle the internal security of Kashmir. Any decision which does not have the backing of the people is undemocratic. If people feel that the army is violating human rights and they say they don't want the army to be deployed for their security, then the army should be withdrawn from the hinterland," Bhushan, an advocate by profession, stated on January 5.
His statement captured the national media's attention, prompting the "most viewed" national news channel Times Now to host a discussion on the subject. The discussion, as would be expected, developed a nationalistic tone and did not reflect the viewpoint of ordinary Kashmiris on the army's deployment.
As usual, Indian politicians, sensing an opportunity to prove their nationalistic credentials, reacted aggressively to pander to their vote banks.
Commenting on the issue, spokesperson of the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party Sidharth Nath Singh said, "Prashant Bhushan should remember he no longer runs a NGO. The demilitarization of Jammu and Kashmir is a language that is being spoken by separatists in Pakistan and Bhushan as a senior AAP leader is playing into the hands of the separatists by making such comments. Till the terror infrastructure in Pakistan is dismantled, any reduction in Army presence would be disastrous for the country and unacceptable to the people of India."
In the Kashmir Valley, the ruling National Conference party also criticized Bhushan's statement. Party spokesperson Tanvir Sadiq said: "There is an elected government in J&K and it along with the center are the best judge of whether the AFSPA [Armed Forces Special Power Act ] should be kept or removed. National Conference too believes that AFSPA can be withdrawn from some areas but why does AAP want to politicize AFSPA?"
Sameer Kaul, spokesperson for the opposition People's Democratic Party, while supporting Bhushan's call for a referendum on the AFSPA, said: "The heart of AAP is in the right place. We are happy to hear about Bhushan's views that the people of Kashmir should be consulted on Army deployment."
However, beyond this politicking is the perspective of ordinary Kashmiris, who want to live in peace and tranquillity. It is they who face the army in their daily lives and have seen the army indulging in grave human-rights violations. Yet no political party is serious enough to take into account this viewpoint.
It is the ordinary Kashmiri who would have pointed to the Kunan Poshpora case, in which hundreds of women in a village in north Kashmir were allegedly raped by the army in a single night. It is the ordinary Kashmiri who would have talked about the Pathribal fake encounter and several other such encounters in which the army has trampled on the rights of the innocent Kashmiris.
These are the people who have seen how the draconian AFSPA has been abused and misused by the army and security forces on the ground to assert their presence. The act gives the army the right to arrest without warrant, search any premises without warrant and stop and search any vehicle reasonably suspected. Numerous accounts have documented how the act has been used to cover up cases of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearance, rapes and torture.
The Kunan Poshpora and Pathribal incidents are just two examples. There are thousands of other such cases where justice has been delayed or not been done. People who have lost their family members in such incidents know exactly the logic of the AFSPA.
In fact such is the impact of the army's presence in the Kashmer hinterland that rdinary Kashmiris feel more insecure and vulnerable under the army's deployment. They feel that security can be handled by the state and the central police forces, while the army can be deployed on the international border and the Line of Control, to stop militant infiltration and secure the border.
The Indian government has justified the continuation of the act by pointing out its relevance in the counter-insurgency operations. Indian politicians have termed the matter of the deployment of the army as a security issue - one concerning the safety and security of the common people. But they are not able to explain why the rescuer has turned into a threat? Why is it that ordinary Kashmiris feel vulnerable in the army's presence?
The state government may point to normalcy by pointing to a record tourist turnout and the return of Bollywood to the Valley. But the fact is that two decades of conflict have left scars on people's minds and these require a much more substantial effort than the mere cosmetic aspects such as tourism and the promises of politicians during election campaigns. India needs to address the core issue of Kashmir by listening to the people's grievances. It needs to find a permanent solution instead of making publicity stunts and creating convenient photo ops.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Aijaz Nazir is a freelance journalist from Kashmir. He is a frequent contributor to various websites, covering current issues of J&K, focusing on social and political nuances. He can be contacted at [email protected]