By Arhama Siddiqa.
Once again, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, has been flung amidst violence. This time the unrest is a major setback for peace in the long-troubled region claimed by both India and Pakistan, where an insurgency movement peaked in the 1990s, then again rose in June 2016, momentarily waned, but never completely disappeared.
India’s armed forces reached a new low point in the long annals of human rights abuses in the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir when they beat and then tied a 24-year-old shawl weaver named Farooq Ahmad Dar to the front of a jeep on April 9, using him as a “human shield” against stone-throwing crowds. As the jeep drove through nine villages, Mr. Dar lamented, “I saw people breaking into tears on seeing my state.” Dar was on his way to a relative’s house in a nearby village to attend the funeral services of a family member.
The matter only surfaced when a video went viral on social media. This incident provides an astute measurement of a revolution that has only grown over nearly three decades.
The abuse of Mr. Dar occurred the day Kashmiris voted to fill a seat in the local Srinagar assembly. Separatists had called for a boycott. Despite this Mr. Dar went and voted.
The calls to boycott the poll in Srinagar, and the resulting fighting, resulted in voter turnout of a mere 7 percent on Sunday and forced 70 polling stations to shut down an all-time low in itself. During clashes in Budgam district, police initially used tear gas against protesters who were throwing stones, but then opened fire, killing seven people as a result.
Such cases of abuse are not new. Conflict reached an all-time high last July after a 22-year-old nationalist, was killed by Indian security forces. The police retaliated to the unrest by firing on protesters with pellet guns, killing and blinding thousands.
The demonstrations that erupted in Indian-administered Kashmir are a mordant reminder that popular sentiment cannot be ignored just because it does not run parallel with the set narrative of – to put it crudely- an illusory government. Furthermore, this is especially true in situations where popular opinion has its roots in the basis of fighting for a unique identity.
In the absence of proper legal political forums, such sentiment ignites unrest which only builds up until circumstances deliver a martyr such as Burhan Wani. It is evident that Kashmir has been reduced to become a ping-pong ball in the rivalry between India and Pakistan. However, it should not be forgotten that history is instructive. If India continues to treat Kashmiri sensibility with violent condescension and Pakistan regresses to its policy of exploiting the situation, both countries may find that the void in between will be filled by non-state actors who will turn political violence into full all out chaos.
Fettling will push Kashmiris into a black hole where increasing brutishness will only be met by an increase in the existing bellicosity leading to conditions of extreme desolation and depravity. Hence, Mr. Modi’s government must warrant that human rights are being protected in Kashmir and ensure that Kashmiris are given a fair shot at a prosperous future or at least a peaceful one. This is in the best interests of not only itself but for the entire region.
Arhama Siddiqa is a LUMS and University of Warwick Alumnus. She is currently a research fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. Her prime area of interest is World Politics and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org