Isolating The Issue of Killings of Innocents in Jammu and Kashmir

By Balraj Puri
November 1998

I have expressed my agony - through a written words, a verbal speech or merely through a tear - ever since militancy started in Kashmir, over every killing of innocents, whether the killing was done by the militants or by the security forces and whether the victim was a Hindu or Muslim.

Why did Kashmiri youth take to armz? Who and in what degree is he to blame for resorting to such desperation? What are the compulsions of the state and in what other manner should it have met a challenge to its authority and national intergrity? And what is the difference between the magnitude of excesses committed by either side? These are vital and related issues and cannot be brushed under the carpet. I have discussed and analysed them separately. But whatever be one's opnion on tbe issues, there is absolutely justification, morally, politically and on grounds of self-interest, for killing a single uninvolved, unarmed and innocent person.

No single individual, much less a person like me can make any effective contribution to the solution of the larger and basic issue of Kashmir, particularly after it has been fully internationalised. But a consensus could perhaps be built up against killing of anybody simply because he belongs to a different religion or political ideology. Many eminent personalities of India joined protest agianst innocent killings. At one stage the situation seemed to be improving. The Indian state did respond to ciriticism by the national and iternational human rights organisations, of some of the actions of the security forces. Human rights have been introduced in their training programmes. Inquiries have been held into some complaints of excesses; erring officers have been prosecuted, punished, dismissed, sentenced to imprisonment. Certainly not enough. Efforts should continue for further improvement.

Muslim conscience was similarly ohtraged when seven innocent Kashmiri Pandits, who unlike other members of their community, had put their full trust in the followers of Islam and did not migrate, were killled at Sangrama in March 1997. Again every Muslim seemed to be visibly burdened with a sense of guilt when militants butchered 26 members of the minority community at Wandhama. I believe that these two incidents quite significantly contributed to the alienation of militants from the people of Kashmir whom they had once claimed to represent. However, a stray comment by a Doordarshan commentator that the Muslim condemnation of Wandhama tragedy was hypocratic and the senseless killing of 7 Muslim youths in Kishtwar village by army jawans were attempts to unload Muslims from their sense of guilt.

I witnessed similar sense of shock, writ large on every Muslim face in Doda, when 26 baratis of two marriage parties were butchered, simply because they were Hindus. The Muslims unanimously condemned this act as un-Islamic. Some of them were so outraged that they offered to risk lives and tell the militants after tracing them in the jungles that they were insulting their great religion. Many of them accompanied me to Prem Nagar to share the grief of the bereaved families. One of them offered to undertake all expenses for the education and upbringing of a 15 year boy who had lost both of his parents. Others offered to share responsibility for the reghabilitation financial and emotional - of the affected families.

If such spontaneous human reactions are not noticed by the video, audio and print media and by the government and the society and the entire Muslim community is blamed for the sins of its co-religionists, such reactions get sub-merged into commmunal polarisaton; thus reducing the isolation of the militants from their own community and helping their cause.

Otherwise, it is human tendency to become desensitised if the inhuman acts continue to recur. Meanwhile any lapse on the part of the other side become an alibi for such acts. Out of the secessionist camp, only Shabir Shah unequivocally condemned "mindless and heinous" killings at Thakrai Shanna and Saranwan villages of Kishtwar. Hurriyats's reaction was expressed through an anonymous spokesman who did call "the carnage a dastardly act". But he "blamed those elements for such activities which have armed a specific group (meanng Hindus) in the name of village Defence Committees". He referred to the killing of members of a Muslim family by VDC. So far no reaction has been received from the secisssionist camp over 35 killings by the militants in Chamba.

Two wrongs do not become right. Killing of innocent members of a Muslim family can or have been more easily traced and killlers should not get any mercy. But why should sins of those killers be visited on innocent Hindus, simply because both belong to the same community? Communal killings do tend to form a vicious circle. But no responsible leader of party should encourage it by justifying it. The series of mass killings of one community in the last few months cannot be justified by exesses or lapses of some members of the VDC's or of the security forces. Nor the latter would be justified in mass killings - or even of one person - or the other community for brutal actions of some militants.

In any case need for greater restraint and disciplines on their part can hardly be denied.

Let everybody, including the Hurriyat, join in the debate on isolating the issue of innocent killings and measures to prevent them. India should even take the initiative in putting the issue on the agenda of Indo-Pak talks on Kashmir and demand their resumption. In the earlier phase of militancy, India resisted any attempt by Pakistan at any forum to discuss human rights violations in Kashmir as it considered such attempt to be a violation of its sovereignty. Now when India claims to have improved its record of human rights and when mass killings are being increasingly resorted to by the militants, it should not hesitate to raise the issue, in its own interest, at bilateral or international levels. Moreover, in its earlier phase, militancy comprised of locals and was led by the local leaders whereas in the present phase, they are not only outsiders but are also led and controlled by Pakistan's officials agencies. Even those who are insisting on participation of J&K as third party in any Indo-Pak talks must realize that debate between the constitutents of the third party is a pre-requisite of its participation which, again, is not possible unless and until it is ensured that nobody would be killed or threatened for his or her political or religious beliefs.

It may not be easy to end what is being called a proxy war in J&K state between India Pakistan. But even worst of wars are known to have observed some mimimum rules. Why can't the conduct of militants and security forces be subjected to such rules; so that while they continue their fight, innocent lives are spared? This also appears to be the first and concrete step in the direction of further agreements towards the eventual solution of an extremely complex problem.

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