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Shattered Dreams: What's Wrong With India's Kashmir Policy?
Kashmir imbroglio has reached to a point where it has started affecting every strata of society. Gone are the days when only militants and their supporters, separatist leaders and their kiths and kins faced the brunt, now there is time when every Kashmiri is facing heat in one or the other way.
Kashmir Freedom Struggle has entered into a crucial phase. From children to young, adult to elder, lawyers to doctors, in other words every section of society is attached to Movement. Common people in Kashmir had always a grudge that intelligentsia has been keeping themselves aloof from the Kashmir Movement, but times have changed, now intellectuals have joined the Movement too and besides young men from affluent and well-to-do families, mostly highly qualified have become part and parcel of the Struggle.
In recent past, majority of the well educated youth have joined militant ranks, a development that has worried the security establishment. Critics always targeted Hurriyat leadership for exploiting ordinary youth while taking good care of their own children, however, this myth has fallen flat after Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Chairman Muhammad Ashraf Sehrai’s son joined militant ranks.
A Journalist aptly remarked on a TV debate that people of Kashmir were earlier anti-India but now they hate India. Keeping the present scenario in view, his remarks may be based on truth. That Journo lives in Kashmir, knows the ground reality and above all faces the real life situation.
For an ordinary Indian, who struggles whole day to earn a sum of money for his daily meal, Kashmir doesn’t matter but for security establishment and Indian Government the subject Kashmir is catchy and it matters a lot. Now if you are a politician and know the art of fomenting trouble to garner votes, just invoke Kashmir and the Indian soldiers operating here, just use the word Kashmir, you will be through. But if you are a policy maker and really do care about the country you have to find ways and means to win the hearts and minds of people of Valley. The question is why people in Kashmir have turned from anti-India to Hate India?
There is resentment. There are aspirations. People yearn for peace and wish Kashmir issue gets resolved without any bloodshed. Equally, people at the helm of affairs want to bring Kashmiris into mainstream- the term vaguely used for those who support India in Kashmir.
The other day one of my friends remarked: “For killing a militant, India is killing thousand souls.” He went ahead: “Every Kashmiri apple is not delicious.”
It didn’t take me long to get his riddles. What is the fun of killing a militant or two, if you are killing those who barely are connecting to militancy? You have no right to rejoice and celebrate the killing of a militant, when you inflict thousands of injury marks on those families who always wish to live a peaceful life? You launch a Cordon and Search Operation and then ransack houses, thrash people and damage vehicles and public and private property. If this is the way to win the hearts and minds of people, then only God can save you. Forgive me if my words pinch you or you feel I am talking rubbish. But this is the reality. Being a journalist I have filed more than five hundred stories on ransacking and thrashing in Kashmir. Even videos showing clear images of troopers pelting stones on houses, damaging property, thrashing people are viral on social media. If you can’t win the hearts and minds of people, at least stop this Sadbhavna Mission and save money for your country. By supporting an erring soldier, Government of India is not only creating a bad precedence but it also leaves an impression on the minds of people of Kashmir that they are nothing but bunch of terrorists who are only fit to be killed.
In Kashmir even those have suffered who were barely linked to Freedom Struggle. Imagine a situation, a militant or a group of militants chased by Government Forces suddenly entering your house. You are panicked but hapless. Forces cordon off your house, raze it to ground. The house owner is finished. Instead of compensating him, he is being questioned. There are thousands of such house owners who lost their houses within a span of couple of hours. Instead of compensating them, Government usually adopts tough route to subdue them, not knowing, the owner of the house will never wish to see his mansion getting raised to ground. Exceptions are always there but we have to understand that majority of them are the victims of situation and time.
A recent example is Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, known in the literary circles of Kashmir as Madhosh Balhami, who within a span of few hours lost everything. His house where militants took refuge in his absence was blasted and razed to ground. He lost everything.
With a renewed face of militancy hitting Kashmir valley and killing of militants becoming a daily affair, the preferred mode for the government forces, instead of waiting for militants to run out of their ammunition and neutralizing them inside buildings, has been to throw gunpowder and blast the buildings. The government forces usually plant IED’s to blast the house and we have seen in recent past, charred bodies of militants being recovered from the site. During the gunfight, nothing survives the assault.
Across Kashmir Valley, particularly in Southern parts, hundreds of people have lost their everything within a span of minutes. During my visit to different encounter sites, what I found most of the houses razed to ground were concreted and well structured. It is not an easy task to raise a house in Kashmir. It needs your whole savings to get a house constructed. As they say in Kashmir, if you want to curse anybody, just pray to God to keep him busy in house building and marriage ceremonies. Both the affairs cost heavily.
The heaps of scattered rubble and detritus of concreted houses, highlight the plight of hundreds of people in Kashmir whose shelters are being damaged during the encounters between the militants and government forces. These razed houses tell their own stories, stories about shattered dreams, story of sorrow and sadness. These tell the stories of those people who own it and how they plan for survival and cope up with the situation.
A two decade old armed rebellion in Kashmir witnessed destruction of the public property at large scale besides the killings and bloodshed. There are hundreds of residential houses razed to ground during the fierce gun battles.
If Government sources are to be believed, there is minimal package for those who lose their houses during encounters. That minimal package is not enough for survival. In general the victims whose houses are being damaged see no government aid coming for their assistance. They are left to fend for themselves. The compensation given by the government, according to victims is too meagre that it could not even bear the costs of a plinth of the house. Victims say the process of getting the relief amounts sanctioned is hectic and officials adopt delay tactics in getting the cases approved.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Government of India has sanctioned a scheme in the year 2010 for assistance towards damaged immovable/movable property during action by army in Jammu and Kashmir. As per the scheme, the amount of relief will be to the extent of the total loss/ damage assessed by the District Level Committee and subject to an upper ceiling of Rs. 10 lakhs. But the victims contradict the government claims, saying they get meagre amounts as compensation that too after much time consuming official procedure.
A house recalls that when he lost his concreted house in one of the encounters, there no one from the government coming for help. “There were few locals in my area who donated money and I constructed a tin shed at the place where my house once stood. After the encounter, an official from the district administration came for the inspection and recorded my statement. But I haven’t received any compensation till date,” Manzoor said.
A local from Central Kashmir’s Budgam district said that he lost his mansion worth Crores of rupees in a gunfight. “Only one militant with a single AK 47 assault rifle was present in my house. Instead of exhausting his ammunition, government forces blasted my house. Even I lost my live stock and the vehicles parked in my yard were all damaged.
“Money comes and goes but what is painful is the loss of memory. Loss of memory means I lost everything that I had saved all through my life, my memorable child and adulthood photographs, rare books, gifts, trophies, testimonials, souvenirs, everything, everything I lost. This is what for I repent and it is really painful,”
The irony of Kashmir is that during the anti-militancy operations, it has become a routine that whenever there is a gunfight between the militants and the army more than one house are razed to the ground to ensure militants are dead.
The agony and pain that these victims go through is intolerable and it will take time to narrate their ordeal.
I would like to conclude with a simple question, whether destruction of properties and killing few odd militants will really help India to win the ailing hearts of rank and file in Kashmir. If so, then she is (not) going in right direction and if no, then there is a dire need to change the strategy.
(Neyaz Elahi is associated with Current News Service who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)