Kashmir has been on the boil yet again, and so yet again the festering wounds have shown up. In the latest episode of unending battle between the security forces and the separatists, 11 people have been killed in Pulwama district of Kashmir, with civilians taking the biggest brunt. Three militants and an Army jawan were killed while seven civilians lost their lives and scores others were injured of bullet injuries in the gun battle.
According to a doctor at the Pulwama district hospital, six civilians who died had firearm injuries in the head, abdomen, and neck, while 25 injured had bullet and pellet wounds. All were young, most of them in the age group of 18 to 23 years.
This has been the bloodiest year for Kashmir in nearly a decade. According to varied statistics, 525 to 550 people have been killed this year, which includes about 250 militants, nearly 150 soldiers or policemen and almost as many civilians.
For the past few months, Kashmir has witnessed an intermittent cycle of violence.
A few days before the Pulwana incident, militants shot dead four policemen when they stormed a security post in Shopian district. Every month there have been a handful of such incidents. In mid October, three militants were killed in an encounter. One policeman and a civilian also died in the gun battle in Srinagar.
The pattern has somewhat been the same: Information is received about the presence of militants, security forces storm the hideout, encounter ensues, militants killed as well as policemen, civilians march towards the site of gun fight, several lose their live and many are maimed from bullets fired by police to disperse the crowd.
And the resultant pattern has also been the same: There is anger against the police and security forces, with militants targeting the vulnerable policemen and their families, while the seething civilians take to the streets to lodge their protest against the ‘insensitive’security forces and police resulting in clashes, the authorities close down schools and colleges, mobile and Internet services are suspended, and hundreds of paramilitary troops are rushed to guard the streets to prevent the protests from spiralling.
In the police firing to disperse demonstrators, many a youth have been injured in the eye from pellet injuries, with one of the youngest being a 18 months old girl.
In recent years, more than 6,000 people, mostly teenagers, have lost their eyesight fully or partially after being struck by pellets fired by security forces.
It is such festering wounds that keep on showing up after every encounter.
And many politicians do not mince words to expess their anger.
Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti says no country can win a war by killing its own people.
“How long are we going to shoulder the coffins of our youngsters? So many civilians killed post encounter in Pulwama,” she tweeted.
Since the State came under Governor’s Rule, the casualty graph of militants, civilians and security forces alike has been on the rise. Six civilians were killed in August; five in September; 14 in October; eight in November and seven in December.
But it is the killings of civilians that inflict a long lasting wound on the psyche of Kashmiris.
As one Kashmiri reportedly remarked: “We live in a perpetual state of mourning. The mourning passes from one village to another, from one home to another. In the end, we all are dying.” A sense of detachment can be seen in the low voter turnout in the recent panchayat polls. The turnout was poor in many areas, with South Kashmir being the worst.
Only 11,888 of the 1,47,578 registered voters (about 8 per cent) cast their ballots in South Kashmir. Awantipora witnessed the lowest voter turnout at 0.4 per cent. Of the 2,547 registered voters there, merely 10 exercised their franchise. In Pulwama, only 61 out of 5,793 voters (1.1 per cent) turned up, while Kulgam and Anantnag recorded a turnout of 6.4 per cent (2,491 of 38,659) and 9.3 per cent (9,326 of 1,00,579), respectively.
Not only voters but many candidates also stayed away. Figures reveal that 823 of the 2,382 sarpanch wards remained vacant and 763 sarpanches were elected unopposed. So in practicality, the panchayat elections were held only in 802 wards.
Similarly, 11,283 of the 18,878 panch wards remained vacant. Polling took place only in 1,863 wards, which meant 5,723 candidates were elected unopposed. Observers interpret the poor turnout in these elections as expression of people’s unhappiness over the political situation in the Valley.
The question everyone is asking is: Will militancy in Kashmir ever come to an end?
According to Haseeb A Drabu, former finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir, a security system has evolved over the past 30 years that incentivises the killings of militants rather than catching them alive or getting them to surrender. There is a well-laid-out “financial reward system” in place for killing a militant but none for taking him into custody. Everytime security personnel kill a militant, they get a cash award, from Rs 7 lakh to Rs 12.5 lakh. The framework of incentives also include gallantry medals. Those who aid and assist in locating the militant leading to his killing are part of the financial reward chain. They all share the spoils. What this system does is to institutionalise violence.
What one now needs is a change in that system to end the vicious cycle of violence and the sense of alienation of the people.>