Indian troops drove through Srinagar's streets on Wednesday in an effort to quell the violence that has bloodied the city this summer: the first time military force has ever been used to assist riot control efforts in Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital. So why now? Fourteen protesters had died at the hands of police since June and there was no sign of the violence abating. There was the apprehension that pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine might be targeted by mobs and that in turn might spark off communal violence in Jammu and elsewhere. But tragic as the toll has been, there was no case for calling out the Army. Kashmir has seen higher fatalities, and more intense clashes, in recent years. The J&K Police and the Central Reserve Police Force have more than once demonstrated that they can deal with the violence — and, when well-officered, with minimal recourse to lethal force. Perceptions have been distorted by some hysterical reporting. Fortunately, Srinagar hasn't been handed over to the Army. But committing the military to crowd management duties will, sooner or later, lead to confrontation with unarmed protesters — and given that the Army isn't trained in riot control, bloodshed.
Is there a way forward? First, Jammu and Kashmir could start developing effective but non-lethal crowd control resources. Killings of unarmed protesters are a growing national malaise, the outcome of poor training and organisational flaws. Actually, in recent years, the police in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh have killed large multiples of the numbers of civilians shot by their counterparts in J&K. But the State must not draw too much consolation from this. Democratic political parties must immediately forge an agenda for political action and development in cities in the valley, where a combination of historical factors has ensured that young people are both angry and voiceless. Earlier this week, in a television interview marked by breathtaking honesty, a former Deputy Chief Minister lashed out at J&K's political class for blaming the Indian government, and its armed forces, for problems they had themselves created. Muzaffar Hussain Beigh of the People's Democratic Party charged politicians, himself included, with “betraying” the State's youth. He sharply criticised those who perpetuated a culture of hate by telling their children they had no future in a “Hindu country.” This is the kind of honesty and introspection needed if a way forward is to be found. Politicians in the State, as well as their counterparts in New Delhi, must ask themselves some hard questions — and accept unwelcome answers — if the senseless sacrifice of teenagers' lives is to end.
Keywords: Kashmir violence