Anger over civilian deaths simmers even after protests have subsided.
Fayyaz Ahmed Rah's last conversation with his son Sameer was in the afternoon of August 2. He gave the eight-year-old boy Rs.10 to buy pears from a hawker outside their home in Srinagar's Batmaloo area. The boy ran out with the note and returned with five juicy “babbugoshas”. Grabbing one, he ran out again, telling his father he was going to an uncle's house. A couple of hours later, Sameer was dead.
The people in the neighbourhood told Mr. Rah they had seen four or five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers bash him with lathis in a back alley, and push a stick down his throat.
“They killed a seven-year-old boy, the light of my home. He was holding a pear, not a gun, not even a stone,” said Mr. Rah, who makes a living selling fruit at a nearby bus terminus.
Srinagar police deny the boy was beaten, and say he died of being trampled in a stampede when they tear-gassed a demonstration in the area that day. But in Kashmir, where the gulf between law enforcers and the people has worsened in the last four months, there are few takers for the police version. The father has refused to accept the police FIR of Sameer's death.
“There was no demonstration. It was only after my son's death that the protests began,” Mr. Fayyaz said, tears pouring down his face. “Those CRPF men who killed my son should not go unpunished.”
Sameer is among the 112 people who died between June and October 2010, starting with the June 11 killing of Tufail Mattoo, a 17-year-old schoolboy, as police and the CRPF battled a stone pelting agitation in Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir. Every death caused more protests, and the death toll rose with each protest.
The police say while some of those deaths were unjustified and a result of wrongful action, in most cases the intent of the mob was violent, and there was no option but to open fire.
“Since when did arson become a peaceful agitation?” asked a Srinagar police official in response to criticism that security forces had fired at peaceful demonstrations. “That we should be using non-lethal and Gandhian methods to counter violence is a tall order.”
Whatever the police defence, the deaths have left a simmering anger against “Indian forces”, New Delhi and the Omar Abdullah-led State government, even though the agitation has now tapered off. That only 17 of those deaths are to be investigated — the number determined by the end-July date on which a two-member judicial commission was appointed to enquire into the killings — is another sore point.
But while people want an investigation into all the deaths, going by the fate of past enquiry commissions, they have no faith it will lead to punishment of the perpetrators, particularly if security forces are implicated.
Parvez Imroz, a lawyer heading the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, told The Hindu there were 458 cases from 1990-2006 in which investigations had implicated security forces personnel, but sanction for prosecution was not yet forthcoming.
Mohammed Arshad Mattoo, the father of Tufail, has not yet responded to the two notices from the judicial commission asking him to depose before it. Instead he has chosen to launch his own court battle to have an FIR of his son's death lodged.
The Class 12 boy died while returning home from his coaching classes. At first, police suggested he might have been killed by his friends, but an autopsy showed he died of a head injury from a teargas canister. His father said he was never part of any stone-pelting agitation.
With the help of a court order, Mr. Mattoo forced the police to register an FIR. But the FIR submitted by the police in the court showed death in crossfire. Mr. Mattoo rejected it, and the matter is still before the chief judicial magistrate.
A well-to-do carpet trader, he refused the Rs. 5 lakh compensation money that the government offered him. The neighbourhood walls are scrawled with the slogan “Go India go”.
“I am not here to sell my son's blood. Had this government acted to punish my son's killers immediately,” he said, “the other 111 more people need not have died.”
India, Mr. Mattoo said, had failed him. “I used to respect many things about Indian democracy, including its media, but not anymore,” he said.
That sentiment is widely shared. Why is there an outcry in Parliament when two farmers die in police firing in Uttar Pradesh, and none for 112 deaths in Kashmir, people ask. The Maharashtra Chief Minister resigns in a corruption scandal, a Rathore is sent to jail because of a media outcry, but nothing stirs in Kashmir even after so many deaths, they argue.
“In other parts of India, the way civil society has raised concerns, even about the anti-Naxal operations, the government has realised it cannot do whatever it likes. But in Kashmir,” said Mr. Imroz, “security forces enjoy not just legal immunity, but political and moral immunity from Indian civil society and media.”
While it was understood that Kashmir's political issues are complex and involve many sensitivities that cannot be settled overnight, the lawyer said, the government must at least address the human issues. “But if you are not doing even that, Indian democracy is only denigrating itself.”
There was more justice for animals in India than for Kashmiris, said Sameer's weeping father, pointing to a ban on killing stray dogs, and how two Kashmiri men were in jail since 2007 for killing a bear.
“Hindustan may be a democratic country,” said Ghulam Nabi Hakim, whose 19-year-old son Fida Nabi died after being hit by a bullet on August 3 during a funeral procession for Suhail Ahmed Dar, a 15-year-old who was killed when police and CRPF troopers opened fire to disperse a stone-pelting mob protesting the death of another boy earlier in the day, “but in the case of Kashmir, it forgets everything. There is no justice for Kashmiris in the Indian Constitution.”
The family of Umar Qayoom, a 17-year-old boy who died of collapsed lungs allegedly after being beaten by police during a protest on August 22, said their entreaties for filing an FIR had been rejected. The boy's name does not figure in the official list of the dead.
“If Kashmir is really an atoot ang (integral part) of India,” said his father Abdul Qayyum, “why does India not feel for us? When one part of the body is hurt, the rest of the body should feel it. Please feel our pain.”
Keywords: Kashmir unrest