A violent time: on the protests in Shopian

Shopian in south Kashmir is on edge. On Sunday five militants, including slain Hizbul Mujahideen ‘commander’ Burhan Wani’s aide and a Kashmir University assistant professor, were killed in Badigam village of Shopian district in an encounter. In protests that followed, at least five civilians died and over 130 were injured in clashes with the security forces. Sunday’s violence capped a week of violence in Jammu and Kashmir, with a death toll of at least 24. Early on Sunday morning, a gunfight broke out after a Rashtriya Rifles unit launched a cordon-and-search operation on a specific input. As the firefight between the two sides began and when security forces rushed in more reinforcements, including para-commandos and the Jammu and Kashmir police’s Special Operations Group, civilians began to gather in protest. Dozens took to the streets, throwing stones at the security forces, who retaliated with teargas and pellet guns. The security forces believe it was a strategy to distract them and facilitate the militants’ escape. The protests were not just limited to the operation site, and clashes were reported from at least two other locations in the Valley. Sunday, unfortunately, was not an unusual day in the Valley. It reflected a new normal, which includes daily violence involving the security forces, civilians and militants, all of it mostly ignored by the Indian political establishment. It not only highlighted how Shopian, once a relatively peaceful area, has been transformed, but also how violence in the Valley shifts to different geographies instead of being confined to traditional militant strongholds.

According to official data, after claiming a few thousand lives annually starting 1990, violence in the State began to decline in 2007-08, with 2012 seeing it dip to 117 deaths. However, starting 2013 it has been climbing back up sharply. The killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016 triggered a fresh round of violence and several dozen local youth have taken up guns since then. In 2017, all of 358 people died in the Valley. Episodic spells of stone-pelting, with the intensity and duration varying, have posed a particularly difficult dilemma for the security forces and the civil administration. The challenge is not only to calm the street and stare down militants. It is to do so in a manner that keeps civilians out of harm’s way, so that alienation does not deepen. That the authorities are failing to do so is evident from reports of increased recruitment by militant groups even in once-tranquil areas such as Shopian. Home-grown militancy is a reflection of alienation, and the alarming reports of its revival demand a security strategy as well as a political outreach. In 2010, the political establishment responded to the summer of intense protests by reaching out to the Valley with an all-party delegation. The Centre must consider sending a similar all-party delegation to the State, before summer sets in.


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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 4:23:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-violent-time/article23805538.ece

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