Conviction and repression

May 28, 2022 12:00 am | Updated 05:31 am IST

There is a risk of inflamed separatist passions in Kashmir following Yasin Malik’s conviction

After pleading guilty to all charges related to a terror funding case, including those under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), it was inevitable that separatist leader Yasin Malik, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, would be sentenced to life imprisonment as he was by an NIA court. Malik’s chequered past includes serious charges of being involved in the killing of Indian Air Force officers in 1990. It is another matter if Malik, who claims to have abjured violence and has been part of several parleys with the Indian government in peace talks since the mid-1990s, was pleading guilty to all charges in order to make a political statement and to inflame passions to get support for the flagging separatist leadership in the Kashmir Valley. Nevertheless, with the Union Government adopting a hard line since 2019 in dealing with the separatist movement, it was a foregone conclusion that the charges against Malik would have been doggedly pursued. Among the separatists, the JKLF remains an outfit committed to the independence of Kashmir, including parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, placing it on a confrontationist course with the Indian government, notwithstanding Malik’s claims of giving up violence as a means. The initial reaction in the Valley to Malik’s conviction was an uptick in violence and protests even as security clampdowns were put in place to prevent any further upsurge. Malik’s arrest and conviction, the ongoing house arrest of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the death of hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani suggest that the political face of separatism has been neutralised in the valley.

Yet, this does not mean that the voices of separatism in the Valley have been silenced. Militant incidents with law enforcement, security personnel and even Kashmiri Pandits as targets have continued to rage on, and the absence of the political leadership is expected to give way to more militancy. This is a situation that should not be taken lightly. With the mainstream Kashmir polity also nursing a grievance of alienation over the Indian government’s decisions to do away with the special status for Jammu and Kashmir, its bifurcation into two Union Territories and loss of statehood, besides the ham-handed approach to achieve a politically suitable delimitation of electoral constituencies, the situation in the Valley threatens to return to what prevailed during the violent 1990s. It is possible that Yasin Malik’s conviction, even if obtained through the judicial process, will be seen in the Valley as an extension of the political repression that has been unleashed since 2019, and militant groups will definitely seek to portray it that way. It is up to the Union Government to resuscitate confidence-building measures in the Union Territory. A return to statehood and a re-activation of the democratic political process is a much-needed imperative.

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