The violent and raucous protests intentionally barrelled out onto the streets, the shrill extremist rhetoric and the ominous prognostications emanating from out-of-work politicians in the aftermath of Kashmiri terrorist Burhan Wani’s death constitute a well-coordinated charade—part of a devious strategy to imbue a waning separatist movement with a larger than life image and confer on it a misplaced credibility. Moreover, the deaths of impressionable young men pushed into the jaws of death by deliberate provocation of security personnel serve as easy grist for the nefarious propaganda mill, which casts the Indian Army as a brutal oppressive force. That essentially is the crux of the current Kashmir imbroglio. Support for the separatist movement has dwindled over the years. As per intelligence reports, no more than 150 militants (half of them locals) roam freely in the valley today, down from several thousands during the heyday of militancy. Terrorism related deaths have also fallen drastically. In 2016, there were 112 casualties compared to the approximately 2,000 annual deaths in the period of 1993-2003.
Even if the overgenerous estimate of thousands flocking to Burhan Wani’s funeral are to be believed, they still constitute a small minority, albeit a vocal one—a committed band of rabble rousers dancing to the tune of a few separatist leaders and their Pakistani masters, whose sole aim is to turn the state away from the path of development and push it back into the abyss of uncertainty and mayhem. The vast majority remain firmly dedicated to democratic principles as indicated by the 2014 Assembly elections. Ignoring the diktat of the Hurriyat, Kashmiris flocked to the polls in large numbers producing the highest voter turnout (65%) in 25 years—a standing testimony to the success of Indian democracy. The death toll in Kashmir is not the result of unprovoked firing by trigger happy security personnel. It is the direct consequence of lawless mobocracy: police stations have been incinerated, vehicles pushed into the water along with live human beings and even the wives and children of police have not been spared. No government can be a mute spectator to such evil pandemonium. Efforts to pin the label of authoritarianism on the Indian government are a sham. Prior to 1989-90, Kashmir was relatively peaceful. However, things changed in late 1989 and early 1990. There was a total collapse of law and order, with terrorists (foreign and local) having a free run of the land. The minority Kashmiri Pandits were systematically targeted. The night of 19 January 1990 stands out as a black day in the history of India and Kashmir. Recalling that fateful night, Col Tej Kumar Tikoo, in his book, Kashmir: Its Aborigines and Their Exodus, writes: “As the night fell, the microscopic community became panic-stricken when the Valley began reverberating with the war-cries of Islamists... A host of highly provocative, communal and threatening slogans...incited the Muslims to come out on the streets... These slogans were mixed with precise and unambiguous threats to Pandits. They were presented with three choices—Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive (convert to Islam, leave the place or perish).”
Summing up the events of January 1990, the author Rahul Pandita (Our Moon has Blood Clots) avers: “Massive crowds assemble in mosques across valley, shouting anti-India, anti-Pandit slogans. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits begins. In the next few months, hundreds of innocent Pandits are tortured, killed and raped. By the year-end, about 350,000 Pandits have escaped from the Valley and taken refuge in Jammu and elsewhere. Only a handful of them stay back.”
It was against this backdrop of ethnic cleansing that the AFSPA (J&K) was enacted in September 1990. Therefore, the Indian Army in Kashmir is not a brute occupying force out to crush popular sentiment. It is the legitimate arm of a democratic government mandated to uphold the law of the land in a lawless jungle of radical fundamentalism. A vocal and disruptive minority cannot be allowed to hold the majority hostage. An undemocratic, fundamentalist movement that celebrates violence and indulges in ethnic cleansing cannot be eulogised as a fight for “azadi”. It is time to call a spade a spade.
Vivek Gumaste is a US based academic and political commentator.