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AUGUST 2013 ISSUE

Cover Story Force Magazine
Wail of the Valley
While government drags its feet, religious radicalisation is tearing away the fabric of the society
 
By Ghazala Wahab

Protestors throwing stones at the secruity forcesBy the first week of July 2013, it appeared that the fears of a washed out tourist season in Kashmir were unfounded. Sure there were massive cancellations after the government of India decided to hang Afzal Guru despite the advice of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah in the beginning of the tourist season, but within a few weeks of the hanging, bookings resumed and the peripatetic Indians started swarming the Valley.

Then reality struck. On July 17, a few Border Security Force (BSF) personnel had a scuffle with a person who happened to be a relative of a priest of the local mosque in Ramban, south of Pir Panjal. The kerfuffle led to the BSF men to chase the person back to the mosque. In the ensuing commotion, the devotees in the mosque felt that the BSF personnel had shown disrespect to the copy of the Quran. Or maybe it was just a rumour. However, the following day, a crowd collected outside the BSF location in Ramban protesting desecration of Quran. Some started pelting stones. Obviously, the BSF men couldn’t have thrown stones back at the crowd. They don’t train in stone-pelting. They did what they know. They fired at the crowd to disperse it.

While the bullets killed four protestors and injured many more, they also shattered the thin veneer of normalcy. Towns on both sides of the Pir Panjal erupted in protests. Curfew was imposed. The tourists and the Amarnath pilgrims were stranded in various places of the Valley. Kashmir, once again resembled a war zone, if only for a couple of weeks, but those were enough to disrupt the daily lives of the people; and to remind them how national security doesn’t imply security of their lives.

As usually happens in Kashmir, the BSF first raised the bogey of national security accusing the local with whom the scuffle happened of suspicious activities. Subsequently, it blamed the J&K police for first starting the fire. The police blamed it back. The BSF then ordered an internal enquiry and promptly exonerated itself. Subsequently, even as the state government ordered a magisterial investigation, the Union ministry of home affairs also gave assurances of holding an impartial enquiry.

Since the BSF enquiry has already absolved it of any wrong-doing, it is obvious that the state government’s investigations will be at variance with the BSF’s. And most probably, the Union government’s enquiry, if that happens too, will pin the blame on one junior officer or a trigger-happy non-officer.

Even as the incident will be added to the already very long Kashmiri narrative of brutality, torture and killings by the Indian security forces, the Kashmiris, the security forces and the Government of India know that this is not the last such incident. In Kashmir, the fancy-sounding assertion — zero tolerance for human rights violation — means that the security forces will try to kill less and the government will order an enquiry with alacrity. It does not mean that killing of innocents will stop or that the guilty will be punished.
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