Jammu and Kashmir’s major unionist political formations have put the blame of the region’s ‘deteriorating ground situation’, especially in the wake of the killings of at least eight non-combatants in the first week of October alone, on the BJP-led government in New Delhi.
Leaders of the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) — a political conglomerate formed in J&K to fight for restoration of region’s semiautonomous status and statehood — met at the Srinagar-based ‘Gupkar’ residence of former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah on October 8 to “take stock of the current situation prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir.”
The meeting was attended by Dr Farooq Abdullah, patron of the National Conference (NC); Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister and chief of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, State Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist); and Justice (retired) Hasnain Masoodi, a Member Parliament and senior NC leader.
‘Climate of fear like 1990s’
While unreservedly deploring the recent killings in the Kashmir Valley, most of them in Srinagar, the Gupkar leaders said that “these killings have created a climate of fear that has not been witnessed in Kashmir since the early 1990s.”
Drawing a parallel with the state of affairs that prevailed in the 1990s, the Alliance said that “it is the result of the failure of the policies of the BJP government that have brought Jammu and Kashmir to this point.”
Centre adopting muscular policy: Mehbooba Mufti
Mehbooba Mufti accused the Centre of adopting “a muscular policy”. The aim of this policy, she said, was to “suppress and disempower Kashmiris. Even mainstream political activity is selectively allowed, thus obliterating the middle ground.”
“Moreover, many orders have been passed by New Delhi which have further vitiated the atmosphere and only confirmed peoples’ suspicion with regards to demographic changes in Jammu and Kashmir,” she told The Federal in an exclusive chat, adding, “in the name of fighting militancy, the BJP government has legitimised all illegitimate and unconstitutional actions.”
Mufti spoke at length about the “arbitrary termination of government employees on flimsy grounds, continued harassment of journalists, gagging of media and suppression of the civil society.” In this atmosphere of fear, she said, “there is no outlet available to the people of Kashmir to give a vent to their feelings, as no peaceful assembly or dissent is allowed in the Kashmir Valley.”
‘False narrative of normalcy’
Mufti said the Government of India is busy projecting a false narrative of normalcy to the outside world. “Now all of this is blowing into their face, and, unfortunately, innocent civilians are bearing the brunt,” she said.
The PDP President claimed that she was again placed under house arrest by the J&K administration, headed by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, and prevented from meeting the family of a 30-year-old Parvez Ahmad, a civilian from south Kashmir’s Anantnag, who was killed in firing by the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on the evening of October 7.
The government forces had said in a statement that the SUV car, which Parvez Ahmad was travelling in, did not stop at a checkpoint on the highway, forcing the personnel present on duty to open fire in “self-defence”.
The family, however, rejected the police claim. They alleged that Ahmad was denied a dignified burial according to Islamic rituals. The slain civilian’s body was hurriedly buried, according to the family.
“Parvez Ahmed, a tribal Muslim from the Gujjar community, was killed by the CRPF troopers. Who will speak for him, he was also a citizen of J&K. His funeral was held early in the morning (October 8), even though his family was not allowed to attend Namaz-e-Jinaza (mandatory funeral prayers). What was his fault?” asked tribal activist Guftar Ahmed.
“The killing (of Parvez Ahmed) is the direct result of the heightened state of alert and justification for use of force. Harassment of innocent civilians and the killings (like that of Parvez) will only serve to worsen the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The administration must ensure that the shoot at sight policy is not adopted by Security Forces,” the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the valley-based Gupkar leaders put the onus on the BJP government to take necessary steps and initiate a meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders with the aim to “create a conducive security atmosphere” in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Today, it has been shown that without any doubt that neither demonetization nor the removal of Article 370 has contributed to improving the security situation in J&K. In fact, some recent decisions of the Jammu and Kashmir administration have only served to heighten differences between the communities that otherwise were living peacefully amongst each other,” the PAGD said in a joint statement signed by the amalgam’s chief spokesperson M. Y. Tarigami.
Members of the minority Pandit community are feeling insecure in the aftermath of recent killings of eight civilians, including a well-known chemist, a school principal, a street vendor in Srinagar, and a taxi driver in north Kashmir, the leaders said.
‘All are feeling threatened and insecure’
Sanjay Tickoo, who heads the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, a group representing those members of the minority Pandit community who did not depart from the Kashmir Valley in the 1990s, told The Federal: “Yes, all are feeling threatened and insecure. The only difference with the situation existing in the 1990s is that today we at least have mobile phones and the internet to remain in touch with one another.”
He said that the recent civilian killings of some members of the majority as well the minority community in Kashmir did not surprise him. “All of this was expected. The situation is an offshoot of the removal of Article 370. There is fear psychosis, which is unprecedented in many ways.”
Tickoo appealed to people to come forward regardless of faith and identity with the objective of saving precious human lives. “Expressing outrage about civilian killings on social media platforms is one thing, but what is needed is a robust and unified effort to showcase interfaith unity and cultural confluence. Unity is the way forward,” he further said.
Tickoo never migrated from Kashmir, his hometown, but is currently under a security cover due to the increased threat perception. “I have been placed in the Red. The fear is palpable. I am currently under protection in Srinagar,” he confirmed to The Federal.
According to Tickoo, at least 20-25 Pandit families have temporarily shifted to Jammu region for now. “As per my knowledge, some 20-25 families who have their own vehicles and an alternative accommodation there in Jammu have left the valley temporarily, at least till things improve here in Kashmir.”
Another casualty of the prevailing atmosphere is the future of the panches and sarpanches. According to Mohit Bhan, PDP’s spokesperson, at least “55 panch and sarpanches have resigned en masse. Cosmetic normalcy pomp and show being projected stands punctured. The government has failed in securing these elected representatives and neither could empower them to carry out public welfare works.”
Bhan uploaded the resignation letters with signatures of the panches and sarpanches on social media.
As per official figures, about 100 civilian killings have taken place in J&K in the last more than two years, of which more than 85 belong to the Muslim community. According to police, at least 28 civilians have been killed in J&K since January this year — 21 of them Muslims and seven non-Muslims.
‘Act of terror’
Satish Mahaldar, chairperson Reconciliation, Return and Rehabilitation of Migrants, said, “The Union government has failed to secure minorities in Kashmir. The recent killings in Kashmir are a part of a well-planned terror action plot, which is aimed at driving out remaining minorities from the valley.”
Senior NC leader and former cabinet minister Agha Ruhullah Mehdi described the recent killings as an “act of terror”. “These killings are against the very core values that we believe here in Kashmir. After these tragic incidents, one can easily assess the security situation. The situation is as bad as it was in the 1990s,” Mehdi told The Federal, adding that, “the failure of the government and security agencies is apparent.”
Mehdi had a question: “How come are these ‘unknown’ killers free to move and act as and when they wish to!”
On his part, Director General of J&K Police Dilbagh Singh told reporters in Srinagar, “These incidents targeting civilians are abhorrent…this is an attempt to divide the Kashmiri community. We are investigating these incidents…”
Meanwhile, a purported statement, issued by The Resistance Front (TRF), which the authorities believe is a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen militant outfits, claimed responsibility for most of the civilian killings that took place in parts of Srinagar and in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.