By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR: Eighteen months ago, when National Conference leader Omar Abdullah stepped in as the 11th and youngest ever Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the stage was said to be set for state heading towards peace and normalcy. Besides, with Omar in power with support of Congress, the party that heads the coalition at the center, it was presumed that development and stability would be priority-agenda of the state-government and militancy would cease to hinder Kashmirisâ€™ progress. Sadly, Kashmiris are enraged at the minimal importance being given to lives of civilians aspiring for a brighter future. They are agitated at young, innocent Kashmiris, barely out of their teens, falling victim to police firing at protestors. More than a dozen civilians have fallen victim to police firing in less than a monthâ€™s time.
Kashmir is not the only state where Indians take to streets, participating in demonstrations and protest marches, to voice their grievances. Less than a month ago, the opposition parties and the left bloc called for a nation-wide shut-down in protest against the price hike (July 5). The strike was also marked by protestors damaging government property in some places and severely affecting road, rail and also air traffic. There has, however, been no report of any protestor having fallen victim to police firing or other measures used to control the protestors. Just as the rest of India can hold demonstrations and protest movements, without state-controlled bullets, tear-gas shells or sticks hitting them fatally; donâ€™t Kashmiris have the same right?
Minimal attention was apparently paid by concerned authorities to Kashmiri civilians strongly protesting against innocent persons falling victim to state-controlled weapons. They took action against their protest but displayed virtually no attention to what was driving Kashmiris to this stage. This is suggested by measures used by J&K government, which include among others imposition of curfew, Armyâ€™s flag-march and curbs on media. When it seemed that situation was slipping out of control, J&K Chief Minister decided to hold an all-party meeting (July 12) to take suggestions for ending the Kashmir-crisis. At the end of four-hour meeting, Omar said: â€œThe meeting has decided that the all-party delegation shall call on the Prime Minister and invite his attention to various problems faced by the state.â€ It was also agreed to urge â€œgovernment of India to strengthen the on-going peace process through internal and external dialogue.â€
The meeting was attended by leaders of several political parties, including the National Conference, Congress, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It was boycotted by key opposition, Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party (PDP) and Panthers Party.
One of the main points emphasized upon during the meeting was that the parties pressed for an independent inquiry into the recent killings of civilians. A resolution was adopted urging the state government to â€œhave an inquiry conducted to ascertain the circumstances leading to civilian deaths in the action by security forces.â€ Deep anguish was expressed over the â€œunfortunate loss of lives during recent disturbances.â€ The resolution was supported by all parties at the meeting, except BJP. The BJP opposed the resolution saying that it would affect the troopsâ€™ morale.
It is indeed ironic that the state government seemed practically unmoved- till the all-party meeting- about Kashmiri civilians falling victim to action taken by security forces. Had the state government paid due attention to civilians falling victims, Kashmir would not have reached this stage of crisis. Neither would have the leaders attending the meeting viewed the issue as important enough to pass a resolution on it. A major factor responsible for Kashmir having reached the volatile stage is that the concerned authorities have not paid needed attention to Kashmiris residing there. It is not without reason that Kashmiri media protested against curbs placed on them. Only after the curbs were removed that after four daysâ€™ protest, Kashmiri newspapers resumed publishing and returned to the stands. Protest of media and civilians in Kashmir is just a symbolic indication of a hard reality which the state and center must try and understand. The Kashmiris are in no mood to continue falling victims to state-controlled forces. Their protest is against innocent civilians falling victims for no fault of theirs. In todayâ€™s age, when Kashmiris are well aware that even if the state government remains mute towards their protest, their message is being conveyed to the world at large. The Kashmiris have also reached the point when they are not going to allowing their demand for justice be downed by state-controlled bullets. They want justice, which implies strict action against police and security personnel for having needlessly targeted innocent civilians.
It is apparently to give the message that his government was paying attention to all Kashmiris that Omar convened the all-party meeting. PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and Panthers leader Bhim Singh stayed away from the meeting for they viewed it as a futile move. Rejecting Prime Minister and Chief Ministerâ€™s appeal to attend the meeting, Mehbooba said that â€œnothing will come outâ€ of it. The meeting was a â€œpurposeless exercise,â€ according to Panthers Party. They have a point. Till Kashmirisâ€™ voice is heard and strict action is taken against those responsible for civiliansâ€™ killings, the present Kashmir-crisis will remain unresolved!