Wary of another summer of unrest in Kashmir, the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar aren’t just keeping their fingers crossed, there is a lot they are doing to avoid a repeat of 2010. A Kashmir Life report.
Wary of another summer of unrest in Kashmir, the governments in New Delhi and Srinagar aren’t just keeping their fingers crossed, there is a lot they are doing to avoid a repeat of 2010. A Kashmir Life report.
Whatever happens in the Gulf or in West Asia, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh told reporters last week, is a matter of concern to us. Asked if Middle East-type unrest can surface in any part of India – in Kashmir, North-East or Maoist-controlled areas, Dr Singh said: “No. Because India is a functioning democracy and people have the right to change the government and country has a free press.”
But sections in Kashmir politics like the PDP did see parallels between the situation in Egypt and Kashmir. “The people in Egypt were fighting for democracy and we are fighting in spite of democracy for the past 60 years,” Ms Mehbooba Mufti said. “When people came out in Egypt, nobody accused them of being one or the other. But when people came out on roads here demanding justice, our own government labelled them as Lashkar-e-Toiba agents. Now, they are saying that the thousands of youngsters pelting stones on the roads are drug addicts.”
This angered chief minister Omar Abdullah who saw (in her statement) an attempt of instigating the people to replicate Egypt. “Mehbooba Mufti calls for Kashmiris to replicate Egypt. Seems she wants Army rule as well since her party is in Opposition now,” he tweeted. He later told a reporter: “Now will an attempt be made to replicate such a situation (Egypt-style agitation) here? Who knows? I would be surprised if there are not people thinking in that direction”.
Even Kashmir’s ailing hawk Syed Ali Geelani jumped into the chorus. Reacting to Prime Minister’s statement, Geelani said that the upheavals in Egypt and elsewhere “would pale in comparison” to the “revolution” Kashmiris would bring once “India puts its democratic claims into actual practice in the state.” He said lull in Kashmir was akin to “silence of the graveyard,” a result of coercion. There were attempts in 2008 land row of mobilizing a huge gathering to Lal Chowk. This ended with the fencing of the place by police.
Regardless of whether or not the Middle East uprising can have parallels with Kashmir, the crisis has added another dimension to the volatility of a place that is simmering, especially since 1990. Kashmir lost three consecutive summers to agitations – land row in 2008, Shopian crisis in 2009 and mass unrest in 2010 – and it took a massive toll in terms of growth, lives and businesses.
“We are making all efforts to ensure that summer unrest of last three years is not repeated this year,” Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told reporters in Jammu. “Summer is the peak of our tourist season, education year and construction works as well. We would want to see it peaceful.”
Right now preventing a crisis is the main priority of the government’s in New Delhi and Srinagar. During last one year, the policy makers have taken a series of measures – partly carrot and mostly stick – to break the three-year tradition. Here follows, what is almost an open secret doctrine:
Traditionally, this has remained an immediate response to crises in Kashmir. It started almost immediately after the summer agitation. Apart from general restrictions – declared and undeclared curfews, the government took a conscious decision of registering cases for attempt to murder against the youth it found somehow linked to Kani Jung, the stone pelting.
Initially, all the separatists were kept under house arrest. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, now visiting the US, could not lead prayers for many weeks in the Jamia Masjid. Later the hardliners were rounded up one by one. This created a situation that Syed Ali Geelani, now projected as Kashmir’s ‘calendar leader’ was left almost alone. The prized catch was Masarat Aalam whom the government accused of mobilizing the youth. The government put its foot down and did not release any of the office bearers of the Kashmir Bar Association even after over 100 days of strike in the courts.
On the non-political front, the police rounded up hundreds of people, mostly youth. While the alleged ‘organizers’ of the protests were arrested under Public Safety Act (PSA), many suspected stone pelters were rounded up – regardless of their age – some of them later permitted to go home on bail or parole.
Jammu based newspaper Excelsior (February 19, 2011) reported that police detained 4294 people across Kashmir of whom 195 were booked under PSA. Those booked under PSA, 53 belonged to Srinagar, 24 to Baramulla, 23 to Budgam, 19 to Islamabad, 15 each in Shopian and Pulwama, 9 in Sopore, 6 in Kulgam, 8 in Awantipora, one in Ganderbal, 4 in Handwara, 5 in Bandipora and 13 in Kupwara.
By the end of December police had arrested 3680 persons and an additional 614 were rounded up in the first 50 days of 2011. “As many as 3830 stone pelters have been booked under substantive laws while 464 others were detained as a preventive measure,” the newspaper said, adding that while 4017 stand bailed out 47 were still in police custody and 35 in judicial lock-ups. Again the capital Srinagar city topped with 1299 arrests followed by Baramulla with 404, Islamabad by 395, Budgam by 348, 342 by Pulwama, 319 by Kupwara, 273 by Kulgam, 243 by Awantipore, 164 by Sopore, 151 by Shopian, 128 by Ganderbal, 69 by Handwara and 159 by Bandipore.
The hunt is still on. “In the last two weeks around 18 youth were arrested in the jurisdiction of police station Kreeri,” Kashmir Times (February 21, 2011) reported from Srinagar, adding, “Sources in police said (they are) looking for 100 youth.” It quoted SSP Baramulla saying the police are actually looking for 250 youth in the district.
The arrests triggered strikes and protests that eventually ended up in kani jung. Hindustan Times (February 22, 2011) quoted DIG North Kashmir saying: “Stone hurling has attracted fresh faces in Baramulla town. Earlier, the youth of the old town would indulge in stone hurling. However, now we’re getting reports about the involvement of the youth from Ushkoora, Sangri, Khwaja Bagh and other areas as well.” In retaliation to a round of stone pelting on a convoy, Indian Express (February 24, 2011) reported the army forced local power authorities to snap power supplies to old Baramulla.
It was just part of the human intelligence, once upon a time, usually done by the sleuths in civvies. The art is a fine science now as the wireless CCTV mounted at strategic places offer real time videos. Records are now being used to establish the culpability of the accused.
But that is just one part of the activity. All the accused are a profiled lot now – they are marked for life.
Kashmir Times (January 29, 2011) reported the exercise being undertaken by police as a “routine”. It quoted individuals – named and unidentified, from Bemina, Babademb, Islamabad and Khanyar saying they are being summoned to police stations and photographs of their wards – arrested and released – are being sought.
The newspaper quoted SSP Islamabad R K Jalla saying: “We are making the profiles of the youth freshly arrested in my district,” adding, “Anybody who commits a crime, his record is maintained in the police station.” The view was held by Jalla’s counterparts in Budgam, Sopore and Kupwara. “They are criminals and we (are) maintaining their profile,” the newspaper quoted SP Sopore as saying.
As a matter of policy, the government announced at the peak of crisis that those arrested would be set free if the local community elders intervene. This has added another social ladder for the security agencies to mount pressure on the youth it already has marked as trouble-makers.
Yes, it is a different kind of mining that is far away from the mineral deposits. It is data mining. It became inevitable for security agencies after the youth started using the social networking, blogging and other internet related activities as a routine. During the summer unrest, some netizens in Srinagar were able to create huge Facebook communities that apart from discussing the routine – then curfew and strikes, would protest. The Youtube has many gigabytes of coverage that, in certain cases, must be embarrassing for the government. At one point of time, the police was forced by a video clip about alleged nude parade to issue a statement and formally register a case against unknown person for uploading it.
Facebook as an alternative media and a networking source has emerged as the major game-changer across the world. It is at the focus of the Middle East crisis these days forcing autocrats’ to shut down internet facilities.
As curfew shrunk the space, more and more youth opted for using the virtual world to express themselves. There is Aalaw that has nearly 18000 members and Frontline Kashmir with over 23000 members. Around 80,000 people of an estimated 200 thousand net users use cyberspace to register their protest. On Facebook, they even created an application ‘kani jung’ where one can throw virtual stones to register one’s protest. The virtual world protests in Kashmir fetched the 2010 summer unrest a major chunk of coverage globally.
Instead of forcing a closure, the authorities decided to start pro-active monitoring. It started during the crisis only when the crackdown entered the virtual world of Kashmir. Qazi Yasir, an Islamabad cleric was booked under PSA for “inciting violence” using Facebook. It came within days after a video clip regarding the triple murder of June 29 was posted on the net.
Since then, many others were rounded up, questioned, interrogated and sent home. These included a twelfth standard student Irfan Ahmad Bhat of Nigeen for establishing the Facebook page – Kalekharab. In one case, police identified a boy beating a cop, from a Youtube upload. A Shopian banker is also accused of using Facebook to influence youth. Shadab Hashmi, a Rajouri Kadal resident was accused of beating the cop in Urdu Bazaar on July 11.
The most recent case is that of Shakeel Bakhshi, a separatist who is apparently neither with any political party nor has been seen on a street for last many months. Greater Kashmir (February 24, 2011) reported Bakhshi was arrested for “actively using” Facebook against the establishment that could prove “detrimental for the general law and order”.
Soon after he took over as IGP Kashmir S M Sahai started his own page. “I believe that a lot of people think I opened this page to find out who all are protesting on Facebook. I don’t need to do that as I can find out in any case. The idea is to find out what we can do to change things; it is not easy either for us or for you. I sincerely hope it shall be taken in the right spirit,” says Sahai in his introductory update. Usually he takes questions and responds. In certain cases, the page that has over 2500 members did help certain people in distress.
Interestingly, tech-savvy Omar Abdullah as opposition leader blogged for a while but he was forced to give it up as he failed to manage tons of abusive hate mail. After becoming chief minister he intended to use technology to improve his governance. Initially, however, his love for Blackberry added to his problems. But now it is the Twitter that is the only source of his immediate reactions.
Police did made it public that there were a number of employees of the state government involved in the stone pelting or encouraging the unrest. “Some 135 government employees are under the scanner for their alleged role in fomenting trouble during the five month long unrest,” Shiv Murari Sahai, IGP Kashmir said on November 28 in a press conference that he jointly addressed with the state police chief. “Sixty of them were arrested and seven booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA).” He said the accused are mostly low ranking employees and the police have suggested their department heads to initiate disciplinary action.
During the five months of unrest, occasional leaks about involvement of some government officials would take place but finally police made it public. While most of the employees are out on bail, some are fighting protracted legal battles in the courts. Early this month Greater Kashmir (February 4, 2011) reported that the state education department dismissed two teachers – Naseer Ahmed Wani and Syed Mohsin Habib both residents of Soibugh Budgam – for their alleged involvement in stone pelting. Police had arrested them on September 13, 2010 and were released on bail after two weeks. The government terminated their services on January 27. These are the first dismissals but reports suggested that services of a number of employees have been placed under suspension on recommendations of the police.
Apprehensive of the dissenting voices that can grow in academic institutions, the policy makers have maintained depoliticised campuses in Kashmir. The University of Kashmir, for instance, is rarely taking any research on current situation or permitting the student unionism within the premises.
An English lecturer in a state run college, Noor Mohammad Bhat was arrested for setting up a question paper which the police deemed inflammatory. He had asked undergraduate students to translate a paragraph into English that carried references to the prevailing situation. When he applied for bail, a court rejected the plea observing the question paper set by him was “seditious and rebellious”. Later, the High Court granted him bail in January after over twenty days of detention.
In a similar case, the university authorities took note of a passage carrying reference to female body parts. The students were supposed to translate it into Kashmiri. It triggered a reaction from separatists and the University did not want to make an issue out of it. They also decided against assigning him setting of question papers in future.
The police are also taking a “moral route”. In Baramulla, for instance, they ordered formal closure of tuition and coaching centres on Fridays. They will compensate Fridays work on Sundays. Greater Kashmir (February 22, 2011) reported that owners of coaching centres operating in busy markets have been asked to immediately shift their centres to other places and hold separate tuition for girls and boys. It quoted DIG (North) Muneer A Khan saying: “These directions have been passed following regular complaints from the people about growing waywardness in the society.” Apparently the idea is to decongest the main commercial areas for Fridays and keep the centres away for proper handling when required.
A number of people laughed after hearing that the Reliance Communication (RCom) became the first of the seven cell phone operators in Kashmir to introduce the 3G services.
“What would a mobile user do when he would be offered services like mobile broadband with 7.2 mbps bandwidth, video calls on his mobile, mobile TV by which he can watch 110 channels live, multi-user gaming facility and streaming videos but would be barred from the basic facility of short messaging service (SMS),” Hindustan Times (February 23, 2011) reported, adding, “He would certainly shout in disgust.”
The introduction of the mobile telephony proved an impressive growth story in J&K. By the end of 2004 there were only two players servicing over 200 thousand users. Numbers tripled in 2005, doubled again in 2006 and sustained a growth that eventually pushed it to reach half a crore in January 2010 and to 55 lakhs in June 2010. However, the sector suffered immensely after the policy makers initially banned the prepaid services and later withheld the SMS in this category. Numbers tumbled to 51 lakh by the end of 2010.
Security grid was the first to resist its introduction. However, the technology – now a Rs 1000 crore business – helped it to crush militancy. It is still its main source of intelligence and most of the murder cases that were solved in last five years owe much to the cell phone than to competence of respective Investigating Officers. But the security grid is fearful of its importance.
Prepaid services were banned and temporarily allowed after becoming a political issue. Later, the SMS was withdrawn at the peak of crisis coinciding with the ban on news by local cable networks. Though it was revived for postpaid services, it is still banned for prepaid services, stripping users of a basic facility. The prepaid services, interestingly, according to a Department of Telecom notification are running the risk of being banned by the end of March if the companies failed to complete the re-verification as directed by DOT.
Barring the family of Tufail Matoo – the school boy whose death triggered the 2010 unrest, all the families have received blood money – five lakh rupees each, a newspaper reported. In normal course the families of slain persons get a sum of one lakh rupees as ex-gratia plus a claim to a ‘class 4’ job in government if police certifies the slain to be an innocent. But in case of 2010 unrest, the central government decided to give half a million bucks each. They probably may not have a right to an employment under SRO 43.
At its own level, the police made efforts to help some of the youth involved in stone pelting to get rehabilitated. Greater Kashmir (February 19, 2011) reported nearly 20 youth, involved in stone pelting, were rehabilitated. The rehabilitation followed after the youth responded well to the police counselling. Quoting an officer, the newspaper said that the youth have been “assigned various tasks” and not government jobs.
Police have already carried out the first phase of on spot recruitment in the old city in which more than 100 youth were selected. These included some alleged stone pelters. Another recruitment rally is being planned for Eidgah. Even at the peak of crisis reports from Delhi suggested that the government was planning to adjust some of the stone pelters in police to control the menace.
More recently even the army started a recruitment drive for a week in Manasbal. Of the 7500 candidates who were found eligible for recruitment, BBC online reported only about 4,500 participated in the various physical tests. ANI said 373 were finally short-listed and will be appointed as general duty clerks, soldier clerks, store keepers, mechanical and electronic technicians in the Signals and Engineers Corps besides nursing assistants in the Medical Corps.
All this came in anticipation of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s announcement that he was working to provide 50,000-100,000 jobs to the youth of troubled J&K. “This would change their mental makeup and mindset”, he was quoted saying.
BRIDGING the gap
During the summer unrest, the major criticism that electronic media launched against the incumbent state government was that it was shying away from bridging the gap with the people. It was under this pressure that chief minister started a series of in-house meetings first in Srinagar and then in the peripheral districts.
Once the dust settled and the routine resumed, it has become a major area of activity of political parties and the security agencies. Omar has visited almost every district for one or the other reason. It included the politically volatile Shopian town which he visited for the first time last year. He even addressed a gathering of people in the old city as well. The government has made it mandatory for district heads to have awami durbar at regular intervals and it is taking place almost in every district.
Even the security grid, especially the state police is continuously making efforts to be in touch with ‘people’. CRPF has tied-up with an NGO and it is frequently managing some audience. Police chiefs at district and divisional levels are routinely conducting such PR exercises. The officers claim to have had a series of meetings with the alleged stone pelters in Islamabad, Baramulla and in Srinagar. A group of alleged stone pelters was taken on all India tour as well. Off late, the police are trying to sponsor seminars and various other extra-curricular activities.
Lt Gen S A Hasnain, the commander of Srinagar’s 15 corps is personally visiting towns and talking to people. He has had such meetings in Baramulla, Kulgam, Pattan and some other places.
Every action in Kashmir from either side of the ideological divide comes with its own theory. So parties to the 2010 unrest are evolving their own discourses. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, for instance, is desperate to prove that the unrest was neither against his person nor an outcome of the alleged ‘governance deficit’.
The security grid has been talking in terms of the stone pelters being members of the underprivileged classes and in certain cases drug addicts who are exploited by militants. Rising Kashmir (February 10, 2011) quoted City police chief Syed Ashiq Hussain Bukhari saying: “Almost 72 per cent stone-pelting youth have problems within their families, like their parents are either separated or have scuffles between them. During the unrest, we arrested more than 1000 youth and we found that most of them were drug addicts.” He said the youth resort to “acts of heroism” like “jumping over a police vehicle” under “the influence of drugs or steroids that are mostly supplied from Punjab.”
The police, almost in every district either issued a series of press notes or briefed the media formally, suggesting links between militants, stone pelters and the separatist political parties.
They did offer a number of instances by identifying individuals – all detained. Security agencies do believe that kani jung is a sponsored affair and first blamed the Opposition parties and later ‘forces inimical to peace’ for fanning unrest.
For a place like Kashmir that has already witnessed around 2000 days of strikes and curfews since 1990, the efficacy of hartal as a tool of protest is widely debated. It has hurt businesses and the economic growth, and those hit are not supportive of its revival. Last week when Hurriyat (G) called for a strike over Delhi Police’s ‘stay-put’ order to Geelani, a major trade organization was about to issue a statement against it. “We can not paralyze Kashmir every time a leader sneezes,” a senior trade leader told Kashmir Life.
The trade fury came within hours after Omar tweeted: “If people want to shutdown because someone’s hawala money is alleged to have been caught then so be it,”, adding, “In a land where we don’t think twice before shutting down for 4 months, neither tourism nor education work.”
Chief Minister has started working on it already. He wants the education to remain unaffected because once schools remain open, the markets can no longer be closed. “Let the political parties having different approaches with regard to political future of Kashmir realize the hard fact that education of our children cannot be allowed to be sacrificed in sequel to their conflicting approaches and entire society cannot be rendered illiterate,” he recently said in Bemina, Srinagar adding, “Therefore it is essential to de-link education from politics and keep it conflict neutral.” Emphasis on education actually opened the gates of breaking the summer strikes.
All the unionists from Dr Abdullah to Omar Abdullah to Ghulam Hassan Mir – have been consistently ridiculing the uselessness of prolonged strikes that lacked any outcome.
Obviously, this remains the last option. If everything fails, this has not to. But the policy makers in Delhi are keen that the possible use of force should not add to mortalities that trigger the unrest. So from Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to state police Chief Kuldeep Khoda, the emphasis is on using a new breed of non-lethal arsenal.
To reach this stage, the police took three years. During 2008 land row, police had to fly the routine riot gear from northeast. It did not make a difference because it still killed over 60 in Kashmir.
Though Tasers, stunt guns, and many other so called non-lethal weapons have arrived last year only but the police – the only money rich appendage of the state government – are now purchasing 20,000 pieces of riot control equipment. Cops will now get see-through cane shields, fibreglass combat helmets, full protection light body gears, polycarbonate shields and sticks, visors, bullet proof bunkers, pump action guns, water canons, anti-riot rifles, rubber pellets and plastic pellets.
Home Ministry is offering nearly Rs 30 crore special assistance to J&K police to procure its non-lethal arsenal from DRDO and other organizations. It includes a rifle that will fire plastic pellets in all directions by a single shot. Even SLRs will have non-lethal ammunition which, police chief believes, will help VIP guards. Instead of routine tear smoke shell, cops will be lobbing (by hand) Triple Action Tear Gas Grenades. They will have Laser Dazzler that will immobilize a protestor. Cops plan to use water cannons that will mark the protestors. Some of these weapons have already been tried in Kashmir – the land of perpetual guinea pigs – and in certain cases the police have suggested modifications. The police have already trained five battalions to handle the situation.
There could be other measures that are not part of the loud thinking process of the system. But will it help, nobody knows. In fact it is the government alone that is increasingly referring to a possible crisis in 2011 which has created a scare among commoners and the trade.
“The Central and state intelligence agencies are in a tizzy for the past one month trying to keep track of the mood on the street here. They are not taking any chances after what happened in Cairo. And their prognosis is grim: something is brewing,” The Times of India reported on February 23, 2011. It quoted “a top government source” saying: “Militancy we can handle.
After 9/11 (we’ve seen) it backfires on its promoters. People here are sick of violence. But our greatest fear is 50,000 people landing up at Lal Chowk for a dharna. How do you handle that?”
It was echoed when the Prime Minister spoke in Lok Sabha last week. “We have passed through a difficult time, particularly the last summer,” Singh said, adding, “Since then the situation has improved. But we keep our fingers crossed. Come this summer, I hope we will be vigilant enough to ensure that the unfortunate events that took place in the last summer in parts of J&K do not take place.”