“There are some tropes that refuse to die,” said a “Quick Edit” titled “Of Political Tourists” in Mint on Tuesday, 14 June, “In Jammu and Kashmir, it has to be stone pelters, marauding security men and an ineffective government.” The edit forgot another trope there: the lies and obfuscation that the Delhi media indulges in when it comes to Kashmir. A good example of this is the “Quick Edit” itself, even if it was just 157 words long.
The “Quick Edit” derided human rights work as if it ‘human rights’ is an anti-national and unconstitutional ideology. It supported the Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to disallow the journalist and human rights activist Gautam Navlakha into the Kashmir Valley. In doing so, it echoed the views of the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdullah, that activists should be kept away from Kashmir in the summer as they cause political unrest. No wonder that Mr Abdullah recommended the “Quick Edit” on Twitter with a brief comment: “LOL. Short but says it all :-)”.
The edit derisively called activists like Navlakha “political tourists”; would the editors describe the security forces stationed in Kashmir as ‘military tourists’? The edit argued that allowing Navlkaha and activists like him into Kashmir would affect “peace and economic rebuilding,” and said that such people “should be kept away and fed ice cream. There are plenty of flavours in New Delhi.” This suggests that last year’s bloody summer in Kashmir was caused or at least aided by Mr Navlakha and other human rights activists. Perhaps Mint‘s editors were enjoying ice-cream in Delhi and did not want to indulge in conflict tourism. Ignorance, however, should not lead to lies. It is thus pertinent to recall what happened in Kashmir last year.
On 8 January 2010, Inayath Khan, 16, was returning from a computer coaching in Srinagar and was killed by CRPF personnel who were chasing away protestors. After the bullet hit his thigh, he was hit by a CRPF vehicle and eyewitnesses say, CRPF personnel trampled upon him with their boots and beat him with their gun butts.
On 31 January, a 13-year-old, Wamiq Farooq, was shot in his head by the J&K police with a tear gas shell. He was playing carrom in a room when this happened.
On 5 February 2010, in the outskirts of Srinagar, 16 year old Zahid Farooq Sheikh was jeering at Border Security Force personnel passing by. BSF constable Lakhwinder Kumar was ordered by his commanding officer to shoot Zahid dead.
On 30 April 2010, the Army said it had killed three militants in Machhil near the India-Pakistan ceasefire line, the Line of Control. However, unlike many bodies of killed ‘terrorists’, the faces in this case had not been mutilated with bullets. The face-pictures published in the papers, their parents were able to identify them as their sons who had been hired as Army porters. This revelation came at the fag end of May 2010.
All of these incidents were followed by protests and strikes that the Hurriyat barely needed to call; in some places, youths threw stones at police and CRPF personnel, their vehicles, bunkers and camps. The largest spontaneous protest took place, however, on 11 June when Tufail Mattoo,17, was returning from tuition and was killed by a JK Police tear gas shell aimed at stone-pelters running through a stadium ground.
To prevent protests the next day, 12 June, the police and CRPF enforced an “undeclared curfew” in many parts, as Srinagar observed a total shutdown. Amongst those defying this “undeclared curfew” to come out and protest was Rafiq Bangroo who was beaten up so badly that he succumbed to injuries on 19 June.
His family and the large gathering of mourners alike wanted to bury him the next morning, 20 June, at the martyrs’ graveyard in Eidgah in downtown Srinagar. The police and paramilitary, present in large numbers, did not allow that. (Who is the state to decide where citizens can bury their dead?) As a result, many youths took to stone-pelting and some attacked a CRPF mobile bunker. The CRPF shot at them in response; four survived the bullet injuries but 19 years-old Javaid Ahmad Malla died. Malla was a relative of Bangroo, whose funeral this was.
In the protests the next day, 21 June, 33 were injured. The cycle of killings-protests-killings had thus become vicious by now. On 24 June, the Hurriyat (Geelani) announced its “Quit Kashmir Movement,” complete with protest calendars and exhortation to write “Go India Go” on very wall of the Valley.
One could go on counting these deaths to demonstrate that the reasons the violence kept spiralling until early October included the state’s denial of justice; denial of the right to protest and assembly; deliberate and targeted killings of protestors who defied declared and ‘undeclared’ curfews; the killings of innocents and not just “stone-pelters”; and that the killing of even “stone-pelters” whose stone-pelting could easily have been stopped by non-lethal means. But in no such recounting from any quarter will you find a mention of Gautam Navlakha having planned, caused, aided or instigated what happened in Kashmir last summer. It was not Gautam Navlakha who shot dead Fancy Jan for daring to look out of the window during curfew, and it wasn’t him who trampled to death 8 years-old Sameer Rah whose parents had to take a toffee out of the body’s mouth while bathing it for burial.
In news archives one will find a lot of accusations from the J&K police and from “sources” in the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi that stone-pelters were paid by separatists and that Pakistan-backed militants were part of the conspiracy. The governments in Delhi and Srinagar have not been able to back this claim with any evidence, not even a fake encounter! This is important to mention here because Mint‘s “Quick Edit” also said: “The trouble is that, now and then, there is a quiet summer in the valley. That fuels unrest in Islamabad and among rights activists, in equal measure.” The mischievous suggestion here, that rights activists and the Pakistani state think alike, could be found on a right-wing Hindutva website, not in Mint. At any rate such a suggestion would make the Pakistani establishment proud.
Since the front-paged “Quick Edit” supported keeping “activists” in general away from Kashmir, one presumes that it supports the National Conference party’s June 7 press release which called for barring entry into Kashmir of not just Navlakha but also other ‘activists’. It named some of them: Arundhati Roy, Ram Jethmalani and Madhu Kishwar – all three of whom have three distinctly different public positions on Kashmir. The release said, “The government should not allow people like Ram Jethmalani to enter the state during the summers because they do not want a solution to the Kashmir issue instead they come here to misguide the people, hoodwink them and derail the process of peace in Jammu & Kashmir.” Madhu Kishwar has been described in this release as a “political mercenary”. Special mention has been made of Ram Jethmalani because he criticised the Omar Abdullah government. It is to be noted here that Jethmalani was not disallowed into Kashmir; he became detrimental to peace in Kashmir only after he openly criticised Mr Abdullah’s government. While such intolerance to dissent is only to be expected from a party best known for benefitting from rigged elections, one wonders about Mint‘s endorsement of such undemocratic politics.
On Navlakha, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has said that he would be welcome in Kashmir in the winter (when Abdullah’s ofice has shifted to Jammu). Perhaps letting Navlakha see the truth now is too inconvenient: there is huge is the repression of people and their democratic rights in Kashmir right now, aimed at preventing any protest or uprising. Hundreds of people have been put in jail under draconian laws such as the Public Safety Act. The courts have been quashing many of these PSA-based internments. If this was happening in any other state, the national media would have commented on how these court quashings are an embarrassment for the government.
Gautam Navlakha was sent back under section 144 of the Code of Criminal of Procedure, an “emergency” provision that gives state governments arbitrary powers “to prevent… obstruction, annoyance of injury to any person lawfully employed, or danger to human life, health or safety, or a disturbance of the public tranquility, or a riot, or an at-fray.” The magistrate’s order given to Navlakha – produced an hour after he said he won’t leave without a written order – said that his presence in Budgam could lead to “a situation which effects peace and tranquility in society and create disturbance to the civic amenities of people”.
Gautam Navlakha has been travelling to and writing about Kashmir for 22 years now. His work on Kashmir has appeared in the Economic and Political Weekly, where he is a consulting editor, and also in local magazines and papers in Kashmir. I hold no brief for him and have never met him, but anyone who has read him can see why they don’t want him in Kashmir. Navlakha is also a member of a tribunal of human rights activists which has exposed facts such as the existence of anonymous graves in Kashmir. The right to free speech, guaranteed with some “reasonable restrictions” by the Constitution of India, is not applicable only to those citizens views are approved of by Mr Omar Abdullah or Mr P Chidambaram or the editors of Mint.
While it is understandable that the governments in Srinagar and Delhi don’t want Gautam Navlakha to be in Kashmir and write what they do not want recorded, one wonders what motivated Mint in supporting such a despicable move. The only answer is nationalism. However, this is daft nationalism. A smart nationalist would be able to see that the only way to make the Kashmiri hate the Indian state a little less is to deliver justice and give Constitutional rights. A smart nationalist would write a “Quick Edit” asking such questions as why, despite repeated court orders, the Jammu and Kashmir police is not holding an identification parade so that a witness can identity the cop who fired the tear-gas shell that exploded Tufail Mattoo’s skull. But perhaps asking such questions will make you unwelcome “political tourists” in Srinagar, or make you look like Islamabad. Your silence on such counts could only make those who run Kashmir happy. To their credit, NDTV did a story on the Mattoo family’s wait for justice. When the NDTV correspondent in Srinagar tweeted about it, the hon’ble chief minister had a question for him:
On most days, Mint lives up to its promise of being an “unbiased, honest, fair and clear-minded chronicler of the Indian Dream”. This “Quick Edit,” however, was not one such occasion. It was, instead, an example of the need to do away with the silly idea of a 150 words-long “Quick Edit”.
(An earlier draft of this article was offered to Mint, which responded asking for a five hundred words long letter instead. That letter has appeared today. I think that granting 500 words in response to 157 is more than fair, and it is courteous of Mint to have published it.)