Are we on the brink of losing Kashmir?

The recent by-elections in Srinagar Lok Sabha seat on 9th April witnessed a poor voter turnout with only 7.14% of the total electorates coming out to vote as it saw violent clashes between protestors and security forces claiming lives of 8 civilians, and even poorer voter turnout of only 2% on the day of re-polling conducted in 38 booths. This poor voter turnout is a testimony to the government of India that it has failed Kashmiris’ confidence in democratic elections. The repeated state oppression through military has caused trouble to the Kashmiris so much so that they have gone absolutely fearless and are ready to take up stones as their weapons to fight the armed security men of the Indian state. According to Jammu & Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, there have been over 70,000 extrajudicial killings, 8000 plus forced disappearances, mass torture and sexual violence since 1990.

The anger among the Kashmiris reached its threshold after the encounter of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in July last year, with thousands of them turning up in his funeral to commemorate his martyrdom, ready to make a hero out of a militant. The aftermath of his encounter saw two-month long curfew in the valley and the violent clashes between the protestors and the security persons, claiming over 75 lives, injuring more than 12,000 civilians, partially damaging the vision of over 1000 civilians and permanently blinding five of them due to pellets.

The situation in Kashmir is utterly grim, and the government overlooking the basic concerns of Kashmiris and employing muscular policies to retrieve the situation through brute military measures is adding more fuel to the fire. Kashmir remains one of the heavily deployed military bases in the world with numbers reaching more than 7 lakhs army men, as stated by J&K Coalition of Civil Society’s report named ‘Structures of Violence’. According to the government sources, there are around 150 militants currently active in the Valley. Do we really need 7 lakh soldiers to contain 150 militants?

By reducing the presence of the army and paramilitary forces and handing over the responsibility of maintaining law and order in the hands of J&K Police would do a great help in reducing hatred among Kashmiris against the Indian state and prove to be a first step towards embracing them as our own citizen. In order to build confidence among Kashmiris, the government needs to begin talks with all the stakeholders of Kashmir, such as the civil society groups, student leaders and the separatists. All this done, the government needs to make it clear that if it considers Kashmir as an integral part of India, it needs to start accepting Kashmiris as their own citizens and stop treating them as the enemy.