Nobody in Kashmir expected Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi to be taken to task for using a civilian as a human shield during the Srinagar bye-poll but no one in his worst imagination would have thought he would be conferred with a commendation medal for doing so. What was it that made the Army chief General Bipin Rawat give the award despite an ongoing probe into the incident, both by the Army and the police? The answer to that is the sheer wilfulness of it.
The message that it was designed to send to Kashmir is very crude: that we will deal with you in the harshest possible manner and in doing so, we won’t be bound by the principles of human rights or the rule of law. Also, that you deserve far worse treatment than that meted out by Major Gogoi to the civilian – ironically, a civilian who was among the miniscule group of people who had defied Hurriyat and the protesters to vote, thereby daring to side with New Delhi amid an all-out Azadi campaign in Kashmir. But instead of rising to his defence, New Delhi has sanctioned his torture by its Army. What is more, despite the facts about Dar being well known, he is deliberately being projected as a stone pelter to strengthen the argument that using him as human shield was justified. Not that even being a stone pelter merited this inhuman treatment.
Black and white
What is more troubling is that this compulsively hostile approach to Kashmir is now not only confined to India’s ruling political class but has also percolated down to the institutions. It was following the cue from the Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and the rising political chorus of support for Major Gogoi that the Army fell in line, ignoring its ongoing inquiry into the human shield controversy to award him for his “bravery”. This shows there is a complete identity between the political class and the institutions on the new policy towards Kashmir. And this policy doesn’t even defer to the Constitution of the country on the rights of an innocent civilian. And together with this institutional-ruling political class consensus, there is also now a general social sanction for the use of harsh methods in Kashmir, which in turn has been enabled by the jingoistic sections of the media. So it is now largely black and white on Kashmir and their hateful propaganda on Kashmir thinly disguised as news.
New Delhi now feels little inclination or need to nuance its approach to Kashmir or gear its policy towards finding a resolution of the long festering issues underpinning the turmoil in the state. The policy now is about an out and out suppression of the protests in the state and use of means fair and foul to accomplish this task. But if the past three years of the BJP-led government are anything to go by, this policy has only led to a progressive worsening of the state of affairs with little hope for an improvement in near future. In fact, the prognosis for the future is even more grim. And after the award to Major Gogoi it seems ridiculous to expect or for that matter even urge the centre to choose political engagement with Kashmir over a security-centric approach.
One can only hope that better sense prevails sooner than later.
This article first appeared on Kashmir Observer.