Blind Spots and Amnesia (KASHMIR FIRST)

Greater Kashmir

This is a clear case of memory loss where you forget the obvious
 Blind Spot is the point where optic nerve enters the retina. This point is not sensitive to light and when a human being views some landscape, the objects whose images fall on this spot are not totally visible to him because of which it is called a Blind Spot. Similarly, Amnesia is partial or total loss of memory. The two words aptly describe the condition to which the Indian Foreign Minister must have been subjected to when he addressed the media representatives outside the venue of the SAARC meeting in Shimla. He emphatically stated that there is no militarisation in Kashmir and as such the question of any demilitarisation does not arise. He further stated that the security forces were only maintaining law and order in Kashmir. His strangest utterance was that there can be no time frame for resolution of Kashmir problem! If there is no militarisation, then why did the Government of India constitute two committees to look into the possibility of de-militarisation?
 What is understood by militarisation? The dictionary meaning is act of assembling and putting into action Army for war or other emergency. In our case the Army is supposed to be fighting a proxy war as well as it is controlling civilian disturbances. Deployment of Army to control a civilian area itself constitutes militarisation of the place. What constitutes the security forces which are maintaining law and order? The Rashtriya Rifles, full fledged army units equipped with all the sophisticated weaponry, the Border Security Force as good as the Army, and the Central Reserve Police Force no less equipped than the other two. All the villages are under the total control of RR. Kilo Force for North Kashmir, Victor Force for South Kashmir; Delta Force for Doda area and Romeo Force for Rajouri area. In addition, there is a Special Force for the Srinagar-Jammu Highway. All the towns are controlled by BSF and CRPF. It is really unbelievable that people can be so naïve.
 The entire valley of Kashmir is swarming with uniformed soldiers whether these belong to military or paramilitary. Almost all important roads have road opening parties wherein soldiers are placed at a distance of 100 meters or so along the entire length of the road from early morning till evening. Every locality in Srinagar and in other towns has bunkers and sometimes pill boxes on every crossing and vantage point. The sand bag bunkers have now been replaced by permanent brick or even cement concrete contraptions. Instead of green creepers with wild roses, Srinagar landscape has the barbed wire as the fast proliferating “creepers” and instead of climbing walls only, this type is visible every where including in the middle of the roads. Half the roads at all important junctions and on the two sides of bridges are under occupation of paramilitary soldiers guarding these and conducting road side checks. Dozens of government buildings, a large number of orchards, a few dozen hotels meant for tourists have been occupied by troops for last 16 years or so. In all localities a large number of migrant houses are occupied by paramilitary forces.
 These are used both as mini-camps and also for keeping the people of the locality under surveillance. This billeting of soldiers in the middle of the densely populated areas creates immense difficulties for the local residents. The roads leading to these camps have road blocks, bunkers and sometimes drop gates. Coming and going in at late hours in these areas is impossible for the local civilian population. An official in an informal chat disclosed that it is not possible to relocate these troops from civilian areas as there are no places to house them. The only chance of demilitarization is to take these out of the state. Instead of planning any withdrawal, the Government is still inducting more troops and they are even now occupying new lands and strategic buildings without bothering to ask the permission of owners as and when required by them for so called “operational reasons”. Armour plated vehicles of paramilitary forces are regularly stationed at different sensitive locations. Huge jumbo sized anti mine vehicles of Army keep on roaming on all major roads.
 For all convoys of Army all roads next to the road taken by the convoys for their movement are closed till these pass the area. Even Ministers with pilot jeeps blowing sirens are not allowed to cross the convoy routes. There is no movement of troops of the regular Army or paramilitary forces without massive protection in the form of top mounted machinegun vehicles. Even when soldiers go for shopping, the whole area is covered by the other soldiers with guns at the ready. If this is not militarization then what it is this set up to be called? The entire civilian life is subservient to uniformed soldiers whether in khaki or in olive-green. Which city or a town or a village in India has so much presence of military and paramilitary forces? In the heart of Capital Delhi even the Rsahtrapati Bhavan does not have so much security as common government functionaries have in Srinagar. The Army Cantonment of Badami Bagh has more security than the most well guarded Fort Knox of USA. Can the worthy Indian Foreign Minister show a single building or an establishment in Delhi which has as much security as some of the very ordinary establishments in Srinagar? Yes there is only one establishment which has the highest security and that is the Prime Minister’s Residence.
 However, even this place is not guarded by military or paramilitary but by Special Protection Group and as such does not have an obtrusive presence of uniformed soldiers as are visible every where in Kashmir. The security forces have completely over shadowed the social life in Kashmir. The harassment of cordon and search, road side checks, and unannounced sudden surprise checks has drastically curtailed social interaction among the local people. There are only two occasions of interaction left, weddings, or funerals. The important meeting points of the local elite have ceased to exist. The famous Nageen Club had been occupied by the Border Security Force in 1990 itself but has now been taken over by CRPF after it replaced the BSF. The Srinagar Club and Amar Singh Club are also with CRPF. Is this not militarisation? The Army took initiative to renovate mosques and shrines in the valley and the measure totally backfired as it was construed to be an attempt at befriending the extremely alienated Kashmiris. In which part of India does Army renovate religious places? There is a very strong feeling of anger against all types of security forces but it is simmering under the surface.
 The people may not show it outwardly for obvious reasons but they hate the security forces. If they keep quiet or even collaborate with them, it is out of fear and by shear compulsion exercised by them in a very subtle way. Sometimes they are not subtle but rather very ruthless. This makes it evident that the Indian Foreign Minister is either totally ignorant and has suffered a bout of amnesia or is deliberately indulging in George Orwell’s “Newspeak” of the Oceania. Having been earlier the Defence Minister of India, he is very well informed about the strength and disposition of the security forces in the State. Whom is he trying to hoodwink? None but his own people as the entire world is fully acquainted with the ground situation in Kashmir. It has been observed by various foreign institutions that Kashmir has the largest concentration of security forces in a given civilian area of its size any where in the world. The total denial of starkly visible militarization and the refusal to put a time frame on the resolution of this core problem which is the greatest hurdle to peace in the sub-continent vividly displays the insincerity of the Indian leaders. This issue is the main impediment in realising the full potential of SAARC, an important meeting of which the Foreign Minister was addressing. One can only hope and pray that the Indian leaders exhibit sincerity and genuine concern for peace and summon the courage and political will to address this humanitarian problem which has been causing extreme suffering not only to the people of Kashmir and the sub-continent directly but to the entire South Asia indirectly!
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