A few days ago I received a video clip on my cell. It was a young boy aged 21 years arguing with an army officer, who as per the clip had abused him. The boy was furious and was repeatedly seeking an `explanation' from the officer. "Why did you abuse me? When you leave Kashmir, you will hear similar abuses from us," the angry boy made it clear to him. A decade ago, this was not possible. Nobody could argue with the men in uniform. And, this cannot be rejected as an isolated incident. A similar clip showed the heroics of a Sumo driver. He also gave an army man some tough moments.
There was a time when people, even those who had no connection with militancy, would run away from encounter sites. But the situation is totally different now. In contemporary Kashmir, people rush to encounter sites to help the militants flee, notwithstanding the pellets and bullets that are showered on them.
A few years ago, the state government released data which put the number of militants killed in two decades around twenty thousand. The data revealed that the conflict had also claimed around six thousand soldiers and officers of the armed forces. The ratio therefore is 1:4 roughly. A top army officer while travelling with my friend said the ratio was deadly.
The year bygone has been described as deadliest year of the decade by human rights groups. The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) in its annual report has informed that 267 militants died in 2018. The report says that 159 personnel of the armed forces also lost their lives during the same period. This includes 20 cases of fratricide as well. The ratio is alarming (1: 1.6). This means, while fighting un-trained militants, who get killed in fifteen minute encounters, the forces, considered the most experienced anti-insurgency force have suffered heavy casualties. This is what the analysis of the official data reveals. It is believed that the ratio in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka was mush lower. New Delhi has to do some serious thinking. The cost that India is paying here is too high to be ignored by the Indian government and the Indian civil society.
In the current month three fratricide cases have been reported and this reflects that there is something wrong somewhere. A social scientist while giving reasons for this phenomenon opined that the soldiers were suffering from PTSD, like ordinary people here. According to him, the prolonged conflict had taxed their nerves as well. He suggested counseling sessions for such soldiers and a break from routine work.
An army major from Srinagar's Badami Bagh Cantonment termed the fratricide incidents as 'noiseless self-executions' in the army's rank and file. He believes being a counter-insurgent might be a "much sought-after job" with incentives and benefits involved, but it comes with some unseen costs, the army major points out. "Our line of work is full of consequences. But for the sake of upholding the army's pride, we often sweep the stress in our ranks under the carpet." (The Wire Sep 29, 2017)
In early 90s, people were scared of the army but the times have changed now and so has the mindset in Kashmir. The presence of army makes no difference in contemporary Kashmir. The soldiers are treated the way people treat the police men. During clashes at an encounter site in South Kashmir, the people almost manhandled the army men.
During a peace conference last year, a participant said that the Indian army had been reduced to a police force. Where will it end? The new generation that grew in the conflict is psychologically different. Unlike their seniors, they are not afraid of the army not to speak of para-military forces and the police. And, if this is any indicator, the coming years are going to be tougher if tangible measures for resolution are not taken. The policy makers in New Delhi need to ponder.
A brief study by a human rights defender has held the police and the armed forces responsible for growing militancy in Kashmir. Most of the youth who joined militancy in the past three to four years are victims of custodial torture. However, this does not mean that the militants are out to avenge the atrocities they were subjected to. Indian experts ascribe the reason to growing alienation but the militants on the ground say they are there for very `sacred' reasons.