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A nation brutalized

A nation brutalized

Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: Organiser
Date: July 20, 2008
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=246&page=12

Can't we for once behave like decent human beings respecting each other's rights and elementary needs? Kashmiri Muslims and their political parties must be ashamed of themselves, if, that is, they have any conscience. Recent events have shown that they have none.

In recent months the country has been witnessing lawlessness growing at an experimental rate, resulting in crores of rupees less to both government and the people. It is a sign that is both disturbing and frightening. Political parties, communal organisations and other riff-raff are all associated with violence, committed, as we have noticed, with utter impunity. We will not, for the moment, take into account the jihadists and the Naxalites who belong to a wholly different category.

What is disturbing is the violence shown by Gujjars in Rajasthan, by Gurkhas in Darjeeling and more recently in clashes between followers and opponents of that that incredible bogus guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Those opposed to him-over one thousand-took law into their own hands and descended on Mulund station in Mumbai to block rail traffic and the same lawlessness was exercised in Chandigarh as well, forcing cancellation of 14 long distance trains. The latest show of violence has been in Srinagar where Islamists indulged in angry protests against the assignment of some 39.88 hectares of degraded forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) for "raising pre-fabricated structures" for temporary use by Hindu pilgrims.

The assignment of the land has had a long and painful history, going back to 2005. The issue of using forest land to set up seven rest sites to provide pilgrims with proper access to sanitation, shelter and security had been cleared by the Jammu & Kashmir High Court and indeed, anticipating the court's judgement, State Forest Minister Mohammad Afzal Qazi had even approved the Shrine Board's request for land on March 25, 2005. But then came dissent from various communal quarters. The charge was made that the Government was inducting 400,000 police and para-military personnel to provide safety for Hindu pilgrims, severely straining the counter-terrorism grid.

Those who made the charge forgot that in 2000, some 22 pilgrims had been massacred during the yatra in one of the series of communal attacks executed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba that year. Seven pilgrims and five workers were killed in 2001. In 2002, another eight pilgrims were killed and 30 injured by jihadists. What were pilgrims to do? Give up on pilgrimage? Raise their own security force? Jihadists were not interested in these questions. The sight of Hindu pilgrims going to Amarnath irked them. All kinds of excuses had to be trotted up. The argument was made that the then Governor, Gen. S.K.Sinha was planning to make demographic changes in Kashmir by reducing the Muslims presently the majority in Kashmir into a minority. Forgotten was the fact that thousands of Kashmir Pundits had been hounded out in the past in ethnic cleansing. Then secessionist elements got into the act.

Then other gangs sought to take advantage of mob fury, some of them to protest against hiking of interest rates on taxis! These elements attacked the Punjab National Bank in Anantnag and a branch of the Jammu & Kashmir Bank in Srinagar itself. Muslim fundamentalists also sought to take advantage of the deteriorating law and order situation by destroying a large hotel because it was serving alcohol as well as a well-known bar for much the same reason. Frightened by the violence in which two students were killed and seventy persons injured and two dozen buses set on fire, the Amarnath Shrine Board has been practically wound up and the forest land taken back by the Jammu and Kashmir government, which has promised to look after the pilgrims, exactly how is anybody's guess. The jihadis have the last laugh.

Meanwhile, far away from Kashmir, in Kottayam, Kerala, members of the Students Federation of India turned violent on June 25, brutally attacking three journalists. The SFI organised a march allegedly to protest against the contents of a school book on history, demanding its withdrawal. It is not clear what the unhappy journalists had to do with history books when all that they were doing was covering the march. To add to this in Andhra Pradesh there was violence of another kind. A leading Telugu daily, Andhra Jyoti, had dared to publish an article a month ago, accusing leaders of some dalit organisations of indulging in questionable means to make money, rather than working for the interests of the communities they represent. What was the result? The daily's office was vandalised by members of the dalit groups who reportedly even tried to set afire some staffers. Worse, the government slapped a case against the editor and several other journalists, based on which they were arrested late in the night as if they were criminals in hiding, a clear example of brow-beating and terrorising the media.

Readers will remember the attacks made on the editor of a Marathi paper in Pune, because he had the gumption to ask whether it was wise to spend crores of rupees on a statue of Chhatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj out in the sea near Mumbai, when hundreds of Maharashtrain farmers were committing suicide because they couldn't pay off their debts. The editor's credentials as a cent per cent Maharashtrian and a respectful admirer of Shivaji are impeccable, but that doesn't obviously matter for political goondas. All these disparate events are symptomatic of a deranged society and gutless administrations. We have turned into a nation of unthinking brutes, and helpless governments.

Issues are not discussed in a civilised manner. Buses are burnt, houses of dissidents are vandalised, innocent by-standers are killed, hundreds of people are put into great inconvenience, trains are stopped, trade and commerce is brought to a standstill causing losses in millions-and all for petty causes that could have been settled across a conference table. It is always "we" versus "they". "We" are always right and "they" always wrong. "They" have to be abused, wounded, killed and damned. Have we all become barbarians? The voice of sanity is never heard. The Srinagar violence is particularly sickening because it showed Muslim communalism in all its nakedness. When will we stop thinking of ourselves in narrow terms of caste, creed, community, ethnicity, linguistic affiliation and geographic boundaries?

Can't we for once behave like decent human beings respecting each other's rights and elementary needs? Kashmiri Muslims and their political parties must be ashamed of themselves, if, that is, they have any conscience. Recent events have shown that they have none. In the end it is politics and politics alone that matters and decency be blowed. If the President of the People's Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti thinks she has won a victory, she must be told that all that she has done is to shatter faith in Kashmir's long tradition of fellowship and understanding.


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