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Kashmir’s rudalis and silent heroes

Author: Abhijit Iyer-Mitra
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 13, 2014
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/kashmirs-rudalis-and-silent-heros.html

At a time when the democratically elected Government of Jammu & Kashmir had failed in its civic duties and was fumbling in the dark, it was the Indian Army, the supposed villain in the region, that emerged as the knight in shining armour

 While India’s Army, its corporate sector and social media were busy helping the people of the flood-hit Kashmir to survive and recover from some of the worst floods in living memory, a slow crescendo was building up claiming in effect that these actions “did not wipe out the sins of the past”.

 In that barrage of negativity that kept going with our relief efforts, there are two points that we need to understand. First — what each of the protagonists do and what they said. Second — what their motivations are.

 The Armed Forces on their part proved the necessity of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act when it is used well. The Army, used this very law requisitioning some of the infrastructure for its relief work. Supposedly reviled by the Kashmiris, the butt of Pakistani venom, the Army faced complete apathy in normal times from the bulk of Kashmir’s population. Yet, had it not been for the Army’s rescue teams and its “infrastructure of occupation” as secessionists would call it, how many more lives would have been lost?

 At a time when the democratically elected Government of Jammu & Kashmir had failed in its civic duties in buttressing the embankments (which they should have know about anyway) and a Home Ministry that was fumbling in the dark, it is this supposed villain that had come out as the knight in shining armour. 

 However, did it actually at any point of time claim that somehow these actions had wiped the slate clean? No. Because like any loyal soldier of the Indian state, Army men did what they weer told to do: Keep order by any means necessary and rescue people by any means necessary. Yet the nay-sayers (why is it that so many of them emerge at times of tragedy) created a straw man entirely of their own making — that the Army was somehow using its valiant efforts to whitewash the past — and then brought down this argument. So what exactly was the Army meant to do? Shoot down reporters who reported on their rescue efforts? Or claim that it wasn’t the Indian Army but the Pakistan Army that was helping people — given that the latter’s humanitarian streak was visible to the whole world in 1971 in Bangladesh and almost every year in the erstwhile North West Frontier Province?

 The second protagonist here is social media. In a sense the report by Aman Sharma dated September 9 in The Economic Times captures the social media side of things. The Home Secretary Anil Goswami — normally one of the most powerful men in India — seems completely cut-off from information claiming “I simply cannot speak to anyone in Jammu & Kahmir”. The last 72 hours have seen near total collapse of the phone network, and power lines too have collapsed. This has complicated coordination and rescue, because stranded people have no way of intimating recue centres to their plight. Worse still, Delhi is cut off from the Government of Jammu & Kashmir, while the Government of Jammu & Kashmir is cut off from the Army which is coordinating rescue efforts. The Army is the only body that managed to maintain some semblance of intra-organisational communications due to its use of satellite phones. However, it has no way of knowing where people are stranded, how many and how critical their situation is since the normal method — air reconnaissance is impossible at best given the cloud cover and weather.

 This is where social media has come to the rescue. Given wireless networks, and the proliferation of social media and phone cameras, pockets of stranded people, were able to communicate with the Army, through Whatsapp messages as well as through uploads on Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites. As a result, what we had was the Army using satellite phones to communicate with each other, but basing its rescue efforts almost entirely on Whatsapp and Twitter. In that sense Whatsapp effectively replaced the search helicopter, the emergency beacon and the communications network of the valley.

 Did the Army in any way promote or place advertisements advertising their work? Yet, would some gratitude be out of place? Do these outlets of information still the threats made by then Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde in February 2014 that he would “crush them”?

 Then, we have the role of Indian industry — which no media outlet bothered covering — which mobilised its own resources to complement and supplement the aid effort. Lets take just one company — Reliance — run supposedly by “banias” that Kashmiris want to protect themselves from through Article 370. In some locations like Hazratbal, Sumbal, and Rainawari, to name just a few, Reliance relief teams arrived before

 anyone else. This same company that is not allowed to acquire any business interest in Kashmir, distributed more than 30,000 food packs each containing 18kg of food materials and 10,000 solar lamps. It held medical camps that have already served around 15,000 and it plans to expand services to 50,000 more.

 Now let us examine the role of the fourth protagonist — the Op-ed writer. With colourful titles like “By harping on Army’s role in Kashmir flood, media is trying to whitewash decades of abuse”, it has claimed “the tragedy is being politicised, even as thousands are still awaiting rescue”. Now what exactly did any of these Op-ed writers do to help the Kashmiris again? Did anyone see an Army advertisement, a Whatsapp advertisement or a Reliance advertisement publicising their efforts?

Yet the professional rudalis of the Press would have us believe that each of these entities is doing what they do with an evil agenda. The reality is, it is these professional mourners who don’t care about the pain of the Kashmiri people but rather want to play Kashmir politics. It is a sad day when Indians or the private sector acting out of sheer human decency are labelled as demons, but this is the state of the debate in India — where even the slightest efforts towards healing or decency are ridiculed and relief equals oppression.
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