Two visuals circulating in social media point to the violence in Kashmir acquiring a newer dimension. An armed CRPF trooper returning from polling duty during the Srigar parliamentary by-poll is shown shoved around and kicked by youths as he valiantly guards the EVM he is carrying. In the other video, a Kashmiri youth is shown strapped to the front of an army jeep as a ‘human shield’; reportedly, a Rashtriya Rifles commander used this move to take a convoy of trapped polling officials and security personnel through hundreds of stone pelters in Budgam district. The youth was said to be a stone pelter and troopers are said to have warned the mob through loudspeakers of meting out the same treatment. The two contrasting videos — one showing great self-restraint while the other a questioble practice by security forces — show the complexity of the situation in J&K. After all, using someone as a human shield is considered a rights violation under the Geneva Convention, the sort of offence the Israeli army has been accused of employing against Palestinian protesters in the past. When General Bipin Rawat took over as India’s new army chief, one of the first things he did was to sound a clear warning to the public to stay away from encounter sites between terrorists and soldiers. The reason was that rabble rousers in Kashmir valley have been found mobilising flash mob action to stymie counter-insurgency operations — as civilian youths are brought on to pelt stones at soldiers, the militants make good their escape. But one such incident occurred last month, also in Budgam district, when a mob tried to disrupt an operation by security forces to neutralise terrorists holed up inside a village hut. In the ensuing firing, three stone pelting youths were killed, while over 60 security personnel were injured by stones. The by-poll for Srigar Lok Sabha seat on April 9 last was marked by unprecedented violence that claimed 8 lives and left scores injured; the voter turnout was a paltry 7.14 percent, said to be the lowest in three decades. Lately, Srigar is again on the boil, this time with school and college girls joining the fray.
Girls coming onto the streets, shouting freedom slogans and pelting stones at security personnel, are giving a new dimension to mounting strife in the Valley. All this in turn has prompted the embattled PDP-BJP government to impose a ban on over 20 social networking and video sharing sites for a month, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Google Plus, Skype and YouTube. The authorities contend that these sites are being used to mobilise youth protests and mob action according to well-laid plans. In the midst of all this accelerating mayhem, the Supreme Court last week expressed concern over injuries suffered by minors during protests in Kashmir. In particular, the apex court asked the Central government what altertives it is considering to quell violent mobs, other than using pellet guns which have caused extensive injuries to many youths, including loss of eyesight. Clearly, the apex court is taking a tougher line against pellet guns compared to its observations in December last year, when it had cautioned the authorities not to use pellet guns indiscrimitely, to resort to it only after ‘proper application of mind’. This admonition should also be seen in a wider context, because the separatist violence in Kashmir is unlike anywhere else in India. After the Indian army siglled its intent not to suffer terror outrages silently, to employ surgical strikes and go after attackers in ‘hot pursuit’ across the border — Islamabad’s gameplan to further escalate matters in Kashmir was widely anticipated. With Chi too joining in by increasing the pressure along the entire northern border, separatist forces in the Valley have been emboldened to intertiolize their cause. Speculation is now rife that J&K is headed for a spell of Governor’s rule. This would be a pity, a bigger case of non-application of mind. With leaders like the Abdullah father-son duo of tiol Conference opportunistically making common cause with Hurriyat hardliners, it would complicate matters beyond redemption if PDP and all other parties are rendered irrelevant. Firm action against forces of terror and keeping the channels of political dialogue open in Kashmir will require tightrope walking of the highest order.