India claims to be the biggest democracy in the world. India also claims to have a secular system of government. A true democratic and secular system respects rights of individuals, promotes equality and provides justice to all.
In my view, Jammu and Kashmir is not legally part of India; although India controls it and claims that it is ‘integral’ part of India. If India genuinely believes that Jammu and Kashmir is legally part of India and people of Jammu and Kashmir are citizens of India, then would they so brutally kill innocent people in Jammu in holy month of Ramadan?
On Thursday 17 July personnel of Border Security Force entered a Masjid in Gool area of Ramban district of Jammu Province with their shoes, beat the Imam Masjid and allegedly desecrated holy Quran. It is claimed that the BSF personnel went in the Masjid in search of some militants. When the Imam of the Masjid and local people protested against this unacceptable behaviour, the BSF people opened fire killing six people and injuring dozens of innocent citizens.
Jammu and Kashmir Home Minister, Sajjad Ahmad Kichloo, together with Director General of Police Ashok Prasad reached the spot. Mr. Kichloo told The Hindu that BSF opened fire when the residents of a village were peacefully protesting against the entry of some BSF personnel into a mosque with shoes. This incident led to widespread demonstrations, and civil society organisation and even pro India parties strongly condemned these unprovoked killings.
The BSF Inspector General Rajive Krishan denied the incident; and twisted the story by saying that ‘Deaths occurred when his men and police fired to disperse a violent mob trying to get into a post where arms and ammunition were stored…Our men used the force for self- defence’.
Question is, ‘Self – defence’ against what? They were not under attack from anyone. True, there were around ten thousand people who were protesting against these inhuman killings; but they were peaceful and did not have any weapons with them. It is possible that some people threw stones in anger and raised slogans against the BSF.
Christian Science Monitor report notes: ‘In the 1990s, militants from Pakistan joined with Kashmiri separatists, and a bloody guerrilla war broke out that lasted more than a decade. In recent years the violence has petered out as Kashmiris turned to nonviolent tactics for gaining independence. But India still maintains an enormous counterinsurgency force in Kashmir, effectively creating a police state.’
While talking of the Ramban incident, the Christian Science Monitor report adds: ‘In response, young men started pelting stones at authorities. Members of the community worried that the retaliatory cycle could renew violence in the war-torn northern region.’
People are clearly worried that violence of 1990s could return to Jammu and Kashmir again, which would make lives of people of this region living hell. Renewed militancy, terrorism and violence is not in interest of people of Jammu and Kashmir or in interest of India and Pakistan. The Kashmir dispute requires a political settlement, as it could not be wished away. All parties to the dispute need to make serious and sincere efforts to find a solution that is acceptable to all.
The government in New Delhi claims that they want peace in Jammu and Kashmir and root out extremism, terrorism and violence. However, the strategies they adopt very often do not support that contention. The shooting in Ramban, which took place in holy month of Ramadan has only aggravated tensions; and has greatly increased anti India sentiments.
All parties to the Kashmir dispute must understand one thing – there is no military solution to the Kashmir dispute. All parties to the Kashmir dispute – India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris have tried option of force, and it only aggravated the situation and caused immense problems and death of a generation; but it has not provided any solution. No party to the dispute should rely on use of force, as it will only cause more deaths and misery and embitter the relationship.
Sushil Kumar Shinde, Union home minister has ordered an inquiry into the firing incident in Ramban district and said: “I have ordered an inquiry to be conducted without any loss of time to ascertain the circumstances leading to the firing. I assure that any use of excessive force or irresponsible action shall be dealt with strictly.” 1
Indian Express report on the incident titled: ‘BSF fired suddenly, I could’ve been killed myself: SP’, explains the situation. BSF personnel in Gool shot a 32-year-old teacher of political science, Manzoor Ahmed in the head even as he was trying to reason with the agitated mob. The superintendent of police of Ramban, Javed Ahmed said:
“Manzoor Ahmad Shan was with me. He was standing next to me. He was trying to pacify the people who were angry. He was hit by a bullet…I myself had a miraculous escape. The BSF men opened fire suddenly. I too would have been killed had my colleague not dragged me away.”
The superintendent of police further said, ‘the police were standing between the BSF camp and the protesters. “We had been controlling the mob for an hour. There was no need to open fire.”
People of Jammu and Kashmir, by and large, spoke out against this tragic incident; and said ‘lives of Kashmiris are not safe on both sides of the LOC’. Some even called killings of Kashmiris on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir as ‘genocide’. However, this incident has united people of all faiths to condemn the killings, as noted by Sumeet Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit from the Valley, who wrote:
‘The protest demonstrations yesterday in Jammu division against the brutal assault by security forces saw protesters from all faiths, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs etc. This speaks volumes about the secular ethos of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Yet again people have shown that people of the State are united in this hour of grief. Salute to the communal harmony shown by the people of the State’.
I hope that the inquiry Sushil Kumar Shinde has ordered will find the facts; and arrest the culprits who have not only taken lives of innocent people; but also has embittered the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. Also I hope that the government of India will learn from the past mistakes; and understand one lesson of history: hearts and minds of the people could not be won by use of bullets.
Writer is a political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.