The recent by-elections in the parliamentary seats of Srinagar and Anantnag have made news for all the wrong reasons – a record low voter turnout of seven per cent, nearly 200 instances of violence and the incident about a stone-pelter being tied to an Army Jeep in order to deter the mob from lynching soldiers. Based on all the conversations happening around this incident, one is compelled to make a few observations.
- We all say that we want a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. In a democracy, the most reliable method for the same is to have a democratically elected, committed government – one which represents the aspirations of the people. For such a government to be elected, it is important to have a process of fair voting. There are thousands of soldiers from Armed Forces and Paramilitary Forces deployed in Kashmir to maintain law and order. The number was further boosted to help ensure peaceful polls. Many of these soldiers are not locals of Kashmir and they do not stand to gain anything personally by ensuring that the elections were held. Yet, they were bound by (some would say old fashioned) norms of duty and nation, to ensure that the elections were held despite a hostile and unsafe climate. The low voter turnout is proof of the success of the anti-national elements and testimony of the tough task that the soldiers have.
- On 9 April, when soldiers of ITBP and J&K Police were ghearoed by a mob of 400 stone-pelters and threatened with lynching, none of our journalists, politicians, liberals and academia was present on ground to save them. The Officer in Charge had to resort to tying a stone-pelter to the jeep to ensure a safe passage for all the soldiers. It is to his credit that all the soldiers could be evacuated without loss of life. The stone-pelter was handed over to J&K Police, unharmed post the evacuation of the soldiers. It is also important to note that such decisions are taken under immense pressure, often with incomplete information and in a short span of time. When there is a counter insurgency operation happening, the soldiers in combat do not have the luxury of debating abstract concepts. All decisions ultimately boil down to survival and a choice of being killed or being alive.
- Instead of lauding the Officer for taking decisive and timely action which led to the safe evacuation of the soldiers, we are busy criticising his action. Instead of him being hailed as a hero, his actions are being questioned. But have any of the critics suggested an alternative that could have been adopted? Unless the assumption is that a soldier’s life is expendable and that of a stone-pelter is far more valuable. If that is the case, then the complaints aired by politicians, the outrage raised by Human Rights activists and the FIR lodged against the Army – all are valid actions. But in that case, let us also remember, that when floods happened in Kashmir, it was this Army that had risked its own life to save civilian lives. Where were the outraged folks then? Surely their hearts would have bled at the thought of innocent lives dying in floods, yet not even one of them volunteered to go into the flooded areas to help others.
- The above leads to a deeper observation. Do Human Rights exist only for civilians and not for men in uniform? Does a man sign away his right to survival, dignity and respect when he decides to don the uniform? One has not heard even one Human Rights Activist raise a voice in protest against Pakistan’s decision to behead Kulbhushan Jadhav on trumped up charges or against the macabre torture meted out to Lt. Saurabh Kalia or against the numerous, faceless soldiers who lead lives away from their families and die in anonymity in the Kashmir Valley. It can be argued that when men join the Armed Forces, they are well aware of the dangers and risks they will be exposed to, so why should we put them on a pedestal? It was their decision to join this profession, and they should live with it. Sure – let us not put them on a pedestal. But the least we can do is to treat them at par with the rest of the countrymen. Their lives are not cheaper than ours. They are not dispensable commodities who can be used and thrown.
- Lastly, has anybody including the politicians who have ruled over Kashmir for decades, really tried to address the underlying problem? Stone pelting is not the problem, it is only a symbol of the problem. The underlying problem is far deeper and needs grave introspection. Instead of making irresponsible statements on Twitter, challenging the actions of Armed Forces (which they are not competent to do), it would be better if the politicians look at governance, inclusion, employment and investment. Generate employment opportunities, give the local population a chance to improve their lot, encourage movement across the country, build and maintain infrastructure, bring in investment – this is the job of politicians and bureaucracy. Their job is not to further derail the peace process by questioning the Armed Forced. Let the Armed Forces do their job. Likewise, if the liberals have better ideas to generate peace and stability in the Valley, they should express and implement the same. Demoralizing your own countrymen who are defending the nation is not a solution. In fact, such people are directly aiding the anti-national elements.
If media continues mis-representing incidents to get ‘sensational breaking news’ for TRPs, if politicians continue fuelling mistrust for cheap political gains and if liberals continue worrying about the Human Rights only of insurgents …then the day is not far when even the last bastion of nationalism, the Armed Forces, will become like the rest of us – corrupt at the worst and inept, inefficient and weak at the best.
God save our country then!
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