Another day another lynching. The numbers only keep increasing with each passing year. According to IndiaSpend.com, since 2010, there have been 87 incidents of cow related violence in India resulting in 35 deaths. A majority of the 289 victims are Muslims and an overwhelming majority of these incidents (97%) have happened after 2014. The latest in this series of public lynching is Alwar, where the victim, Rakbar Khan, was probably tortured to his death while in police custody. The defence of the Rajasthan government is ridiculous to say the least. They are blaming the police. As if being killed in police custody is lesser crime. The truth is more ominous. Rakbar was killed both by the mob and the state police who were supposed to protect him. The state, it seems now, has become an extension of anti-Muslim mob. The very thought is frightening.
The killings of Muslims are no news. Scores have been killed before. In most cases, these pogroms against Muslims happened under the watch of the Congress party. In some instances, these riots were not a result of Hindu Muslim clashes; rather Muslims were targeted and killed by the police. The state, acting on majoritarian impulse is nothing new for Muslims. We know that riots are mostly engineered but till today, we have not seen that either the police or the political players who orchestrated those riots have been brought to book. Impunity granted to murderous thugs has a deep genealogy. Forgetting this genealogy is just lazy analysis.
The anti-Muslim pogroms of yesterday have today transformed into anti-Muslim lynching. The result is the same yet the method is certainly novel and pernicious. Lynching is a public spectacle; it is orchestrated to be consumed. It is designed to show members of particular minorities their proper position in the social hierarchy. The lynching of Muslims follows a disturbingly similar pattern: the act is unfailingly recorded on video and then distributed. The act of lynching and the act of archiving and distribution must happen together for it to be effective. The purpose of lynching is therefore to tell the hard-line Hindu public that Muslims have been shown their place. Whether Muslims transgress any boundaries is incidental to this spectacle. The message is to show that a minority can live only at the mercy of the majority. Even those who are opposed to this act are forced to consume these images through the media and unwillingly become complicit in participating in a debate whose terms have already been set. Sanctimonious condemnation is an exercise in futility; the real purpose has been achieved. The majority comes to believe that Muslims have been shown their true place while Muslims, internalizing the humiliation, get the message that they have to tread very carefully. If the image of one lynched Muslim can have the desired effect, why waste huge logistics in organizing riots? If the spectacle can be enacted on a regular basis say every two months, you already have an audience predisposed towards its consumption. Much like the televised episodic beheadings committed by the ISIS, we are witness to a new mediated dawn where the ritual of murdering a Muslim has acquired a banality about it.
What is also new is our response to this murderous spectacle. The opposition to this act of pure evil has been lame. While we are celebrating the famous hug as an act of inclusiveness, let us not forget that hardly anything was said specifically on Muslims being lynched almost on a periodic basis. True, the exclusionary vision of the current ruling dispensation was referred to, but when in question is the very survival of Muslims, not dwelling on the problem specifically only tells us that the principal opposition of the country is shying away from the problem. After all, for a party which is trying its best to shed its pro-Muslim image, anything remotely connected with this group of people should not be spoken of. There is a reason why the new messiah of secularism very consciously did not campaign in Muslim areas of Gujarat. Even when he decided to meet groups of Muslims recently, he was generally very coy about the contents of the exchange. In a time when Muslims are being killed for being Muslims, general statements like the Congress party stands with all marginalised sections is an admission that the party is not serious about positing an alternative.
Muslims are in an unprecedented situation today. There is so much Muslim talk these days but then there is no Muslim voice. Muslims are either spoken about or spoken over. The only Muslims who get a chance to speak are the sponsored ones: made for TV mullahs. They speak on an agenda which is pre-configured to otherise and demonise Muslims. If this cacophony of silence needs to be broken, it must be done by Muslims themselves. There is no need to wait for others to speak up. True this loneliness is killing, but silence around the issue will only allow this loneliness to rip apart our very souls.
Death in the afternoon
Kashmir is again on the edge. The death of a 28-year old man Rizwan Assad Pandit of Awantipora in SOG custody has sparked outrage across the political and peoples’ spectrum. Politicians of all hues are enraged over the gruesome incident. On Wednesday valley shut under a protest strike called by the separatist Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL). It cannot be a mere chance that Rizwan died when he was in custody. Special Operation Group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir Police has a shameful history of arresting people, killing and torturing them in custody. Some police officers associated with SOG have earned the notoriety of kidnapping and killing people for ransom. They have often been shielded by their seniors and political masters and even promoted in ranks merely for the brutality they did. Soura triple murder case would always haunt the minds in this regard. A DSP (Abdul Rashid Khan alias Rashid Billa) arrested three persons on June 23, 1999 who were part of a baraat. During frisking the police found some cash with them (reportedly Rs.30, 000) which ultimately became the cause of their death. Three after their arrest their bodies were found in Uri Baramullah. Instead of taking any cognizance of the crime the concerned officer committed, he was given full protect by his senior officers. One of the senior officers from Punjab reportedly sheltered him in his farm house in Punjab to evade the arrest under court orders. Though a court in Jammu acquitted him in 2008 but the families of the victims were never satisfied with the court direction. On 3o July, 2011 Nazim Rashid Shalla of Sopore town was picked by a joint party of SOG. He was returned dead to his father Abdul Rasheed Shalla next morning. Shalla, who visited the police station to see his son after his arrest, saw SOG men beating Nazim. He saw his son laying flat on the floor in half-dead condition. He was forced to leave the site only to receive his body next morning. State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), a government appointed body, in 2013 confirmed the concerned Superintendent of Police (SP) involved in Nazim’s killing and recommended action against him. No action was taken against the SP. The same officer (he was DSP then) was found guilty by the SHRC of raping and torturing mother-daughter duo at Zachadara in Handwara in 2008. Despite these findings by SHRC, he was promoted as a SP. He was also awarded the Director General of Police’s Commendation Medal for 2010, Gallantry award on 26 January 2012, a Presidents Police Award for Gallantry on 15 August 2012. That is how criminals are rewarded in Jammu and Kashmir.
The list of criminal actions of the SOG is quite a long one. Rizwan is the latest addition to hundreds of persons who have been done to death during custody. A magisterial inquiry has been ordered into the death of Rizwan but people in Kashmir know how such commissions are used as a façade to hide murderous actions of the police. Not a single case referred to the commissions set by various governments in the state was ever completed. The farce of inquiry commissions is played to pacify the anger among the common people. If government is serious in dealing with Rizwan’s case sincerely and judiciously, the concerned members and officers of the SOG should immediately suspended till inquiry is completed. Since that has not been done, and that would never be done, Rizwan’s case too would be buried in official files soon. Since events and incidents occur in Kashmir so quickly, people barely remember what had happened yesterday. If the governor’s administration wants to be remembered for some good things in Kashmir, Governor Satpal Malik should immediately act against the SOG men involved in Rizwan’s killing.
Tourist Industry at the receiving end
Even as the harsh winter days are over and the spring is dawning in the horizons of Kashmir but its problems continue to haunt the people every moment. The main among these problems is the paucity of power supply—a trouble that touches every individual. Despite the improvement in weather conditions and increase in water flow in the valley’s water bodies, the darkness continue to loom large in Kashmir. It is not difficult to imagine a life with power. But the power woes have affected the tourist industry the most. People associated with tourist trade complain that the lack of electricity in hotels, houseboats and other places of tourist-lodge have a negative effect on the psyche of visiting tourists. All the charm tourists enjoy in the day turns into an ordeal for them in the evening which continues throughout the night. Hundreds of tourists have been thronging daily to witness the snowy scenes in the valley. With the valley having witnessed heavy snowfall this winter, the charm and beauty of Kashmir has gone up beyond bounds. It is after several winters that the valley has witnessed a good snowfall. Last winter went completely dry. The valley is presently host to hundreds of tourists who have come from non-snow zones across India and outside world to enjoy the picturesque snowfields and mountains. Hotels and huts in the land of snow—Gulmarg—are fully occupied. A thick blanket of snow is still covering the Gulmarg bowl and its surroundings making it a great attraction for tourists. Tourists have come from different parts of the country besides from abroad. Tourists are having a good time here. They are enjoying the snow and the snow clad mountains in the backdrop. This is despite the fact that the temperature here runs in sub-zero during the night. But what mars their mood is the lack of electricity. It gives a frightening picture in the evening when the darkness spreads its tentacles around. Most of the hotels have put in place alternate arrangements like diesel generators for lighting. But turning on number of generators simultaneously makes the whole atmosphere earsplitting noisy. It makes a horrible picture of this unparalleled tourist place. The visiting tourists too have on record expressed their displeasure on the poor power supply and the delight and charm one gets in the snow vanishes once one reaches hotel. Frequent and long unscheduled power cuts destroyed the whole mood.
The power scenario is worst of all in the Dal Lake where visitors stay in houseboats. The houseboat owners say that they cannot light on diesel generators as they have very limited space in the houseboats. The generators cause so much noise that the visitors get annoyed. This has a telling effect on the overall tourist industry. In the prevailing tense situation, tourists usually come after hard persuasion by tour and travel agents. It is the word of the mouth that motivates them. But when they confront with issues like no-power in the hotels, they have all the reason to counsel their friends against visiting the valley. The local residents of Kashmir live such a life permanently. While the city population avails the power supply in bits and pieces, most parts of the rural Kashmir have to remain content with sporadic but meagre power supply. Over the past few days, people in several areas protested on the roads against the government failure in providing scheduled power supply to the consumers leading to halt in traffic movement at various places. This scene is repeated every year with no attention from the powers-that-be. The present dispensation headed by Governor Sat Pal Malik has appeared somewhat different. He recently raised a genuine concern of the people of Kashmir over arbitrary rise in airfare with the Prime Minister. One hopes that the Governor would take note of what is happening with the people in these wintery days and deliver in mitigating the problems of immediate nature confronting them.
Shah Faesal’s political launch
Former IAS officer, Shah Faesal, finally came up with his own party. On Sunday, he announced the formation of Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Movement as his party at a public function in Srinagar. Around 3000 people, mostly driven from Kupwara district, attended the Shah’s party launch. The only known face accompanying Faesal was former JNU vice president and research scholar Shehla Rashid. Shah Faesal, typical to a standard politician, virtually promised moon to the people once he was voted to power. From resolution of Kashmir issue to restoring Silk Road, Shah Faesal promised to resolve all the issues pertaining to the people of the state. Shah Faesal resigned from government service in January to pursue political career. Initially, it was understood that he would join National Conference but ultimately formed his own party to give what he said “a new politics to the state has seen only miseries in the past 70 years”. It would be quite premature to comment on the future of Shah’s party but it is just another addition to existing political parties. Politics in Kashmir is a tightly controlled market. Opening in the market, no doubt, is free but the sustenance and rise is restricted. It would be quite premature to comment on the success or failure of Shah Faesal and his political venture but in the given political scenario, he could end up as yet another Babar Bader or Imran Rahi. People have already started questioning his intentions as what made him to join politics when he could have delivered better in his previous position. A common perception is that pro India political tribe is facing severe crisis of leadership. Omar Abdullah and Mahbooba, who were projected as future hope when they took plunge in politics, have bitterly failed, both, in and outside the government. When Omar Abdullah was appointed as chief minister of the state in 2009, some news channels addressed him as Barak Obama of Kashmir. The “iconic” image of both Omar and Mahbooba was blown into heaps by the wind in 2010 and 2016. To a many people, Shah Faesal has been brought in to fill the gap that is becoming wider with each passing day.
Faesal is young and has influenced man a young minds when he qualified the prestigious IAS examination in 2009. He was projected as icon of Kashmiri youth. Many young minds were inspired by him and in the process got to the prestigious All India Civil Services. In 2016 when Kashmiri youth overwhelmingly hit streets in protest against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, many media outlets in India tried to project Shah as the real icon of Kashmiri youth. Hoewever, the youth in Kashmir are on a rebellious path. Right from University scholars to school drop-outs, a rage of sorts is igniting the young minds to defiance. It is not going overboard to say that Burhan Wani, in recent years, came as inspiration. Though militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is around 30 year old but since 2002, it had started a gradual decline. And many areas in the valley, south Kashmir in particular, were declared as militant free. It was against this backdrop that 2008 assembly elections, despite Amarnath Land row, witnessed huge participation of people. The rise of Burhan Wani, however, gave a new direction to the entire political spectrum. Shah Faesal’s joining politics has to be seen in this context. Whatever his aims and objectives, Shah Faecal has an uphill task before him and there are many challenges that he has to face. Would he be able to deliver or not, only time will say.
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