Even One Civilian Death in Kashmir is Too Many, Says Citizens' Group

A group of concerned citizens have criticised the Centre's use of excessive military power in Kashmir and urged it to initiate political dialogue to end violence in the Valley.

New Delhi: In trying to break the deadlock between the union government and Kashmiri protestors, a group of concerned citizens have appealed to both parties to observe restraint and work towards finding conditions conducive for a dialogue.

Disturbed by the escalating conflict in the Kashmir Valley, the group – which includes former law commission chairman Justice A.P.Shah; former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah; journalists Shekhar Gupta, Bharat Bhushan and Prem Shankar Jha; academics Ramachandra Guha, S. Irfan Habib, Sushobha Barve and Badri Raina; diplomats Nirupama Rao and Salman Haidar; rights activists Aruna Roy and John Dayal; former air force officer Kapil Kak; and BJP politician Yashwant Sinha – urged the central government “to urgently initiate a political dialogue to prevent the recurrence of violence in Kashmir and restore the faith of the Kashmiri people in democratic processes to resolve their grievances.”

The group, in its appeal, was critical of the over-reliance of the government on military measures, which it thought was “short-sighted” and “a great disservice to the nation,” to stem the political crisis in Kashmir.

“Dialogue with those who hold differing views is the only civilised way that democratic societies know of reconciling differences. India’s heart is large enough and its constitution flexible enough to accommodate the aspirations of all its citizens, the people of Jammu and Kashmir included,” the group wrote in its appeal.

“Conditions conducive to a dialogue that can restore reason, calm and sanity must be enabled. For this, the government of J&K and the central government need to show exemplary restraint in either deploying force or adopting ‘innovative’ measures which can backfire in dealing with protesters,” it said.

At the same time, it believed that the stone-pelting by protestors could escalate the crisis and prove to be counter-productive.

“Stone-pelting or intervening in anti-militancy operations of the security forces will make them easy targets of violence. Even one civilian death is too many in the present sensitive situation in Kashmir,” the group said.

“Both the government and the Kashmiri protestors need to recognise that in democracies the world over, peace in disturbed areas has never been achieved through more violence or by retributive measures,” it added.

The group were prompted to write this appeal because of the recent events – the ongoing student protests, a video war on social media (that of the army using a civilian as human shield or a protestor heckling security forces), the unprecedentedly low voter turn out (7%) in the Srinagar by-poll, and the deaths of eight protestors and almost 200 people, including soldiers, being injured during the election – that seem to have paralysed Kashmir.

“Already we have witnessed far too many deaths, maiming and blindings in the Kashmir Valley last summer… Nobody in his right mind should want a repetition of the events of 2016 – not the government and certainly not the Kashmiri civilians…The worst ever voter turn-out of a meager 7% in Srinagar by-poll is a warning of the extent of disillusionment prevailing in the Kashmiri voter’s mind. An erosion of faith in democratic processes may eventually threaten the legitimacy of the state itself. This process needs to be stemmed and corrective measures taken,” they said.

The group further appealed to the government to devise a strategy to increase its outreach to not only the “leaders of Kashmiri civil society” but also to the “people of Kashmir,” which should include opinion makers, public intellectuals and all other stakeholders in the state.

It also said that as promised in the agenda of alliance between the BJP and the Peoples Democratic Party, the government should also engage with the separatist leadership, who seem to have some traction among a section of Kashmiri people in trying to end the cycle of violence in the Valley.

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