New Delhi: Following its fourth visit to Jammu and Kashmir, the Concerned Citizens’ Group (CCG) has held that “the hopes of the Kashmiris in Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to have been dashed”, stating that the situation in the state was deteriorating on account of cross-border firing and increased communal polarisation in Jammu.
The CCG, comprising former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, Air Vice Marshal (Retd.) Kapil Kak, executive secretary of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation Sushobha Barve and senior journalist Bharat Bhushan, had visited the state between February 23 and 26 in view of the rise in cross-border firing between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border (IB).
Modi brought nothing but ‘despair and disappointment’
In its report, the CCG has said “there was growing feeling in the Valley that politics had not worked in the state and that ceasefire or the lack of it made no difference”.
On the hopes of the people being dashed, it said, “They had thought that he [Modi] would carry forward the initiatives of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, now they felt that he has brought nothing but despair and disappointment in Kashmir.”
As a result, it said, “The constituency for peace and peace-building through confidence building measures (CBMs), elections and dialogue, has been eroded.” It also noted that “the local citizenry does not now place much faith in the frequent forays of the Home Ministry’s special interlocutor to the state”.
Rather than improve the situation, the CCG said that the “Modi government’s policies have pulled the rug from under the feet of those who did not support militancy, violence and radicalisation. It is this all prevailing desperation which has given rise to militancy and people accepting the use of violence by youngsters”.
Situation worrisome in South Kashmir
In South Kashmir, the group said the perception is that every youngster is a militant – the only difference is that some are armed and others unarmed.
As for the Modi government’s Kashmir policy, it said there is a feeling that it is unable to control terrorism and that the ruling dispensation at the Centre wants its constituency to feel that India is effectively replying to Pakistan which is projected as the root cause of all problems in Kashmir.
Stating that Kashmiris are also in despair as “they see little support from the Indian mainstream intellectuals and opinion makers”, it said “the net result is that the social base for a robust relationship with rest of India has shrunk”.
Escalation of border shelling
The group said “primary rationale of the visit was the escalation of cross-border shelling which assumed a new intensity since the beginning of this year” which has resulted in a high death toll.
The casualties in January 2018 alone were equal to those of all of 2017, which was also “an exceptional year for ceasefire violations” having witnessed a six-fold increase in comparison to 2015.
Besides the loss of lives, the fact-finding team said numerous houses were destroyed and damaged, cattle killed and injured and local water and electricity infrastructure disrupted. Over 40,000 civilians had to be evacuated on the Indian side.
Border villages do not want ‘munh tod jawab’
The CCS said the primary demand of the villagers in the border areas is that India and Pakistan should resolve their differences through “immediate dialogue”. It said there are many mature voices among the residents of these border villages who do not want India to give a “munh tod jawab”’ (jaw breaking reply) to Pakistan as they do not believe in war.
Many of the villagers, it said, noted that “the solution to this problem is ceasefire. India and Pakistan should come to an understanding on maintaining peace on the LoC as they had done earlier”.
India-Pakistan should hold talks in ‘formalised, structured’ manner
The independent observers also said that “both India and Pakistan need to restart the dialogue between them” and termed as surprising the fact that “while soldiers and civilians are dying, the two governments are secretly in touch with their respective National Security Advisors meeting in a third country.”
With the Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of the two countries are also in regular telephonic contact, it said it would be better if the “dialogue is formalised, structured and taken to a political level to make it accountable”.
More shelling across IB
The CCG said it was shocked to see the devastation caused by the increased frequency and intensity of cross-border shelling.
This time around the IB has seen greater amount of shelling by Pakistan than earlier, the report said, adding that experts ascribe the intensity of firing to both calibre escalation – with larger calibre weapons being used – and revenge escalation.
‘Pakistan wants Hindus to migrate from near border areas’
Strategic affairs experts also claimed that the Jammu border also becomes hot because Pakistan knows that the border villages around the IB and LoC segment in this region have a significant number of Hindu living there. They believe if they manage to force a migration of Hindus from the border villages, it would hurt the government politically, the report said.
The cross-border firing, the report said, was so heavy in January that many villagers in border areas complained that they could not even cremate their dead locally and had to take the bodies all the way to the Ranbir Singh Pura crematorium.
In Nowshera, the report said, 12 villages with a population of about 13,100 had been severely affected by shelling from across the LoC with four deaths and injuries injuries being reported. More so 124 houses were damaged, and 189 livestock were lost.
Likewise, in Uri, it said while there had been peace for the last eight to ten years, this time numerous ceasefire violations have taken place.
According to local officials, the group said, while no artillery was fired from the Pakistan side in the Haji Pir sector in Uri this time around, the villages were hit by heavy mortar shells.
Army has stopped paying rent to villages for land near border
Making a curious finding, the report said while the land of most of villagers has been acquired by the army for the construction of border posts and the acquired land adjacent to the ‘Zero Line’ on the LoC has been mined to prevent infiltration, as per the villagers, while till 2009 they used to be paid rent for the land acquired by the army, they have not received any since.
Disruption of education
The cross-border shelling has also impacted children’s education. With the local administration shutting down schools in villages adjoining the IB and the LoC whenever shelling takes place, the report said the education of the students is suffering.
“The net result is that the students from the border villages do not do well in their school exams,” it said, adding that “these children with frequently interrupted classes then find it difficult to compete with their peers who attend schools that run regularly and on a fixed academic schedule”.
Polarisation in Jammu increased following rape case
The report also highlighted how the the rape and brutal murder of an 8-year-old Muslim Bakkarwal girl allegedly by a Hindu had been used to fan communal passions by local politicians in Jammu, where the situation was “fast deteriorating into a communal divide”.
The attempt, it said, was apparently to frighten and evict the nomadic Bakkarwals from the land they occupied. “Some local leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with an outfit called the Hindu Ekta Manch have taken out public rallies with the tricolour in hand shouting slogans which suggest that Muslims are pro-Pakistan and need to be dealt with swiftly.”
More importantly, it said, “there was perception among the local citizens that in the coming days the situation in Jammu was likely to become difficult to handle. The growing disappointment with the state government and increasing communal divide could make the situation in Jammu quite provocative.”
Even courts and legislature are divided
People, the group said, pointed out that even the Courts in Jammu and Kashmir are divided – the two benches in Jammu and Srinagar gave differing rulings on unfurling of the state flag, for example.
Likewise, the report said “not only is Jammu getting polarised communally, even the State Legislative Assembly has been polarised after the terrorist attack on the Sunjuwan army camp. Increasingly the perception is that there is a ‘Hindu Jammu’ ruled by the BJP and then there is ‘Muslim Kashmir’ ruled by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).”
Many, the report said, believe that the PDP-BJP government thrives on “soft separatism’ or communal divisions by promoting polarising voices to represent the sentiment in Jammu and in the Valley which divides and alienates people.
On where the solution lay, the group said many felt that there was a need to contest the separatist narrative or even a “communal Jammu narrative’”.
Pandits want to go to Valley, but have no homes
Stating that Kashmiri Pandits would like to go back to the Valley but have no homes to go back to, the group said as a result “their issue remains stalemated”.
It also noted that Kashmiri Pandits who had gone back to the Valley after taking up government jobs under the Prime Minister’s Employment Scheme apparently were under pressure, not from the locals, but from their kin in Jammu to return.
Problems of West Pakistan refugees
As for the West Pakistan refugees, it said, their representatives argued that there was an urgent need to address their issues too which they were not ‘state subjects’ and were therefore denied certain rights that other inhabitants of the state enjoy.
Their problems included that “they cannot get employment with the state government, they cannot buy or own property and their children cannot get government scholarships. Although they have been given limited rights to access education and health facilities, they essentially remain lesser citizens of the state”.
Holding that “heating of the border is pointless” and “cross-border firing is a sheer waste of resources and unnecessarily endangers the lives of people living adjacent to the border”, the CCG has issued an “appeal to the governments of India and Pakistan to come together and take the political initiative for reviving the ceasefire as a first step toward peace”.
It has demanded an immediate cessation to shelling on the LoC and the IB.