In Kashmir, death is often reduced to a statistic. Condemnations are often selective and perhaps make little difference in deterring violent acts. The discourse is so polarised that each victim is owned by one section of the society and denounced by the other through silence. The identity of a victim and her killer often defines the contours of condemnations. Which victim deserves outrage? Who is a perfect candidate for condemnation, if at all? Whose silence is noticeable? Who will be held accountable for a killing?
The recent spate of killings of migrant workers and civilians from minority groups has exposed the deepening rift between communities. The chasm between various sections of the population along the religious lines is beyond repair. The political point-scoring and demonisation of an entire population is usually a natural reaction in the aftermath of these killings—irrespective of condemnation or the lack of it.
To be fair, the killing of prominent chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo was widely condemned by all sections of society. Politicians visited the family of the deceased to express solidarity in their moment of grief. Some religious leaders and scholars, in their own words, denounced the killing. The brave and heartfelt outrage of Bindroo’s daughter acquired virality on social media. However, the polarised discourse on social media had more than a tinge of Us-versus-Them. Us: the victims, the good citizens and the targets. Them: the violent, the radicalised and the xenophobic majority.
Over the next few days, the killing of migrant workers and two teachers belonging to the minority community stirred up a hornet’s nest. Provoking more condemnations and outrage. Some mosques gave out messages of solidarity. Politicians insisted the government provide security to the minorities and called upon the majority community to ensure minorities feel secure.
Killings not new, neither is silence
Amid a cacophony of condemnations, there was a demand for more. Social media activists and journalists called out the “majority” population for their silence. As if ten words of condemnation in a tweet is all it takes to stop killings. Despite the outrage, condemnation and messages of solidarity, the killings have not stopped. Yet demands for more condemnation continue to pour in — Kashmiris should condemn and condemn more!
In all this, the silence of the Narendra Modi government goes unnoticed. While news experts and armchair experts demand more from Kashmiri civil society, nobody talks about the lack of condemnation from the Modi government. No Union minister has expressed a word of remorse or denunciation for the killings of Kashmiri Pandits, teachers belonging to the minority community and the migrant workers. Not even for the death of nine soldiers in Poonch. It is, of course, convenient for news channels and their talking heads to shift the blame to civil society and opposition parties.
Before the killing of chemist Makhan Lal Bindroo, civilian killings hardly generated any outrage. On 17 September, a policeman and a migrant labourer were killed in two separate terror attacks in the Kulgam district. The Lt Governor administration in J&K swiftly transferred the senior superintendent of police of the district. Yet this event hardly generated any debate or demand for outrage.
The recent spate of killings is not new. Weeks after 5 August 2019, five labourers from the Murshidabad district of West Bengal were killed in October. The attack came on a day that marked the visit of European parliamentarians to the Valley. Subsequently, the targeting of political workers and sarpanches associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intensified. In 2020, many panchs, sarpanches and workers of BJP were killed in J&K, provoking opprobrium from the Union government and the ruling party.
On the eve of the new year 2021, the terror outfits, particularly The Resistance Front (TRF), shifted their guns to the minority community. Prominent businessman Satpal Nischal was killed in Srinagar by TRF. The militant outfit in its propaganda statement called Nischal an “RSS agent”, part of the “settler-colonial project” in Kashmir. Subsequently, in February, Akash Mehra, another prominent businessman, was killed near his restaurant.
This year, 32 civilians— of which five belong to the local minority (Hindu/Sikh) community, six migrant (Hindu/Muslim) labourers and 21 Muslims — were killed by the TRF. Usually, hours after these killings, the militant outfit issues statements in which the victims are, irrespective of their religious identity, labelled under the terms such as “RSS agents”, “Hindutva stooges”, “RSS Collaborators”, “occupation collaborators”, “occupation stooges”, etc.
The imaginarium of Naya Kashmir
The recent spate of killing minorities and migrant workers is part of an ongoing battle of narratives. Given the reaction and fear psychosis generated by the targeting of minorities and helpless workers, the terror outfits have sought to bust the normalcy narrative of the Modi government. These killings are intended to disrupt government policy of rehabilitating Kashmir Pandits and attracting investments in Kashmir.
In the imaginarium of Naya Kashmir, normality was scripted every single day before the spate of these killings — with rock concerts and Tulip festivals. Some even saw the images of tourists on a bus as a symbol of a remarkable feat. As if Kashmir had seen happy tourists for the first time. National news was boisterous over the unfurling of the Tricolour and Kashmiris celebrating Independence Day. Naya Kashmir even had a fashion show where models walked on the ramp under the moonlight in Srinagar. Everything was hunky-dory in, at least on TV news, government communique and social media posts of cheerleaders of the ruling party.
Under the same government that made tall promises of ending terrorism in Kashmir and creating a “Naya Kashmir”, the horror of exodus 2.0 is more real than ever. Kashmir Pandits see this as a repeat of the 1990s, and some have already migrated to Jammu. As I write this article, the exodus of migrant workers from Kashmir is underway. Government is clueless on ensuring safety to an ordinary citizen in the Valley and allay the fears of minorities living here.
Meanwhile, talking about the selective condemnation and outrage, Parvez Ahmad’s name has faded out of public memory. He was shot dead by the CRPF after his vehicle did not stop at a security checkpoint. His killing got little condemnation, generated no outrage and, of course, no word from the government about an inquiry or accountability. He was reduced to just another data entry in the statistic of fatalities.
Khalid Shah is Associate Fellow, Observer Research Foundation. He tweets @khalidbshah. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)