Desolation Called Peace
Rai, Mridu, Harvard International Review
In their article "Summer of Discontent: Considering Conditions in Kashmir" (Review, Winter 2011), Professor Amitabh Mattoo and Souresh Roy survey the events of summer 2010 in Kashmir when Indian security forces meted out frequently fatal retaliation against massive protests by ordinary Kashmiris. They conclude that the bloody summer could have been avoided had New Delhi and the state government in Kashmir capitalized on a "unique opportunity" served up in 2008. The missed opportunity was the one provided by state elections in 2008. Mattoo and Roy describe these elections as marked by "inclusiveness and credibility," when a little over 60 percent of the electorate had voted into power a coalition government led by Omar Abdullah. The authors tell us there is still time for pushing through several confidence-building measures that will not only "win back" Kashmiris to the fold of die Indian nation, but also away from the forces of "obscurantism and fundamentalism."
One has to winder from these remarks whether the authors comprehend the extent of alienation among Kashmiris, manifested not only in this past summer's protests, but also gathering force over summers in 2008 and 2009. Their reading of Kashmiri participation in the 2008 elections is based on, at best, a partial reporting of the circumstances in which Kashmiris turned out to vote. Can elections have credibility when held in an atmosphere of quiet, but potent, intimidation? Protests were pre-empted by imposing curfews in most districts for weeks before the polling dates and inflating the already heavy presence of the security forces with the addition of a further 50,000 troopers in the valley. Certainly, polling dates were observed, but the state had also incarcerated for the duration of the elections nearly 700 activists--those perhaps most in tune with the mood in the valley--who had participated only a short while earlier in massive unarmed demonstrations in Srinagar and other towns.
Beginning the chronology of the summer's protests with Tufail Mattoo's killing on June 11 as the "immediate catalyst" is misleading. The narrative must connect earlier markers of an accumulating sense of outrage at the impunity of the Indian security forces' actions in Kashmir and what Kashmiris see as the Indian government's refusal to punish the guilty. In 2009, the rape and murder of two young women in Shopian, allegedly by members of the Central Reserve Police Force, produced only a botched up investigation and cover-ups. Kashmiris expressed their anger through "civil disobedience." This unrest had barely abated when two innocent teenagers were killed in early 2010 in separate actions by security forces ostensibly against protestors. …