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Photo:Women protesting against killing of Muhammad Khalid Wani in Tral on April 14, 2015  

It happened again last week.

The army encircled a group of militants in a village called Arwani in South Kashmir. Exchange of fire began. The army expected it to be an easy operation of a couple hours before bullet riddled bodies of the young men would be brought out from the charred remains of the house in which the insurgents were holed up.

But the events did not go according to plans. One by one, local villagers began to assemble. They started a march toward the encounter site – first raising slogans and then throwing stones at the army men. Soon people from seven adjacent villages joined in – all of them ready to put their lives on the line to free the militants.  

The operation, which would normally have lasted for a couple of hours, continued for three days. Before fighting the militants, the army had to first fight the villagers. Initially, tear gas shells were fired. That didn’t work. The forces then resorted to pump action pellet guns. But the number of villagers only soared. Finally the forces fired directly at the protesters killing one and injuring at least 30 others.

The encounter ended on Friday after the army blasted off five houses. From one house, charred remains of two bodies, suspected to be those of militants, were recovered. Then another wave of protests began.

Though the mainstream Indian media mostly ignored the event, this was surely not a one-off incident. In fact this has emerged as the new trend in militancy in Kashmir.

Villagers have been assembling directly in front of the army’s firing line to help trapped rebels escape. Instead of isolating and eliminating militants and tiring out the protesters, the iron-fisted policies of New Delhi have now forged a brotherhood of insurgents and citizens of Kashmir. Both now raise the common slogan of azadi.  

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Photo:Over 50,000 people gathered during the funeral of Burhan Wani

Let’s hear what senior officers of the armed forces have to say. “It becomes an extremely difficult task dealing with humongous mobs turning up during our counter-insurgency operations,”  Nalin Prabhat, inspector general of the  Central Reserve Police Force, told AFP. “They try to take away our actual focus at hand which is to neutralise the terrorists,” he said.  

And this is what the Deputy Chief of the Army Staff, Lt Gen Subrata Saha had to say only two weeks ago: “There is need to think something new, something different and out of the box…Every shade of opinion, whether it is a political or apolitical, says there is urgent need to hold dialogue and reconciliation…The initiative should be people-centric and if that is not there, whatever you do you will return back to square one,” Saha was quoted by PTI as saying.

Yet New Delhi is in no mood to listen even to such senior officers, who are leading the daily operations on the ground and yet expressing views that the battle can’t be won by military means alone.

The government is in no mood even to learn from history – except from those of the Ramayana variety.  It refuses to acknowledge that deployment of army – one jawan for every 10 Kashmiris – has not been able to eliminate armed militancy, which began in 1988 and still continues. It wants the rest of India to forget that militancy began in Kashmir only after all non-violent channels of expression were curtailed and when even the 1987 assembly election was rigged.

The present government’s ideology-driven calculated blindness to the realities in Kashmir is only increasing public anger. According to the security establishment, at least 70 youths have joined militant groups in the last four months alone. The common man on the streets of Srinagar have begun asking why the Indian citizens, who flock to Kashmir every year as tourists, are so indifferent to the plight of Kashmiris.

The government needs to remember that public resentment such as this had created Bangladesh five decades ago. New Delhi urgently needs to think out of the box.

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