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April 24, 2016

The Hardwara Incident:  A Lesson in Tyranny 

By Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai  

On April 12, 2016, a 16-year-old girl was either molested or threatened with molestation in the Kashmir town of Handwara by a so-far unidentified Indian soldier when she was using washroom.  Her screams from within could be heard in the surrounding community, and it is believed that an Indian soldier was seen emerging from the washroom about the same time. When the people of the locality learned about the incident, they flooded the streets, protesting against the incident. In response, the army fired at them from a bunker in the vicinity and three people were shot, who later succumbed to their injuries. 

Later, two more civilians were killed who were protesting the incident. 

The girl was later taken to the police station where, it appears, under duress she changed the actual version of the incident.  Her mother insists that her daughter was made to say that she made false allegations about the army and the police. She along with Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) were to meet the press on Saturday, April 16th but they were detained and no media personnel was allowed to meet with them.  The family’s cellphones were confiscated so that they could talk to no one.  

The circumstances surrounding the Handwara girl seem to have brought to the surface the true state of Indian occupation in Kashmir.   The obvious ravaging of this young woman, a mere child, and her reputation demonstrate the lengths to which a military and police authority will go to protect itself from accountability. It was one thing for an individual soldier to attempt to molest her in a public convenience, but quite another for the state to illegally place her face, her identity, and what seems to have been a forced confession contradicting earlier statements in a video in public for all the world to see.   

This is utter depravity.  This in itself is a kind of molestation that is far beyond the limits of conceivable credulity.  When the state uses its power and authority to destroy its citizens for no other reason than to protect that power and authority, that is entirely consistent with fascism and dictatorship.   

There could clearly be no other motive but to defame and publicly humiliate her, to bring into question and defeat any allegations that might otherwise be made, and even more so, to place her life in danger, to force her from the community, because she has, through the video, implicated innocent friends and associates.    

What more evidence is needed with her obvious detention and constant surveillance by the police, who had prevented her from meeting with legal counsel and talking with members of her family or anyone else in public?  Since when did the practice of detaining victims instead of criminals become acceptable civil procedure?  And then, denied access to legal counsel or parental supervision of a minor, what possible value could her testimony be at deposition before the Chief Justice Magistrate, since she had been in police custody the whole time and was to remain so?   

And what plausible validity could there be to the story that she had been attacked and harassed by teenage boys after she came out of the public facility?  How could such an attack, which would have been in plain view, provoke a riot against the army, resulting in the killing of five people?  It has not been alleged that the army stepped in and beat up the young culprits unfairly and thereby provoked an attack by the citizens.  How is it possible that protective custody was needed from boys who engage in such childish antics or anyone else?  They should have been sent home with a note to their parents, and nothing more needed to be said about the incident.    

Obviously the official story makes no credible sense to anyone who knows the facts. The whole leadership of Kashmiri resistance is either under house arrest or have been lodged in the police stations, because none of it adds up, and the authorities know it. The modus operandi is all too familiar.   

 In addition, the Army has clearly brought to a screeching halt what seems to have been a moderately successful pacification program with Hardwara, a town unduly charmed by all the freebies and handouts.  It is unlikely that the neighborhood boys will be out playing cricket with the soldiers anytime soon. Perhaps this is a wakeup call, both to the citizens and to the Army. Successful pacification was just an illusion, because the undercurrent of resistance has never really gone away.   

We condemn the incident in strong terms.  It seems evident that the Army and the police both are culpable in a cover up, and what they are covering up would not be worth the effort unless it were sufficiently damning.   

It is immediately incumbent upon the authorities to permit a fair and impartial investigation by an outside source.  If the Army is concerned about promoting good relations with Kashmiri communities, then only truth will serve that purpose.  It is in the best interests of everyone concerned that open and freely given testimony be permitted in any case where there are disputed facts or allegations.  

Furthermore, however culpable the Army may be, whether in molesting the girl, or in making the identity of a minor known, draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act’ (AFSPA) and others have given total impunity to the Indian army and they are not accountable to anybody. These laws need to be repealed. Such laws make sense only when there is an open state of war existing between two countries.   

By instituting such laws, India can only be seen as a foreign occupier and actually promotes a state of war with Kashmiris, which it has done for 69 years.  It is undeniably occupation when the rules of civil society are imposed from outside, freedom of expression is suppressed, and international laws, guidelines and resolutions are preempted.  It is occupation and state terrorism when justice is meted out spontaneously, on the spot, through the barrel of a gun.   

Quite the contrary, the government of India claims sovereignty over Kashmir as being an integral part of its territory while simultaneously alleging that it is the world’s largest democracy.  Democracy implies the rule of law, not the rule of military might, which has towering bunkers scattered all over a community, from which the military is permitted at will to take pot shots at anyone in sight. Democracy implies legal process to sort out justice in disputes, not the use of terror to exploit an unarmed population.    

There are numerous earlier incidents, when the army claimed that militants were involved in killings but later it was found that these killings were carried out by the army itself, among them, the Chattisingpora massacre, when 34 Sikhs were killed on March 20, 2000, occurred when former U.S. President Bill Clinton was visiting India. India immediately claimed that the killers were foreign militants. Later, it was proved that it was carried out by the Indian army. 

Another notable incident was the Pathribal killing on March 25, 2000. India again claimed that it involved foreign militants.  However, 10 years later, on March 19, 2010, the Central Bureau of Investigation told the Supreme Court of India that it was cold-blooded murder carried out by the Indian army. 

Why should the United Nations, United States and world powers remain silent when the Indian army is involved in crimes against humanity? Don’t they know that their silence unwittingly has given a sense of total impunity to the Indian army? 

Isn’t the demand of the people of Kashmir legitimate and recognized by the United Nations and international community? 

Why should the world powers prefer trade and commerce to moral values and ethical principles? 

Isn’t it a bad precedence to prefer trade to morality? 

What is to be made of the tall slogans of President Obama when he said, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis” (October 30, 2008)?  He still has 250 days to at least convey to both India and Pakistan the importance of the need to resolve the issue of Kashmir, which according to President Obama, is “in the interest of the two countries, region and the United States.” 

Civil society can only be civil when those in power give more than lip service to the moral tenets which uphold it.  

It is time, India, to withdraw your troops.  It is time to show your humanity and put some strength in those democratic principles which you allege to idealize.  It is time, world powers, to back up your words with deeds instead of just lip service and to truly lead in championing those values that have brought progress to the world community instead of selling them all for corporate profits.   

Dr. Fai is the Secretary General, World Kashmir Awareness.