Kashmir, once popularly known as paradise on earth, has seen unprecedented bloodshed and suffering since the ISI-sponsored insurgency erupted in 1988. Though the accession of J&K happened with the support of the then tallest leader of the Kashmiri masses, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, there have been various lies and half-truths circulated about the accession of J&K to India in October 1947 to paint it as an “occupation” (despite the fact that civilian areas, except around the Line of Control, were not largely militarised until the eruption of the militancy in the late 1980s).
Moreover, there have been attempts to unilaterally highlight, and even grossly exaggerate, the mistakes made by the Indian government and elements in the security forces in the process of stemming terrorism. The fundamentalist violence sponsored by the Pakistani state has done incalculable damage to liberal, democratic values (not in the least the freedom of expression among many Kashmiris hesitant to criticise religious orthodoxy and separatist ideas), as discussed here, here, here and here, and has also taken a heavy toll of civilian lives in J&K, not only of religious minorities, but even the Kashmiri Sunni majority. And it has been often seen that this side of the conflict and the plight of these victims of militancy has not been adequately highlighted.
A large section of the human rights discourse globally, knowingly or unknowingly, but unfortunately, has moved closer and closer to undermining the importance of a secular, democratic state as a social contract. Instead of looking for remedies to the problems in institutional frameworks in order to uphold constitutional values, such a discourse has sought to romanticise all attempts by militants at disruption and disintegration. Such violence and militancy is often not just rationalised or sought to be understood but justified and packaged as legitimate anti-state resistance in pursuance to the attainment of rights. This is so even when such attempts are aimed at creating frameworks that are authoritarian (as in the case of the Maoists), theocratic (as is the case of Khalistani and Kashmiri jihadist terrorists, as also right-wing Christian terrorists from Tripura and Naga areas) or even otherwise identity-exclusivist (such as ULFA terrorists gunning down non-Assamese civilians), having utter disregard for pluralism of identities and/or ideas.
Peaceful cultural right-of-centre constitutional democratic politics apart, no doubt, there are also extremists at a pan-India level subscribing to Hindu majoritarianism and their own version of Hindu cultural puritanism, who have resorted to unlawful and disgustingly gory violence, which also must be condemned and such people must also be punished, as many of them indeed have even been, such as the hundreds rightly convicted in connection with the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat for the massacres in the Best Bakery, Gulbarg Society, Ode, Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya, or even those convicted for the anti-Christian riots in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, or more recently, the gang-rape of a Muslim girl in Kathua as a hate crime.
We also do not deny that those in the Indian state machinery, including some in the security forces, have, on many occasions, acted against the ethos of the Indian constitution, and state high-handedness has also undoubtedly contributed to the accentuation of conflicts. This fact has been acknowledged by none other than those excesses against unarmed civilians by rogues in the Indian security forces have occurred has been acknowledged by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the late former Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar. We support any genuine scholastic efforts in the spirit of constitutionalism to highlight the same and suggest remedial measures to that end, but that still doesn’t mean that we can endorse or turn a blind eye to the dangerous ideas advanced by terror groups. Those hell-bent on demonising the construct of a nation-state also conveniently overlook that the rebels in Kashmir they so ardently cheer for are actually also fighting for an alternate version of a nation-state (say, Pakistan including Kashmir or an ‘independent’ Kashmir), representing openly a worldview at variance with modern human rights values, and are also backed by, and are practically foot-soldiers of, another nation-state – Pakistan! In this regard, it is pertinent to mention that from girls’ rock bands being compelled to disband in Kashmir to molestations of girls participating in a marathon alongside boys to no cinema halls functioning in the valley owing to militants’ diktats to most of the Hindu minority of the Kashmir valley being driven out of their homeland, such events actually represent the true face of Kashmiri ‘freedom’ but the overly sympathetic-to-Islamism “regressive left” (as described by Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim reformer) either simply fails to see it or just suppresses such facts. In addition, many other well-intentioned people are often ignorant of such facts and form an opinion seeing only one side ofthe picture. Other than Hindus in the Kashmir valley and the Kishtwar and Doda districts of Jammu, who have, in the past, been systematically targeted by jihadist terrorists, the victims of terrorism among Muslims have included liberal theologians (like Prof. Mushirul Haq and Maulana Masoodi), journalists, political party workers, elected village headmen, regular people suspected of being informers of the Indian state etc. On the hit-list have been those who havedefied diktats of Muslim orthodoxy, those who have chosen to repose faith in the Indian Constitution and even those, who, while not exactly subscribing to an Indian nationalist narrative on Kashmir, have also chosen to not toe the line of the Pakistani establishment.
Our study, under this project, seeks to document in considerable detail the violence perpetrated, attacks carried out on and threats issued by militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir to unarmed civilians and off-duty security personnel, from 1988 to 2019. This would be based on information obtained from media reports, books, periodicals and official databases. This shall be followed by an in-depth analysis of the changing patterns of killings over the years in different regions of J&K, focusing on the nature of targeted victims and various reasons behind it. In addition, the final report would also investigate the overall social impact of such violence in J&K. Once the documentation and analyses are complete, we intend to make a documentary about the same, carrying out interviews of some of the victims or their kin, as also conduct a seminar in which our report can be released. Once the project is completed, it is our expectation that the compiled data on the civilian killings in J&K from 1988 to 2019, at the hands of militants, would go a long way in infusing a modicum of balance and sobriety in the mainstream narrative which fails to holistically capture the plight of victims of militancy.