The savage violence let loose by the police on Muharram processions in Srinagar last Saturday is likely to deepen the perception that physical assaults on the populace in the Valley is the action of the first resort as far as the government is concerned. At least 19 persons have been reported to be wounded, one of whom is said to be in a critical state.
A dozen of the injured have taken pellet hits, including in the face. This is suggestive of the fact that pellet guns were fired from close range.
When scores were blinded or lost sight in one eye as a result of pellet injuries in the post-Burhan Wani protests of 2016 in Kashir valley, the government mulled minimising if not eliminating the use of pellet guns until suitable replacements were developed.
The faulty trajectory of the discharge from close range from these weapons was hitting people in the face, and head and chest areas, causing injuries of a grave nature.
Such weapons were not proving to crowd deterrents in volatile situations but instruments of possible death, which raised political costs for the local administration and the country internationally.
Clearly, no active thinking on ending the use of such weapons may exist now except on paper. Last year, not long after the ending of J&K’s constitutional autonomy, the government forces in Srinagar had used pellet guns on a thick crowd of civilian protesters in the Soura-Anchar locality, a dirt poor area of the old city.
The incident, which caused widespread injury, had raised international concern, and gave the lie to the orchestrated government propaganda that people had accepted the ending of autonomy peacefully and had not protested.
Last Thursday the Supreme Court disallowed the holding of Muharram processions anywhere in the country on the ground that this may lead to the blaming of a particular community (the Shia Muslim) for the spread of the new coronavirus (presumably as had happened in the case of the Tablighi Jamaat).
If this was a common sense precaution the top court sounded, the authorities in Kashmir enforced it with brutal energy.
Over the years, Muharram processions in Kashmir have been routinely limited to specified areas in order not to take chances with sectarian clashes, but last week’s violence testifies to the uncommon zeal that the government brought to the fighting of Covid-19 by cracking down with unqualified force on the small Muharram processions.
This stood in sharp contrast with police behaviour at religious ceremonies of India’s majority community in many parts of the country, sometimes held with official sanction and display of devotion, underlining the grievance of many that the blatant repression of Kashmir and the taking away of J&K’s historical rights owes to the fact of the Valley’s denominational status in contrast with the rest of the country.
There is no peace in Kashmir, and the government’s fear of the people seems real.
Top political figures, no longer in detention, are routinely prevented by the police from leaving their homes. Last week, a group of protesters of the People’s Democratic Party was scattered through police action.
This was immediately followed by the police attacks on Muharram processions. These are signs that betray the government’s insecurities....