(A Kashmiri girl walks amid vigil.)
It’s the afternoon of December 8th, 1989. A bus coming from the Lal Ded Memorial Women’s Hospital is stopped by four men brandishing Kalashnikovs and a girl of around 20 years of age is forced out of the bus on gunpoint. A Maruti Van is waiting on the other side of the road with engine alive. Hurriedly, the men move the girl to the van, force her in and flee the scene.
The girl was Rubaiya Syed, the 23 years old daughter of the Home Minister of India, Mufti Mohammad Syed. She was kidnapped only 500 meters away from her home at Nowgam in broad daylight.
At 5.30 in evening, the representatives of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front called a local newspaper and put forth their demands. They were demanding the release of four imprisoned insurgents, namely, Sheikh Abdul Hameed, a JKLF area commander, Ghulam Nabi Bhat, younger brother of Maqbool Bhat, Noor Muhammad Kalwal, Muhammed Altaf and Javed Ahmed Zargar a Pakistani citizen.
This incident stirred whole regime. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, rushed back to Kashmir from London where he was holidaying. Senior IB officers, the Director General of NSG and two cabinet ministers- Inder Kumar Gujral and Arif Mohammad were also rushed to Kashmir. Farooq Abdullah was firm against the release of insurgents as he thought that it will boost up the morale of insurgents and give them an upper hand in the Kashmir situation. But with the life of the daughter of Home minister at stake, the Central Govt did not have enough options.
The government buckled at last and at 5.00pm in evening of 13th of December, all the five militants were released. Thousands of men gathered to give the militants a hero’s welcome. Two hours later, the girl was released.
But this incident shook the Government from within. South block was now confirm that the situation in Kashmir was well beyond control and if Kashmir was to remain under control, heavy hands were to be used. The Government appointed Jagmohan Malhotra, better known as Jagmohan and famous (read infamous) for his dictatorial modus operandi, as the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. The already discontented chief minister Farooq Abdullah resigned in protest and the state went under President’s Rule.
The night Jagmohan was appointed, Armed forces marched down the streets of J&K. Extensive unwarranted searches aimed at rooting out militants and arms were carried out whole night. As the word of raids spread, next morning, thousands of Kashmiris took to the streets in protests and demanding freedom. Jagmohan responded with a curfew. In evening, a crowd at the Gawakadal bridge on Jhelum confronted the police. The protestors started pelting stones at the forces and the forces retaliated rather mercilessly. They opened fire on the crowd…and 50 people lost their lives.
From this day onwards, these incidents became a routine. By the end of January 1990, the Indian paramilitary forces are believed to have killed around 300 protestors. In July 1990, the AFSPA ( Armed Forces Special Powers Act) was extended to Jammu And Kashmir.
According to this act, an officer of the armed forced has powers to, after giving such due warning, Fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death, against the person who is acting against law or order in the disturbed area for the maintenance of public order. It gives extraordinary powers regarding unwarranted arrest and searches and makes the actions of the officer unquestionable. In addition, Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government’s judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review.
Abraham Lincoln has very rightly said- “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
And AFSPA was a legal incarnation of absolute power. Adding to this, there was a religious fervor regarding the forced exodus and killings of Kashmiri Hindus. So at times, when it came to suppressing the turbulent crowds, the officers did not really think about things like ethics and human rights. The repressive measures, which were sometimes brutal too, brought situation under control as an immediate effect, but left scars on the young Kashmiri minds. It left Kashmir like a logwood bonfire, which seems to be exhausted, but under the ashes, the wood still remains red hot.
There are people who blame Indian forces for the grave violation of human rights in Kashmir and criticize the repressive measures taken by India in Kashmir. But one thing should be noted here. Indian Army has been in Kashmir since 1947 but its methods were not this much repressive until 1990.
Omar Abdullah writes-
“The Indian security forces are guilty of some of the most horrible excesses is a given and I don’t dispute that. I don’t condone what was done and am a firm believer that the truth must emerge and the guilty must be punished. This must be done in a transparent manner.”
“I don’t recall crackdowns and searches before 1990, as I don’t recall arrogant convoy commanders on our roads before that either. I recall wives of Indian Army officers teaching me in school.”
“While I don’t deny that people rose in anger in the early 1990s, there are two sides to every story and we need to look at both or we risk losing our objectivity.”