At least 24 people have been killed and hundreds injured in protests that have broken out in Jammu and Kashmir after Indian security forces killed a 22-year-old self-proclaimed militant, Burhan Wani, on July 8.
Wani, who joined militant group Hizb-ul-Mujahedin as a teenager and used social media to post his messages calling for armed resistance, had become a hero of sorts among young Muslim Kashmiris who chafe at the ill-treatment they face from the army and the police, who are accused of using excessive force and lacking accountability.
Wani was killed in a gun battle with security forces along with two other militants. Thousands joined Burhan Wani’s funeral, and anti-government protests started soon after.
These have not been peaceful demonstrations. Many protesters have hurled rocks and stones at security force members and damaged public property. At least one police official was killed, and scores injured.
Security forces claim that when they are outnumbered, they are forced to fire live ammunition. But after years of confronting such protests, it is apparent Indian authorities have still failed to train security forces to control crowds using non-lethal methods.
Yet it is not just effective training that is missing. Kashmir is on the boil again because Indian authorities have neglected to address deep-rooted grievances and end impunity for abuses.
It seems that promises of justice were dropped with the return of peace.
The early 1990s witnessed similar distraught funerals of Kashmiri militants, followed by the funerals of protesters killed by security-force gunfire. Pakistan-backed armed groups altered the nature of the conflict, and for years Kashmiris were forced to live in fear of these groups as well as the army attempting to hunt them down. Indian authorities say that very few Pakistani fighters now operate in the state, and that home-grown Kashmiri militants are responsible for recent attacks.
It has long been evident that many young Kashmiris now subscribe to a global Islamic identity that endorses violence. In 2010, after more than 100 protesters were killed during weeks of clashes with the security forces, peace was restored with the promise of redress, and a committee was appointed. But like many others before it, all recommendations, including the finding of abuses under the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, were then ignored.
Much greater access to social media has widened the public rift between those who believe that Burhan Wani was a martyr and those who considered him a terrorist.
What is clear is that Burhan Wani is evidence of the failure of successive Indian governments, whether led by the Congress Party or the now ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, as well Kashmir’s own leadership, to commit to lasting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir. Only when the rhetoric for justice meets reality is the violence likely to stop.