A deeply disturbing audio message turned up on social media last week. In it, a Kashmiri teenager from south Kashmir’s Shopian alleged that harassment by a police officer had made him become a militant — as a way to escape repeated harassment and extortion by that officer.
Leading lights of local society say that there are indeed such officers, who make a habit — or should one say a career? — of extortion and cruel harassment.
The extortion sometimes takes the form of arresting boys who are not associated with the network of power and influence, and forcing their parents to pay large sums for their release. Torture is also said to be among their vile instruments of extortion.
Such is the rage against such particular officers that an explosive is at times hurled at their quarters, sometimes from just outside the gate.
Continuation Of Corruption in J&K – Even After Central Rule – Is Lamentable
This young militant’s allegation echoes that of another late teenager, Zubair Ahmed Turray, who had released a similar message when he joined militancy a little more than three years ago.
That boy had been put behind bars more than once under the draconian Public Safety Act. As is the pattern, Turray was subsequently killed in an encounter. But among the more dangerous outcomes of such narratives is that they lead to other boys losing faith in the system and also taking up arms.
That this pattern continues even after Kashmir has been ruled directly by the Centre for almost two years is most disappointing.
I have maintained for a long time that peace will not be established unless corruption is ended. The link between them is strong. But sadly, reports from the grassroots say that corruption has only burgeoned under Governor’s Rule. Some of the most dynamic officers are also said to be the most corrupt.
The teenager’s audio message states that large numbers of boys have faced the sort of extortion he did. He adds damningly that the “administration is aware of it, but they ignore it.”
Indeed, the fact that a particularly corrupt officer who had been transferred to Srinagar was able to get himself posted back to his field of extortion quite soon speaks ill of the current set-up.
Given that the Centre had taken direct charge of the erstwhile state on the plea — a valid argument — that the erstwhile state’s politicians were corrupt, this continuation of corruption is lamentable.
Special Powers To End Militancy Have Actually Been Used to Further Militancy
Policymakers must realise that, in a place where the police has been given extraordinary powers to tackle militancy and have relatively little accountability owing to the disturbed situation, there is huge scope for the corrupt to become extortionist.
The unscrupulous can use the special powers which are meant to end militancy as instruments of extortion.
Torture, undocumented detention, and other such instrumentalities are easily misused for self-aggrandisement.
The crying shame is that, in this process, the special powers and provisions that are meant to end militancy actually become instruments to augment militancy. For, boys who feel they cannot take any more harassment, abuse, torture, and extortion sometimes decide to pick up the gun simply in order to get away from this.
This sort of thing has been going on for the past quarter-century, but it is particularly distressing at a time when the international situation is so challenging.
Pakistan appears to be sending more highly-trained militants into the Valley, the Taliban is getting ready to move to places like Kashmir once the US leaves Afghanistan (in July, according to schedule), and China is flexing muscle in the northeast of the erstwhile state.
Combatting Alienation, Rage & Violence in J&K
It is therefore now an imperative of national security that the Centre cracks the whip, and directs that corruption be stamped out. The authorities must investigate disproportionate assets.
The case of this particular teenager is important in terms of the rights of an individual citizen, but the pattern which it illustrates goes to the root of combatting alienation, rage, and violence.
On the international plane, this issue affects India’s image, security, and international standing. For, each militant encounter and insurgent act draws the negative attention of the world to continuing instability in Jammu and Kashmir, at a time when China, Pakistan, and a few other countries are hell-bent on raking up the issue at international fora. The government must take it very seriously.
(The writer is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)