I was passing through a street around the Dal Lake in Kashmir when my driver Farooq warned me of possible attacks in the neighbourhood. He said we were driving through a locality that was troublesome. But we were preparing for our evening broadcast and in a deadline-driven industry we do land up pushing ourselves close to danger. I told him to drive on.
As he drove, a stone whisked through the roof of our minivan. From the windows of their homes, people were trying to hit a policeman sitting in the corner of the street. The policeman got up and ran to take cover behind the cane shield. I saw on his face signs of frustration. He had a rifle slung over his shoulder. Till I was around, he hadn’t gotten it out. I couldn’t believe that he continued to look for cover. Any other person in his place would have pulled out his gun and opened fire. But these men have been asked to exercise restraint.
However, it is too much to expect of humans. These men in uniform aren’t robots. They are trained personnel and their instinct is to fight.
The other side
Next morning, I was invited to breakfast by a Kashmiri family to their home. I have known the family for decades. They described the killing of a 12-year-old the day before about 20 kilometers away and talked about the excesses committed by the security forces. Even though I am a journalist and my work doesn’t call for defending a government or any action of violence from any side, I decided to speak my mind.
I have children who are teenagers. If someone tries to harm my children I would go after him with all my might. So I have no words to defend anybody’s action. But, on the other hand, if I had contributed to creating an environment in which my children would be exposed to violence, I should own up to my mistakes. It would be truly shameful for me for exposing my children to grave risks.
Troops of a democracy
It is easy to start pointing fingers at any side and try and hold it accountable. What is essential to remember is that these troops belong to the Indian Union, which is the world’s largest democracy. It may not be a perfect one, but it’s functioning without major hitches. The armed forces represent the 1280 million people and contribute significantly to the smooth functioning of this country. Targeting them is easy as they have a gun in their hand, but the gun is not usually pointed at anybody unless and until they are forced to. That said there would be bad apples in any organization, whether it is the military, the police or the government. These institutions in a democracy are a representation of the people who are also stakeholders. The story is different in authoritarian regimes when the blame can be passed on to the dictators.
What these children say
We as journalists come face to face with all sides of the story. One of our senior international correspondents, Anchal Vohra, had a conversation with these children on camera. Things that these children said stood out like a sore thumb; it also underscored the fact why these protests were unjustified and why stone-pelting was juvenile delinquency.
One of the children said they wanted a true democracy and that democracy would look like the Pakistani democracy. I don’t think I need to explain why the idea of the Pakistani democracy should not be a model. Many Pakistani’s may also agree on that front. The second point they made was that they need a land where just Islam and Islamic law should be followed. They said that there should be no alcohol.
This idea is also a bit skewed as it is antithetical to the idea of Indian democracy. India is a secular democracy, and I think the idea of a society based on just one religion is not aligned to the vision of the world we all want to create. Segregating people on the basis of religion will foster animosity in more and more societies and it is not the world many are looking to live in.
It’s a whirlpool
A few years ago I was exposed to the stories of children and teenagers in the Swat valley. These children, between the ages of 8 and 15, had been trained to be suicide bombers for the Taliban in Pakistan. They were told about the virgin women waiting for them in heaven after they blew themselves up. But many suicide missions had failed as children withdrew at the last minute. So, the Taliban had decided to use a new tactic. They would drug these children with morphine on their final journey and if a child backed out, they would ignite the vest with a remote control.
Many of these children were carefully chosen. To isolate them from their families, their parents were sometimes targeted and killed. The chances of an orphan requiring an adult for guidance set the stage for creating a generation of suicide bombers.
When I look at these children pelting stones without the knowledge of the goal, it worries me. Is this a path towards their radicalisation? Will these children ever be able to experience childhood again? It’s a whirlpool of violence that the parents of these children need to think about. They may have to take a stance sooner than later, otherwise, it may be too late.