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15th February '2013
SOP for Kashmir

In Police parlance there are certain SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for dealing with various law and order situation. These include the method and use of various crowd control measures during agitations by unarmed people. Normally, lethal weapons are not used for crowd control. In 2010, there was indiscriminate use of lethal weapons which resulted in the death of over 120 persons. After that the procedures have been streamlined. The other day the Police Chief of the valley stated on the TV, the forces have been asked to exercise maximum restraint while dealing with agitating and protesting mobs. This time there have been far fewer casualties compared to 2010. The steps taken to educate the troops for using non-lethal methods of crowd control are in the right direction. So far, so good.

However, there is another SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) which goes into operation even before there could be any crowds. That is the procedure of total clamp down or the by now famous siege. Locking up the entire population before it has any chance of expressing anything. The easiest way of totally scuttling the freedom of expression is to cage people in their homes. Whenever there is any occurrence which may result in people coming out to protest even peacefully, the SOP is put into effect. Usually this starts during the nightwhen the people are fast sleep. All main roads get barricaded by rolls of concertina wire. Barricades are erected at important junctions. Armoured troop vehicles are placed at vintage points. Large numbers of paramilitary troops in crowd control gear as well as with lethal weapons start patrolling. When the city dwellers or residents of other major towns wake up, they come to know that they have been put under total siege. Most of the time the curfew imposed is not declared nor any magisterial orders issued for the same. It is what has popularly come to be known as the “Undeclared Curfew”, a term coined in Kashmir only. The government statement usually says strict restrictions have been placed on the movement of people in the interests of peace!

Along with the restrictions on movement, there is total communications blockade. Mobile phone services get suspended. Internet takes a holiday. All the cable TV news channels vanish without a trace. The local cable TV channels have been permanently debarred from telecasting any news whatsoever. The idea is not only to disconnect Kashmir from the outside world but to even isolate Kashmiris from one another. It is like putting a hand over the mouth of an angry person to prevent him from crying out his anger with the hope that he will soon tire out and become quiet. Unfortunately, they probably don’t know that shutting a person in such a manner is not only dangerous for the person but also harmful to the society in general in the long run. It only increases the hatred and alienation. In any case, the people are now used to these clamp downs and take these in their stride. They know when to keep quiet and when to come out and shout. The authorities resorting to such measures not only get a bad name to the largest democracy in the world but are also buying temporary peace. The resentment and anger goes deep in the psyche of the people and they know that they are helpless against the might of the authorities. But they do not give up and wait for their chance to strike back when least expected!

What is most pathetic and frustrating is the attitude of the majority of the people in the sub-continent and of the so called flag bearers of human liberty, equality, and fraternity abroad who do not react as they should and just keep quiet to safeguard their economic interests. Can such a thing happen in any other part of India? Even if a chicken gets crushed under a car anywhere else in India, the electronic media starts buzzing non-stop. In case of Kashmir, to cage one and all and even to strangle them is in their “National Interest”!

Ironically, the Home Ministry’s SOP is to counter another SOP. The leaders of the Kashmir’s popular movement for total emancipation known under the name of “Azadi, have also worked out an SOP. They too just give a call for total shut down called “Hartal” on the drop of a hat. In fact, there have been so many of these “Hartals” and so often that these have lost all meaning and effect and only give distress to the common people already facing the worst harassment of the authorities. These “Hartals” do not attract Home Ministry’s SOP. They ignore it as it creates distress for the people only and the authorities remain totally unruffled. However, it is the newest SOP of the popular leaders which does so. That is the “Chalo” SOP. Any leader of any standing has to give a call for “Chalo” somewhere and the Home Ministry’s SOP automatically comes into force. Everyone gets caged for that particular day! There does not appear any escape from these operating procedures and we may have to live with these for quite some time!

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