Kashmir has an uncanny syndrome of repeating history again and again. Almost 60 years back, the state was in a situation of uncertainty which gave rise to what has come to be known as the “Kashmir Dispute”. After centuries of external rule the people had risen to overthrow the yolk of slavery through a popular movement. Unfortunately, the partition of the sub-continent by the running away British colonialists after a couple of centuries plunged the whole area in bloodshed. Millions were massacred and uprooted from their centuries old moorings. Because of their misfortune, Kashmiris got entangled in this ideological war of the two newly created countries. Rather the running away Britishers deliberately created the tangle to keep the two countries in a perpetual state of conflict. The tragedy of Kashmir was that its most charismatic leader sided with one of the contenders for the prize of the partition called the “Paradise on Earth”! He did it against the wishes and the aspirations of the people. The majority of the people followed him taking him to be saviour but he landed them in such a mess that they are unable to extricate themselves from an uncertain fate.
In order to suppress the majority not going along with his dictates he appointed the most notorious intelligence officer who used the worst and heinous means of torture. His widely known means of torture were stuffing of hot potatoes in a victim’s mouth and using a hot iron on his back and chest! He also used musclemen of the party to carry out a cleansing campaign. In fact, while on one hand seeing the communal amity in Kashmir valley, Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian Nation observed that the only ray of peace visible to him came from Kashmir, on the other the local population was ruthlessly suppressed for desiring total freedom and no voice was raised against this cruelty in India. As an irony of fate, the same musclemen were institutionalised by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad asthe “Peace Brigade” to keep in “Peace” the opponents of the accession which by then included Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the original supporter of the Maharaja’s deal with India.
The “Peace Brigade” was a conglomeration of all types of characters ready to do the bidding of their masters without any qualms or pangs of conscience. They were located in all the mohallas (localities) and would keep an eye on all trouble makers and harass them into submission. The National Conference had Halqa Committees. The suspected trouble shooters would be summoned there by the members of the “Peace Brigade” and would be given a thrashing. Their ration cards would be confiscated to starve their families. The members of the “Peace Brigade” would be under the command of some strongmen of the localities called “Goggas”.The members of this notorious force were popularly called “Kuftan Faqir” (late night beggars) or 29-15. They were paid 30 rupees per month and out of sixteen annas of a rupee, one anna was deducted as government stamp duty reducing their pay to rupees twenty nine and fifteen annas which gave them the title of 29-15. Those days Kashmiris did not possess any weapons and these people would use their muscles and canes to teach a lesson to the volatile people. The turmoil of nineties gave rise to another group of these musclemen which were created and nurtured by the army and were given the name of ikhwanis. These people were more violent and ruthless as they were now armed with Kalashnikovs. Then there are VDCs (the Village Defence Committees) on the same pattern. They too have made the life of people miserable. As part of the new Police Bill it is proposed to regularise this force on the pattern of the earlier “Peace Brigade”. It amounts to replicating the notorious Salwa Judum, (the “Peace March” or the “Purification Hunt”) militia created by Chhattisgarh Government to fight Naxalites. This militia has already been declared illegal and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India on July 6, 2011.
What is most surprising and tragic is the anti-climax this bill makes to the widespread call for ending the draconian legislation called the AFSPA. Everyone including the Global Human Rights Organisations had been pleadingfor revoking this totally undemocratic and totalitarian legislation. In fact, the Chief Minister had made it a point to remind the public at large from time to time though without any success, that he is going to get rid of AFSPA. Lo and behold, he comes out with a bill which is worse than AFSPA! The bill has brought condemnation from all sections of the society including some top retired Police Chiefs and other officers. While the debate will go on and the fall out of the draconian powers proposed to be given to the local Police will be brought out by legal luminaries and others, it is imperative to point out the proposed “Peace Brigade” aspect of the bill which needs to be opposed at all costs. It is alleged that this bill may be a precursor to revocation of AFSPA. It is alleged that because of the notoriety Army has received due to use of AFSPA may have forced Government of India to hand over the counterinsurgency to local Police especially the proposed civilian militia and the special task force so as to escape the blame for human rights violations? It is a tragedy that this thing may happen in the tenure of a person whose grandfather had to taste the bitter pill of such draconian measures in the prime of his political career as a freedom fighter opposing the Indian rule in Kashmir! The enactment of such legislation may prove to be the political nemesis for the Abdullah dynasty!